Saturday, November 16, 2013

Looking for God in unexpected ways

A father was teaching his young daughter the Lord’s Prayer.  For several evenings they worked on it at bedtime.  The father spoke the lines from the prayer and the little girl would repeat after him.  After about a week, the child decided to go solo and enunciated each word well, right up to the end of the prayer.  Then, as her proud dad listened he heard her say, “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us some email.  Amen.”

What a delightful thought.  Some people might be happy to hear from God in that fashion.  The problem is that we might not acknowledge it.  Since people are bombarded with emails they don’t get around to answering.  Fortunately, that isn’t the way God communicates with us.  God communicates with God’s people in silence, and through the written word in the Bible all the time.  At a recent memorial service in the Interfaith Chapel, I shared from a CareNote about grief that is distributed to patient families at the death of a loved one.

The author wrote this advice:  “look for God in unexpected ways.”  The CareNote read:  “We tend to look for God in certain familiar ways.  Consequently, we may think God is absent, yet God is there in ways we may not have noticed.  It may be the kindness of someone who writes us a letter or makes a phone call to see how we are.  It could be the beauty of the stars on a night when we cannot sleep.”

Watch and listen for those moments when the unexpected happens.  I had a moment like that on a recent evening when my wife said, “Mike, how are oxygen and God alike?”  She promptly answered her own question.  “You can’t see God, and you can’t live without God either.”  It was an unexpected moment when I was reminded through Jeannette’s voice about something profound.

Yes, God probably won’t send you an email, but God’s fingerprint might be on it, and you won’t be able to see that either.  Faith is about what cannot be seen.  A small card on my desk reminds “faith is the bird that feels the light and sings while the dawn is still dark.”

Rev. Michael Schneider
With Eagle's Wings

Dealing with loss differently

No one is immune from loss, and death for that matter.  Loss is a natural part of life, and a subject least discussed, other than superficially.  That conversation is ignored until the experience becomes inevitable.  Recognizing that a person can lose more each day rather than assuming how much is gained is a different kind of admission.  These days achievement can be measured as just being able to keep one’s head above water.  An honest assessment about how an individual can prepare for and deal with loss provides a great opportunity for personal growth.  

For example, newspapers print about loss everyday in every city everywhere in the world.  People read about how people lose much, and not much about how people survive and manage to live through it.  Seldom is the rest of the story ever known or even told, unless you watch Dateline on NBC.  The final outcome is left to the imagination of the reader and how an individual might deal in similar plight.  Most recent, we hear of the people devastated by the typhoon in the Philippines.  Our collective sighs extend to the now homeless victims as sensitive, compassionate people attempt to understand just how one copes moving forward.  Surviving and enduring an “act of God” event is completely unimaginable unless someone has endured a similar experience firsthand.  Stories of great hardship, survival and successful perseverance will come in the days ahead.  Then, only few articles will praise the resiliency of the human spirit.  Robert Frost suggested how a person can deal with the unexpected in life when he wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Whether it’s losing a job, a home to foreclosure, a cherished pet, a marriage, or having experienced the death a loved one; the way forward is perilous and the more treacherous road to navigate.  Which road to chose is personal.  A successful overcoming should be the goal.  The personal growth along the way can be satisfying beyond expectations.  Seeking, finding and then receiving the gracious encouragement from others who have traveled a similar road is key.  It’s the road “less traveled.”  Those who choose to offer support and help after painful personal experiences are called “wounded healers.”  These are special, gifted individuals willing to stand with and support another in a difficult time after having lived through their own personal experiences.

Unfortunately, many choose to isolate and go it alone.  Not the recommended road to travel!  Seeking and receiving guidance from God and the support of others placed in the pathway to healing is a most meaningful method to deal with loss differently.  The journey can be described as a sacred task.  Which road will you choose?

Rev. Michael Schneider
With Eagle's Wings

The right way to get ahead

People want to get ahead.  Presumably, it’s why great emphasis is placed on working hard.  Who wants to be left behind?  Goal-minded people work to get ahead because it’s not only a noble pursuit; but it’s the American way, right?  In our culture, high value is placed on getting a good education, so when the time comes, one has the ability to secure a prestigious, well-paying job.  Remember the old sitcom, “The Jeffersons” and the show’s theme song lyric suggesting the good life:  “just moving on that deluxe apartment in the sky.”  Is there anything wrong with wanting to get ahead?  Not at all, but at what cost?  

Consider a story that tells of two people walking in the woods when they come across a bear.  The first person reaches into their backpack and pulls out a pair of sneakers, sits down and starts to put them on.  “Why are you putting on sneakers?  You can’t outrun a bear,” the second person says.  The first responds, “I don’t have to outrun a bear, I just have to outrun you.”  No lack of moral clarity here:  if one is going to be eaten by a bear it’s better you than me.  Just stay out in front of the next guy and everything will be alright.  

Unfortunately, that may be a thought process of some who put getting ahead above all else, even a friend.  The story illustrates a flawed human nature, the evidence is visible everywhere in our modern culture.  Everything is OK—when it’s me that’s OK.  From my perspective, and a faith and values point of view, that isn’t the way a person really gets ahead.  The story of escaping a bear is more a story of a broken moral compass.  

Achieving moral clarity is the responsibility of everyone.  Communities are increasingly pluralistic and diverse.  For that reason alone, decent people must find ways to live, work and serve together harmoniously.  Drive around neighborhoods and see various signs identifying mosques, synagogues, temples and churches, different to be sure, but coexisting for calling together people of faith.  Each of these faith communities invite a conscious contact with the Creator, then, promote the value of serving one’s neighbor as a way to find meaning for life. The sad reality is there’s plenty of room to park suggesting vast numbers of people still out running to get ahead.  In short, a best value indicates that when a neighbor is helped, the community is better for it.  It’s a powerful message that people need to hear again.

A verse in Old Testament Scripture offers an ethic and teaches of moral responsibility:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Micah 6:8

It is written in the form of a rhetorical question (not requiring an answer) because the verse is the answer.  It is a moral ethic upon which strong communities are founded and remain vital.  In the larger Orange County community, regardless of the city in which we live, we are bound together as fellow humans all desiring a good life and the best of it.  Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do.”  Striving to do justice, loving tenderly and walking humbly with God and neighbor is a human imperative and must be done repeatedly.

In the end, it may be difficult to outrun a bear, however with moral clarity illuminating the way; all people can walk and run together.  I believe sage wisdom is great advice for all generations.  Here’s another question to think about:  why couldn’t people join hands to help each other cross a finish line together?  It’s rhetorical.

Rev. Michael Schneider
With Eagle’s Wings