Wino and Epiphany


1 Corinthians 3:16  Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

He was dirty and he smelled. I almost tripped over him lying on the sidewalk — drunk as a skunk and “out of it” as they say. My Methodist tradition had taught me to see Jesus in everyone. But this was a bit much. It was very hard to see any shred of revelation or glory or good news at my feet.

I didn’t even think of trying to do anything for Mark, who was clearly past any hope of transformation. But, over the months, I got to know and befriend this old wino. Beneath all his external appearances there eventually emerged a gentle soul — it was like finding a diamond in a dung heap.

As time went by, Mark joined me in some retreat times with Father Louie at the Prayer Center. He loved the forest and the small wild animals, he listened in awe to the song of the birds, and was delighted at the movements of tiny insects and bugs. Mark, the wino, made me think of St. Francis.

Walking through the woods near St. Francis’ Springs Prayer Center in Stoneville, I noticed a table leg sticking out from beneath the under-growth. It had probably been abandoned years ago and was overgrown with wild bushes and brambles. But I observed carvings on the legs of the table like grapes and vine leaves, and I knew that once it must have been quite beautiful. Mark and I pulled the table from beneath the bushes and carried it to a member’s empty building. It stood — large and painted red. But I could see the carvings on the legs…

“I’ll fix it!,” declared Mark. With a piece of broken glass he began to scrape. Beneath the red paint was green paint. And the old man scraped. Beneath the green paint was brown paint. And the old man scraped. For six weeks he scraped. Until one day, there it was — a beautiful antique oak carved table in all its original natural beauty. Mark stood by the table. And I felt God say: “The table is Mark, and Mark is the table.”

For me it was an epiphany — a revelation of something beautiful and true beneath a reality of external appearances. It was a new perception.

Dear Lord, I know in my own heart and mind that it is often very difficult to see you in others, especially those who have misused me or mistreated me. It is hard for me to see the worth they have within them. Help me to use this story of Mark to remind me that you are in us all, and therefore all of us are of great value. Help me keep scraping back the coatings of paint I have placed on those I devalue until I see you standing there with open arms, in and through Jesus. Amen.

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Giving All Our Gifts to God

383936_2438983145858_1485766825_nMatthew 2:10-11   When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 

I saw Bob Griese the other day as an announcer/commentator on one of the football games, and it brought back some memories of that name. I did a little checking into his story.

The Rose Bowl back in 1998 saw the Cougars of Washington State, who hadn’t gone to the Rose Bowl in 67 years, battle Michigan. As it turned out, it was a great football game, Michigan barely won, and there was tension to the very last two seconds of the game…all of which made it an entertaining game to watch.

The most valuable player of the game was the quarterback from Michigan. His name was Brian Griese, the son of the famous professional football quarterback from Miami who won several Super Bowls, and this same famous father was doing the TV commentating on the Rose Bowl and proudly watching his son perform so well that day.

But this is the story that wasn’t told that day on TV but I read in a newspaper. When Brian, the son, was twelve years old, his mother was dying of cancer. His older siblings had already left home, and young Brian was fully present to absorb the pain of losing his mother. After his mother died, he and his famous dad were now home alone, his dad having to learn how to cook the breakfast eggs and take care of his son’s daily needs. The father and son bonded in a special way, sharing both their mother’s death and the subsequent years together. Ultimately, Brian went to Michigan University although his father had gone to Purdue. There at Michigan, Brian was a good player, but not a great player, but elected to come back for his fifth year to be the quarterback of this great Michigan team.

While at the University, in addition to his football life and the normal activities of being a young scholar\athlete, he spent his Thursday nights visiting the local hospital. Being a leader, he always took other athletes along. Gradually, the hospital staff began to expect young Brian Griese on Thursday nights; that was his regular pattern.

Well, there was this young woman who was involved in an automobile accident, suffered a spinal injury and was to be confined to her wheelchair for the rest of her life. She enjoyed Brian Griese calling on her because he cheered her up. He didn’t give her sympathy but deeply admired her courage. Time went by, and while in the hospital, she and Brian became friends during those regular Thursday night visits. Eventually, she asked Brian if he would escort her to her Senior Prom. He declined, not wanting to draw attention to himself, not wanting to cross inappropriate boundaries. He told his friends about the invitation, and they told him he made a mistake, that he should honor her request and take her to the Prom. So he did. He danced with her in her wheelchair throughout the night, picked her up with his strong arms and danced with her without the wheelchair. It was an electric night, filled with emotion for all who were there. And Brian Griese felt it was his humble honor to escort such a courageous woman as this, a young woman who had much more courage and inner strength than he did.

You see, Brian Griese is a devout young Christian, and he gives all of his giftedness to God: his athletic abilities, his good home life, his wonderful mothering, his fathering who coached him in special ways to be a quarterback, but Brian also gave his gift of compassion.

Where did Brian learn this gift of such compassion for this young woman? I would guess that he learned it during his mother’s battle with cancer. During those long months, I would guess that Brian learned a quality of empathetic compassion that many people never learn. His great tragedy in his life, the loss of his mother, eventually was transformed and matured into being a gift, a gift of empathetic compassion for people in difficult circumstances. Yes, he gave all of his gifts to God.

Dear Lord, help us to give our all to you in service to others. May our lives be so gifted that we may lift someone up to where they feel electric, in and through Jesus. Amen.

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383936_2438983145858_1485766825_nJesus was asked: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. Matt 22:36-40 (Amp)

How many of you made New Year’s resolutions this year? Most of us do in some degree or fashion. Most of the time it has to do with our heath… “I am going to get in better shape this year.” or our weight… “I am going to lose a certain amount of weight this year.” Some have to do with work…  “I am going to get that promotion or sale the most this year.”

Most of our resolutions seem to have to do with something for me, myself and I. My weight, my health, my job, my etc. What if we could change our resolutions this year to reflect relationships. I believe this is critical to everything going on in our lives. When we have relationship problems which we do not deal with in positive ways we can sometimes let the problem grow to the point where it takes over our better selves. That one bad relationship can spread to affect other relationships in a negative way.

So what should we do if we want to make relationships a resolution for 2015? I think I would begin by coming to a clear understanding of what God wants me to do. Know that Jesus said: “the two greatest commandments are to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” These words of Jesus must become words we live by… words that guide our lives. Once we start believing that loving God and neighbor makes a difference in us and all that we do… we will seek to love more.

The second thing for me would be to realize that I am part of the broken relationship. I have a role it in. So I need to examine how things became broken and the role I played in it. I need to meditate upon it, pray about it and come to a calm understanding of what the situation has become.

Then I need to take the first step toward repairing it. So I make the call, the visit, the move. I cannot wait for the other person to come to me. I take the first step. It may not work. It may never work. However, we need to make the move believing that if we will keep our cool, swallow a little pride, and put restoration of the relationship above all agendas, it has a better chance of working.

So change your mind, your heart, your spirit to know that God wants you to love him and your neighbor. Wrap any broken relationship in prayer and meditation, and with God make the move to heal the relationship. You just may make a best friend.

Dear Lord, I know I allow broken relationships to exist perhaps even foster deeper divides in those breaks. Help me in 2015 to learn to love you more by loving my neighbors, especially the ones with whom I hold ill feelings. Do this in and through Jesus. Amen.

Imagine…. in 2015

Imagine by John Lennon383936_2438983145858_1485766825_n

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Last night just before the ball dropped in Times Square O.A.R. sang John Lennon’s Imagine. I immediately came to the computer to jot down this thought… beginning my first blog for 2015.

This song started me thinking about what we imagine or do we imagine.

I remember being in downtown Greensboro around the age of 8 or 10. My brother and I were going to the Carolina Theater. On that trip we saw signs that reads “Whites Only” at restaurants, bathrooms, even water fountains. I must admit that I wondered about that but I did not imagine what it really meant, that it was wrong, or that I should be living my life in a way where segregation of races would not be a time honored tradition but against the law of the land and the rule of love and brotherhood. It took many years, loss of life, and a lot of strife before people stood up and imagined no more.

Imagine all the people sharing all the world…. If we would stop long enough and go deep or wide enough to allow God to influence our imagination, we could allow God to change the world through us. Lennon said: “Imagine a brotherhood of man… all the people sharing all the world.” All the things Lennon is mentioning are things that, wrongly used, come between love and acceptance and create a world where hate is elevated to a higher level.

Our religion can foster division if it does not allow room for God to move, speak and create. Our philosophy of life can be so exclusive that it doesn’t allow room for all people who are different from us. Solidly holding on to a static philosophy allows us to label people and dismiss every good thought about them.

Perhaps this year of 2015 we can give our imagination to God – really give it to God – and allow God to use us to change the world to where we actually do become a brotherhood of man… all the world over.

I remember a story told of a young seminary student who was coming home to preach in his home church. He worked tirelessly on his sermon. Finally he came downstairs to get his grandmother’s approval. She read his manuscript throughly and laid it down. He said: “Grandma, what do you think?” She answered: “Keep working on Love, son. Keep working on love.” That is the imagination we need in 2015. Imagine us working on love till all of us realize we are brothers and sisters of the same Father.

Dear Lord, help us Imagine Your love covering the whole wide world in and through Jesus. Amen.

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