What Really Matters

No one needs another opinion right now, right?

It seems as if social media has inadvertently made everyone an expert in politics, social issues, and now infectious diseases.

God bless us for our good intentions.

I am not interested so much in offering another opinion on our current global pandemic. I know my skill sets. I will instead leave that for those who actually spend their lives researching, doing clinical work, and treating patients. They are the ones to whom we should be listening right now. And we are grateful for the important work they do.

Many of us have studied the words of Father Richard Rohr over the years and have always come back to one of his most profound insights- that great love and great suffering have the ability to create the potential for spiritual listening and larger seeing. And it is along these pathways by which a person, a family, a community, or even a world may be transformed.

There is no question that we find it so much easier, and so much more desirable, to move along this pathway when it is by the means of great love.  Conversely, we have a much more difficult time discovering anything redeemable, or of value, when it is found down the road of great suffering. Suffering can very easily break us down and move us into a place with varying degrees of worry, anxiety, helplessness, or despair.

This isn’t a judgment on how any of us individually process suffering, or even a judgment on those who suffer emotionally or psychologically. Six weeks ago, I went to my family doctor because I was experiencing anxiety for the first time in my life. Changing variables in my work life had produced a tightness in my chest and a feeling of being strangled. Fortunately it wasn’t a heart attack, but the reality of how anxiety can consume a person and it was a real experience for me. So I truly understand how deeply situations and our mental health can deeply affect us.

But despite where we may be internally, learning to listen and see in our suffering, or choosing to be fully present in our suffering, there is always a continuous invitation of the Spirit open to everyone, all the time, even and especially to those who have been deeply affected at the physical, emotional, physiological, or even spiritual level.

So no matter who you are, where you have been, what trauma you have experienced, or what you are currently experiencing in your life, this invitation welcomes you into a safe and quiet space where you are allowed to breath and then patiently listen and see amidst your suffering.

But while many of you may already be suffering, the potential for greater suffering always exists, which will necessitate more safe spaces and more patient guides to walk with people through the chaos and along the path of suffering.

There is no question that closings and cancellations, limitations on social functions, the loss of business or savings plans, the loss of employment and mounting bills, and the potential hospitalization or death of loved ones who have been infected will all certainly create varying degrees of suffering among us.

You may know exactly what I am talking about right now.

But I wonder if in this suffering, we will begin to walk together, truly walk together, to discover opportunities to learn, serve, and be transformed, rather than be consumed by our collective despair and antipathy.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see, not the canceling of events, large social gatherings, and other disruptions as personal assaults or attacks on our personal liberties and livelihoods, but as selfless moves we can all make together to protect our most vulnerable.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see, not all of the services that have been disrupted or how we no longer have everything at our fingertips or how inconvenienced we have become in some things, but all of the great opportunities we have to come together and use our resources to help our brothers and sisters who have reduced hours, who have lost jobs, who are losing business, or who are having a hard time making ends meet.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see, not all of the ugliness and divisiveness of politics and everything that works to divide us in our most difficult times, but all the ways we can unite without labels or affiliations to serve the greater good.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see, not all of the ways we have been, or will soon be, isolated and quarantined from each other, but all of the ways we can still be with one another and creatively reach out to talk, encourage, pray for, or maybe even sing with one another, like our brothers and sisters in Italy.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see, not lives with significantly limited options, isolated at home and on social media all day, but the opportunity to spend real face time with family around the table or to breathe fresh air in nature, while rediscovering our hearts and natural rhythm once again.

I wonder if we will be able to listen and see that this time is teaching us, through abstinence, to appreciate all the things we had previously taken for granted.

It’s true that not every experience of trauma or suffering can easily be diverted by perspective or prayer. We will have to endure the anguish and pain of some traumas and sufferings head on. But in even that, we will have hopefully learned that we are not alone in this thing and that we truly have each other. We will have come to the realization that there is so much goodness in our lives and we will see it differently moving forward. And maybe, just maybe, through this suffering, we may learn to see each other differently, to learn to respect each other despite our differences, and to uncover a humanity below the surface that we may have forgotten was there.

Walking with you in this,

Brandon

When Hope is Lost (A Lesson from Birds)

I have begun the process of changing my mind about birds.

Sure, you may not find a stranger first sentence than that, but those closest to me know that I have this unreasonable phobia of the feathered friend. It has something to do with a mother bird dive-bombing my head to protect her nest when I was five. And no, to answer your question, I was not bothering her nest. I was simply going next door to a friend’s house. But, there is no reasoning with a mother bird. Anyway, my neurosis aside, I am slowly taking steps to rediscovering the beauty (or some redeeming quality) in birds.

An Indiana winter can be brutal and bone-chilling. And it is not made any more bearable by the local meteorologists who giddily, and a bit too affectionately, begin referring to it as a Polar Vortex. The tragedy is they don’t realize that by calling it a “Polar Vortex,” it psychologically becomes twenty degrees colder in our heads. Let’s just be honest here, we do not need “Polar” anything in Indiana, especially when it is already pitch black at 4pm in the middle of December.

But there was a moment a few years ago in late winter, when darkness still owned the morning and the cold refused to let go of everything in it’s grip, that I heard the sweetest song.

Through the shroud of night, before the sun’s first rays, amid the polar chill, a melody of hopeful anticipation pierced the dark veil of winter and announced that spring would soon be arriving.

It was glorious and profound.

The processional of spring, a time of life, new beginnings, and spectacular beauty was coming! And it was being ushered in through song by feathered vocalists announcing it’s arrival.

I, a crusty-eyed morning zombie of multi-layered, nighttime attire (pre-coffee), could not miss this staggering metaphor. When a season of darkness surrounds us and seems as if it will last forever, we may very well begin to believe that this is the way life will always be. But even in the darkness that may surround us, if we are still enough to hear it and patient enough to trust it, there is always the sweet song of the Spirit, leading us in hopeful anticipation, surprising us with beauty in the present, and giving us a glimpse of the life that’s yet to come.

I know it is terribly difficult to discuss how we can learn to see beauty amidst the wreckage when we are in the throes of a painful life situation, whether it be temporary or permanent. But, it is in this place where we must always begin- in the place of our pain, in the place of our suffering. For it is in that place where we can, mostly easily, lose heart, feel lost and defeated, grow wildly cynical, and begin to blame God for our condition or circumstance.

Even more, our pain can become the place from where we begin to live our lives.

The crushing weight of our suffering will always try to convince us that the pain we are experiencing is our only reality and that there is nothing redeemable there, ever. And as a result, the pain we are experiencing can begin to manifest outwardly in our lives into our words and actions, ultimately affecting how we see the world and how we relate to others.

That is what suffering can do. It can cause us to reside in our pain, no matter how great or small that pain is, and then become the lens through which we begin to see people, situations, and the world as a whole. And over time, our pain through suffering can very easily spiral downward and lead to questions and then the destruction of our identity, our worth, and our purpose in life.

Living constantly in the burden and pain of our suffering can either become an end destination or a passageway for each of us.

As an end destination, the pain of our suffering can become a place where we stay in bitterness, sadness, anger, hatred, and unforgiveness.

As a passageway, our pain through suffering can become the pathway to profound life transformation and new ways of seeing the world.

Suffering breaks us down into insufferable little parts where we can either self-destruct or cry out helplessly to God, because we are in a place where we have seemingly lost control. Our sense of self has been shattered. Our identity has been obliterated. And it is in our place of pain through suffering where we can choose whether we make it our final destination or a transformative passageway.

That is the profound mystery of suffering. Suffering strips away any and all control we believed we had over people and situations. And it is in this place, our place of suffering, the place where we have lost all control, where our hearts and minds can either be closed off or open to the healing and transformative love of God.

And no matter who you are or what you have been through, or are currently going through, you can choose what you want to do with your pain, and how you receive suffering. You can let it dominate and control how you see the world and relate to others, or you can use it as a means to be taught and guided into a new and more beautiful way of living.

In hope,

Brandon

A Message to ISIS

I looked at the pictures. I saw my Ethiopian brothers, and my Egyptian brothers before them in February, being marched single file along a beautiful beach, each followed by his captor in military fatigues and a black mask, carrying a blade that would be used to decapitate each man.

It was an awful paradox- The peaceful and unparalleled beauty of sandy beaches massaged by crystal blue waters -and- the hideous brutality of religious extremists slaughtering men made in the image of the Creator.

They were being led like sheep to their slaughter.  And in moments, they would die a grisly death for bearing the name of Christ, for being what ISIS refers to as “the people of the Cross.”

As I looked at the photos and into the eyes of each man, I saw men no different than us. They are men with families. Men with sons and daughters who love them and who can’t wait for them to come home. Men with wives hoping and praying for their safe return home for dinner that evening. They are men with hopes and dreams and purpose.

Yet, because of their faithfulness to Jesus Christ and their great commission to share the good news of Jesus Christ and God’s kingdom to their brothers and sisters within their communities, they would not be returning home to see their families again.

Each man was lain prostrate, his executioner standing behind with a handful of hair in one hand and death in the other. Judgment was pronounced and executed from ear to ear, taking each man’s head off and placing it triumphantly on the back of his headless corpse.

My Lord and my God.

Father, give their families the comfort and peace to know that their lives have not been taken in vain, but given as a world-wide testimony to your love.

This macabre spectacle is very real and ever-present reminder that the Body of Christ will always go to the greatest extremes, even in the face of terrible hostility and gruesome death, to peacefully demonstrate the love of God.

As did Christ in the past, so shall his body in the present.

With the stakes so high, death by beheading, these men did not choose to war with their enemies. They did not choose to fight back with a strong hand, despite knowing their fate. They did not even utter a curse to their executioners as the shear edge of the blade was placed against their necks. No, they were men of profound peace, men of profound love, men counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus until their very end. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the sons of God.

And they were like sheep before the shearers for their witness and their testimony.  They became martyrs for the greatest of all acts- following in the humble, submissive, self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ.

But can you hear their testimony?

Or was the footage of their execution too much to bear?

Or have we become so desensitized to heinous atrocities that we no longer feel empathy or compassion?

Or have our lives become so busy and cluttered with information that this was just “another news story?”

Or have we insulated ourselves in so much comfort that we have become detached from the plight of our brothers and sisters who are suffering greatly?

Can you hear their anthem? Can you hear their victorious proclamation in the face of death, “Hallelujah! Death is beaten. Christ has risen from the grave!”*

Can you hear their voices in unison cry as their blood began to flow, “Hallelujah! It is finished! All to You the highest praise!”*

Can you hear the chorus of the saints, the testimony of the martyrs, as their message grows louder and louder, as all of creation joins together in Heaven’s refrain announcing to the deliverers of death, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever! Amen!”

We, as followers of Jesus Christ around the world, join them in their declaration.

Hear our testimony ISIS…

With every life taken, there is a proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.

With every drop of blood that is shed, there is the proclamation of the blood that forgives and atones.

With every body cut, mangled, and broken, there is the proclamation of love overpowering hate, life defeating death.

With every threat and act of terror, the proclamation of Christ and the invitation into his kingdom of grace, peace, and love is amplified so that all may hear.

With every gunshot to our head. With every knife to our throat. With every destructive act that takes our lives, hear me in this… Christ will be proclaimed louder and louder and louder.

Though you kill, a body is resurrecting to life that does not wage war with a sword. Worldwide, followers of Jesus are awakening at this very hour and we are putting down our arms. For our victory is won and there is no battle to fight, no war to wage. We will line the streets and surround our communities in prayer and peace, for the victory is ours… love has won. Christ is victorious. And our testimony will only grow louder and louder as more people join this chorus and wave our white flags of peace and surrender. We will not fight back. We will serve. We will love. We will even love you.

And if it is our blood that must be poured out, turning the seas to crimson, for the world to know the life-giving, cross-like love of Christ, then let the waves wash over this land in forgiveness for what you have done. For even in the face of death, our own blood will cry out and give testimony.

The power you wield is death, but you are powerless. For it is precisely death that Christ has defeated.

Can you now hear the testimony given by these men who gave their lives for Jesus Christ?

Do you now have ears to hear their message of forgiveness and hope?

Jesus has rescued each of us from the dominion of darkness, and brought us into his kingdom of light and love, where we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.

May we die well my brothers and sisters to express God’s love for all…

Brandon

*The quotes above are lyrics from the song Seas of Crimson by Daniel Bashta, Brian Johnson, Joel Taylor, and Bobby Strand
© 2014 Bethel Music Publishing (ASCAP). GoForth Sounds (ASCAP) (Adm. by Bethel Music Publishing)