I want to be like the trees.
The ones anchored on the top of the mountain
Roots entangled more with rock than dirt
Shouldering snow on their branches
All winter long.
Long after the trees further down have
Relinquished their burden to the sun.
I want to be like the trees
Anchored on the top of the mountain
And flexible enough
To withstand the near constant wind
Which rushes across the summit
And through their branches
And down the hill.
I want to be like the trees
On the top of the mountain.
Strong enough to care.
Strong enough to respect others.
Strong enough to listen.
Strong enough to change one’s mind.
Strong enough to rely on another.
Strong enough to learn.
Strong enough to say “I’m sorry.”
Strong enough to say “Thank you.”
Strong enough to let another go first.
Strong enough to practice compassion.
Strong enough to be gracious.
Strong enough to be kind.
Strong enough to help others.
Strong enough to let others take the credit.
Strong enough to sacrifice.
Strong enough to bear disappointment.
Strong enough to risk.
Strong enough to be empathetic.
Strong enough to kneel down in order to look a child in the eye.
Strong enough to extend a hand.
Strong enough for tears.
Strong enough to forgive.
Strong enough to share.
Strong enough to lift another up.
Strong enough to be generous.
Sometime in the last couple weeks I read an article about the power of stories. I should have bookmarked it to save it, but I didn’t. Now that I am retired I no longer bookmark or save articles like this in the file folders which I used for so many years. But what I remember and why I remember it is this. The thesis of the article was that the stories we remember and the stories we tell and retell ourselves shape who we are and how we act, particularly in times of difficulty and decision. I found myself thinking about this not just in terms of my own life, but also, given the deep divide in our country, how the stories we remember and tell shape our public perception and discourse. In the stories we tell…
Is their enough?
Does goodness prevail?
Is life about survival of the fittest?
Is there hope?
Do we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps?
Who is our neighbor?
Who should we be afraid of?
Does that long arc of history really bend in the direction of justice?
Then yesterday I read this interview with Reza Aslan by Daniel Jose Camacho of Sojourners. On of the things he says in that interview is that religion is storytelling. Aslan’s insight resonated with me because the part of Christian and Hebrew scriptures which resonate with me are the stories.
Moses at the burning bush.
Do bushes around us also burn inviting us to something new?
Jesus feeding the 5000.
What does it take for us to feed those around us who are hungry?
The accounts of the resurrection of Jesus.
Is new life possible when we find ourselves surrounded by darkness and despair?
I could go on.
In light of these articles I have found myself thinking about several questions.
- At this age and stage of my life what stories am I telling myself about responsibility and courage and learning new things and growing older?
- How do I begin to let go of stories which are not helpful?
- How do I begin to learn new stories which are?
- So many of the stories that have meaning for me are rooted in the Bible. For that I am grateful. But, for those who have never heard those stories in a meaningful, life-giving way, what stories do they draw on?
- What stories which I/we have forgotten which would be helpful if we remembered again?
I am sure there are more…questions that is.
I have loved good stories for as long as I can remember.
And, I agree with the author of the first article.
The stories we tell ourselves and each other are powerful.
Which leads me to this…
What are the stories you tell yourself about who you are and and what you value and our place and role in and relationship to the world around us?
What strength I have
Presence in the loneliness of the moment.
Hand to steady you when you fall.
Shoulder on which to cry.
Embrace when you have forgotten who you really are.
Reminder that you matter. To me. And to many.
Protector when you feel fragile.
Mender to help piece together the scattered shards of life.
Companion as together we stumble towards some distant promise of light.
Last night I had the privilege of offering the Invocation at Antioch Baptist Church’s 39th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Banquet. The theme was Honoring the Past, Shaping the Future. Here is my Invocation:
We are a people used to praying. Aren’t we?
Praying in church.
Praying before a meal.
Praying when we get up in the morning and before we go to bed each night.
Our praying needs to be more.
Maybe it has always needed to be more and has been more.
But today it feels different.
These are unsettled days and unsettling times.
So, as we remember the work and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and honor the past, let us pray like this so we can continue to bend that long arc of history in the direction of God’s Kingdom come and shape a future which we will be proud to hand to our children and grandchildren.
Let us pray not just with our words, but also with our hands.
Let us pray not just with what we say, but also with what we do.
Let us pray not just with what we intend, but with the witness of our lives.
Let us pray not just with what we dream, but also with our feet on the pavement.
Let us pray, not to implore God who already holds out before us that grand dream of God’s Kingdom come, but let us pray to remind ourselves and to remind each other of who we are and whose we are and, especially, who we are called to be. Let us pray not saying “Lord hear our prayer”, but pray so we might become agents of God’s prayer echoing and embodying the witness of the angels who so recently proclaimed “Peace on Earth. God’s good will to all.”
We are already blessed so I don’t need to ask for that again
For either this gathering or for our food.
Thank you, God, for this gathering.
For the witness and work of these people.
For the strength and hope and courage in this room.
May we be strength and hope and courage for others.
Remind us of grace, O God.
A grace which heals.
A grace which opens us to hope.
A grace which meets us in the midst of each day
And turns our lives in new directions.
Remind us of Your dream, O God.
A dream of swords into plowshares.
A dream of a table large enough for all.
A dream of a time and a place where all are named and welcomed
As sisters and brothers.
And recognized as children of God.
Remind us of gratitude, O God.
For love which sustains.
For food enough.
For who we are called to be.
Remind us, O God, that Thank you is our first and our best prayer.
Remind us, O God.