Following these presentations each night, Rev. Dr. Luke Powery, the Dean of Duke University Chapel, will be giving the sermon. This is an open event for those interested in joining us. As you can imagine, this is a great honor to me to be invited to share with the Providence community and I look forward to the opportunity.
I’ve been reflecting on the passage from the Gospel of Luke 12:35ff this week where Jesus says the words,
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks… You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
I am particularly drawn to the line, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit,” and am trying to meditate on what it means to put this into practice.
One of the standards interpretations of this text goes one of two ways: either it is about the end times or it is about one’s own death. “Be ready at any moment, God could take you home.” Or, “You better get your act together, Christ could return at any moment the end of the world will ensue.” Both of these readings are rooted in a fear-based vision of God, and I don’t find either particularly helpful or compelling for my own spiritual growth and reflection about how to live now. I don’t believe this is text about being afraid of God returning and catching us doing something we’re not supposed to, nor do I think we ought to live in fear of having our lives taken from us at any moment.
I think the point is much more simple: pay attention, stay awake, the Son of Man can visit you in and through all kinds of situations, people, and experiences and you don’t want to miss it.
It reminds me of the passage in Hebrews, “you may be entertaining angels unaware,” or the passage in Matthew “When did we serve you, Lord?”
Just this past week while on a motorcycle ride, my friend who I was traveling with was hit by a car. We were headed to the Blue Ridge where we planned to ride into the Maggie Valley. We got on to a very curvy road with many difficult turns, but one in particular turn had a blindspot. From what I can tell, he misjudged the turn, drifted over the yellow line, and was his by an oncoming car coming around the corner. He was thrown from his bike and got his hand trapped underneath the car that hit him. The driver of the car had to back the car up to get him free. I was riding behind him, watching the whole thing happen.
As you can imagine, this was a scary scene. Thankfully, my buddy was able to get back up on his feet pretty quickly after the accident so we could get him off the road. While he was in an extreme amount of pain, he was able to stand up! Before long the ambulance was there, along with the Fire Department, and an officer from the Highway Patrol. Many people stopped to help direct traffic, check on us, and offer help.
What I learned later: there had been three motorcycle deaths at the very corner in the past 2-3 years. I noticed sometime after the accident that fifteen feet from where my friend’s bike laid in ruin stood a small cross with the name of a young person who died there just two years ago. When I saw that, I remembered right after the accident there a was a man who said his name was Joey, helping direct traffic and make sure that everyone on the side of the road was safe. He told me his son died on a motorcycle on this turn 2 years ago. Shortly after speaking with Joey he left. Afterward, looking back down at the cross wrapped in wreaths of flowers, it said that the motorcyclist died in 2017.
Thinking about this experience, I could read this text from Luke in light of either interpretation above, but it was far more useful for me to be ready and aware in the moments following the accident. I kept reminding myself in those moments to pay attention, make sure everyone was safe and okay, be a calming presence, keep checking in on people. Now, many days after the accident, talking with my friend and hearing of his recovery (he had no broken bones but suffered plenty of bruising and swelling), I look at the grace that covered us that day. I know exactly what could have happened, and what has happened to others. And I see how “lucky” we were, how many people were there to help us, and all of the things that went right in the face of this trauma. As I look back on that day, I see so many moments in which “The Son of Man” was among us.
As I start my fifth year at Guilford College, I know that especially right now as school is just about to start, it is hard to remain present, be aware. It is so easygoing get into a rush and stop listening to the Inward Teacher. When this happens, I begin to drift. I want to be both graceful with myself when I fail to be ready with a lit lamp, but I also don’t want to stop practicing. Being aware, “dressed for action with my lamp lit,” means to me to have a practice of deep inward listening, and authentic, patient response. It means paying attention and taking the advice to “notice what you notice.” It reminds me of the works of Parker Palmer:
Every time we get in touch with the truth source we carry within, there is net moral gain for all concerned. Even if we fail to follow its guidance fully, we are nudged a bit further in that direction. And the next time we are conflicted between inner truth and outer reality, it becomes harder to forget or deny that we have an inner teacher who want to lay a claim on our lives. -A Hidden Wholeness (P.19)
Questions for Reflection:
I wonder for you what helps you to be ready, centered, and aware at a moments notice?
What can you put in place in your own practice to help you have your lamp lit at all times?
Are you aware of what it feels like to be in touch with the source of truth within?
To state the obvious: all organizations have life cycles. That is true whether we are thinking about faith communities, businesses, non-profits, schools, etc. We could think of organizations as a collected and sustained series of stories over time. It might be easier to think about the role of stories in our personal lives but our organizations and institutions are also made up of stories. Stories identify who the founders and key thinkers were. They help to name the heroes and villains. They point to the challenges and accomplishments, often told in ways that have climaxes, plot twists and grand conclusions. Do you know what one or two of the main “core stories” are in your community or organization? Think about the common words, phrases, and other points of humor and things we can reference easily with those who are inside the organization. You can also look for places that are avoided or not talked about. All of our communities have their own lexicons. For instance, at the College where I work, I think of the stream of stories that make up our college community, and within that stream, there are certain core stories we tell and retell. Sometimes this is done in a way that brings life to a community, but perhaps there are certain stories that we intentionally shape in one direction or another.
If you have used an Internet browser (ever) and searched something through google.com you’re not alone, many of us are so accustomed to Google search that the word Google has become a verb. But why stick with something just because it’s habit when there is something way cooler out there?
I am probably medium-weird about privacy – not totally lax but not completely freaked out either. But Google, Facebook, and Amazon are notoriously terrible for tracking and spying on users and using that data for not great stuff. We are now living in a data economy, this stuff isn’t going away, so rather than pretend it doesn’t happen, I think it’s time to figure out what you are and are not willing to give up to big data. Your web search history which is incredibly personal is one great place to start. Go ahead. Try it out.
So if you like it and you want to use it all the time, what next?
The next thing to do is to open your browser settings and switch the default search engine.
For those of you on Safari: Go to preferences, then search and select DDG from the pull-down menu.
For those of you on Firefox: Go to preferences, then select search from the sidebar.
If you’re using Chrome you can install DDG as well, but then again, using Chrome means your data is leaking back to Google in other ways. Browsers like Safari, Firefox, and Brave are good places to go if you’re wanting something that has stricter privacy policies.
A couple really useful features to try out with DuckDuckGo
Search time in DDG and you can open multiple times for projects you’re working on. I love this!
DuckDuckGo has something called !bangs which are basically shortcuts to bigger searches. So instead of typing in Wikipedia and then going to that webpage and searching for your item you can type !w + your search term and DDG will take you right to that page on Wikipedia. You can do this with Amazon, Twitter, Yelp and tons more.
You can also do math in the search bar or use the calculator. Trust me, I use this one a lot.
Finally, if this isn’t enough you can go much deeper with Brett Terpstra’s posts on how to “Learn the syntax of DuckDuckGo” – Link
To me, it may seem a minor thing, but by using DDG for all my searches and using a browser like Firefox or Safari, I’ve already made two steps towards being in better control of my data and privacy. In this day and age, this will be part of what we have to pay attention to. I’m glad for services like DDG for making this as painless as possible.
A reader pointed out that I didn’t give my opinion about the search results. The short answer is, I am very satisfied with the results. In fact, I unplugged from google search so long ago that I don’t even think about search results at this point, nor do I compare them. Everything seems to work as it should. That’s not to say I shouldn’t check from time to time but I just don’t even think about it anymore.
This runs into another important way that DDG is different from google, as it says on its Wikipedia page, it helps you “avoid the filter bubble of personalized search results.” DDG aims to give everyone the same results, and those results, in their mind are meant to be the best result to the search query. It’s a different philosophy that underlies a different way to develop technology. In this case, I appreciate that approach and I find that it works as intended.
The Adapt podcast is a new tech podcast from Relay FM that is focused completely on iPadOS and using iPad as your main device. I personally am too wedded to my MacBook Pro to make go iPad only, but I really like the podcast because I learn a lot of iPad tips and tricks. I’ve enjoyed all the episodes but I found this one on creating eBooks on the iPad to be particularly interesting, as was this episode on OCR.
Is faith always a long reach out of hand? I wonder when I see people searching, struggling to find God if the thought is the more distant the revelation, the greater the conversion? One of the underlying practices in certain parts of the Christian Church is to praise those who have had the most dramatic conversions. The further away one is from where they started the better. There is a kind of categorical rejection of who you are embedded within this kind of theology.
In talking to a friend recently, one who is looking for a way forward in their own spiritual life, I learned that they were reading a book about Christianity that presented ideas I found to be quite a stretch for them to believe. I couldn’t help but think – there is no way this person is ever going to buy into what this book is saying. It just is too far of a stretch, and yet, this person’s Christian friends keep sending these kinds of books.
“If only you read this one, then you’ll get it!”
“This one will finally convince any doubts you have left!”
I found myself in this conversation, saying, “if you have to work that hard to connect with God, it just isn’t going to happen. It is much closer than you think.” I saw in my friend someone who is searching and interested, who has a growing spiritual curiosity and is willing to explore. Unfortunately, that was being met with a set of arguments and books that did not speak to where they were at and instead said if you’re going to find God that discovery will involve you fundamentally re-writing who you are. In other words, what I see this view saying that God is absent from this person’s life until that person rejects themselves and crosses a great chasm to become someone else.
Eric Muhr from Barclay Press shared this poem around earlier this week from a new book of poetry Barclay Press recently published from Carol Bialock, which is really good:
Does the heart have a narrow door?
Will it allow in just one more
of every beast and flower and bird
and every song it has ever heard?
Just one more child, just one more flower,
one more relinquishing of power
to that sane and sacred foolishness
of living by inclusiveness?
Does the heart have a supple, elastic latch
that makes it easy to dispatch
all pettiness and bigotry
and opens it to what makes us free?
. . .
You who can heal all wounds and hate
make my heart open, free, and great.
I read Austin Kleon’s book “Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad” and really enjoyed it. It came at a good time for me where I feel that my creativity has been languishing and as a friend told me recently, creativity is my oxygen. I like how Kleon gives some very simple and actionable ideas for helping keep these pieces alive. I found it a lot like his other books, which I also enjoyed, full of good quotes, great pictures, and things that make me slow down and think.
Stephen Colbert’s recent interview about the power of comedy in the face of politics and how faith and morality play into his making sense of the world today.
New beginnings are hard. Endings may be even harder. It is hard to say goodbye. It is hard to see all the hard work, all the investment evaporate before our very eyes. It is hard to know when to let go. Some endings are not hard. Some endings are more like heroic escapes in the nick of time. That’s not what I want to address here. I want to address those endings that are hard to come by, hard fought, hard won: endings that feel more like death than relief.
I have experienced many endings in my life. Most of those endings were extremely difficult. I have shared some of them here. But most of these were more personal.
I want to lift up collective endings. Endings that mark a change in leadership. Endings that mark a change in the existence of a community: a church, an important program, or an organization or set of relationships we came to rely on.