Cannot Be Unlearned

We Must Go Forward

“What has been seen cannot be unseen, what has been learned cannot be unknown. You cannot change the past, but you can learn from it. You can grow from it. You can be made stronger. You can use that strength to change your life, to change your future.”
– C.A. Woolf

A few weeks ago Lori and I went on an incredible adventure. Along with a bus of 40+ people of varying ages, communities, congregations and ethnic and cultural backgrounds we participated in what is called “Journey 2 Mosaic”. It was a journey in which we heard and experienced firsthand the lives and stories from the perspectives of several different ethnic groups. While I can’t begin to use words to describe the experience that I am still processing, I can tell you that those words from Woolf keep ringing in my ear.

As I sit here reflecting on the experience again, I am flooded with sorrow as I recall stories from Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos and more. The sorrow has a place and I am sitting in that sorrow still, and wrestling with it. So many stories I had not heard. So many stories that are separate and yet connected. Similar and yet different. Stories that I can not change. But I can learn from them. I can grow from them. I can be made stronger.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

‘Never again will they hunger;
     never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,
     nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
     will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
     ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
– Revelation 7:9, 16-17

God created His children in His image, every “nation, tribe, people and language”. I am so thankful for the diversity with which God painted His creation, and I know that I have work ahead of me as I lean into that diversity with new knowledge, seeking to change my own heart, thoughts, patterns and actions. And hopefully, in some small way change the world. There will be challenges, resistance, and persecution. As I also experienced during the Journey 2 Mosaic, there will be joy, exuberance, and celebration. And maybe reconciliation.

“We must go back to reclaim our past so we can move foward,
so we can understand why and how we came to be who we are today.”

– meaning of “San-ko-fa”, an Akan (Ghanaian) word, part of the artwork at Mount Zion Baptist Church, Seattle


One Without the Other

One Without The Other
“In this crazy world, there’s an enormous distinction between good times and bad, between sorrow and joy. But in the eyes of God, they’re never separated. Where there is pain, there is healing. Where there is mourning, there is dancing. Where there is poverty, there is the kingdom.”
– Henri Nouwen

I read that quote about a week ago, and it has taken a while to sink in. I got to thinking about Nouwen’s words as I thought again about the movie Lori and I saw last week with our dear friends Nancy and Frank. The movie was ‘Showtimes for Same Kind of Different as Me’. Thought-provoking, and based on a true story of lives and attitudes changed. There was pain, mourning and poverty. But there was also tremendous healing, dancing and the kingdom of God. Hmm. Sounds like the Book of Psalms.

Maybe above all, as I think on those words from Nouwen, I need to remember how much I need to keep my eyes on God. If I lose sight of Him, if I do not meditate on His Word or walk in the counsel of His earthly saints, I will miss out on so much because I can easily be focused on the here and now. Amidst pain I will lose sight of the healing that can come from it. While mourning, I will have no hope of dancing. And where there is poverty I will not see His Kingdom.

I go back to when Denver Moore, one of the main characters in the film/story, says, “The truth about it is, whether we is rich or poor or something in between, this earth ain’t no final restin place. So in a way, we is all homeless – just workin our way toward home”. And that is perhaps the best news you and I can have.

Luke 19:10 – “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Isaiah 42: 6-7 – “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”


The Radiance of God

Sunrise from Fort Casey State Park by Keith Turley
One afternoon last week I wanted to listen to some songs by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. And sprinkled in there came the classic by Paul Simon, ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’. Just about each morning since then that refrain plays in my head at some point. This morning I figured I’d better spend some time chewing on it, if for no other reason than to get a different song to play in my head.

When I started reading the lyrics I found myself going back to the beginning:

She’s a rich girl
She don’t try to hide it
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes

I didn’t want my interpretation of the lyrics to be strictly literal…strictly about money or boasting. Is there something in my own life that I have so much of that I waste it? Maybe it’s not about even having a lot of something (thinking time, money or talent). Maybe its just about wasting something God-given.

Maybe it’s about me taking some time today to pray about areas of my life where I may not be a good steward. Areas where I may not be bearing the fruit God may have in mind.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
– Romans 12:5-8)

I found myself also reading the Beatitudes as part of my reflection this morning, and in particular v6:
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”
And then, in that mysterious way God works, one of the footnotes for that verse took me to Isaiah 60:21 –
“Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.”

No diamonds on the soles, let us instead display the splendor of God in all that we do, such that His glory be radiant.


Give Me Understanding

“I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.”

Psalm 119:93

Unlike yesterday, this morning I didn’t wake up with a song to inspire some quiet reflection. What did come to me as I sat down was the verse above, as a “Verse of the Day.” So I found myself backing up to the beginning of Psalm 119.

As I read the Psalm, verse 34 is the one that stuck out this morning: “Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart.” After all, who doesn’t want for understanding? What made me uncomfortable as I read that verse over multiple times was the “so that”.

Why is it that so much of my life seems to be structured in terms of conditions? Is operating through a system of conditions a bad thing? After all, from the beginning there were conditions. In the Garden, before the fall. When God told Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge (Genesis 2:17) it was definitely an IF you do this, THEN this will happen. And there are so many more “If…then…” statements directly from God and Jesus. Maybe I shouldn’t get hung on the condition in the verse.

So, back to Psalm 119:34. If I have understanding, then I “may” keep God’s laws and be obedient? Aha! (I love how God works when I stop and just ponder His word.) When I first read verse 34 I was uncomfortable with the implication that I could only obey God’s word AFTER I had understanding. And in my apparently (so I thought) random pondering I went to the Garden. Where Adam and Eve broke the law because they did not have understanding of God’s word. That’s why we need understanding before obedience. We can not truly be obedient “with all our heart” until we understand.

Yet to think about “understanding” opens a whole new can of worms for another morning of thought:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

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