Thursday, January 30, 2014


The winter doldrums are hard to take. The cold, snow, harsh wind and ice seem to freeze our spirits. We hide in our homes, hoping the furnace keeps running. We get frightened by the bitter temperatures and the slippery roads. We wonder when it will all end. The world seems bleak and pale, cast in black and white, the black of deicing chemicals and road grime, the white of snow and ice. It is easy to get down in the dumps in such a bland environment.

Baxter weathers winter well though. He seems no different in this season from the warmer and more colorful times of the year. His routine of eating, sleeping and window watching goes on uninterrupted. He may sleep over the heat register more often, but otherwise, he is content with the time of the year in which he finds himself. Baxter doesn’t complain about the weather. He just lives with it. In fact, Baxter doesn’t complain about much at all. Only three desires make him whiny: hunger, drinking from the spigot, and an occasional exploration into the garage. He is easy to please, and so he is a happy cat.

What about us? Can we find peace and contentment with what life brings our way, or are we always looking for something more, something better, bigger, prettier or more convenient? This restless drive for more can throw our lives off balance. We spend so much time and energy on looking ahead to the next improved thing, that we miss the value and beauty of what we have now. We work so hard to get ahead that we fail to appreciate the blessings of the present time and condition. We measure success by external gauges—the size of our pay check, home or car, our titles at work or our awards on the playing field—and we miss the measure of our character. What kind of a person am I? Kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, honesty, generosity and integrity are gems that sparkle in any season of life. They may not always make the climate calm and comfortable for everyone, but they will make it safe for the human spirit to survive. Without this spirit, God cannot be seen in our midst no matter how many pious words or practices we use.

Winter is God’s gift to us, not necessarily to like, but to use to take stock of who we have become. The long nights inside call us to think about where our lives are going and with whom we are making the journey. Are we and they people of character living by what we believe God has shown us about life in Jesus? Are we happy with ourselves no matter the moral climate around us? Are we right with our own hearts so that our imperfections and those of others are not causes for chronic distemper, but reasons to give thanks for God’s boundless love, patience and forgiveness? The winter outside isn’t our real threat. The winter inside our hearts is. Only God’s grace can warm them enough to change our ways.

Winter makes little difference in Baxter’s life. Mostly, it changes the scene outside the window. May we learn to adapt this way to the wintry world of selfishness, evil and sin, so that when they need it, others will find in us a warm place filled with God’s love.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


I got Baxter a special present this past Christmas. I noticed he would lie in front of the heat register on cold winter days. So I found in a catalogue a cat bed that was heated to correspond with a cat’s body temperature. It seemed the perfect special gift,and I hadn’t done anything that extravagant for Baxter since I bought him his Notre Dame collar a few years ago. I ordered the bed, and it came a few weeks before Christmas. I kept it in the box until about a week before the holiday, when I set it up. I told Baxter that this was his special Christmas gift and I was sure he would love it. He ignored it. Later, he sniffed at it and walked on the cushion. He has yet to lie down on it. So much for the perfect Christmas gift!

I thought I knew what Baxter would like and need. I assumed that a heated bed was better from his perspective than a place in front of the furnace vent. I was wrong.

We do the same thing to each other, don’t we? We think we know what the other person needs to be happy, and we act on our assumption. We do it all in good faith, wishing the best for the person, but we forget one thing in the process--letting the other speak his or her mind and respecting that opinion, even if we disagree with it. We sometimes skip those steps, and when we do, we can be far off the mark in understanding and serving the other.

The wonderful thing about our God is that He never skips any steps in His relationship with us. He wants us to voice our opinion with respect, and He respects us for doing so. He made each of us unique, and considers that quality a precious part of His image in us. He made us free to explore new ideas, try new ways and seek communion with Him and each other. For our part, we have to cooperate. We have to share what we are thinking and listen to different points of view. We have to allow others to try approaches different from our own, and consider the results. We find our communion in God by respecting our differences and discovering how they fit together to make a bigger and better picture of God’s likeness in our midst. We assume less, and we look, listen and discuss more.

I guess I am excused for my mistake with Baxter’s heated bed. After all, we don’t exactly speak the same language, and we are different species in the scheme of God’s creation. However, I don’t have the same excuses when it comes to my brothers and sisters in Christ, nor do you.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Pets bring a bit of mess into our lives. Baxter brings tuffs of hair with him in every situation. I have learned to live with a lint remover as part of my preparation to appear in public. The hack of a hairball with its coughed up residue is just a part of routine cat behavior. I have learned to whisk away the results as soon as it happens. Traces of litter track from Baxter’s box. He splashes the water in his dish to get it to move before he drinks, and the puddles left are my job to wipe. A perfectly neat and clean life is not possible with a pet. The owner becomes the janitor, or else the shared world becomes a health hazard for everyone.

Living with God can get messy as well. When we look at the doctrines, moral principles, and liturgical norms of our church, we like to pretend that it is so clear and well packaged that there is no question what it takes to live faithfully. But when the Word became flesh, God took on our messy human existence. Here people are weak, and their resolve is sometimes fickle. Circumstances create contradictions between goods that are hard to figure out. Tragedies render persons incapable of caring for themselves and each other. These conditions can cause people to lose hope and tempt them to give up trying for a better way. What’s the use? Solve one problem, clean one mess and another comes around the corner before you can catch your breath. Life’s a mess.

Yes, but within the mess there is love, gratitude, help from others and genuine concern to make life better for everyone. God is the source of this Spirit hidden in the heart of our humanity. But if we try too hard to keep it all neat and clean, clear and unambiguous, straight and narrow, we won’t see this Holy Spirit. We will only see the mess. We will only measure how far off the mark we or others are. We will only condemn the faults and failures and not see the persons struggling to find God in the mess. That was the Scribes’, Pharisees’ and temple officials’ problem in Jesus’ day, and likewise, it can be our problem in our day.

Yes, pets are messy, but despite all the loose hair, spilt food and drink, paw tracks and floor deposits, they bring joy and companionship to our lives. Despite the messiness of life, God brings much more to our lives. His grace assures us that all will be well. His love upholds us when all else seems lost. His life is stronger than death, and so brings hope and peace beyond the grave. Yes, it’s worth the mess to find the divine meaning of it all.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Having a pet takes work. You have to feed and water your charge daily. You have to provide for its bathroom habits. You have to pay attention to it, talk to it, play with it, groom it. You have to clean up after pets-spills, tuffs of hair, paw tracks. You have to accept these terms of pet ownership, if your cat, dog or other critter is not just to survive, but to thrive in sharing life with you. Having a pet carries with it responsibili-ties and chores that your animal is counting on you to fulfill, if it is to be healthy and happy.

Any significant relationship we have takes work. We are not simply, conveniently connected to each other whimsically, if our relationship matters in any way. We have to make time and space for those who mean something to our lives. We have to respond when they ask for help in some way. We have to care for them, if they can’t care for themselves, and we have to take time just to be with them, if we value their relationship. Love and friendship aren’t free. They cost us by taking pieces of our lives and sharing them with those we hold dear. We can’t keep our own lives self-contained and expect to feel needed and loved. We have to tie ourselves together in concrete ways and bear the burdens and sacrifices of these ties, to know the warmth, security and meaning that come in a true and honest loving rela-tionship. We lose a part of our lives to gain a larger life in loving another.

This holds for God’s life with us as well. God loves us before we know it, and He will never withdraw His love from us no matter what we do or what happens in our world. But we cannot experience God’s love for us unless we are able to respond to God with thoughts, feelings and actions that make our divine connection a reality in our lives. Negative thinking about how awful our lives are will never allow God to show us His care. Fear of divine punishment and resentment over life’s unfairness leave no room for the light and peace of eternal life. Efforts that are merely self-serving and self-aggrandizing will never build a better world in which all of us can live happier lives.

This cost of caring is shown to us on the cross. There Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to show His divine love and how it saves us. Any human thoughts about revenge for this suffering were transformed into words of forgiveness and mercy. Any feelings of despair and disillusionment gave way to those of trust in His Father and abandonment to His will. Finally, in handing over His Spirit on the cross, Jesus gives us the power of divine life to use in carrying on His work of building God’s Kingdom in our midst. This total picture reveals the work of grace in the working of our relationships. God uses our efforts at conscientious care for each other to transform us into His holy people, to help us grow in our discipleship, and to teach us how much He loves us.

Don’t worry, Baxter. You’re safe with me. I’m not going anywhere—and neither is God!