Red Flags and Tiny Yellow Flowers


Snowy Range-1-45

I didn’t plan it, but this year my vacation turned into an epic road trip that will probably keep me smiling for the rest of my life.  The only plan I made was to drive my kids back to Colorado, and then visit family in Wyoming.  The rest of the adventure was completely spontaneous; every single day experienced with no preconceived plan, or agenda – just my camera, a cooler full of bottled water, and my trusty little GPS.

After all the visiting was done, I struck out on my own, dead set on reaching the top of the nearest mountain.  It sounded so simple – only 20 miles away – but then I noticed that my GPS had projected an arrival time of 3 hours in the future.

Have you ever made up your mind so completely to do something that you fail to notice those little red flags that start popping up?  Now I’ll admit, this is not the first time I’ve done that.  I’m a boundary-pusher by nature so I’ll ignore the red flags until I can’t ignore them anymore.  And there have indeed been times when I wished I hadn’t; but more often than not, what I end up discovering is that the boundaries are actually quite a bit further out than what I had first supposed.

Well, it took almost 5 hours to make it to the top of the mountain.  After spending 2 hours on a particularly crude logging road, it abruptly stopped – blocked by fallen trees, and I had to turn around and go back.  And what was really intimidating was the complete absence of other people.  (As an aside, this is why I stick with Jeep products)  But I did make it to the top of the mountain.  After several hours of intense off-road driving, I made it.  And that kind of set the tone for the remainder of the trip.

After that, it seemed every place I went, I somehow had to earn it, but then the rewards would be huge.  I sat on top of the world, alone, the only human for miles, and while it took some pretty big risks to get there, it was the most humbling and soul-clutching experience imaginable.

On another mountaintop, 4 more hours away, I stood next to a field of snow that was surrounded by tiny little yellow flowers.  Snow, in the hot July sun, surrounded by millions of tiny little yellow flowers.  And the snow was untouched.  There was not one single foot print in that snow.  It wasn’t mandated; there were no signs saying “keep off the snow,” yet everyone who made it to that spot agreed, this snow-covered ground was sacred.  I immediately thought of Moses on the mountaintop, standing before God, who said to him, take off your sandals you fool; can’t you see you are standing on Holy ground?

As I made my way across the jagged and raw beauty of the landscape, I noticed how boundaries expanded and barriers seemed to melt in the desert heat.  Without the protective padding of civilization, one learns the cooperative ways of nature.  Atoms and cells working together to form rocks, rocks and soil working together to form ground, ground and vegetation working together to form mountains…trees protecting birds, cool holes protecting prairie dogs and rattlesnakes…

Humans are the only species to cut themselves off from the flow of life.  We seal ourselves up in cities and towns, homes and cars, creating boundaries and erecting barriers, all in an effort to forget that we are fragile creatures, leading a fragile existence.

Sometimes we have to push boundaries and climb mountains in order to remember that like the tiny little yellow flowers surrounding the snow –

we are here now;

we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,”

and it’s all Holy ground,

all the time,

everywhere.

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Occupying Holy Ground


Ordination-1

Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind.  They utter lies to each other; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.  Psalm 12:1-2

Something Cornel West said when speaking about the ineffectiveness of Obama really stood out for me.  He said: “He doesn’t realize that a great leader, a statesperson, doesn’t just occupy the middle ground.  They occupy higher ground, or the moral ground, or even sometimes the holy ground.  But the middle ground is not the place to go if you’re going to show courage and vision.”  I could not help but think that faith leaders everywhere always head straight for the middle ground because to do otherwise might mean alienating the wrong person (or persons) and losing one’s audience all together.  It’s tricky because if you’re too honest people will accuse you of being judgmental or inflammatory; then they shut down and are no longer willing to listen to anything else.  On the other hand, if you allow that every perspective has merit, then sometimes you’re not really being prophetic – or even honest.  Rabbi Hirschfield says that: “You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right,” and that is true to the bone, but it doesn’t automatically make you right or me either for that matter. 

In some ways I think we have diffused the prophetic voice of the church by breaking it up into so many bits and pieces.  Granted, the church was filled with corruption and no longer served God or the people, but breaking it up was not Luther’s vision; he was looking to reform it.  Today there are literally thousands of denominations, and within each denomination there are thousands of congregations.  A pastor is accountable to only one congregation – the one that signs the paycheck – and if the pastor wishes to remain on the payroll then they are required to lead the flock wherever it is that the flock wants to go, all the while keeping in mind that not everyone in the flock wants to go to the same place.  Through all this it is easy to lose sight of the fact that we are accountable only to God – who might not provide a monthly paycheck – but who will provide. 

When we are accountable only to God, we speak God’s truth freely without worrying about whose hackles might be raised.  We stop seeking the middle ground and start searching for the higher ground, the moral ground and ultimately – the holy ground.  Sadly, most of us are too afraid to go that far out on God’s limb.  What will we eat, what will we wear, where will we live if we don’t have our nice safe little flocks to take care of us?

As I search for a call and try to figure out what it is that search committees want to hear, I often find myself gravitating toward a nice safe middle ground because I want a job.  Have I become willing to utter lies with flattering lips and a double heart?  That is not my call; that is my fear and my lack of faith.  Jesus spoke the truth and he did not back down when people tried to boo him off the stage.  We know of only one occasion where he changed his mind when he recognized that he was wrong, and that was with the Canaanite woman; but when confronted by the elders – he stood his holy ground. 

Today I pray that I find within myself enough faith that I can stand my holy ground, because that is what I was called to do.