Ten years ago in NYC

I’ve never really written anything about my experiences in New York City on 9/11/01. I don’t have any particular reason for never writing, but this tenth anniversary does make me think that maybe some might find some of it interesting. This could be a long one.

I’d driven up to New York City the night before, Monday evening of September 10th, and stayed overnight at the Hilton hotel not too far from Rockefeller Plaza, on the Avenue of the Americas near 53rd Street. Driving in NYC was always a dicey thing for me–I’d either start driving like the rest of the aggressive maniacs around me or drive very conservatively and nervously. Regardless, I made it to the hotel just fine and parked my car in their underground garage.

I’d been sent to the city by my company as the representative to a new industry exchange group discussing internal web portals. The group of representatives from a collection of large companies was to hold its first meeting the next day at a consulting firm’s office, which was located about three miles down from the Hilton on the Avenue of the Americas near 15th Street. My plan was to leave my car in the hotel garage the next day and use the Metro to travel to and from the meeting. It would leave about a block of walking on each end, but I was hoping for a nice day to make the walk enjoyable.

Well, after a good breakfast at the hotel, I checked out, stored my bags in my car in the garage, and checked with the concierge on which Metro lines to take to my destination. I headed out of the hotel into a very nice sunny day, making my way to the subway, then arriving at the 14th Street Metro station along the Avenue of the Americas around 8:25 AM. Emerging up at street level, I walked south with a beautiful view of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and made my way to the consultant’s offices. The office was about two miles north of the WTC, so the view of the buildings on that beautiful, sunlit morning was really of the upper half of the buildings since nearer buildings obscured the lower floors.

The meeting was to start at 9:00 AM, so I made my way into the building and up to the meeting room to meet some of the attendees and grab a danish and some tea. I was shaking hands and meeting the representatives who’d arrived early when a new arrival came in and said something very odd, “You need to see this–a plane crashed into the World Trade Tower. You can see it perfectly from the street.” It was about 8:50 AM, ten minutes before the meeting was to start. In my mind, for some reason I was thinking of a private plane, something small, that might might be sticking out of the building after crashing into it. That was the picture in my mind as I joined a few others in walking down to the street level to take a look.

When I exited onto the sidewalk, the picture was far different. Looking up at the tower, I saw a huge gash, an area stretching maybe ten floors up and down and perhaps three quarters of the way across the face of the building. This area wasn’t yet very smoky, so it looked to me very much as though someone had scooped out a big handful of the building, taking everything away and leaving a jagged empty space. I was immediately struck by the question of how many people might have been in that now missing space. The whole idea of a small airplane crashing into the building was quickly driven from my mind. But, frankly, the situation was already a bit much to assess, and the group of us went back up to the meeting room for the start of the session.

A few of the remaining representatives and attendees did arrive and the host called the meeting to order. He welcomed us and we started introducing ourselves around the table. I think we started to move on to the next agenda item when someone came in and called the host out of the meeting as some discussion continued. Very shortly, a our host returned and interrupted the conversation, telling us that we’d need to stop the meeting. Clearly, he was concerned, shaken, but intent on providing information and help–information and help we didn’t yet know we needed. He told us that a second plane had crashed into the other tower, and the news reports were indicating that the crashes were deliberate. These factors and the expected set of complications to come made it clear we all had more important issues to attend to. His firm had a number personnel who were working an engagement with a client in one of the towers, so his team in the office where we were had started to track down the locations of all their employees.

They’d pulled two large white boards on wheels out into the center of their open cubicle area. The first was being used to tally the locations and status of their employees. Various folks in the office were actively and as rapidly as possible working through the list of their employees to make contact and ensure their status, and updating the board with the good news as each was contacted and confirmed to be in fine shape. The second board was labeled “Got a Room – Need a Room”–the employees in that office were immediately opening their nearby homes to each other in case anyone was unable to make it home that night. Our host told us to add our names in the “Need a Room” column for time being, and they’d try to ensure we were provided for until we visitors could be sure of where we were headed that day. I was really struck by the intense local reality of this firm having employees that could be in those buildings, by their focused tactical response to the situation as they tracked down every one of their employees, and by the immense gift of hospitality they were offering by their readiness to open their homes to each of us visitors. (And they were successful in their task of accounting for all of their staff. All were found to be safe, although a number were clearly stranded by the transportation challenges that had already started and would continue for days to come.)

We all started to move. I added my name to the “Need a Room” column on the white board and went to one of the visitor kiosks they pointed out to us. I connected my laptop to the internet jack there and started making a few phone calls. I called my wife, Lisa, to let her know I was fine and talk about what had happened. She was intensely relieved to hear from me, of course, and had plenty to tell me–about the Pentagon crash, about planes being tracked everywhere, about precautions and measures being taken, and about the fear everywhere. I told her that my plan was to stay at that office until I had firm plans for what to do. My car was still at the hotel, so I was definitely going to try to get in touch with them. I also wanted to get in touch with my office to ensure they knew I was okay. I wanted to make sure our church community also knew that I was in NYC an was okay. And I needed to get an idea of what to do. I sent a few emails with status to work colleagues and to folks from our church, and made a call to an administrator at the office to pass word back to other there.

I think it was very shortly after that when I heard cries and sobbing from the common area of the offices where we were. They’d pulled a large screen TV out into the area and folks were watching the coverage intently. The people there had just watched the South Tower crumble into a huge cloud of dust (which happened just before 10 AM). Several people were crying or sobbing at the sight of that destruction. I’d not seen the collapse directly, so I went to the windows to see what I might see from there. The team had closed the shades, I think to turn away from what they might see out there.  As the second tower collapsed about 30 minutes after the first, all that could be seen down the street and to the south was a huge cloud of smoke and dust.

As time progressed, we learned more from the news coverage, and I exchanged a few emails. It became clear that the city of New York was being protected through shutting down access through bridges and tunnels and that I was very unlikely to be able to leave town that day. So I contacted the Hilton and spoke with their front desk. Understandably, they were not admitting new guests to the hotel nor allowing cars to enter their garage and would have turned me away except that my car was still parked there. Since they weren’t admitting new guests to the hotel, the room I’d used the night before was still available, so they agreed I could return to the hotel and stay that night. Our hosts’ hospitality continued in plenty as they’d had lunch brought in lunch for all of us. So I decided that after a good lunch and a check of my email and the news, I’d head back to the hotel. I knew that the subways weren’t running, so I knew I’d need to walk the about three miles back to the hotel. I also knew that the security and safety of the city and even the state of utilities wasn’t a sure thing, so I definitely wanted to make that walk in good daylight. I took a little time after lunch to thank my hosts, remove my name from the white board, and wish the others in the new (kind of unlaunched) discussion group safety until we reconvened, whenever that would be.

Down on the street, it was clearly an abnormal day in NYC. There was little traffic on the normally busy Avenue of the Americas, whether pedestrian or vehicle. Few private vehicles went by, but the occasional police or emergency vehicle passed now and then. As for people, there were definitely people out on the sidewalks of the Avenue of the Americas. Some were in groups of a few standing together talking and looking south at the cloud and the changed skyline. Others were making their way north away from or south toward the destruction. More than once, I saw persons who were very dirty, covered from head to foot in dust–but I failed to make the connection that these were the ones who’d been in the debris cloud, regrettably. What I found strangest, though, were the military fighter jets that passed overhead a number of times. A reminder of the profound uncertainty about the situation and the heightened security precautions for whatever was to come.

In hindsight, my thoughts through much of the time since the magnitude of the tragedy had first become clear were on my wife and nearly two year old daughter at home, and the imperative that I needed to get safely back to them. Over the course of that about three mile walk back to the hotel, I could have been thinking about how I could help or offer words of comfort or even a listening ear to the people I encountered. But I was certainly overwhelmed by it all. One other thought pattern was emerging though–gratitude for what people were doing in this outrageous day. I was resolving to thank everyone I met in some area of service to others “for being here today.” I was thinking that there are so many other places anyone could decide to be on a day like this, but if they were at their jobs, ready to serve, they were demonstrating an admirable dedication.

When I got to the hotel, they checked me in efficiently and I retrieved my bags to head up to my room. I made a particular point to thank a number of the staff I encountered for being there. I made my way up to the same room I’d used the night before, that calm, normal night before. Not too long after I changed into casual clothes and got settled in, I hear a noise at the door. When I looked, I found a letter that had been slid under the door. It was a letter of notification and apology from the Hilton management, but its understatement and humility have always struck me deeply–I hang the original of this letter on my office wall.

Extraordinary Letter from NYC Hilton on 9/11

Extraordinary Letter from NYC Hilton on 9/11

I’m not sure how often the attacks on the WTC and the ensuing collapse of the towers were labeled “unfortunate tragedy” nor “unusual circumstances,” but the clarity, sincerity, and service orientation the letter engendered were definitely a gift to me on that afternoon. I began to monitor the local and national news reports to better understand what was happening and what the prospects were for making the drive home soon–one that would normally take about 2 1/2 hours. The answers were not immediately clear. Talking with my wife, I heard that our church was having a prayer service that night to offer comfort to our community and to extend our immediate assistance through prayer. I let her know that I was feeling safe and secured in the hotel and was mostly hoping they could pray for my wisdom on how to get home to my girls. It certainly turned out that I was not the only traveler with that need…

After a dinner in the hotel restaurant–they’d stocked a very nice buffet for guests–and more avid TV news viewing, it was clear there would be no more news on access or egress from the city, so I made a goodnight call home and hit the sack with alarms set for early. In the morning, word was out that the outward bound lanes of the George Washington Bridge, way up at 179th Street, about 11 miles north of the hotel. I resolved to get my breakfast, pack up, check conditions one more time, and head home.

Traffic was uncannily absent for much of the trip north in the city, but definitely picked up as I neared the bridge. There was still no traffic being allowed to enter the city across the bridge, but there was a steady stream of vehicles leaving the city. I joined the flow of cars heading to the New Jersey Turnpike as I headed south toward the Pennsylvania Turnpike connector. The NJ Turnpike wound its way south, but as it led me south past Union City and Jersey City, the Manhattan skyline started to come into view. That Wednesday morning was another beautiful sunny day. But the view from the NJ Turnpike was disrupted by a column of smoke that rose and formed a steady path to the south and east, across the turnpike and over NJ. The trail it formed led directly to the lower Manhattan site of the WTC, and the skyline was clearly different on this day.

The other striking sight was the knot of vehicles waiting at each of the bridge or tunnel exits from the NJ Turnpike, waiting to get over to the city. There were plenty of private cars and trucks, but very clearly in the mix were emergency and care vehicles, even FEMA caravans. And these emergency vehicles were prominent even as I drove south, making their way up to those backups to wait for their chance to make it into town and offer their help. It was as if half of the world was outside the door of the city just waiting to be let in to help. It was profound.

I made my way back south in NJ and over east into PA, making my way back to my office to dump off a few things and let them know I’d made it back, then further on to my home and my girls. My trip home was actually an easy drive and rather timely after the accident as compared with most who were traveling on that Tuesday. But it really did give me an additional appreciation of the situation immediately and to come.

These years later, I do remember many snapshots of the day, and I have visited the WTC site once to get a closer look at what is underway there. I am so grateful that I was cared for so well by strangers–at the meeting host offices, at the Hilton hotel, and really, throughout the city and NJ by every manner of safety officer. I do wish I had been a bit more thoughtful of the people I encountered who had clearly experienced aspects of the attacks or collapse first hand. And I am very glad God led me back to my girls just one day after the crisis began.

I’ll end this account right there, with gratitude. Hope this was of some interest to some!

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Like Finals Week for Christians…

Hmmm, am I going to start each post with a remark about how long it’s been since I last posted? Really, one month, that’s not too good.  Does it help that I’ve been thinking about this post that entire month?  I’ve been thinking about the topic ever since my friend Cathy commented on the last post that she’d be interested in my take on the book of “Leviticus”–but this Christmas week gave me the extra push to get this written.

So, Cathy, and everyone, the Book of Leviticus. A robust Old Testament listing in 27 chapters of laws relating to a right relationship with our God, given to Moses and the Jewish people as a set of crucial codes for their living, with a special focus on the sacrificial system for forgiveness from sins and on the Tribe of the Levites whose mission was decreed by God to minister the processes within the Tabernacle and served as priests. In fact, this Book of the Old Testament for Christians is a primary source for Jewish Law. But for most of us Christians, it’s a piece of the Bible we feel comfy to pick and choose our way through and often ignore wholesale…

Here’s what I think causes a problem for us, though. As Christians, we really celebrate and rest on our status of being forgiven people, dependent on the wonderful grace of God.  This status is an amazing gift, one we didn’t earn, and one that is solely by God’s choice. Truly a wonderful thing. Jesus has solved the problem of forgiveness for every one of us forever if we accept that gift. This is actually a perfect parallel with the Leviticus chapters that deal with the various sacrifices for sins–the extent to which the Jewish people were adhering to the prescribed sacrifices determined the forgiveness they experienced. And like us with Jesus’ gift of permanent redemption, the Jewish people were very ready to rely on this periodic redemption process as the key to a godly and worthy life. In the most extreme version of this, they and we could all feel like how we lived wouldn’t matter so long as there was a great redemptive process in place.

The problem arises in that God didn’t just tell us about how to be forgiven for our sins, He also told us about how He wants us to live.  On a mountain while wandering in the desert, Moses was given God’s instructions for living–the Ten Commandments–which tell us to live with Him and each other in a way that is distinctive from the rest of the world.  And this list didn’t claim that the rules were for our redemption, they were about how we can truly be God’s people here on earth. So, also did Leviticus not only give the Jewish people their approach to gaining forgiveness, but also a great many examples of how to live in a godly manner with God and each other. And, note, these were truly simply a list of examples of how to live God’s way, not replacements for the Ten Commandments. For us Christians, we can regard Jesus’ teachings like The Sermon on the Mount as the same thing–while there are teachings there about the redemption Jesus provides, it is so much more about living as God’s people among all people for His glory and their benefit.

So, for the Jewish people, according to so many of the Old Testament prophets’ words, their key failing was not in following the sacrificial system–in fact, in many cases, God informed them that their dutiful sacrifices were just not acceptable. Their failing was in not living righteous lives, with care for the poor, orphaned, widowed, hungry, imprisoned, marginalized of their world. Similarly, Jesus story of the sheep and goats warned us Christians of the same thing. And the complaints against the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were not about whether the church members are redeemed, but instead about how they live out their faith.

Given all of that, where Leviticus for the Jewish people had been a stumbling block when they centered in on the sacrifices, neglecting the instructions for living in a Godly manner, we Christians can fall into the same pit of focusing on the forgiveness Jesus gained for us while neglecting to live with love and care for God’s beloved people. About a week ago, comedian Jim Gaffigan posted on Twitter a quip that “Christmas is like finals week for Christians.” I read this to mean that Christmas is certainly a time when the behavior of Christians is particularly evident to those around them. I don’t think their judgment of the depth and value of our devotion to God is going to be most heavily based on the beauty of Christmas displays or volume of our Christmas caroling–but the things that we do to show true care for our neighbors far and near, especially those marginalized by society, will lead to more favorable views of the value of a Christian lifestyle. And how it is that we regard the instructions for living as God’s people in like of the Ten Commandments, Leviticus, the Sermon on the Mount, and Revelation 2-3 are what might best guide these actions for us.

Hey, I hope and pray your labors during this “finals week” bring you closer to who God calls us to be!

One follow-up note: I now have an HD video recorder which makes it much easier for me to record the PSA I mentioned in the last post, which I hope to do this week while off from work.  When I post it, I’ll make sure there’s a link on this blog!

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Quit doing that to my Jesus!

Oh, my, I never intended to go this long without new contents. It seems that a post I intended to write, but was never inspired to write, was my roadblock–guess I need to watch out… I was going to write about the subject of Hopewell UMC‘s Consecration Weekend, which took the theme “With You in Spirit” from the story of Elisha’s servant Gehazi’s misdeeds (II Kings 5:19b-27). But the inspiration never came, really.

Instead, I’ve been inspired by a contest the LOGO TV network is running. (For those unfamiliar, LOGO offers programming slanted toward gay, lesbian, homosexual, and related audiences.) The contest is inspired by the recent profound increase in unacceptable treatment of homosexuals, including the recent bullying of a teenage boy at Rutgers University others suspected of being homosexual, which soon led to his suicide. The contest asks contributors to upload 25-second Public Service Announcement (PSA) videos speaking out against the bullying. I’m planning to create a rather simple video submission, one that is likely to represent a voice not often heard in this circle–that of Christian compassion.  My script will be something like:

My name is Allen, and I follow Jesus Christ as my Savior. Jesus taught that whatever you do to any of God’s people, you’re doing to Him. So, please stop hating, bullying, threatening, abusing, and hating on homosexuals—because when you do, you’re hating on my Jesus!

I’ve been thinking a bit more about Jesus’ lesson about the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46), and Jesus’ pronouncement at the end about the goats’ behavior: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ It’s stated as the negative, which is very applicable in this situation.  For every time you failed to show love, compassion, a healing heart, a considerate manner, an encouraging character toward a homosexual individual–every time you fail to stop the harsh words and hateful rhetoric, fail to accept and try to understand…you failed to do so with Jesus. It’s a powerful indictment of our behavior in many areas of life, but one that could have life-saving consequences in these and other circumstances.

So, I do hope I manage to put together the PSA submission, and I do hope it gets airtime–both so that the homosexual community can hear an encouraging voice and the Christian community can hear a deserved rebuke.  And so God can get the glory!

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At the Rail

At Hopewell, our contemporary services begin with a prelude: easy-going instrumental music played by the band before a pastor greets the congregation. It’s a practice we bring in from our traditional services, but like so many other things, with a twist. In the traditional services, the prelude is announced only in the bulletin. But for the contemporary worship time, as the music begins, I invite the worshipers to spend time in prayer for the service, suggesting that they pray for all who will be involved with the service and for open hearts and minds to allow the Holy Spirit to do its work. I let them know that the prayer rail is open or they can certainly pray at their seats. Then I head down to the prayer rail myself…which also acts as a cue for the acolyte to light the altar candles…  [Strap in, this is a robust discussion…]

When I go to the rail before each service, I follow a particular prayer discipline every time, even between back-to-back services. It’s important to me in preparing to lead worship. What I do is informed by a few essentials to me as a worship leader–in fact informed by some of the Bible passages and verses I cite to describe the essentials of worship. I’m committed to being led by the Holy Spirit in all that I do up front in worship (John 4:23). I want that leadership of the Spirit to not be hindered by anything in my life (Romans 6:23). It’s important that what I offer in the service be selfless and focused on God with love not only for Him but also for the congregation (Matthew 25:45). And I can’t just be focused on my personal experience and offering of worship, I know that all involved with a service are part of the honor we give to God (consider the Revelation 7:9 picture of ultimate worship).

So, at the rail, I follow a pattern of preparing for worship:

  • I always begin by thanking God for the opportunity to worship and the privilege of leading worship. We leaders in the church are given an amazing gift and privilege to lead (1 Peter 2:9), and, like my comments about the ten talents, we are entrusted with more or less according to how we treat that privilege.
  • I quickly turn to confession.  It’s a simple fact that sin separates us from God, and unconfessed sin pollutes our capacity to connect with Him. Notice in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death–I get paid my wages from work on a weekly basis, not as an end-of-life benefit, just as my sin pays me in death incrementally instead of just in the afterlife.  But if we confess, God is so ready to forgive and purify us (1 John 1:9). This confession may be about sin I’ve committed in the week leading up to the service or sin that is as recent as during the last service or between services.  (Yes, during or between services, I can find plenty of ways to mess up. Probably a topic for another article…)
  • With a forgiven heart, I then invite God to fill me again with His Holy Spirit. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul reminded his friends to “…be filled with the Holy Spirit…”  The sense of the original text was a continuous or perpetual filling by the Spirit, inviting us to renew our welcoming of that Spirit in our own lives.  But there just isn’t an inviting place for the Spirit in a sin-filled me, so this follows confession as a natural way to be more Spirit led and filled, all for the glory of God in worship.
  • I then pray for the congregation, for them to have the open hearts and minds I mention in the invitation to pray.  And for them to have a wonderful love for the Lord that shows in the worship.  Of course, Jesus opened the eyes of the blind man and talked about opening our eyes to the need for a harvest–which makes this a great picture of what readiness we need for His truth and His Kingdom. Similarly, Psalm 51:17 tells us that God loves a broken and contrite heart, and on the road to Emmaeus, two of Jesus’ disciples realized that their hearts burned within them as the risen Jesus spoke to them. Great reasons for us to be radically open to what God offers us in our times of worship.
  • Finally, I pray for a true and deep love for the congregation as I stand before them, so that I can be a useful leader of them into worship of God.  I might sing, “I could sing of your love forever!” but if I don’t love each member of the worshiping body there in that place (let alone the rest of the world) I cannot correctly love God.  Jesus was very clear that whatever I’ve done or failed to do for each of His created children, I’ve done or failed to do to Him. Especially in the worship situation, my love for God will be hobbled by any lack of love I have for His people.

I may have other things I pray for in the moment, things relating to troubles or challenges that come to my mind, or for particular people who are a part of the service, but these five things are to me the staples of my preparation for leading worship.

Even more, I want to say to anyone who reads this who attends worship I ever lead: I pray this for you, with sincerity and devotion, before I do anything to even try to lead you anywhere.  It’s been my experience that when I truly humble myself in this way, God is faithful and graceful and loving to respond and use me in ways I never imagined. It is very certainly His grace that makes something good of the gifts He’s put in me, and I am so thankful for it!

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Among my soapboxes…

Many who’ve been around me when I’ve heard just the right trigger know that I have a few favorite “soapboxes” at the ready to pull out and climb right up on to share my self-acclaimed wisdom for all to hear. (Hmmm, wait, isn’t that kind of what I do every time I write on this blog? But I digress…) One example many have heard is my speech about the term, “Lessons Learned.” In a nutshell, I’d like to see the term changed to “Lessons Observed” since most of the time we just record what went wrong and “learning” isn’t real until behavior changes…  Glad I didn’t pull out the soapbox all the way?

There’s a pseudo-spiritual phrase that many utter in tricky times that’s another hot button for me: “God never gives you more than you can handle!” It sounds wise, it sounds spiritual, it even sounds Biblical.  Think about Job, didn’t God only allow what he could handle?  Maybe Esther–she looked inside and found the strength…

The problem is, this isn’t Biblical.  It’s really the opposite of what the Bible shows us. Let’s start with one of the basic implications of this–that God would love for us to be self-sufficient. I offer Jesus’ words as a counter argument: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NIV) God wants us to be intimately connected to Him and dependent on Him–not so we will be weak, but so we will choose His offer of strength over our own. This is a daily and moment by moment choice for me, a question of whether in fact all He’s given me in my life is what I can handle on my own or if instead I’ll trust God and give in to His will over my own.

And another big lesson from Jesus comes into play here as well, this one from the parable of the ten talents (found in Matthew 25:14-30). This parable gives us the very clear insight that God wants us to take good care of even the small gifts and help He gives us–if we do, He’s very interested in trusting us with more, and more.  Sorry to say, that goes for the challenges we face as well. The challenges we face in life generally seem to grow as we mature in general, but in particular as our faith grows. And this testing is very clearly about our growth in faith James 1:2-4 tells us.

So, how much will God give us?  I believe based on all of this and more of what I’ve seen of God that He really isn’t interested in giving us what we can handle–He will give us enough to encourage us to turn toward Him. In fact, the more we try to handle things ourselves, apart from Him, He’ll give us more and more to lead us closer to where there’s nowhere to turn but Him. And if He’s only giving us what we can handle, we should probably be a bit concerned that He’s not interested in our growth or even that He’s done with us.

For me, it’s still a case of trying to be faithful with my 10 talents and seeing what more He is willing to trust me with. I know I’m not too great with it all, but I’m pretty sure that trying to handle it all myself isn’t going to work…

(Putting soapbox away now.)

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Not Fair!!

So, I’ve put about 1,500 miles on my car in the last week, going to an interesting set of events, all of which have exposed me to great thoughts and fresh insights…  [I went to the National Worship Leaders Conference East in Lancaster, PA–wonderfully teaching andinspirational; and to the TEDxPSU event in University Park, PA–great event with excellent speakers; and a few other events at Penn State–I love the interaction with students and leaders there]  Unfortunately, all of the travel left me pretty wiped out each night and I just didn’t get here to share the insights at all.  But God had as plan, as always, and He’s put something else in my line of sight to write about first…

My guess is that every parent has heard the cry of “Not fair!” at some point in raising their child.  Maybe in response to an action the parents took, maybe in recounting the latest trickiness on the playground.  But it’s a very common and natural reaction–even as we get older.  It seems a very natural reaction to events around us to claim that the outcome is just not fair.

This week at the dinner table, we had a lengthy discussion about what wasn’t fair.  The complaint was that this person got to do more activities than that person and how that was unfair.  My logical prowess led me to a perfect mathematical explanation that the combination of individuals and activities and friendships would always lead to the outcome that was so unfair, so I concluded we couldn’t get too upset over it.  FYI, my mathematical proofs are rarely a satisfactory explanation for fifth grade drama…

But then we talked about the same topic in our Men of Faith session yesterday touched on this, too.  And we talked about a very useful distinction.  My reaction to the “not fair” claim is always a vague counter-claim in the back of my mind that God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts…which isn’t truly satisfying.  But it is useful to consider the difference between our question of “fair” and what God always offers as “justice.”  When I look at the “unfair” claims I hear, they seem to be based on the expectations of the person making the claim.  Our expectations so often evolve from our emotional assessment of the world–our compassion for a situation, our personal sense of loss or envy, our resentments over being passed over, even our shame over outcomes.  The difference that I see with God’s justice is that it is always based in truth, in the eduring facts of who God is.  The truth of how God has orchestrated situations is almost always far beyond our understanding, but always based on the truth of who He is.  Which so often collides with our more narrowly driven emotional assessments.

My thought is that, perhaps optimally, as we grow spiritually and mature in our relationship with God, our emoitional and logical assessments of what is “fair” will be more and more informed by the truth of who God is, so that our desires will increasingly be for the justice of God’s orchestrations rather than the emotional security of what we’d always thought of as “fair.”  I do kind of hope that, over time, I can feel less and less of the “not fair” dissatifaction and feel more of the peace that I know comes from having my thoughts more in line with the will of God.

And I think that’s how I can be a bit better parent–to help shape expectations more and more with the truth of God’s word.  Which is part of what the Deuteronomy told us to do as parents: “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

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Now at National Worship Leaders Conference East 2010

At #nwlc10 East pre-conference session on how leaders in church can be effective stewards of technology.

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