Half a Century In

one_half_century_pinback_button-rea0f597f382f44da87fae6d0cae6555f_x7j3i_8byvr_324

About nine months ago, I shared with some of you a very rough version of a song I wrote to mark a personal milestone–my 5oth birthday.  Today, I am sharing an updated version of the song that is a little bit clearer and better produced.

It is a song fueled by both nostalgia and navigation; both whimsical remembering and earnest introspection; both reflection on the past and acknowledgment of a growing up that is still taking place .  In short, it is a song about life.  My life.  Your life.  All life.

As you listen to it, I hope that you are inspired to hold in your thoughts the nature and the nuances of the human pilgrimage–its beauty, its fragility, and, certainly, its brevity.

I am grateful that all of you have been part of my first half century.

Half a Century In (words and music by Eric Park)

Feeling not so young
Feeling not so old
Seeming less high strung
At least that’s what I’m told

Looking toward the past
Covers ample ground
I guess I got here fast
And I’m glad I’m still around

The year I joined the race
Silent were the sounds
Trekking into space
Soldiers on the ground

History has a way
Of wearing different skin
That’s how it looks today
Half a century in

Half a century in
Half a century in
Upheld by a steady grace
Half a century in

Tender are the thoughts
Prone to reminisce
Connecting all the dots
Through souls I dearly miss

Laughter shapes the joy
Grief refines the pain
A man with shades of boy
A journey to maintain

Half a century in
Half a century in
Grateful for the wonderment
Half a century in

Sweetness of parental care
Hymns to Jesus sung
Reborn through love and quiet prayer
Getting old, but still so young

Covenants and wedding bells
Two lives are intertwined
The story that our marriage tells
Is how my life’s defined

None of this deserved
None of it was owed
Like a banquet served
A feast of grace bestowed

Looking now ahead
Wondering what will be
Grateful for the threads
And the woven tapestry

Half a century in
Half a century in
Transformed by the pilgrimage
Half a century in

Half a century in
Half a century in
Saved by grace and growing still
Half a century in

After the Election

1024px-map_of_usa_showing_state_names

Do you ever experience a night in which sleep becomes secondary to prayer and in which outcries to Jesus become as natural as breathing and every bit as desperate? Last night was that kind of night for me and, I suspect, for many others, simply because of the sense of urgency around this presidential election and all that is at stake in the days ahead.

May I speak to you about the nature of my prayer today, in the hope that my feeble petitions might resonate with your own prayerful spirit?

I am praying for President-elect Trump, that his heart will break for the issues that matter most; that the noblest portions of his character will find dynamic expression in his leadership; that repentance, where necessary, will become authentically transformational for him; and that his presidency will be devoted to the kind of work that broadens our country’s grandness (in the most honorable sense of what grandness means).

I am praying for President-elect Trump’s family members, that they will be protected as much as possible from the harm that global scrutiny so frequently causes and that they might be inspired to love and nurture one another with intentionality and integrity in these days of important transition.

I am praying for Secretary Clinton and her family, that they might experience a profound sense of rest and accomplishment today.

I am praying for the healing of a nation that is starkly and frighteningly divided and whose divisions reflect substantial ideological differences that cannot be reduced to Facebook pronouncements and a smug dismissal of “the other.” I hold in my heart today my dear friends who see this election as a long-awaited answer to prayer. I also hold in my heart my dear friends who see this election as a bold exclamation point on America’s moral and cultural decline. Both types of people are part of the nation that President-elect Trump is preparing to lead. Both must be taken seriously.

I am praying for those who have felt wounded, mistreated, and diminished throughout this election season, that their vision and hope might be fully restored.

I am praying that the people of our great country (elected leaders and neighbors on the block or in the pew) will move toward a more comprehensive, reasoned, authentic, and respectful way of talking with one another about the vitally important matters that this election season has illuminated—including issues of race, gender, immigration, abortion, gun control, and healthcare. I long for the kind of sustained and integrated dialogue in which people refuse to become so exclusively fixated on their own viewpoints that they can no longer value the perspectives and experiences of others.

Finally, I am praying for the church, which is the portion of the world where I spend most of my time and where I invest most of my hope and energy. May the church commit itself afresh to the healing of a nation and to the hearing of all voices. May its people devote themselves anew to the work of justice, mercy, and Gospel-grounded transformation. And may its sacrificial ministry be a prophetic indication to the world that, while the church approaches the election of our political leaders with reverent seriousness and commitment, our deepest hope lies in the reign of God and the reconfigured lives and communities that God’s grace makes possible.

Breathe in, friends. Breathe out. Pray deeply. Be gentle with one another. And then meditate on this: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

The Lord’s Prayer

the-lords-prayer

Here is a song about an old and important prayer–a prayer taught to us by a Savior who wanted us to pray well and who hoped that we might glimpse in our praying the potential for God’s will to be accomplished “on earth as it is in heaven.”

While I wrote this song about the Lord’s Prayer twenty years ago, Tara and I (along with Rick Witkowski) just recently reworked it in an effort to keep it fresh in our hearts and minds.  I hope that it helps you to pray on this 2016 Election Day.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Good Father who reigns in heaven

Holiness breathes your name

Your kingdom come, your will be done

On earth as it is in heaven

Give us this day our daily bread

Forgive us our sins as we forgive

Lead us not into temptation’s way

But deliver us now from evil

Yours is the kingdom, power, and glory

Forever and ever the same

And so to these things we now say “amen”

May the prayer of our heart be a song to you

Your kingdom come, your will be done

“Let’s Talk Politics!”

vote_500x279

“Let’s talk politics!” Wow. Could there be any weightier phrase to utter in these tense and difficult days? Do you feel your anxiety increasing, even as I ask the question?

It is sometimes hard for the church to know what to say during a Presidential election. In every church, after all, there are Republicans and Democrats, Independents and Libertarians, along with people who don’t quite know where to locate themselves on the political spectrum. Some want the church to be absolutely silent about the election, so that worship might be a safe and restful sanctuary from the world’s political conversations. Others long for the church to be more aligned with a particular party’s platform, since they believe the issues of that platform to be essential to the moral health of our nation.

Having been a pastor for nearly twenty-eight years (during which time I have walked with churches through seven Presidential elections), I have come to conclude that it is not the church’s best work to advocate for a particular party or candidate. It is absolutely the church’s best work, however, to incarnate and practice the alternative politics of God’s Kingdom and God’s Way, irrespective of who is President and which party’s voice is dominant in our nation. My goal has always been to preach a Jesus who consistently refused to be coerced or co-opted by the political systems of his day and who, two-thousand years later, continues to both transform and transcend the political landscape.

But, if the church cannot lobby for a particular party or candidate, what CAN the church offer to this angry, anxious, and politically divided nation? At the very least, perhaps we can demonstrate a way of approaching the election that reflects the transformation that we believe Jesus is bringing about in our individual lives and in the world—a transformation in which perfect love casts out all fear and in which visionary justice and radical compassion commingle in a spirit that is more about a shared humanity than it is about dehumanizing the “other.”

What will it take to bring about that kind of approach to an election? It might take a sacrificial and deeply personal commitment to a few counter-cultural and thoroughly Biblical impulses:

First, perhaps we can commit to the kind of durable civility that enables us to hold our political convictions deeply and personally while at the same time refusing to disparage or demonize those whose convictions are vastly different than ours, even if we believe that they are fundamentally wrong in their conclusions. Scripture calls us to “be of the same mind” (Philippians 2:2), but it never demands that we hold precisely the same opinion or viewpoint. Christ-followers who can recognize the sacred personhood of individuals on the other side of a political or philosophical divide will be able to bear witness to the way in which Jesus continues to bridge the chasms that so often exist between us.

Second, perhaps we can allow the Holy Spirit to help us to recognize that, if a person does not stand where we stand on the vitally important issues that this Presidential election has raised, our political and philosophical differences do not entitle us to come to definitive conclusions about that person’s faith, integrity, or moral character. As soon as we declare that someone cannot be listened to—or cannot be a Christian—if she or he supports this person or that person, this cause or that cause, we have traveled well beyond the boundaries of our limited discernment and claimed an authority for ourselves that is simply not ours to claim.

Third, perhaps we can pray our way into a desire to pursue the hearts and minds of the people who see things very differently than we do, so that we might become every bit as passionate about hearing as we are about being heard, every bit as desperate to understand as we are to be understood.

Fourth, perhaps we can pause more frequently to acknowledge with gratitude the fact that we are living in a country that allows for precisely the kind of political diversity that we are now experiencing. While the experience is painful and infuriating at times, it is also a reflection of a network of freedoms that many countries in our world have never experienced. A spirit of gratitude may very well go a long way toward ameliorating the resentment that we might be inclined to accommodate.

Fifth, when we hear a campaign commercial that sounds more like an attack on another candidate than an expression of compelling vision, perhaps we can discipline ourselves to pause, breathe deeply, close our eyes, and pray for the souls of both the candidate who approved the commercial and the candidate who is being criticized, so that we might cultivate compassion rather than cynicism.

Sixth, perhaps we can see this election as an opportunity to commit ourselves, more holistically (both personally and congregationally) to the things that God values, so that, irrespective of who is elected, we are trafficking in the “politics” and rhythms of the Way that Jesus inaugurated. I am speaking here of a refusal to accommodate injustice in any of its expressions; a protection of the voiceless and the vulnerable; a dynamic love for the least, the lost, the most painfully marginalized, and the most callously disenfranchised; and a wholehearted devotion to a worldview that values repentance more than rationalization and sanctification more than indifference.

Seventh, no matter for whom we vote, perhaps we can pause every day to pray for all the candidates and their families, so that our prayers might soften and strengthen our hearts and so that our petitions might become the supernatural conduits through which God can travel into the deep places that only God can reach.

Eighth, and perhaps most importantly, as Christ-followers, perhaps we can approach the voting booth prayerfully and with a deep spirit of peaceful rest and unshakable hope, celebrating the Truth that, irrespective of who resides in the White House, the most significant and influential political realm of all is an already-inaugurated Kingdom, the throne of which is occupied by a crucified and resurrected Jesus who never has to campaign, whose promises are supremely reliable, and whose superintendence of human history is beautifully secure.

I am praying. I am repenting. I am recommitting. I am hopeful.

A Litany for Father’s Day

lessons-of-life-1-1573443-639x426 (1)

A Litany for Father’s Day

Always-parenting God, we cry out to you with a prayerful heart on behalf of our fathers.

Where our fathers have blessed us with their faithfulness, integrity, and love, deepen our gratitude.

LET OUR PRAYERS BECOME A SONG THAT PLEASES YOUR HEART.

Where our fathers have wounded, mistreated, or abandoned us, deepen our healing and forgiveness.

LET OUR PRAYERS BECOME AN EXPERIENCE OF YOUR EMBRACE.

Where children and fathers are alienated from one another, deepen either our reconciliation or our acceptance of necessary distance.

LET OUR PRAYERS BECOME INSTRUMENTS OF RECONCILIATION, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND PEACE.

Where good men have never been called to be fathers, or have never been given the opportunity to raise children, deepen the fatherly role they play in the lives of many.

LET OUR PRAYERS BECOME AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO ALL MEN AND AN ILLUMINATION OF THE CRITICAL ROLE THEY PLAY IN YOUR STORY.

Where fathers are grieving over the loss of their children and children over the loss of their fathers, deepen our awareness of your weeping and redeeming presence.

LET OUR PRAYERS BECOME THE CHANNEL THROUGH WHICH YOU MAKE YOUR WAY INTO OUR DEEPEST PAIN.

Where fathers are committed to loving their children comprehensively and raising them in a spirit of vulnerability, devotion, and gentleness, deepen the joy and purpose they find in fatherhood.

LET OUR PRAYERS BECOME A GRATITUDE THAT IS DEEPER THAN OUR WORDS.

Where fathers and children are struggling in relationships that feel broken, depleted or dysfunctional, deepen our shared compassion and encouragement.

LET OUR PRAYERS BECOME PART OF THE HEALING THAT YOU OFFER TO WOUNDED SOULS.

On this Father’s Day, engage us in a more dynamic communion with your holy presence, where fatherhood always finds its origin, its meaning, and its redemption. We pray this in the name of Jesus, whose perfect relationship with the Father is the source of our deepest hope. AMEN.

In the Aftermath of Orlando’s Atrocity

os-orlando-shooting-pulse-nightclub-20160612

In the aftermath of Sunday’s mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, I am joining many of you in a heartfelt lamentation over many things: The violent and senseless ending of 49 precious and potential-rich lives; the heartache of grieving friends and family members who find themselves longing for just one more conversation with those voices that will never again be heard; the tendency to dishonor our collective grief by burying it under a bitter debate over things like sexual morality or gun control.

There is another lamentation, too frequently unnamed, that resonates somewhere in the hidden chambers of my hurting soul. It is a lamentation over humankind’s tragic tendency to allow distorted religious conviction to become a fuel for toxic hatred and unbridled savagery. Upon reading that last sentence, many will immediately call to mind radical Islam and its penchant for acts of terrorism. To be certain, violence grounded in a distorted expression of Islamic theism is a threat that the entire world must take seriously.

I am every bit as concerned, however, about various manifestations of hatred and cruelty that are grounded, not in Islamic fundamentalism, but in an equally distorted brand of Christian fanaticism. (The word “fanatic,” interestingly, has its roots in the Latin word “fanaticus,” which can be translated “insanely responding to a misunderstood deity.”) Consider these words recently preached by a Christian pastor in northern California whose name and whose church’s name I prefer not to include. (I will say only that the church describes itself as an “independent, fundamental, soul winning, separated, King James Bible believing church”):

People say, ‘Well, aren’t you sad that 50 sodomites died?’ Here’s the problem with that. It’s like the equivalent of asking me, ‘Hey, are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today?’ Um, no. I think that’s great. I think that helps society. You know, I think Orlando, Florida is a little safer tonight. The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is—I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job…I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a firing wall, put a firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out.

Another pastor from Arizona posted the following comments in a recent YouTube video:

The Bible says that homosexuals should be put to death, in Leviticus 20:13. Obviously, it’s not right for somebody to just, you know, shoot up the place, because that’s not going through the proper channels. But these people all should have been killed anyway, but they should have been killed through the proper channels. As in, they should have been killed by a righteous government that would have tried them, convicted them, and saw them executed.

The Christ-followers I know, even the ones who hold strong convictions about what they believe to be the sinfulness of homosexual practice, would loudly repudiate such teachings. The fact that such teachings exist within the body of Christ, however, makes clear that Islam does not hold a theological monopoly on religious hatred and violence.  I do not mean to suggest a direct comparison between Christianity and Islam in this regard, since such a comparison would no doubt invite an unwanted and unnecessary debate. What cannot be debated, however, is that Christianity is no stranger to various shades and gradations of the hatred articulated by the pastors quoted above. History is all-too-peppered with examples of the name of Jesus being co-opted by determined souls with malicious agendas.

How, then, do I want to respond in the aftermath of the Orlando mass shooting? How do I want to live in a world where people so frequently allow their religion to become an unholy fuel for rigid dichotomies and pathological animosity? Those are questions that I continue to ponder in deep prayer, with sighs too deep for words. Here is what I am discerning thus far:

  1. I want to live with the kind of heart that always grieves deeply and abundantly over human atrocities, never becoming desensitized to the suffering they engender.
  1. I want to have a heart for the kind of justice that values and protects the personhood and sacred worth of all people, including the people whose politics, sexual ethics, and religious convictions are vastly different than mine.
  1. I want to have meaningful conversations about gun control laws without settling for distorted extremes. One distorted extreme tends to place an exaggerated hope in the possibility of stricter gun laws. The other tends to elevate the rights of individual gun-owners over the potentially greater common good. Neither extreme is where I want my outrage over human atrocities to find its deepest expression.
  1. I want to form the kind of relationships with people (including LGBTQ people) that help them to understand that the church is not their enemy; that the church fully recognizes the sacredness of their personhood; and that the church is far more eager to love than it is to ostracize.
  1. I want to pursue Scriptural holiness in a manner that cultivates respect rather than contempt for the various and divergent portions of the human community.
  1. I want to be an agent of forgiveness, repentance, accountability, peace, and reconciliation in all of my relationships, so that the peaceable kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate will find expression in the stewardship that I practice over my engagement with life and community.
  1. I want the saving and sanctifying grace of Jesus to occupy my journey so substantially and so transformationally that there is no room left for anything that does not bear witness to the Way he values, the Truth he embodies, and the Life he offers.
  1. I want to live as though I truly believe that the heart of God breaks and bleeds over human suffering; that Jesus weeps when human beings choose to hate and harm one another; and that the God who fashioned the universe finds his way into the nooks and crannies of our horrendous tragedies.

Where was God when the gunfire began in the wee hours of Sunday morning? God was right there, in the heart of that nightclub. God was right there, in the thick of it all, feeling the agony of every gunshot wound; sharing the anguish of every tear; hearing the desperation of every panicked outcry; weeping over the sadness of every tragic death. Because that is who God is. Intimate. Personal. Vulnerable. Emotional. Incarnational. Wounded. Broken. Crucified.

Then, when the weeping stops for a while, God will still be right there, gradually but steadily leading a devastated people into a new season of hope and redemption—leading people out of death into new life.

That, too, is who God is.