26 July 2006

Earlier today a friend dropped off a letter to me that had been sent to the editor of the journal Science & Theology News (July/August 2006, p. 8), and I've been thinking about it the past couple of hours ...


As a pastor, it's easy to understand why people pray. It's comforting. It can be life-transforming. It's easy to understand why God wants us to pray. It develops a relationship with God just as conversation develops a relationship with people. What I've never understood is why people believe that prayer would make things happen in the world. ("Study Casts Doubts On Medicinal Use Of Prayer" / Science & Theology News, May 2006).

It seems to me that would only affect a change in God's plans if one of two conditions pertained: One, that we could tell God something that God does not already know, or two, that we could suggest a course of action better than the one God had in mind.

Moreover, if the major purpose of prayer, from God's point of view, is to develop a relationship with the people praying, praying a set prayer as part of a study is a bit like asking someone to do something just to see if they'll do it. I find such personal tests annoying, but try to let it pass and to do the right thing regardless of the test. Let's hope God does better than I do. - William R. Clough / Bradenton, FL

I believe that prayer releases God's desire to partner with me, as well as equipping me to hear God's voice and God's plans with a clarity and intensity that I'd have no other way. Do my prayers actually "persuade God"? I'm not sure. There are certainly examples of this happening in the WORD, but from what I know from the whole counsel of God's WORD it seems hard to know for sure if this is how God operates on a regular basis in the lives of people who pray.

But what I have seen is that God seems to comes alongside the humble and the broken in ways more miraculous than He seems to come alongside the proud and the arrogant. I guess that there's just something about our posture before God that either breaks His heart for us, or stiffens up His back against us. And like the alabaster box that Mary broke open and anointed Jesus with (John 12) just before His crucifixion, when God's heart is broken open for us, only good and healing things come out.

William R. Clough certainly writes like a scientist ... linear, logical, methodical thinking. But my life with Christ often seems more abstract than concrete, more mystical than nail-downable, more paradoxical than linear, and more serendipitous than methodical. God does what God does.

And over and over again I find that I can either choose to participate with Him in what He's up to, or I can choose to not participate with Him in what He's up to. Prayer seems to do two things for me and in me ...
  1. Prayer humbles me ... reminding me of something I all too easily forget (or choose to ignore) -- that God is God and that I am not.
  2. Miraculously, prayer somehow makes me more open to partnership with God in what He's up to ... no matter how high the cost or weirdness quotient may be.
In the end, as happens to me most times when pondering "theological questions" ... my mind and heart is drawn back to my never-met mentor and favorite author, Frederick Buechner who wrote the following word in his 1973 book Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (p. 91) ...

"Theology is the study of God and
his ways.
For all we know, dung beetles
may study
man and his ways and call it
If so, we would probably be
more touched
and amused than irritated.
One hopes that
God feels likewise."




01 July 2006

by Gregg Lamm
Written as a going- away gift to my friends at Ogden Church
Sunday, 2 July 2006

I have a friend I’ve never told anyone about. Her name is Estelle and she works in the food court between Gates F4 and F8 in the Northwest Airlines Terminal of the Minneapolis, Minnesota Airport.

Some secrets are kept because of fear, sensibility, or shame – but other secrets are kept because to share them would be to risk making what’s wrapped inside them more real than mysterious, or more likely to disappear than to remain.

During seven months worth of Minneapolis layovers while flying back and forth between Portland and Detroit, I’ve spent time watching and talking with Estelle. And like most things looked into instead of merely looked at, what at first appeared to be simple turned out to be complex. From a corner table I’ve sipped coffee, read and watched over the top of my glasses as folks move around Estelle, trying not to really notice her, leaving her their gifts of garbage and leftovers.

Estelle is around forty years old, stands around five feet tall, and weighs around one hundred pounds. Her glasses are too big for her face, her teeth are as crooked as an Irish lane, and she has just about as much as trouble swallowing as she does talking. These are the simple things I can tell you about Estelle – the things I’ve learned by watching her do what she does … clearing and cleaning tables, and smiling at everyone whether or not they smile back.

But what can I tell you about who Estelle is by talking with her? Well that’s a whole ‘nother story.
  • Estelle has cerebral palsy and has worked between Gates F4 and F8 about eight years.
  • Estelle wishes she could take care of a pet, but settles to pour her love and attention into a windowsill full of plants – all with names.
  • Even though Estelle’s gait is slow, her wit is quick and she’s profoundly committed to keeping the “pun” alive as an American joke-form.
  • Estelle knows she’s “different” than most of the people traveling through her world of concourses and roller-wheeeled-carry-ons. But her joyful confidence reveals that she’s jealous of little and thoughtful about nearly everything.
  • Estelle traveled to New York City last year for vacation and spent most of her time in the NYC Library. She loves the library’s unique tables and lights in this spot she calls “Book Heaven.”
  • Estelle doesn’t look at the work she does between Gates F4 and F8 as a job, but as a sacred opportunity to serve Jesus Christ and be Jesus Christ to the folks He brings across her path. And it’s this daily-chosen heart perspective that transforms Estelle each shift from a name-badged-food-service-worker into a passionate, on-purpose disciple of Jesus Christ.
Now don’t get me wrong – the folks who don’t notice Estelle aren’t the “bad guys”, anymore than I’m the “good guy” for giving her the time of day. It’s human nature to ignore that, which on the surface appears to be invaluable or superfluous, and I’m as guilty as doing this kind of dismissive “bad math” as the next chap.

It’s just so easy to assign “low value” to the people in the “entry-level uniformed jobs” and “high value” to the large-salary-snagging person wearing Prada or a Rolex. But at this stage of life, I want to learn how to stop living according to the rules doled out by “human nature”. I want to invite “nature of Jesus Christ” and the value He puts on people to raise the bar on how I view them. Making assumptions and assigning labels so we can push aside some people while elevating others … these are the actions of the shallow, the impatient, the immature, the ego-driven, and the selfish.

Now mind you, I don’t have all the answers, but I’m done believing Estelle and others like her have none.
  • WATCHING Estelle’s attentiveness to the simplest needs of others reminds me of Jesus and His relentless tenderness.
  • LISTENING to Estelle stutteringly ask “May I take this for you?” while balancing three trays and wiping her chin with her ever-present handkerchief, and remaining upright even though her angle of walking would make you bet it was impossible – this all reminds me of Jesus and His determined, miracle-working ways.
  • SEEING Estelle grin when others glare reminds me of Jesus and His see-to-the-center-of-things compassion.
Over the course of this past year there have been many times when my life has felt kind of akin to Estelle’s. Unnoticed. Unappreciated. Looked over. Taken for granted. Trying to keep my balance on uneven flooring. Tired. But through these many months I’ve also learned to be thankful for the quest God has chosen to take me on. For somehow, along the way I’ve been broken, tempered, humbled, tested, and molded more fully into the character of Jesus Christ than at any other time in my life.

I think heroes are far too easily crowned. When I grow up I want to become more and more like the Jesus I see in The New Testament. Now there’s a hero. But I also want to become more and more like the Jesus I see in my hero and my friend Estelle.

After flying back to Oregon for good on Tuesday, 4 July, I don’t know when I’ll be in the Minneapolis, Minnesota airport again. But when I am, I have a feeling that Estelle will be there … dreaming of packing her own carry-on and heading back to the NYC Library, and still serving others with a kindness that’s true, not manipulative, and smirking to beat-the-band with that crooked little smile of hers. Godspeed.