Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Last Thursday morning, I had a glimpse of heaven through my viewfinder. Every branch on every limb on every tree was dusted with a fresh coat of snow. It was a stunning moment that took my breath away. Of course, I reached for my camera in the hope of capturing this scene, but you had to be present to really experience the sacredness and grace of this moment.

I am in the process of learning how to use a pro model camera. The number of options and details in using this technology is overwhelming. But one of my photo mentors kindly reminded me that “its not about the new technology, its about your technique.”

What is my technique? Drive along a country road, notice out of the corner of my eye a shot that looks interesting. Stop the car, set up the tripod, or more likely, stand, squat and take the shoot. Pretty lame technique if you ask me. Rather, this young professional photographer was trying to wake me up to realize that any stunning shot is more about your technique in life and not about how many the pixels you have in your camera.

He demonstrated how he simply looks through the viewfinder and lets the camera select the best aperature and shutter options and focuses in on his subject. He pays attention to his subject, not the technology. Once he gets his focus, his moves a dial around to make it “tact sharp” and viola he has his shot. Technique!

Sounds pretty easy, but it took years for him to develop his unique technique.

Lets imagine Jesus’ technique for being fully human. Yes, he was without sin, but being human meant he experienced all the joys, sorrows and disappointments of this life. His technique was not to whine about the technology. Rather, he spent time getting to know his people. Making himself present to their everyday moments. Our Lord’s technique was not to be a stranger. He was not a distant God, somewhere hiding in the clouds, but rooted on earth and walking into the homes of folks and letting people know that God has chosen each of us for a special mission. His technique was all about affirmation, graced with the knowledge that sometimes we have our imperfections that simply need refining. His technique, his message was “be watchful how we come across to one another, be humble not selfish, be kind not mean, generous to a fault to everyone.

Spiritual technique puts us right in the viewfinder of God who always has his eye on our efforts to bring light to the world and when we are in focus, we get the most profound, the most stunning images possible. We are beaming with the radiance of God in our hearts. It is a transforming moment when our point and shoot shots become museum quality art. Believe me, all of you are a fine work of art in the viewfinder of God!

Take a moment to reflect on this magnificent image that I had the privilege to witness a week ago. When I woke up, it lay before my eyes, a glimpse of heaven. All I had to do was bask in the moment and thank God for his wonderful creation. I am grateful we have had a mild winter so far, but this moment makes me think about technique.

Immanuel prays for us as we reflect; “Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. (Psalm 43: 3).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that in this Lenten journey our unique technique may place us in your holy presence.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Where to Focus?

I am in my woods focusing in on a sacred moment after a new snowfall when the “blinkies” start flashing in my viewfinder. This is a sign that the area flashing in the photo is over-exposed. There is a highlight button on the camera that warns me when this situation occurs. However, snow is bright and how do I get this shot so that its not over exposed or in layman’s term the image is “washed out.”

This sounds like our dilemma as we begin another Lenten Season. What do you plan to focus on in the next forty days? In the past, you tried your share of weight reduction promises-no chocolate or ice cream. Or, maybe you got serious and took Lent to a new level and tried to cut down on your drinking and smoking. You made your doctor happy, but you were miserable for the six weeks until you celebrated at Easter and started back where you began. With our blown highlights, let me suggest another way to enter this season of repentance.

Jesus takes for granted three practices central to Jewish devotion: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. He does not doubt that his disciples will continue to keep these practices. His only concern is that they pray and fast and give alms in the right spirit: not to impress people, but to deepen their relationship with God.

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving need not be quaint, obsolete customs confined to the pages of a user manual in our Bible. They can reappear in a contemporary lifestyle, one that calls into question the status quo, that refuses easy answers, that exchanges contemporary craziness for deep-down, delicious sanity. This is a lifestyle that gets us right with God, with creation, with other people, and even with ourselves.

Ask people how they're doing, and so often the answer includes the word “busy.” People take their own busy-ness and other people for granted--almost. They want to be absolved of their busy-ness by something less drastic than cardiac arrest. So if you want to live a life in the spirit with creation, then pray. Leave some empty space for God. Give up rushing.

Ask yourself, do we have stuff or does our stuff have us? Are we stuffing our houses, our bodies, and our lives to the point of no return? Then down the road Jesus comes talking about fasting. If you want to live in the spirit with creation, then fast. Don't exist as simply a consumer. Unclutter your life.

So often we experience the world as full of strangers. We do not look for the connection between them and us. The humanity common to them and us goes unrecognized. Their problems have nothing to do with our problems, or so we say.

Ask yourself, do we know the person in the pew two rows in front of us? If you want to live a life worthy of creation, then give alms. Not just a few coins, but the love in your heart. Always look for the connection between you and that other person. Treat no one as a stranger.

Don't leave the message of Lent flashing like a “blinkie’ indicating that we are out of focus. Live your life “tact sharp” and in sharp focus: give up rushing; unclutter your life; treat no one as a stranger. Do these things, make them your lifestyle, and you'll find yourself walking to the rhythm of Jesus and the saints.

Immanuel prays for us as we reflect; “But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” (Psalm 130:4).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that our Lenten journey may be tact sharp with words and deeds that bring us closer to you and one another.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Look of Love

It was a bitter, cold evening in northern Virginia many years ago. The old man's beard was glazed by winter's frost while he waited for a ride across the river. The wait seemed endless. His body became numb and stiff from the frigid north wind. He heard the faint, steady rhythm of approaching hooves galloping along the frozen path.

Anxiously, he watched as several horsemen rounded the bend. He let the first one pass by without making any effort to get his attention. Then another passed by, and another. Finally, the last rider neared the spot where the old man sat like a snow statue. As this one drew near, the old man caught the rider's eye and said, "Sir, would you mind giving an old man a ride to the other side? There doesn't appear to be a passageway by foot."

Reining in his horse, the rider replied, "Sure thing. Hop aboard." Seeing the old man was unable to lift his half-frozen body from the ground, the horseman dismounted and helped the old man onto the horse. The horseman took the old man not just across the river, but to his destination, which was just a few miles away. As they neared the tiny, but cozy cottage, the horseman's curiosity caused him to inquire, "Sir, I noticed that you let several other riders pass by without making an effort to secure a ride. Then I come up and you immediately asked me for a ride. I'm curious why, on such a bitter winter night, you would wait and ask the last rider. What if I had refused and left you there?"

The old man lowered himself slowly down from the horse, looked the rider straight in the eyes, and replied, "I've been around these here parts for some time and I reckon that I know people pretty good. I looked into the eyes of the other riders and immediately saw there was no concern for my situation. It would have been useless even to ask them for a ride. But when I looked into your eyes, kindness and compassion were evident. I knew, then and there, that your gentle spirit would welcome the opportunity to give me assistance in my time of need."

Those heartwarming words touched the horseman deeply. "I'm most grateful for what you have said," he told the old man. "May I never get too busy in my own affairs that I fail to respond to the needs of others with kindness and compassion."

Think of the last time your computer crashed or you had a water leak and the repair person of your dream came out in the middle of the night to plug the hole or repair the virus—now that’s compassion.

Like Jesus, may we never be too busy to notice our sisters and brothers in need and often them a ride when they are stranded by the burdens of life.

Immanuel prays for us as we reflect; “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.” (Psalm 34: 14-16).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who eyes are filled with compassion and never hesitate to stop in their busy lives to lift up the cries of the poor.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Moooood For Love

Two traveling angels stopped to spend the night in the home of a wealthy family. The family was rude and refused to let the angels stay in the mansion's guest room. Instead the angels were given a small space in the cold basement.

As they made their bed on the hard floor, the older angel saw a hole in the wall and repaired it. When the younger angel asked why, the older angel replied, "Things aren't always what they seem."

The next night the pair came to rest at the house of a very poor, but very hospitable farmer and his wife. After sharing what little food they had the couple let the angels sleep in their bed where they could have a good night's rest.

When the sun came up the next morning the angels found the farmer and his wife in tears. Their only cow, whose milk had been their sole income, lay dead in the field.

The younger angel was infuriated and asked the older angel: "How could you have let this happen? The first man had everything, yet you helped him", she accused. "The second family had little but was willing to share everything, and you let the cow die."

"Things aren't always what they seem," the older angel replied. "When we stayed in the basement of the mansion, I noticed there was gold stored in that hole in the wall. Since the owner was so obsessed with greed and unwilling to share his good fortune, I sealed the wall so he wouldn't find it."

"Then last night as we slept in the farmer's bed, the angel of death came for his wife. I gave him the cow instead. Things aren't always what they seem."

Things aren’t always what they seem. This little heifer in the photo might be “mooing because she’s in some kind of distress, afraid or just a bit lonely. Thank goodness she lives in a barn tended by a kind and generous farmer who takes good care of his heifers.

God takes good care of us despite the fact we don’t think he pays much attention to our concerns. We “moo” out of pain or desperation, but we need to believe that God hears all our cries for help. That’s the love we celebrate this Valentine’s Day. The love of God that knows what “mooves us” to stretch beyond our normal comfort zone and reach out to help a frighten heifer calf or maybe a frighten child or neighbor.

Immanuel prays for us as we reflect; “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends whose hearts are “mooved” each day with the desire to listen to the cries of their brothers and sisters and respond with Your love and compassion.