The Cliff


A man was traveling along a treacherous  mountain path when a tiger suddenly leapt from the bushes. He was so startled that he lost his footing and began to tumble down the side of a steep cliff. As luck would have it, a climber had left some rope fastened to a tree at the top and the the man was able to grab hold of it halfway down the cliff. Looking up, he saw the tiger waiting for him at the top,  gnawing on the rope. Looking down, the man saw jagged rocks sticking out of a violent river. The man realized his situation was hopeless until he looked forward and saw, growing out of the side of the mountain, fresh strawberries. They were juicy and ripe so he reached out and grabbed them.  They were the sweetest strawberries the man had tasted in his entire life. 

This Buddhist parable demonstrates the importance of living in the moment. We cannot change our past and our future, this side of the veil, is certain. But if we pay attention to the moments we are in, there is so much beauty and wonder to be had. Buddhist call this “mindfulness.” When the Apostle Paul famously instructed the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing,” I doubt he meant that they should spend their entire lives on their knees speaking to God (though, there are way worse ways to spend a life). I think Paul was telling us that we need to be constantly mindful of God’s presence throughout the day. We spend so much time distracted by guilt and worry that we often miss what God is doing right here and now. In the last months of his life, musician, Warren Zevon, knew he was going to die soon of his terminal cancer. When David Letterman asked what he had learned from the experience that he wanted to pass on, he simply said, “Enjoy every sandwich.” May we not be so preoccupied with our circumstances that we forget to see and appreciate the blessings God has in store for us every day. It would be a shame to miss all those wonderful strawberries.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…


Two Mango Trees


A father, wishing to test his two sons, put each in charge of caring for a mango tree. At the outset, both trees were of equal health and stature. The more foolish of the two boys noticed that leaves were beginning to fall off his tree and the flowers were blossoming at the ends of the branches. So he took a ladder each day and spent hours watering every single leaf. Despite all his hard work, the tree continued to die. The wiser of the two boys simply watered the roots of his tree each day and the tree flourished and produced sweet fruit.

This parable from the Hindu tradition, at first, seems to be about that old maxim: “work smart, not hard.” It reminds us that a lot of effort spent on the wrong things is, in the end, useless. Look deeper, and you’ll find a profound spiritual truth about that part of us that is inward and hidden (the roots) and that part of us that is outward and obvious (the leaves). It is care for our inward spirit and not our outward body that leads to true health. The disciple is called to be a good tree that bears good fruit. We cannot do so if we are only attending to our external problems and ignoring their spiritual roots.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Raft


There once was a man on a long journey. He had been traveling several days when he came to a river. After studying it, the man realized the river was treacherous and he would not be able to cross it without being swept away by the currents. So he built himself a large raft from bamboo and vines. Once he had crossed safely to the other side, he was pleased with his cleverness. He thought to himself, “I worked hard on this great raft. It’d be a shame to just leave it here. I’ll carry it with me on the rest of my journey.” Here, student, is the question:

Can this man be called wise?

This seemingly simple Buddhist parable rewards continued contemplation. What does it mean to be wise? Often, we don’t know when to abandon an idea or a pattern of thinking. Like the man in the story, we fail to realize that what helps us through one stage of the journey can be a burden in the next. As a youth pastor, I have the sacred task of shepherding teens from the concrete faith of their childhoods to the more abstract faith of adulthood. Sometimes this process involves abandoning ways of thinking about God that used to bring security and comfort but are no longer as useful. While some truths are meant to be carried through life, other ideas are better left beside the river. Wisdom is found in a willingness to be challenged and grow. As disciples walking in the way of Jesus, we are called to have enough humility to accept that we may not have everything figured out and that where we are today is not necessarily where we may be tomorrow. Faithfulness is not stubbornly refusing to let go of our raft but, rather, following Christ wherever he leads.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

A Miraculous Man


A famous Sufi sage was approached by one of his disciples who told him, “I know a man who is so miraculous he can walk on water!”

“Big deal,” the sage replied with a yawn, “frogs and mosquitoes walk on water all the time.”

The disciple, eager to impress his sage, said, “I have also met a miraculous man who can fly!”

“So what?” said the sage, “do not birds and butterflies fly regularly and with ease?”

The student, sure he was on his way to impressing the sage, replied, “I have also heard of a man so miraculous he can disappear in one town and reappear, moments later, in another.”

“Yes,” replied the sage, “but so can Satan. All the powers you’ve mentioned are useless. A truly miraculous man is one who loves his fellow human beings while remembering God in all things.”

As disciples we are called to love God and love others. This is much easier said than done. In fact, many times it seems impossible. The sage was right. To manage this is the truest miracle. The apostle Paul felt that without the miracle of loving God and others, all other miracles were useless. That’s why he told the church in Corinth, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Monk and the Scorpion


There was once a monk meditating beside a stream. He was finishing his prayers when he noticed a scorpion trapped on a rock in the middle of the stream as the waters were steadily rising, threatening to drown the creature. Moved with compassion, the monk waded into the stream and tried to rescue the scorpion. Each time he picked up the scorpion, it stung the monk and he dropped it back in the rock. Another monk, passing by, witnessed the exchange and called out to him, “you fool! Do you not know it is the scorpion’s nature to sting?”

“Yes!”, replied the monk, “but it is my nature to save!”

This Buddhist parable has a profoundly Christian message. In Christ we have been shown God’s nature is to save. He will keep picking us up and picking us up no matter how many times we sting Him. God does not walk away from His creation. As disciples, we are called to take on the nature of Christ, loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, giving to anyone who asks of us, forgiving 7 times 7 times, and taking up our cross. Like the monk, we can become weary of being stung. Consider the two inevitable endings of this parable… Eventually the waters rise and the scorpions last sting results in its being drowned, as it falls into the flowing waters where his rock used to be. The monk walks away satisfied that it did everything in its power to save a creature who simply would not be saved… OR… maybe the seventh time, the scorpion overcomes its nature and allows itself to be rescued. This hope is what makes the nature of the monk stronger than the nature of the scorpion.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Ashes


There was once a man who had only one son and no daughters, for the boy’s mother had died in childbirth. He loved his boy deeply and they shared a small home together. One day, while the man was out of town selling his wares, the village where they lived was attacked by marauders. In the chaos, the homes were burned down and many people killed, but the boy was among a group that was taken away into slavery.

When the man returned that evening, he was heartbroken to see his village destroyed. He was even more heartbroken when he found a charred body that was the exact size of his son. Convinced that these were the remains of his boy, he had the body cremated and he kept the ashes in a jar that he carried with him wherever he went. Years later, when the village had been rebuilt, the man still held on to the jar of ashes and never let go of them save at night when he placed them beside his bed.

One day, about ten years later, the boy found an opening and he fled his captors and ran back home. When he approached the village where he had spent his childhood, it looked completely different. When he reached the location of his old home, that looked different too. The boy knocked on the door and there came a gruff reply:

“Who is it?”

The boy instantly recognized the voice. It was ten years older and a thousand years sadder but it was the voice of his father.
“It is me,” the boy replied, “Your son! I have fled my captors and come home!”

The man on the other side of the door did not recognize the boy’s voice because it had deepened with age. The man thought this was a teenager from the village who had come to play a cruel trick on him. So, clutching tightly to his jar of ashes, he called back: “Leave! You are mistaken! My son is right here with me!”

The boy called back, “Father it is me! Please open the door!”

But, clutching the jar of ashes, even tighter, the man angrily threatened the boy. The boy plead with the man for an hour before giving up. In the end, he thought he must have been mistaken. Perhaps this wasn’t his childhood village after all. He must have got turned around somehow and here he was pestering some sad old stranger. So the boy left in search of his village and his father. As for the man, he continued to carry that jar of ashes with him wherever he went, never letting go of them, save at night when he placed them beside his bed.

This beautiful Buddhist parable, is meant to illustrate how we must learn to let go of error before we can embrace truth. But this parable takes on a special significance to disciples walking in the way of Jesus on Ash Wednesday. Today is a special day of penitence in the church calendar that marks the beginning of the 40 day period leading up to Easter called “lent.” The season of lent is all about letting go of the things that hinder us from receiving Christ. When I read this parable today, I am reminded of Jesus’ words in the book of Revelation: “Behold! I stand at the door and knock! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.” Also, the words of the prophet Isaiah, “To all who grieve in Zion, He will bestow on them a crown of beauty for ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”  As we prepare our hearts and minds during this season of lent, we are called to let go of the things to which we so desperately cling so that we can receive the gift of Grace that God offers: The very presence of Christ. What are the ashes to which you cling? What hurt and despair do you carry around with you? What secret sin sits in a jar by your bed at night?

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Turban

The following is quoted verbatim from a story by Jonathan Pearlman in The Telegraph:

A 22-year-old Sikh man in New Zealand has been hailed as a hero after putting his religious beliefs aside and removing his turban to help cradle the bleeding head of a 5-year-old boy hit by a car.

Harman Singh, 22, was at his home in Auckland when he heard the sound of an accident on the street and rushed out to find Daejon Pahia, 6, lying by the roadside after being struck by a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Mr Singh has been strongly praised by the Sikh community

He immediately removed his turban and lay it under the boy’s head – an action which the boy’s mother said helped to save her son’s life.

“I saw a child down on the ground and a lady was holding him,” Mr Singh told The New Zealand Herald.

“His head was bleeding, so I unveiled my turban and put it under his head … I wasn’t thinking about the turban. I was thinking about the accident and I just thought, ‘He needs something on his head because he’s bleeding.’”

Mr Singh has been strongly praised by the Sikh community but modestly insisted that “anyone else would have done the same as me”.

Gagan Dhillon, a Sikh passer-by who also assisted, said he saw Mr Singh without a head covering and “thought ‘that’s strange’”.

“But then I saw one hand was underneath the boy’s head supporting it and his siropao [turban] was stopping the bleeding,” he said.

“But being a Sikh myself, I know what type of respect the turban has. People just don’t take it off – people die over it … He didn’t care that his head was uncovered in public. He just wanted to help this little boy.”

Sikh leaders said Mr Singh’s decision to remove the turban in public was a rare and significant act but was consistent with their faith and its emphasis on kindness and humanity.

This true story of a Sikh man helping a stranger in need hits us with all the force of a good parable. It calls to mind the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, who are unwilling to help the man bleeding by the side of the road because of their purity codes. It also calls to mind the story of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. When confronted about his disregard for the religious prohibition against work on the Sabbath, Jesus asks, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” In other words, Jesus knew that his inaction would profane his religious principles far more than action. Harman Singh saw a little boy in need and was willing to put compassion above prohibition. We would all do well to follow his Christ-like example.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…