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Layman's Walk

“These Spiritual Windowshoppers”

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American society is one of consumerism. We are constantly bombarded with messages telling us about all the things we have just got to have. We shop. It used to be mostly in stores, then also in catalogs, and now it’s largely online. While the mediums have changed, the concept remains largely the same.

“What does this do for me?”

“Can I get it somewhere else for less?”

“Is it worth my time or money?

“What will others think of me if I buy this?

And while this most certainly applies to how we acquire consumer goods, it also increasingly seems to apply to our spiritual lives.

A new friend of mine introduced me to this poem the other day. It’s called “These Spiritual Windowshoppers” and it was written by a Sufi Mystic known as Rumi. It was translated into English by Coleman Barks as such:

These spiritual windowshoopers,
who idly ask, “How much is that? Oh, I’m just looking.”
they handle a hundred items and put them down,
shadows with no capital.

What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping.
But these walk into a shop,
and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment,
in that shop.

Where did you go? “Nowhere.”
What do you have to eat? “Nothing much.”

Even if you don’t know what you want,
buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow.

Start a huge, foolish project,
like Noah.

It makes absolutely no difference
what people think of you.

There are a variety of ways we can read this poem.  I’d be very interested in hearing the interpretations that others have.  In fact, if you feel so inclined as to reflect on what this poem means to you, lease stop reading this post until you have had a chance to do so.  I do not want my thoughts on this to unintentionally influence you.

If you have now given it some thought, I’ll share with you what I gleaned from this poem.

We live our lives seeking purpose; to find that which is greater than what we are as individual specs of dust in a seemingly infinite cosmos.  We see a variety of options available to us in prominent faiths and secular causes.  We consider getting involved; doing something; finding our meaning and purpose and trying to gain an understanding of the purpose of life, our Creator, and the other mysteries we ponder.  We seek out various options.  Even if we have chosen a given faith or cause, we consider the various ways we can be involved, how we can contribute.  And yet, when we consider the costs, (What will this involve?  What will it cost?  What will others think?  Will it really matter?) we shy away–“Oh, I’m just looking.

In our failure to do anything–to make a difference, to reach out to others and to God, to simply “look” and not truly “do” (or to be “in” but not “involved” or “committed”), we remain unfulfilled and unsatisfied.  Our ability to love also lessens.  (Love is truly one of those marvelous things that only grows larger and larger the more we try to give it away.)  The longer we stay this way, the more of our lives we waste until we suddenly realize, it’s over.

If we do nothing greater with our lives than “make a living” without delving into the richer things of service and love, in the end, our answer to the questions, “What did you do?”  “Where did you go?”  “How will you be remembered?” will ultimately amount to, “not much.”  This is regardless of professional/vocational/financial success.  People are not remembered simply for what they did, but what they did for others.

So even if we’re not sure our choice is perfect, even if what we envision is not complete, go for it.  Jump in.  Do something.  Have faith.  Join “the flow.”  Be a part of what is larger than yourself and more significant than any individual life.

Even if it’s something crazy–something that everyone else says can’t be done……..GO FOR IT!  And to hell with the doubters and the trolls.  Those are the folks who are scared of your success and will rejoice in your failure.  But do it anyway.

Have faith.  Have love.  Be big.  Be bold.  Do good.

This is only my personal interpretation of the poem.  I’m sure there are as many interpretations as there are readers of it and I would in no way claim mine to be correct nor would I claim any others incorrect.  Like any other reading or form of art, we interpret what we see/read/hear through the “lens” of our own experiences and understandings of the world.  (Frankly, I find that to be one of the most beautiful things about any type art–including scriptures–that each person who experiences it will have their own unique response to it.)

Should you have looked up the author of this poem, you will see that he died in the 13th century.  Certainly, he wasn’t speaking about our modern society, right?  I would simply say:  “There is nothing new under the sun.”  Human nature has been consistent for centuries.  We do gradually improve, but the more primitive parts of our brains and bodies are the last to evolve.

My friend interpreted Rumi’s poem in a more Christ-focused manner and connected it with what has become one of my favorite passages from the Gospel of Matthew:

[Jesus said,] “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearl; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

If we consider the first half of this passage (the kingdom of heaven is a treasure that someone found in a field and then hid), we can see a parallel with Rumi’s poem.  Both are telling us to “spend,” to commit with all that we have and all that we are.  Because once we find that which is a joy–in particular, joy in Christ and the promised kingdom–we will be willing to forgo all we have to pursue it.

Of course, that is easier said than done.  Take me, for example.  I’m planning to start my seminary training this fall.  Have I walked away from my profession to dedicate myself to this pursuit?  No, I have not.

I also believe that God is working through me in his own timeframe.  I do not believe that today I am the person I need to be in order to be a pastor.  I see myself lacking in spiritual discipline and in the strength of my faith.  I still feel the calling, and I know that I need the time to grow into what I believe God is calling me to be.  As I heard in a song this morning, “God is not done with me yet.”

I mentioned this had become one of my favorite passages.  This is not because of the first half, but because of the second, which my friend explained so well.

In the second portion, we easily miss that Jesus tells us that the “kingdom of heaven is like a merchant.”  Because of how the first portion goes, it is easy to mistake that we are the merchant and the kingdom is the pearl.  However, it clearly states that the kingdom is the merchant.  This means we are the pearls.

And this is why I love this passage:

Just as the first portion says that when we find the kingdom of heaven we will willingly give up everything we have to obtain it, God, when finding us, loves us so that God is willing to give everything that we might be obtained.  This refers directly to Christ’s coming to earth and his death on the cross.  Because God finds us and loves us so much that God is willing to give up everything–including infinite power–to suffer as a human to prove the love that God has and to compensate for our weaknesses.

God knows that even if we are the person who finds the “treasure in the field,” we remain unable to give up all we have to acquire it.  Even though we fail, God still sees us as valuable–so much that God is willing to sacrifice all God has in order to have us.

That is love.

God is love.

Go and share that love with others.




Layman's Walk

Vacation Bible School!

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God made you.  “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex.” (Psalm 139:14)

God is for you.  “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

God is always with you.  “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

God will always love you.  “Your unfailing love will last forever.” (Psalm 89:2)

God made you for a reason.  “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Last night ended one of the longest but most rewarding weeks of our family’s summer:  

Vacation Bible School at First English!

(The statements above are the lesson points for each of the five nights of VBS.)

My wife, Kari, and I both serve as instructors at different stations where the various groups of kids rotate through each night.  By the end of the mere two hours of leading groups you are left exhausted, but also left with a sense of peace and thankfulness.

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It’s really amazing to see how much work goes into putting on a VBS each year and how many people contribute to making it a success.  Preparations start months in advance.  The week before the program is spent setting up all of the props/scenery.  Instructors prepare their lessons for each night and gather supplies.  Volunteers prepare the service projects the kids complete during the program to help others in need.

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And that’s just a start!  The church’s praise band, Stained Glass, provides live music for the program opening and closing each night.  A huge crew of volunteers serves as leaders for the 15 different groups of kids who go from one activity to another each night.  Kitchen staff prepares snacks for all the kids to enjoy about halfway through the program (on top of serving a meal each night before the program starts to all the staff members and their families).  Additionally, we have a variety of congregants who show up to help randomly throughout the week or specifically for the setup/teardown work.

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And of course, none of this would happen without our amazing youth leader, Raylee Brown.  God has blessed this woman with seemingly unlimited energy and drive. (And a very healthy dose of patience, too!)  She leads the whole effort and more or less lives at the church for several weeks in order to pull this off.

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It is truly a labor of love.  And it shows.

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We ended up having 50-60 kids this year who attended; I don’t have the exact figures.  That’s 50-60 young people with whom we were able to share the love of God and promise of Christ this week.  We have a lot of participation from our own congregation.  However, we are making a deliberate point to reach out to neighbors in our church building’s neighborhood, the Peoria East Bluff.  Each year, we have lots of kids from the area join us, and it was even more so this year.  It was wonderful!

I instruct a portion of the program called “Bible Adventures.”  The objective is to take the Bible story and lesson of the day and make it into something interactive so that we “relive” the story rather than just hear it.  We have a lot of fun in my rotation, but it can be hard to compete with other parts of the program like “Kid Vid Cinema” and “Games!”  Keeping the kids’ attention is a challenge, both with younger and older ones and their levels of “energy” vary from night-to-night.

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As we get towards the end of our session, I really try to drive home the key lesson.  Throughout the night, I make a point to not “kidiefy” the message, but still make it appropriate for their age. I speak with the kids honestly and frankly.  You can tell they appreciate not having things “dumbed down” or being talked to “like little kids.”

There are nights where the Holy Spirit really makes her presence known. 

You can see it in the faces of the kids.  They’re not scrambling around on the floor or looking around.  They look directly at me as I speak to them.  When I share the promises God has made to us–to love each of us, without any merit of our own, forever–you can see their expressions soften, their eyes get a little wider and brighter, and room takes on a calmness that at any other time in the night simply cannot exist.  You can tell they’re listening and you can tell the Spirit is working in them.

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As if that were not enough or a reward, I had a few different kids I hadn’t known previously come up to me and ask for a high-five and thank me or run up and catch me by surprise with a big hug at the end of our last session.

Maybe I read too deep into it, but if God was able to use me to bring even a small bit of faith or peace to one kid, I’ll be back to VBS year after year after year!