Archive for May, 2012

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

May 15, 2012

Recovering from a day with the family at Legoland.  I leave you with this little bit of irony, courtesy of George Lucas.

I’d like to say that this makes up for the exquisite awfulness of Jar Jar, but it really doesn’t.  It can’t.  Nothing can.  Ever.  

Paying the Piper

May 12, 2012

Not my best headline ever, but I was rushed.

Here’s a collection of opinions published in the New York Times recently on the topic of tax exemptions for religious institutions.  
I think it’s interesting that the articles often make reference to the abuses of tax exemptions which some religious organizations and individuals are guilty of.  None of the writers makes any reference to the tangible good that religious organizations not only can but do provide to their communities.  No reference is made to the countless food pantries, clothing closets, soup kitchens, and other services to the poor provided by congregations large and small who are able to offer not just members but grocery stores and other businesses a tax deductible donation acknowledgment for their generosity.  
No mention or comparison is made between the number and scope of religious organizations that offer services to the needy and at risk not just in America but around the world, and secular institutions committed to the same thing (secular institutions that are not actually part of government, that is).  I think that would be rather interesting and telling.  I suspect strongly that religious organizations far outstrip private secular organizations in terms of dollars and man-hours contributed in service of others.
There are undoubtedly abuses of the tax exemptions.  Institutions and individuals found to be grossly and willfully abusing these exemptions should be addressed both within their larger church polity (assuming they have one) as well as through civil means when appropriate.  But I assume that abuses are the exception, not the rule.  As such, we ought to think twice before we eliminate tax-exempt status from religious organizations.  

Cash 22

May 10, 2012

A parishioner handed me an insert from one of the local newspapers this past Sunday.  The insert was a partial reprint from the Wall Street Journal, and was dominated by a front page article proclaiming “Trust in the Lord…But Check Out the Church“.

The headline and the early gist of the article are pretty common sense.  If you think that churches are free of sinful people who might be tempted to exploit you for your resources, don’t be naive.  Congregations are filled with sinful people, because there aren’t any other kinds of people.  Smart congregations recognize this and ought to see it as part of their duty to protect the organization against potential abuse (to the best of their ability), but also to protect their members from gross temptation to sin by not providing proper checks & balances, or ceding too much power to any given person.  I don’t think congregations who fail to do this are taking very seriously the Lord’s Prayer temptation “and lead us not into temptation”.  
So yes, be smart about who it is that you’re giving money to.  Part of this issue is solved if people commit to a congregation.  Get to know a congregation, both the congregants as well as pastoral and lay leadership.  Know what the congregation is doing.  Understand their mission and the means by which they seek to achieve it.  While I believe firmly in financial transparency in all aspects of a congregation’s finances, I have met plenty of very faithful and honest folks who dislike this approach because of worries that if people know the finances, they’ll alter their giving.  A congregation that is doing well financially might send the subliminal message to members that they need to contribute less.  A congregation that is doing poorly financially may scare off new members.
Proper understanding of the Christian tradition (as opposed to law) of tithing is helpful.  We tithe out of gratitude to God, in an acknowledgement that all that we have is his, and that whatever we have we should be grateful for.  It stems out of the Old Testament Hebrew notion of firstfruits – bringing to God the first and best of what we have as a way of reminding ourselves (and others) that it isn’t ours in the worldly sense of the word.  
As such, tithing is something that most Christian communities encourage their members to do, to a large extent because the tithing concept has allowed Christian churches to evolve as organizations and denominations.  You can’t usually purchase land or build a building or pay a pastor and other staff unless you have the capital to do so.  Once upon a time, land may have been donated by individuals, and church buildings may have been built by a combination of hired skilled professionals as well as the voluntary efforts of members.  Pastors and staff were sometimes compensated less in money and more in daily bread sorts of gifts – literally.  In our highly regulated culture, these things have become more and more impractical.  Money has always spoken, but it has reached a point where there are fewer other voices in the room to compete with it.
If you have questions about tithing – why, how much, what it’s used for, etc. – sit down and talk with your pastor.  Your pastor shouldn’t be the financial officer of the congregation, ideally, but he or she should be able to speak reasonably knowledgeably on the topic.  Most of the time, I’m willing to bet that they’ll encourage you to take tithing seriously, though how they phrase it will differ.
The article points out that there are scammers outside of congregations as well who prey on folks that they know are already conditioned to give money to good causes, and will troll membership directories looking for easy targets.  Whether you’re religious or otherwise, I encourage people not to give money to soliciting organizations until you’ve done your homework on them – and that homework should involve other people and more than just a Google search.  
But the article goes on into some other interesting and not directly related tangents.  Rather than limiting itself to the discussion at hand – ensuring that your donations to a religious institution are being used properly (where ‘properly’ is a term that is likely to have a broad latitude by definition), it takes it upon itself to provide financial advising as to the proper place and role of tithing.  That’s where things get a little trickier.
First off, it counsels people to avoid going into debt to tithe.  On the surface, this seems to make a lot of sense, and as a rule of thumb, I’m willing to go with it.  The problem is that the goal behind this recommendation is personal financial solvency.  While that’s a fine and laudable goal that I embrace for myself and my family, it isn’t the defining nature of the tithe.  The tithe is not about personal financial solvency.  It is about a response to God.  While Scripturally and traditionally this response has had some very specific numerics attached to it, ideally the response should be motivated from the heart.  The goal of the tithe is not fiscal solvency.  The goal of the tithe is a response to God.  
I’m only being critical of the underlying premises of the author here.  I will be the first to counsel a parishioner to reconsider their tithe or a large special offering if I’m unsure they’re in a position to do it wisely.  That presumes I know what ‘wise’ is for them, and that’s why I would want to talk with them.  As with so many things, relationship is a far better mechanism than regulation.  I want my parishioners to make good decisions for themselves as well as for their Christian community.  Sometimes that means stepping out in faith a little more.  Sometimes that means scaling back.  But for me to say that maintaining a particular tithe regardless of fluctuating circumstances, or for someone else to mandate basing the tithe around financial solvency are both overgeneralizations. 
The last portion of the article asserts that there are many ways to give.  Writing a check is a traditional way, but it’s not the only way.  Volunteering is another good option.  Again, I agree with the overall idea.  Working for nearly 20 years in a campus ministry environment, I’m well aware that it’s often easier for someone to donate their time than it is to donate money.  But as with above, that’s a relationship issue as well – a discussion that can and should be had between a congregation’s leadership and membership.  As a pastor I’m very quick to admit that there are lots of ways to give and to encourage people to explore multiple options.  But in some cases I might find myself questioning a person’s decision to volunteer for an hour a month instead of providing any financial support.  Sometimes solvency isn’t the issue, and there are other issues that need to be explored and considered.  
The author then stresses various ways of giving to a congregation (it’s interesting that the author refers exclusively to churches, because these exact same thoughts apply to any organization – religious or otherwise) that provide the giver with the most advantages.  Again, this isn’t entirely bad.  I’m a proponent of utilizing the system to obtain whatever benefits and advantages are legally to be had.  But this isn’t the purpose of tithing again, either.  I don’t tithe to reduce my estate taxes, a suggestion the author ends her article with.  In gratitude to God, I don’t necessarily first and foremost plan out my tax advantages. &n
Once you’ve decided that you want to give a special gift, or as you’re determining what your regular tithe should be, be aware that there may be tax advantages (at least for the time being) in how you make your contributions.  Avail yourself of these.  But if your goal is to reduce your estate taxes or to otherwise benefit yourself financially, you need to examine your motivations.  Be honest with yourself (and God) about what you’re doing, and don’t pretend to be tithing solely out of the goodness of your heart when you really have other goals.  I have no problem with a member who tells me that they want to make a special donation at the end of the year.  I assume that in part this is because they see the ministry as a worthy recipient of the donation (because there are certainly no lack of other places that could use the money!).  I don’t think any less of the gift or the giver knowing that it’s based in part on financial planning considerations.  There’s no need for either of us to pretend that there aren’t other elements at play, but rather we can both give thanks to God that those elements are even a possible or necessary consideration.  
One of the most challenging stories in the New Testament occurs early on in the life of the rapidly growing Church.  This Church was characterized by its love and care for the poor and marginalized, such as widows.  People were moved to sell off possessions and give the proceeds to the Church to foster this work.  
But in Acts 5:1-11 we’re presented with the cautionary tale of Ananias and Sapphira, members of the Church who sold some property and gave the proceeds to the Church, but also kept back some of the money for themselves.  Many people have been critical of this passage, citing it as an example of the Church’s greed and unreasonable demands on members that they give everything.  But that’s not what is going on here.  The problem for Ananias and Sapphira isn’t that they decided not to give all the proceeds to the Church.  The problem is that they wanted it to look like they had.  They wanted the glory of being generous people (which they no doubt were), and were more than happy to lie about the extent of their generosity.  In verses 3-4 Peter makes it clear that they were free to do what they wanted with their own property, but what they weren’t free to do was to lie to not only their fellow members, but to God himself.  In their particular situation, using the Church as a means to make themselves look good was fatal.  
If a member wants to make a special donation because it’s advantageous to them to do so, then praise God and thank you.  But if a person’s entire giving is dictated not by a desire to honor and serve their Lord and Savior, but by the dictates of the tax code, then it’s probably good to discuss this.  
In short, your financial planner or tax adviser or CPA shouldn’t be the one dictating how and what you give.  Bring your pastor (and others) into the conversation as well, and at the end of the day, do what you honestly feel is right and good to do.
What are your thoughts and experiences and practices of tithing?  


May 10, 2012

Am I the only one that is not shocked by President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage today?  Is there really anything more to be said about this?  I doubt it.  I am amazed only at how quickly this cultural transformation has been accomplished.  

I have no doubt there will be plenty of hand-wringing and frustration in many congregations this week, congregations that affirm (as does ours) the God-defined nature of marriage as opposed to the definition of marriage as an institution of convenience or personal expression that our culture is rapidly embracing.  It is understandable to be aghast and frustrated.  But I think many congregations will be inclined towards the wrong response.   We need to respond in ways that give witness to our hope and faith.  These are not necessarily easy or fun responses.  Heck, forget that.  these are very difficult and unpleasant responses.  They fly against our human nature.  But they are (as near as I can tell), thoroughly Biblical responses.  
First off, the people who seek to change the definition of marriage are not our enemies.  They are creations of the same loving God that we seek to be obedient to.  They are mistaken (as best I can interpret Scripture).  We are all sinful, all broken, all prone to error, all constantly in need of our Lord’s forgiveness and focusing on this rather than on how right we are and how wrong they are is ultimately far more healthy for potential dialog.  This does not mean compromising the Biblical witness.  It means being conditioned by that same Biblical witness as to how we respond.  We are not called to hatred or demagoguery or belittling of these people.  We are called to pray for them, that the Holy Spirit would work in their hearts and minds (as He no doubt already is in many of them), to bring them to a fuller and more faithful understanding of the way we have been created.  
Secondly, we must be cautious to not be exploited by the political system, driven to see those who label themselves Democrat (or Republican, for that matter) as the enemy – unwelcome in our houses of worship.  There is no one party that fully and completely represents the will of God.  Many men and women of deep faith find themselves having to compromise their faith in order to vote for the platforms of either party.  I know faithful men and women who have been ridiculed and insulted by their congregations because of how they felt led to vote.  This is not God-pleasing.  It is not Biblical.  And it is not helpful.   “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)  
Is there any wonder that there is confusion?  Should we be surprised by this?  I think not.  If you’re convinced that your neighbor is in error, you need to be praying for them, not mocking them.   If we are convinced that certain platform stances of one party are contrary to the will of God, we ought to ensure that we aren’t standing – either actively or through ignorance – on some rotten planks of our own.  
Thirdly, I maintain that the best response is not to funnel more and more money to lobbyists and special interest groups devoted to overturning specific legislation or fighting certain policies.  By all means vote your conscience and pray for change.  But I don’t believe that the kind of change many Christians want is going to come about by repealing this or that law or winning or defending a certain referendum or other.  ALL, and I mean ALL of these victories will be temporary at best.
What Christians as individuals and congregations need to focus on is sharing the Gospel with the people around them.  Responding in love rather than vitriol.  Responding in humility rather than arrogance.  If we can share the Gospel with our world in this manner, it won’t matter what the laws say.  If we think we’re somehow going to successfully defend our congregations and moral codes and religious beliefs through the laws, we’re grossly mistaken.  Vote and be vocal, but if you aren’t spending more of your time praying for your neighbors and seeking to share the Gospel with them, your votes are going to turn out worthless.  Maybe not today.  Maybe not next week (though at this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was next week!).  But eventually.
In making this shift of emphasis, we are reminded of one very important thing.  We do not evangelize in order to change public policy or law.  We evangelize because we want as many people as possible to receive the gift of faith by the power of the Holy Spirit so that they will spend eternity in the presence of their Savior, Jesus Christ.  Our faith is not a means to some other end.  It is the end.  There is no shortage of people happy to exploit the faith for their personal and professional gain, whether they call themselves a televangelist or a politician (or any number of other professions, by all means).  We are not to make the same error – either intentionally or accidentally.
Marriage can be legally redefined, and I believe it will be.  This does not affect the faithfulness of Christians across this country and around the world.  Our congregations may come under direct assault legally for insisting on retaining the freedom to contradict the prevailing cultural preferences, and I believe they will.  We may even see in our lifetimes great reversals in the religious freedoms that we have enjoyed as Americans for over two centuries.  As Christians, all this changes is the convenience with which we worship our God.  The battle of faith is not won or lost on whether marriage is defended or abortion is overturned.  Christians continue to witness and share and the Holy Spirit still leads people to faith in the most hostile and adverse climates imaginable.  
It’s more convenient to have your culture agree with your faith.  It’s more convenient to have your culture not only accommodate your faith but encourage it.  It’s more convenient to assume that everyone around you basically thinks and believes the same way you do.  
None of these things were true at the birth of the Church 2000 years ago – a birth we will celebrate in just a few weeks on Pentecost Sunday.  The incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God did not wait until culture was receptive to these things.  He came in the midst of great hostility – both from people who worshiped God and from the far greater number of people who did not.  The Holy Spirit launched the public ministry of the Church in signs and wonders in the midst of cultural attack, in the midst of the arrests of church leaders and their martyrdom.  The Church did not rely on friendly laws to survive.  We are mistaken if we think it needs it now.  
We need to give thanks for two centuries of religious freedom and liberty unparalleled in all of human history.  Religious freedom not only for Christians, but for people of all religious backgrounds.  We should give thanks for that.  We should defend it to the best of our ability utilizing our Constitutional rights.  We can lament the shifting sands of culture that have finally made such liberties more and more difficult.  But we shouldn’t be surprised, and we shouldn’t assume that we’re going to change anything with mere laws.  
As long as we continue to think in these ways, we perpetuate an image of combativeness that is inaccurate with who we have been made into.  The battle is over.  It was over 2000 years ago on a bloody cross and in an empty tomb.  Our job is to spread the news about the victory, not to be distracted into an unending series of mock battles that ultimately sideline us from sharing the Gospel.
He is risen.  He is risen indeed!  And you know someone who needs to know that!  Pray for the opportunity to share this good news in love and that they will receive it in faith.  That’s ultimately all that matters, regardless of what is legal or illegal.

If I’m Not OK, You Have to Be OK

May 9, 2012

Saw this in the local paper this morning, but this link provides a fuller article.  A bill is being introduced in California that would ban anyone under the age of 18 from receiving restorative therapy – one of many terms for a type of psychological treatment aimed at helping the patient move from homosexual inclinations to heterosexual ones.  Adults could still get the treatment if they sign a waiver acknowledging that it is ‘dangerous’.  Whatever that means.  

There are lots of things to be said here, I suppose.  I doubt I’m the best qualified to say them.  But I’m curious as to how many other forms of therapy are explicitly banned by law?  Especially regarding an issue that appears to be intensely traumatic to the exact young people that the law seeks to deny access to restorative therapy.  Seems as though if we were hoping to avoid bullying of our young people, denying them a therapy that they may choose for themselves as a means of coping with severe and traumatic internal conflict ought to rank rather high on the list.
I think it’s interesting that they had some individual testify as to the harm he believed was caused to himself by engaging in restorative therapy.  Naturally, since it didn’t work for him, it can’t possibly be beneficial or helpful to anyone.  And therefore must be banned.  
If you’re interested in Exodus International, probably the largest organization that promotes and refers people to restorative therapy, you can click on the link above.

Watching How We Talk

May 6, 2012

One of the blessings of being the pastor of a congregation is the relationships that develop over time.  Many people are completely put off by the idea of standing in front of a group of people every week to lead them in worship, read the Word of God, and speak to them in a meaningful way about that Word and their lives.  It is a huge and intimidating task, but it is made considerably easier and enjoyable by the fact that many of those people are known and loved.  The longer a pastor remains in a particular parish, the deeper and broader those relationships can grow.  It’s truly beautiful.

But it can also lead to problems.
One major problem is the temptation to speak off the cuff with parishioners on Sunday morning, particularly during the sermon.  Playing for laughs can lead to major misunderstandings (though I strongly encourage appropriate humor in sermons!).  Most importantly, we need to remember that both as pastor and parishioner, we are praying that there will be new faces present each week to hear the Word of God and by the power of his Holy Spirit, become members and friends of the congregation themselves.  
In other words, we want people who aren’t part of our community to be there on Sunday morning.  But we need to ensure that they hear us properly when they are.  
Case in point:  a pastor joking with his congregation says some things that could be taken in very much the wrong way by a visitor (or a long-time member).  As the article notes, when questioned the pastor is quick to say he wasn’t intending to be taken literally.  His regular parishioners probably understand that.  But for the outsider, what is intended as a valuable and timely lesson about the importance of parents in helping to shape a child’s understanding of themselves instead becomes a shocking demonstration of potentially encouraging child abuse and other inexcusable practices.
This is one of the reasons proper preparation before preaching is so important.  Attempting to do things off the cuff without thinking through them properly, as well as the temptation towards extemporaneous tangential comments (particularly if they’re getting a good chuckle), need to be watched carefully to guard against getting carried away in a way that is going to require us to explain ourselves at length to our parishioners or those who might be sitting in the pew with either good or bad intentions.  
We live in a very, very public age, and what we say in public we should expect could come back to bite us.  None of us is perfect, we all make mistakes, we all say things we might choose not to repeat on further reflection, and this ought to be taken into account in our public media age as well.  But it often isn’t.  Something to keep in mind before stepping into the pulpit this morning!

CTCR Review: Theology and Practice of Prayer

May 4, 2012

Our church body has a commission charged with putting together theological statements on various topics.  This entity is known as the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, or the CTCR.  It’s a body comprised of academics, clergy, and lay people.  Their publications are not binding statements of polity doctrine, but rather efforts to engage a broader range of our membership in the activity of theology – thinking through things that pertain to God and and our life in him.

I’ve decided that it’s good to not only read these as I receive them, but to comment on them as well for both of my readers, something I’ve done here and here.  A few weeks ago I received their latest publication – Theology and Practice of Prayer: A Lutheran View.    If you click on the hyperlink, you can download the publication for free, and I encourage you to do so whether you’re Lutheran or not.  
Certainly the topic of prayer is one that ought to seem so familiar to Christians as to not need an elaborate theological reflection.  My children have been praying for as long as they could fold their hands.  It’s easy, right?  Yes.  And no.  In much the same way that breathing is easy, and yet when you stop to try and describe the process  to someone else it gets very complicated, very quickly.
The purpose of this document is “to encourage prayer and to guard against potential misunderstandings, from the standpoint of Lutheran theology.”  As such, at 62 pages, it’s hardly exhaustive on the subject.  While it goes on in the introduction to claim that it isn’t intended to be devotional or inspirational in tone, I’d argue that the latter portion of the document does an admirable job of those very things, and that it’s not a bad thing, either.
Since the document comes from “the standpoint of Lutheran theology” it is characteristic in what it wants to say about prayer, primarily in the distinguishing of Biblical/Lutheran theology from what are perceived to be the most common erroneous interpretations of prayer in Scripture.  The document takes time to distinguish the Scriptural admonitions to pray to God from the admonitions of some faith traditions to pray “to” (or ‘through’) other agents, such as Mary the mother of Jesus or certain men and women who are regarded as having lived highly pious and devoted lives of faith.  The document also quickly links the importance of prayer in conjunction with the Gospel, and distinguishes prayer to the Triune God from any other use or application of prayer.  All good points.
But likely not the points of concern that most people have when asked for questions about prayer.  I’d wager that the most common question on prayer centers on why some appear to be answered favorably and others are not.  Why are we apparently promised that we will get what we ask for if we pray in Jesus’ name (John 14:13, among others), yet this doesn’t seem to be the case all the time?  
The document deals with this issue (pages 21-22), but not in a way that I think many people are going to find particularly satisfying or helpful.  That said, I’m not sure that there is a satisfying or helpful way of clearly understanding the tension between our will and God’s will.  
The document concludes by leading readers to consider the model of prayer that Jesus provided to his followers – the Lord’s Prayer.  Petition by petition, the authors provide insight into what is being prayed and offering reflections on the why behind it.  This section is very, very good and helpful for long-term Christians who may pray the Lord’s Prayer every week but not really think about it.  The reflections offered here are a good summary of why this prayer is so powerful and important, and so worthy of repetition and emulation.  
If you’re in a Lutheran (LCMS) congregation, ask your pastor if he has a copy of this that you can borrow (he should).  My congregation has amassed a small library over the years, and I make sure that the library has a copy of these documents (one is usually sent to the congregation’s mailing address and another is sent to the pastor’s address) so that members can access it.  It’s worth your time to read it and grow in your awe and joy in the ‘simple’ matter of prayer.  

Crossing Borders

May 4, 2012

I don’t like boxes.  I don’t like confines.  Routines are physically painful in some ways.   I can credit or blame my ADD or ADHD or hyperactivity or multitasking mindset or whatever you want to call it for some of this.  Maybe all of this.  It can be a curse or a blessing either way.  

There was a young woman in my bartending class this week.  Pleasant.   Dressed stylishly with skinny black jeans and high heels.  She wants a part-time job while she works towards her real estate license.  She might be 20 years younger than me – it’s hard to tell exactly.  Her conversations are punctuated with checking her iPhone and responding to texts.  
Talking with her briefly, sharing the space of a small classroom for a few days, I find myself crossing borders – part of the reason I placed myself in a bartending class.  Once across the border I feel the glow of a fiercely hot sun, young and pulsing with life and possibility so palpably that the people beneath it absorb and radiate that life and vitality.  She carries herself with an air of confidence that I would still kill to have at twice her age.  A confidence that the world is her oyster.  That she’s going places.  That she’s going to be somebody.  Perhaps she already is somebody.  
None of these are bad things, per se.  They are accessories of youth more often than not.  I don’t fault her for them, I just observe them.  By watching the way they carry through her eyes and conversation,  I can almost imagine the world as it appears to her.  I don’t live in her world, but for the span of a few hours I step over the border between us and observe.  
I’m just a visitor.  I can’t live there forever.  
I crossed out of that border of confidence and energy and into other realms later in the day.  Lands where the sun is not the robust, fiery gold of youth but rather the wan, pale, nearly translucent sun of winter.  The sun that doesn’t warm, but only displays the bleakness of the terrain around you.  
I helped a man up off the floor of his small apartment.  He had lain there an hour, alone, unable to get himself back up again.   Not so very long ago, there was someone there to call for help.    Not now.  Not so long ago, this sort of help wouldn’t have been imagined as necessary.  But things can change quickly in the lands under that distant, cold sun.
He’s not quite twice my age.   Not so long ago his eyes sparkled and danced.  Not so long ago he seemed a very different man on the inside, and certainly a different one on the outside.  Today, perhaps the outer man better reflects the man hiding on the inside all along.  Today his eyes are dull and tired.  No apologies for the mess of his apartment, or the mess of his clothing.  No real awareness of himself or the danger of his situation.  Just the dull tiredness of another day to be endured.  
He looked at me today as I asked him questions.  As I tried to ascertain what help he needed and how I could get it to him.  I could almost hear his eyes, they were so plaintive and loud.    Why am I still here?  Why can’t I have peace?  Why do I have to deal with today?  Why should I deal with tomorrow?  He lay there, just looking at me.  Lids heavy and slow, just like his words.  His voice not so long ago danced and rang with a deep, rich timbre.  Now words dribbled out only with great effort, limping and crawling across the short span of air between us.  
There was no confidence.  No certainty.   If the world is an oyster, it can be a difficult one to shuck, and people are liable to seriously injure themselves.  Stepping across the border between he and I, I found myself in a place where there seemed to be no places left to go, even if there were energy and interest to go there.  The man I helped into a chair and sat with had no illusions about being someone important – whether in the future or in the present.  All that was left was being, rather than striving to be.  Que sera sera the old song hauntingly promises, without ever clarifying whether that’s a good thing or not.  
The world calls us constantly to put off the crossing of borders, to believe that life is meant to be lived young and rich and beautiful forever.  That it’s possible to remain transfixed beneath the glowing pleasant warmth of youth indefinitely.  As though we needn’t ever grow older.  Needn’t ever realize suddenly how little so much is worth that we’ve been told is invaluable.  We’re assured that this pricey education, this pricey home, this pricey car, this pricey lifestyle is all worth it, will always be worth it.  But it isn’t.  
Because we’re just visitors.  We can’t live there forever.