Saturday, March 24, 2018

Lent Midweek Series, Week Five

Before Holy Week starts tomorrow, I figure I should post the final of the five Lent Midweek reflections that I wrote. If you want more information about what this series was all about, take a look at the first post in the series.


The song for the final week was my favorite, and was the genesis of this series, Sorrow words and music by Greg Gaffin).


When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

     - John 11:17-27 


Sorrow. This song speaks some to the reality that we all live with … namely, the reality that every person at some point in life has to deal with sorrow, and suffering, and misery - and the truth that at times each one of us feels like we’ve been trampled down.

Did you ever do that thought exercise? Maybe in college philosophy class, or maybe in high school civics, or maybe just sitting around late at night with friends - the thought exercise that involves dreaming about how the world could be perfect, or at least much better than it is now.

What’d you come up with? Personal accountability? Stronger churches? Better access to natural foods? More cohesive neighborhoods? More support from other people? More individual responsibility? People being nicer to each other?

I don’t have the definitive foolproof answer to how we make the world a better place. You don’t either. Some people think they do, though. I wonder if that isn’t the purpose of politics. Do politicians, at least the best ones, get into that field because they believe that if their opinions were implemented as public policy, then the world would be a better and more perfect place?

Honestly, I hope so - in fact, I hope that’s why each of us does the work that we do, so that the world could be a better and more perfect place.

The unfortunate truth, though, is that despite all our thought experiments and all our politics and all our opinions, we won’t be able to make the world a perfect place … because (as you know) we all sin and fall short of the Glory of God.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with trying. Perhaps if every living soul was upright and strong, our world would be much better. Maybe if we no longer trampled one another down, or if all of the soldiers in all of the armies simply refused to kill each other any more, then we would enjoy a greater degree of happiness, a greater degree of joy.

So I say, let’s give it a try.

Because even though we all know it will fail, it’s worth trying. And maybe, just maybe, our world will end up just a little better for the trying.

But in the end, we’ll never rid the world of sorrow. You know this, because you live in the world and recognize that it’s broken and sinful - and the only way the sorrow that permeates the world will dissipate, as the song notes, is when the only true Messiah rescues us from ourselves.

Which, as Martha hears, is where we meet Christ - who is the Resurrection and the Life, the Messiah who rescues us from ourselves.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Lent Midweek Series, Week Four

Last night was the fifth and final of this year's Lenten midweek series - where I sing a song that may well belong more on the radio than in church, and where I publish a link to the original artist performing the song plus a reflection for people to read. If you want more background, see this post.

However, since I've only published three so far on this blog, here's the fourth. I'll get around to putting the other one up in a day or two.


The song for Week Four (March 14) was Someone To You (Words and Music by Michael Nelson, Sam Hollander, and Grant Michaels)


[Jesus said] "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

     - John 10:11-18


One of our deepest longings, as human beings, is the longing for a place to belong. No matter who we are, we tend to want to find a place where we can belong; a place where we can know other people, and where we can be known by those we care about.

Middle school lunchrooms are the quintessential and stereotypical place where we see that longing to belong embodied. The popular kids at one table, the nerds at the table across the room, the theater cast and the football team and the marching band each with their own places. Then there’s that one kid, either the new kid or the one no one likes, sitting all alone.

We might roll our eyes at or make fun of any one of the groups, but I don’t think we tend to feel sorry for them - because each person in each group has a place to belong. The kid who’s alone, though, we do feel sorry for, because each one of us knows what it feels like to feel alone. Whether we have any legitimate reason to have ever felt like that, we know what it is to feel alone - and we know it’s a pretty terrible feeling.

So we can all relate to the yearning expressed in this song. Yeah, it’s a love song - a song of longing on the part of one person to know and be known by another person, which seems to be at the center of our being.

But it could also be sung by someone who simply longs for community, even if it is in the midst of a middle school lunchroom.

And it could be sung by someone who joins a gang because they were ignored by their parents growing up.

Or even by someone who has a great job, but doesn’t really like their coworkers and doesn’t have any friends … so goes to work in the morning, goes home in the evening, makes lots of money, and never really talks with anyone else.

Those of you who are old enough may remember the television show Cheers. If you do, you’ll remember that there was a cast of regulars, each of whom had their designated place to be - either at the bar, behind the bar, or moving between the bar and the tables at the edge of the show.

One beautiful thing about that show is that ever single person was accepted as they were. It’s not as if each of them didn’t have any faults - they certainly did, just like we do. But their faults didn’t keep them from having a place to belong. And the theme song, Where Everybody Knows Your Name, speaks to this longing (and was embodied in the show to the extent that whenever that one character walked in the door, everyone called out, “Norm”).

This is what we might find in the very best of Christian community - a place where we can be known, where we can be called by name, and where we are accepted as we are. We find this in the best of Christian community, because the best of Christian community mirrors God’s relationship with us. Because the Good Shepherd knows us, calls us by name, and accepts us exactly as we are.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Lent Midweek Series Week Three

And here's the third of this year's Lenten midweek series - where I sing a song that may well belong more on the radio than in church. And where I publish a link to the original artist performing the song plus a reflection for people to read. If you want more background, see this post.


The song for Week Three (March 7) was Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel (Lyrics & Music by Paul Simon)


[Jesus said] "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

     - John 10:1-10


It doesn’t take much time living in the world to begin to recognize that the world in which we live is sometimes dangerous. Toddlers, for instance, as they’re learning to move from crawling to walking, often figure out the hard way that there are tables above their heads. Elementary school children sometimes like to climb and swing and spin around really fast on the playground - they like to learn to ride bicycles or skis or skateboards … only to discover that gravity might not always be super friendly. Teenagers who are learning what romantic love feels like discover that sometimes the feeling isn’t mutual. And for the rest of us … taxes.

The world in which we live is sometimes dangerous, or painful, or fraught with trouble that we have to navigate.

One of the yearnings of many of us is reflected in this song. It’s obviously a love song, at least a love song of sorts. It’s a song that speaks to that desire most of us have to be connected in a deep and meaningful way to someone else, or to a community.

It’s a song of reassurance, a reminder that while there might be perils or pain that we have to navigate in this life, the lucky among us don’t have to navigate those alone.

But there’s more to it than simply reassurance for one person. Because most of us long for someone to support us when we face troubles - for someone to provide for us some relief from the struggle, someone to act for us like a bridge which allows us to bypass the troubled water that we’d have to pass through otherwise.

At the same time, most of us long to be the one supporting someone else. This is how we express and experience love for one another. We commit to easing the struggle with the things that are hard in this life … we act for each other like a bridge that allows easier passage over troubled water.

And this even, perhaps obviously, extends beyond simply a relationship between two people. For instance, members of a community (like a church congregation) can provide the same support for each other. Think about the simple act of bringing a casserole to, for instance, a woman whose husband just died. A bridge over troubled water. Or folks who show up to sit at the bedside of someone who’s in the hospital so that their family can go home to get some familiar food and take a shower and sleep in their own bed. A bridge over troubled water. Or the cards and emails and phone calls that happen between members of a church community when one family looks distraught in worship, or hasn’t shown up to worship for a while. A bridge over troubled water.

But there’s more to it than simply reassurance for one person; there’s more to it than simply a community supporting each other. Because each of these is an expression of love. And, as you’re well aware, we only love each other because God first loves us.

I wonder if this is what it means to have life, and to have it in abundance … to experience the love of God in Christ Jesus through knowing the love of our neighbor.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Lent Midweek Series, Week Two

So, here's the second from this year's Lenten midweek series where I sing a song that belongs more on the radio than in church, and publish the lyrics to the song and a reflection for people to read. If you want more background, see this post.


Week Two (February 28) the song I sang was What It's Like by Everlast
     * Fair Warning ... there's some potentially offensive language in this song


Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Then the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.” Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.” Then they said to him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

     - John 8:12-20


Someone told me a long time ago that a person never knows what happens behind the door to someone else’s house. They can invite me over, I can spend time there, I can get to know one of more of the people pretty well - but, since I don’t live there, I can never actually know what goes on when only the people who live in that household are home. We don’t really ever know the full truth about someone else.

Here’s the thing. Consider your life. Consider all the parts of your life that are complicated, or complex. Consider how your family of origin influences the way you currently move through the world, how you currently exist within your own household. Consider that there’s a lot more going on in your own heart and head than what you share with most people. If there are other people in your household, consider that even though you might know them better than anyone else in the world does, you don’t actually know everything that goes on in their heart or their head.

No matter who you meet, who you know, or who you see on the street, the truth is that you don’t know everything about that person. You likely don’t know all of their current story, let alone their back story.

For instance, there are three characters in this song. You have no idea why the first guy is begging outside the liquor store. Maybe he’s mentally ill and isn’t capable of holding down a job or maintaining a home; maybe he had cancer and his insurance wasn’t adequate, so the chemo bankrupted him and he’s living on the street because he lost his apartment; maybe his parents kicked him out of the house after not ever teaching him any life skills, so he’s doing the only thing he knows how to do.

As Jesus reminds us, it’s not our place to judge. All the people around the woman caught in adultery judged her, but Jesus did not. Jesus treats her with love and respect.

What if we, too, treated every person we encounter with love and respect?

Every person we meet is struggling with something. Most people also find ways and things to celebrate. And most people are hopeful about something that they’re working on, or that they’re anticipating.

That’s probably true for you, and is probably true for the people around you, too.

Actually, if you’re in the Holy Love sanctuary during Lent, 2018, take a look at the East wall. Strung across the top of the wall is a green cord. Hanging from the green cord are knotted cords in orange and blue/green and black. The knot represent things which people at Holy Love are praying for or about - orange for celebrations, blue/green for hope, black for sorrow. You don’t know what most of those are about, but you can see that there are a lot of knots.

Those knots not only represent prayers - in many ways they represent people’s lives.

So, perhaps this Lent, we fast from judgement - and take on as a Lenten practice the discipline of loving our neighbor. Because, as we know, we love because God first loves us. To follow Jesus, the light of the world, is to pursue the love that Jesus embodies.

Because the love of God in Christ Jesus does indeed call us beyond ourselves to pay attention to, and to love, our neighbor. Surprisingly, it is in giving ourselves away that we receive fulfilment.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Lent Midweek Series, Week One

Yes, I'm aware that it's already the fourth week of Lent this year. But I told someone the other day about what I'm doing for midweek reflections with the good people of God at Holy Love, and they suggested that maybe I should post these online someplace. So ... I'll post them here. 

Usually during Lent, I pick a theme of some sort, and each week during midweek Evening Prayer service, I share a reflection on that theme. Some of those reflections are posted on this blog.

This year I break with traditional practice. Because of the juxtaposition of Ash Wednesday with Valentine's Day, and of Easter with April Fool's Day, I started thinking about unusual juxtapositions.

So this year, instead of writing a reflection that I read, I've chosen to sing a song each week during Evening Prayer - songs that are not traditionally church songs, thereby juxtaposing popular culture with church. I print the lyrics of the song on one side of a piece of paper, my reflection on the other side, and provide enough copies for each person to have one.

So on this blog, I'll tell you what song I sing, post a link to the original artist/band playing the song, the section of scripture that was read that night, and then my reflection.

I'll post reflections from the other weeks over the next few days, or whenever I get around to it.


Week One (February 21) the song I sang was Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For by U2
         * Skip to about 2:10 in the video if you want to miss the conversation and just hear the song


When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always. ”Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

    - John 6:25-40


There’s a saying that floats around. It goes something like, “Each one of us is searching for something that will fill the God-shaped hole in our soul.”

While there’s nothing in scripture to support the concept of a God-shaped hole in our soul, this idea seems fairly popular. Because the thing is, it seems like each one of is looking for something, searching for something, something to will take up whatever space might feel empty in our life - whatever space might feel like it needs to be filled.

That saying may be based on something from 17th century thinker Blaise Pascal. In his posthumously-published book Pensées, Pascal wrote,
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

Centuries prior, in the Confessions, Augustine wrote, “You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”, which for some people speaks to the same yearning for something to fill what feels like a void somewhere in our individual life.

And this sentiment - that something is missing from our life, that we long for something we can’t find, that we yearn for but most often don’t reach fulfilment - isn’t just restricted to Christian apologists or theologians. The rock band U2, as you can see on the other side of this page, sang about the same yearning - looking for but not finding that which is fulfilling.

I don’t know whether there’s a God-shaped hole in our soul, or whether there’s an abyss in each of us that can only be filled with God.

I do know, though, that many of us resonate with the lyrics of this U2 song because many of us find that all of the things we search for, that we hope will satisfy the longing we feel at our center, tend to leave us feeling empty. Maybe not immediately, but eventually.

They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty …”

It’s only in God, revealed in Jesus Christ, that we have any hope of having whatever void we feel in our being filled. And, like the song points out by omission, that abyss will never be filled when we focus only on ourselves. To turn our focus to our self, says Martin Luther, is the beginning of all sin.

Instead, the love of God in Christ Jesus calls us beyond ourselves to pay attention to, and to love, our neighbor. Surprisingly, it is in giving ourselves away that we receive fulfillment.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What I'm Willing to Accept: More Thoughts on Guns in this Nation

I'm not willing to accept that this is just the way things are, the way things are going to be. I'm not willing to believe that we just have to accept occasional massacres as part of the cost of being USAmerican citizens.

I've written on gun violence before on this blog. If you're interested in what I was thinking at the time I wrote, scroll back through the archives. Today, here's what I'm thinking; here's what I believe.

Now, some might say that it's too early after this most recent tragedy to talk about legislation. I disagree, but am willing to concede that it might be too early for some people. OK. I'm willing to wait. Is one week of mourning an adequate amount of time? If so, let's have this conversation starting Monday morning next week. If not, how about one month? Is that enough time to mourn collectively? Then let's schedule the conversation for November 1 (All Saint's Day ... maybe a good day to talk about our nation's propensity to inflict death on one another using firearms).

Regardless of whether it's today, next week, or next month, the conversation needs to happen sooner instead of later. And I, for one, am ready to have the conversation, starting with listening to those with whom I disagree.

This morning I listened to a very articulate conservative talk show host make very reasonable points about gun use and ownership. I listened to him make a well-reasoned argument about the necessity of not increasing the amount of firearms regulation. I appreciated his perspective. His perspective, at least in part, is that the positive of allowing USAmerican citizens the (second amendment) freedom to own weapons outweighs the negative of tragedies like what happened this past weekend in Las Vegas.

I, however, disagree. I believe that gun ownership should be more strongly regulated. Like other constitutional rights that are restricted by certain situations and conditions, the right to own weapons is already restricted. A private citizen, for instance, is not allowed to purchase a fully automatic rifle.

For me, greater restrictions on firearms ownership is better; for the very articulate conservative, less restrictions are better. We both came to our position thoughtfully, and by considering what we believe to be best for our nation. And neither of us, I'd guess, is interested in changing our mind without some kind of significant evidence that counters what we believe in obvious ways.

But I would absolutely be willing to change my opinion if I were faced with good, non-biased, non-partisan, peer-reviewed research indicating that my opinion does not, in fact, lead to a more ideal reality.

At one point in time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded research into gun violence. However, in 1996, Congress withheld funding for that research, and threatened to cut all CDC funding if that agency continued with research into gun violence.

Perhaps the CDC is not the appropriate agency to do this research. OK. How about a different agency, like the National Institute of Justice?

The point is, my opinion will change if good, responsible, scientific, peer-reviewed research shows that my opinion leads to death and not life.

And I'm not willing to accept that there's nothing we can do to decrease gun violence in this country.

So, while I will continue to call for an increase in reasonable restrictions on gun purchases and ownership, I'll also call for federal funding for gun violence research. And if the research indicates that an increase in restrictions is a bad idea, I'll change my opinion.

But without the research, we have nothing but our opinions.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Long Gravel Road: a moment of Isolation and Connection

I followed a truck
            down a long gravel road
      (of course, it kicked up dust
                  from the road
            a frustration, as I couldn’t keep
                  the windows down
      (I tried, but the dust-coughing
                  was too much))

they set up camp over there
            the rv, the atv, the generator

I can hear them
      but can’t see what they’re up to

maybe they hear me
            only when I laugh out loud
                  at what I’m reading
            (a book about death, pain, & sorrow)
      but I doubt it
without knowing it, I came here
      for isolation
the phone’s turned off,
      but on wouldn’t make a difference
            since the connection doesn’t reach this valley

no connection leaves room for connection
      to breath
      to aroma
      to noises
            that don’t penetrate the city
      to the waning light
            or the encroaching dark
      to the desert cold
                  that’s about to chase me into
            the tent that I’ve set up where
                  morning’s sun will wake me early

in time to get back out

      down that long gravel road