Thursday, December 30, 2010

books, bulletins, and faith

Something has happened in the Lutheran Church over the past 30 years. OK, a lot has happened in the past 30 years; right now, though, I'm thinking about books and bulletins.

I remember feeling a sense of pride and camaraderie with ELCA Lutherans when I first started breaking out of my insular church world. I remember being one of a few Lutheran students at the United Methodist seminary I attended, and early in my first year hearing one of the Lutheran students stand up and describe the Lutheran Book of Worship to the (non-Lutheran) students. He explained that, because any ELCA congregation and feel at home in worship.

Granted, the LBW takes some figuring out ~ the liturgies are in one section, the hymns in another. Plus, there are a lot of sections that usually get skipped over (since they're used once or twice a year, if at all). There's a lot of back and forth, trying to find your place. It helps to have a guide sitting nearby the first couple times you use that book for worship. But it's usable, and it's what I grew up with.

It wasn't too long after that seminary event that the Lutheran church started publishing hymnal supplements and other worship resources. Before long, instead of one hymnal in the stereotypical pew, there were two or three ~ and Lutherans started juggling ~ bulletin in one hand, liturgy book in the other, set one down to pick up the book with songs in it, and don't ask me to pick up a bible.

I don't mind book-juggling too much, if I know I'm in a group comprised entirely of people who are familiar with all the books we're using in worship. I've experienced, though, worshiping with a non-Lutheran community when I wasn't familiar with their worship books. I was lost and confused, and only stayed because I was there with a friend.

The congregation I'm part of doesn't use worship books. Instead, we print bulletins containing the entire liturgical order, hymns and everything ~ and we're not alone in that practice. Other congregations choose to use one or two books for worship. Times have changed since the days when a person could enter any Lutheran congregation on a Sunday morning and expect worship to be pretty similar to what they're used to. There's not a standard book any more.

I've heard people say that we need to teach young Lutherans how to use the worship books, since they're growing up not using it for worship. I understand the sentiment ~ that book was like a symbol of identity for me, and I think it is for many other people who have been Lutheran in this country for a long time.

But wouldn't it be better for us to teach young people to identify with the bible, or with the community, with their family, or with Lutheran theology?

Of course, this begs the question, 'for a young person, what does it mean to be Lutheran?', and more broadly, 'what does it mean to be a person of faith?' I believe that young people (and older people) are longing for a place where they can explore issues of faith among people whom they trust to not judge, and who take faith seriously.

How seriously does your congregation take faith? If we assume that a community spends more time and money are items that are more important, then we have a way to gauge what's important to a congregation; just look to see where the most time and money are spent, and you'll have an idea about what's important. How much time and money are spent on discipleship for young people? How much on the building? on feeding the hungry? on the stewardship campaign? on Sunday morning coffee? on outreach to the neighborhood? How much time and energy are spent of faith?

I still miss the sense of belonging that I felt by way of the LBW ~ maybe we can build that same sense of belonging around something that really matters.

$0.02

Monday, December 27, 2010

christmas

christmas
tinsel and bows
litter the living room
or, if the wrapping paper
now litters the dumpster,
still the tree sheds needles
which persistently reject
the advances of a
worn out vacuum cleaner

christmas
when the malls move on
quickly to returns,
and as soon as possible
valentine hearts
make their appearance
even though, for some
it's still

christmas ~
don't you allow the sales
to move you beyond the twelve days
when G-d enters the world
of peace
of conflict
of joy and grief
of life and death
in our celebration, G-d rejoices
in our pain, the divine heart breaks
G-d's heart breaks open
and G-d's self is poured out,
refreshing as champagne
and bottomless as diner coffee ~

christmas,
with it's incarnation
does not confine itself to
one, or twelve, days
or even to the four weeks
following thanksgiving
but whatever day
wherever two or three
in the Child's Name
collect themselves
there is Christmas, G-d incarnate

so now, a day or two after
tinsel and eggnog are disposed of
we wake to coffee with Auden
our happy morning over
and trusting that G-d is not gone
but among us always

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

waiting

we've forgotten how to wait

cell phone conversations on the highway
laptop computers on the couch
while the kids ask for homework help
over the background of television noise

we've forgotten how to wait

we're great at multi-tasking, trying not
to 'waste' time ~ since 'time-is-money'
rules our lives, the more we do
the better we get at doing doing doing

we've forgotten how to wait

"I can't wait for Christmas"
from the mouths of children
through weeks of not being able to wait
but Christmas doesn't come any sooner

we've forgotten how to wait

what we teach our children, though
we ourselves forget believing that we
can micro-manage our own lives
for each minute of the time we're awake

we've forgotten how to wait

we've forgotten how to slow down,
even just for a moment ~ we've lost
the sabbath experience of Advent
the gift of taking a break from the frantic

we've forgotten how to wait for the divine
to wait for G-d to work on G-d's own time

Thursday, December 16, 2010

meditation on Psalm 146:5-10 for Advent midweek evening prayer

We wait, in advent expectation
for the coming of our G-d
for G-d incarnate
to incarnate in our midst.

we wait, joyfully expectant
looking for new life to be embodied
* em-bodied and enfleshed *
by our G-d

New life, from the one
by whose Word
heaven and earth
the seas and all life
was once new

we wait for new heaven
and for new earth as it is in heaven

and we do not wait alone
all creation groans in joyful anticipation
of a new day
when our life is upended
by G-d’s life ~ by G-d’s Word

we wait for a new day
when the broken are made whole
when the blind see
when the lame leap with shouts of that same joyful exuberance

the mighty one will show strength
even (especially?) to the lowly,
lifting them up to stand alongside those brought down from thrones
even (especially?) to the hungry, filling them with good
even (especially?) to prisoners,
freeing us from bondage to the chains of sin

But even as we wait
we are caught holding back
G-d’s other-focused reign
as we turn in on our own thoughts and words and deeds

G-d’s promise, though,
is bigger than our sin
bigger than our shortcomings, our faults
G-d, despite us (or because of us?)
enters into the world
enters into our brokenness

incarnates into our reality
announcing the reign of G-d for all generations

Praise the Lord
who is coming into the world

Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

City Traffic

bicycles weaving through cars on the street
and sidewalk pedestrians

fancy boots draw attention to themselves
as they walk by worn out shoes
pushing a shopping cart
laden with everything owned by the
feet in those goodwill loafers

different modes of traffic go about
the business of their day
sometimes, high dollar business
others, spare change in a cup

on occasion, a dollar, unneeded
reaches out the window of a camry
meeting the cardboard-sign-businessman
and providing life for a moment
(intoxicating though that dollar may be)

at the next corner,
a delivery truck,
lights flashing in the loading zone
turns a bus sharply left and back into traffic
while a snowboard-jacket-clad
skater longboards down the
double-yellow stripe

each doing what they need to
as they pass by my
coffee-and-a-journal business
where the profits add up to only
a few lines of ink on paper

Church Choir

Church choir soloists will likely never be famous singers, never be on a notable stage, never sing with the symphony. Church choirs will likely never be heard by anyone beyond the church, except for maybe friends and family.

Church choirs, though, share more than the greatest operatic and orchestral performances. They share faith through music, and they share faith especially and by design within the context of community.

The beauty church choirs share, objectively, will probably never be at the same level as top performers. But beauty is not objective ~ beauty is found elsewhere. And from the voices of the choir composed of friends whose lives we share and participate in, to the ears of the beholders, church choirs open up compositions of faith in such a way as to bring to a community the promise of new life.

$0.02

Friday, December 10, 2010

breaking in

Your kingdom come ...

and we wait for its coming.
but for whom do we wait?
who is coming as king?

and if the kingdom is coming,
what will it look like?
will we recognize
Your kingdom
when Your kingdom comes?


we wonder; we watch; we listen

then, when the world and its values
start to crumble
(though we know they will be rebuilt,
since we'll never let go
of what we (foolishly) value)

when it starts to crumble,
even if just for a moment,
in the crack between
crumble and rebuild
we see the start, again (& again)
of Your kingdom breaking into
a cross-shaped manger

Friday, December 3, 2010

scandal

The scandal of creation is that, no matter what the "Good Guy triumphs in the end and evil is defeated" movies might try to say, in the real world evil wins.

The scandal of the cross is that, even though evil wins, the world does not have the last word. In the resurrection, any power evil once had no longer matters. In the cross and resurrection, evil is rendered impotent.

$0.02

Thursday, December 2, 2010

scripture

I've found myself reflecting on some statements about scripture that I've heard recently. People tend to say lots of different things about scripture (and all kinds of other stuff) to pastors, but the two statements that currently are capturing my attention are:

I see the bible as a book of history.
and
The bible's primary concern is helping us become better people.

These are separate statements, but I believe that they are related, because neither takes scripture seriously enough.

To the first statement: If scripture is a book of history, I can find much more reliable accounts in myriad other locations. If I want to know history, I'll check the library, with it's many books that were better researched and documented before they were written; I'll check written documents from other cultures to see what their accounts of events are. If I want to know history, I'll keep in mind that the documents in the bible are written from the perspective of one particular group of people, and I'll remember that everything must be assumed to be biased toward the person or group who produced the document. And beyond all that, I'll dig into the archaeological records.

To treat scripture as a historical document ignores the truth that it is a story of the way a particular people has experienced their relationship with G-d, the creator of the universe and giver of life. If I only encounter history in scripture, I never encounter the living G-d.

To the second statement: Certainly there are examples in scripture of people behaving badly. Certainly there are examples in scripture of people behaving well. Certainly there are admonitions against immoral actions, and there are encouragements toward better behavior. But truthfully, there's a whole self-help section in the bookstore (not to mention advice columns) that provide advice that's less ambiguous than scripture. I can't imagine what Dear Abby would have to say about the appropriateness of an adulterous murderer ruling a nation, a poor illegal alien in the messianic genealogy, or a hot-headed coward becoming the leader of the church.

Scripture speaks much less to morality, and much more to the relationship between the living G-d of the universe and the broken and hurting creation that tends more toward death than toward life.

If scripture is mostly history, it's flaccid. If scripture is mostly morality, then I (for one) have no choice but to despair, because I will never measure up.

If, on the other hand, scripture is an encounter with the divine, then scripture becomes authoritative in providing hope ~ and without hope, I'm lost.

$0.02

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

meditation on Psalm 122 for Advent midweek evening prayer

Where do you meet God?
church
within its walls of brick or clique?

where do you meet God?
within the city, teeming with life
as you jostle with, encounter,
or maybe try to avoid the other children of God who fill its streets?

where do you meet God?
upon the mountain,
which beckons from across the plain
promising divine encounter?

where do you meet God?
in quiet retreat,
listening through the
wind, earthquake, fire of life
through the silence
to God's still small voice

wherever you meet God
the spirit of God is present in community
where two or three gather together
so when they call to me and say
"let us go to the house of the Lord"
I do not go alone
two or three
twenty or thirty
one hundred or one thousand
we go together
God in our midst
and we in the midst of God

and though so often we fight
or skirmish
or bicker
or disagree
still we yearn for peace within the walls of
our family
our community
our world
within the walls of the advent of the new Jerusalem

yet though we long for peace
we stymie ourselves by our sin in thought word and deed
and we cannot free ourselves from this bondage

we long for peace, so we sing and pray
o come, o come, Emmanuel,
come and save us

where do we meet God?
where God has promised to meet us
in the world, incarnate, enfleshed
Emmanuel, God with us.

Amen.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Worship

a moment of
time-outside-of-time;
an encounter with G-d,
when the seconds/minutes/hours
tick-tocking around the
clock face
no
longer
matter

Monday, November 29, 2010

new beginnings: for advent

for many,
new beginnings are fraught with
- anxiety
- excitement
- trepidation
- anticipation
- worry
- hope

perhaps, above all, hope

new beginnings
mean ending what's old
we long to shed
the weighty past
while holding to
all that lifts us
toward the divine

and, shedding the old
(when we begin a-new),
frees us to
embrace incarnate hope;
who is coming into the world

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

middle school

recalling personal history
(especially at a great distance
from which we've gained
a little perspective)
we can know, recognize,
that the trauma of adolescence
is not the end ~
there's more, and better, to come:

but knowing is not feeling;
and recognizing,
even from a distance,
does not take away
the pain

Who deserves access to health care?

I entered into a conversation with someone on one of interactive social networking websites where a person can spend most of their day and not really get anything done. Turns out, we have different opinions about the role of government in providing healthcare. Of course, I don't expect everyone to agree with me; but this is by blog, and I get to write what I think. My seven readers should feel free to respond in the comments section below ... or not.

The conversation started because I re-posted an article encouraging members of the US Congress to give up their own government-sponsored healthcare before repealing the healthcare bill passed earlier this year. On the one hand, members of Congress are simply employees of the government, and the government happens to be an employer who provided healthcare for its employees. From this perspective, they're no different from anyone else who works for a larger entity. If you're skilled enough, educated enough, and/or lucky enough to work for an employer who provides health insurance for employees, then you get to have health insurance.

If, however, you choose to work for yourself, or for one of the many small business who don't have the resources to provide health insurance for their employees, then you're stuck paying out of your own pocket for health insurance. Further, if you're in the position of having to choose between spending your paycheck on food or health insurance, hunger is the more immediate need, and insurance will probably be left 'til later.

From a purely capitalist perspective, this is how it should be. Those who are able to provide health insurance for themselves (either by finding a job that provides insurance or by finding a job that pays enough that they can buy their own insurance) are the ones who deserve to have insurance. If you're not able to provide insurance for yourself, then you don't deserve to have insurance. The way I see it, that's basic supply and demand. Look at insurance like any other consumer good. When my children ask me if they can have an ipod (for instance), I tell them that they can certainly have one when they can buy it. Once it becomes a big enough priority, they will save their money so they can buy it. If they don't have the resources to buy one, they don't get one. Supply and Demand.

So now I have to wonder, is health insurance something that ought to be earned, or do human beings have some intrinsic value that would lead us as a society to believe that everyone ought to have access to health care at a cost that will not leave them in poverty? The way I see it, the essence of this debate is whether access healthcare is a) earned or b) something that the people of a wealthy nation ought to feel obligated to provide for people whether they have a job or not.

I believe that every single person has intrinsic worth, that the life and health of one person is not more valuable that the life and health of any other person. For this reason, I have to opt for universal health care.

The way I see it, healthcare should be free and available to all people regardless of ability to pay. Considering the costs, some people are forced to choose between not receiving healthcare and going into unimaginable debt to pay the bill. I believe that's an unnecessary choice.

Some argue that the government should not be in the business of managing healthcare. Maybe not ~ but I wonder what the other answer would be. The government is not perfect, and the government may not be the perfect choice; but neither should the health insurance system be in charge. The health insurance industry is concerned with profits, and (from a capitalist perspective) rightly so. But from a healthcare perspective, maximizing profits works against providing complete healthcare.


Maybe you can help me get beyond my simplistic perspective. If the lives of rich people are more valuable than the lives of poor people, then fine. But I don't see how, especially from a Christian perspective, we can look at healthcare as something that must be earned (by having the right job, or enough financial resources) if we value the life and health of everyone equally.

$0.02

Monday, November 22, 2010

End Poverty

great idea;

but if poverty is a lack of money
a lack of resources

and if the goal of capitalism is
the accumulation of wealth

i think we may never end poverty
until we end capitalism

or, more accurately,
until we get rid of money

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Time and Work

I was at a meeting today where professional church leaders and students who are studying to be professional church leaders (interns and supervisors, for you who understand ELCA-speak) were talking about some of the ins and outs of our vocation. As we talked, I found myself dumbfounded by the work ethic that I heard from some of my colleagues.

All seven readers of this blog probably know about the so-called protestant work ethic ~ that enthusiastic spirit of go-get-it-ness upon which the idea of USAmerica is built. What I'm dumbfounded by is what the protestant work ethic has become in our society.

In a day when the speed of travel was "foot" ~ either human, or some animal ~ the practice of spending every possible moment working so that we could build a better life for ourselves was probably good. But when you're traveling to town on a wagon, you can't work ... so while you may be driving the horse, to some degree you're also resting. When the sun goes down, and there's no light to see by, you're forced to stop working and rest. When you take a holiday and get together with the neighbors for a barbecue, the community has stopped its work.

Today, the speed at which we travel is much faster than "foot". We have cars and airplanes, trains and buses. Further, we have the ability to keep our surroundings lit as bright as day. And while we're sitting in our brightly-lit homes, our florescent offices, or our cars airplanes trains buses, we can take along our laptop computers and handheld mobile stay-connected-all-the-time devices. While we're traveling, we can work. When the sun has gone down, we can work. While we're at the family community church neighborhood picnic, we can work.

So the protestant work ethic, which arguably has helped our society become economically successful by telling us to work whenever possible, has become unhealthy because we can now literally work all the time. And because it's so ingrained in our collective consciousness that more work is better, we find ourselves bragging about how much we work.

"I'm up at 5, at the gym soon after that, in the office by 7:30, and not home 'til 9 at night." "I take a day off, but usually not a whole day, because there's just so much I have to do." "I took vacation last summer, but there was stuff I had to do while I was gone, so I brought my laptop along."

We say these things to one another with pride, bragging about how we can work so much while still maintaining our sanity. We have bought into this idea that the busier we are, the more valuable we must be.

The great heresy is that our worth is measured by how busy we are. Time is money, after all. And if time is money, and money equals value, then time must equal value. Therefore, the busier we are, the more we're worth.

I don't necessarily begrudge the business world this theology. After all, capitalism wouldn't work without this kind of worldview. But I do fault my church professional colleagues who have bought into this worldview. Aren't we called to be counter to the culture when the culture is counter to the Gospel? And it doesn't do to preach this from the pulpit. Our sermons must be preached through a symmetry of word and action. Of course, none of us is perfect. However, for our preaching to have integrity, we must endeavor to embody our preaching. We cannot preach Sabbath without practicing Sabbath.

So much work becomes a means by which to control the world around us. Sure, the business professionals in our congregations may respect us pastors for working as many hours as they do. We don't become followers of Jesus by exerting control over our world. We become disciples by relinquishing control to G-d. It may be that the best thing we can do in our society is to set time aside to not be in control ~ to recognize by our inaction that G-d is G-d and we are not.

$0.02

death and life

we can cheat taxes,
but death is certain

until then, we make our way
death (in its many forms)
hanging over our consciousness
from the moment we become
conscious of death

death is certain,
so we spend our
time
energy
money
emotion
trying to cheat death
like a celestial irs

we cannot cheat death,
try though we may
see, even G-d does not cheat death
death does not let us go
until death has done its work

but death is not the final word
since G-d, embracing death
has defeated all that keeps us
from life

Monday, November 15, 2010

how do you picture G-d?

some images of G-d are more pleasant, more palatable
and some images are more complete ~
what's the image we hold on to?

benign creator,
checking out after setting the world in motion?
vindictive warrior,
bringing vengeance with a sword?
oppressed outcast,
crying from the margins for justice?
wise teacher,
wearing a tweed jacket with divine elbow patches?
ephemeral spirit,
leading each of us on our own personal spiritual journey?
smiling Messiah
with children on his lap?

or do we picture G-d hanging on a cross,
beaten and defeated and dead
thereby claiming victory over death for all time and for all creation?

$0.02

Sunday, November 14, 2010

light

we imagine our(spiritual)selves
filthy, naked, self-conscious ...
left to our own devices,
we hide ourselves in the dark

a light shines in the darkness
and the darkness cannot overcome it

the darkness we search for,
in which we hide,
(ashamed and forsaken
by a god who we go to,
one hour at a time,
like a divine therapist)
cannot keep us from the Light
which G-d shines, revealing
we ourselves, scarred by sin,
and healed by a G-d
in whom we do, and will, die

and who does not leave us for dead

Friday, November 12, 2010

morality, or Gospel?

Every so often, I receive feedback from people about how they perceive the job I’m doing as their pastor. Sometimes this feedback is valid ~ they’ve brought up something that’s lacking in the way I practice being a pastor (it’s always practice, since I don’t think I’ll ever get it right). Often, this feedback is a reflection on what they think is problematic about our congregation. There are regular concerns about whether we’re reaching out to the community in which our church building is located; concerns about whether we’re ‘getting the word out’ about our congregation the way we should; concerns about why some people don’t attend any more; concerns about whether we as a church community are meeting the spiritual needs of the members of our congregation.

So often, people talk about what strategies to use, what programs to implement, what style of worship we ought to move toward or away from. I think these are the wrong questions to be asking. These are business questions. These are issues that are relevant to corporate and retail life, relevant to entities concerned with profit. Questions of market share, retention of members (customers), recruitment of new members (customers), marketing strategies, etc. are only relevant if our concern is keeping the institution alive. They’re only relevant if our concern is perpetuating a particular congregation (or, by extension, a denomination).

Of course, I'm interested in my congregation (and my denomination) continuing, but only for purely selfish reasons ~ if my congregation continues, I'll continue to have a paycheck, and if my denomination continues, I’ll continue to have a means by which to find a new call (job) when that time comes.

But retention of members is not the church’s job. The acquisition of new members is not the church’s job. Meeting the spiritual needs of current or new or potential members is not the church’s job. The church’s job is to communicate the gospel. (If this means that the congregation I serve will no longer exist, so be it. If this means that denominations need to die, that’s the way it goes.)

It seems, though, that we as church have bought in to the myth that bigger market share is always better, which compels us to water down the gospel so that it is no longer offensive to anyone (we'd hate to scare them off, wouldn't we?). Of course, once we’ve watered down the gospel so that it’s appealing, then the bible has become just another self-help book leading us to better morality.

Of course, the Gospel is not concerned with morality. The Gospel is about killing us and raising us to new life. And not in some sweet by and by; right here, and right now. Jesus didn't come so that we might have congregations ~ Christ came so that we would have life.

$0.02

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day

Today, Veteran's Day, I want to hold these two things in tension:

1) believing that we should honor and respect and give thanks for veterans who have served our country; the very act of enlisting is necessarily selfless, since military service means that those who serve may be required to die and kill at any time in the name of and on behalf of their country.

2) believing that war is evil and should be abolished, because war requires killing and killing takes life not only from those who die, but also from those who kill and from those who loved the dead. The number of lives sacrificed in war is greater than the number of corpses on the ground when killing is finished.

I don't believe those are mutually exclusive.

$0.02

Monday, November 8, 2010

food

every so often I'm surprised
by the truth that food
comes from
the ground

at the farmer's market
the farmer (herself)
sells you what
she picked
this morning

and if you know what you're doing
that chicken in the backyard
cluck cluck clucking the noon away
could pair nicely with dumplings
in tonight's
soup pot

we don't need factory-made
plastic/cardboard/upc code
packaging to surround
and contain
our food

how did we get so far
away from the way
that things
should be?

Tax Rates

I just read an article that confuses me.

Of course, to really understand whether what Warren Buffett says is true, I'd have to be smarter and I'd have to do more research. But in matters of wealth, I'll trust his experience more than mine.

One of the values of USAmerican society is to work hard and earn a place in the world. Those 'rags to riches' stories touch our collective psyche , because deep down we want the struggling entrepreneur to succeed. We don't tend to begrudge wealthy people their wealth, especially if they earned it themselves.

So if we root for the little guy to succeed, we also should expect that the person who is already wealthy should pay attention and work to keep their wealth, yes? But the article I cite above indicates that the tax rate on income from work is higher than the tax rate on income from investments.

Here's the way I figure it: If you don't have much money, you have to work, since there's not enough in your bank account to tie up in investments. If you have money, you don't have to work, since you can live off some of your wealth and invest the remainder. It's a simplistic look, but the way I see it, the richest among us have a lower tax rate that working people.

That doesn't seem right to me, but I'm not surprised. See, most of the legislators fall into the 'wealthy' category. And we all just want to serve our own best interest, don't we?

$0.02

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Leaves

the wind came up today
blowing in autumn clouds overhead;
and closer to the ground,
blowing leaves through the air
in wild patterns -
straight lines
around corners
eddies behind buildings
mini-tornadoes, 6 feet high
and waiting for my bike to ride through

it may snow tomorrow
or rain may glue
brittle leaves to the grass,
softening them in the process
just as cool autumn air softens us
moving us inside to warmth
and toward a season of
(ideally) joyous feasting

tonight, though, before our feasts
I watch as out the window
days grow shorter,
late daylight and early darkness
announcing to me
(and to the squirrels feasting on
left-over jack-o-lanterns)
that through the leaves
still clinging to summer,
we can see winter approaching

Stewardship Sermon for the Feast of All Saints

Bearing in mind that a sermon is an oral event (not what is written on the preacher's paper), and that we preachers trust Holy Spirit to act as a divine filter between our mouths and the congregation's ears, here is the manuscript for the sermon I preached this morning.

Grace mercy and peace to all the saints
from God, and from our savior Jesus Christ. Amen


these aren’t the familiar beatitudes
the ones we’re used to, from Matthew’s gospel
“blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful
the pure in heart, the peacemakers”
they sound nicer than these
and by contrast with what we’re used to,
these blesseds and woes from Luke draw our attention

Here (and throughout) Luke’s gospel, the world Jesus points us to doesn’t look like the world we live in
where, we wonder, do we fit in this scheme?
we want to be blessed, but the blessings don’t look pleasant
we don’t want to be woe-d, to be cursed or judged
but those are more in sync with the way we usually move through the world
at any rate, what he’s saying has probably made us listen
Jesus likely has our attention

and then verse 27 ~ “But I say to you who listen” and we who are paying attention
find ourselves convicted
love your enemies
do good to those who hate you
bless those who curse you
pray for your persecutors
of course we all wish that politicians would heed these words

but they don’t, and neither do we
because to do so would be to turn the world upside down
to do so would be to call all of the values of our society
all the values of our world
into question

I’m supposed to preach about stewardship today
it’s a part of the consecration sunday stewardship program
that the week before consecration sunday,
the pastor preaches about stewardship

I’d like to stand up here and say that it’s important for us to recognize God’s hand in the world
it’s important for us to respond to all of God’s amazing and generous gifts to us
the gift of life, the gift of mercy and forgiveness and grace
I’d like to stand up here and say all that
and then you’d naturally recognize the importance of stewardship
the importance of giving your time and your energy
of contributing your gifts and your expertise
to the work of the church

I’d like to do that, because it would be easier
if I could talk about stewardship without actually talking about money
maybe we wouldn’t be uncomfortable

but whenever we talk about time and talents and treasures
we tend to skirt the treasures part of the equation
and whenever we talk directly and specifically about treasures,
people tend to say that’s all the church ever does is ask for money
and talking about money in church makes us uncomfortable

however, if Christ is talking about turning the values of this world upside down
we cannot ignore money
because money is how society communicates value

so we need to talk about money
but God doesn’t need your money
God is the ruler of everything ~ God doesn’t need you to give money
and the church doesn’t need your money
the church is the people of God gathered together
and despite the current manifestations of mainline congregations
with mortgages and lawns and salaries and computers
despite all that, the church does not need your money
the church, the people of God, can gather together without finances

so if the church doesn’t need my money, and God doesn’t need my money
why do we need to talk about money?
because you and I need to give.

here’s what we’ve discovered years ago in my household
every year, we would have a conversation about how much we’d be able to give
we’d take a look at the budget
factor in housing and food and recreation and travel
then would work really hard to rearrange the numbers so that we could give more
one day, a friend of my wife’s said,
just decide how much to give, and give that much
the rest will work itself out
so we did. we started with how much we’d give ~ and gave it away
then, instead of working through
if we give 6% instead of 4,
then we have 94% instead of 96 to spend on the rest
now, we decide what to give away, give it away
then we have 100% to spend on everything else
because the first part is gone from the very beginning
and what we’ve discovered is that now we’re free of that money,
and that it was never ours to start out with anyway
and since it’s gone, we’ve discovered that the rest really is enough

and so we backed ourselves into discovering the theology of abundance

see, we in our world usually live with a theology of scarcity
which, from a survival perspective, served us very well
“make sure you save enough for us to eat tomorrow,
because we don’t know whether we’ll have food”
which allowed us to eat when we didn’t have food the next day
the theology of scarcity tells us that there might not be enough,
and we need to hoard, keep for ourselves and not give away what we have


contrast that with what the Hebrew people learned in the wilderness ~ the manna lesson
collect what you need for today ~ if you keep too much, it will spoil and rot and fester
worms will crawl through your food and it will smell bad
collect today what you need for today, and trust that God will provide enough for tomorrow
and lo and behold, God did indeed provide enough for tomorrow

this is the beginning of a theology of abundance,
where we recognize that what we have is enough
that God has provided, and will continue to provide, what we need
this is the beginning of a theology of abundance

my family backed into discovering this theology of abundance
when we started giving more of our income away
all of a sudden, not only were we set free from that money
we realized that God has provided enough in the remainder

and this, people of God is how we begin to participate in God’s work of turning the world upside down
by setting aside that which society tells us is of utmost value
by setting money aside, and recognizing that God, actually, is in control
and recognizing that God really will provide enough for our needs
it can be a huge leap of faith, especially in these economic times
but isn’t that the beginning of faith ~ letting go of control

bear in mind, though, that your status as a saint of God is not based on your financial giving
(or on your time or talent giving, either, for that matter)
give a little, give a lot
increase your giving, decrease your giving
though it is good to give,
your value to God also is not based on what you give
or on anything you do

saints of God
in Christ we hear the word of truth, the gospel of salvation
and believing in him, we have been marked with the seal of Holy Spirit
in Christ, we have obtained an inheritance.
our identity, “beloved child of God”
comes not from anything we do or could do
but from the covenant God makes with us in our baptism
that we are God’s own, and we cannot escape the love of God

In the name of Christ
Amen.


$0.02

Friday, November 5, 2010

what I hear / what I don't hear

As a pastor, I hear lots of thoughts and opinions about the church; I hear from people who are and who aren't part of church. Often when people share their opinions, it seems to me that they're not interested in having a conversation. Rather, they're interested in sharing their opinion, and usually they're interested in assuming that I agree.

From church people, I seem to hear nostalgia for the way church used to be. I hear this especially from older folks who remember that the church of their youth occupied a more prominent place in society. But I also hear the same nostalgia from younger people (though not as many). I guess they've heard their elders' nostalgia, and assume that their memories are accurate. And to go hand in glove with nostalgia for the past, I hear people lamenting that the church today isn't like it used to be.

(As an aside, I'm convinced that if the church has a prominent place in society, it's too easy for the church to assume that the dominant norms of society are Christian. I believe that they certainly are not. The church is better able to be prophetic, and to preach the Gospel, if the church hasn't assumed that its primary role is as promoter of good morals. The Gospel is not about morals, but that's a topic for somewhere else.)

What I lament is what I don't hear from church people. I don't tend to hear that people are excited about what the church is doing, or (theologically) what Holy Spirit is doing in and through the church. This may be the fault of church leadership. It may be because there really isn't anything exciting happening in and through the church. More than those, though, I believe that people aren't excited about the present because we're stuck in the past.

Further, I lament that I don't hear people dreaming about the future. The thing is, if we're only looking back, we can see neither what Holy Spirit is doing right now nor where G-d is calling us in the future.

What would it look like for the church to pull its head out of the sands of time so that we can focus on mission and ministry today and tomorrow. Surely God's best work isn't behind us.

$0.02

Thursday, November 4, 2010

above the clouds, out of step

I've been on exactly two overseas trips ~ the kind where you skip quickly over multiple time zones, and jet lag is something to take into consideration. I wrote this over a year ago, on the second leg of my second trip across many time zones, and just found it again in an old journal ~ thought I'd share, for what it's worth.

spending the day high above the clouds
and out of step with time
the day is shortened beyond recognition
until, sleepless
our early morning stumbles into the glare
of tomorrow's noon

returning home, dusk becomes elusive
the day stretching on as
earth's rotation gives back vanished time

though, once again,
upon arrival
we find ourselves out of step
even with home

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

autumn rain

that first autumn rain
falling on arid plains
nourishes and refreshes

anticipating the coming winter
and contrasting the summer heat
the rain chills us and drives us inside

we won't mind so much in a month;
but today we shiver
and retreat under warm blankets

politics

I find the elected leadership and political processes of our country to be in a sorry state of affairs when the goal of one party is to unseat the other party.

John Boehner (R, OH) said about the president's agenda, "We're going to do everything — and I mean everything we can do — to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can." And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Admittedly I'm biased, because I believe that deficit reduction is a good thing, and that universal health care and the redistribution of wealth (besides being good things) are appropriate Christian responses to the sickness and poverty that are rampant within the borders of such a wealthy nation as ours. So, admittedly I'm biased toward the current administration. But regardless of which political party is the majority in office, it is not OK that a politician's goal be to stop an agenda or to remove someone from office.

What I want from the leadership is that they honestly and faithfully work for what is best for our country. I don't even need them to agree with me ~ I just want them to have my best interest in mind. And I don't see that happening.

When a politician's agenda is to remove someone from office in two years, that means they will be spending the next two years not concerned about my best interest. When a politician is interested in blocking their colleague's agenda, they're not working for my best interest.

This partisan fighting, apparently based simply on the fact that you're on opposite sides of the aisle, is tearing our country apart. Maybe if you took an evening to have dinner with each other, it would help. No cameras, no reporters, no talking about politics. Maybe, just maybe, if you spent time around people with whom you disagree, you'd recognize that they actually are people. Most of us who live and work outside the beltway do this already ~ we have friendships with people who don't vote the same way we do. And we realize that it's hard to demonize someone who you just spent a lovely evening with.

Elected leaders, you don't have to agree with your colleagues' agendas. You can still work with them. You don't have to like that any one particular person is in office; but that's who's there, so please do what you can to actually talk with one another, and listen to one another, and work together to make our country stronger.

$0.02

Sunday, October 31, 2010

sacraments

drowned in the waters of baptism
naked and dead, we come up
out of the water
and are greeted by the body of Chirst

the body of Christ:
this community who is
called to welcome the
Lost & Lonely
Broken & Betrayed
Hurting & Healing
Weary & Worn

to welcome, without prerequisite,
expecting nothing but
New Life

but the church falls short
we (rightly) expect more
from those who
profess to believe that G-d is
Love
that G-d grants
Forgiveness
that we are saved by G-d's
Grace

we expect more from the church,
but the church,
the body of Christ
is broken
the church, too, is in need of
Repentance
Redemption
Healing

...

there, on the table
is the bread
Body of Christ,
whole, waiting to be broken
and given to
the broken Body of Christ,
yearning to be whole

so there, around the table
we gather, and are fed
by G-d's Grace and Mercy

then we rise from the
Table of Grace
and turning, we pass again
the Font
where we are bathed -
washed clean -
and where we are drowned
then granted / gifted / graced
with new life
where we together are made one in Christ.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Play

I've noticed that the way kids play changes as they grow older. The other day, my 11-year-old daughter was babysitting a couple 3-year-old children at our house, and right there in front of my face, it was obvious that 3-year-old play is different from 11-year-old play. My daughter did a great job of watching these kids, and a great job of playing at their level. But the things they did were things she hasn't done on her own for years.

Play changes as children grow older. Now obviously this isn't news to most people. However, it made me start thinking about whether adults still play ~ and if we do, then how.

As adults, so much of our world revolves around work. Those of us with 'regular' jobs (meaning that we go to work and receive a paycheck) seem to highly value our downtime, when we get to relax. Often this involves relaxing while watching television or reading a book or sitting in front of a computer. Also, for many, it involves having a drink or two with friends after work.

Beyond the day-to-day, most of us with those 'regular' jobs tend to highly value our vacation days and weeks. Those times are when we get to 'get away from it all' and really relax.

Whether it's the daily relaxing, the annual vacations, or the weekends, all of that relaxing still revolves around work. Either we're relaxing after work, getting away from work, or resting up to go back to work. And since I believe play must be for it's own sake, those don't count.

And those who work in the home, either running a business or working as a housekeeper, have it worse than we who have a job away from home ~ you never really get away from your work. It's surely much more difficult to take a break, since the place where you live and the place where you work are the same. I've never been in this kind of situation, so I don't know what the challenges are. But the question remains; how do we play?

Watch small children play sometime, and you may notice that they're completely absorbed in what they're doing. It's as if the world around doesn't exist, or if it exists, it doesn't matter too much. This is what I think of as play; when a person can become so completely occupied in something that brings them joy.

Like I mentioned, the way my kids play has changed as they've grown. What I've notice recently is that the way they play is starting to overlap the way I like to play. Last winter, I spent a number of days completely absorbed in skiing with my daughter, and realized that's play. Last week, I went biking with my son. We weren't going anywhere, we were just riding through the park, up and down hills, splashing through mud puddles, and slaloming through the gaggle of geese.

I only understood later that we were playing, and I realize that many of us adults don't recognize those things that bring us deep joy, and don't take enough time to do simply for their own sake. I hope I'm wrong.

$0.02

Monday, October 18, 2010

parabolic stories

parables
extraordinary
stories of the ordinary
which surprise
our assumptions

parabolas
geometric and algebraic shapes
curving around a central point
like the trajectory of a body
turned in its path
by the gravitational force
of some other object

perhaps parables
catch us on our journey
altering our trajectory,
altering us at our essence
so we turn, somehow, by degree
toward the divine

Cup of Tea with Milk

I pour milk into the center
of my tea
but the center remains dark
as milk billows up around
the sides of my cup
tinting the edges lighter,
for a moment,
than the center

in a moment,
dark and light and sweet
will blend together
to appear unremarkable
in my cup
then, I will stop looking
and drink

for now, though
I watch
transfixed by a cup of tea.

psalm 121 reflections

standing alone on the plain
mountains regal
in my periphery

turning, i can't help but to
look at the peaks,
my eyes drawn upward
past the slope to where
the ground reaches for the sky

searching for hope, i wonder,
will the lifter-up of mountains
lift me up when i stumble,
fall to my knees?

these mountains may be new -
geologically -
but they have stood since well before
my ancestors
and will remain
when my descendants
are memory

how much longer
will the maker of these
unmoving hills
remain and remember me?

from time now to all eternity

Sunday, October 17, 2010

pastor's sunday morning

Sunday morning, still dark out
I have tea, a cat on the couch
and a quiet house
the world outside is still, silent

partiers are home in bed by now
and it's too early
for even the most industrious
to be out of the house

no one else stirs at this hour
I believe for a moment

until my quiet is interrupted
by the thump of the paper
on the front door

reminding me that
some people do real work
on Sunday mornings

Monday, October 11, 2010

what would I do?

What would I do?
faced with Jesus' healing,
what would I do?

Eyes opened by spit and mud,
leprosy washed away
belly full of fish and bread
demons run out into the lake full of pigs
what would I do?

Do I return to give thanks,
do I follow,
or am I too busy?
what if I have my own agenda,
things to get done?
what if I'm too busy sharing
THE LIVING WORD OF G-D
to be bothered with thanksgiving?

What would I do
met by heavenly hosts' Alleluias
or G-d in a crib?
What would I do when Jesus
looks like the gardener
outside His empty tomb?
Do I build a tent on some
mountaintop road to damascus
when Moses and Elijah
swing low in a chariot
to receive tongues of flame?

What would I do?

Why do I have to wonder?
Is G-d's work stuck in the holy land,
held up in the biblical past?

What would I do if I met G-d?
* no ~ that's not the question *
What do I do
when I meet the living G-d
Today?
Tomorrow?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ten Lepers

they called out to Him,
seeking divine mercy
as He sent them on their way
(you know the story)
they were healed
one returns to Jesus
"Where are the others?"
He asks
"Why didn't you bring them back?"

Friday, October 8, 2010

waking

rolling over, i stretch and pull the covers down
hearing activity in the other room -
breakfast, coffee,
the clicking of a computer keyboard -
i know it's time to wake

but the bed, warm and inviting
won't release me

i pull the blankets up to my chin
curl up again into the warmth left over
the warmth that held me through the darkness
now gives way (reluctantly?)
to all this day has to offer

but i'm not ready to receive the day's offering
'can't i just wait here for another minute?'
i plead with my better self
so 'just another minute'
becomes five, and five becomes ten
until it's too late to ease into the day

while in the other room,
the boy is up, with questions and stories
that won't wait 'til i've made the tea
and the girl, who is often held by sleep like i am
she's up, so i should be too

so i
throw the discomfort to the wind
with the covers' release
and trust they will be waiting
tomorrow morning
warmed again by the night
not wanting to let me go

Monday, October 4, 2010

liturgy and sirens

we sing ancient chants
kyrie eleison, sanctus, alleluia
sometimes strong
others, off key just a little bit

heaven's hosts' unending hymns
temporarily outsung by sirens
whose wails push through broken windows
drowning out gloria in excelsis

but they're not so considerate
as to intrude only on the singing -
proclamation and prayer must pause ...
only momentarily, though

+ + +

to be insulated from the real-world sounds
would be to emphasize isolation
while the world breaking into our prayer
reminds us that G-d breaks into the world

so we stop, though only for a moment
maybe we even pray for those who pass by
before we continue the ancient liturgy
kyrie, christe, kyrie eleison. amen.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Anniversary

high above the street
hidden away in a hotel room
after a decadent dinner
in a booth for two

high above the street,
the world is reduced
to thee and me
as we remember one another

later, still in the dark of morning,
sirens far below and
early-rising business travelers
remind us of a larger world

so we venture out, together,
to brave life side by side

I don't care about Heaven any more

I don't care about heaven any more. I'm not really convinced I ever did ~ maybe long ago, when I was very young and small, but that's just a guess. I don't really remember ever caring about heaven, especially in the way people tend to think of heaven.

What is heaven to most people? Seems like heaven is a reward for a life lived well. Or maybe, heaven is a reward for trying to live well. Or, maybe for repentance. Or even, maybe, for loving/accepting/acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah. This is the heaven I don't care about.

I don't care about heaven, at least that heaven (see the above paragraph), because caring about that heaven would force me to be entirely oriented toward the future to the exclusion of the present. I don't care about that heaven because in that cosmology, the other person only matters as far as heaven (or salvation) is concerned; the other person, in that cosmology, doesn't have any intrinsic value. I don't care about a heaven in which my neighbor represents nothing more than an objective, a goal.

If I'm going to think or talk about heaven at all, it would only be in reaction to a promise ... to the promise. I believe that G-d, in Christ, has communicated for us the promise of a better future. I don't know what that future will look like, but I believe that it's a future which G-d has promised for all of creation. Maybe we'll realize this future when we die, but that's entirely up to G-d. It's not up to me, and will not be determined by me and my actions. I'm not powerful enough to decide whether I'll 'go to heaven when I die', and neither are you (unless, of course, one of you my seven readers is G-d).

So, if I can't do anyting about what happens after I die, then I'm free to focus on, and live in, the present. I'm free to work toward a better future before I die.

What if we were to believe that heaven is promised when we die, but is also accessible before we die? Would it compel us to work more diligently and faith-fully on behalf of those children of G-d who don't enjoy the good things that we enjoy? Would trusting in G-d's promise, and therefore not caring about after-death heaven, free us to be active in visualizing and working toward a better world here and now? What if we believed the prayer?

... Your kingdom come ... on earth as it is in heaven.

$0.02

Perspective

Yesterday morning, I had great plans to multi-task. I needed to convince my work computer to talk with my new phone (acquired when the old one decided, a few times every day, to take a 5-10 minute break ~ since it wasn’t a union phone, it got fired in favor of a younger and more energetic phone). While they were learning to talk with one another, I wanted to peruse some online resources in preparation for preaching this weekend. Further, I knew that I had a pile of e-mail correspondence to plough through.

I found my way to a coffee house near to where I’d need to be in 90 minutes, knowing that there was a wireless internet network there. Before finding a place to sit, I ordered a full pot of tea (earl grey, hot). Booting up the computer, I discovered that none of us whose faces were shining with the blue glow of a computer screen are able to see our facebook pages. The internet router is not working. There I was, full pot of tea on the table, with all my plans on pause.

Of course, five of us do what we can to convince the baristas that the router is not working. They finally receive permission from the boss to reset the router (really, they need permission?). Still, it doesn’t work, and we’re stuck doing what we can without what seems to have become a post-modern-day necessity, an internet connection.

I noticed that I was getting pretty indignant at first, mostly because I wasn’t receiving the service I (felt I) needed. As soon as the staff started trying to make things better, though, my blood pressure plummeted. I could relax, knowing there was nothing to be done. Only then could I feel good about getting work done in a different way. I know it will be ok, and I knew that all along.

I wonder, though, are we really so helpless that we can’t function without something that only 20 years ago didn’t exist? The guy next to me (probably 60 years old) was writing longhand on a yellow pad, The New York Times on the table in front of him.

Maybe I should slow down, and remember what someone has already written.

$0.02

Monday, September 27, 2010

Groups

What keeps people out? Any group, doesn't matter. If there's a group, then some are necessarily in the group, and some are out. What keeps people out? We tend, in our desire for (politically correct) inclusiveness, to want to make sure everyone in welcome in every group. However, some groups - maybe even most groups - ought to be exclusive.

Professional sports teams (nfl, nba, etc.) are groups, but not everyone should be in these groups. Imagine me trying to play professional basketball - I'd get beat up beyond belief. And please don't imagine me in an nfl jersey. Those athletes are elite, special.

Not everyone should play in the (insert local metro area name here) symphony, either. Those musicians are expertly fluent with their instruments. I can play a few of the instruments that they play, but for me to play in the symphony would be disastrous.

I'm willing to say that perhaps everyone could be in the group 'athlete', or that no one should be excluded from the group 'musician'. But not everyone should be in the groups 'professional athlete' or 'symphonic musician' ~ these are special exclusive groups.

So I come back to the question, 'what keeps people out'? The exclusive groups, where one needs to have particular skills or personal characteristics, I can understand. But what about those broader groups, 'athlete' and 'musician', for instance? How do people stay out of those groups? Mostly, it seems, it's self-selective. You don't have to be good, but anyone can exercise. Anyone can play an instrument or sing, even if you're not in tune.

But for us in the church, who are so captivated by the Gospel we have experienced, wish that our group - church - could include everyone. So, what keeps people out?

We can understand that the group 'church' could be self-selecting - some people just don't want to be in this group. But surely, out of the hoards of people who aren't part of church - even if we only consider those who aren't part of any faith tradition (we can respect the faith of non-Christians, right?), surely there are some who long to hear and know and experience what we know to be so life-giving. Surely there are some who yearn to be part of this community, this group called church.

What keeps people out?

$0.02

Sunday, September 26, 2010

upon hearing Amos

Alas for those who are at ease
for those who are comfortable
but do not notice problems around them

Alas for those with money,
because money is easy to love,
but it takes work to turn to the Lord our God

Alas for those who are rich with perishable treasure
paper bills and metal coins, homes and laptops
silver and gold


Sing and celebrate, O Zion
lay the feast, O Jerusalem
sing to the ends of the earth
invite all peoples to this feast

because our God,
whose scarcity is beyond our riches,
gives abundantly to all of us who are in need.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

club car card game

the morning train from austin
pulls in to chicago in the afternoon
a day, an evening, night and morning
in between

enough time to settle in
to find the right seat,
close enough to the club car,
but get too close & it's like you're
at a table by the kitchen ~
the food's hot, but you can't eat
with all the traffic back and forth

on the train, in your seat
you want quiet and still
so you can snatch what sleep you can
in fitful dozing of won't-quite-recline-enough
coach seating

close enough, but not too close
to the club car
i get up, move that direction
looking to kill time
'til sleep is stronger than my book
or the train-ride small talk that's
deeper than on the elevator,
but still not intimate

about my age, she's playing
solitare
sitting across from the only
empty seat
in the car

i'm nervous,
and longing for the anonymity
that's only found in a crowd
of strangers

unwilling to retreat back to coach
i sit
and we start to talk

ten minutes later,
the cards are reappropriated
now i deal two-handed spades
to take up space in the conversation

maybe it's the train
trapping us for those hours
'til chicago

maybe it's the journey
encouraging a connection
deeper than we expected

maybe it's that we know
after the lifetime that is less than a day
we'll never see each other again

maybe it's just that
for that one evening
the world shrunk to the size of a club car booth

but as we talk
and play
the club car empties
and four hours pass without noticing us

only when weariness breaks the spell
do we realize
that though i dealt spades
she's spent the evening
playing euchre

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Encounter

he stopped for a moment,
kind words shared
some small amount
dropped in her hat

while she sang and played
a beat-up, cheap guitar
played poorly, sang with
tones painfully piercing

the unconscience of diners
on the patio where i sat,
having my once-serene lunch
disturbed by her mediocrity

but his words were kind,
his offering sincere, welcome ~
she went on singing
he went on his way

'hope we get some rain;
ground could sure use it'
he told me from the corner,
cardboard sign in hand

i opened my wallet,
hoping that what i had
was more than
he had given her

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Diversity

I participated in a workshop the past couple days. This class was continuing education for me, but it was completely not a church event ~ not designed for church people, not marketed to church people, didn't use church language, and used as a starting place concepts that are mostly foreign to church people who have never lived and worked in a business environment.

I knew all of this before even signing up for the class, but was encouraged by someone I trust to go anyway, that I would get a lot out of the class. She was right, and I'm glad I went. I knew beforehand that I'd be glad to have gone, but that didn't take away the discomfort and anxiety I felt before walking in the building at the beginning of the first day. It was a greater anxiety than I normally feel when entering a new situation, because most of those new situations are church settings, where I've spent most of my life. By and large, church people of all varieties are pretty similar to one another, especially in church settings ~ so I don't get too nervous most of the time.

Maybe I was more aware of my surroundings than normal because the setting was unfamiliar, or maybe I would have picked up on this anyway. The group who was at this class reminded me of London. When I was in London, one thing I noticed was that it seemed completely normal, in a public space (train station, for instance) to hear three or four different languages being spoken, and to hear English spoken with multiple different accents. I'm sure my naiveté is showing, but that scenario in today's world (where people from all over the world can live next to each other peacefully and respectfully) is pretty beautiful.

This is what I saw at the class I took. For the past couple days, I heard Americ-English quite a few different accents ~ generic mountain west, east coast, upper midwest, and southern; and that's just people from USAmerica. I also heard English spoken with Russian, Chinese, and Indian accents as if that were completely normal. This made me wonder whether it is completely normal in the business world.

Now, imagine your church community. In congregations I've been part of, I have heard English spoken with different (international) accents; but those have been mostly European. I've heard German, Scottish, and Norwegian ~ that's about it. Which makes me wonder why. I wonder whether we unintentionally exclude people who don't look and talk like we do from our church communities, or whether it's intentional? Obviously, some congregations do a good job of embracing diversity, but they tend to be the exception.

Interestingly, it seems to me that Muslims tend to be better about welcoming diversity than Christians. There's a mosque on the way between my house and our congregation's church building. Whenever there's an event in the parking lot, or if I happen to drive by when people are arriving for or leaving from prayer services, I see people from many different parts of the world ~ and as I understand it, this is not unique to this one particular mosque.

I wonder how our world would be different if we USAmericans were less xenophobic. I'm not advocating that anyone give up their identity ~ I'm proud to be a Lutheran Christian with German ancestry (no matter what German policy was in the 1930s and 1940s), and don't want to give that up. Of course, the reasons why would be for another blog post, but I am proud of who I am. But my pride in who I am does nothing to diminish my interest in people different from me. In fact, I wonder whether those who are more comfortable with their identity are more likely to be accepting and welcoming of those who are different.

My question, especially on this particular day, is, "How the world would be different if we intentionally practiced respect for people who are different from us?"

$0.02

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sermon from today

Bearing in mind the truth that a sermon is an oral/aural event, and that Holy Spirit is working inbetween what is said and what is heard ~ a sermon is not what is spoken, but what falls on the ears and hearts and spirits of those who gather to worship ~ here are my notes for preaching this morning. For what it's worth.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God, and from our savior Jesus Christ

you may have heard it said, “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian
any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.”

even if you haven’t heard this, you can probably guess what it means
from a purely cynical standpoint
it’s obvious to most of us who are part of a church congregation
that there are some people who are a part of church
who don’t seem to act very Christian ~ right?
and scripture is pretty clear about what we’re supposed to do
how we’re supposed to act
we can see this in the Hebrew scriptures, the old testament,
today we have a section from the end of the Deuteronomic code
here, they get something of a reminder and summation of the law that Moses has handed to the people
Choose life, follow my commands, and you will live long in the land
God tells the people as they are about to cross the Jordan river

And then in the Gospel, there are the commands to,
or at least the descriptors of, those who would be disciples
that Jesus articulates for the crowd, and for us

carry the cross and follow me, he says
hate father and mother, wife and children
brothers and sisters, even life itself
count the cost, because (apparently) it will be a great cost
before becoming a disciple
none is a disciple without giving up all your possessions

now if I’m going to be honest with myself
when I count the cost, it’s not something I’m willing to pay
even if it’s as simple as checking my bank account to see that there’s money in there
or my garage, where a car doesn’t even fit right now
to see the stuff even I know that I don’t really need
but check the parking lot ~ my car is out there

then there’s the family
I certainly complain about them from time to time
but truthfully, they come before just about everything else to me
I don’t see myself hating those whom I love

so I’m saddled with the reality, and with the guilt that goes along with
knowing that I’ll likely never measure up to God’s standard
(you can take out the ‘likely’ right away)

and Jesus goes further, with the whole ‘carry your cross’ statement
which sounds to me like another burden to haul around
adding to the load that we already carry
the thing is, though,
I believe we’ve misinterpreted that directive from Christ
these days, whatever obstacle we encounter in our faith journey
we refer to as a cross to bear
your son is making really bad choices with his life ~ it’s your cross to bear
your mother doesn’t like your boyfriend ~ it’s your cross to bear
got a hangnail on the mission trip ~ it’s your cross to bear

what we seem to forget sometimes
is the obvious connection to literal, physical, death
that the cross carried with it for Jesus’ hearers
carrying the cross would be more akin to
the prisoners of war who have to dig the hole
in which they know that they will soon be buried

when we take up the cross, we are on our way to the grave, to death
and when we face mortality, when we face death that imminently
we leave everything else behind
which is what Jesus seems to be calling us to, right?
as we take up the cross
we find ourselves setting down all that other stuff
and we see that God’s yoke is easy, God’s burden is light
beyond that, we begin to see that
despite our failings
despite our inability to really leave everything else behind
despite our putting the rest of life ahead of following Christ

despite our failings, or maybe because of our failings
we are first claimed by God
on the cross, Christ put everything else aside
claiming us as his own,
even when we might not follow him like we should

and so we begin to recognize that faith is little more
than surrender to God’s power and love

and people of God,
there is nowhere else we can learn that
besides in the community of faith
it could be the family, household, church
this is where we learn of the importance of the other
where we learn to set ourselves, and our own interests
where we learn to set those aside to prioritize our neighbor
this is where we learn to give and receive
where we learn from each other,
and where we show each other, how to follow Jesus
where we learn to receive grace and forgiveness
where we learn to grant forgiveness and grace
when I’m not part of a community
I give in to the heresy of consumer culture
as I misunderstand that my own perceived needs
are of ultimate importance
while, in truth, I am called to put God before myself


if being a Christian is about being good and moral and an upright citizen
I can certainly do that on my own
I know lots of non-Christians who are fine and decent people
but this life of discipleship is not about following the rules
it’s about following Jesus

so I wonder again
Does going to church make you a Christian?
does showing up in this place
where we hear and receive God’s grace and love
transform us?
does hearing the word and participating in the sacraments
the means of Grace
make us different?
does walking with one another through joys and sorrows
through death to new life
work on us in ways we can’t understand to make us a new creation in Christ?


we can be good and moral people all on our own
but without a community,
the body of Christ, broken though it may be
without a community, we don’t learn to follow Jesus.

it is here, in the community of Christ
where God claims us, as we are,
and forms us into the body of Christ

Amen.


$0.02

Friday, August 27, 2010

Traditions, again

As a pastor, I get to be part of some of the intimate and significant times in peoples’ lives. Baptisms, when the family comes together with the church to welcome someone into the communion of saints, are always a joy. Weddings, when two people commit to share a life of love and companionship with one another reflecting the love of Christ in their love for one another, can be fun as long as the extended family gets along reasonably well and no one gets too drunk.

The thing is, though, baptisms and weddings, while they certainly can be emotional times, are not usually events during which people completely let their guard down. Funerals, however, can be a different story. Whether the death is a sudden surprise, or has been expected (and sometimes hoped for), coming to grips with the finality of death can be surprisingly disorienting.

I’ve had the privilege of being with all different kinds of people in the aftermath of a death, and I’ve noticed a difference between those who are active members of a church community and those who aren’t. The difference is in how different people deal with death. Those who are active in a faith community are certainly distraught, but in the midst of their grief, they seem to have a solid foundation on which to spiritually stand. Those who are not active in a congregation (including those who are members, but aren’t around very often) tend to spiritually flail a lot more. Their reaction to the death makes me think of our natural reaction to an earthquake, when that which we relied on to be solid is no longer reliable.

This lack of stability and foundation, and perhaps an unnatural sterilization of the dying process is, I believe, where so many new dying and funeral traditions originate. But there is honor and dignity and foundation and stability in those ‘tried-and-true’ practices. For instance, providing hospice care for a dying person and their family can be a wonderful thing. To have someone available who is familiar with the physiological and psychological and emotional and spiritual things folks might go through can be an amazing gift.

However, sometimes even hospice doesn’t live up to its good reputation. Once, one of the saints of the church was dying, and the family invited hospice to be with him and them. However, in this instance, hospice was not very attentive, not very available, and not very helpful. As disheartening as this might be, I believe it was a gift to the family. They were required to tend more closely to their husband/father/grandfather’s physical needs, which gave them the opportunity to be family together in ways they might not have been able to if the ‘hired help’ was doing those jobs.

What I saw through the days while they waited for his last breath is what I picture from the ‘olden days’. In one room there was what used to be known as the death bed, where the dying person lay, awake and lucid at first, but sleeping more and more as the days went on. In the other rooms of the home, the family sat around doing a number of different things. They worried about their husband/(grand)father; they talked about the past; they talked about the upcoming funeral; they talked about their life; they watched television and checked in at work; they ate together, and welcomed friends into the space for visits. It was a transitional space between the death room and the world all around that just kept on going. They made sure someone was always with him to keep him company, so he was not alone in this world when the time came to be welcomed in to the heavenly kingdom.

There were days of what used to be known as death watch, where time slowed or stood still and nothing else was as important as being together. Then, when he died, preparing for the funeral was more important than the rest of life. We gathered for the funeral, proclaimed to one another the grace of God, laid his body to rest, and life for the family began to start again.

They are certainly sad; they continue to grieve; but they’ve never ‘flailed’ spiritually because of the solid foundation of faith that each of them, and they together, have grown in to since they were born.

There’s nothing wrong with new traditions ~ but sometimes, what made sense hundreds of years ago might make sense today as well.

$0.02

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Train Ride

late night departure
after hours at the depot
(is amtrak always late?)
anticipating a summer
in the national park, I'm
excited about what's unknown ~

through night, through day
up and down, back and
forth through the cars
enough travel for temporary
relationships to develop
almost into perhaps ~

snatching sleep when the
blanket isn't sliding off
my shoulders upright in my
ticketed seat ~ awake or dozing
we roll past fertile fields
flat, until the horizon textures

with hills rising out of ranch-land,
a foreshadowing of mountains
just out of sight ~ already
unacknowledged tension dissipates;
and though I've never been here,
my soul is at home

Friday, August 20, 2010

Christian and Muslim

I harbor no illusions of being an expert in inter-religious dialogue or relationship, but there has been an overabundance of conversation and opinionating about the proposed Cordoba center; further, I harbor no illusions of being an expert on biblical history or interpretation. Still, I though I'd offer my opinions on Christian / Muslim relationship and interaction here in this somewhat public forum. Fair warning; what follows may well be complete nonsense, but perhaps my seven readers will indulge me.

I see in the biblical gospel accounts of Jesus’ life quite a bit of animosity between Judeans and Samaritans. Obviously these accounts were written from a Christian perspective, and we can see evidence of hostility between the burgeoning Christian community and the Judean establishment. But when we see interaction between Jew and Samaritan depicted in the story, there seems to be an assumption of bad relationship between the two communities. As I understand it, Jews and Samaritans were very closely related ethnically and religiously. There are enough similarities for each to have a passable understanding of the other tradition; there are enough differences to make it difficult to find real and significant common ground, especially without a will to do so.

The Babylonian religious practices were different enough from the Hebrew traditions that they were easily able to distinguish for themselves. The Samaritans were too similar; perhaps the fear was that corruption of one by the other would too easy, and that's part of the reason for the animosity and separation.

I wonder if this is part of our trouble some Christians have with Muslims in this country. Are our theologies and histories too similar that we feel threatened by one another? Both traditions are monotheistic; both traditions have a great many adherents who theologically moderate, and who simply want to live in harmony and cooperation with their neighbors no matter what their neighbor's religious beliefs are; both traditions have vocal elements on either end of the tolerance spectrum; both are rooted in and grew out of the same part of the world, but have moved and adapted well in different and disparate cultures.

Do we see the same negative and harmful cultural manifestations of the Islam that we are embarrassed about when we consider the way Christianity is manifest in the world? Many Christians are quick to point out that it has been Islamic extremists who have caused significant problems in USAmerica and other parts of the world. They don’t seem quite so willing, though, to recognize the same elements present among adherents to our own Christian faith. We quickly dismiss Timothy McVeigh and Christian Militias as the edges of our faith, and not representative of most Christians. At the same time, we conflate the beliefs and practices of Al Qaeda as representative of all of Islam without recognizing that reasonable and moderate Muslims denounce terrorist actions and beliefs in the same way that we do everything we can to distance ourselves from the Ku Klux Klan, because both Al Qaeda and the KKK distort beyond recognition everything that is good and life-giving about the religious traditions they associate themselves with.

+ + +

In Jesus’ time, the Judeans arguably wielded greater power in the Jewish/Samaritan relationship. So I look at how Jesus, Jew that he was, treated Samaritans. Jesus made a point, in a culture that was hostile to Samaritans, of being open to those who others ignored or condescended to. Jesus treated Samaritans with compassion and mercy and grace.

Christians, today, wield greater power in USAmerica than do Muslims. I wonder, how should Christians treat our Muslim brothers and sisters? Do we succumb to our very natural and human fear & mistrust of our neighbor, or do we take our example from our Messiah?

$0.02

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Racing"

A few times a year, I enjoy participating in races. I certainly am not, and never truly have been, fast enough to say that I race, but I do enjoy participating. I started long ago, running 5k and 10k events when I was a boy. In addition to the running races, we also went on organized bike rides ~ not really races, but I was still nowhere close to the front of the group. I didn't do many races between high school and moving back to Colorado. I probably ran one or two, but mostly I played basketball to pretend like I was in shape.

When we moved back here, it was a couple years before I decided to actually make the leap and register for a triathlon. It only took one and I was hooked. I have been able to participate in at least two or three triathlons per year, with the occasional running event (formerly known as fun run) thrown in there.

I don't think there was ever a race I participated in that I didn't enjoy at least a little bit. Most of the time, I come to recognize partway through the event that I really wish I was in better condition ~ and that's not really enjoyable. Other than that, most races I do enjoy.

But I've noticed something about myself. Even though I do enjoy all the races, I enjoy the ones that are fundraisers more than the others. It doesn't really even matter too much what charitable group will receive the contribution. In fact, I've even gotten to the point where I usually don't even consider registering for races that aren't fundraisers ~ I'd rather put that portion of my money that doesn't cover the cost of staging the race to an organization that could really use it well.

Having said that, I want to make a shameless request of six readers (out of my seven ... see, at least one of you has already made a contribution (thanks for that)). This coming Saturday, I'm participating in an urban adventure race with a couple guys I know from church. The race is a fundraiser for the Colorado chapter of the Make a Wish foundation. I'd like to invite you to go to the race website and make a contribution to the required fundraising for my team, the Sunday Donut Crew. If each of the six of you just $5, we'd meet our requirement ... and you'd be benefiting a worthwhile organization.

Thanks.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Traditions

those old things we do
left over from long ago ~
someone made it up,
came up with it, found
meaning in a time when
their world was adrift

but those days are gone
long past, taking their times
and significance and
meaninglessness ~ shouldn't
the days long gone relegate
dead traditions to history?

when our days - yes, today -
become empty of meaning
devoid of direction, when
we flounder for foundation
we see that traditions thought
to be dead give us a way

to be alive; and we know,
somewhere deep, far more
central to our self than heady
intellect - we know in the
heart of our soul - that who
gave life then, gives life now

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Place

There's something remarkable that happens at church summer camp. My own offspring spent last week at an ELCA summer camp in our almost-backyard, the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountains. I dropped them off on Sunday, everything normal. When I picked them up the following Saturday, I noticed (but was not really all that surprised by) a transformation in them.

Part of it, of course, is simply that they were away from home and all the normal authority figures for a week ~ they were freer to explore their own sense of individuality without the constraints of normal routine.

But another part of it, I believe, is the importance of sometimes being in a different place, a different physical location, in order to nurture our faith life. Camp is (to me) the most obvious. But I believe that's also why people make religious pilgrimages. There's something about getting away from what's 'normal' to see and experience a new angle on God's story, and a new angle on how God's story intersects our own.

The trouble, though, is that when we come back to 'normal', we come back changed ourselves while the community we come back to is still the same. There's often a letdown, a disappointment, a sense that something is missing in the 'normal' place. So the natural inclination is to dismiss the 'normal' as being too boring, or maybe as not enlightened enough. As a result, we go searching for that 'different' experience while enduring the 'normal'.

The thing is, though, that even what's 'exciting' can lose its excitement. Camp songs, as exciting as they are for a week, can become tedious after spending 10 weeks as a counselor.

Further, if we're focused simply on what's boring or exciting, then our faith life becomes entirely individualistic ~ which is fine if you're making up your own religion like so many in my country tend to do. However, individualistic religion is incompatible with Christianity. The point and purpose of Christian community is not to entertain, or to help anyone feel good, or to teach morals, or to meet the needs of any individual. All of these things are good and necessary parts of Christian community ~ but the point of Christian community is to be the Body of Christ (broken though we are) shared with the world who longs to know the story of G-d's grace.

So where, then, does camp (or any other religious pilgrimage) fit back into the life of a 'normal' Christian community. I believe it is incumbent upon the Christian community to listen to each others stories of faith; for those who went to camp to share their experience in meaningful ways that move beyond performance, and for those who haven't been to camp for a long time to listen closely and carefully to how G-d is active in the lives of the campers. Further, it is important that the campers listen closely to the stories shared by those who haven't been to camp for a while ... even in the 'normal' 'boring' 'regular' church, G-d is still moving in ways that are significant for many people.

Yes, place is important ~ and yes, changes of place can be important for our growing faith. But place is important even if we never go away anywhere. In the new and different, as well as in the rite and rote of ritual, G-d is present.

$0.02

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hands

Every so often I am struck by the level and expression of intimacy afforded to pastors. We are invited into celebrations, into grief, into tragedy, into struggle, into joy. I continue to be surprised more than 12 years into this vocation by the different things people share with us, and by the different avenues through which I am led to pray for people.

One place I seem to be invited into prayer, once in a while, is as I serve the sacrament to the people of God gathered for worship. In our worship tradition, people receive the bread with hands open, extended in front of them (and, incidentally, we don't 'take' ~ we receive communion).

Once in a while, as I am serving, I notice hands. Some are rough and calloused; the result of regularly being used either for work or for locomotion (by walker or wheelchair). Some hands are soft, delicate; hands that gently care for children, or for parents. Some hands are scarred from injury, or gnarled by arthritis. Some are deeply tanned, reflecting a healthy lifestyle and regular outdoor exercise. And some retain bruises, evidence of the IV needles from a recent hospital stay.

Often hands can be a window into someone's life. Today, for instance, one person had a broken blister on his palm ~ has he been working in his garden, or maybe remodeling his house? Another had a brace on each wrist, which only allowed her to move part of her fingers ~ how did she hurt her wrists?

Hands might not seem all that intimate ~ after all, we shake hands with other people pretty regularly, and our hands are hardly ever covered up (unless it's pretty cold outside). But my experience in that sacred space and time is that people's hands just might, on occasion, offer a glimpse deeper into a person's life, and a new way for us to pray for each other.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Climbing Mountains

About 9 years ago, I started a new tradition. Sometime in late summer, as often as possible over my birthday, I'd go climb a mountain. Once in a while it would be a day trip, and other times I'd make it an overnight camping excursion.

About 1/2 the time I'll do these trips with other people. Last year, for instance, I went with a few people who are members of my congregation to climb Bross, Cameron, and Lincoln. The other 1/2 the time, though, I climb by myself. Truth be told, though, there's only been one trip so far on which I've been completely by myself. It was my first 14er. I hiked in, set up camp, got up early the next day and climbed Harvard Peak. While I was on the top of the mountain, there were (in addition to the marmot who didn't seem to care whether I was there or not) two other people who had climbed the north ridge, on the opposite side from the south drainage I had climbed. Other than those two, I didn't see another person for that entire trip.

A couple years ago, in the South Colony Lakes area, I happened to camp next to Don and Brian, who had come from the south to climb some mountains. I was up there by myself, but happened to have a great couple days hanging out with some interesting folks who also enjoy the high country.

Another memorable solo trip was climbing Pike's Peak. The standard route is 12 miles one way. Some people make the whole trip at once, but most of the folks who do have someone meet them at the top (there's a paved road to the summit) so they don't have to hike 12 miles down. Others, though, hike up about 1/2 way, to Barr Camp, where strangers hang out in a cabin together eating dinner and talking about whatever strangers talk about in a cabin at 10,000 feet. It was an interesting an eclectic mix of people who created lively conversation with each other over spaghetti and water-bottle gatorade. In fact, Barr Camp was a much better experience than reaching the top of the mountain where, when I arrived, in addition to the people who had driven to the top of the mountain, a train was disgorging its passengers so they could buy souvenir sweatshirts and souvenir doughnuts and souvenir coffee. I didn't stay on that summit very long ...

Yesterday I came back from my annual birthday climb. People weren't quite so outgoing at the campsite, but I did meet a couple folks on the trails who were friendly enough. Most of the time, though, even though other people were around, I spent most of my time alone. It was ok, though, since I was afforded the opportunity (during the hours-long rain) to take a perfect nap and to read an engaging novel. While I was hiking (and neither napping nor reading), I discovered what it is that I like about climbing. It's that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that I get when I take those final couple steps that define the threshold between going up and there being no more up to go. It's almost an ecstatic feeling, the reward for the uphill effort being relative ease of movement, of unshouldering the pack and pulling out that special top-of-the-mountain treat.

I re-discovered, though, that it's not just at the top of the peak where it's possible to experience this. Yesterday, climbing Missouri Mountain, I realized that that feeling can last longer than just the time on the summit. I remember feeling the same way when I climbed Torrey's Peak. On that climb, instead of following the main hiker's trail, I instinctively turned right and climbed toward the alternate route along a ridge. On Missouri Mountain, the main trail is along a ridge. See, what happens is that you climb up and up and up, but when you get to the top, you're not on top of the mountain. To get to the top, you have to walk along the top of a geological formation which slopes (or drops) off to your right, and slopes (or drops) off to your left. The ridge, for me, simply extends the amount of time to be on that threshold between going up and there being no more up to go. Running a ridge, the reward is that you get to spend more time enjoying having already climbed most of the 'up'. Yesterday, once I gained the ridge, the 'up' was almost all done, but there was a bunch of 'across'. Sure, there was a little 'up' at the very end; but it was easy after having had a 20 minute break from going up while I was doing a bunch of 'across'.

Of course, I was packing for this trip at the last minute and forgot the camera. Does that mean I'll have to go back someday? Maybe someday my kids will be interested in spending a few days in the high altitude Colorado backcountry climbing 14ers. In fact, maybe I'll try to introduce them to the joys of reaching mountaintops.