Wednesday, March 31, 2010


forty days waiting, watching
watching Jesus on his way
from Galilee and life
toward Jerusalem, toward death

while all around us, we watch
watch the season change
from cold, from snow
from lifelessness, from death
to the unmistakable promise of new life

the shoots poke up from the ground
even as we prepare to bury our savior

the buds pop out on the fruit trees
as we prepare to nail the messiah
to the stark, barren, tree of death

forty days, now, change to three

we get ready to set the supper table
knowing that later we will betray, deny

for now, though,
we wait


I saw a tv commercial in prime time last night that made me think. I don't actually know what the message the commercial was trying to convince me of was, since I typically mute the sound when there's a commercial. But I did see (something like) the phrase my energy taxes are already high enough written across the screen. I think the actor spoke those words, and they were written for emphasis. As I think about it, the commercial may have been a political advertisement, either for or against some bill or referendum, or maybe supporting some particular candidate.

I understand that a candidate doesn't have much hope of being elected if she or he promises to raise taxes. It's not a very popular position to take, since we are so very greedy and self-centered. But I'm not running for office, so I can make the statement I believe our taxes aren't high enough without worrying about my political future.

Don't get me wrong ~ I certainly do celebrate whenever I get a refund check from the IRS. Why, then, am I so willing to give up more of my money to the government? First, because I am so amazingly privileged to have a job, particularly a job that pays me well. Second, because though my seminary-era credit card statements to the contrary, I was taught responsible use of money ... namely, that a person shouldn't spend what they don't have. Third, I am willing to give up more of my money because I believe that it is our societal responsibility to contribute to the maintenance of our society and of the world. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, I don't believe it's mine in the first place.

Take the above, one at a time:

1) I have a job that pays me very well. If my income were doubled, it would be just under six figures. Now, according to economics magazines, that's not really all that much. And according to the government, my family's income is approximately triple the poverty line, which by some measures is a lot, and by some measures isn't that much. But unlike many in the world, I have a job, so I count myself amazingly blessed.

2) Unlike so many people in our society today, our family has learned (from our parents, and from trial and error) to live within our means. We're certainly not financial geniuses; at the same time, at a very basic level, we don't outspend our income. To pay a little more in taxes won't hurt our sense of self or pride (because our sense of self isn't based on how much we can buy).

3) I'm not convinced that we as people are able to make significant changes in the way we operate without significant external motivation. Take the example I saw on the tv. I believe we drive too much. I believe that our driving too much contributes to greater pollution, more exploitation of natural resources, obesity/poor health/lack of fitness, and individual social isolation (among others). But driving everywhere we need to go is ridiculously convenient, and we're not likely to give up driving so much until we're compelled to change our habits by external influence. To significantly increase the energy tax on (for instance) gasoline would certainly curtail quite so much driving. Then there would be more money available to put toward improving mass transit, research on cleaner fuel technologies, more and better bicycle-travel infrastructure, and better health. Obviously it's not as simple as I make it out to be, but without significant incentives (or dis-incentives), status quo will remain the same.

4) It isn't my money to start out with. I believe that everything I have comes from God, and that part of my job as a member of this society is to use what God has given me for the betterment of our society. My first thought ought not to be how can I keep as much as possible? but how can I use what I have to make the world a better place for everyone, especially those who don't have enough?

I think most political advertisements target our fears and/or our sinful nature. And the ad I saw, I think, targets our predilection toward selfishness and greed. In fact, I think this is why we're dealing with the current economic situation, because we're greedy. Everyone was saying I want more, I want more without considering in real ways the impact on their neighbors, or even the impact our greed would come to have on all of society.

Of course, I'm thinking about these things from my own perspective, knowing full well that there are people for whom additional taxes would mean they and their family going hungry. Obviously, they can't afford higher taxes. Part of our trouble, though, is that many people (no matter how high their income is) feel like they can't afford higher taxes.

So perhaps it's here that people of faith have to call one another to accountability for our own sin; perhaps it's here that we remember our obligation to take care of our neighbor; perhaps it's here where we have to remind one another of the difference between needs and desires.

Perhaps, if it has the guts, this is where the church steps in.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palms & Passion

Hosannas feel complete
until 'Crucify Him' exits our mouths
in the immediate,
the visceral satisfaction
of vindictive revenge
feels good to our retribution

Crucify Him we quickly cry.
after shouts of Hosanna (save us)
... crucify him ~ the wrongs we feel
cry out for justice ~
even if he is a lamb
riding a donkey (an ass)
crucify him, so maybe you won't
crucify me -
maybe his death can save me from death

if only we knew how close
'Hosanna/Save Us'
is to
'Crucify Him'

If only we knew how
his crucifixion
would bring
our salvation

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Reflections on Psalm 31 (9-16) from evening prayer

I know me
I know what I’m like
I know my shortcomings, my failings, my flaws
I know where I have too much, or not enough
where symmetry falls short
and the bumps that protrude where they shouldn’t

sometimes, even now
it feels like middle school
where everyone is watching
everyone is judging
everyone looks down on me
because of how I am
look close, you’ll see what I see

I am in distress
a scorn, a horror, an object of dread

and there’s nothing I can do
as much as I try, I always fall short of the ideal
I always fall short of what I ought to be
what the world around me says is acceptable
the magazines and the tv shows
the journal articles and the advertisements

all remind me of what I’m not
that I don’t measure up

my times are in your hand
hold me in your hand
hold my failings and fears
hold my shortcomings and shortsightedness
hold my flaws and foolishness
hold me in your hand
and help me to trust that I am beautifully and wonderfully made
that you, and no other,
that you knit me together in my mother’s womb

let me trust in you
for you are my God
let me trust in you, for you deliver me from my enemies
and from myself
let me trust in you
and let your face shine on me
let me trust in you,
in your steadfast love
let me trust in you
and your promise of resurrection and new life.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

baptismal journey

baptismal journey
journey from life to death
from death to new life
from life to death to new life

living into, and receiving/recognizing/reveling in
the wonder of God's love/grace/mercy

an unpredictable ride,
destined trip
storied journey

a baptismal journey
as a labyrinth
leading us inward
and inevitably back out again

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Home and Away

what's more than where
or when
or what
or even why
what's more is who
who do we meet in the

and do we recognize the where
where they exist
within the divine?

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Some Irish Step Dancers came to the preschool at my church, and I had the opportunity to watch them dance for the preschoolers. The dancers were very good, and I very much appreciated the music, as it reminded me of bluegrass.

All the dancers were young people, but there was quite an age range. Some were teenagers, some were elementary/middle school age students, and there were some who were younger even than that ~ maybe kindergarten or first graders. Each group danced in turn, and each danced to their own ability. What I noticed, though, was when it was the youngest dancers' turn, they were joined by a couple dancers who were just a bit older. The older dancers certainly knew more complicated steps, but danced the simpler ones that the younger kids knew. And after just a minute or so, the older group walked up and stood alongside youngest group as they danced.

It was obvious to me that the more advanced dancers regularly helped out the beginners at the studio. It was obvious to me that helping out the younger dancers didn't take away at all from their own improvement; in fact, it might have even helped the technique of the advanced dancers to teach the beginners. It was obvious to me that the success of the younger dancers was very important to the older dancers, maybe because the advanced dancers knew that they had once been beginners themselves.

I wonder why we in the church seem so reluctant to work to foster relationships between younger and older practitioners of our faith. It certainly doesn't take anything away from the faith of an older person to share what is so important in their own life with a 'faith beginner'; in fact, it might even help their own faith to get back to the basics. I'm sure that the 'success' of younger generations of the faithful is important to those who are older ... why are we so reluctant to act like it is?


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Reflections on Psalm 126 from evening prayer

going back home
after exile
after landlessness
after being taken from their home
they get to go back

back to their promised land
back to the land of their ancestors
back to the land given to them by the Lord our God
the Lord restored their fortunes
freed the people again from captivity
freed them from exile

but in this land, once flowing with milk and honey
in this parched land
if it rains, the seed washes away
if the seed stays, the ground is too dry for it to grow

O Lord, restore our fortunes in this land
as you restored the land to us and us to the land

we go out to plant, weeping
full of sorrow
and our faith withers like the crops in a drought
we go out weeping,
longing for life from this promised land
longing for the life you promise
restore the shouts of joy to our lips and laughter to our mouths
restore to us the life you promise
restore to us the joy of your salvation

soon the vine will wither, dying
Oh God, Oh God, do you forsake us?
soon the vine will wither, dying on the tree

restore to us trust in your eternal promise of new life
restore to us shouts of joy at bountiful harvests
restore to us homecomings filled with laughter
restore to us the joy of your promised salvation.


Sunday, March 14, 2010


So, in the spirit of the practice of the regular preacher at HFASS, the amazing sarcasticlutheran, I'll post the notes from the sermon I preached tonight. I'm not sure, though, how well they translate to the written page ... or, I guess, computer screen. Also, in all fairness, this is basically the same sermon I preached at Holy Love this morning.

+++ +++ +++

grace, mercy, and peace to you from God
and from Christ our savior. Amen.

this, one of the most famous of stories from scripture
one of Jesus most well-known parables
this prodigal son story
probably not quite as popular as the good Samaritan
but well-known still

I myself am an older brother,
so I find myself regularly identifying with the second half of this story

I remember when I was young,
my brother … my younger brother … and I would fight
and most of the time (in my memory)
I’d do something that my brother had prompted me to do
and then I’d get in trouble, but he wouldn’t

It was not fair
I had to be extra good, and still got in trouble
while my brother got away with all kinds of stuff

Of course, I recognize now that I have a different perspective
colored by age and by being a parent
that my perceptions may not be completely accurate

So I can identify with the older brother, here
no matter how hard he works, he doesn’t even get a goat
for a backyard barbecue
and then his brother returns, manipulates their father
gets a robe, a ring, the fatted calf, and a huge party

it’s simply not fair
sure, the younger brother makes out pretty well in the end
sure, with a little perspective, I can see where it’s good for him
now he has food, shelter, clothes … a place to belong again
but I can’t help but to think, what did he do to deserve all this?
do you notice, he never even repents,
maybe we can assume that he did
but then, I wonder if his repentance is sincere,
or if he’s just hungry
but still, it doesn’t seem fair

we talk, and think, about fairness a lot in our society
even if we don’t admit it ~ even if we don’t recognize it
our thoughts about fairness
are what drive our conversations about
health care
debt relief
marriage laws
tax laws

we seem to be driven by the question
“why should someone else get the same thing that I get
when they didn’t earn it like I did?”

from that perspective, even if we’re not actually an older brother ourselves
we can identify with the older brother
who feels like his work isn’t valued,
his loyalty isn’t valued
his commitment isn’t valued
and that his sibling is getting something he doesn’t deserve

isn’t that what our societal conversations about fairness revolve around?
what I do or don’t get
especially in relation to what my neighbor does or doesn’t get
based on how much we work

and that’s appropriate for our economy

but our economy is not God’s

in God’s economy, our works fall a little short, like Isaiah’s filthy cloth
serving on housekeeping, filthy cloth
showing up every week to worship, filthy cloth
giving money to charity, filthy cloth
working for a charity, filthy cloth
going on mission trips, filthy cloth

Isaiah tells us that
all our righteous deeds are like filthy cloths

we want to look for reasons things are the way they are
we want to explain, to help ourselves understand
to help ourselves categorize people
according to what they do or don’t deserve

in the end, it doesn’t matter why he was in such a desperate situation
whether it was because he
squandered his money in dissolute living
or because there was a famine
or because no one would give him anything
(all these are found in the text as reasons for his desperation)

We want to look for reasons
it helps us make sense of things

but there’s no making sense of this
after all, it’s not our economy

God’s economy is not zero-sum
while we tend to need to look at the bottom line,
we need the credits to match the debits

if the father welcomes his wayward son home,
he must not love the son who’s been there all along
opening his arms to the one who was dead,
but who is walking down the road
the older brother sees his father’s turning his back on him
he doesn’t see his inheritance
he doesn’t see that his inheritance isn’t diminished
by the Father’s grace extended to another

There’s a line in the Paul reading for today
that’s captivated me this week
if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation
or is it ‘they are’ … or maybe ‘he is’ … or ‘y’all are’
or a better translation, maybe
if anyone is in Christ … new creation

you and I are in Christ
not because we stayed home
not because we wander down the road
not because we repent
not because we work hard
you and I are in Christ, new creations
because that’s how God’s economy works

on the cross, God’s arms are opened wide
and God comes running toward us
welcoming us, though we don’t deserve it
welcoming us, despite our running away
despite the squandering
despite the disrespect
despite the asking for more than we deserve
God’s arms are open to us
welcoming us
whether we’ve been gone and thought dead
or whether we’ve been there all along,

on this divine balance sheet
there is new life for all

none of us has earned God’s grace

This is what God’s economy looks like
God's grace is a grace eager to give life and restore relationship
in Christ, God’s economy looks like … new creation


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Denver Oyster urban adventure race

A number of years ago, I talked some of my friends into participating in an urban adventure race with me. The Denver Oyster is a fantastic event ~ lots of fun, great atmosphere, fantastic camaraderie ~ and I'm excited to be doing it again this year.

In addition to being a great race, it's also a fundraiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. My seven readers are invited to contribute toward our fund-raising ~ choose 'Denver' from the city drop-down menu, then choose 'Sunday Donut Crew' as the team name. The rest is pretty self-explanatory.

This event is called a 'race'. I have no illusions of winning anything besides maybe something in the drawing ... something that has nothing to do with skill or speed. But every event like this that I participate in ~ urban adventure races, triathlons, running races ~ I refer to as a race. It's not like I have the skill or youth or lifestyle to be able to have a chance of winning, so is it appropriate to call it a race? I think so, because it gives me a chance, every time I go out there, to challenge myself and to do better than I was able to do before. I'm racing less against the other competitors, and more against myself.

Of course this isn't a new concept ~ most personal trainers who work with ordinary people will say the same thing.

This adventure race, though, is going to force me to actually get back in shape. It's a team event, and I don't want to be the slow guy on the team (especially since I'll already be the old guy on the team). Plus, as I have discovered over a few years of doing triathlons, that the race is a lot more fun if the whole thing isn't a suffer-fest.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Reflections on Psalm 32 from evening prayer




decent picture of Lent
at least as some understand and experience Lent
and a decent picture of this psalm, at least from one angle

happy are we, whose transgression is forgiven
our transgression, our sin, our iniquity, our deceit

happy are we

our turning away from God
thinking that we have the answers
thinking that we can take care of ourselves

our turning in on ourselves, incurvatis in se
wasting us away, drying up our strength
we groan under the weight of the law
which convicts us

turning back to God
we see that God’s face has never turned away
wherever we try to hide, we cannot escape from our God
our God who seeks us out
not for punishment which we deserve
(the law convicts)
but to share with us grace and mercy

turning back to God
confessing our sin/transgression/iniquity/deceit
we hear the message of forgiveness and restoration

be glad in the Lord,
you who God has made righteous
be glad in the Lord
shout for joy

your sin is covered, you who are forgiven

happy are we, be glad in the Lord
rejoice and shout for joy
for we have experienced
for we experience grace and mercy and new life in Christ


Monday, March 8, 2010

pub or church

Found myself at Vine Street Pub a couple nights ago. It's a great place ~ there's a wide selection of beers, a decent menu with food that's relatively cheap and (not great, but) certainly palatable. They used to host a bluegrass jam on Saturday nights that I would get to every time I was in town, but sadly that's canceled.

The thing I noticed when I was there the other night, though, was the people. The place was hopping. I showed up at about 5:15, and got one of the last two places at the bar. The bartender didn't remember my name, but he remembered what I drink, which was nice since I hadn't been in for at least a couple months. By 5:15 there was already a line for a table, and it just got more crowded through the evening. People were coming in all night long. They were hanging out over dinner, over drinks, and over conversation.

I was looking around at the crowd and wondering why church isn't like this. There's the obvious, that the church doesn't serve beer. But beyond that, what is this neighborhood gathering place doing that the church isn't?

This pub is connected with their neighborhood. I'd be willing to bet that most of the people there lived within a 10 minute drive, or even a 10 minute bike ride. But the bar isn't trying to be inclusive, or multicultural, or politically correct ~ the bar isn't trying to be anything it isn't. But this pub has figured out what it is, and is being that as well as it can. And why can't the church do that?

I think in the church, we look at ourselves and see what we're not. We see that we're not connecting with the neighborhood around us; we see that we don't have as many people as we used to; we see that we're mostly white, or mostly old, or mostly middle income, or mostly of one ethnic group or another; we see that there aren't any young people any more. When we only see who we're not, we miss who we are, to our detriment.

Which, as I reflect back, is probably what I was doing the other evening at the pub. I was looking around and seeing who the church is not. But that still doesn't answer the question of who we are. Obviously that question will have to be answered differently in each different congregation or context.

What would it be like for the church to embrace who we are, unapologetically, as a starting place?


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

reflections on Psalm 63 from evening prayer

Ever been hungry?
not just the ‘I skipped lunch’ kind of hungry,
but really hungry
hungry to the point that you can think of nothing but food

the psalmist yearns, hungers, thirsts for God like that
the way, perhaps, that we all do at one time or another

we search, we seek, we hunger for
the one who we know,
the one who we have known at one time or another
the one who knows us, but who we turn away from

we have partaken of this feast
well-aged wines, food filled with marrow
as Isaiah says
a rich feast that fills us up, satisfies us
this psalmist has written

but this feast can be elusive
not because the table isn’t set
but because we get up,
thinking we have better things to do

it’s a strange kind of searching
since we know for whom we search
and since we know that our God, for whom we search
walks alongside us on our baptismal journey
it’s a strange kind of searching,
because even though God is so close
we still hunger
and turning away, we are continually compelled to turn back
because we hunger so desperately

yet we know that God, who does not abandon us, is there,
waiting for that time when our hunger is so consuming
that we are occupied by nothing else

it is into this hunger that God steps
with the promises of grace and mercy and new life.


Monday, March 1, 2010

wilderness retreat

wilderness desert, desolate, free
from support from sustenance
free from life

wilderness desert, minuscule life there
hidden hiding 'til it rains
free from drought

wilderness desert, empty, distractions
are gone ~ finding life out there
free from worry

Music, Faith, and Mortality

We just picked up the new Johnny Cash record, American VI: Ain't No Grave. I threw it on the portable music player and have been listening to it since yesterday morning.

I went and picked it up on Saturday afternoon at a fun record store. Of course, I passed right by the prominent display and had to ask someone where to find it, but my cluelessness led to an interesting (very brief) conversation with the guy at the record store where I bought it. He told me that he's a big Johnny Cash fan, which isn't a surprise since I think everyone should be a big Johnny Cash fan. He told me, though, that he didn't think this record was that great. He thought that if Johnny Cash was still alive, he wouldn't have let this album be released. It's not that the tracks were bad, they just weren't that great. He thought that maybe these tracks ought to have been released as b-sides.

As I listened to the record, I could certainly see what he meant. While the voice is unmistakably Johnny Cash (that trademark bass that, when it's just about as low as you think it can be, goes down about a third more) is also unmistakably the fragile and wavering voice of an old man. I think this may be what the record store guy was talking about. He also said that it's mostly spiritual songs obviously sung by someone who's getting close to death.

The fragility in his singing makes the record even more remarkable to me. It sounds less like an album that was produced so that fans would be able to buy it, and more like a guy sitting on the front porch with his guitar singing songs that he loves.

I think the record store guy is exactly right in his assessment, which is why I like this album. I recognize the humanity and mortality in his singing because I've heard the same thing from a number of old people who have been members of church communities that I've also been able to be part of. My favorite example is this old guy who played the fiddle. I'll call him Ralph, 'cause that was his name. Ralph probably had been a pretty decent fiddler when he was younger. He certainly had a couple beautiful (looking and sounding) fiddles, and he knew a lot of songs. By the time I knew him, he was already old, but he was fairly healthy. In fact, he even sat in when we introduced a brand new bluegrass liturgy to the congregation (and the world ... sort of). Ralph had a somewhat extended illness, and while he was trying to recover, I took time to sit with him at the hospital and at the nursing home where he was for a while. I loved visiting Ralph ~ he was great fun to talk with, and he had a pleasant family. If I stopped by when his family was around, we always had a great conversation. I always heard from the nurses, from the other employees, and sometimes from some of the other residents that they enjoyed his fiddle playing. Apparently he'd play in his room, and sometimes in the common areas, which seemed to always be well-received.

Sometimes when I'd stop by to visit, Ralph was by himself ~ his family wasn't around, and he didn't have anything else to do, so we'd talk. But we'd usually only talk for about 5 minutes. That seemed long enough to communicate whatever was necessary to communicate. Then we'd start playing music. See, Ralph always had his fiddle. And his wife Esther had learned to play mandolin to accompany him when they'd go play for people. But she never played by herself, so wherever Ralph's fiddle was, Esther's mandolin was there too. So after we were done talking, Ralph would rosin his bow, I'd tune Esther's mandolin, and we'd play together for a while. I didn't know most of the tunes, but I followed along well enough to the simple changes that went with the old-time fiddle tunes he knew.

If someone had recorded those visits, they probably wouldn't be worth even the b-side to a record. But there was something wonderful about hearing someone's deep love for music, even if they didn't play as well as they once might have. And that's the way I feel about the new Johnny Cash record ~ it's an old musician singing songs from deep within him. There's something there that can't be produced, it just has to be played.