Friday, April 30, 2010


It's hard, sometimes, to be the church. Those in leadership seem to find themselves up against the problem that folks want to receive the benefits that come from being part of a faith community without doing the work that it takes to maintain that community. Of course, there's the obvious ~ folks want the pastor to be available to visit the sick, to perform funerals and baptisms, to have a place to show up at Christmas and Easter. Many folks even want a place to show up every week on Sunday morning in order to get their spiritual tank filled up, so that they're ready for the week ahead.

Every person, every household, and every community goes through different seasons in life. Sometimes it's appropriate for a person or household to only consume faith ~ to be rejuvenated without giving back. For many people, though, this is as far as it goes. They never get to the place where they return what they have received. They never get to experience the freedom that comes from giving themselves away.

And that, it seems, is one of the hardest things to convince people of when they haven't experienced this truth themselves. Considering nothing but money, logically, if a person gives some of what they have away, then they have less money ... which means less freedom to do what they want to do with their money. But in fact the (illogical) opposite is true. If a person gives their money away, they are no longer slave to their money. But it's virtually impossible to convince people of this, especially using logic.

Which is where faith (in this case, known as trust) comes in. When a person hears enough times, from enough people they trust, that there is freedom in giving ourselves away (money, and otherwise), we will start to believe that maybe there's some merit to this. The trouble is that those of us who have experienced this freedom are reluctant to share, because (maybe) we're scared of frightening people away by promoting commitment or obligation or discipline.

For myself, though, discipline is necessary. Of course, I don't mean the 'punish the children because they did something wrong' kind, but rather the kind where we compel ourselves toward regular and faithful practices of discipleship.

The discipline of giving, of showing up, of committing to relationship, of actually working for something seems antithetical to our cultural standards these days ~ our cultural standards which tend more toward the lottery mindset (a little investment on my part just might pay off big-time). But I think the stereotypical old protestants ~ you know, the ones with the work ethic ~ knew something about finding freedom in discipline, and I think they knew something that we've all but lost these days.

Unfortunately, it won't be easy to regain that ... it'll probably take discipline on the part of those who have discovered the freedom found in giving ourselves away. And it'll probably continue to be hard to be the church ~ but if it wasn't hard, then I'd worry we were missing something significant about our faith.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

incomplete thoughts on Scripture

I don't think I've ever really believed that the bible is intended to be a factual and encyclopedic collection. I might have, at one time, if pressed, been willing to say that, but I don't think I ever really believed it.

Since the ELCA has been encouraging its members and congregations to study scripture more closely, we in the congregation I'm part of have been recently looking at what exactly the bible is ~ where it came from, who wrote it, what it means that it's the word of G-d, etc.

I'm coming to believe more and more that it's a much more serious and significant endeavor to not view scripture as inerrant. To take the bible as inerrant, a reference text to look at simply for problem-solving, is too simplistic for my needs. To take the bible as the stories and witness of people who, in many different contexts and times and places have met and been impacted by the living G-d of the universe is more meaningful to my own faith journey.

Of course, I am not willing to say that one group of Christians takes scripture more seriously than any other. I do wonder, though, how those who see scripture as a divine reference manual don't relegate G-d's activity to past history. "G-d did this, G-d did that, it's all recorded here in the Bible." That's all well and good, but the question I struggle with recently is, 'What's G-d up to these days? The Bible doesn't give me today's history."

Which leads to the question, if G-d is still as active today as G-d ever was, then is it possible for someone today to have a Bible-worthy experience? And this can't help but to make me wonder, whose story would you say might be scriptural?



I have a crackberry mobile computing device. I just received a text message, and have been checking my e-mail all day. I downloaded directions to someone's house, and looked up the definition of a word before updating my twitter status. I keep phone numbers and addresses, plus lists of things I need to remember (groceries). I even, from time to time, use the thing to talk to people.

It's pretty rare that I don't have my crackberry with me, either in my pocket or on the dashboard of the car, on the counter or in my bag. I don't take it with me when I go running or to the gym, and I only take it on bike rides if I'll be gone for three hours or more ~ but besides that, it's almost always available to me ... which means that I'm almost always available to you (or whomever).

Besides the crackberry, I also use a laptop computer, which I carry most places I go. I didn't take it when I went to dinner with the kids tonight, but it goes with me to and from the office almost every day. As I write this, I'm sitting in my living room, on the couch, with the laptop on (of all places) my lap. With a laptop and a cell phone, I could work almost anywhere. In a couple weeks, I'll be on a trip for work. I'll be able to check e-mail and make phone calls, work on lesson plans and a sermon, connect with folks about vacation bible school and touch base with someone whose wife is in the hospital the whole time I'm there.

And I'm not alone in this. I see lots of people around the city working from wherever they are, at all hours of the day and night. It seems like since we have the capability to work all the time, we feel like we are required to work all the time. In fact, I think it goes beyond feeling like we're required to work all the time. I believe that we've tied busy-ness together with worth. The more I work, the better I am. And it's been taken to an unfortunate extreme, which is 'the more hectic and stressed and overextended I am, the more I'm worth and the better I am. It becomes a contest to see who's the busiest.

And we've forgotten Sabbath.

We've forgotten Sabbath, we've forgotten how to Sabbath (yes, I just verbized that word), we've forgotten even what Sabbath is.

I have a vague memory from when I was young of learning that Sabbath is the time when we rest from our labors. Hearing that, I assumed that the point of Sabbath is to rest and recover in order that we're ready to continue our labors when it's time to do so. The trouble, though, is that if rest and recovery is the point of Sabbath, then Sabbath is still about work.

Instead, what if we worked to recover the essence of Sabbath, which is to remind ourselves that the world will continue just fine even without our input. If we put down our phones, closed the laptops, didn't bother composing 140 character updates, things would still be OK. And if we did those things, maybe we could take that opportunity to really see each other, without all the distractions. Maybe we could read a book, or write a book; create art or make music with friends; enjoy the company of children, or anything else that connects us with the life-giving heart of G-d.

And maybe that one day of recognizing that there's someone else who is actually in charge of the universe (despite our actions and apparent presuppositions) would spill over into humility in the other days as we go about our business (busy-ness).

The issue of how to get there is for another post.


Sunday, April 25, 2010


when we spend,
we don't spend time
or money
or energy

these are distractions
these things we use
to remove our minds
to remove our thought
to remove our attention
from truth

the truth that whatever we spend
on whatever
whether we
spend money
spend time
spend energy
whatever we spend on everything
we don't spend that

we spend ourselves

do we spend so that we can receive?
or do we realize that when we give our selves
toward those things that give life

we receive life without asking
and almost without realizing

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rain in April

i remember the rain in November -
cold, cutting through layers of
jackets, sweaters, hats, wool socks
that were just down from the closet

but rain after months of sun
cuts more than the vernal downpour
we got today ~ in November,
what do you expect but the onset
of cold - its own blessing, to be sure -

April rain delivers the promise of red
tomatoes and watermelon, frisbees
in the park thrown through the smell of
roasting meat, and the incessant off-key
jingle announcing overpriced ice cream

~ shoulder season storms create liminal
spaces, when the future gets washed over us
in brief glimpses, like abundant grace
in baptismal waters - and we can
wander nursery aisles, pondering new life
and promises; a long way from November

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Worship / Sabbath

The gift of worship, if nothing else, is that we have space and time opened up where we are not at the center; where we set the self aside for the sake of the neighbor, a friend, the other, our community. The gift of worship is that we get to set aside our narcissism for a period of time.

The gift of sabbath (rest is not the gift, because if the sabbath were only or primarily about rest, then the focus of sabbath would still be work ... to prepare for work) is that we come to know deep within ourselves that we are not at the center of the universe - that the world will continue, even without our input or energy. And when we see the world continuing, we begin to start to understand that (as much as we might like to be) we are not in charge.

The gift of worship, the gift of sabbath, is that we are forced into the counter-cultural realization that it's not all about me - that even if it's not about the other, then at least God is at the center.


Everyone Writes About Spring

everyone writes about spring
budding branches and tomato
starts, tulips breaking through from
winter's hibernation - but I

refuse to notice cherry
blossoms, or those harley riders
rumbling through warm sun, cool breeze,
surprising nice families on a

pleasant drive through springtime -
days are longer, birds are calling,
but i won't listen to them,
or to the children playing in parks

again, for the first time in
months - the grass greening from winter
snows soaking the ground in spring;
which some write about, but not me

Thursday, April 15, 2010

pondering technology

turn the tv off
mute the radio, close the laptop
let the phone ring it'll go to voicemail

the tv may be widescreen,
but outside the picture's even bigger
and the resolution is perfect

let actual replace virtual when we consider reality
letters on stationery replace
email/im/tweet/text ("messaging")

communal replace the
music deep in our ears but nowhere else

and when's the last time you walked
wherever you had to go?
for most of history, we've survived without

what has in a couple generations
become ("essential")
could we, again?

expressions of the church

In the denomination I'm part of, we like to say that there are three expressions of the church. These are the congregation, the synod (a regional area ... there are 65 in my denomination), and churchwide (the whole country). Despite the natural inclination by many people to think that churchwide is more important than the synod, and that the synod is more important than the congregation ... or even, perhaps, the inclination to think exactly the reverse, my denomination goes to a lot of effort to emphasize the equal importance of each expression of this church, and to communicate that different types of ministry happen by way of each of these expressions.

And while I don't disagree with what the church says about these three expressions, I believe we're painting an incomplete picture. It seems we've left out a fourth, arguably more important, expression of the church. Maybe we've left it out because it's not part of the institutional structure, but that doesn't make it any less significant or important.

The expression I'm thinking of is the household. As much as we seem to try to elevate our impact or importance for faith formation as church leaders, ultimately people spend exponentially more time in the household (family) than they do in the church (and especially the church building). I'd even argue that pastors' kids (who sometimes have to spend evenings at the church building while pastor-mom or pastor-dad participates in meetings) spend more time in the household than in any other iteration of the church.

I'm at least as guilty as anyone else, but I wonder why we spend so much time and energy on congregational (or synodical or churchwide) infrastructure, or even on ministry, when we spend relatively so little time and energy on supporting faith formation in the home.

What would it be like if we talked about four expressions of the church? Would it change anything? Or should we just leave it alone, since all the best ministry happens outside of the structures and hierarchies of the church?

I wish it was that easy

I've been working out recently in preparation for running a 1/2 marathon. To help myself not have a miserable experience for those 13.1 miles, I found a generic (read 'free') plan for getting in shape to run a 1/2 marathon. I've been working that plan for about 9 weeks, and through that process I've realized something about myself ~ namely, that if there's something external to myself that holds me accountable for getting something done, it's more likely that the thing will get done; to wit, if I didn't have a downloaded .pdf telling me when and how far to run each week, I'd probably be about ready to run a 10k on race day. For those who aren't familiar with these distances, a 10k is less than 1/2 the distance I should be ready to run.

The training has been going well, as I've followed the training plan. I certainly won't be fast, but if the progression I've noticed so far continues, I fully expect to finish the race in good condition. By following the rules, the directions, the guidelines laid out by someone else, I can almost guarantee myself success in the venture I'm undertaking.

Sometimes I wish the same formula (follow the directions, live by the rules, stick to the guidelines laid out by someone else) would work as well in our faith life.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The denomination I'm part of passed (what I think is) an amazing social statement last August that looks at human sexuality. (A small group in) The congregation I'm part of has taken some time to look at every page of that document. Because there has been a whole lot of conversation, at times contentious, about the ministry policy changes dealing with partnered gay and lesbian clergy, our look at the social statement was pretty close and thorough. We went through every section, every sub-section, considering whether we agreed or disagreed, whether there was too much or not enough written there.

What caught my eye yesterday as we made our way to the end of the document was the strong condemnations we saw there. For one, the document speaks out strongly against the sexualization of society, particularly (as I read it) popular media. It's harmful enough for adults to be constantly bombarded by airbrushed celebrities, but this document makes a strong statement against body image as portrayed in the media because of the impact it has on children and teens. A young person may be perfectly healthy (beautifully and wonderfully made), but when the image in the mirror doesn't match the (computer-enhanced) magazine models, the danger of negative self-image leading to destructive behavior in only increased. We all know that eating disorders have been a problem for young women for years, but recently the male quest for the perfect six-pack abs has led to a much higher rate of anorexia in young men as well.

The other part that caught my eye was the strong condemnation of inappropriate sexual behavior by church leaders. There is no room in this document for secrecy and cover-ups and other nonsense that (seems to be) practiced by the roman catholic church. If a church leader abuses his or her position of leadership for sexual gratification, the church needs to speak loudly and definitively ~ and the roman church has not done this. Of course, we need to model and practice grace toward, and even rehabilitation for, the perpetrator; but first, before anything else, we need to model and practice grace and provide for healing for the victims. This is where the roman church has fallen short. It seems that the leadership is taking care of the leaders first, or perhaps exclusively. To re-gain any sort of moral high ground in this area, the bishops and cardinals and vatican must begin by acknowledging past wrongs, both by the perpetrators and by the hierarchy. Then, the church must care for (or provide for care for) the victims of abuse ~ which may or may not include punishment of the perpetrators. Finally, and only when these things have been done well, the roman church will have the opportunity to take care of its priests.

All things considered, I think the sexuality social statement approved by my denomination is an excellent document ~ I just hope that we follow it ... well, that we follow Jesus Christ who is alive in the world and made known to us in the scriptures first; then, the sexuality social statement.

Probably pretty rambling and disconnected post, but still, it's my


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bread and Song

in broken bread and verses sung together
we become, in part, complete

biscuits and bluegrass, tortillas and tejano
sourdough and country, cornbread and soul

or bread, blessed and broken, on the altar
while kyrie and gloria, sanctus and agnus dei echo

through a room made sacred
by two or three gathered

Saturday, April 10, 2010


there they are, on the table
left from last week's celebration
a little wilted, a little brown

we have some at church
still around for their third Easter
big and green and vibrant

they haven't bloomed for two years
but they look better than these
whose trumpets remain from Sunday

on his way to the window, searching for
sunlight and warmth and birds flying by
the cat seems indifferent to whether

the blooms wilt or thrive; but (even though
we'll remind ourselves again in a year,
when new lilies arrive) for my part,

I'd just as soon keep this year's and
not wait for an another twelve months
to remember the resurrection

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Sundays and Wednesdays, busy through Lent
After Palm Sunday, one Wednesday

the church year revolves around this weekend
which drains and invigorates,
wears out and builds up
we who give ourselves to church

through the holy days (holidays), words and
actions and thoughts are fed by the
to which we are called

and then, SundayMondayTuesday after the alleluias
we ourselves are drained and in need
of new life
so we rest our way back

to the RoutineOrdinaryNormal of life, with its pain
and loss and struggle and all the rest
where we see the truth
of incarnation

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter / Spring in Colorado

the sun is shining as we crowd into the sanctuary
the trumpets tune up
while the choir gathers in the narthex
for a Resurrection Procession

and after Resurrection worship (x3)
when everyone's at brunch
or searching for easter eggs
we pause from the work of church life
to enjoy the day

warm sunshine contrasting cool air
the garden (might be) growing (soon)
might as well get outside
it was snowing the other day, it'll be hot soon,
but today, today we know how blessed we are


God alive, an empty tomb
communicates our fate

we meet our savior on the road;
our eyes were opened late

we see in broken bread and fish,
on ordinary days

the world turned upside down by grace
that love has vanquished hate

'God is dead' the world may cry
and we may say the same

God is dead, we're on our own
we wallow in the pain

of losing touch, of losing hope
that anything can change;

yet on the road and 'round the table,
in each others' eyes

we see the truth that death is dead
and we receive new life

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Holy Saturday

God is dead, in the ground
and yet we sit and wait

God is dead, killed last night
the stone was rolled in place

God is dead, yet life goes on
we garden, shop, and bake

God is dead; something stirs
the world anticipates

God alive, an empty tomb
communicates our fate

to meet our savior on the road;
our eyes were opened late

to see in broken bread and fish,
on ordinary days

the world turned upside down by grace
when love will vanquish hate

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

there's no sense to it
it doesn't follow
we want strong leaders
powerful rulers
conquering vanquishers

presidents, kings, prime ministers
weak rulers
are overthrown by despots
or by popular opinion
or by their own inadequacy

there's no sense to it
the strong, the powerful, the vanquishing
overcame our God
executing their rule ~ and our Messiah
by capital punishment

yet God's strength is shown and known in weakness
the strength of the powerful becomes itself inadequate
in the face of divine weakness
and grace is freely shared
with all of creation

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Maundy Thursday Homily

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

today is april fool’s day
and somehow that seems quite fitting for the beginning of the triduum
the three days when we, with much of the church
experience the passion of our Lord

here’s the thing
april fools day is a time when things are turned around,
when we expect the world to surprise us.
(the best prank I ever believed was a couple years ago,
when I heard a radio story about the post office allowing people
to take their zip codes with them when they moved,
like we can take our telephone area codes these days)
of course, it was foolish of me to believe that

and so, tonight we enter into the heart of God’s foolishness
tonight, as the three central days begin
the three days around which our faith is centered
tonight, anticipating the foolishness of the cross
which Paul refers to early in his letter to the Corinthians
Jesus turns social convention on its head

Jesus, rabbi, their leader, the teacher and preacher and healer
the one who so many follow
Jesus, the one hailed as Messiah with Hosannas just a couple days ago

puts on a servant’s apron
moving from most important to most disposable
washes their feet

and then asks, do you know what I’ve done to you?

NO ~ we don’t know what you’ve done
how can we know what you’ve done, when everything you’ve done
is counter to everything we think we know?

you can tell us, or we can tell one another
but you show us, when you bend down to wash our feet
that any explanation is never adequate
only by living the life of a servant
can we truly know the freedom of the gospel

still we turn to God, wondering ~ if I’m supposed to be a servant ~
if I’m supposed to serve others, how do I look out for myself?

God’s answer, called from the cross,
and echoing in the eventually and always empty tomb,

is that we don’t have to look out for ourselves
God is looking out for us
all that keeps us down
all that holds us back
all that turns us in on ourselves
ego, greed, self-centeredness
sin, death, the devil

God defeats it all
turning everything we think we know
unrecognizably upside down
disorienting us just enough

that maybe we can hear the words
in our ears, in our minds
in our hearts, and deep in our souls

your sins are forgiven ~ you are set free

the words reminding us that though we are in bondage to sin
though we cannot free ourselves

we are forgiven, set free, by our merciful God
and that forgiven and set free
we can live this new commandment fully
the new commandment that we love one another

Maundy Thursday

And so it begins
the three days on which everything turns
and all around
... life goes on

ambulances with lights flashing
spandex-clad bicyclists
grocery store clerks swiping credit cards
children playing while old people drink weak coffee

all around, life goes on
as if his last table wasn't being set
all around, life goes on
as if the guards weren't lining up, hoping to keep both ears
all around, life goes on
... as if today was normal

thanks be to God
that God arrives in the midst of ordinary
thanks be to God
that these three days may as well be normal
since, if God didn't show up in the midst of ordinary
if i had to somehow be special for God to show up
i'm out of luck

so tonight, some (on behalf of all)
will begin to watch
and wait
and hope

the three days begin