Wednesday, June 30, 2010

gift unrecognized

Have you ever received a gift that you were happy enough to receive, but wasn't really that big of a deal? And then, have you ever taken a new look at that gift later and realized that it was much more significant gift than you thought originally?

Quite a few years ago, we received a box of computer paper. It was that particular kind of paper that was used in the old dot-matrix printers ~ maybe you remember the kind. Each sheet was attached to the next sheet, and you separated them at the perforations, which were every eleven inches. Then you had to remove the little strips along the sides of each sheet. These strips had holes in them which were used by the 'gears' on the printer to move the paper along as it was receiving the dots of ink deposited in matrices which the readers interpreted as letters and words. Once the sheet was removed from the other sheets, and the strips were removed, what was left was a standard letter-sized piece of paper (with little perforation bumps along each edge).

The stack of paper we received had to be at least a foot thick. It's impossible for me to accurately estimate how many sheets of paper were in the box, but it had to be in the thousands. I thought, when we received this box, that it was a nice enough gift, especially since at the time our daughter would regularly create sculptures out of nothing but paper and tape.

Over the past five (or more ... ?) years, the kids have made sculptures, drawings, paintings, and airplanes, out of this paper. They've written stories, taken notes, made grocery lists, and crafted mother's day cards out of these sheets.

A couple days ago, I noticed on our kitchen counter one of these pages with a recipe written on it. There was a stack of blank paper (with the edge-hole-strips still attached) next to the recipe, and at that moment I realized that this gift given to us by someone I've forgotten was much greater than many of the other gifts we've received.

Every once in a while I'll notice something like that, something that's a gift, but which I haven't recognized for what it's worth, and which I haven't received or acknowledged with the appropriate gratitude.

I realize that this, more often than not and much to my dismay, is how I often respond to the Gospel.


Monday, June 28, 2010

activism and relationship

In recent years, we've come up with new ways to communicate with each other. Well, it's pretty much what it's always been ~ talking and writing. It's just that now we have so many ways to do that besides face to face and on paper. Phones, e-mail, text messaging, videophones, social networking sites. And now we can even pair our social networking with advocating for those things we're in favor of.

For instance, I love that Facebook activism got Betty White to host SNL ~ heck, I even put my name on that petition. It seems like there's a group on Facebook for just about everything. Want more people to fly the flag?, start a group. Want to see who else doesn't like Glenn Beck?, start a group. Want more people to support the local produce movement and backyard farming?, start a group. Want to protest the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico?, start a group. Want to fly a flag in support of (or opposition to) Glenn Beck watching Betty White on SNL at a dinner party where you serve produce you've purchased locally so that not as much BP oil is purchased?, start a group on Facebook.

I'm not sure Facebook activism is anything more than helping people to feel like we're making a stand for what we believe in while we're wasting time staring at laptop computers. It's placation of our individual desire to stand up and be noticed, but it doesn't require any actual sacrifice on our part.

The recent trend in text message giving is similar, in my view. Whenever we're away from our computers, it seems like many of us are keeping track of everything we can on our mobile handheld computing devices (née cell phones), and so our activism might as well go along with us. And companies have come up with an ingenious way to receive contributions ~ just send a text with a particular message to a particular number, and a few dollars will be added to your cell phone bill. Presumably this money will be given to some agency that will presumably do something beneficial for someone using the money you've just given. It only cost you a couple dollars, and you'll likely never notice it anyway since (if your parents don't pay your bill,) you probably pay it automatically with a credit card. The sacrifice is a little greater than what Facebook activism requires, but it still allows us to give money from a restaurant or subway car ~ and it still doesn't require, or confront us with the necessity for, any change in ourselves. We do not come face to face with the problem we think we're addressing, but we sure feel good that we've done something about it.

On the other hand, giving 10% of your income to the work of a community that are part of and believe in requires an actual change in perspective, and perhaps lifestyle. Or traveling to a place where change needs to happen can work profound change in us. I can't imagine anyone who has spent time mopping oil off of beaches coming home and deciding to drive more. I can't imagine anyone who's spent time listening to Mexican farmers talk about how the results of n.a.f.t.a. have forced them off of their family farms and into urban poverty could come home and not make changes on their own dinner table. I can't imagine how spending just 10 minutes talking with that guy on the corner with the cardboard sign, finding out what his story is, wouldn't alter your afternoon commute, even if it's just your own compassion and tolerance of those who hit some bad luck.

We were created for relationship by a triune god who defines relationship. Facebook and text messaging are great, but only insofar as they enhance the times when we're actually with one another.


Sermon for Proper 8, June 27

With the recognition that a sermon is not the written word but what happens in the midst of the interaction between preacher and community, and with apologies because the line breaks and indents from my word processing document that help what's written make better sense don't translate into this blogging software, and with particular recognition that I strayed somewhat on this week from this exact sermon text, here's last Sunday's sermon.

The Gospel text was Luke 9:51-62.

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

I love this
just the picture of what’s happening

at the beginning of this chapter, Jesus has given the disciples
power and authority over demons and diseases
he sent them out with nothing but this power
and they survived
so here, they may be a little full of themselves
'um, Jesus, these Samaritans are causing us trouble
and we’ve got this power that you gave us …
how about a little destruction … we’ll show them'

there may be a little nationalism coming into play here
a little inter-tribal posturing between the Jews and the Samaritans

but the heart of this exchange is that
the disciples don’t understand, yet
that real power and authority come from facing the cross
in weakness and in death

in weakness and in death,
the weakness and death of our messiah
is where we find freedom, which Paul reminds us of

For freedom, Christ has set us free.
and that sounds like good news, especially to our USAmerican ears
we love our freedom ~ it’s one of our most important values
freedom of religion, of the press, of speech, of assembly
so often we hear freedom, and this is what we think of
which is great ~ these are the foundation of what is arguably the best nation and system of government
but it’s not what Paul had in mind
for freedom, Christ has set us free
the freedom we enjoy as people who live in this country
is different and distinct from our freedom in the Gospel

to get to what Paul means here in Galatians 5, though,
let’s go back to the Gospel reading

he set his face to go to Jerusalem
some have said that this verse is the hinge of the gospel
that what comes after is substantially different
from what comes before
until now, Jesus is wandering around, preach and teaching
healing and working miracles
but everything after is focused on Jerusalem, on the cross
Jesus has a different level of purpose for the rest of the Gospel

and we see it in the whole strange ‘you can’t bury your dead’
and ‘you can’t say goodbye to your family’ exchanges

They tell Jesus ‘I will follow you’
without realizing what that means
without realizing that he’s on his way to die
even still, though, we don’t know their response
maybe they went back, tail between their legs
to do what they need to do
or maybe they realize the importance of this journey
and went along with Jesus, leaving the dead to bury the dead
what if they’re excited about leaving everything behind
and following
what if they do recognize the freedom of the Gospel
that nothing else is as important?

Jesus is helping us to understand something here
it may look like the rewards of following him are less than ideal
we don’t get to keep our stuff,
or our family, or even take care of significantly important business
we do get something out of following Christ
we get liberation from our affluence
we get new life, which necessarily means that what we cling to
will need to be left behind
we receive, from following Christ, freedom from what binds us

what is it that enslaves you?
what has so yoked us
that we are prevented from a life of radical discipleship?

Lord, first let me …
often it seems like this ~ “Lord, first let me …”
is our response to God’s call
‘follow me’ says Jesus, we recognize as a good idea
but there are just a couple other things, so first let me …

when I start to realize, once again,
that my hard work doesn’t get me into the kingdom,
even if it does have to do with my dead parents, or whatever else
I start to realize that this is where we find freedom,
in God’s death on the cross for our benefit
and this is the freedom Paul is writing about

for freedom, Christ has set us free

what does Christian freedom look like?
what does the life of the discipleship look like?
it’s about freedom, but not do whatever you want
which is what we usually think of
but you are freed from a center of gravity
around your own needs, wants, desires
and freed to follow Christ by serving the neighbor

Gospel freedom is a freedom from self for the benefit of the kingdom of God

entire point of Jesus is freedom in this life
from bondage to sin
from fear of death
from curving in on ourselves
so that we are able to serve God for the sake of all of creation

the stuff we want to do doesn’t really matter
and that’s where we find freedom,
in what does really matter

we have not, and cannot, earn this freedom
we have no agency in our freedom in the Gospel
but have been set free by Christ

no, you can’t go back and bury your dead
you need to follow me ~ this is my gift to you,
the gift of putting in their place and priority
the things of this world,
because no matter how important they seem
what’s important, really, is what happens on the cross at Jerusalem

on the cross
divisions between Judeans and Samaritans will be eliminated
so the whole rain-down-fire thing is unnecessary
we’re set free from the need to destroy
on the cross, the dead are taken up in the love of God
who also died in order that death has no grasp on us

on the cross, we are called not away from something,
but we are called to following Jesus

and this is a gift to us,
a gift of freedom in the gospel
which may look different from what we expect
but it’s a freedom which is more life-giving than anything we can imagine

in Christ, we are set free



Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bike to Work Day, part 2

I'm usually aware, as I ride around town on my bike, of places where other bicyclists congregate ... or at least where a lot of bicycles park. There's a restaurant that has bikes locked to the fence all year long. There's a coffee house where it's hard to find bike parking in the summer. And the museum of nature and science, about a mile from our house, almost always has quite a few adult and kid bikes parked outside when the weather's nice.

Because I look for bikes parked together, and because I knew it was bike to work day, on my way around town that day, I was naturally keeping my eyes open for places where people on bicycles were congregating. The breakfast stations, naturally, were good places to look, and the hundreds of bikes tagged and parked securely at the bike home from work event was fun.

As I was riding to do what I could to help set up for the first event, having left the house at 5:40 (which is entirely too early, unless there's mountain adventure on the agenda), I saw from a block away probably 15 or 20 bikes parked on the sidewalk. It wasn't 'til I got closer that I realized it wasn't a bike to work day event ~ it was the temp work agency. I ride to work because it's environmentally responsible, because I can stay a little fitter, because I like to be active. But if I 'need' to, I can drive to the office, or anywhere else for that matter.

For these guys, every day is bike to work day (if they happen to get work that day). Every day is 'get up at 4:30' day. They ride because they probably don't have a car, or because their family needs the car that day, or because they'd rather feed their children than spend the money on gasoline. They would probably rather drive, since their work (if they get any) will be plenty physical.

So let me get off of my high horse and remember that most of the world doesn't have access to the luxuries that my life affords me. For most of the world, to have a bicycle as transportation (especially to have one that is complete and works well) is a luxury.

Sure, we can be a big visible presence one day a year (when the weather will probably be nice). But let's not forget the people who have to bike to work every day, through all kinds of weather.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Bike to Work Day

Colorado Bike to Work day was two days ago. It was a perfect day to commute by bicycle ~ sunny and nice, but not too hot. National Bike to Work day was May 21 ~ turns out it was a nice day here, but we've been known to have cold and snow for the national day, so we put it off 'til a little later.

I spent my day hanging out at the large bike-to-work-day expo for a couple hours, having a couple more breakfasts at some other stations on my way to work, riding back downtown to hang out at the bike home from work event, stopping for dinner on the way home where I sat and wrote for longer than I expected to.

Whenever my commute by car takes longer than it usually does, I tend to get just a little stressed. Like many of us, I'd just as soon be doing what I need to do instead of sitting in traffic. And so I was somewhat surprised that on Wednesday, when my commute took much longer than it usually does, I found that I was much more relaxed. Maybe this isn't a surprise to my seven readers, and maybe it shouldn't have been to me.

What happened to me was that instead of just wishing I could get to where I was going sooner, I actually enjoyed the journey. Now I commute by bicycle somewhat regularly ~ at least once a week in the summer all the way to the office, and all year long on the days where I work from coffee houses and bookstores within a five mile radius of my house ~ but bike to work day, with all its intentionality, emphasized for me the importance of slowing down and appreciating the journey.

Naturally, the trails and bike lanes were busier on Wednesday than they usually are. It wasn't too problematic ~ I only had to slow down because of bike traffic a couple times ~ but I wonder what it would be like if that many people biked to work every day. A big disincentive would be that the free breakfast stations are only open one day a year. But I'm certain that we'd be a healthier and happier society if we'd get a little more exercise, and if we didn't isolate ourselves from each other in our mobile steel and glass cages. Plus (obviously) we as a country would be less dependent on foreign sources of oil and gas if more of our fuel could be purchased at the grocery store or grown in back yard gardens.

The bike path I take to the church building affords me a clear view of one major highway in the Denver metro area. I feel a little guilty about this, but I was almost happy to see traffic at a dead stop on the interstate while I was traveling easily and quickly with a clear path to where I was going. I'd love it if most days were bike to work days for most people, and I'd love it if we had one day a year that was 'drive to work day', so we could remind ourselves what it's like to sit in traffic while our blood pressure and the pollution levels both increase unnecessarily.

If only bike to work day could expand beyond just one day a year. What would it be like if bike paths became so crowded on a regular basis that the governments has to close some streets to automobile traffic to accommodate but bicycle commuters?


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Held Captive - or, if the story turned out different (Luke 8:26-39)

come out, you who bind him
we're not afraid

he grew up here long ago
we knew him them
and we know him now, though
then was better

he grew up around the
corner, i knew his
mother when she still lived
in town with us
now, though, he would cause us
too much trouble
if he was still that close

but then our God
calls to him, the one who
we used to know
not as possessed - rather
claimed as person
named as beloved child -
all of our sight
turns to memory of
who he once was

come out, you who bind him
we're not afraid

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sermonating Haiku

saturday evening
writing tomorrow's sermon
come Holy Spirit

Thursday, June 17, 2010

newsletter article

As I was preparing to write a column for my congregational newsletter, I reread what I had written last month. I figure it couldn't hurt to post it here as well, so here you go:

I was sitting the other day in the fellowship hall. It was the middle of the week. There were some young children, maybe part of a preschool family, who were running around the room. Three of these, who were preschool-aged, were running around in circles, more-or-less keeping up with each other. They were laughing and talking with each other, and the joy in their play was (to me) contagious. There was a fourth young child, a bit younger than the others. The three were all old enough to run with confidence. Their younger playmate, though, was old enough to be steady on his feet walking, but hadn’t figured out how to run much faster than he walked quite yet.

As they played, I saw the one chasing after the three. He was trying to run like they were, laughing like they were, jumping when they jumped, playing the game they played. I remember my own children doing the same thing. Young children look up to, and imitate, the older children ~ it’s how we all learn how to act in our society. And that day in the fellowship hall, the youngest one had three good examples to emulate.

Young people look to their elders to learn how to deal with the world. Once they get to be teenagers, they won’t always admit it, but young people look to their elders to learn how to make it in life. We learn by paying attention to those who we spend time around ~ we learn how to eat, how to manage time and money, how to treat people we love and how to treat people who are different.

Young people learn these things whether or not we’re trying to teach them. The three kids knew the fourth was there, but they weren’t trying to teach him the game. They were doing what they were doing with very little regard to the other child. But despite their inattention to him, he was paying close attention.

The young people at Holy Love pay attention to you. They pay attention to how you live your faith. They pay attention to how we welcome and treat strangers and those who are different from us. They pay attention when we try to teach them, and when we have no reason to notice them. They pay attention when it looks like they’re completely engaged with something else.

The other day I was in a large room having a conversation with an adult. Across the way was an elementary school aged young person. The student had earphones plugged in while reading a book with great interest, turning pages regularly as she made her way through the text. It wasn’t long before she offered her perspective. Surprisingly, her insight wasn’t on our clothing, our choice of cell phone, or even the book she was reading. The insight she offered was directly related to the topic of our conversation, and she offered a perspective we hadn’t yet thought of or brought up. This surprised us both, because by all appearances she was completely checked-out and in her own world. They pay attention, they emulate what we do, and they know when we take them seriously.

This summer, you will have the opportunity to share your faith intentionally with young people as our congregation gathers on a few summer Wednesday evenings for some faith-building activities. And when you show up, I can almost guarantee that not only will your own faith grow, but you’ll be surprised by the faith that God has given to the young people who are part of our congregation.

For what it's worth.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Evening Commute

I commute to work by bicycle from time to time ~ maybe once a week in the summer, and on occasion through the rest of the year. The days I don't go into the office, reading and writing days, I'm often around the nearby area of town on my bike, but that only sort-of counts.

The ride from home to the church office isn't too long, but it's long enough that I have to take it seriously. Commuting by bike instead of car adds about 30 minutes to the trip each way, but removes the need to go to the gym or for a run that day. It's basically a wash, timewise. I have to be certain that I don't need to go anywhere too far from the office through the day (commuting by bike around the suburbs can be challenging), but if I need to be at the office all day, it's nice to be able to cycle to work.

I especially like riding to work on days when I need to stay into the evening. Riding home in the cool of a summer evening, especially after a long day (or a church council meeting, which can potentially make for a long day all by itself), is a perfect way to transition. Last night, the cool of the air along with a sky so clear that the entire moon was almost perfectly visible even though it was only a crescent was phenomenal to experience. And aside from only a few other cyclists, a couple holding hands who were surprised by my approach, and a city bus that didn't bother looking to see me coming down the road, the journey home was clear and unobstructed.

In the middle of the ride last night, I was reminded of the first time I took nighttime rides through the city. I was just out of college, that summer before moving away from Texas, and I was doing graveyard shift temp work in a factory. Some nights I had work, some nights they didn't need me. I wanted to sleep, but there was no way that was going to happen, since after getting off at 7 am, I'd slept 'til almost 2 in the afternoon (that's when the pick-up basketball games usually started).

With nothing on tv worth watching, no way to sleep, and nothing better to do, I set off on my bike toward downtown. What I discovered was streets crowded through the day virtually empty at night, cool air after triple digit daytime temps, and ease of movement on mostly smooth streets. I discovered a new kind of freedom that I hadn't been aware of before, and when I met another guy on a bicycle, I knew that other people had discovered the same thing before I did.

And last night, on the way home from council, I felt the same freedom I remember from that summer. It was nice ~ maybe I'll commute by bicycle today as well.

Urban Oracle

his vision obscured by hair
inches long, as mustaches
above each eye, brows
not furrowed, serene

iconic, idle on the
corner, the rest of
his face obscured by
a beard, wild and thick

he sits, mythologically still
waiting to dispense
oracular wisdom to all seekers
who come by Eighth and Downing

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sermon for Proper 6, June 13

Maybe I'm adopting a different style of sermon-writing, but this is two weeks in a row that I've written an almost-manuscript sermon ~ so I might as well post it for the three of you who might be interested.

With the recognition that a sermon is not the written word but what happens in the midst of the interaction between preacher and community, and with apologies because the line breaks and indents from my word processing document that help what's written make better sense don't translate into this blogging software, here's last Sunday's sermon.

The Gospel text was Luke 7:36-8:3

We all do it ~ it’s how we make sense of the world
we put people into categories
we label each other, often based on those many factors
that aren’t even essential to who we are
it starts early
I remember the distinct groups in high school
jocks, kickers, stoners, smart kids
and the group I fit in, band nerds
but it starts earlier than that ~ we were already starting to segregate ourselves in middle school
if nothing else, there were the cool kids, and the not-cool kids
and it started earlier than that ~ there were even distinct groups in the very earliest grades
which were probably based on where we lived,
and where we went swimming ~ country club, stock pond, or not at all

but it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it, for us to categorize one another
and to categorize ourselves
it’s how we make sense of the world,
it’s how we know where we belong

So we’re not completely surprised
when Simon labels this woman immediately after she enters his house
he’s categorizing her, based on what, the text doesn’t say
maybe it’s the way she’s dressed
maybe it’s the way she acts
maybe he knows her in a different context

but Simon judges her, judges her a sinner
and judges Jesus by his association with this sinner
and the judgment, at least in part, is probably accurate
consider that Simon is a Pharisee,
one of that group who is particularly concerned with keeping the law
and in this brief encounter,
Jesus has allowed himself to become ritually unclean
he allows this woman, to whom he’s not married, to touch him ~ that’s generally frowned upon in his context
and beyond that, she’s probably works in the sex industry
(that’s how Simon could identify her so easily ~ she very well could be a prostitute)

so now, to Simon (and probably the others around the table)
the woman, who is an unclean sinner,
has just made Jesus unclean, too
and Simon has something to say about it, even if it is under his breath

Simon is just like the rest of us
as soon as he sees her, he categorizes her
and as soon as he categorizes her, he judges her
we all do the same thing, none of us is exempt
remember, this is one way we make sense of the world
one way we find the place where we belong
by categorizing ourselves over against others

Simon immediately judges her, without recognizing
that Jesus seems to have already judged her … as forgiven
without boring you too much with greek
the verb for his forgiveness of her
tells us that it happened in the past
and that the effects of the forgiveness continue in the present
her sins have been forgiven … already,
not based on tears and perfume
it looks like she was forgiven before she ever came into the house

we have to be careful here,
because forgiveness can be dangerous business
forgiveness upends the world, throws everything out of kilter
at least out of the kilter that we’re comfortable with

see, we don’t usually want forgiveness
well, we want forgiveness for ourselves
we want to be forgiven for our sins, probably because they’re not really that bad anyway
we’re not like them,
those other people whose sins are much worse than ours

we tend to want mercy for ourselves and justice for others
that we don’t seem to see our own shortcomings

we’ll condemn immigrants coming across the border without documents,
looking for a better life like our ancestors did
while we complain if the price of produce rises too much

we call for justice for the oil executives,
but fail to recognize that our demand for cheap gasoline to fuel our cars makes us complicit in the gulf oil spill

we tend to want forgiveness for ourselves
while we look for justice for other people

When we see those others, them, the ones who are sinners
or at least who are worse sinners than we are
when we see them receive forgiveness
it throws us for a loop

what did they do to deserve forgiveness?
why do they receive what rightfully ought to be mine?
they’re not in the same group as I am ~ they shouldn’t get what I get …

we only tend to want the kind of justice that we ourselves have no need of
we only want justice for other people
saving mercy and forgiveness for ourselves

radical forgiveness, the kind Jesus shows us, upends our world
forgiveness is destabilizing
forgiveness destroys our categories, breaks down the borders between us and them
and that’s problematic,
because we need our categories to make sense of the world

yet where we long for judgment and justice
for those who are so deserving,
God speaks a different word

Our justice and our judgment are on a collision course
with God’s mercy and forgiveness
and forgiveness wins

In contrast to Simon’s judgment of her as a sinner
Jesus has already judged her as forgiven
and she knows it
she knows it not just in her head, but in the depths of her being
she knows she is a sinner, and that she is forgiven,
and this is the story of her response,
her gratitude, her thankfulness

what Jesus seems to have done is to create a new category
forgiven child of God
this is how God makes sense of the world
this is where she, and we find a place to belong
alongside the other sinners
hearing God’s word to you and to me
God’s word of forgiveness and mercy
spoken into the midst of our community
and into the depths of our being

this, people of God
here, in the body of Christ, is where we belong
and this baptismal belonging is becoming
the very essence of everything we are.



Sunday, June 13, 2010

getting away

his language is choppy, limited
he's hard to understand
asking with hampered vocabulary
for a little bread, maybe
some milk ~ 'I've lost work' he shares ...
again ... with russian accent.
'is there coffee, donuts, something for
my kids to eat?'
and I share what we have, eager
that he leave soon.

¿quieren comida? I ask when my
Ameri-english doesn't work
¿cuantas personas? I wonder aloud
7 people + 5 gets an extra bag
they leave thankful, and they leave
quickly, to my relief.

pushed down by the edges of life even
before the car wreck,
he can't help but to work the angles -
he has to con me, even
when I offer a free room for the night.
is it a free offer,
or just an offer to free myself from
his overbearing insistence
on getting as much as he thinks he can,
no longer considering his need?

shooing out the russian
sending the mexican moms away quickly
getting the con man out of my
personal space right now

am I trying to escape from Jesus?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Christians Standing in the Garage

There's a group on Facebook (you know Facebook, that colossal sinkhole where I waste too much of my time) that quite a few of my facebook-friends have facebook-liked in recent days. The title is something like "Going to Church doesn't make you a Christian any more than Standing in the Garage makes you a Car".

Long before facebook, I'd heard this saying, and I certainly understand the logic behind it ~ heck, I even laughed about it from my professional-church-person perspective. But I think the analogy only goes so far, and if it's taken to its logical end, it breaks down.

The underlying assumption is that a garage is where you can find a car, and that church is where you find a Christian. Without even considering my garage (where no one has found a car for at least 18 months), we can probably clearly recognize that the basic makeup of a car is and always will be different from the basic makeup of a human. A car is, essentially, a compartment where people sit, which is supported by wheels. These wheels are connected to a drive train and an engine which powers the drive train. One of the occupants of the car has access to mechanisms which control the velocity and trajectory of the car. A person, standing in a garage or not, will never possess these qualities.

The other side of the analogy, then (whether going to church makes a person a Christian or not), causes me to wonder about the basic makeup of a Christian. What are the qualities that a person would possess which would make them Christian, and where do they come from?

Some people who regularly show up for worship probably don't lead exemplary Christian lives. Maybe for the rest of the week, they abuse other family members. Maybe they practice usury. Maybe they have taken G-d's name in vain. Maybe they haven't sold all their possessions and given the money to the poor. Do these things mean they're not Christian?

This brings up a few questions for me. What does it mean to be a Christian? Is being a Christian predicated on behavior? Is being a Christian about following the rules?

If being Christian is about following the rules, about practicing the right behavior, then we're all in a world of hurt. We've come to realize over the centuries that none of us can follow all of the rules perfectly. If being a Christian is about following the rules, then of course we don't need to go to church in order to be a Christian. We can follow rules as well outside of church as well as we can when we show up.

If being a Christian is about following the rules, then G-d's grace which we see through Christ on the cross is for nothing.

So, if being Christian is not about following the rules (as important as they are), then what's it all about? I would argue that the Christian life is about recognizing G-d's grace (which we can never escape), about following Christ more closely every day (responding to G-d's grace), and about discipleship (our own and others' discipleship). These things we cannot do without community. We cannot recognize G-d's grace without the community to show us G-d's grace. We cannot respond to G-d's grace without a community in which we can practice our response. We cannot become disciples without people of faith who mentor us, and without others for whom we are mentor. We cannot be Christian without the church.

Recognizing and responding to G-d's grace, becoming disciples ~ these things, necessarily, must happen in community. In fact, where the Gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered, I believe these things will happen. And where those things are happening, people who participate in the community will become Christians. They won't become perfect people, they won't become exact rule followers, but we will together become closer disciples of the living G-d ~ and isn't that what the Christian life is?

Will standing in a garage make you a car? No. Will going to church, and participating in the faith life of the community of believers, make you a Christian? Absolutely ~ it can't happen any other way.


Friday, June 11, 2010


To go along with the post on Children in Worship I put up last night, check out this post from *That* Mom. She writes about being a mom with two young children in worship, and she writes more eloquently than I about what it means for children to be full members of the Body of Christ.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


The congregation I'm part of is experiencing children in new ways. Long ago, when the congregation was a bit younger, the children who were in worship were the children of the adults who were also in worship. Some of the adults are still around, but their children have grown up, and may have children of their own ~ though most of them don't live close.

Most of the children in worship now have parents along, though some show up with grandparents or other relatives. The difference, in part, as I understand it, is that now there is a great deal more diversity in the age and life circumstance of the adult population at the congregation I'm part of.

There has been some conversation expressing concern about disruptive behavior and noise levels that come along with younger children.

I understand these concerns. When I go somewhere, I want to be able to participate in the activity that is happening in that place ~ after all, it's why I went to that place. When I go out to eat, if someone makes it impossible for me to have dinner, I have a problem with that. The same is true if I go to the theater, or to the baseball game, or to the grocery store. I want to be able to watch the play, to cheer for the home team, to purchase food to feed my family. If someone takes away my ability to do those things, I won't be happy.

So I understand the reaction from some people when screaming children disrupt the sermon, or toddlers' toys make it tough to pass the peace. The disruptions in the liturgy don't allow others to worship. And even though I've been known to quote an old pastor I used to know by saying that my favorite sound to hear in the middle of a sermon is a screaming baby, it can cause me grief too.

I certainly understand how people agree that it would be good to keep children out of worship until they can behave appropriately. Once they learn how to keep quiet and not disturb people around them, then they can join the congregation. Once they learn how to be in worship, then they can pay attention, and get something out of the service.


You might guess that I come at this from a different angle. First of all, I wonder why we gather for worship? Do we get together on Sunday mornings so that we can feel good about ourselves, so we can 'get our spiritual tank filled', so the upcoming week doesn't feel like there's something missing? Who is the worship service for? If it's only for the individual person who shows up, then we're doing something wrong. A person can get their individual spiritual needs met much better at yoga, in the mountains, or even through retail therapy.

If worship is for the community, we have a better starting place. Then, even if I don't feel like showing up on Sunday morning, even if I don't need to be there for myself, I might recognize that someone else in the community needs me to be there. Further, as we join together in community, we can remind ourselves that our god is not (only) personal, but that G-d calls us together in community even as G-d is community. We are reminded that we, together, are the Body of Christ, made whole in worship and broken for the sake of a broken world that longs for healing and wholeness.

But I believe that worship is not for me ~ the point is not to meet my spiritual need. Neither is worship for the community ~ that just sets up the leadership as either performers, or as providing a service for the consumers.

Worship, rather, is for G-d. One ridiculously counter-cultural thing about worship is that the focus is away from the self, which rarely happens in our society. And if worship is for G-d, who am I to say that by screaming, a baby isn't making a joyful noise to the Lord?

But they don't understand what's going on in worship, I've heard people say. Yes, that's probably true. But I don't understand what's going on in worship all the time, either. Christ is in, with, and under the bread and wine ... ? What does that mean? People are moved to tears by singing a song? How does that happen? Plus, even if they don't look like adults do when we're paying attention, they most certainly are absorbing much more than we often give them credit for, especially with regard to ritual. There's one child who is too young to follow the children's sermon, but comes up every week. He moves around through the circle, sometimes disrupting our brief conversation. But as soon as I say the ritual line, "Let's stand and we'll pray together" (it's exactly the same every week, on purpose), he's right there, holding hands in the circle just like all the other children.

As much as they may disturb us, children belong in worship. If we say to them, '... when you're a little older ...', or '... when you can behave a little better ...', or '... you're not quite ready ...', we say through our actions that children are not as valuable as adults. And in not valuing children (people) as they are right now, we teach them that they need to be different before they're acceptable by the church (and by default, by G-d). Is that really the message we want to send?

Maybe the next time you go to worship, that one child will be there in the seat right in front of you. You know from past experience that they'll be a little louder than you're comfortable with. You know that you'll barely be able to follow along, and that you have no hope of hearing the sermon. Maybe you don't need to hear the sermon that day ... maybe G-d is calling you to pay attention to that child (of G-d) for the morning, so that the child and her family knows that they have a place in the Body of Christ.


Radio Poem

I'd like to hear a poem,
verse I've written,
read by Garrison Keillor ~
that gentle baritone
intoning slowly, deliberately,
maybe not with the same emphasis
as I would read it

spoken onto the pages
of a writer's almanac
or perhaps as a companion
in some prairie home

I wouldn't mind,
so much,
receiving those 15 minutes,
undeserved though they may be

since the verse from my pen
- or fingertips, here in this modern era -
is barely suitable for journals,
those that are long-forgotten,
discovered (again)
only after my grandkids are old

and then only suitable
as quaint nostalgia
or, perhaps,
put to actual good use
starting the hearth fire

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


in worship, the candles didn't stay lit
candles we lit to recognize our prayers
kept going out

the sanctuary, without air conditioning, was hot
the breeze from the fans,
open windows and doors,
was welcome on our faces, on our arms
cooling our skin just a bit

but the same breeze
disturbed the candles of our prayers

Holy Spirit, in scripture
is wind, and is fire

is Holy Spirit, in our worship,
the rush of wind blowing through our midst
or tongues of flame giving us words
to communicate grace and compassion?

in worship, the candles didn't stay lit
but we weren't quite so miserable

is Holy Spirit bringing comfort,
or disturbing our life?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sermon for Proper 5, June 6

With the recognition that a sermon is not the written word, but what happens in the midst of the interaction between preacher and community, here's last Sunday's sermon (which is as close as I ever really get to preaching from a manuscript).

The Gospel text was Luke 7:11-17.

she’s all alone in the world ~ at least she will be in a day or two
for now she’s surrounded by mourners, the funeral procession making its way down the street

the widow’s dead son takes our minds immediately to the Elijah story
(even if you aren’t familiar with it, this story is our first reading)
where we’ve encountered another widow
who also has only one son, and whose son also dies,
leaving her alone
knowing that in the reality of her society, she’ll have no way to provide for herself
but here at Nain, though she might have held out hope for a time
she had no prophet living with her to heal her son
while he still lay on his deathbed

now they’re on their way to the cemetery
and tomorrow, or the day after, she’ll become a nobody once again
and then even more of a nobody than she was last week
tomorrow, or the day after, once the mourners are gone,
she’ll be a widow without an heir
and having no one to care for her, she’ll be pushed even more to the margins than she has been
today, through her dead son, she’s at the center of the community
today, at least for one day, she’ll be noticed
after today, she likely won’t be noticed again until her own funeral … if there even is one for her

but here in the middle of the road,
while they’re on their way out of the city
they meet Jesus and his entourage,
who are on their way into the city
here at the gate, Jesus stops the funeral procession,
he blocks their way

the story makes a point of calling him ‘The Lord’
now the idea of ‘Lord’, kyrios in Greek,
is often tied to oppression
to a commander,
to someone who is the boss or master over others
they certainly would have been familiar with this term
because of the Roman soldiers who occupied their land

in taking that title within the text, Jesus ties the title ‘Lord’
not to oppression but compassion
he takes it on not as a commander, but as a servant
not a boss or master over us
but a boss or master under us,

eventually turning the world upside down on the cross
he does not command us to go while he stays behind
but calls us to follow where he leads
he turns that idea of Lord around so much,
that even now we regularly sing Kyrie Eleison ~ Lord, have mercy ~ to our God who we know as merciful
and whose mercy we have seen on the cross

before we even get to the cross, though, we’re at the city gate
Jesus, the Lord, showing compassion
(we know, but they don’t yet),
interrupts them in the midst of their grieving
now having an interruption in the middle of a wedding isn’t desirable, but it might be fun
an interruption in the middle of Sunday worship isn’t high on my list, but we can work with it
to have a stranger interrupt a funeral
really throws an undesirable wrench into a sacred occasion

I tend to think of Jesus’ actions being welcomed
by most people he encountered
sure, the Pharisees and Sadducees had issues,
and sometimes the disciples might be embarrassed by him putting them in their place, but we understand that
I can’t imagine this widow being too happy
with this interruption in her grief, and in this final day where she gets to be close to the center of attention

but then, when her son rises up from the coffin and starts to talk
and we are taken once more back to the Elijah story
where the son of the widow of Zarephath was raised from the dead
the despair and hopeless that both of these women experience
is replaced with at least the temporary alleviation
of the pain of the death of their child and livelihood

it’s more than just a miracle ~ water to wine was nothing compared to death

when her son rises up from the coffin and starts to talk
everything changes
Jesus interrupts her day, but interrupts with mercy
granting her son new life
granting her new life
and granting us all a brief glimpse of the Reign of God
where the power of death is drained of all effect

this is good news to the widow,
and is certainly good news to her son

but honestly,
it doesn’t do squat for all the other widows whose sons died that day
it doesn’t seem to help any of us who have experienced the death of someone close to us

but there’s a deeper truth here
the deeper truth, when we dig for it, is that it does help us
Jesus interrupts her,
and the interruption isn’t trivial
you know she had other problems in her life
just like we all do
but the one she faces here is the one that is the most significant
it’s the one that trips us up, the problem of ultimate importance
the problem that we can’t get away from
she’s facing death ~
the death of her son, and to some degree her own death as well

and Jesus steps in, inconveniently interrupting the funeral
interrupting her grieving
interrupting her death
Jesus steps in and reorients her entire life
restoring her familial relationship
and her relationship with the almighty

Jesus steps in, inconveniently interrupting our lives
interrupting our grieving with resurrection joy
interrupting our troubles with the people of God, the body of Christ
interrupting our loneliness with baptismal belonging
interrupting our hunger and thirst with the bread of life and the cup of salvation
interrupting our death with new life

this is how we experience salvation
we experience salvation in the restoration of relationship
of the mother and the son together
in our broken and mended relationships with one another,

and most notably, we experience in our salvation
restored relationship with our God
who meets us in death, that most mortal of experiences
and who loves us through death and into new life.

For what it's worth.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Front Porch

I left the front porch last night
late last night
I left the cool breeze
strobe lightning
drive-by stereos
and pedestrian conversations

I left the front porch,
the comfortable swing suspending me
between had-been and is-to-come
heeding the call of the dream world
I left the front porch waiting for morning

and now I am
suspended in the wakening dawn
air cool with urban irrigation
suspended now nearer the
than whatever might have been

Friday, June 4, 2010


weekly publications carry for me no appeal
hold my interest not at all
too quickly written and sooner discarded
time is not all that is wasted

in this age of compartmentalized private transit
of earphoned i-pods compartmentalizing
and private-izing public transit
when cellphone web browsers get us
what we *need*
faster than magazines four days old
and five days obsolete

I yearn to slow down,
to feel paper in my hands
and allow my eyes to take in inked letters
again and again
to languish over literature
while tea steeps or coffee waits to be pressed

to slow down
experience a bit of sabbath with others
receive a bit of grace

to be still,
and recognize who is God