Saturday, July 31, 2010

Front Porch Morning

today holds promise
from the front porch.
cool breeze kids
asleep quiet morning
with so much potential
while I sit, anticipating ~
what will it be like?

soon I'll get up
and do something
then something else ~
before long, the day is
full, done, potential no longer
but for now
I am complete with possibility

Friday, July 30, 2010

Altar Call

What follows is my recollection of an event from when I was young. I look at it with much different eyes these days.

Instead of tying knots and setting up tents, one night the Boy Scout troop meeting left the church building where we always met ~ incidentally, my home congregation, where I heard the stories of G-d and G-d's people almost every Sunday ~ and went to the football field for the evening. Now maybe it isn't such a stretch to go from a church to the football field, since the high school football field in small town Texas is virtually cathedral-like anyway. Not in form or shape or details of activity, but to some extent in communal function. Every Friday night, all across the state, communities would gather religiously in the company of their community to watch the ritual and drama of Texas high school play out.

This one Tuesday night, though, instead of staying at the church building for Boy Scouts, the Boy Scouts went to the football field. See, there was a revival in town. I don't remember much about it, but it must have been a normal revival, complete with singing and preaching and testimonials; complete, with everything planned out and thought out and rehearsed to evoke the maximum emotional manipulation possible.

All I really remember is the altar call. Well, not the actual altar call, but the fact that I got up from the backless wooden bench where I was sitting, walked down the aisle & down the steps & onto the field (much as I would in later years to receive awards for scholastic and extra-curricular achievement). There, someone met me ~ I remember a college-aged woman ~ and we walked across the field together to the visitor's bleachers (shorter, not as nicely painted, and just generally inferior to the home team bleachers), where we must have talked and prayed.

Being Lutheran, and thus unfamiliar with the altar call, I remember being hesitant to go forward. I had seen my scoutmaster get up from his backless wooden seat to respond, so I figured it was okay. But he had done this before, had committed his life to Christ, and so simply had to re-commit. No trip across the field, no conversation with a college student, no uncomfortably intimate prayer for him. I, on the other hand, had the full experience.

After the conversing and the praying and the committing, I met my mom in the gravel parking lot. I'm sure she asked me about the experience; and I'm sure I didn't really have much to say. Mostly, it was not much more than a completely foreign experience that I didn't understand.

All in all it wasn't necessarily a bad experience ~ it's just that nothing really came of it. You might think, "Well, you're a pastor now; surely they're related?" To which I reply that I believe my vocation as pastor was nurtured much less in a football field altar call than it was by participating weekly in hearing the Word and sharing the Meal in the company of faithful Christian community. A place where people knew me and cared about me; where people watched me grow and mature in faith; where I felt safe and loved and embraced by the Body of Christ.

Sure, revivals have their place, and altar calls can be important for some people. But the real work of faith happens in communities where we find support and encouragement, critique and admonishment, comfort and love that is consistent and reliable, and that doesn't pack up & leave the next day.

I wonder where that college student is now, and if she ever thought of me again.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I've just received another e-mail from one of the political parties asking for money. Apparently I signed up for e-alerts some time ago, and periodically I receive notices letting me know what's happening in the party. I signed up to receive these e-notices because I was (and am) interested in what's happening in political leadership in my nation, in my state, and in my local municipality. I'm not sure, though, that I really want to know any more.

Before I articulate my misgivings, let me make something clear. I am not, and have never been, a member of a political party. For my entire voting life, I've always made a point of deciding how to vote based on what the issues are and how the people who are running address those issues. Having said that, I must also confess that I lean politically more toward one direction than toward the other, and on some issues I lean pretty far. In fact, once I had a conversation with a friend who leans pretty far to the other direction. It was fun to discover that, for completely different reasons, we came to the same conclusions ~ we didn't meet in the middle; it seems like we met around the back side. But I digress.

Because I lean more toward one direction than the other, and because I was particularly interested in what one candidate for office was saying a few years ago, I signed up for the e-mail messages. I always expected that I would be asked for financial contributions, and that's fine ... I can ignore those pretty easily. But what I've seen in recent e-alerts has disturbed me. Maybe they've always been like this, and I haven't paid enough attention, but it still bothers me.

This is how recent e-mails have seemed to read: Our party is good; the other party is bad; we have good ideas; the other party doesn't have any ideas besides keeping our party from doing good things; the other party has lots of money; if you want the good party to keep the bad party from making your life terrible, give the good party some money.

I only receive e-mails from one party, but I do listen on occasion to talk radio from both sides. And every time I read the news, I make sure to read the news from both perspectives. I can say with complete confidence that one party does not have the upper hand over the other in name calling and in vindictiveness, which is what it seems like our political system has been reduced to.

It seems like we're not willing to even entertain the idea that someone with whom we disagree might have something valuable to contribute to the conversation. It seems like we believe that recognizing the validity of a different perspective will completely invalidate our own. And it seems like we believe that if a person disagrees with us, there is nothing redeeming about that person.

I reject these beliefs. They are harmful to our collective life, and are antithetical to my beliefs as a Christian. See, I don't have to believe the same thing as you do to recognize you as a child of G-d, created just as much in the image of the divine as I am. I don't have to be part of the same political party as you are to sit at a table with you for dinner, whether it's a lavish dinner party or casseroles at a church potluck or simple bread and wine from a shared plate and cup.

My voice is not much, and doesn't reach very far beyond my seven readers ~ but I would like to call us out of our insular bubbles of like-minded-ness and into real conversation with real people about our real differences of opinion. I don't mean the shouting matches that are already happening, but real conversations where we see the person on the other side of the opinion (other side of the aisle) as a real person instead of a set of opinions which need to be debunked.

And maybe, before we have a real conversation, we could eat together.


Monday, July 26, 2010

A Prayer

prayer magic
isn't what we think
isn't what we wish
isn't to harness G-d's power

then teach us to pray
so that we know
so that we recognize
so that we experience

the real power and strength
of mercy
of grace
of death

our death, and G-d's


but we do not,
can not, ourselves
overcome death

so we pray
and in praying, let us enter
into where we're already
welcomed ~ the midst of the


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Summer Sun

arid shade like magic
when the sun broils skin
becoming red and hot, strength and
patience sapped, gone quickly
like church potluck fried chicken


to move through the sunheat
and find respite in relative cool
shade/breeze/grass, a bonus of
water running for the ears enhances
the music of children playing nearby

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I'm afraid we've become too specialized. I'm afraid that we've worked too hard to become good at only one thing, without actually having any interest in anything beyond our own field of expertise. I am regularly surprised by the number of different interests that occupied someone like, say, Thomas Jefferson or Hildegaard von Bingen, especially compared to how compartmentalized and specialized our professions today seem to be. There surely isn't anything wrong with specializing in that to which we are called and gifted by God, but to ignore the vastness of the rest of human experience, is to sell ourselves short.

A person doesn't have to be a professional to play music. In fact, I believe wholeheartedly (to quote Michelle Shocked) that music is too important to be left to professionals. Further, we all use language to communicate. What about spending some time exploring how to communicate more about life than simply what to have for dinner, or what time the mall opens. Why don't more people write poetry, for instance? It doesn't have to be good; it doesn't even have to be shared (... maybe everyone does write poetry, they just don't share it?).

I know some of us are super busy, and just don't have time to devote to pursuits beyond holding down multiple jobs while trying to keep track of raising a family. But for many of us, surely it would do us some good to turn off the tv and shut down facebook for a while, so there's time to at least explore more of the variety that human experience has to offer.


Letter to my 20-year-old self

There was a story on NPR that prompted a blog post that I happened across, and thought it might be an interesting exercise. On the occasion (nearly) of completing the second 20 years of living, and at the risk of too much self-disclosure ...

Dear 20-year-old self,

You know this, but it's good to be reminded: you have a good life. Enjoy your life. Embrace the things about your life that are good, and keep in perspective the things that are hard or painful.

Don't be timid or afraid to do that thing you're thinking you can't do. Just because you haven't done it yet, doesn't mean it's impossible. Don't wait for tomorrow, or someday down the road. Tomorrow is coming quickly, and if you're not ready, tomorrow will pass you by. Embrace today now in anticipation of tomorrow. Besides, you're 20 ~ you don't need permission to make decisions about your own life.

The things you choose to embrace, to give yourself to, will inform who you will become. Make wise choices ... or at least good choices. And this means don't be afraid to fail. Failure is much less painful than the heartache of regret that comes with inaction or complacency.

Make friends. Good friends. Ones who you allow yourself to be close to. Make these friends now, as deep friendships may be scarce.

And recognize the truth that despite appearances, almost everyone else is just as uncertain and conflicted and underconfident as you are.

Pay attention to what's going on around you. This is a good life you're beginning.

~ your (almost) 40-year-old self.


Certainly this 'letter' would apply to myself 20 years ago, and that's how it's conceived and written. However, I wonder if at the same time it isn't also a note to my (almost) 40-year-old self ~ or is that too obvious an observation?

Also, I can't give too much advice to my young self, because if he would have been much different, my life would not be as it is ... and all in all, I love my life.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Our relationship with food in USAmerican culture is disturbing to me. Speaking for most people, I know that we have divorced ourselves to a great degree from the planting/tending/harvesting/preserving of our food. But we also seem to have separated ourselves from communal knowledge of what food is, what food can be.

What disturbs me the most (as I write, anyway) is that we seem to not notice or care that much of what we eat - much of what sustains our life - is surprisingly far removed from what actually grows in the ground. This truth, alongside the stories of food found in scripture, got me to thinking about my own eating habits.

In the past week I've consumed donuts, corn chips, sugared soda, processed white-flour bread, and ice cream cake. I've also eaten fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, whole grain cereal, that energy goo stuff, and organic yogurt. I've consumed machine- and anonymously-processed food, and I've made sauce in my kitchen using produce harvested from my back yard. I've eaten in my car, alone at a table in a crowded space, on my bike, at the office with co-workers, and around a table with family (a few times).

And so I wonder, what happened to the tradition of preparing food before sitting down to a meal with people we love? When the preparation is sitting in a car waiting for the fast-food worker to bring the bag of fried whatever, or when the preparation is slipping something into the microwave during the commercial, something is missing. There certainly is a time and a place for these things ~ but they've become the norm to which we too often turn, rather than the sometimes necessary and always lamentable exception.

If Jesus is seen in scripture regularly sitting at table (or around, say, a campfire by the lake) eating with people, what does it mean for the idea of table fellowship that we eat at fast food restaurants, in front of the tv, by the soccer field ~ is Jesus present in those places, and do we recognize the presence of the divine as we shovel fried potatoes into our mouths while driving 70 mph down the freeway? What about the other places we eat ~ weekday family dinners, holiday family dinners, backyard bar-b-ques, potluck suppers, dinner parties ~ do we recognize the presence of the divine in those places?

I'm equally guilty. I say the table blessing almost every week when the congregation I serve gathers for a meal on Sunday mornings, but I don't always remember to look for the presence of Christ as I receive sustenance during the rest of the week.

And I wonder, if we were more intentional about recognizing the divine, would we be more intentional about noticing where our food comes from and how it gets from the field (or factory) to our tables.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Quote, to go with the post below titled "Money"

"there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder"
~ Anne Lamott


My dear spouse told me about something she saw the other day on a talk show. The host was interviewing someone who had just won the lottery. In the course of the interview (bear in mind, this is what I remember being told to me ... I never saw the interview, so it's really all in my head, and I may be way off base), the winners were asked about whether they would be giving any of the money away. Obviously, distant and long-lost relatives are going to be coming out of the woodwork when they hear the news, so it's a legitimate questions. Apparently their reaction, though, was pretty negative. It seems like since they won the money, they saw it as fully and completely theirs, with no humility or understanding that it's pure dumb luck that they're regular people one day and millionaires the next.

If you were to win the lottery, would you give any of the money away? Obviously you'd have to give some to the government, and you might even feel compelled to give some to your close family ~ you know, the ones who you spent significant time with before the lottery windfall. But would you give money to the relatives who come out of the woodwork now that you're rich? Would you give money away to charities? And if you already give money to, say, your church ... maybe even a tithe ... would you do the same with the lottery winnings? It's not too hard to give $10 out of $100. We don't even have any trouble giving $500 out of every $5000. But what if the check was for $1million. $100,000 seems like a lot more ~ it seems a lot harder to give away ~ that's a lot of money.

Money has become inordinately important to people these days. Obviously it must be high on the priority list for people who live hand to mouth in our society; but for the rest of us who can afford the occasional green-labeled-expensive-coffee-drink, we've put way too much emphasis on money. Or maybe more accurately, we get too hung up on being in control of what we have no matter how we came to possess it.

I'd like to think that if I won the lottery, I'd give away at least 1/2 of my 'winnings'. One obstacle would be all the attention it would garner (I'm not really much of a 'spotlight' guy). But there's no reason I really need that much money. But I wonder, would I fall prey to the "I have it, so it's mine; and because it's mine, I deserve it; and because I deserve it all, you must not deserve any of it (other than what I decide, in my magnanimity, that you ought to have); and because you don't deserve any, I'm going to keep it for myself" trap?

I don't know anyone who has won the lottery, so I don't even have any second-hand experience to draw on. I do, however, know that even when they give money away (say, to church, for instance), some people still want to have control over those funds.

That's something I don't understand, though. I think that if I were to suddenly receive a huge amount of money (say, nine figures or more), I'd want to share as much of that as I could. First, I'd pay off all of our debt (house and student loans). Second, I'd probably want to buy a new bike. I don't need anything super nice or expensive, just a step up from what I have now. Third, we'd make some improvements on our home; in particular, we'd re-finish the basement (which right now is a phenomenal tour of some of the worst floor and wall coverings from the 50s through the 80s ... think fake brick, mirrored and marbled wall tiles, and the ubiquitous fake wood paneling).

Then I'd want to start sharing. Of course we'd put a little aside in savings. But I feel like the joy of giving money away is so much greater than holding on to it, or buying anything I want on a whim. We have a nice home. I have a job I love. We had plenty income even with only one pastor salary in the family. Now that we have two, we feel pretty flush. We don't need nicer clothes, or more expensive things.

I can almost understand someone who started out with not much and who worked hard (the stock market doesn't count, in my opinion) and received lucky breaks through their life so they ended up rich wanting to keep what they'd earned. But hitting the lottery, or receiving a windfall inheritance is not the same thing.

The thing it seems like many people don't understand is that there's no joy in hoarding ~ but there's great joy in giving. Trouble is, no one ever understands this until they experience it.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

quiet night

quiet night
the air is cool, like there was a breeze
but even the leaves are still
besides the nightly noise from dogs
across the alley
nothing is moving

until thump, thump, thump
the cat's tail on the window behind me
he's anxious to get out
to silently stalk the soundless night
investigating empty streets where
drunks and shift workers are absent

a siren floats above the neighborhood
fading back into a quiet
that's pleasant without overwhelming
until the bus arrives
disgorging cell phone conversations
that drop onto front porch eaves

but i prefer the quiet, private
of my thoughts and
of my waiting dreams

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Flags in the Sanctuary

** I fully recognize that some people, perhaps even some of the seven people who read this blog, will disagree with me. I respect, and even appreciate, disagreements ~ provided that the way we deal with our disagreements is appropriate and respectful. **

I've been thinking for the past few days about allegiances. This does not come as a surprise to me, since we've just recognized Independence Day. The reality that this year July 4 fell on a Sunday brought about more of my own reflection than previous years had. Plus, I've never had a blog before this year ... maybe that's why I feel compelled to write something.

I'm not comfortable with the national flag in the sanctuary. In fact, I'm not comfortable with so-called 'Christian' flag (or any other flag for that matter) in the sanctuary. Don't misunderstand ~ I love that I live in this nation; I believe these United States of America may hold the key to global peace and prosperity, and to equality and justice for everyone in the world; I believe there is enough right about who we are as a nation for us to be able to responsibly address the things that are wrong; this is my home, and I am proud to be here. Further, I am proud to see the flag of our nation flying prominently in most places. The flag belongs on public properties, outside people's homes (if they desire), on school grounds, on the uniforms of public servants, and in many other locations.

The flag, however, does not belong in church sanctuaries. When we place something in the sanctuary, we are saying, intentionally or not, that the thing we place there is important to our worship. For instance, the pulpit is important to our worship ~ it's the location from which the Word is proclaimed. The microphone on the pulpit and on the leaders' lapels are important to our worship ~ they allow people who couldn't otherwise to hear and participate in worship. The paraments are important to worship ~ they beautify the worship space, and they remind us of where we are in the church year and of the different ways that G-d meets us through the year. Even the music stands are important to worship ~ they hold the sheet music to which the musicians refer as they play or sing to the glory of G-d (and when they are not in use, they are put away).

The flag, on the other hand, is not important to our worship. The flag of our nation is absolutely important, but not to our worship, and to have the flag located in the sanctuary is to confuse our allegiance. At church, we pledge allegiance neither to the flag nor to the nation for which it stands. Our allegiance is to the living G-d of all creation, not just of this one nation. The church (in this country) is not related or connected to the state. The state does not have any influence over or say in what the church has to say. However, to locate the flag in a church sanctuary indicates to those who enter that there is some connection between our worship and our nation. We certainly can recognize that we are blessed by G-d, and perhaps that we are uniquely blessed as a nation. But we most certainly are not blessed exclusively or in greater measure than any other nation. In the words of the sarcastic lutheran, I don't believe that we have most-favored-nation status in the eyes of the Almighty. To place the flag in the sanctuary, in my mind, implies that we believe we do.

Thinking of this issue makes me think also about the question of whether USAmerica is a Christian nation. There certainly are many people who would like for this to be a stridently Christian nation. The evidence is that most of the founders of the nation were, at least nominally, Christian. However, the founders made it a point to establish (what is commonly known as) the separation of church and state. Even if they had been faithful, committed, evangelical Christians, they recognized the necessity for the church to not be in control of the government, and for the government to be required to leave church alone. This separation necessarily requires us to not be a Christian nation.

Further, if USAmerica was tied in any way to the church, the church would be weakened. Perhaps the church (assuming a unified church, which will never happen (see, for instance, Paul's disagreements with Peter and the others)) would have more political power, have more say in policy-making.

But the church is not called to positions of power. The church is called to care for the widows and orphans, to recognize the marginalized, to work for mercy on behalf of all people without regard to affiliation (political, religious, national, etc.), and if the church is in a position of power, it cannot do this well. In fact, I even go so far as to rejoice that soccer games are on Wednesday nights, stores are open on Sunday mornings, and that there's a general societal disregard for the church's schedule. We can build a more faithful community, and speak a more prophetic word, if we have had to make a tougher and more meaningful choice to be part of a faith community.

I have no problem expressing allegiance to a nation, especially to a nation that uses its resources for the betterment of the nation's citizenry, and then for the betterment of the world. But when allegiance to nation takes precedence over, or gets conflated with, allegiance to G-d (flags in the sanctuary, for instance), my allegiance to G-d comes first. Allegiance to G-d doesn't diminish my allegiance to nation, but allegiance to nation will always be less than allegiance to G-d. I rejoice to see the flag flying; but when I kneel in worship, it's not before the flag, but at the foot of the cross.


Monday, July 5, 2010

heat has arrived

heat has arrived
the green lawns once soaked by spring rains and snow
kept lush by cool & overcast days
is now browning

imported from somewhere else
somewhere more humid, more rain-soaked
to here, in the almost-desert
where it's out of place,
longing for deep drinks from absent springs
from rivers destined for downstream farms

the arrival of heat piques our discontent
(didn't we just complain about the cold?)
yet there could be no growth, no food no sustenance
without the heat no recognition of the comfort of cool

and without discomfort
complacency reigns