Wednesday, September 29, 2010


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

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

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

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

I don't care about Heaven any more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, September 27, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What keeps people out?


Sunday, September 26, 2010

upon hearing Amos

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 18, 2010

club car card game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 12, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 11, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sermon from today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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