Tuesday, November 30, 2010


a moment of
an encounter with G-d,
when the seconds/minutes/hours
tick-tocking around the
clock face

Monday, November 29, 2010

new beginnings: for advent

for many,
new beginnings are fraught with
- anxiety
- excitement
- trepidation
- anticipation
- worry
- hope

perhaps, above all, hope

new beginnings
mean ending what's old
we long to shed
the weighty past
while holding to
all that lifts us
toward the divine

and, shedding the old
(when we begin a-new),
frees us to
embrace incarnate hope;
who is coming into the world

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

middle school

recalling personal history
(especially at a great distance
from which we've gained
a little perspective)
we can know, recognize,
that the trauma of adolescence
is not the end ~
there's more, and better, to come:

but knowing is not feeling;
and recognizing,
even from a distance,
does not take away
the pain

Who deserves access to health care?

I entered into a conversation with someone on one of interactive social networking websites where a person can spend most of their day and not really get anything done. Turns out, we have different opinions about the role of government in providing healthcare. Of course, I don't expect everyone to agree with me; but this is by blog, and I get to write what I think. My seven readers should feel free to respond in the comments section below ... or not.

The conversation started because I re-posted an article encouraging members of the US Congress to give up their own government-sponsored healthcare before repealing the healthcare bill passed earlier this year. On the one hand, members of Congress are simply employees of the government, and the government happens to be an employer who provided healthcare for its employees. From this perspective, they're no different from anyone else who works for a larger entity. If you're skilled enough, educated enough, and/or lucky enough to work for an employer who provides health insurance for employees, then you get to have health insurance.

If, however, you choose to work for yourself, or for one of the many small business who don't have the resources to provide health insurance for their employees, then you're stuck paying out of your own pocket for health insurance. Further, if you're in the position of having to choose between spending your paycheck on food or health insurance, hunger is the more immediate need, and insurance will probably be left 'til later.

From a purely capitalist perspective, this is how it should be. Those who are able to provide health insurance for themselves (either by finding a job that provides insurance or by finding a job that pays enough that they can buy their own insurance) are the ones who deserve to have insurance. If you're not able to provide insurance for yourself, then you don't deserve to have insurance. The way I see it, that's basic supply and demand. Look at insurance like any other consumer good. When my children ask me if they can have an ipod (for instance), I tell them that they can certainly have one when they can buy it. Once it becomes a big enough priority, they will save their money so they can buy it. If they don't have the resources to buy one, they don't get one. Supply and Demand.

So now I have to wonder, is health insurance something that ought to be earned, or do human beings have some intrinsic value that would lead us as a society to believe that everyone ought to have access to health care at a cost that will not leave them in poverty? The way I see it, the essence of this debate is whether access healthcare is a) earned or b) something that the people of a wealthy nation ought to feel obligated to provide for people whether they have a job or not.

I believe that every single person has intrinsic worth, that the life and health of one person is not more valuable that the life and health of any other person. For this reason, I have to opt for universal health care.

The way I see it, healthcare should be free and available to all people regardless of ability to pay. Considering the costs, some people are forced to choose between not receiving healthcare and going into unimaginable debt to pay the bill. I believe that's an unnecessary choice.

Some argue that the government should not be in the business of managing healthcare. Maybe not ~ but I wonder what the other answer would be. The government is not perfect, and the government may not be the perfect choice; but neither should the health insurance system be in charge. The health insurance industry is concerned with profits, and (from a capitalist perspective) rightly so. But from a healthcare perspective, maximizing profits works against providing complete healthcare.

Maybe you can help me get beyond my simplistic perspective. If the lives of rich people are more valuable than the lives of poor people, then fine. But I don't see how, especially from a Christian perspective, we can look at healthcare as something that must be earned (by having the right job, or enough financial resources) if we value the life and health of everyone equally.


Monday, November 22, 2010

End Poverty

great idea;

but if poverty is a lack of money
a lack of resources

and if the goal of capitalism is
the accumulation of wealth

i think we may never end poverty
until we end capitalism

or, more accurately,
until we get rid of money

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Time and Work

I was at a meeting today where professional church leaders and students who are studying to be professional church leaders (interns and supervisors, for you who understand ELCA-speak) were talking about some of the ins and outs of our vocation. As we talked, I found myself dumbfounded by the work ethic that I heard from some of my colleagues.

All seven readers of this blog probably know about the so-called protestant work ethic ~ that enthusiastic spirit of go-get-it-ness upon which the idea of USAmerica is built. What I'm dumbfounded by is what the protestant work ethic has become in our society.

In a day when the speed of travel was "foot" ~ either human, or some animal ~ the practice of spending every possible moment working so that we could build a better life for ourselves was probably good. But when you're traveling to town on a wagon, you can't work ... so while you may be driving the horse, to some degree you're also resting. When the sun goes down, and there's no light to see by, you're forced to stop working and rest. When you take a holiday and get together with the neighbors for a barbecue, the community has stopped its work.

Today, the speed at which we travel is much faster than "foot". We have cars and airplanes, trains and buses. Further, we have the ability to keep our surroundings lit as bright as day. And while we're sitting in our brightly-lit homes, our florescent offices, or our cars airplanes trains buses, we can take along our laptop computers and handheld mobile stay-connected-all-the-time devices. While we're traveling, we can work. When the sun has gone down, we can work. While we're at the family community church neighborhood picnic, we can work.

So the protestant work ethic, which arguably has helped our society become economically successful by telling us to work whenever possible, has become unhealthy because we can now literally work all the time. And because it's so ingrained in our collective consciousness that more work is better, we find ourselves bragging about how much we work.

"I'm up at 5, at the gym soon after that, in the office by 7:30, and not home 'til 9 at night." "I take a day off, but usually not a whole day, because there's just so much I have to do." "I took vacation last summer, but there was stuff I had to do while I was gone, so I brought my laptop along."

We say these things to one another with pride, bragging about how we can work so much while still maintaining our sanity. We have bought into this idea that the busier we are, the more valuable we must be.

The great heresy is that our worth is measured by how busy we are. Time is money, after all. And if time is money, and money equals value, then time must equal value. Therefore, the busier we are, the more we're worth.

I don't necessarily begrudge the business world this theology. After all, capitalism wouldn't work without this kind of worldview. But I do fault my church professional colleagues who have bought into this worldview. Aren't we called to be counter to the culture when the culture is counter to the Gospel? And it doesn't do to preach this from the pulpit. Our sermons must be preached through a symmetry of word and action. Of course, none of us is perfect. However, for our preaching to have integrity, we must endeavor to embody our preaching. We cannot preach Sabbath without practicing Sabbath.

So much work becomes a means by which to control the world around us. Sure, the business professionals in our congregations may respect us pastors for working as many hours as they do. We don't become followers of Jesus by exerting control over our world. We become disciples by relinquishing control to G-d. It may be that the best thing we can do in our society is to set time aside to not be in control ~ to recognize by our inaction that G-d is G-d and we are not.


death and life

we can cheat taxes,
but death is certain

until then, we make our way
death (in its many forms)
hanging over our consciousness
from the moment we become
conscious of death

death is certain,
so we spend our
trying to cheat death
like a celestial irs

we cannot cheat death,
try though we may
see, even G-d does not cheat death
death does not let us go
until death has done its work

but death is not the final word
since G-d, embracing death
has defeated all that keeps us
from life

Monday, November 15, 2010

how do you picture G-d?

some images of G-d are more pleasant, more palatable
and some images are more complete ~
what's the image we hold on to?

benign creator,
checking out after setting the world in motion?
vindictive warrior,
bringing vengeance with a sword?
oppressed outcast,
crying from the margins for justice?
wise teacher,
wearing a tweed jacket with divine elbow patches?
ephemeral spirit,
leading each of us on our own personal spiritual journey?
smiling Messiah
with children on his lap?

or do we picture G-d hanging on a cross,
beaten and defeated and dead
thereby claiming victory over death for all time and for all creation?


Sunday, November 14, 2010


we imagine our(spiritual)selves
filthy, naked, self-conscious ...
left to our own devices,
we hide ourselves in the dark

a light shines in the darkness
and the darkness cannot overcome it

the darkness we search for,
in which we hide,
(ashamed and forsaken
by a god who we go to,
one hour at a time,
like a divine therapist)
cannot keep us from the Light
which G-d shines, revealing
we ourselves, scarred by sin,
and healed by a G-d
in whom we do, and will, die

and who does not leave us for dead

Friday, November 12, 2010

morality, or Gospel?

Every so often, I receive feedback from people about how they perceive the job I’m doing as their pastor. Sometimes this feedback is valid ~ they’ve brought up something that’s lacking in the way I practice being a pastor (it’s always practice, since I don’t think I’ll ever get it right). Often, this feedback is a reflection on what they think is problematic about our congregation. There are regular concerns about whether we’re reaching out to the community in which our church building is located; concerns about whether we’re ‘getting the word out’ about our congregation the way we should; concerns about why some people don’t attend any more; concerns about whether we as a church community are meeting the spiritual needs of the members of our congregation.

So often, people talk about what strategies to use, what programs to implement, what style of worship we ought to move toward or away from. I think these are the wrong questions to be asking. These are business questions. These are issues that are relevant to corporate and retail life, relevant to entities concerned with profit. Questions of market share, retention of members (customers), recruitment of new members (customers), marketing strategies, etc. are only relevant if our concern is keeping the institution alive. They’re only relevant if our concern is perpetuating a particular congregation (or, by extension, a denomination).

Of course, I'm interested in my congregation (and my denomination) continuing, but only for purely selfish reasons ~ if my congregation continues, I'll continue to have a paycheck, and if my denomination continues, I’ll continue to have a means by which to find a new call (job) when that time comes.

But retention of members is not the church’s job. The acquisition of new members is not the church’s job. Meeting the spiritual needs of current or new or potential members is not the church’s job. The church’s job is to communicate the gospel. (If this means that the congregation I serve will no longer exist, so be it. If this means that denominations need to die, that’s the way it goes.)

It seems, though, that we as church have bought in to the myth that bigger market share is always better, which compels us to water down the gospel so that it is no longer offensive to anyone (we'd hate to scare them off, wouldn't we?). Of course, once we’ve watered down the gospel so that it’s appealing, then the bible has become just another self-help book leading us to better morality.

Of course, the Gospel is not concerned with morality. The Gospel is about killing us and raising us to new life. And not in some sweet by and by; right here, and right now. Jesus didn't come so that we might have congregations ~ Christ came so that we would have life.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day

Today, Veteran's Day, I want to hold these two things in tension:

1) believing that we should honor and respect and give thanks for veterans who have served our country; the very act of enlisting is necessarily selfless, since military service means that those who serve may be required to die and kill at any time in the name of and on behalf of their country.

2) believing that war is evil and should be abolished, because war requires killing and killing takes life not only from those who die, but also from those who kill and from those who loved the dead. The number of lives sacrificed in war is greater than the number of corpses on the ground when killing is finished.

I don't believe those are mutually exclusive.


Monday, November 8, 2010


every so often I'm surprised
by the truth that food
comes from
the ground

at the farmer's market
the farmer (herself)
sells you what
she picked
this morning

and if you know what you're doing
that chicken in the backyard
cluck cluck clucking the noon away
could pair nicely with dumplings
in tonight's
soup pot

we don't need factory-made
plastic/cardboard/upc code
packaging to surround
and contain
our food

how did we get so far
away from the way
that things
should be?

Tax Rates

I just read an article that confuses me.

Of course, to really understand whether what Warren Buffett says is true, I'd have to be smarter and I'd have to do more research. But in matters of wealth, I'll trust his experience more than mine.

One of the values of USAmerican society is to work hard and earn a place in the world. Those 'rags to riches' stories touch our collective psyche , because deep down we want the struggling entrepreneur to succeed. We don't tend to begrudge wealthy people their wealth, especially if they earned it themselves.

So if we root for the little guy to succeed, we also should expect that the person who is already wealthy should pay attention and work to keep their wealth, yes? But the article I cite above indicates that the tax rate on income from work is higher than the tax rate on income from investments.

Here's the way I figure it: If you don't have much money, you have to work, since there's not enough in your bank account to tie up in investments. If you have money, you don't have to work, since you can live off some of your wealth and invest the remainder. It's a simplistic look, but the way I see it, the richest among us have a lower tax rate that working people.

That doesn't seem right to me, but I'm not surprised. See, most of the legislators fall into the 'wealthy' category. And we all just want to serve our own best interest, don't we?


Sunday, November 7, 2010


the wind came up today
blowing in autumn clouds overhead;
and closer to the ground,
blowing leaves through the air
in wild patterns -
straight lines
around corners
eddies behind buildings
mini-tornadoes, 6 feet high
and waiting for my bike to ride through

it may snow tomorrow
or rain may glue
brittle leaves to the grass,
softening them in the process
just as cool autumn air softens us
moving us inside to warmth
and toward a season of
(ideally) joyous feasting

tonight, though, before our feasts
I watch as out the window
days grow shorter,
late daylight and early darkness
announcing to me
(and to the squirrels feasting on
left-over jack-o-lanterns)
that through the leaves
still clinging to summer,
we can see winter approaching

Stewardship Sermon for the Feast of All Saints

Bearing in mind that a sermon is an oral event (not what is written on the preacher's paper), and that we preachers trust Holy Spirit to act as a divine filter between our mouths and the congregation's ears, here is the manuscript for the sermon I preached this morning.

Grace mercy and peace to all the saints
from God, and from our savior Jesus Christ. Amen

these aren’t the familiar beatitudes
the ones we’re used to, from Matthew’s gospel
“blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful
the pure in heart, the peacemakers”
they sound nicer than these
and by contrast with what we’re used to,
these blesseds and woes from Luke draw our attention

Here (and throughout) Luke’s gospel, the world Jesus points us to doesn’t look like the world we live in
where, we wonder, do we fit in this scheme?
we want to be blessed, but the blessings don’t look pleasant
we don’t want to be woe-d, to be cursed or judged
but those are more in sync with the way we usually move through the world
at any rate, what he’s saying has probably made us listen
Jesus likely has our attention

and then verse 27 ~ “But I say to you who listen” and we who are paying attention
find ourselves convicted
love your enemies
do good to those who hate you
bless those who curse you
pray for your persecutors
of course we all wish that politicians would heed these words

but they don’t, and neither do we
because to do so would be to turn the world upside down
to do so would be to call all of the values of our society
all the values of our world
into question

I’m supposed to preach about stewardship today
it’s a part of the consecration sunday stewardship program
that the week before consecration sunday,
the pastor preaches about stewardship

I’d like to stand up here and say that it’s important for us to recognize God’s hand in the world
it’s important for us to respond to all of God’s amazing and generous gifts to us
the gift of life, the gift of mercy and forgiveness and grace
I’d like to stand up here and say all that
and then you’d naturally recognize the importance of stewardship
the importance of giving your time and your energy
of contributing your gifts and your expertise
to the work of the church

I’d like to do that, because it would be easier
if I could talk about stewardship without actually talking about money
maybe we wouldn’t be uncomfortable

but whenever we talk about time and talents and treasures
we tend to skirt the treasures part of the equation
and whenever we talk directly and specifically about treasures,
people tend to say that’s all the church ever does is ask for money
and talking about money in church makes us uncomfortable

however, if Christ is talking about turning the values of this world upside down
we cannot ignore money
because money is how society communicates value

so we need to talk about money
but God doesn’t need your money
God is the ruler of everything ~ God doesn’t need you to give money
and the church doesn’t need your money
the church is the people of God gathered together
and despite the current manifestations of mainline congregations
with mortgages and lawns and salaries and computers
despite all that, the church does not need your money
the church, the people of God, can gather together without finances

so if the church doesn’t need my money, and God doesn’t need my money
why do we need to talk about money?
because you and I need to give.

here’s what we’ve discovered years ago in my household
every year, we would have a conversation about how much we’d be able to give
we’d take a look at the budget
factor in housing and food and recreation and travel
then would work really hard to rearrange the numbers so that we could give more
one day, a friend of my wife’s said,
just decide how much to give, and give that much
the rest will work itself out
so we did. we started with how much we’d give ~ and gave it away
then, instead of working through
if we give 6% instead of 4,
then we have 94% instead of 96 to spend on the rest
now, we decide what to give away, give it away
then we have 100% to spend on everything else
because the first part is gone from the very beginning
and what we’ve discovered is that now we’re free of that money,
and that it was never ours to start out with anyway
and since it’s gone, we’ve discovered that the rest really is enough

and so we backed ourselves into discovering the theology of abundance

see, we in our world usually live with a theology of scarcity
which, from a survival perspective, served us very well
“make sure you save enough for us to eat tomorrow,
because we don’t know whether we’ll have food”
which allowed us to eat when we didn’t have food the next day
the theology of scarcity tells us that there might not be enough,
and we need to hoard, keep for ourselves and not give away what we have

contrast that with what the Hebrew people learned in the wilderness ~ the manna lesson
collect what you need for today ~ if you keep too much, it will spoil and rot and fester
worms will crawl through your food and it will smell bad
collect today what you need for today, and trust that God will provide enough for tomorrow
and lo and behold, God did indeed provide enough for tomorrow

this is the beginning of a theology of abundance,
where we recognize that what we have is enough
that God has provided, and will continue to provide, what we need
this is the beginning of a theology of abundance

my family backed into discovering this theology of abundance
when we started giving more of our income away
all of a sudden, not only were we set free from that money
we realized that God has provided enough in the remainder

and this, people of God is how we begin to participate in God’s work of turning the world upside down
by setting aside that which society tells us is of utmost value
by setting money aside, and recognizing that God, actually, is in control
and recognizing that God really will provide enough for our needs
it can be a huge leap of faith, especially in these economic times
but isn’t that the beginning of faith ~ letting go of control

bear in mind, though, that your status as a saint of God is not based on your financial giving
(or on your time or talent giving, either, for that matter)
give a little, give a lot
increase your giving, decrease your giving
though it is good to give,
your value to God also is not based on what you give
or on anything you do

saints of God
in Christ we hear the word of truth, the gospel of salvation
and believing in him, we have been marked with the seal of Holy Spirit
in Christ, we have obtained an inheritance.
our identity, “beloved child of God”
comes not from anything we do or could do
but from the covenant God makes with us in our baptism
that we are God’s own, and we cannot escape the love of God

In the name of Christ


Friday, November 5, 2010

what I hear / what I don't hear

As a pastor, I hear lots of thoughts and opinions about the church; I hear from people who are and who aren't part of church. Often when people share their opinions, it seems to me that they're not interested in having a conversation. Rather, they're interested in sharing their opinion, and usually they're interested in assuming that I agree.

From church people, I seem to hear nostalgia for the way church used to be. I hear this especially from older folks who remember that the church of their youth occupied a more prominent place in society. But I also hear the same nostalgia from younger people (though not as many). I guess they've heard their elders' nostalgia, and assume that their memories are accurate. And to go hand in glove with nostalgia for the past, I hear people lamenting that the church today isn't like it used to be.

(As an aside, I'm convinced that if the church has a prominent place in society, it's too easy for the church to assume that the dominant norms of society are Christian. I believe that they certainly are not. The church is better able to be prophetic, and to preach the Gospel, if the church hasn't assumed that its primary role is as promoter of good morals. The Gospel is not about morals, but that's a topic for somewhere else.)

What I lament is what I don't hear from church people. I don't tend to hear that people are excited about what the church is doing, or (theologically) what Holy Spirit is doing in and through the church. This may be the fault of church leadership. It may be because there really isn't anything exciting happening in and through the church. More than those, though, I believe that people aren't excited about the present because we're stuck in the past.

Further, I lament that I don't hear people dreaming about the future. The thing is, if we're only looking back, we can see neither what Holy Spirit is doing right now nor where G-d is calling us in the future.

What would it look like for the church to pull its head out of the sands of time so that we can focus on mission and ministry today and tomorrow. Surely God's best work isn't behind us.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

above the clouds, out of step

I've been on exactly two overseas trips ~ the kind where you skip quickly over multiple time zones, and jet lag is something to take into consideration. I wrote this over a year ago, on the second leg of my second trip across many time zones, and just found it again in an old journal ~ thought I'd share, for what it's worth.

spending the day high above the clouds
and out of step with time
the day is shortened beyond recognition
until, sleepless
our early morning stumbles into the glare
of tomorrow's noon

returning home, dusk becomes elusive
the day stretching on as
earth's rotation gives back vanished time

though, once again,
upon arrival
we find ourselves out of step
even with home

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

autumn rain

that first autumn rain
falling on arid plains
nourishes and refreshes

anticipating the coming winter
and contrasting the summer heat
the rain chills us and drives us inside

we won't mind so much in a month;
but today we shiver
and retreat under warm blankets


I find the elected leadership and political processes of our country to be in a sorry state of affairs when the goal of one party is to unseat the other party.

John Boehner (R, OH) said about the president's agenda, "We're going to do everything — and I mean everything we can do — to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can." And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Admittedly I'm biased, because I believe that deficit reduction is a good thing, and that universal health care and the redistribution of wealth (besides being good things) are appropriate Christian responses to the sickness and poverty that are rampant within the borders of such a wealthy nation as ours. So, admittedly I'm biased toward the current administration. But regardless of which political party is the majority in office, it is not OK that a politician's goal be to stop an agenda or to remove someone from office.

What I want from the leadership is that they honestly and faithfully work for what is best for our country. I don't even need them to agree with me ~ I just want them to have my best interest in mind. And I don't see that happening.

When a politician's agenda is to remove someone from office in two years, that means they will be spending the next two years not concerned about my best interest. When a politician is interested in blocking their colleague's agenda, they're not working for my best interest.

This partisan fighting, apparently based simply on the fact that you're on opposite sides of the aisle, is tearing our country apart. Maybe if you took an evening to have dinner with each other, it would help. No cameras, no reporters, no talking about politics. Maybe, just maybe, if you spent time around people with whom you disagree, you'd recognize that they actually are people. Most of us who live and work outside the beltway do this already ~ we have friendships with people who don't vote the same way we do. And we realize that it's hard to demonize someone who you just spent a lovely evening with.

Elected leaders, you don't have to agree with your colleagues' agendas. You can still work with them. You don't have to like that any one particular person is in office; but that's who's there, so please do what you can to actually talk with one another, and listen to one another, and work together to make our country stronger.