Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I live in the world of church. On occasion, I venture out into the world of my childrens' schools, into the unfortunate reality of retail, the camaraderie of amateur musicianship, or the anonymity of a coffee-house. But mostly, I live in the world of church.

In the world of church, it seems like we all look the same ~ not as twins, but culturally and socio-economically, most congregations tent to be pretty homogeneous. Now, there is benefit to homogeneity ~ we are more comfortable around people whose lifestyle and worldview lay neatly next to ours, and it doesn't take much work to build relationships.

To contrast the benefit, though, are the drawbacks. Primarily, it is a very short step from being comfortable around people who are like us to falling into a pattern of segregation. More subtly, if we surround ourselves only with people who have the same type of life-experience and the same type of views about the world, we are never forced to work very hard to be in relationship.

Sometimes, people in communities will disagree with one another. This is part of the human condition ~ we will not all see eye-to-eye all the time. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that the increasing ease of access to personal transportation in the past 50 years coupled with the increasing ease of access to the internet in the past 10 has led to increased segregation in both the ecclesiological and political life of our nation. No longer are we required to actually interact with people with whom we disagree. Whenever conversations become too uncomfortable, we always have the option to just leave and find someone who thinks the same way we do.

I live in the world of the church, and I pray that we in the church will work to find a way to be community together even when we disagree with one another. The world seems to be tearing itself apart through vitriolic disagreement. I pray that we the church might also be an example of healthy and life-giving disagreement ~ and conversation that actually improves the world.


Monday, March 28, 2011

walking the labyrinth

the classic labyrinth
walks almost like a
swinging pendulum
in grand parabolas
larger, and smaller
around the center
- we approach
then stray from
the heart of the path
recalling biblical
drawing us in to
the center of
G-d's heart
even as we approach
then stray from
love of the divine

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I wonder

Once in a while, as I'm driving, I notice the people in the cars next to me. I'm pretty good about noticing the cars, but (since the person driving is somewhat irrelevant to my task of staying safe) I don't always pay attention to who's in the car.

Once in a while, though, I do. And whenever I do notice the people in the cars, I wonder who they are and what their story is.
I wonder what kind of work they do.
I wonder where they're going.
I wonder where they're from and how long they've been living where they are.
I wonder if they're financially well off, or if they struggle to pay the bills.
I wonder if they're famous, if they're well-known in their community, or anonymous.

But more than any of that, I wonder if they have found fulfillment in life; I wonder if they're happy.

It seems like we put too much stock in, or rely too much on, wealth and fame for contentment in life. I wonder what the world would be like if most of us recognized that the grass on this side actually is just as green as what we see in the adjacent pasture.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

coffeehouse and pub conversation

Saturday night, I found myself in the same place where I almost always end up on Saturday night ~ in a coffee house, finishing a sermon for the next morning. For better or worse, I was up later that night than I usually am, since I got sucked into a conversation with the table next to mine. Obviously, when they discovered my vocation, we talked faith and church and theology. But it wasn't because they found out what I do ~ they were deep into that conversation while I was still apparently plugged into my laptop.

I've found that the conversation they were having is not unusual for a this kind of venue. At least 50% of the time, when I'm in a coffeehouse or pub, I overhear someone talking about faith and God and belief and theology as they sip their cappuccinos or ales. In fact, it seems to me that folks have more far-reaching, and perhaps more honest, conversations in coffeehouses and pubs than they do in church buildings and at church events.

I'm not sure why (or even whether) this is true. However, here's my interpretation: In a church building with church people, we all feel like we have to remain within the bounds of (or at least not stray too far from) orthodoxy. In a coffeehouse or pub, there's no assumption that everyone does, or ought to, keep to the same belief system. At a church gathering, to make statements that approach the outskirts of orthodoxy might invite condemnation or scorn. As much as we might want them to be, churches (by and large) are not public spaces ~ they're reserved for 'believers'.

In a true public space, where the only agenda is conversation over drink coffee or beer, we tend to talk about those things that are at the heart of human existence ~ namely the interplay of faith and belief and the meaning of life. Especially when people are secure with their beliefs and open-minded, conversation is encouraged. Further, when no one is ostracized because of belief, conversation becomes deeper and more meaningful.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Did I?

he came to the door
interrupting whatever I was doing
I paused, wanting to finish my task, and
warily approach the request I knew
was coming from across the threshold

there's desperation in his eyes
and some story on his lips
about children, a hotel room,
or maybe a good job lost -
no fault of his own

before he even asks for
my brain forms excuses
presumably to sound legit,
though we both know better

even before he walks away
he knows he'll leave empty-handed
and something about his
dejection prompts the thought:
did I just send Jesus away hungry?

Sunday, March 13, 2011


fasting and prayer
seems out of sync
with warmth and sun
re-emerging from
dreary winter clouds -

lent, now, is penance,
denial of self, or
morose introspections ~
yet once, lent was
spring - time for

growth, new life.
how do fasting & new life
cohabitate? can penance
& growth mingle? or does
each require the other?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

personal creed

I wrote this as a response to a post at another blog, but after writing it, thought that maybe it would be worth posting here as well ... after all, I wrote it.

I believe a person cannot be Christian without being part of a Christian community (church / congregation). I believe that a person cannot be a Christian without being invested in relationships of mutual authenticity and accountability. I believe that it’s important to read the bible, but that reading the bible is not a substitute for relationship. I believe that reading the bible (or going to church) primarily for the purpose of improving oneself is not Christianity, but might be more accurately defined as spiritual self-improvement, or perhaps heretical self-deification. I believe that many people, especially in the western world, practice biblical idolatry, worshiping scripture instead of G-d.

I believe that we can only encounter G-d fully and completely in the context of community.

But more than any of this, I believe in G-d, made known in Christ through the work of Holy Spirit.


submission and wonder

i pass by every so often
around noon or so ~
the lot is full of
cabs, minivans, and mostly well-used
cars, though a few are newer

many drive, but some don't
i see them walking
across the busy street
dodging traffic
making their way to
Friday Prayers

as i drive, often wearily
preoccupied with lunch,
or from meeting to meeting
i can almost smell the rich spices,
dishes from their (parents') home lands
as different from my heritage
as my jeans are from
flowing robes and leather sandals

but it's their assembly for prayer
that jolts me from the
complacency of routine
and melancholic
spiritual malaise

though their Friday assembly
looks different from ours on Sunday,
their submission to the will of G-d
- Islam -
shocks me toward my own
submission to the divine
and i wonder ...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday Sermon

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 evening.

grace, mercy, and peace to you from God
who is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Amen.

we begin this season of Lent marked with the sign of the cross
ash smudging our forehead, falling sometimes down our face
ash on our forehead which, if you stop by the grocery store
or go out for dinner after worship
will cause many people to look twice

we begin this season with ash on our forehead,
in a society that holds on to youth at tremendous expense
even seemingly at the expense of our soul
ash on our forehead is a ridiculously counter-cultural reminder
that we most certainly will die
this fate, this end, we will not escape

you will die

there's a desire permeating our society to deny the truth of our mortality
to pretend that somehow we are immune to the reality of life
we botox and liposuction, diet and airbrush ourselves
into the perpetual appearance of youthfulness
in order to feel as far from death as possible
but today we are reminded that we are mortal
we remember that we are dust, and that we will return to dust

so you who are dust
do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth
do not rely on things of this world
things that are temporal
things that we create ourselves
things that increase our societal value
do not rely on these things
because they will surely disappoint
everything you've ever relied on will turn to nothing
everything except for God
our God, who has embraced us in our baptism
sealing us with the Holy Spirit
and marking us with the cross of Christ forever
the cross which is traced over in ash today

all these things will disappoint,
all these things, also will be reduced to ash
even as we ourselves are in death
death, of which we remind ourselves today
and, people of God, not only will we die
but between now and then, we will suffer

so many of our Christian brothers and sisters seem to believe
that if only you receive the Lord into your heart
or if only we read scripture enough
or if only we pray in the right way
the all the cares of the world will be removed
and we'll receive blessing upon blessing

we certainly will receive blessing upon blessing
but it doesn't look like we want it to
blessing, from God, is much less that perfect parking spot
or a winning lottery ticket
and much more like the cross
the cross upon which our savior bears the sin of the world
the cross where God enters fully into the entirety of our existence

but still, we put our trust in things of the world
and these things give us a false sense of security
these things in which we put our trust
even the practice of giving something up for Lent
can bring us false security
as if our action brings us any closer to God
or God any closer to us

the discipline of Lent is one of stripping away the externals
externals which we use to insulate and isolate ourselves
from the reality of life
externals, which we use to insulate and isolate ourselves
from the truth of our mortality
the truth is that we sin and fall short of the glory of God
that we cannot work our way any closer to the divine
but the more essential truth is that
in the incarnation, God has come near to us
and cannot come any nearer
and on the cross, where we see suffering and death
destruction and ash
on the cross, God has entered completely
into the fullness of our humanity

we will receive blessing from God
but blessing is not the promise that there will be no suffering
rather, it is that God is with us in the midst of real life

we are marked today, in recognition of our mortality
a reminder that we cannot escape death
but that death does not have the final word
today, God touches your baptism and your mortality
tracing the shape of a cross on your forehead
the shape which was marked at your baptism, when you are claimed
and named beloved child of God
and assured that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

birds and flowers, air and field

toiling, spinning ~
what will we eat?
where will it come from?
this is the human condition

it's not the avian,
neither the lilian, condition
the birds and flowers
serve only one master

with their whole lives
seeking first G-d's
divine reign ~ how soon
will I do the same?