Thursday, July 20, 2017

Acting Up and Out


 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.  A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.  Acts 16

This post is in honor of women who have left their fingerprints on our hearts; shaped our lives; and helped our hearts sing. The women who said to me, "You should consider being a minister."  The women who said, "This is good...keep going deeper and further."  The women who have prayed for me and with me.  The first woman I visited in the nursing home who shared stories of sipping sodas on Main Street; living through the Depression; breaking through glass ceilings; and gave me butterscotch hard candy.  Women, like my wife, who patiently listens and persistently loves me back to my full self.  Women like my daughter, whose passion and enthusiasm for life I admire so much.  Like Paul, I have been supported and sustained by women.  Like Paul, I know what it is like to receive care and compassion from God's image in female form.

For churches that deny and diminish the role of women thinking it is Scriptural, I offer you Acts 16.  For churches that want to control women, I ask you to read seriously Acts 16.
For a world that is quick to objectify women and turns a blind eye at our overtly sexual ways society views women, I want to shout Acts 16.

Lydia is our shero!!

We should all wear purple every Sunday in her honor.

We should all shout and speak out that after two thousand years, it has been long enough of treating women as second class citizens.
We should all join Paul in blazing another path.

Lydia was independent business woman.  She owned her own home; dealt in purple fabric (where she would rub elbows with the rich and famous) and she was faithful to go down to the river to pray as well as open enough to God's still speaking voice.

Lydia is our shero!!

She shows us that the earliest followers of the way were open to God in all the forms God comes to us in the flesh and breath and bone.

Lydia is our shero!!

May this story sing to your heart, challenge your understandings, and cause you to live differently this day and especially in such a time as this.  God's grace and peace which is found in Lydia and so many sheroes in our lives today.  Thanks be to God!!

Blessings

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Acting Up and Out


Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders.....

 After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.”  Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.  But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work.  The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company  Acts 15

From the beginning of the book of Acts, you can begin to believe that everything in the early church was just peachy...rosy...amazingly awesomely the absolutely best community ever.  What went wrong?  Actually, we need to take seriously and sincerely chapter 15.  It starts off with an argument.  The issue of circumcision was as contentious as any today.  People who had been taught and told their whole life that this ritual was a defining and distinguishing part of faith.  Sometimes we can tend to think that rituals are ancient and can quickly become empty.  And yet, rituals can provide structure, rhythm, and routine.  A ritual is a vessel and as humans we can stay open to exploring the meaning contained therein.  For example, the Lord's Prayer when said quickly or on autopilot or in a monotone boring voice can be empty. But when the words sit on the tips of our tongues and slow work their way down to our soul, there is more meaning than we can ever say.  Likewise with circumcision, it was a way to say the past shines light on the present, connects us deep to the roots of our faith.  It can take commitment and courage and conviction.  Like people who are willing to stand in the rain to protest unjust laws.  Yet, like those who protest, there are often two sides to every story.  So, when circumcision became a door/gate way of defining or distinguishing who was inside and who was outside, Paul puts his foot down.

This topic had no small dissension and debate...

Sound familiar?
Sound like your last family reunion?
Sound like how you feel after reading the paper today?
Sound like that internal dialogue that happens within us?

Yup...yup...yup and yup.

It isn't that the early church was more awesome than the church today.  In fact, two thousand years later chapter fifteen feels like fifteen minutes ago...sounds like our last church meeting.

So, where did we get the notion that church should be all harmony?  All holding hands and being nice to each other?

In fact, part of the dynamic comes from the difference.  But like dynamite (from which the word dynamic is related), we need to be care.  Things can blow up quickly...in our face...hurting and harming others.

And what is even more painful is that Paul and Barnabas who are at first united, by the end of the chapter have gone their separate ways...

Wait...at the beginning a united front and force, only a few short verses later, they are updating their relationship status on Facebook?  See scripture isn't some fairy tale...it isn't always "Happily ever after."  It is messy and complicated and very human.  Just like the church today.  To act up and act out means that sometimes folks will go their separate ways.  We try to work together and work through issues.  But lines can be drawn that are not circles but in the sand of you are either with us or against us.

It is tempting to try to put a neat and tidy bow on this post, try to find some moral lesson that will help make the sun come out tomorrow.  The pain is real.  Relationships are difficult.  We focus on traces of God's grace because sometimes it is not as evident and easy as we like to think.

Are there moments you have felt like Paul or Barnabas?  Relationships that at one moment feel like they will last forever only to end in the blink of an eye?  And why would Acts tell us this story?  Because this story is reflected and can be real in our lives.  I believe God goes with both Paul and Barnabas...God doesn't choose sides...but seeks to bless and hold the promise that our all too human disagreements/divisions may one day be set aside.  But to get there we have to process the pain and be open to the work of reconciliation rather than scoring points.  It is not easy work.  It undid two of our earliest ancestors and undoes us today.  But that thread of seeking to draw the circle wide and open doors and connect is still the song God sings to us.  May we have more than a trace of God's grace to keep joining in that song today.

Grace and peace ~~

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday morning prayer



Let Your love, O God, burning brightly like a candle in my life.
Let Your wisdom lead me deeper into the soupy mystery of life
       where I don't see as well and need Your light.
Let Your challenge rummage and roam around this hour,
       and every hour.
Let Your care be mixed into the messiness, in to the recipe of life.
Let Your playfulness causes smiles that well up from my soul.
Let Your creativity pour forth from my fingers, tips, and presence.
Let Your hopefulness that You are not finished so neither should I be.
Let Your joy spring up...for there are a thousand blessings in a thousand ordinary Tuesdays.
Let Your presence dance and may I have the courage/conviction to join with reckless abandon.
Let You be.
Let me be open.

May these words be fore than fixed in cyberspace, let them find space in my soul to breathe anew and afresh for such a time as this.

Amen.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Acting Up and Out


The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists.  Acts 12

Peter got himself thrown in jail...see there are real life risks for living the way of Jesus.  He is shackled and stuck in a prison.  Two guards are sleeping next to him...which is a hilarious image.  Can you see them curled and cuddled up next to each other?  A bit of drool coming out of their mouths, snoring, and slouched upon each other's shoulders!  C'mon now,  that is a great image.  When suddenly, God shows up again to do the work of liberation for the sake of God's love.

I was just at the Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C. and saw image after image of people being arrested standing up for what is right.  And here I sit with a squeaky clean record.  Or as someone once said, "If we were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us?"  That is a challenging...convicting...kind of question.  What would I be willing to be tossed/thrown in jail for?  Are there issues I can no longer stay, stand silently on the sidelines waiting to respond?  Racism, homophobia, economic oppression where a state this week reduced the minimum wage, political intolerance and de-humanization of each other...what I am doing about that besides just writing words?

Secondly, spiritually, where am I bound by chains that need God's liberation for the sake of God's love?  Am I silent, on the sidelines, because of shackles of fear?  Am I silent, on the sidelines, because of cynicism thinking surely my presence isn't going to make a difference?  Am I silent, on the sidelines, because my recipe for faith is too rational and not enough risk?  I sometimes think my life can be like a recipe that forgot to add the spices!  

This passage asks us to kick it up a notch.  Get in the game.  It also remind us that it won't be easy!  There are obstacles.  There are major setbacks.  Remember Rev. Dr. King spoke out about the Vietnam War and people told him, "Stick with racial equality."  "Stop saying those things."  "That isn't your battle, Martin."  Sounds a lot like what Peter went through.  

So, I pray there will be a trace of grace for you to step off the sidelines into the action knowing that it won't be a magical pony ride...and you may not see much progress...and people will stand in your way...and we need humility, lots of humility, because none of us have the full truth.  Remember, Peter didn't protest, he simply wanted to engage and get to know the enemy.  And while that won't get you thrown in jail today, it will cause restless sleep and moments where you feel like you are in-between a rock and a hard place.  Or put another way, between two guards drooling and snoring and trying to keep you in place.  

As I've said...so wonderfully challenging.  May the traces of God's grace guide us for the living out of our lives in such a time as this.

Grace and peace ~~  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Acting Up and Out

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step.  Acts 11

In the last post, we explored God reaching out to Cornelius, someone who was the embodiment of the enemy.  How God went first to Cornelius, then to Peter.  How the proverbial light bulb burned brightly for Cornelius faster than when we flick a light switch today...how Peter was a bit dimmer and took long to realize, recognize what God was up to.  Eventually, Peter gets it.  He forms a friendship with Cornelius.  You would think, "All is well that ends well."  You would think, "That's a wrap, roll credit."  But wait...Acts isn't interested in fairy tale endings, Acts wants to reflect life!

So, when word gets around that Peter...Mr.-I-Will-Build-My-Church-on-this Rock...as Jesus said, is with God in cahoots with Cornelius...how they have become more than friend-a-enemies...his own tribe doesn't like it one bit.  I can hear them now...how can you actually like that person?  Do you know who they voted for?  What's the deal, Peter, are you with us or against us?  C'mon on now, you know who really has your back.  Just get back in line, Peter, with what you really know to be true.

Any time you try to change, people are going to try to talk/guilt/defend/deflect you back into your old self.  As humans we like homeostasis...and when someone rocks the boat, we will do whatever we can to reestablish order as we know it.  Or put another way, change is great...you go first and stay away from me.  If you really try to live these words people are going to get all-kinds of annoyed with you.  They will say some hurtful things, because bottom line...we don't like change.

You, like Peter, have a choice.  Renounce this harder way of loving enemies and living the words/wisdom of Jesus or walk step-by-step with the people who were once your friends only now you are not so sure.  If you try to talk to someone who is different than you...racially, economically, sexual orientation, politically - especially that last one right now in such a world as this - the people who are part of your tribe are going to wonder if you have lost your mind.  They will see it as their personal mission to make sure you cease and desist immediately.  Because if you change that is going to challenge them.  Because if you, who they like, starts acting up and out, then s/he might have to do the same thing.  And our inner-three-year-old will stomp a foot and say, "I don't wanna!!"

Can you let these two short pieces of Scripture sit and simmer in your soul right now?  Can you let these words offer more than a trace of grace, but an actually invitation for living today?  Can you answer, who is Cornelius for you today?  How can you respond, react?  Do you realize, that like Peter, others are not going to be thrilled about your sudden change of heart?

May God's peace call out to you, embrace and enfold you, and offer you/us a safe place to ponder prayerfully...then go and do likewise.

Grace and peace ~~

Monday, July 10, 2017

Acting Up and Out


In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.  One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.”  He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.  Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter;  he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.  Acts 10

This passage is exactly why I find Acts so wonderfully challenging.  Cornelius is part of the Italian Cohort...which sounds like a great name for a band.  But make no mistake, Cornelius is part of the industrial military complex of Rome.  He was part of the group who were stationed to keep the masses in-line, walk/wonder around to make sure people knew who was really in charge.  Remember, it was the Roman Empire that had hung Jesus on the cross.  Those facts all add up to saying, Cornelius was the embodiment of the enemy.  When he walked past you, you adverted your eyes while muttering and mumbling under your breathe.  Many would have seen him and his cronies as the problem.  "Everything would be so much better without those people!"  See how wonderfully challenging this passage is...because those exact words about getting rid of people as the way to make things better are uttered today.

And what makes this passage even more wonderfully challenging is that he is called a "devout man".  Wait...he was part of the complex that killed Jesus, part of the problem, part of everything that is wrong, unjust AND he fears God...gives generously and prayed constantly.  Don't you hate it when people won't stay confined and defined by the boxes in which we try to place them?  That neighbor of yours who watches MSNBC or Fox or whatever media outlet you think should be taken off the air... suddenly that person is the one who offers to bring your trash cans up and drive you to a medical appointment.  Cornelius is also the embodiment of complexity.  Cornelius challenges us today to stop trying to sort out which side people are...because the truth is three dimensional not one.  Until we stop trying to categorize and compartmentalize, we are always stuck in a rut of prejudice and stereotypes.  And we are only two sentences in to this passage!

And what makes this passage even more wonderfully challenging is God decides to chit-chat with Cornelius.  God goes and decides to be in cahoots with the evil enemy.  Reminds me of a great quote from Dostoevsky who wrote, "It is easy to condemn your enemy...it is much harder to understand him or her."  It is like a clarion call across the centuries the ways today we are so good at condemning others and struggle so much to try to understand each other.  Now part of the issue is that to understand someone takes time...it is a delicate dance where it is one step forward in understanding and two steps backwards when we say something that hurts/harms the other.  When we say in my church that God is still speaking, do we think only through the talking heads we agree with?  When God always seems to be on my side, doing things my way, perhaps I have built a God in my image rather than the truth God seeks to flow through all people.  God goes to Cornelius and Cornelius recognizes and responds faithfully to God.  What if that would happen today?  What if is and we don't even notice it?  Ugh...God is so challenging.

Finally, what makes this passage so wonderfully challenging is God goes to Cornelius, Mr.-You-Can't-Contain-Me-in-a-box, first.  It is only after this scene that God goes to Peter, Mr.-Original-Disciples that Peter should minister to/with Cornelius.  And if you keep reading chapter 10, while Cornelius gets it right way, Peter misses the point spectacularly!  He doesn't get it.  He doesn't understand why God would call him to reach out to the enemy...and this guy hung out with Jesus who said, "Love your enemies."  When am I like Peter missing the mark of God calling me out of my preciously held believes to draw the circle wide?

Ugh...so challenging and complex...and wonderfully so.  There is more than a trace of God's grace in these words, if we are only willing to listen and let our life respond.

Grace and peace~~


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy 4th of July


Against the black curtain of the night sky
The bright, brilliant, bold colors suddenly appear.
Flashes of light.
Sounds that at first make us jump.
And yet, the fear is quickly replaced with wonder.
It is one of the moments, we might realize why the Bible talks about the "Fear of the Lord."
It isn't a fear of someone who will hurt or harm you.
It isn't a fear of someone that can't be trusted.
It isn't a fear of someone smiting you.

Fear is that first response that quickly turns toward wonder.
The "Ooos" and "Ahhs" of encountered God's embrace
Are even more delight-filled than the fireworks tonight.

We need moments of being amazed.
We need moments of serendipitous surprise.
When we don't know what is coming next, but we keep
Waiting
Watching
Wondering
What if we took that posture and practice to the sacred?
What if we looked upon the world to see where God is moving in ways we might still say, "Ahh"?
What if we stayed open to God, not always wanting to push our own agenda?
What if we sat back, every now and then, and realized God is still telling the glory of heavens around us and through us.

Enjoy the fireworks tonight.
Continue to find ways to be part of making your community more just and loving (embodying the words of the Lord's Prayer, "Thy Kingdom Come")
Continue to let your light be a firework in the lives of others.
For indeed, God is still inspiring and immersing us to bring love, peace, justice, wonder, and surprise into the world today.

Many blessings ~~