Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reflections 2

As long as I was re-reading, To Kill a Mocking Bird, I also dove into Harper Lee's new book, Go Set a Watchman.  Caution...there may be some spoilers ahead.  The book picks up on Scout, now as an adult.  She lives in New York but comes home for a visit.  She has to deal with the fact that no human, no one, not even her father, is perfect.  While I enjoy Lee's long prose and rambling style, this book just did not quite get it for me.  Perhaps it was because the expectations were so high.  What I loved about Mockingbird were the exit ramps.  Atticus shooting a dog with rabies or the side story with Boo Ridley.   Watchman has few of those...and less characters too.  In some ways, this would have been a great short story as an epilogue to Lee's book, or the first chapter...then we set out with Scout to New York.  How would a Southern deal with Yankees in the 1950s and 60s?  How does she eschew and embrace her upbringing?  Sometimes those stories need to be explored outside of the comfortable confines of what is known and familiar.

When I reflect on my move to Florida, a Yankee now in the South, I sense some of the themes from Watchman.  How do we deal with lingering racism?  I am privileged to pastor a church that strives to be racial diverse.  Yet, there is always more we can do. How do economic disparities play out?  I live in an area where people pay millions of dollars for homes and some people don't make minimum wage.  How do we walk around in each other's shoes, in a time when people who cling dogmatically to their own ideas (even when they are proven wrong time and time again)?  Those are challenging questions that need stories to help us sort out.

The power of opposed to history or that they allow us to engage our right brain and stir our imagination.  We need stories...stories of people dealing with the messy middle of life today.  Stories of people living into their God belovedness and encouraging others to do the same.  We need stories when we get it right and when we get it wrong.  And the church needs to be a place for all that.  We need to start telling our own story and listening...that is the KEY...listening to other's stories too.

Not every story needs to be the best ever!  Stories can leave us wanting...because life and other people leave us wanting.  Near the end of Watchman, we have a conversation between Atticus and Scout.  She confronts his racism and his participation in a group opposing the NAACP.  She calls him out on his brokenness.  And Atticus just graciously and gently responds.  So we are left with the fact that Atticus has brokenness and edges...his beliefs have ceilings that Scout bongs her head on...which she also does every time she gets in the car.  Again, because of the setting, we don't see Scout bumping hard against her own limitations.  How would she respond in New York at a meeting of the NAACP?  Would she even go?  Those are important questions.  To be sure, maybe Lee did not want us to idolize anyone...which our church has certainly done with Atticus.  We all have blindspots and brokenness.  The key is not only to see others...but also our own.  To do that, Lee, is right we need more than just a trace of God's grace.

I encourage you to reflect on your own understandings of race, economic disparity, love, relationships, and life.  In the coming posts, I am going to start working through stories of the Hebrew Scriptures...hopefully, these ancient and well-known stories can give us some insights into God's whose love is woven into every fiber...yet we often don't live that way.  Until then, may the God of hope, peace, joy and love surround you.

Blessings ~

Sunday, August 23, 2015



"I wanted you to see something about her - I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his had.  {Courage} is when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what."   Atticus to Jem in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird 

While on vacation, I re-read Harper Lee's book, To Kill a Mockingbird.  It had been awhile since I had encountered this very human story.  It really is about dealing with each other; as Atticus likes to say, "Walk around in another's shoes."  Jem and Scout growing up in a small Southern town dealing with issues of economic disparity, racism, sexism, and mental illness.  Being a community is not easy.  Or as Linus once said in a Peanuts cartoon, "I like is people I can't stand."  Of course, great literature is timeless.  Today, we still deal with economic disparity, racism, sexism, and the stigma placed on those with mental illness.  We still deal with the myth of redemptive violence.  We still deal with each other as humans.

Part of the draw of Lee's book is that there is no neat and tidy ending.  Strings are left dangling, just as in our real life.  We move forward, one step...only to take two steps back, especially in the above social issues.  One of the realities we are still coming to terms with is that no amount of legislation or meetings or conversations are going to change everyone.  In fact, change is so frustratingly slow sometimes, it is easy to lose faith and courage.  It is also good to remember that this is a work of fiction.  The real lives of those who live pushed to the fringes because of economics, race, sexual orientation, and mental illness can be fragile...successes are few and sometimes far between.

Currently, in the place I live, the news media has fallen in love with a homeless man who is an amazing piano player.  Because of that gift, he has found work and trying to put his life together.  Because we love a good rags to riches story, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and proof that the American dream is still there for those who try, daily we get updates on his progress.  To be sure, I want the best for this child of God.  But I also wonder about those whose skills are so hidden and so buried under the years of people telling them they were "worthless" and "good for nothings" that they stay on the fringes.  Spotlighting one story does not mean, "anyone can do it."  It only shows me how much work we have to do.

Which is exactly where I am with Lee's book.  My heart breaks by the relevance, that people are still just as nasty and demeaning to each other as we were fifty years ago in the time when the book is set. Yet, I also know that people were created with divine DNA.  This is not about our original sin, it is about our inability to fully trust and lean into God's grace in every moment.  Grace is not some formula or some insurance guarantee.  Grace is not a safe net.  Grace is.  Grace can undergo metamorphosis.  Which means, I need to stay constantly aware and awake to the traces of God's grace in my life.  It may not always come in the same exact way every day.

To be sure, there are traces of grace within Lee's book.  The slow realization Jem and Scout come to.  Their willingness to start to see each person as fully God's beloved and walk in their shoes.  And their continued growth.  The challenge for us, especially in a time of increasing polarization and politicization, is to do the same...and for that we need more than just a trace of God's grace.

May it be so for you and me.  Blessings ~

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses.  But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.  Luke 5:15-16

Jesus has been baptized, began his ministry, called the disciples, and everything is ready to go.  We are a little more than two chapters into Jesus' ministry in Luke and he says, "Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed."  So, a couple of questions, who often is often?  Are we talking once a week kind of Sabbath?  Are we talking every night sitting on the sofa binge watching re-runs of The Golden Girls?  Just how often is this?  What we can say is that Jesus did this with regularity, there was a patterned that was noticed.  How often do you withdraw?  For me, a Type-A/work-aholic, my often is not nearly as often as it should be.  I tend to have the pattern of running myself down and only when I can no longer move do I take that time away.  I am trying to be better.  I am trying to swim against the current that tells me to work harder.  

Recent reports tell us that Americans are NOT taking their vacation days.  And when they do, our smart phones keep us constantly connected.  Even when we are away, we check emails and return phone calls...we've convinced ourselves that it is easier in the long run.  How hard is it to come back to hundreds of emails and piles of paper?  Why not get a jump on it while waiting for the plane or for the kids to finish up on the pit stop?   What is the harm, we reason?  The harm might not be time, but it might be spiritual, that can manifest in the physical and psychological.  The passage able calls this a lonely place or other translations say a "deserted" place.  The Israelites were once in a desert place, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years.  Centuries later, they were conquered by the Babylonians and went to another wilderness place, in exile.  Where is your desert, even lonely, place?  We need to disconnect in order to decompress and de-clutter the need to be needed and necessary.  We all want to be needed, to play the hero, and we might worry that while we are on vacation our opportunity to be Superman and Wonder Woman will come past...and we will miss the boat/plane/email/phone ever it is that opportunity will come.

We are told that Jesus prayed.  He was not alone, he communed and communicated with the holy other in whom we live and move and have our being.  How is it with your prayer life?  How are you finding space to withdraw?  Where is that space?  What are you doing when there?

I pray as you ponder those questions, you will find more than a trace of grace.

Blessings ~

p.s.  this is on my mind because a week from today I go on vacation...but I will still over one more post before I go.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Between the Sun and Storm

It has been raining a lot in Florida.  As in people are making references to building an ark like Noah kind of raining a lot.  This morning as I was out for a morning jog, there was a mixture of sun and storm clouds mingling together in the sky.  The ominous, dark, threaten clouds inching closer, slowly taking over the sunshine.  What a great metaphor for life.  So often in our lives things are going great.  The sun is out, laughter is easy, and life is good.  Everything seems to come up roses.  Food tastes better, the air is sweeter, and you think about writing poetry.  Suddenly, the metaphorical storm clouds roll into life.  The refrigerator breaks, the same week you hurt your back, the same week that neighbor, co-worker, annoying person whose voice is like nails on a chalk board comes into your life breathing all over things.  In short, the rain comes.  Suddenly, things are NOT so great.  Your stomach is in knots, you feel flustered or frustrated or flummoxed in some indescribable ways.

Of course, you'd expect me to suggest that the sun is just hidden behind the clouds.  That the sun will "Come out tomorrow...tomorrow, I love you tomorrow!" (Did I mention I just saw Annie??)  But I think part of the problem is that we don't know how to live through the storms.  Maybe we don't know how to live through the sun either.  But we wish away, pray away, move away from the storms of life.  We have constructed a theology concerning God where God certainly does not cause the storms, but neither do we think that God can be found there either.

Recently, I asked in a sermon, do we leave room for our loving, still speaking, grace-giving God to say, "No."  Not in that "parent voice," but a kind and gentle, "No."  Do we trust God's wisdom enough to listen sometimes when God is not opening windows or doors or anything for us.  Some of the best hymns were written in the storms of life.  Look at the refrain of "It is well with my soul":
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, 
when sorrows like sea billows roll; 
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, 
It is well, it is well with my soul. 

The composer wrote those words after his wife and child died in a storm.  Now, I don't want to suggest that you should sing these words halfheartedly or as some kind of mask for facing the storms of life.  Sometimes we use religion as a way to hide behind facing the storms.  We sing about trust while our soul wants to cry out like Job, the psalmists, and the prophets.  Then, we drift away from the church thinking it did not speak to our deepest concerns.  The struggle for the church is that there is no one-size-fits-all way to face the storms.  One pathway feels like an umbrella to one person and leaves another feeling all wet.  Another pathway feels like a blessing and balm to another, leaves another person frustrated.  Facing the storm takes time and takes relationships.  

Does your life feel drenched in sun or soaking wet rain right now?  How is it with your soul?  I pray as a church we can allow space for those in all places to express what is in their hearts in worship, in education, and also getting outside ourselves in sharing grace and love with others.  May you sense more than a trace of God's grace in your life wherever and whoever you are.

Blessings ~ 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Scripture as Telescope

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 2 Timothy 3:16

Been thinking about what you anticipate, expect, or think about Scripture?  Did you get your Bible off the shelf?  Been flipping through the pages?  If Scripture can be stain-glass or a kaleidoscope, what other images might we draw upon to help us as we prepare to open the pages to read?

Perhaps a telescope.  This amazing invention helps us see things far away, brings them close as our next breathe.  Too often, it is easier to hold Scripture at arms length, less it gets too close and starts rummaging around, rearranging our lives.  (Jesus talking about not worrying, considering the lilies of the field...does he not understand, I am REALLY good at worrying...would totally make the Olympic team in worrying.  But I digress.)  It is safer to keep the Bible on the shelf, less it start speaking to the decisions we make regarding money or that co-worker you poke fun at or how we treat God's good creation.  If you start breathing in Scripture, it will wreak-havoc on our carefully planned lives.  

C.S. Lewis said the Bible is a book for grown ups...but outside of church how many of us study it?  Do we really believe that eight to ten years of Sunday School was enough?  Do we think that one class in college to meet our liberal arts requirement was enough?  We have privatized Scripture and I confess that the usual Sunday morning sermon does little to counter-act that movement.  There I am, all alone, trying to interpret.  I have pushed back on definitions of preaching as me standing at the cross roads of the people of God and the word of God, as though only I can bring the two together.  Baloney.  I want Scripture to be a dance between the church and I together, and somehow I help teach a new step, but that the People of God take, embody, breathe in and most importantly - make their own!  But, it does not always feel that way.

Usually, Scripture feels like that foreign planet we visit for an hour on Sunday...only to go back into the "real" world for a nice lunch after church.  How do we make our home in Scripture?  It starts by gazing through the telescope or kaleidoscope or stain-glass for more than a few moments once a week.  And it deepens by doing this with others.  When I look at stain glass or art or through a telescope, I want OTHERS around to talk about this with.  I don't want to individualize or privatize that experience.  Scripture has always been a communal book.  That is one of the reasons it works so well at the communal gathering on Sunday mornings.  We are all together, listening together, breathing in together...but unfortunately, convention and tradition says, the pastor alone should speak.  If our God is still speaking, I don't think I am the only mouthpiece...thanks be to God!  You are too.  I try to encourage people to read the passage BEFORE coming to church because I want the church to come with ideas, insights, and interpretations of their own.  I want you to lay those beside mine.  Where is there agreement?  Where do we differ?  That kind of exercise brings Scripture as close as our next breathe...and if we do that kind of practice I think there will be more than a trace of God's grace we sense/experience/encounter.

Blessings ~ 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Scripture as Kaleidoscope

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 2 Timothy 3:16

Over the next few posts, I want to explore Scripture.  In particular, how we approach Scripture.  What happens the moment your fingertips touch the cool, smooth leather-bound Bible?  What is racing in your heart and mind and soul as you begin to flip through the thin pages?  Noticing what is awoken within us before we even read a word of Scripture is vital because that frame effects/affects how we interpret.  Is Scripture some divine rule book?  Some wiki-like source of divine instruction?  Lots of people are fond of the St. Augustine approach.  When he was wrestling with life, and life was wrestling back and winning, he heard a voice say, "Pick up and read."  He did.  He read Romans 13, which talks about putting on Christ and setting aside the desires of the flesh (apparently, Augustine caroused and lived a loose live...he might have just as well turned to the Parable of the Prodigal Son).  That moment changed his life.  So, if it "worked" for him, it might "work" for us, right?  Depends on what you mean by "work"?

What do you expect to encounter when you open the Bible?  That question is vital!  If we don't name and claim our expectations, they will continue to surge beneath the surface, impacting without really being noticed.

Recently, I have been especially fond of thinking about Scripture as a stain-glass...God's light shining through, but in different ways depending on the day.  You could also think of Scripture as a kaleidoscope, with each turn reveals something slightly new.  Or maybe Scripture as a piece of art that beckons to be studied slowly.  The tension starts with the realization that because Scripture is written in our language, we think we should immediately understand.  But, miscommunication happens all the time...just ask my family.  I send a text my wife reads one way, I meant it another.  And it is tough to try to clarify with something a thousand years old.

2 Timothy talks about Scripture being God breathed.  You may have heard this translated as "God inspired" (which usually is used as a defense for taking the Bible literally, as though any other option is less than).  But to breathe in Scripture would mean something different.  To breathe in makes it a part of who we are, not just some ancient text to be studied from a distance (more on that in the next post).  Theologian Karl Barth is oft-quoted as saying, "I take the Bible too seriously to take it literally."  I like that quote, because I want there to be some mystery when I open the pages.  I don't assume I know fully the intention or sacredness inscribed in each tiny word.  I don't assume I get it.  As a matter of fact the disciples in the gospels often miss the point continually, that pretty well describes me too!  I miss the point because there is beautiful mystery that beckons me.

Just as a kaleidoscope is not exactly a picture, but still visually beautiful, so can Scripture be too.  So, what are you waiting for.  Go get that Bible off your shelf...wipe off the dust...and before you open it, what do you hope, pray, anticipate, desire to breathe in as you open the pages?

That question holds more than a trace of God's grace for us.

Blessings ~

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Living Colors

Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:9 

I have been doing painting around our house.  Sometimes I have been painting the same color on the wall and doors; making them look fresh, covering over the scratches and scuffs and marks.  Sometimes I have been painting new colors on the wall that makes the space looks different.  Changing the color in some ways is easier, as it allows you to see where you have been.  Keeping the same in other ways is easier, because it blends and the old and new work together.  

If you had to choose one color (Like Harold in the Purple Crayon) to describe your life right now, what would it be?  And why?  The church has liturgical colors: blue at Advent for anticipation and waiting.  White for Christmas and Easter for festive days, celebrating God's presence (although I wonder if the above picture would be a better visual on those days with its kaleidoscope of colors that show how life swirls and comes together in news ways on those high, holy days).  Purple at Lent to symbolize the royalty of Jesus.  Pentecost is red for the tongues of fire that was part of the church's birthday.  Then, you have the long season of green for the ordinary after Pentecost until Advent rolls back around again.  Or maybe you would choose a non-liturgical color, which can be every bit as sacred.  Would you select orange or periwinkle or pink or maybe just one feels to limiting and you need more than that.

What if you would wear that color each day letting it speak to your life?  Our still speaking God is also still creating and casting new colors around and within us.  When the People of God came into the Promised Land they colored their door posts as a visual reminder of God's presence.  The tradition often encouraged them to touch those words they painted: that the truth would be transported from the fingerprints to their hearts.  The words they painted were the Shema: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is One."  Visually you'd see the words, opening your hearts and ears, not only inside the safety of your home, but outside in the world.  Do you practice that kind of openness?  Looking, listening, sensing God every time you walk out your door?

There is a great children's book called, God's Paintbrush, which asks a number of thoughtful questions for noticing God in our lives.  Can we as adults think about which colors connect us to God, why?  Where do you feel closest to God, why?  Where are you distant, why?  Note that it is not only the questions, but delving deeper into why you feel the way you do that can provide such insights. 

For me, painting in our house is therapeutic.  I enjoy completing a room.  It helps make the house we bought a year ago feel a bit more like ours, putting our signature and fingerprints on the space.  Plus seeing a project completed brings its own satisfaction.  You don't even have to go to the extreme of painting a room to engage in this practice...a piece of paper and crayons will do the trick...and be less of a mess too.  I pray this week you will notice the colors of creation, God's dazzling array of hues that dance around us and awaken us to beauty.  As you do this, may you sense more than a trace of God's grace...may you be drenched and saturated by the vast array of colors that surround us everywhere we go.

Blessings ~