Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Midweek Prayer



God of the mid-week...and messy middle.
God of the beginnings...and half way through.
God of the light at the end of the tunnel...we pray is not a train.
Be with us today.

Move in our midst.
We pray for those we know who seem stuck in a Monday mindset.  Who struggle with stress. Who live with unrest. Who know pain in body, mind, spirit.
Move in our midst.
We pray for those we know who seem stuck in Tuesday.  Not at the beginning nor any where near the end. Who have weeks of chemo, rehab, treatments ahead.  Who wonder if there is strength that can sustain.
Move in our midst.
We pray for those in the middle, too far to turn back, but not quite seeing the end in sight.  Those who keep on keeping on. Plugging, plodding, and plowing away. Inch by inch.
Move in our midst.
We pray for those who are finding their way.  Starting to sense the possibility of crossing the finish line. A project or a procedure or a process complete.
Move in our midst.
We pray for those on the other side. Those who know peace whose restlessness have found rest in You.
Move in our midst.

Wherever we are...even when we have one foot in Monday and another in Thursday. Whoever we are, even if we don't know which day is which.
Move in our midst with more than a trace of grace.
Move in our midst with a hope we know as love.
May that be so today, and for a thousand days to come.
Amen

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Ignoring Lines


I will admit that I have caught the adult coloring book craze. I find it to be relaxing when I let go of that inner art critic that wants to remind me that my efforts are not going to win a blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair. When I don't listen to the voice that wants to say, "You are not really gonna show that to anyone, right?" When that voices says, "Well, I will give you a B- for effort." But then again, this really about anyone other than me. I find there is joy in the artistic expression that doesn't result in a sermon. I find there is joy in what could be called, "A waste of time." Or, "Unproductive". But in addition to not listening to that inner voice, outwardly, I am learning to color outside the lines. Letting the colors run free...not messy or sloppy...but free form. After all rarely in the world around us do color simply stop and stay in bounds. The blue hues of the sky fade and flow. The greens of the grass gently move from one color to another.

Not only do I find joy in ignoring the lines, but also in blending the colors. When grey meets blue, there new hue jumps off the page.  When red and yellow sit close together there is a new vibrant sense that I see.  Blending colors and letting them float outside the lines, that is good wisdom for life too.  We live in a world that could benefit from races connecting and neighborhoods crossing.  I also fully realize as a white male, that is easy for me to say.  Life is not a coloring book. In reality, it can be painful for those of other races to cross lines. Blending for those who are African-American, Latino/a, and other races often means assimilating to the assumed normative, dominate, white way. And so, if we really desire races connecting, it needs to start with folks like me assuming we know best or controlling the crayon box.

It takes time. Like the pictures in my coloring books, I don't think our first attempts are going to be instant masterpieces. But with practice and patience, with honesty and listening through love, with God's grace, we maybe can start to color our lives in a whole new way.

May the traces of God's grace move in your life ~

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Fully Alive



"The glory of God is a human being fully alive!"  Maybe that is what St. Irenaeus meant...or maybe it has been co-opted by the self-help movement.  Of course, we know that matter matters to God, because God became human...fully alive in Jesus Christ...so that we might be fully alive.  So there must be something about creation that causes the sacred to stir.

Psalm 112 has been called the ABCs of anthropology....what it means to be fully human.  Just as Psalm 111 started with praise...so does 112.  There is something in praise that ties humans and the divine together.  Psalm 112 invites us as humans to be open to God, to not cling to fear, to be generous and gracious.  It is easy sometimes to turn this litany into a "do-to list" as though God requires this...which is a slippery slope to God demands this...and we find ourselves trying to appease an angry, frowning God whose unconditional love which now seems rather conditional!

As a preacher we are often cautioned to watch when we are saying, "Ought" or "Should" to our church on Sunday.  It is easy to turn a sermon into a speech where we want to inspire our church to go out and live faithfully in this prescriptive way.  We want to describe, but big enough to embrace the diversity...yet tight enough that it doesn't feel like anything goes.

So, we keep on striving toward fully alive.  For me, I try to pay attention to moments when I think, "I could do this forever."  That doesn't mean it is always magical and majestic.  I feel fully alive when I am reading novels, watching movies, running, laughing with my family, and writing.  Most of the time, those moments fill me full of energy...sometimes though...they don't.  To feel fully alive is not a vending machine or gas pump.  To feel fully alive is a relationship that takes works, goes through seasons, and has twists and turns.  Yet, in the midst of the journey, something continues to beckon you forward.

What are the ABCs for you of feeling fully alive?
What brings you joy?
When have you though, "I was made for this"?

May those questions stir within you for days to come.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Whole Hearted Ness



I once heart that Psalm 111 offers the ABCs of theology.  It starts off with one word: "Hallelujah" which means "Praise" (halle) "God" (ja or Yah...as in Yahweh).  Our theology is a word about God. At it's best, theology is a prayerful, hopeful, honest, authentic, good word about God.  After this first word, the psalmist invites both individually and communally to worship.  We lift our eyes to look, study, stay open to God.  God's movement in our lives.  God is the one who provides food, covenant (or relationship), justice, and wisdom.  Verse 10 is that truism that reverence for God is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.  Reverence is not about putting God on a pedestal, but a reminder that God is God and I am not.  That within our relationship with God there is always a dance of glimpses of grace (or traces!), but also honestly admit that we don't know everything.

There are two types of theology: Apophatic and Kataphatic.  Kataphatic comes from the Greek word "kata" which means down into or down with, so it is a theology that sees God in our midst.  It is a positive theology that states we can know God and understand.  That is always balanced by Apophatic  which derives from the Greek word meaning no.  God is beyond all earthy symbols and human efforts, so we are careful not to overstate our case.  The point is not to pitch your tent and defend only one of these camps, but to let both inform, influence and impact how we enter into our connection with God.  God is the one we experience in events in our lives.  God is always beyond those experiences or events.  God passes by, as God does for Moses, but we only get a glimpse or trace of God.  But we keep striving.  Our Jewish brothers and sisters get this when they lay claim to the name, Israel...this is a word that means to strive and struggle with God.  Israel is the name given to Jacob after he wrestled all night with God.  Israel is the name given to the people of God after wilderness longing and being called, "Stiff-necked" by Moses.  Israel is place, promise of God made real in dirt and soil that touches the soul.  Just as Israel is a person, people, and place...so a bit elusive, so is the God who moved in the midst of all three bearing the same name.

So, who is God to you?
What would your ABCs of theology be?
How do you both talk about God...but also pull up short, knowing there is mystery?  Mystery by the way is a word that can mean, "Shut your mouth"....

Which is what I will do now.

Grace and peace!

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Heart of the Psalms



Psalms 96-99 are often called, "The Heart of the Psalms" and they are beautifully, poetically, and powerfully written words that invite us/immerse us into the holy.

Psalm 96 speaks of singing to God a new song.  The question is, how do we sing a fresh word to God?  It is easy sometimes to let our language grow complacent and stale.  We return time and time again to what is familiar, not necessarily because we find it meaningful, but it is what we've always done.  Plus, change is hard!  So, we trudge down the same well-worn ruts.  But Psalm 96 asks, "Why?"  Why do you keep singing a song with a half-heart?  Explore and expand, find words that at first might seem foreign or even awaken some fear of the unknown, but over time can begin to take you in new directions.  Our souls, like our physical bodies, need some variety along with the known.  To sing a new song because our still speaking and singing and creating God is awaken newness within us and around us.  There is a great line in vs. 9, "that we worship God in holy splendor!"  Or as the great hymn line, "morning by morning new mercies I see."  Sometimes in the newness, we need new words because the ones we've used previously won't fully capture what is stirring within us.

Psalm 97 sings of God's presence in our midst and yet there are clouds/thick darkness around us.  There is both a reassurance and elusiveness of God.  We know God is as close as our next breath and yet God cannot be contained either.  It is both/and, this psalm helps us explore that mystery of what is known about God and can be said with confidence.  Yet, all God talk is wobbly.  We are pointing toward the ineffable.  I love a part of scripture where Moses asks to see God.  And God says, "Well, I will let you see my backside as I pass by."  We cannot ever know God fully, yet we are fully known.  That is always the power and caution of God.

Psalm 98: invites us to make a joyful noise.  We are talking about the kind of noise of a child banging on a pot with a wooden spoon or an unfettered, uncontrollable surge from within.  Most of us would prefer to avoid such unashamed and unabashed outbursts.  We want to be refined.  But there are times we need to let loose with joy.  Psalm 98 is that kind of invitation.

Psalm 99 returns to God as the one who is to be praised.  Not necessarily because God needs it, but because we need to direct our praise toward something.  Of course there are lots of things out there in the world that would like to demand our assents and allegiance.  It is fascinating to watch commercials that are not at all about a product...but about a feeling.  In some ways, feelings have replaced fact.  I recently heard a politician say just that when confronted with the truth that in most places crime is down.  To which there person says, "Well, but it feels true."  How do we know when to trust our feelings?  I believe there is something good about being emotionally healthy.  Feelings should not be sidelined all the time.  Feelings, our gut, is in important part of us.  But it is one part.  We are called to be whole.  Or as the shema says, "Love God with all your heart, mind, strength and being."  The problem is that as churches we want to focus on just one part.  In the Enlightenment and in my heady denomination of the UCC...we love intellect.  But sometimes it is at the expense of other parts.  Or some churches are really good at offering emotional highs and lows, but it is a bit manufactured.  In the best sense, we bring our WHOLE selves to worship and have our WHOLE selves engaged.

If you read no other psalms...maybe these three might offer you this week a sense and invitation into the holy.

Blessings

Friday, August 5, 2016

Pause



A quick pause from reflecting on the psalms for a short book report.

One of the things that is saving my life right now is reading good books...especially novels.  I love theology.  I love intelligent and thoughtful sentences I have to read two or three times...letting the words wash over me.  But I also love a good story.

This is a GOOD story.  It is about a middle school teacher and three young men in her class.  I totally don't want to spoil this...but suggest that you read it if you would like some insight into:

1.  Friendship
2.  The difficulties of family life
3.  The realities of the frailness of life
4.  Love a good adventure!  My English teacher was fond of saying that, "There are only two types of stories: a person leaves home and a stranger arrives."  This book is about three young men setting out on an adventure to see their teacher.

It is funny and insightful.

Two quick quotes that I loved:

Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge and education is what is left over after you forget everything taught in school.  There may not always be plausible scientific explanation for way humans do what they do.  Not everything can be plugged into an equation or reduced to the lowest common denominator.  Not everything can be summed up by a letter grade or check in a box.  Not everything has a formula.  Sometimes things just happen...for no reason at all.  Or happens for a reason and we don't always understand it.

For me, in my life right now, that kind of mystery...that I don't understand everything...that I don't know exactly what tomorrow will bring...that my master plan for the next year can crumble in a few seconds... but that I also trust that God is there.  Regardless of whether I can ever prove it...because I probably cannot.  So, why do we love the quick answer?  We know that on the most basic level that pat responses to problems in our own life usually don't work.  Why do we think they might on a communal or national or global level.  Sometimes things just happen...may we have the grace enough to embrace that mystery (which by the way the root of the word, "mystery" can also mean, "be quiet!) 

Second quote:
There is no such thing as dragons.  Never that clear cut.  Somethings the thing you are fighting against is hiding in you.  Tucked away, buried deep where you can't see it.  In fact for a long time you might not even know it is there.  Maybe when it starts it is just this tin thing you don't even notice.  Mistake it for something else or ignore it.  But then it starts to grow.  Maybe it is a secret you are afraid to share.  Maybe it is a sister you are constantly compared to.  Maybe it is just a feeling.  Nagging hole.  Sometimes it really is a dragon, or at least it is a monster, determined to destroy you or someone you care about from the inside out.  And you know it is there.  You just have no idea how to stop it.

Yes!  So often the thing I am fighting is not really out there...but in here...in me.  I can try to ignore or blame.  Deny or diminish...but that primordial ache just keeps on throbbing within me, until I pay attention.  Or as Richard Rohr says, "Pain that is not processed is passed along".  

This is a beautifully written novel that invites us on a journey...a journey that is both outward and inward.  As children prepare to go back to school...a book like this reminds me that we ALL have somethings to learn, especially from our youth!

Blessings ~ 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Songs



How do you sing to God a new song?  I wonder is it completely new?  Is it new words from your heart to a familiar tune?  If you had to write a new song to God...which don't laugh because my guess is that many hymn writers did not really think of themselves as professional musicians but as people of faith who wanted to share the good news.  Many of the great hymns are actually sung to tunes that people sang in the bar the night before church.  This was done to take something familiar and turn it on its head...give it new meaning and life.  Could you take a tune from today's culture and transform it with the words of faith spinning and stirring in your heart?  But I digress.

If you had to write a new song to God...where might you start?
With the melody?
With the words?
With a free association of thoughts?
How would you refine it?
Who would you share it with to get feedback and edits?

The world needs new songs.  We need fresh words from you.  Honestly, I get tired of my words.  I am most often inspired by the new words people are singing about God's love today.  People who awaken my imagination.  Often, if I am listening, there is not an hour that goes by where I won't hear some kind of thought/idea/insight that could be a new song to God.

But far too often those wonderful words float off into thin air never to return again.

We need to record our words on paper.
We need to let them simmer and steep like a good, rich tea/coffee/marinated.
We need to keep testing and trying out.

In some ways, a sermon is nothing more than the pastor's attempt to offer a fresh word week after week.  And when coupled with the truism that most pastors have only about 10 sermons roaming around us that we keep recycling and re-purposing and rephrasing...there are many ways to say the same thing.  Which brings me to verse 20, we urgently wait for God?

Where are you urgently waiting for God right now?  In your health, relationship, connection to the sacred flow?
How are you urgently waiting?  Is it like a doctor's office passively waiting for God to call your name or are you actively saying, "Um, God, I am still here?"  Or are you out listening for that new, fresh song God might be trying to sing to you through someone in your life?

So, two challenges:
1.  Listen urgently for God this day and week.
2.  When you sense the stirring of the sacred, speak and sing a new, fresh song to God.

Because...the world needs to hear it AND you need to share it.

Amen.