Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Egyptian State of Mind


In Scripture Egypt means a narrow space...
Between a rock and hard place...
Where it is difficult to breathe because,
You have six hundred Egyptian guards breathing down the back of your neck behind you...
And a churning, crashing Red Sea stirring chaotically in front of you...kind of space.

Ever been there?

Ever been there where you keep turning in circles and there are no exit strategies?

Ever been there where you look and nothing seems to be going right?

Where you around bound up by problems plaguing you from all directions?

That is Egypt.

That is where we cry out to God.

God hears...
God sees...
God knows.

Knows not only intellectually, but intimately knows the way I know "that" look from my wife.
The way I know when my daughter wants me to do something.
The way I know when my son is trying to be sarcastic.
The way we know those who know us best.

Egypt...the place that oppresses is also the place where liberation begins.

Out of struggle there is the dawn of promise.
Out of pain there is the hope of healing.
Out of darkness there is dawn.

It isn't either/or
Rather
It is both/and.

May the fullness of Egypt...the problems and possibilities be for you a place where the traces of God's grace still hear...see...and know you this day.

Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

What is Plaguing YOU



Alright...I fully realize this topic sounds about as uplifting as a trip to the dentist AFTER you have had your flu shot.  We live in a world with so many negative forces.  Currently, we are still dealing with violence in communities between African-Americans and police.  We are in the midst of a political climate that feels like there is blood in the water.  There is a fragile peace in Syria and Israel/Palestine...but emphasis is on fragile right now rather than peace.  Not to mention the things in our own individual life.  The stresses and strains emotionally, physically, spiritual and mentally.  I am sure you are saying, "Thanks for bringing up the Biblical Plagues, Wes, but I think I will pass."

But part of the point of the plagues is shining a light on the problems that impact our communal life together.  Part of the point of the plagues is the inter-connectivity of the luminous web of creation.  Awhile ago scientists put out a theory about the plagues saying that there was a burgundy blood algae that poisoned the Nile River and turned it blood red (Exodus 7:14-24).  That in turn caused the frogs (Exodus 7:25-8:15) to leave the water and seek safety on land...which in turn caused the frogs to die not having access to clean water...which in turn caused lice and flies (Exodus 8:16-32) to increase because of the lack of frogs to control the population...the increase of flies affected livestock (Exodus 9:1-7) causing disease....and those who still ate the livestock had illness such as boils (Exodus 9:8-12).  During this time, Egypt was prone to volcanic eruptions which would impact the atmosphere causing violent thunderstorms and fire (Exodus 9:13-35).  Locust were also common in those days.  1 ton horde of locust can eat as much as 2500 humans do daily...which puts my son's teenage appetite into perspective.  There were sand storms that could spring up worse than London fog (Exodus 10:21-29).  Finally, given all this destruction around them, death of humans...particularly the youngest and most vulnerable...did happen (Exodus 11).

Whew...let me catch my breath.

So, that is one way to look at things.  But you can also read the plagues Biblical.  Terence Fretheim wrote about how Exodus echoes Genesis.  In his interpretation, the plagues represent a reversal of creation.  Whereas in Genesis 1, you start off with chaos, darkness, and no life...in the plagues that is where it all ends.  So the plagues slowly reverse creation.  Whereas God separated waters...now the water is blood.  Whereas God said to the animals to be fruitful and multiply, sometimes too much multiplying impedes our fruitfulness.  Whereas God wanted light, at the end of the plagues there is darkness and death.  Creation reversed as the people of God endure the pain and suffering of Egyptian oppression.

Another way to look at this is societal, when one group of people fails to thrive, the whole system is broke.  We see this racially in our country today.  We continue to segregate and oppress people, pushing them to the fringes.  Yet, such a response only further exasperates the issue.  We cannot, as Moses tried to do after hiding the Egyptian guard in the sand, act as though the past brokenness of racism no longer exist.  The ways we have treated those forcefully brought to our country and than legally dehumanized and treated as "less than" continue to have ramification and consequences that plague us.  Only when the problems that cause the most hurt and harm are brought out in the open, only when a wound is exposed to the healing...albeit painful...elements of air and light can healing happen...but also risks of continued infection.  We are a body together, interconnected as Paul said in 1 Corinthians, yet we so often still have our mouth saying to the foot, "I have no need of you.... until I say something less than brilliant."

There are problems we still need to deal with as the people of God.  There are still plagues that hurt and harm people today.  There are still people crying out to God for liberation.  There are still beloved children of God enslaved through sex trafficking and other manipulation.  There are still people who work three jobs and never see their children and still told to "pull themselves up".  There are still people pushed to the side and sneered at because of who they love.  There is still much that plagues us...and the church is called by God, as God called to Moses, to be part of the liberation of God's own people.

May there be more than a trace of God's grace and guidance as we seek to respond to God's own people and our very neighbors this day.

Amen.

Friday, September 16, 2016

In honor of Fifteen Years, Part Three



Welcome to the third part of this series...in the words below, I hope to capture some of the sense of how this unfolding, on-going love affair with God has led me to understand the One in whom I live and find my being.

Some talk of God like
Superman or Wonder woman or Mighty Mouse,
Waiting for God to swoop in and save the day.
Some talk of God in whispers,
Beyond all comprehension...
A "mystery"
Which means, "keep your mouth shut"
Something I struggle to do.
Some talk of God
As a ground and source of being.
God who plays in the mud, fashioning and forming all that is seen.
Some talk of God
As event itself
God not in the words...
but in the act of reading.

What if God,
Yahweh...
Is breath itself.
When Moses asked for a name...
God said Yahweh..
Well actually..."YHWH"
Which is gibberish.
Nonsensical.
Unpronounceable.
Or maybe YHWH is the sound of breathing itself.

Inhale

Exhale

God.

The very event, experience, and encounter of breath giving life.

God.

Blessings and peace ~

Monday, September 12, 2016

In Honor of Fifteen Years, Part Two



I continue today with reflections on fifteen years of ministry, particularly on this unfolding love affair with God and the traces of God's grace in my life.  The essay today seeks to search for God int he ordinary, even mundane, days of ministry.

The wooden stairs creaked with each step;
Cobwebs patiently waited to latch onto my hair;
Down to the old steam boiler I went,
Checking the water level before service that Sunday.
In the belly of the church,
Dirt beneath my feet,
Sanctuary above my head,
History all around me;
I tended to the boiler.
There are many ways to prepare for Sunday morning:
Sermons;
Bulletins and liturgy;
Hymns;
Ushers, greeters and don't forget the coffee!
But boilers...
Not taught or told about in seminary.

Nor were the bats that I would find sleeping on the walls of the office;
Nor snow that needed to be shoveled
Nor what to do during the church
Garage sale
Bazaar
Supper
Or other familiar fundraiser.

But in those ordinary moments,
I discovered my own burning bush.
For in the quiet and solitude of the basement,
Outside brushing the snow off,
Or pricing someone else cast off...hopefully to net a few dollars for the budget,
There God was...
Always with me...
If I wasn't too annoyed or self-absorbed
To miss that amazing trace of God's grace
In those very holy ordinary moments.

Blessings and peace ~

Friday, September 9, 2016

In Honor of Fifteen Years



Today, September 9th, is my fifteen anniversary of ordination.  In the next few posts, I want to share a few reflections about my call, my faith, and this amazing trace of God's grace that has led me safe thus far.  Today's prayer/poem is inspired by a Holy Ground event in my life when I was a teenager in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota on a week long camping trip.

Angry storm cloud hang and hover over my head
While beneath their furrowed brow,
I slowly paddled my way across a lake.
Choppy waters lap below;
Choppy wind blows wildly beside;
Choppy drops of rain splat on my shoulders...drenching my shirt.
Chaos!
Then...
A single ray of sun suddenly appears;
Grace in a time of fear.
Hope in a time of darkness.
If that moment taught me anything about God...
It is simply to be open;
Open to the possibility and promise that change happens
In creation.
In canoes.
In community.
In me.

May the traces of God's grace surround you.  May you taste and see that God is good all the time.

Blessings and peace~

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 ~