Friday, September 29, 2017

Theology - identity


God, You fashioned us from dust
Breathed life into our lungs
So that with every breath we might know Your nearness.

God, You left Your fingerprints all over our life,
Your divine DNA is woven into our own,
The very same as the star dust above our head,
In beauty and complexity and simplicity.

God, You call us as Your own.
Beloved
Daughter
Son
Child
One who You share the power to create.

Yet, not every thing we make is worthy of being hung proudly on refrigerators.

Our lives can feel like a second-grade art project
where the macaroni is covered/coated in gobs of glue
and the markers have left a messy abstract image
leaving our parents to wonder if it was supposed to be a duck??

Our lives can feel like a second-grade art project
where the relationships become more broken than Humpty-dumpty
and the words we post on social media, tweet and sometimes even say face-to-face
are abstract and obtuse and hurt more than help.
leaving others to wonder if we really care?

Our lives can feel like a second-grade art project
where there is beauty in the messiness...
where we don't have to say in the lines...
where there is a holiness in the chaos.

Our lives can feel like a second-grade art project
where we keep trying to share in the inventive powers of creation
where we keep offering our best efforts and attempts
where we can learn more from doing it wrong than right.

Help us see this past week in all its glorious amateur amazing-ness.
For the parts where we need gobs of Your glue called grace.
For the parts where we joyfully color our lives with purple and red.
For the parts where we leave margins...space for You to enter in.

Let our lives be a beautiful second-grade art project in these days...
And may we find and express ourselves reflecting Your creative...loving...grace filled fingerprints in these days.

Amen

Grace and peace ~~

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Theology - Identity part 2


All theology (God talk) is personal...comes from deep within us to explore and experience and express God's love that fashioned and formed us.

All theology (God talk) is personal because it is a reflect and response to a relationship with God here and now.

All theology (God talk) is personal because we are not speaking about something distant, but the One is knows us even as we see in a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13).

As we pray, who are you, God and who am I? we try to make our way through the myriad of economic and political voices clamoring for our attention and affiliation and allegiance.

Paul Tillich once wrote about the anxiety that can gnaw at our souls.  The distinguished the anxiety of fate/death; anxiety of guilt and condemnation; and the anxiety of meaninglessness and emptiness.  I find those to be key contributing factors to the blizzard around us and within us.  Our response is to usually deny death, sidestep our own brokenness - or blame others, and find someway to numb the pain - fill the void within us - through alcohol/drugs/shopping.  Brene Brown begins her amazing TED talk by saying we are the most addicted, in-debt, overweight cohort in history.

So...now you are really, really glad you are reading this blog post.  Thanks for this uplifting and inspirational message.

But the most fascinating part of identity is not our successes...but our failures.  Not our ego but our stumbling and bumbling ways of living in this world.  We need to process our pain rather than pass it along.  We need to notice and name that we don't see clearly before we go congratulating ourselves and singing, "We are the champions."  Maybe we can identify not only with our blessed-ness and beloved-ness of God, but also with our brokenness.  It isn't either/or...it is both/and.

Who are You God...that you would love me when I say that boneheaded thing?
Who are You God...that you keep calling me back, even when I stray so far away from who You created/craft/still love me into being?
Who are You God...that you are bold to proclaim, nothing can separate us from you (Romans 8) and nothing means nothing?

When I start to ask the question that way, suddenly...it starts to take on new nuances and wrinkles.  I am in no way saying that we should adopt only a problem centered focus...but when we only think about our amazing/awesome/outstanding self, we miss (see only dimly) the fuller reflection in the mirror.

Who is this God who loves us even when we are not reflecting and being our most authentic God-bearing selves?  Now that is a question that can shape the question of identity in new ways that I pray has more than just a trace of God's grace for you.

Blessings ~~

Monday, September 25, 2017

Theology - Identity


One of the most persistent and perplexing questions that sits uneasy within us is, who am I?  Parker Palmer gives the image of our ancestors tying a rope from the barn door to the back door so the farmer could find his way, not get lost, in a blizzard.  That metaphor makes sense to me.  It can feel like there are storms stirring around us and within us.  Politically, socially, environmentally, families and even our own sense of being often feels like we are trying to make our way through a blizzard that blinds the eyes and sears the soul.  In those days when our ancestors would tie a rope to tether them, the question of, "Who am I?" was not asked as much.  On the one hand you had family ties that also tethered you to others; you were born/lived/died within a community - rarely moving - that also tethered you to others; you were expected to be a farmer because your dad/mom were farmers - as were your grandparents and great grandparents.  The social fabric was knit tightly together.  Not all the ties that bind us were blessings, some gagged and grossly oppressed, especially anyone who tried to answer, "Who am I?" outside the well defined and confining boxes.  If you colored outside the lines, you were quickly reprimanded and learned not to repeat such a social faux pas.  Like so many things in life, this was all good or bad...it just was.

And now here we are at a luminous threshold in history where this question, who am I seems so expansive and exhaustive.  Countless voices still clamor chaotically trying to "help" us answer that question.  "Help" in quotes intentionally, because so many of those voices are caught up in the economic and power structures of the world.  We can "help" you for 19.95, plus shipping and handling.  We can "help" you if you vote for our party.  We can "help" you if you join this cause.  The blizzard around us and within us still swirls and the rope doesn't seem to be tethered to anything.  We keep trying to lasso something to help us weather the storm, but Goggle only gives us endless options and the ones at the top of the search have paid to be there.

And the church, for its part, has too often sounded a lot like a commercial.  Come and join us, be on this committee, participate in this project...this will make you whole.  Too often our faith ends us sounding transactional rather than transformational.  God loves you...IF...you do/believe/act/ ascribe to the right actions and understandings we still preach right before the offering plate is passed.

Yet, our deepest, authentic sense of self is grounded in the first truth we hear in the first book of the Bible - you are a beloved child of God.  You are being crafted and created in God's image - renewed and restored each day.  That truth isn't for sale.  You don't earn it.  We receive it as a pure gift.

As we approach the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, over the next few posts, I am going to reflect on our faith.  We begin with identity because all theology (which simply means God talk or to quote Rob Bell's book - What we are talking about when we talk about God) is personal.  As someone once said, "When we talk about God, we are talking about ourselves with a megaphone."  God, Christ, Spirit, church, brokenness and blessedness are not some objective reality we can scientifically study...these words shape us.

We begin theology by reminding ourselves...who we are and whose we are.  We are God's son/daughter....our relationship to the living God is what matters/makes all the differences/helps us make meaning of this one precious/fragile life.  We are God's and God's grace freely given can help us define and distinguish in these blizzard-filled days.

I invite you to pray a prayer I learned from Richard Rohr...a simply mantra you meditate on...

"Who are you, God?  And who am I?"

As you do, notice where you put the emphasis.  Don't rush to reason a response.  Just sit with this.

Is it...
Who are you, God? said with inquisitive curiosity....
Who are you, God? said with intense desire to know more...
Who are you, God? said with openness and leaning into mystery.

And how does that question impact the next...
Who am I?

I pray this prayer is a blessing to you in these days.

Grace and peace ~~

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Weekend prayer


What color is the weekend?
Is it red with energy, passion, and life?
Is it brown from digging flowers and yard work?
Is it green with new possibility?
Or is it white with blank spaces, even silence?

What color is this day for you?
Would you chose a bold, beckoning blue?
Or a soft, subtle pink?
Or an orange of sunrise enjoyed slowly over a mug of coffee?

What color is your life right now?
Is it murky bluish black from uncertainty?
Is it a yellow of light slowly seeping from the corner of the canvass of life into the center?
Is it a blend of many different shades like the painting above?
No distinctive shape,
Yet beautiful nevertheless.

We color our lives and our days and this weekend like a child just given a fresh pack of crayons.
The moment when you open the box and the smell of untouched wax,
The pointed tips waving expectantly up at you,
The paper crisp.

We color our lives and our days and this weekend with something of the past too.
With crayons that have been well rounded to nubs,
The paper long ago hurriedly ripped off so we can continue,
The box lost long ago, so the crayons all sit piled up in a Tupperware container.

We color our lives and our days and this weekend,
The only question we prayerfully hold is,
Where do I start?

Amen.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Poem Take Three


The unmistakable laughter filled the room,
Erupting from her petite frame.
It was as if the laugh would have needed to start in her pinkie toe and gather stream
For something so big to come from someone not even five foot tall.

Only when you have looked the messiness and brokenness of life directly in the eye
Can you laugh that loud.
Only when you have held close to you the pain of the world and of another's life,
Can the holy chaos of joy spill forth from you.
Only when you realize the full truth of God with us, through us, in us
Does such a sweet sound spring forth.

When you have taken the leap of faith,
Fallen flat on your face,
Asked the hard questions of why,
And lived with the ambiguity,
Can the twinkle of your eye shine.

Not because life is suddenly perfect,
Not because the pain has finally bid you farewell.
Not because you see, understand, and grasp.

But precisely because you don't.
We do gaze into a smudged and smeared mirror, only catching a sliver of certainty.
We cannot speak of all knowledge, because even Google cannot solve the mysteries of life.
We cannot understand all mysteries, that is why we call it a mystery.
We cannot always be the hero/heroine in the drama of our life,
Because the world is more than a stage.

This beautiful, broken, sight-to-behold world that is still spinning will never be held in our grasp,
Because it is bigger
Bolder
More mysterious
Perplexing
Peculiar
Playful
And infused with the sacred of the ordinary
Than one time can solve.

Life is not a math problem
Or riddle
But a stream to step in, to be soaked by, and shout,
"Here I am, Lord."
And here God is with you.

Grace and peace ~~

Monday, September 18, 2017

Poem Take Two


Not all resurrections are good news.
Sometimes we dig up the bones of past pain, breathing new life into them.
Pour our wounded-ness another cup of coffee to keep chatting.
Days pass and we turn the calendar pages,
each day filling the empty tomb with our brokenness ~
and the sounds of our grumbling echo off the stone cold walls.

Not all resurrections are good news.
We scrape our fingernails across the scars so they won't heal.
We feed our fears and fuel our angers.
We keep having the same conversation, never stopping to find new paths we might explore.

Not all resurrections are good news.
We keep returning to the same place,
Keep re-living the same past.
Keep clinging with white knuckles to the words sharp as knifes.

But when we can set our carefully constructed arguments aside.
When we stop holding so tightly to our truth
So that perhaps God's truth might get a word in edgewise.
When we cease to pontificate and prophesy,
So that perhaps God's interrupting and disrupting wisdom can do God's work.
When we stop staring at the cross and turn our attention to the tomb.
Neither seem like likely places for new life to begin.
But it is that exact turning of our gaze that helps make resurrection possible in our life.

Grace and peace ~~

Friday, September 15, 2017

Poem Take One


After the Storm

When the winds stopped howling and flashing their terrible teeth.
When the rain ceased to soak the already too saturated ground,
Which squished with each step and the puddles gladly poured into your shoes.
When the angry dark clouds finally moved away....

Then the pale blue sky kept watch seeing the homes destroyed and the lives blown apart.
Without a cloud in sight, the sky observed the tears of grief and gratitude, often flowing from the same eyes.
The subtle and soft hue, like a warm hug reached down.
And bands of light started to draw move-able lines with shadows streaming across
the street
and signs
and out the front window of my car.

Life is like that.
A move-able line of light which I think I can see clearly
And the shadows cautioning me, "Not too fast."
Love is like that.
We dance vulnerably with someone else, revealing and then quickly darting back to the cover of the shadows.
This week after Irma has been like that.
The one precious life turned upside down and inside out.
The rhythm of life suddenly off-beat and even out of tune.
This week has left too many lives torn asunder;
Too many homes torn open or left with jagged boards dangerous sticking out.
Too many people with sighs too deep for words.

Our shoulders tightened by the ticking seconds as the storm slowly inched along.
Our minds raced...hearts skipped beats...and souls joined the ancient psalmist in asking the age old question, "How long?"
How long before the power is restored?
How long before a day feels ordinary, even boring, again?
How long before life get back on track?
How long before the Virgin Islands and Florida Keys and Naples are able to pick up the pieces neatly placed at curbs for someone else to come pick up, take away?
How long before the National hurricane center ceases to be hungrily consumed each morning over coffee?
How long before that nagging fear stops picking the music in my heart?

Maybe after you've weathered the storm, picked up the sticks lifelessly laying in the grass, and finally sat down to have a good cry, we start the next chapter.

Prayerfully wiser of the vulnerability and preciousness.
Prayerfully wiser about how important investing in tools and training to better track.
Prayerfully wiser about the groans of creation crying out for us to pay attention to our throw away, consumer-driven ways.

Perhaps only the pale blue sky hovering and hanging over my head truly knows.

Grace and peace ~~

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Scripture Window Part 7


Rewind and review....Scripture is like a window to the outside and inside...it both reveals and reflects.
Scripture draws us closer to gaze through four window panes of head (includes questions and insights); heart (includes emotions roaming around within us and in the text itself); soul (that deeper, mysterious, almost inarticulate level where the deepest seeds of faith need to be tended); and now finally, story.

This takes us full circle.  Scripture is a story that longs to connect with our individual and collective story/stories.

Returning again to Moses in the wilderness...
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.  Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”  Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”  He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

This story causes me to reflect on my story...of being in the wilderness as a teenager.  I was in the Boundary Waters area of Minnesota by the Canadian boarder...God's country to be sure.  It is the sort of place where so much of creation is burning with the splendor and spectacle of God's fingerprints.  It was while I was there on a canoe trip that I heard God's call for ministry.  While it wasn't from a burning bush, it was when the sun broke through rainy day.  The ominous cloud, gray and threatening, hovered over head.  The water churned and chopped, rocking the canoe.  We were being tossed to and fro...it took all our effort to keep moving forward.  At about the half-way point, when my muscles strained and suggested emphatically that we stop for the day, that the first ray of sun tentatively peaked through.  It reflected off the water.  Soon another ray, and another, and another.  It was as if one at a time, the rays of sun were pushing the clouds away.  By the time I reached to other side, the sun was on full display.  I have witnessed amazing moments in my life (marriage and birth of children being one and two), but that "burning bush moment" will always stick and stay with me.

For Scripture to be holy, we need to let it get tangled and twisted with our story.  So often when we read the Bible, we hold it at arms length.  Like a frog in high school biology, we dissect Scripture, taking apart its phrases and words...debating it...deciding if we like it.  I am not saying that all of Scripture makes you feel warm and fuzzy, a lot of it is frustrating...but so is life.  And Scripture is a reflection of faith in real life of real people.  Further, I am not saying you need to check your brain at the door.  However, don't just engage Scripture as an intellectual exercise.  This is a story of faith.  Just like the one in the previous paragraph.

Is it true?

Well...it is to the best of my memory.  But arguing about Scripture being factually true is not really where I am at any more.  I want to dive deeper.  I want to ask how is this true?  When might this be true?  When have I been there in my own life or heard something similar from someone else?

Those questions get me thinking and moving in a different way.

Those questions help me sense more than just a trace of God's grace in this world.

I pray these posts on Scriptural windows have been helpful.  If you want to talk more, I would welcome hearing from you.

Grace and peace ~~

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Prayer


Should a prayer begin with gratitude or passionate petitions about what is wrong...
(which we usually call that latter thing, "Grumbling"...but would never dare believe that is what we are saying to God)?  Gratitude like we are buttering up God, so we can get to our long list of pointing out where things are not so great.  Grumbling might be more honest way to being.  Pleading with God to be God and intervene, interrupt the hatred, violence, pain, brokenness and all those things that made us wonder if God is really with us and for us.  Usually, that is what we think of with prayer.  Give it all over to God.  However, often times I keep just enough of that brokenness or pain or frustration with someone else, in case God comes back with that "forgiveness" thing again.  Because if God does that, I will say, "Well, but do you know that he did such and such to me??"  Which, of course God knows...but that was my Ace card...so I have to play it.

Often times gratitude becomes another "ought" in religion.  We should "Count our blessings".  We should be thankful, after all, we reason, look at the people who Texas...who I am sure don't want their lives to be some means to our grateful end.

So, we have these things in our hearts.  These joys and concerns.  These yin and yang extremes.  Thank you, God, for laughter with children and for my wife and for my dog's unconditional love and for this moment.  Thank you, God, for people who actually read my blog...seriously there is a lot of other stuff on the internet like cat videos on Youtube. And by the way God, if you could help me get over my anger at that person, fix this broken relationship, help me parent my children and be a better husband and be with us at Stewardship time. It starts to sound like God is some divine Santa Claus or Genie in a bottle.

So, what is prayer?

The mystics say it is silent communion...

But what about all my stuff and the injustice in the world.

You want me to just sit there in silence and be.

Or maybe even listen for God to get a word in edgewise?

Or maybe even feel a peacefulness in the midst of the storm?

What is prayer?

I don't know if I can really define it...but I know that tending a relationship means paying attention.  And too often I tend to treat God like one big ear rather than also a moving Spirit that might want to actually do something in my life.

What is prayer?

Maybe it is being lost in grace...held in peace...surrounded by love...and for one fleeting, fading moment realizing that this, this is just as real and true as anything else.  Again, I am thinking of you, Cat Video on Youtube or the stuff coming out of leader's mouths or the beauty or the brokenness.

Maybe that is really the wisdom beyond truth.  The wisdom that says, "Yes, that is not right."  And, "Yes, that was a holy moment"  And, "Yes, that was ordinary and normal and beautiful too."  Yes to all of that...and yes to the biggest, broadest, boldest statement of prayer we can ever utter or offer.

Grace and peace everyone

(I know you are totally going to go watch a cat video now!)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Thursday


Thursday might be the most underrated day.
To be sure, it lives in the shadow of Friday.
Few people have ever uttered the phrase,
"Thank God it's Thursday."
And it has not special distinction like Wednesday.
Few people have ever uttered the phrase,
"It is the day after hump day."
Thursday doesn't have the dread of Monday
Or the getting back in the groove of life of Tuesday.
It certainly doesn't have the prestige and privilege of Saturday and Sunday.
It just is an ordinary day.
Maybe we could call it, "Friday Eve"...so it might have some of the mystery of Christmas Eve.
Maybe we could call it, "Four-fifths Day"...because to say you are 4/5th of the way through something makes it sound like you are practically there.
Maybe it isn't the name at all.
Maybe Thursday reminds us that ordinariness is just fine.
Just a normal day.  Not at the beginning or end or middle.
Somewhere just beyond but not yet.
Which is where I spend most of my life.
Somewhere beyond where I was...but not yet fully where I want to be.
Somewhere beyond anger and frustration at everything...yet knowing things don't fully reflect God's love.
Somewhere beyond expecting things to always be perfect...yet still wanting to do what I can, where I can.
I guess what I am saying is that if Thursday had an age, it would be 40s or 50s.
Far enough along, but not quite there.
Just barely beyond the halfway point.
Yes, I definitely think that Thursday is my new favorite day.

And may you find more than a trace of God's grace on this Thursday.

Grace and peace ~~

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Scripture Window Part 6


Rewind and review ~ Scripture is a window...some we can see through clearly...other times the words are like stained-glass, colorful/artistic/needing interpretation.  We look through the window pane of the head to start, asking good questions and claiming our own insights.  We look through the window pane of the heart to go deeper and to notice/name our emotional response/reactions...as well as the emotions in the passage itself.  Next, we turn to the soul.

Scripture as a story means that it works on many different levels.  Yes, we can hear words that form thoughts that form ideas.  Yes, those words elicit an emotion.  But even more than the head and heart, this is a soul story.  It is meant to work on us in ways that defy the gravity of rational/reasonable thoughts.  It is meant to sync with our own story.  It is meant to causes a response we might embody in our lives.

Soul level is one that is the hardest to describe.  What goes on in your gut when you hear our new familiar passage:

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”  When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

At a soul-level I start to ponder prayerfully how God interrupts and disrupts our ordinary, everyday routines.  Moses wasn't expecting God to show up...but God did.  I don't expect God to come knocking on Tuesday, but nevertheless God can and does.

At a soul-level, I want to join Moses in holy ground moments of saying, "Here I am."  But the fear I feel can cause those words to get clogged in the back of my throat.  My own self-confidence can cause me to get flustered, frustrated, and overwhelmed.

At a soul-level, I want to feel the connection to ancestors and stand in a stream of people whose faithfulness (and brokenness given the list of names) has led us this far on the journey of faith.

I think one of the ways you embark on the soul level is to breathe in Scripture.  Bring the words close to your nose to smell...ask yourself if there is a word or image that you keep returning to...set the open Bible in your lap and simply be in the presence of the word in silence...see if anything stirs.

This soul-level is descriptive not prescriptive.  I can't tell you exactly how.  I can point and see that when I slow down, turn off my over-functioning brain, stop worrying if I have the right interpretation, but just be.  Some of the best relationships are those where you can be comfortable with silence in the other person's presence.  Where you don't have to fill every gap with words or explanations.  The soul level of Scripture tries to get you to that space...where you are with each other in the still small silence.  Just like the small space between tiny words on the thin pages of your Bible.  The soul level lets God write in the margins of your life at that particular time.

I pray that some of this helps you draw closer to this window pane of exploring Scripture.  Even more I pray we will sense more than a trace of God's grace when we step closer to the words of the Bible to gaze through this particular (and sometimes peculiar) window pane.

Grace and peace ~~