Friday, March 30, 2018

God's Friday


On this day, when we wonder, "What in God's name is going on?"  How can Jesus' death ever been good?  And is this Easter faith even worth celebrating...or should we just dive into discounted chocolate and candy?  I want to share one of my favorite videos with you that I believe is so poignant and powerful.  I pray it sings and speaks to your heart on this holiest day.

Grace and peace ~~

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Poem for Maundy Thursday



Broken Moments 

There is that experience we all know well.
When the glass slips from our grasp,
When the plate plummets from our palm,
When the measuring cup free falls from our fingers.
Crashing chaotically on the ground.
The eerie sounds of that which is fragile,
Smacking against that which is solid, fierce.
When the vulnerable lands against an unforgiving,
And unrelenting force.
Suddenly sharp shards of glass scatter across the floor.
Splintering and sprinting in all directions
The small pieces suddenly free to escape to corners far flung.

We know this well because it not happened once,
But because it is happening all the time.
When the sharp shards of life scatter across our days and years.
When relationships we thought invincible;
When our bodies we believed immortal;
When our hearts once taught to be impermeable;
Suddenly encounter forces and our lives feel fragile as glass.

We bring broken moments tonight to the table.
Words spoken too quickly.
Hurts and harms we can’t quite let go of.
Neighbors we struggle to love.
People we refer to as, “Them” and “Those”, rather than, “Beloved.”
Places our community is caught in a rut of injustice.
Spaces where we have lost our capacity to talk so we shout.

Enter in to the broken moments, O God.
Sit with us in the shards of life, O Christ.
Help us trust in the slow work of the Spirit.
May the taste of bread and juice feed and fuel our lives,
this night, tomorrow, and for a thousand moments to come.
This is our prayer to You,
comma placing,
still creating,
loving us through the brokenness, God. 

Amen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Lenten Rituals


This Lent, we tried something a bit new with lighting a candle each Sunday.  It is meant to be an echo, mirror of Advent when we light the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.  So, during Lent, we will light a candle each week too.

We began where Scripture began ~ in Genesis 1 ~ with our belovedness.  We are formed, fashioned with the fingerprints of God.  To begin at the beginning of being blessed by God.  To let this light guide us not only for one Sunday or one week...but to continue to let that shine brightly in the coming weeks.

We moved on to lighting a candle of healing/wholeness because we all need healing in our life.  Theologian Ruby Sales asks the question, "Where does it hurt?"   That question belongs to all of us.  Some hurt because of racism/sexism/homophobia.  Some hurt because of job/food insecurities.  Some hurt because they can't find affordable housing or difficulty in school.  Some hurt because of stress or anxiety.  We all hurt.

Next, we lit the candle of being unbound by that which confines and defines us.  This was the narrative of Lazarus who we are told came out of the tomb and needed to be unbound because the grave clothes were too tight around him.  Like with the question, where does it hurt, the places and people we feel confined by can feel make us claustrophobic.  Where are those places you need to ask God to break through and enter in fresh ways?

Next, we lit the candle of abiding...which is one of the Gospel of John's favorite words.  To abide in God is to be rooted/grounded/firmly planted in the presence of the holy.  I want you to notice the cycle here ~ we started with beloved...and let that shine a light on brokenness in our mind/heart/ and bodies...which led to us noticing/naming the places we needed God to call out to us...now we are back to abiding in God.  We abide in God not because of what we believe or do, but because of who we are.  Jesus says, I am the vine, you are the branches.  We need to remember our connections to the holy. 

Because we skipped a week - rather than having seven candles - we will have six.  The four above during Lent, then on Palm Sunday we light a candle of hopefulness.  The word, "Hosanna" we shout and sing on Palm Sunday means "save us."  Save us from what we cannot save ourselves...save us from brokenness...save us from constant bickering and partisanship...save us from talking about "those people"...save us from blaming until we have fully accepting our own participation.  Save us.  Yet, Jesus' way of saving (the cross) is not how it was supposed to be done.  Jesus was supposed to take care of those oppressive Roman authority once and for all.  Only he does it not by might makes right, but by vulnerable self-giving love.  When we light the candle of hopefulness, we realize that our hopes and dreams take us to places we never imagined or thought we would want to go.

Finally, on Easter, it is a light of life.  New life...resurrected life...renewed/refreshed/restored life. 

I want to invite you today to light six candles...one for each of the above words.  Listen to how it sings to your life.  What truth does it have to teach/tell you?  Which words/lights are you like a moth drawn to...and which would you rather not light?  Pay attention today to our still speaking God moving in your midst as we prepare for Maundy Thursday tomorrow.  May this be a gift and offer more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~~   

Monday, March 26, 2018

Preparing for our holiest week


It is well with my soul...how can you sing that when so much in our world seems to present evidence to the contrary?  Famine...struggle....lies and scandals....a world that seems to have gone off any script any of us were taught in school...friends who live with devastating illnesses....people grieving.  The list could go on, but you get the point. 

It perhaps feels like this song is trying to wallpaper over such pain and suffering...but it is actually born out of it.  The author wrote this hymn after his wife and child died at sea.  Notice, the opening lines,When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll
Those words are not just some aesthetic, they are autobiographical.  The writer knew all to well the sorrow billowing like the sea...in fact...because of the sea.

When the writer goes on to say, Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, "It is well, it is well, with my soul."  Again, I don't think this is because of a denial of reality, but to say that the present reality doesn't define who I am fully.  This moment of brokenness, pain, hurt and harm is real.  It is honest, but there is also more to me than this.

One of the things pain does is blinds our eyes and clogs our ears.  Suddenly the fullness of life doesn't seem so full.  It is like everything is replaced with brokenness and tears.  To sing this hymn is an act not of denial but defiance.  I will not be defined only because of this illness.  I will not be defined only by the racist/sexists/homophobic remarks.  I will not be defined because at the heart of who I am is whose I am.  I beloved to God who calls me beloved.  That truth helps my shy soul peek and peer it's head out wondering if it is safe.

How do you feel well in your soul?
Where do yo want to push back, saying, "Yeah but, it doesn't feel well here?"
Where do you need that trace of grace to work/wiggle its way into your life?

I pray these questions, along with this hymn helps you as we start out on this holiest of weeks.

Grace and peace ~~

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Les Mis for Lent...last one

Okay...one final song...appropriately on Palm Sunday.  This is the finale from Les Mis which is a total spoiler alert if you haven't watched the whole thing.  But I absolutely believe the final line that, "To love another person is to see the face of God"  That for me is what holy week is all about.  This is to see God's love from the Palm Sunday parade to the sharing of bread at table to the pain of death on Friday to the glory of Easter.  God's love is in the good...the bad...and the ugly.  It is the final two categories that are the hardest for us.  It is easy to see God in the sunrise or laughter or love of family.  It is harder when bridges collapse and kill people, or school shootings, or just turning on the news.  It is harder when the crosses of life keep popping up inconveniently in our lives still today.  And we have a choice...we can follow faithfully toward that light of love and live that way...or we can get bitter.  We can connect with communities that a make a difference or we can says, "It's all about me and what I want."  We can try to live with humble love or we can seek violence.  Les Mis teaches and tells us the way of humble self giving love that leaves me with tears in my eyes.  Enjoy!!




May the light of God's love shine brightly this week...especially in those moments when the bad and ugly of life try to cover/cloud out God's peace and presence.

Many blessings ~` 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Les Mis for Lent take three

One of my favorite songs in Les Mis is the following one, "Do you hear the people sing?"  It is a song about protest and passion and possibility.  It is a song about hope in the face of the hardest times.  It is a song about Holy Week...facing our deaths and standing courageously with a strength not of our own making/manufacturing.  I pray that this song stirs and speaks to your soul today...give you strength of the One who is our hope ages past and love for days to come.


Where do you long for the kind of freedom God's love lets loose in the world?
How can you co-create with God in these moments toward such freedom?

Grace and peace ~~

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Les Mis for Lent take two

As we continue to let the music of Les Mis guide us and ground us in this week before Palm Sunday, we turn back to the theological question of law and grace.  In some ways it is a false choice to think it has to be either/or...rather than the all embracing both/and for so much of life.  I want you to listen to this solo Inspector Javert sings about stars being a witness to his goodness.  Listen for the ways his certainty blinds him and his black/white ~ either/or thinking causes him to stumble and struggle to see that change might be possible.


This passionate and poignant performance is masterful.  His singing brings to light the power of Javert's position.  Javert believes he is so right that Valjean can never be right. 

That speaks...sings...into our position today.  We have too many people - on many sides of the issues - that would shout about the stars being their witness to their own rightness.  People who can't see their own need for grace and God's love.  Or people who think that grace can be earned by doing more, trying harder, or pleasing God.  When you worship an angry God...you are never going to feel good enough or correct enough...plus you will always look for someone who is worse off than you (those people) so that maybe God will focus wrath on them instead (witness people condemning others based on sexual orientation or voting patterns or belief). 

Christ did not come to show us a God who was angry or to appease God.  Christ came to reveal God in God's fullness and love...that we would abide in God.  Yet, such a truth is too difficult in a world where we are always trying to earn something...so we turn our relationship with God into a transaction or a tit-for-tat contract because that just feels more natural and normal.  So, listen again, only now can you hear the stars singing back, "Grace is always unearned/ unconditional/ unceasing... that is why it is called grace."

May there be more than a trace of such grace this week for you.

Blessings ~~

Monday, March 19, 2018

Les Mis for Lent

Music can move us, awaken us, heal us, give us words for that which we thought we had none, offer insight, and connect us to others.  There is music that serves as a soundtrack to our lives.  For me, the music of Les Mis is poetry set to music that I have returned to time and time again.  If you are unfamiliar, let me give you a bit of back story to help catch you up.  The main character is Jean Valjean, a man who was convicted of stealing bread to feed his hungry family in the days before the French Revolution.  He is caught and convicted of the crime.  This detail serves as a driving force in the plot line of the story.  Was it okay to steal the bread?  Or is it once a thief, always a thief?  What is the role of forgiveness/grace verses always following the letter of the law?  Which brings me to introducing Inspector Javert, who as the antagonist, haunts and hunts Valjean throughout the musical.  The musical opens with Valjean scheduled for release after serving his time...BUT...and this is important...as a convicted criminal he is given paperwork that lets everyone know he has broken the law.

We live in a country right now were there are over 6 million convicted felons.  Disproportionately, this has impacted African American males.  About 1 in 5 receive this due to an addiction or association to drugs.  There are not many programs in prison that actually help the person convicted deal with the addiction s/he struggles with.  About half of all felons are involved in non-violent crimes.  Once you are convicted a felon, you have to constantly reveal that upon release to potential jobs and you are no longer allowed to vote in the United States.  While Les Mis may be set in pre-Revolution France, we know what it is like to stick the stigma of a conviction on a person and force him/her to carry it for the rest of life still today. 

Valjean tries to escape from the shadow of his past by tearing up the paperwork stating he is a criminal.  But Javert won't give up...keeps on trying to bring him to justice.  The overarching question of Les Mis...is the question for Lent...where is the line between law/gospel or grace?  Where do we get what we deserve no questions asked and when do we get a chance to right our wrongs?  Where is there forgiveness and where do we cling so tightly to being right that our knuckles turn white?

The question is also theological...do we worship a judgmental/angry/justice demanding God OR a loving/forgiving/grace-giving-even-when-we-don't-deserve-it God? 

So, a couple of songs from Les Mis for your Monday morning.  First is the opening number about the humiliation and dehumanization of criminals.  Second, a song after Valjean has torn up his criminal paperwork...fled from where he was supposed to be...tried to start over a new life.  But Javert, who is always on the trail...wrongly convicts someone who looks like Valjean. 




A few prayerful questions after you listen~~

What/when does your past feel like a shadow you cannot shake? 
If you had a rewind/rewrite button in life, would you use it?





A few prayerful questions ~

How do you answer the question, "Who am I"?  
Would you claim the brokenness of your past as a way to blessedness?

May this music be a poetic prayer for you this day and week.

Grace and peace ~~ 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Poetry and Praise take three


The above anthem...and the poem below seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly.  They fit together and sing to my soul.  I pray the two blend together singing out to you with more than a trace of God's grace.

Everything Is Waiting for You ~ By David Whyte

 Your great mistake is to act the drama
 as if you were alone. As if life
 were a progressive and cunning crime
 with no witness to the tiny hidden
 transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
 the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
 even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
 the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
 out your solo voice. You must note
 the way the soap dish enables you,
 or the window latch grants you freedom.
 Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
 The stairs are your mentor of things
 to come, the doors have always been there
 to frighten you and invite you,
 and the tiny speaker in the phone
 is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
 conversation. The kettle is singing
 even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
 have left their arrogant aloofness and
 seen the good in you at last. All the birds
 and creatures of the world are unutterably
 themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

May the everything of God be seen/felt/heard/tasted/touched in your life this day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Poetry and praise take two


Sometimes the church can overuse the word, "Grace" ~ the unconditional and unceasing presence of God.  Or we can drop the word grace in the midst of a bunch of oughts and shoulds and coulds - which is a contradiction.  Or we turn grace into a carrot that if we are just good enough or volunteer enough or believe enough we might finally be able to earn...again the exact opposite of what grace is and does and prays for our life.  Grace is.

Grace moves with a wild abandon...
Grace interrupts and disrupts in the most delightful ways...
Grace dances
Grace laughs
Grace beckons us to see that joy is the fuel that feeds our life.

Yes...there is too much violence and we are too much in the world (especially when the world is at our fingertips twenty-four hours a day).  Yes...grace can be elusive and we can miss the traces in our life.  Yes, it certainly doesn't always come in the ways we wish or want. 

But grace will keep inviting us to travel another road.  The road as described in this poem by Mary Oliver.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Amen...and Amen.

Grace and peace ~~

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Poetry and praise take one


Where is the ache today?

Where is the restlessness that makes placidness practically impossible?

Where does it hurt?

Often times our frustrations sit on the back burners of our life simmering and steaming.  The unresolved feuds with family members.  What our co-worker said to us.  The pains that we collect throughout our life.  Eventually, these can boil over, coming out in ways we immediately and instantly regret.  As Richard Rohr says, "Pain that is not processed is passed along."

But how?

How do we process pain?  Because sometimes we think a wound has started to heal, only to be bumped by some other experience/encounter/event...and we can feel like we are right back to square one.  Sometimes, we think we have taken care of that pot simmering on the back burner, only to have it boil over unexpectedly.

For me, music helps soothe my soul.
For me, poetry helps too.

When processing pain, I love the following poem.  Not only reading it, but enacting and embodying it.


The Eye of Despair
Sometimes the best you can do is to howl. 
When the wound is so deep 
you know the hurt will never heal, 
when the world is so broken 
a universe of prayer won’t repair it, 
the best you can do is howl.
Throw your head back and 
(I dare you) 
howl like a banshee, like a she wolf, 
like the wild thing buried in your bones, 
and feel rising from deep, 
dark places with the primal power of your breath 
a sliver of hope to hurl with your howl at the eye of despair.



So, you now have permission (not that you needed it) to howl.  Growl.  Yell.  Let it come from the deep within you.  Not words.  Not phrases.  Just primal/carnal sounds.  Let it rise up and escape out into the universe that griefs and growls and howls with you.  And then, listen again, to the hymn above to see if perhaps...by chance...in some small way...this prayerful act was a balm for you soul.

With love and blessings ~~

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

How Can I Keep From Singing


This hymn has been stuck on repeat and replay in my heart over the last few days.  The words are poignant and powerful...pointing out that life is not all chocolate rivers and pony rides.  It asks us to notice and name the brokenness, the tumult and the strife, the pain, the stress and the strain.

Yet...yet...it will not let the brokenness have the last word.

That is so difficult to do in our world today.

How can we sing when schools are no longer safe?
How can we sing when loved ones die?
How can we sing when the plumbing needs to be repaired - again...I mean we just had the plumber out last week.  Good Lord!
How can we sing when divisions are so deep and we can't even talk to each other about what matters most?

Maybe the singing doesn't solve the problem.  Maybe the singing is the start of something else.  When we sing we are conspiring - a word that literally means we are breathing together.  When we sing - even different notes - we call that harmony.  Not everyone has to sing the melody.  Not everyone has to offer the same exact note.  As a matter of fact, if we did, it gets kind of boring. 

Robert Lowry who wrote this hymn offers a powerful, prayerful juxtaposition.  We don't just sing because ware happy...we sing in the face of barren, broken moments because our faith is rooted, grounded in God who is not finished with us yet.

I sing not to distract, deny, or diminish the brokenness.   I sing because it is my only prayer in facing the realities in the world.  And when approached that way, how can I keep from singing?

With much love ~~

Friday, March 2, 2018

Poetry Prayer



Yesterday, along with our ministry of music, I offered a session called, "Prayer, poetry, and praise".  In addition, to what I think is a very clever use of alliteration, those three words are also synonyms.  Poetry is often prayer to me.  Poetry, one poet said, is 'The language from which we have no defense.'  Words that challenge and convict us in the best meaning of that.  Here is a poem by Bonnie Thurston that has been sitting as a prayer for me recently:

 Ein Sof*

We scrabble to fill the world with noise:
relentlessly grinding intellect,
perpetually moving tongue,
electronic racket our grandparents couldn’t imagine.

If you are quiet,
strive for inner stillness,
waste few words, many will think you mad.
You will hear within
the vast emptiness which they fear.

In the beginning,
God created,
made everything from darkness and silence.
What surfaces,
emerges in your empty spaces,
might be a full moon on your darkest night.

* Ein Sof is a Kabbalist term meaning ‘no limit’ or ‘infinity’.

I invite you to re-read these words..
pause at the end of each line...
taste the words melting...
see which one lingers with sweetness...
which words taste bitter.

I invite you to pray these words outloud...
where do you emphasize...
where do you whisper lest you hear the too harsh honesty you are saying

I invite you to let these words be praise ~ celebration ~ on this Friday.

Together ~ poetry and prayer and praise ~ might all stew together at once within you.

Grace and peace and love ~~