Monday, December 31, 2018
On the cusp of a new year we find ourselves in a threshold moment. Our minds drift back with hindsight to trips taken, experiences and encounters that filled the days of 2018, and even moments when we sensed a trace of God's grace.
What moments this last year still cause a smile to cross your face?
What hurts still linger and last, sitting restless in your soul?
What insights or ideas were awoken in the last 365 days?
Yet, this day isn't only about looking back. We look around at our lives today. If you were to take a piece of paper right now and write, "The Good; The Bad; and The Ugly" what are some of the things in your life right now would you categorize and classify in each? Or are some things on the line. Or are some things unable, unwilling to fit neat and tidy in those boxes? Play around at bit with this. Or, if you don't like that, my spiritual director always asks, "How is it with your soul?" That is a good question everyday and especially today.
So, we look back in hindsight to see what we carry with us.
We look around for insight into who we are today.
Finally, we look to 2019 with foresight. What do you pray might unfold in the year to come? What are you so excited about you can't wait to hang up the calendar tomorrow? Are there things right now you would rather press the pause button on your life and not race/rush into a new year.
To spend time today celebrating not with champagne or too much food, but a kind of celebration of life for what is was, is, and will be. This makes New Year's Eve day holy. Pause today. Breathe in all that was. Let God sit beside you holding what is. And find ways to stay open to the sacred every day in the coming year. When we do this, there is more than a trace of God's grace in our lives.
Blessings today and as we cross the threshold into a New Year.
Friday, December 28, 2018
I pray that in these twelve days of Christmas you have sensed God's love like the moon shining and shimmering in your life, lighting the way.
I pray that you have continued to find ways to be wrapped in the hope, peace, joy, and love that is a bridge from this year to the next.
I pray that you are sensing the beautiful truth that we are surrounded by a sacred that will not ever let us go.
If not...if perhaps you need a few reminders of the holy ways God is shifting, swirling, stirring...here are two.
First, Christmas isn't Christmas without watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas. With childhood nostalgia in me, here is one of my favorite scenes.
Second, for something a bit more modern one of my favorite version of "The First Noel"
May you sense more than a trace of God's grace in both these.
Wednesday, December 26, 2018
Christmas is past. The presents under the tree have disappeared. While bits of wrapping paper are still stuck to the carpet...while the light still twinkling...while there is still leftover ham in the refrigerator...we have moved on making plans for the New Year. These dwindling December days.
It wasn't always this way.
Some of you might remember when you didn't even put up the Christmas tree until Christmas Eve.
Some of you might remember that the twelve days of Christmas isn't just some strange song about the. worst. Christmas. presents. ever. Seriously, eight maids...ten lords a leaping...and pipers and drummers...who is going to feed all these people?
Some you might recall, remember that Christmas is not a day...it is a season. Christmas is...as the song states...twelve days. Between December 25 and January 6 (Epiphany - when we say the wise ones came to worship Jesus), these twelve days to ponder prayerfully the mystery that words can never confine or define. Twelve days...we are up to day two...with its turtle doves....so much more peaceful than those pipers who won't quit playing.
There is time right now. Just as we prayerfully prepared for the birth of Christ...perhaps in these dwindling days of December we might continue to let Christ shine/share with us truths we need as 2018 closes up shop and the 2019 calendar goes up on the wall. Prayerfully keep entering.
What did you experience on Christmas Eve? I am not only talking about in church, but on that night you want to hold onto for nights to come. Which is why I brought back the moon picture from the last post. The truths of that photo were not just for one blog post...but ones I want to keep simmering on my soul.
The first noel is a continual invitation for us to return in this Christmas-tide season to the manger - no longer empty but filled with a tiny, vulnerable, God-with-us infant because no one night can explore that truth fully.
May these twelve days continue to bless you. May these twelve days continue to hold you. May these twelve days sing to your soul as we continue our Christmas celebration.
May you sense more than a trace of God's grace.
Monday, December 24, 2018
The other night, I am out taking a walk around our neighborhood. Strolling along. Enjoying the Christmas lights people have put up. Hula Santa is very popular ~ making at least three appearances regardless of which way I go. There is one neighbor who has a twelve foot light up Santa...a twelve foot light up Snowman (always ironic in Florida)...then a two foot manger scene that has been faded by the sun over the years tucked in behind the other two. I might be the only one who sees that juxaposition as funny. We also have at least three neighbors who are trying out for the Great Christmas Light Fight television show. Music blaring, lights twinkling so fast and furious, every inch of every tree, lawn, and front of the house is dripping and drenched with something that sparkles and shines. I am not sure what their electric bill is in January...but good Lord.
But my point wasn't to take you on a trip around the block, but rather the above photo. After being soaked and saturated in all the artificial ~ manufactured ~ human-made lights that decorate the darkness, I turn the corner and see what I tried to capture for you. That object against the black night sky is, of course, the moon. I love several things around this photo.
1. I love that the street lamp is trying to compete with the brilliant and bold moon. There are moments our lives resemble that truth. We try to be special or spectacular. Tonight is Christmas Eve...I will preach a sermon to many people I don't really know who come for a variety of complex and complicated reasons. Some come out of obligation, some come out of ritual, some come because a family member said they had to or all the Christmas presents were going back to the store. At one point in my ministry I had thought, "Maybe...just maybe...if I say something meaningful, witty, insightful, inspiration.... maybe these visitors will come back." Imagine the church being as full on Sunday after Christmas as it is tonight. Insert dreamy eye vision here. It was a bit of beautiful foolishness on my part. What that sort of thinking leads us to in the church is thinking that it is all up to me or us. We have to do all the work. Thanks for the inspiration, God, but I'll take it from here. Yet I am basically like the street light tonight. I will offer what I can, but there is something more beautiful and powerful and profound happening in our world. God showing up. God's light of love illuminate the world. I hope I might point toward that, but in the end people might miss the moon because of all the glitz and glamour that we swim in as a society today.
2. I love that the brilliance of the moon needs the beauty of the night. Consider the moon when you wake up in the morning and it is still there - hovering and hanging around with the dawn. Often we miss it...or we see it and think, "Neat." But the moon in the photo above is beyond words ~ description ~ definition. This isn't night verses light battling it out. This is light decorating the darkness and vice versa too. They are not in tension. They are in a dance.
3. I love that in this breath-taking, word-shunning, silent entering photo is the truth of tonight. God's love lighting our world still two thousand years later. "The first noel," the carol goes, "The angels to say was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay." It is a bit of a tongue-twister, logic- defying sentence. The first noel, God came not to the powerful and privileged, but the good news came to the least, lonely, and left out in society - shepherd. The beauty came not in twenty-four foot dancing hula Santas...but in a faded manger scene hardly seen behind all that distracts us today. The beauty came in a moon that most people missed because we were too busily searching for the perfect last minute gift, elbowing the crowds who have the gull to wait until the last moment (never mind we have done the same thing), and wondering why we are doing this.
Why we do this...this sacred season, of course, is because the mystery and marvel of this night will never be fully known. We do this...this sacred season every year because every year we need to be reminded and reassured that hope, peace, love, and joy are still as true today as the moon over our heads. We do this...this sacred season because if we didn't then the bad news cycles would have the only word.
So, come, come and behold him. Come all ye faithful. Come sing with the choir of angels. Be drenched in candle light. Come be wrapped in more than a trace of grace that has no end.
I pray wherever you are...whoever you are...in some way you might sense the holy mystery of this night. For unto you, yes you, in the city of David is born a savior who is Christ the Lord.
Friday, December 21, 2018
The Inward Sea by Howard Thurman
There is in every person an inward sea, and in that
sea there is an island and on that island there is an
altar and standing guard before that altar is the “angel
with the flaming sword.” Nothing can get by that
angel to be placed upon that altar unless it has the
mark of your inner authority. Nothing passes “the
angel with the flaming sword” to be placed upon your
altar unless it be a part of “the fluid area of your consent.”
This is your crucial link with the Eternal.
Re-read this poem...is the sea of your life right now calm and smooth as glass or churning and chaotic?
As you sit on the island of life...what has been placed on the altar of your life?
Where do you want to discuss or debate Thurman...what has been put on your altar you didn't want? Maybe a relationship struggle or medical illness.
Rob Bell often asks these two questions, "Is this all there is?" Meaning - is what I am seeing and sensing on the surface all there is or might there be more just beneath; if I keep digging. Second, what might this have to teach me?
May our link to the eternal...the inner seas of our life this day...stir and swirl with more than a trace of God's grace.
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Isaiah 60
If there is one truth I pray you have sensed throughout this series of posts it is that Isaiah loves paradox. Isaiah would have loved to discuss how sometimes the things we want the most can also cause pain. Isaiah's favorite song might be Every Rose Has Its Torn...(click here to re-live that classic 80s moment) Isaiah's favorite meal might be a Turducken (that is a chicken in a duck in a turkey - which we do because...I guess we can?!).
Isaiah loves putting two things side-by-side in tension.
Lion and lamb standing side-by-side - check.
Swords (weapons both literal and the words of our mouth) being turned into a tool to cultivate growth and life - check.
All people...even that one friend on Facebook who annoys you and you blocked - being invited to the mountain of God - check.
Comfort when people were hurting so bad they didn't want to hear but wallow in the pain - check.
And now rising and shining when you just want to pull the covers over your head - check and check.
Paradox is part of our lives.
Family situations where we bury the pain with a smile on our face to try to make the best of it.
Jobs where our hearts struggle but there are many good things too.
Going out shopping when everyone else apparently decides that to visit the store at the same time.
Paradox is part of your life.
You live with tensions.
You live with beauty and brokenness sitting side by side.
You have tasted the Turducken of your so-called life.
It isn't that paradox is a new concept, it is that we have somehow come to believe or been told and taught that we have to resolve these moments. That the ideal life is somehow free from paradox.
I don't think that is possible. Nor practical. Nor even desirable. Paradoxes can provide fuel to feed our lives in good ways.
Paradoxes can provide fuel to feed our creativity...and can also sometimes be an obstacle - yet one more paradox to add to our list.
So, how...how do we see both the rose and thorn for what they are?
With eyes wide open to the face that there are places on the stem we can still hold the rose without getting pricked...and even if we do...we might learn something from that bit of blood.
With ears to hear that we don't know everything and perhaps we don't always have to share our opinion in the comment section of every news article.
With hearts that realize each and every person carries paradoxes around s/he cannot solve and it might just be driving them mad or causing them to lash out with anger.
With souls that sense God's movement in the paradoxes...because if there is anything God loves it is the tension of doing what is unexpected and un-explainable. Calling Abraham and Sarah in their old age to move? Check! Sending a condemned murderer in Moses back to the scene of the crime in Egypt as a liberator? Check! Letting a Moabite woman (who were seen of questionable ethics) in Ruth be the great, great, great grandmother of the great king David? Check! Picking out a unwed woman named Mary to be the God-bearer? Check and check.
See...paradoxes are not new to Isaiah...just a faithful thread woven into almost every page of scripture and our lives.
Can we find ways to be more playful with the paradoxes of life?
Can we pray our way through paradoxes not as puzzles to be solved but unanswerable mysteries we live?
Can you find more than a trace of God's grace in the paradoxes you live?
That is my deepest hope for you.
Monday, December 17, 2018
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Isaiah 60
On the surface this seems like a hopeful and peaceful poem. On the surface these words can bring a smile to our face. On the surface these words can bring back memories of moments when your grandmother would say, "Rise and shine," to wake you up in the morning. Or at camping singing, "Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory." Dig deeper. These words are not being spoke or sung to people who have overslept but have been captured, carted off to live in exile. These words are offered in a time when the people were not being woken from a peaceful slumber, but living a nightmare. And in the long book of Isaiah - often divided into three parts of pre-exile, during exile, and then post exile - we are now entering the third and final part.
For fifty years people lived in exile in Babylon. Then another military power conquered Babylon and gave the Israelite people a permission slip to roam about the country. But...and this is important... this may not have been the. best. news. ever. Fifty years is a long time. Some of the people who had been captured and carted off died in Babylon. Others had grown weak, weary with age. Others had been born there and it was the only home they knew.
Consider each of those realities.
Sure, some might have been all in on heading back ~ bags packed and singing Eddie Money's I've Got Two Tickets to Paradise. ~ feel free to click on the link and relive the glory days of the 1980s!
Sure, some might be reluctant but ready to go, dragging their feet a bit ~ like my kids Christmas shopping last weekend.
And we will never know how many were in those two camps...my hunch is there are people who were uncertain and unclear if they should go back.
Fifty years is enough time where a foreign land quits being so strange. Fifty years is enough time to stop feeling like a captive and more like a local. Sure, you can live somewhere fifty years and never fit in or feel at home. But for some in the captured and carted off crowd of Israelites, they weren't sure a road trip was the best idea.
So, stop with me here.
What journeys in the coming year are you excited about and anticipating?
What journeys are you dreading?
These need not be moments when you pack your bags, because some journeys we don't even leave home for. Some journeys involve trips to the hospital for treatments. Some journeys are of the soul struggling ~ processing the pain ~ trying to find peace. Some journeys take us nowhere only we feel like we have traveled a thousand miles.
See how a simple poem can be pastoral and prophetic for the present moment?
And may you see/sense more than a trace of God's grace in the journeys you are on right now.
Friday, December 14, 2018
There is something about Linus' telling of the Christmas story that sets my soul stirring.
There is something about Linus sharing the story at the center of this sacred season that tells me it is Christmas time - even when it is 70 degrees outside.
There is something about this video that is poetic...prophetic...and pastoral all at the same time.
I pray in these December days...this short video might provide more than a trace of God's grace for you.
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Isaiah 55:2
Wow, Isaiah, way to cut to the chase here.
This might be one of the most prophetic lines in all of scripture. It might be the one that makes us feel the most uncomfortable. We know today that we are far too busy. We know that we worship at the altar of "perpetual motion". We know that so much of our identity is caught up in what we've accomplished, degrees that hang on our walls, awards sit on the shelf saying, "You are someone."
What happens when the calendar is blank and bare?
What happens when our bodies won't let us keep moving at such a frantic, frenzied pace?
What happens when the degrees and awards just collect dust and their shine suddenly doesn't seem so bright?
Isaiah...a little less bright light on the brokenness of our lives.
This could be where the church usually says, "Try hard!" Or tells us, "You've missed the point." Which is exactly the exact opposite of what I think Isaiah is getting at here.
Not do more...come to church....give more....but rather stop. Cease. Breathe. Be.
The Sabbath has always been sacred not because God said so...although She did. The Sabbath is sacred because for one day we are called to just breathe and be. My lament about the loss of Blue Law isn't that attendance has dropped in church. Rather, it is that we have given ourselves permission and even the expectation that we cannot stop! My lament of the loss of Blue Laws is that we have forgotten how to be bored!
If you want Exhibit A that people cannot stand to be bored - study people standing in line. They are all staring down at their phones. No longer does a trip to the store have to be frustrating, because you can multitask and check your email. No longer do you have to strike up a conversation with the person standing behind you, because you can check into Facebook instead.
I love what Barbara Brown Taylor says about the Sabbath: "For one day a week be good for nothing." Not that we are unworthy or worms...rather that we are so beautiful and mysteriously made that we if don't stop. Breathe. Be. We will miss it.
This is one of those posts that challenge me the most. I love to be busy. I worship at the altar of perpetual motion. A full calendar is proof that I am needed, necessary. But, in these still small moments of letting Isaiah's prophetic words sit on my soul, I wonder why? Why race and run around? Why move so fast that my soul can't keep up?
Those questions don't have easy answers. Yet, God comes to us in human form, to remind us that there is another way. So today, breathe and be. Sit in a chair for as long as you can...then sit for another two minutes.
Laugh at something silly.
Listen for God's laughter in your life.
And may there be more than a trace of God's grace on this Sabbath Wednesday for you.
Monday, December 10, 2018
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Isaiah 55:1
If I was to add one more defining description to Isaiah...and keeping with my beautiful alliteration above....I would use the word, "paradoxical". Isaiah never met a paradox he didn't want to play with.
Isaiah 2 - everyone comes to the mountain...and everyone means everyone. That person who annoys you? Yup. The family member whose politics is different and always pushes your button? S/he is there too. The person who cut in-front of you in the line yesterday? Probably trying to do it again at the mountain. We struggle with the "all" part of "y'all come". We'd rather divided ourselves into our carefully constructed tribes. People who think like us...or at least we think they think like us...because when we dig deeper maybe they want medical care for all but in a slightly different path way...suddenly we have to confront that we are not as similar as we thought. See how "y'all" is a paradox?
Isaiah 9 - lion and lamb laying down together? Seriously, Isaiah, learn a little Darwin here! That lamb isn't safe. That lamb needs to get out of there before the lion realizes like the shark in Finding Nemo that mantas like, "Fish are friends not food"...might not help with your stomach is growling.
Every single post in this series has a built in paradox...a world turned upside down. A tension that won't be easily resolves. Comfort people in exile is like comforting someone in the emergency room. Singing a new song when you are stressed, strained, and in a strange climate...isn't when we are at our most creative...thank you very much.
And what about this one above? A feast you don't have to pay for? A table where everyone is welcome without bringing any money? What kind of business model is that? One doomed to failure! One that cannot last very long!
Yet, at the heart of the Christian faith is the sacrament of communion, when these words stop being something from the distant and disconnected past...to a tactile and tangible moment ~~ glimpse of God's grace. Communion is partaking of food you did not buy...you did not prepare...and for which you will not receive a bill. Communion is a gift of grace. For grace to be grace it needs to be unconditional. Grace comes to us freely so that we might freely receive.
I love that the first word of this past is "Ho"...not as in the Santa "Ho, ho, ho". Rather it is the Hebrew word, "Hoy". It means, "listen...pay attention." We tune and turn our ears because what God is saying at this meal...both in the time of Isaiah and today at communion...is this is the way the world is supposed to work/look. Forget what Adam Smith said...forget that commercial on t.v. about buying your spouse a new car as the best Christmas present ever. Yet, to let go of that, is very vulnerable. It challenges us because we have based and built our entire life on these systems. Work hard and you'll be rewarded. A penny saved is a penny earned.
Scripture seems intention on dismantling those very things we hold dear.
Or put another way, to paraphrase Thomas Merton, "We can spend our whole lives climbing a ladder, only to reach the top, and realize it was on the wrong wall."
Or put another, God comes to us in a vulnerable tiny infant. Not a powerful prince...or Zeus throwing lightening bolts...or with decrees and demands of what to belief. An infant - meek and mild - and there was no room for that child. And the question remains - do we have room for the One who will totally disrupt - interrupt - our ways of thinking and being in the world? If we do...come on y'all...there is a feast set for all of us.
May there be a trace of grace in your life that holds lightly the beautiful paradoxes of life today.
Friday, December 7, 2018
The more I think about hope...the more I return to this beautiful poem by Jane Kenyon. I believe she sees a trace of God's grace in the beautiful ordinary of the every day. Perhaps that is where hope hangs out and hovers. Perhaps hope is there in the corner, waiting for us to notice that the course of our life dances with delight deep within as hope beckons us to come and play. In what ways does Kenyon's poem describe or define what hope might be in your life?
Otherwise by Jane Kenyon
I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth! Isaiah 42:10
If you want to stir the pot amid the people of God...try singing a new song. Where the words and melody are unfamiliar. Where the rhythm is on the off-beat. Where people bumble and stumble their way through...only to sit down frustrated and flummoxed.
We say that to sing is to pray twice. So perhaps that is why singing new songs feels frustrating. We want our prayers to be eloquent...well rehearsed....believing God prefers it that way. But when was the last time you did something for the first time perfectly?
The first time you walked...you fell.
The first time you wrote your name...the "e" was backwards.
The first time I preached a sermon...well let's just say I have tried to learn from my mistakes.
Maybe singing a new song is about trying and testing out a different way of connecting with God. Maybe singing a new song is about a different chord and harmony that leads us to sense the stirring spirit with renewed passion.
Maybe singing a new song isn't about one and done...but tuning and turning our lives toward God here and now.
As the classic cliche goes...even Amazing Grace was a new hymn at one point.
We need new ways to pray and praise God, because today is different than yesterday and tomorrow will not be the same. Yes, some of the past will continue to guide us with grace. But love and grace is constantly/continually evolving to meet us in the present. So, it makes sense something new will stir within us.
That is why I love to listen to new music and hymns. Not everything I hear gets repeated and replayed...sometimes hearing something once is enough. But other new music...keeps inviting and inspiring me. Some new music awakens something deep within me...and hope rises. One of my favorite new Advent carols is below. I share it with you in the spirit of Isaiah that our souls might cry out with a joyful shout. I pray you hear more than a trace of God's grace in these words.
Monday, December 3, 2018
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching Isaiah 42:1-4
Hope can often be confused or conflated with optimist...or positive/wishful thinking...or looking on the bright side. Yet, hope is deeper than just nice thoughts. Often when we say we hope something will happen, we are attempting to express a deep desire. Hope, like a north star, will guide us in a particular direction and point our toes toward that which we are passionate. Hope lives inside each of us.
So, what do you hope for? In your life, your relationships, your community, and the world? Hope is expansive...always enlarging. Hope is elusive...won't be confined or contain in what we can control. Hope stirs, swirls, and sings.
I love the above poem from Isaiah 42. Remember, these words were probably spoken to people in exile...out on the edge...having been captured by a foreign empire. Isaiah says God will put God's spirit upon one who causes God's soul to delight. A spirit...a strength...something deep. Just like hope. The spirit will bring about justice for all people. The way the spirit will do this is not through might makes right...but in keeping with the theme/thread of Isaiah from the beginning...with peaceful means.
Perhaps this is why hope can be so difficult for us to hold onto in such a time as this. When we are passionate about something, we can cling to it so tightly our knuckles turn white and we leave finger nail marks in our desire. When we want something to happen, we can pour every ounce of energy and effort. Nothing crushes what we call, "hope" more than when things don't happen according to our plans and time schedule. Yet, perhaps hope wants to get out ahead of us. Hope wants to turn left despite our desire to go right. And when we prefer our way to the guidance/grounding of the spirit, that is when we, like the Israelites under Moses, wander in the wilderness of life.
We need to name our hopes...but hold them lightly.
We need to notice what is stirring within us...but also nudging us in ways that seem counter intuitive.
We need to let hope sing out to us...especially when our ears are clogged.
May there be more than a trace of grace...and a hearty helping of hope in your life in these dwindling days of December.