Monday, April 29, 2019
Our four gospels give us four very different and distinctive endings. Mark’s is the most abrupt. He has the women flee the empty tomb where they encountered an angel telling of the resurrection. Mark’s final words are, “And they said nothing to no one.” Um two things. One, thanks for that warm and fuzzy closure. Two, at some point they said something to someone otherwise you wouldn’t have a gospel. Luke ends with Jesus walking the road after the resurrection with two disciples who don’t recognize or realize it’s him and then walking through walls like Casper the friendly ghost. But for Luke it is all just a bridge to set up his sequel, the book of Acts. John gives us a couple of stories where Jesus cooks salmon and avocado toast for the disciples on the beach and appears to all the disciples except Thomas, because we’ve all had someone say to us, “You should have been here.” Matthew concludes his gospel rather quickly. In the final chapter of Matthew's gospel, the women had encounter and embrace the Risen Christ. Jesus was all, “I thus proclaimth, that I am not getting-th the band back together-th. But tell everyone to meet-th me on the hill-th.” Not exactly telling them which hill or giving good directions. Matthew then cuts to a scene where some of the officials pay off the guards who were watching the tomb. It is like they are handing the guards a $10 bill, "How about my friends Hamilton here helps you forget about that angel and the empty tomb?" It is such a strange scene...that maybe reminds us that bribes and money have always been used as a way to buy silence. Finally, we get four verses, often called the Great Commission.
Four short, succinct verses...that's it. But there is so much in these four verse. Let's start at the beginning because that is where we are at. The disciples have left Jerusalem...walked back to Galilee, which is where it all began. Galilee is where many of the disciples sang Bruce Springsteen's, "My hometown". It was familiar...only I wonder if now the sights, sounds, and smells looked different? I know when I go back to my hometown, it just doesn't seem the same. I can drive past the school where I graduated...and feel both nostalgia and at the same wonder, "Did I really go there?" I wonder if when the disciples walked into the village having lived through the devastating death of Jesus in crucifixion and now this rumor of resurrection (because in Matthew the disciples... the boys...don't go to the empty tomb at all) if nothing looks right. I remember the first time I walked into our house after our kids were born...everything was in the exact same space ~~ only everything looked/seemed/smelled different. It wasn't that my house had changed ~~ I had. I was different. I wonder if the disciples felt that as they walked into Galilee?
They go to some mountain...Matthew doesn't say which one. Maybe they went to the mountain where Jesus preached the Beatitudes...or was transfigured....or one where they used to hang out together. As they reached the top of the mountain...there! Is! Jesus! This is the first encounter and experience of the Easter Jesus. Is he glowing? Is he hover a few feet off the ground? Or does he look exactly the same? Standing before them Matthew says, "When they saw him; they worshiped him, but some of them doubted." Best. Line. Of. Scripture. Ever!
Because let's face it, at some point, we all resemble that sentence. We all wake up some mornings, read the headlines, and think, "Um, God, anytime you'd like to fix this mess, that would be great." We all wake up some mornings, sun shining and birds singing, thinking, "This is the day God has made." We all wake up some mornings faith surging. We all wake up other mornings faith sagging. We all doubt and worship. And I love what Fredrick Buechner says, "Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don't have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving."
The ants in the pants of faith...classic.
Where do you doubt/question/feel curiosity stirring and swirling today?
Might there be a trace of grace as you wander off exploring where those questions and curiosities take you?
I pray it might be so for you and me.
Friday, April 26, 2019
It has been a blast and blessing playing with words over the last several weeks. I have loved the way the words of intersected and informed and inspired. I have loved that we got to continue this for a few more days, using Easter-ing and practicing resurrection as a bridge.
There comes a time when it is good to cease, stop...for awhile.
There comes a time when it is good to start in new directions.
Now is that time.
It is my deep prayer that the words over these last few weeks have sparked and caused the spirit to swirl.
I pray you have written poems...found connections to your life...or maybe even now have a story to share.
I write these posts because I love to create...
I love tossing and throwing things out into the universe to see if there is an echo.
It can feel often like nailing Jell-O to the wall.
But the fun and joy is in the prayerful/playful effort.
The fun and joy is feeling the surge of the Spirit motivating and moving me.
The fun and joy is that for me...these posts are one way I practice resurrection with you.
What brings you joy?
When you were five years old, went running and racing to be with friends, what brought you joy?
Why do we define, "Adulting" in such joy-negating ways?
Can we recapture that joy is part of the recipe for life today? Yes there is struggle and suffering. Yes Good/God's Friday still happens and knocks unwelcome on our door. Yes, I, too, was taught and told delay gratification. No fun until homework is done. No dessert until you are a member of the clean plate club. No...no...no...until/unless you have somehow earned it and we will keep that carrot just out of your reach.
Joy is not a reward...it something we need daily.
That is where we will be heading...and it might just have something to keep informing how we practice resurrection and Easter in the world today.
I believe there will be more than a trace of God's grace as we turn toward joy in the days to come.
Wednesday, April 24, 2019
So, how is Easter-ing and practicing resurrection going?
Some of you may say, "Great! I am slowing down this week...trying to stay open and sense the sacred. When the stress and strain sits like a cross on my shoulders and souls...I am trying to find ways to say, 'Okay God...help me out here and find a way out of this fine mess...grant me courage to take that next right step and where I might place my foot.'"
Maybe others are saying, "I still don't get it. And now the car broke down and that relative...the one who I am sure proves the statistic that there is a 1 in 200 chance of being related to Genghis Khan...called last night to brag and boast about some trip or promotion or how amazingly awesome life is...and all I had to add was my car was broke down. Why does that relative know all the combinations to set off a nuclear reaction in me?"
Maybe others are saying, "Wait...that was really an assignment...I totally thought you were going to move on to another word today."
Practicing resurrection for me is a continual invitation. Easter-ing is a way to step into a flow that is beyond my ability to comprehend or control. I need to keep circling around it.
Maybe one of the best ways is to read Wendell Berry's poem again. Read it as a prayer. If you need the link again...here it is.
What I love about Berry is that in the midst of the poetry...he is practical. He says, "Do something every day that won't compute." In other words, confuse people!! Confuse them by saying you are going to church on the Sunday after Easter! When there is no brass or pretty flowers and the sermon is well...let's not go there. Go to church because community and connection to others matter. Go to church because one Sunday is like dipping your toe into a pool and saying you are exhausted from swimming. Church is the space and place where we get to practice resurrection every Sunday. Each time we gather, we proclaim it to be Easter!
Or Berry says, "Ask questions that have no answers." How many of us have stopped asking questions in our life? When we cease to be curious...I think a part of our soul is dormant.
What question would you want to ask right now that might not have an answer?
Maybe it is religious like - what difference would practicing resurrection really make?
Maybe the question is societal - do we really think we can get along and stop bickering?
Maybe the question is personal - when will I stop letting that relative have control over the radio station of my life??
Maybe it is something else.
Write the question.
Live the question.
Go do something that doesn't make a lick of sense...and laugh while you are doing it.
Practicing resurrection...Easter-ing...letting poetry be our prayer.
Poems...unlike reading a refrigerator manual...is meant to be twisted and turned...engaged in many different ways. What if you read this Berry poem every day for the rest of the week? How might the words start to be embodied in me?
By the way, what i just wrote above is actually, my unanswerable question. And I am going to prayerfully and playfully go try to live some kind of response right now as I try to practice resurrection.
May there be a trace of God's grace guiding and grounding each of us.
Monday, April 22, 2019
So...tell me you saw this theme of Easter-ing words coming, right? When you have a good theme going, you continue to stay open to the spirit working and wiggling in your life. Now, Easter is more than just one Sunday...it is actually 50 days.
Wait...don't worry...I am not going to give you fifty words. But I do want to invite us to savor and stay in this Easter mood/mode for this week. I know that if you walk into the store today, all jelly beans will be 50% off and you can stock up on that plastic grass...even though you will forget that you did and buy some more next year. The big plastic grass corporation is counting on you to just keep buying...even though the stuff will never, ever go disappear or disintegrate. It will, however, gladly cling to your carpet so tightly your vacuum cleaner doesn't stand a chance! (I am totally joking here).
What sorts of words might we decide to dance around in these days?
That's the spirit! I am delighted you asked! I am actually just delighted you are still reading this blog post at this point.
Let's start with the word, "Easter-ing". For me, Easter is less about a day and more about a way of life. I am riffing here on a phrase used by Wendell Berry, where he invites and encourages us today to "Practice Resurrection." That sounds odd. Does Berry mean we should all be buried in a stone, cold tomb and wait for God to rise us from the dead? That would be literally practicing resurrection. But as a poet...Berry might be up to something else here. To practice resurrection is about openness to God's presence filling and moving us in other ways. I believe the message of the church has always been, to quote Robert Frost now, "take the road less traveled." This is not easy. There are lots of pressure out there to take the road well traveled. We do this when we endless shop and feel like we don't have another. We take the road well traveled when we schedule ourselves so much that any space in our calendar causes us to twitch uncontrollably. We do this when we, especially in the church, ask, "How many people attended Easter service? Or how as the offering? Was it more than last year?"
To practice resurrection would be to ask the question instead, "Was anyone's life transformed because of Easter morning? Or did anyone move an inch toward letting God's love lead the way rather than the balance of his/her bank account?"
To understand "practicing resurrection," we might look at the first line of the poem, "Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay. Want more of everything ready-made. Be afraid to know your neighbors and to die." (By the way if you want to read the whole poem, click here.)
To be sure, initially we might feel defensive or offended by Berry. I find myself saying, "But I deserve that raise and vacation with pay!" Or, "I have to race into the store to get the ready-made meal for my family...we have to be twelve places tonight!" Berry is challenging the script of the world. The world tells us, "More, more...not enough." But so often the more isn't really more. It is just stuff we stuff our life with. We keep consuming...or being consumed.
To practice resurrection is to break out of the cycle. No, I don't mean move to Montana and go off the grid...unless you really want to. I think it is about one step at a time. Maybe this week, I decide not to go buy some sandwich in a plastic container that will be around as long as that plastic grass I got on clearance today. Maybe I make the sandwich. While I make the sandwich, I give thanks for the earth that grew the wheat...and the cow that helped give the milk to make the cheese. I sense my connection to creation, rather than zooming past the soil and sky so fast it becomes a blur.
To practice resurrection will slow us down. To practice resurrection will cause us to see the world different. Yes, there are still too many crosses and weapons in the world.
And, there are glorious ripe, red strawberries.
It isn't either/or...it is both/and. Embrace of God that holds and enfolds the good and the bad...and even the ugly. To practice resurrection, might ask for God to move, especially in those bad and ugly moments with more than a trace of grace...with more than a dim light we can barely see. We are praying for God to stir in such a way...just as the light streamed forth from the tomb.
I pray you might find ways to practice resurrection...making Easter a verb (or Easter-ing) every day this week.
Friday, April 19, 2019
40. Resurrection/New Life
What stirs in me on this holy day is this:
No one expected a cross when the palm branches were waving high above their heads.
Just a few days ago the hopes hovered and hung in the air.
After all, it was Passover. The story of Moses.
A liberating God making a way when there was no way.
This guy comes riding in, just like King David, on a donkey at this time of year.
Finally...many thought...someone to get this oppressive boot of Rome off our neck.
Finally...others thought...someone to lead us in a rebellion and revolution.
Finally...still others thought...someone to blame for all the brokenness.
No one expected the cross at the Last Supper table.
The ritual was like a rut ~ which is always a danger in any and all religions.
Ask the question here.
Go check for Elijah at the door there.
Pour another glass of wine now.
Say the "Call to Worship" and pray in a monotone voice ~ lest you wake the sleeping God.
We can get lulled into complacency and lower our expectations.
No one expected the crowd when they went out to the garden to pray.
But Judas stirring the pot for all the complicated and human reasons any of us do something we don't fully understand.
Paraded around from this house to the next while Peter...
Peter...Mr. I'll never leave your side.
Peter...warming himself by a fire says,
"Nope...don't know that guy at all."
I've worn Peter's sandals so many times they have form-fitted to my feet.
No one expected it would end like this.
When the crowd was stirred to a frenzy...which was so easy when Passover is always about the past and present meeting ~ how God is still liberating!
They got them all together...put forth the false choice of either or...
Barabbas or Jesus?
One or the other.
Gotta choose they said...can't release both these two ragamuffins/rebels.
No one expected a cross when the crowd that had gathered shouted out in anger.
Some still hung to hope that Jesus, like some ancient David Copperfield, would get himself out of this fine mess.
Some still thought, "Push him into the corner...then he will be forced to strike back."
A savior on a cross?
That is absurd.
NO one tells that story.
When the hunger of our lives hurts so bad deep in our souls.
When the unquenchable thirst makes our mouth feel like we ate cotton balls.
When no little bite of WonderBread and sip of Welch's juice will do because our need is great.
When something so valuable is on life support ~
Valuable like our job...our marriage...our mental health...our spouse laying in a hospital bed... our community that cries poor while multimillion dollar buildings spring up quicker than flowers...when civility gets layered under pontificating and tweets sent out...when the script of the world has been left shredded on the floor.
No one expects the cross.
But God meets us there every time.
With new life no one expected!
May the One who soaks and saturates us with more than just traces of grace...find you on this God's Friday moment.
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
What expectations have been formed and fashioned in your soul as we move through this holy week? Any new or surprising ones?
This week we are letting the following words guide and ground us:
40. Resurrection/New Life
We spent some time with expectations in the last post...
The next three point toward tomorrow, Thursday.
On one level Maundy (which means commandment and refers to Jesus' teaching in the Gospel of John 13 - "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
At the Last Supper table Jesus gives us a glimpse of God's grace found in bread, juice, and connections to others. At the Last Supper table Jesus offers us love that we can hold in our hands, sweet grace we can taste on the tip of our tongue. At the Last Supper table, Jesus connects us not only to the Holy One, but to the holy in everyone. The table is always open to all. As a communion hymn says, "This is Christ's table, not just yours or mine...come to the table of grace." On this level, communion meets us in our hunger and thirst.
It is amazing to me that such small piece of bread and sip of juice can satisfy us. It is amazing to me that we are connected to a global movement through this holy act. Christ offers his friends life, full life, found in taking a bread and sip of juice. Of course, this is what Jesus was up to his entire life. He sought to share all of God's love with the disciples every moment of each day. It wasn't like he got near the end and thought, "Boy, I better do something to get through to these guys." Jesus had been healing and helping, curing and communing, sharing and caring every day. He had fed five thousand, met people in their brokenness, over turned barriers between God and us. Every story in the gospel is one of hunger...thirst...communion.
On another level, communion is always a ritual that is about more than us...more than bread. Communion is encountering the body of Christ...we are experiencing the holy in a tactile and tangible way. Often we think that we encounter the holy in the bread and juice. Yes.
In each other! In that other church member who you see tomorrow night and sent you a card when you were sick. In that church member who you sat with at the potluck. And even in that church member who seems to never run out of material to frustrate you. Seriously, it is like the person is an endless store of ways to push your buttons. I imagine Christ saying at communion, especially, in that person!
Connections to each other.
Connections to Christ and God's self-giving Spirit.
Connections to creation which brings forth grain and wheat.
Connections to our deepest self that God so loves and knows.
That is where we sense more than just a trace of God's amazing and abundant grace.
May God meet you in the hunger and thirst of this week ~ finding community and communion in life giving ways.
Monday, April 15, 2019
This is the last week of Lent...what has traditionally been called, "Holy Week." Wait...wait you say, "Why would this week be holy?" Doesn't Jesus' so-called friends all deny, desert, and one even betray him? Doesn't sound all that holy to me. Doesn't Jesus die on Friday? That sounds so macabre to think somehow this week is holy!! Okay, Easter chocolate waiting for us on Sunday, that sounds like the sacred. But all the rest after the Palm Sunday parade...just too depressing...too dramatic in a world that has way to many heartbreaking headlines...why would we ever want to call this week holy?
I am so glad you asked!
When we last left our words for this week were:
40. Resurrection/New Life
Right off the bat...we get to expectations. Perhaps it has been our expectation that God = good. We have turned faith into a formula or a transaction. When life is good, God is near. Or, in some churches, God will reward and richly blessing you IF you say the right prayers or tithe or some how try to appease what sounds like a very angry God. Do you hear in that how we have taken our economic structure and imposed it into our churches? I read one author who said that much of religion today has been commercialized. We talk about church shopping...we want a church that speaks to us...when we think we find someplace we like...then maybe we will put a few dollars in the plate. Sort of sounds like wandering from The Gap to American Eagle to H & M at the mall looking for the right outfit. And we can always find excuses why a churches doesn't work. After all...it is made up of other humans! Or as Groucho Marx quipped, "I would never join any club that would have me as a member."
What are your expectations of God?
Is God supposed to swoop in and solve all our problems...but others stay on the sidelines?
Is God constantly present?
Do you resonate with the prayer of Meister Eckhart, “I pray God to rid me of God,”
Wait...that doesn't sound like it has even the faintest trace of grace!!
As Richard Rohr so helpfully explains the quote, "There is no concept of God that can contain God. Your present notion of God is never it. As Augustine said, “If you comprehend it, it is not God.” We can only come to know God as we let go of our ideas about God, and as what is not God is stripped away."
So, should we have NO expectations of God?
Or maybe it is about an experience of God...so often that words cannot capture or contain. God beyond our ability to understand...yet something deeper than understanding. That is why hymns, painting, walking in nature, just breathing and being can be so much more helpful in encountering God rather than talking our way into belief ~ ~ All this from the guy who makes his living preaching and writing and typing right now a blog post!
I wonder what the expectations of Jesus were on that very first Palm Sunday that ushers in this holiest of weeks?
Did they want him to take up arms and show Pilate and his arm who really was the boss?
Did they want him to march into the temple, not just turn over the tables, but put others in their place?
Did they really expect him to get hung on a cross?
The downward spirituality of Christ doesn't sell well because it proclaims that to find life you have to lose your life. I don't think this means dying in the sense of ceasing to be. I think this means dying to our own personal plans for salvation. I have my five year plan. I have fantastic ideas about what the church should do - just ask me! I have it all figured out. But do I really? To lose my life means to let go of all the predetermined plans for what success looks like. That is really hard to do. To lay at the foot of the cross all the things I tightly cling to ~ health, travel plans, praying for a packed church on Easter.
What if I have to set down all that...so that I might make space for the One whose spirit is stirring and still creating in the chaos of my life??
What if I have to set down all that I think should happen to be open to what can happen in a beautiful collaboration with the Creator?
What if the way isn't bigger and better...but smaller and sacred?
What if a holy meal of broken bread, spilled juice and even a cross is really what it is all about?
(Ten points for any reader who just caught the subtle nod to the Hokey Pokey there).
If all those what ifs are really true...that changes every thing, especially my expectations!
And there is more than a trace of grace when I allow God to rearrange my carefully laid out plans with radical love and compelling presence. That is what this week invite us into...a mystery not to be understood but experienced.
May God's blessings surround and sustain you each day this week.
Friday, April 12, 2019
33. Palm or Parade
As I work my way through these words...I arrive at "want" and "need"...I instantly think of my parents asking, "Do I really need that item or just want it?" We know that our needs are relatively few ~ food and water...shelter...some kind of relationship. Yet, even that last one might be debatable. And on top of it...how much of each of those things we need is as different and diverse as the people reading this blog. Some people need more food and water. Others need a certain kind of shelter to truly feel safe and secure. Some folks need lots of friends and an active social life...others get by with less. Even if we agree on a list of common needs...how much we might want still lingers in the back ground. Secondly, we can so shun our wants...but they actually shine a light on our deepest desires. If I want something, it might be something that could help me. Quick example, I recently took up photography. This is a total shameless opportunity for me to post a picture I took last weekend:
This freeze-frame moment of time where the bird perched on a tree limb stood still for just a second for me to capture this beautiful moment. I love the way the clouds and blue sky mix and mingle together. To be sure...photography is a want...a hobby...something I have the privilege to do because I have time/money. Yet, photography is a need for artistic expression that helps me connect with God whose creativity is all around us. The line is not always clear. I cannot always answer clearly that question, "Is it a need or a want?" And yet, perhaps it isn't always about categorizing and compartmentalizing our lives. We cannot neatly put things into boxes. Sometimes, like walking outside, seeing the handiwork of God in a bird, can fill a need I didn't even realize I had.
Which leads me to our final set of seven words:
40. Resurrection/New Life
These seven correspond to our most holiest week of the Christian year. From the expectations that hover and hang in the air after the Palm Sunday Parade. To the hunger and thirst found at the communion table. To the death of Christ on the cross...a Saturday of silence...and a Sunday where we proclaim God's new life/resurrecting power. This is the week we find ourselves on the brink of....and I pray the words so far have helped paved the way...provided you with a meaningful and life giving Lent with more than a few traces of God's grace.
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
33. Palm or Parade
You might recognize those three as from Micah 6:8 ~ to paraphrase ~ what does God require but to seek justice, show loving-kindness, and walk humbly with God. When doubt starts to creep and sneak into my life, it is not always easy to kindle the flame of curiosity. When doubt starts to show up casting a cynical shadow on every thing causing me to think, "Well this is another fine mess you've gotten yourself into." One of the ways to break through the cycle of shame and blame is to seek justice. I know you can faithfully translate Micah 6:8 as also, "do justice." But I prefer the word, "seek" because for me there is some elements that justice needs God's persistent presence or it can easily just become my agenda. I seek justice prayerfully...in concert with God (who humbly asks me to go on a journey where I don't always know the destination). I seek justice realizing that it is a process with others. It is not all up to me...nor do I excuse myself to the sidelines to watch as a spectator. Seeking justice means showing up...learning cause I don't know it all...and trying to work with others. And sometimes by the traces of God's grace in our seeking justice...we do justice. But it is always in community...which is where loving kindness comes into play. Loving kindness is in the Hebrew Scriptures how God treats us as humanity. God, with loving kindness, formed and fashioned us from dirt and dust...breathed love into us. God, with loving kindness, continually calls us to connect with each other. We need places and people where we might practice loving kindness with each other. These places and spaces might be growing even more scarce in a world where there is too much brokenness and bitterness and bickering.
This week, I heard of a state government, where the leader mixed up the different political parties so they were not all sitting together. There was no other side of the aisle. You were next to someone who you might not see eye-to-eye with...next to someone you would vote opposite from...and the leader of that state government said some of the best moments were in-between debates seeing Republicans and democrats and independents laughing together. Maybe that is too simplistic...but it might also be the way loving kindness links arms with seeking/striving for justice.
Finally, all of this happens with a clear and consistent call to walk humbly with God. There is so much I don't know. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time, right now, said to your computer screen, "Amen." There is so much mystery and meaning...possibility and potential... uncertainty and doubt with curiosity that causes me to keep exploring and experiencing the world.
Doubt has other dance partners who cause new moves to be embodied and experienced. When doubt asks justice...kindness...humility out onto the floor there is a beautiful creation of movement that is for the sake of the world God so loves...offering us more than a trace of God's grace.
Monday, April 8, 2019
This week...on another exciting episode of letting a few words each week of Lent simmer...sing...sit in our souls...we are holding gently on to this set of words:
33. Palm or Parade
As I looked over the list several quotes were stirred within me.
Paul Tillich who said, "Doubt is not the opposite of faith. It is an element of faith." Or Robert Browning who said, "I show you doubt, to prove that faith exists." Or this amazing part of the end of Matthew's gospel. The eleven disciples have been told by the women who went to the empty tomb that the risen Christ has scheduled a meeting on a mountain. And Matthew...in the light of Easter... says, "Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted." Do you hear how normalized doubt is here? Like, "Oh yeah. There was that time when the disciples stood in the presence of Jesus after seeing him die. Some worshiped. Some doubted. Some when and got a sandwich." Like all the responses are natural and normal part of what Easter faith looks like, sounds like, feels like. Doubt is not the opposite, but an element of faith. As we persist patiently and prayerfully on the pathway of a living relationship with God, each step we take is itself along side our doubt is part of faith. What are some of the doubt that sit within you? I have doubts about decisions I have made as well as decisions I need to make ~ or help the church make. Parenting is a daily exercise in doubt because behind every child is a parent thinking s/he is messing it up. And information alone will not necessarily help alleviate our doubts. After all...one day a study will say this food is good for you...only to find out an other study will show the opposite. Some of what was in my science text books growing up is now been shown to be not the whole truth. We continue to explore and expand and experience the world, doubt can awaken its cousin curiosity. Doubt and curiosity together are playful...cheering each other on in amazing ways. Doubt and curiosity together cause wonder to stir and swirl. But...doubt has another cousin ~ cynicism. Those two together can breed and breathe much brokenness. When you ask what is going on in the world today, perhaps doubt and cynicism have been spending too much time together. And it might help us all, to rekindle the relationship with curiosity. As the poet Elizabeth Alexander once wrote..."Are we not of interest to each other?"
So may the beauty of doubt dance in your midst. May we humbly acknowledge that sometimes doubt invites cynicism over for dinner too much in our lives. May we find ways with the traces of grace in our lives to let doubt and curiosity find beautiful moments each day.
Friday, April 5, 2019
So...where are you at with these words this week?
Maybe this has been some of your favor words...exploring hymnals and psalms.
Maybe you stepped back this week to think of imagines that might point toward each of these words.
Maybe you thought..."Last week's list was so much better."
Which reminds me of a question from Rob Bell, "Did someone ever say to Jesus, 'Your sermon last week was better.'?" Which just makes me laugh.
Or the list reminds me of Richard Rohr who says that the Trinity is a way of describing God in relationship from the very beginning with the Redeemer and Sustainer.
But this list also leads to the next set/series of words:
33. Palm or Parade
This list for me is a bridge toward our holiest week. #33, in fact, is about Palm Sunday parade.
#31 and #32 ~ invite us into the questions about what I want and what do I really need?
#30, #29, and #27 ~ bring to mind Micah 6:8 about God's relational call for us to embody justice, let God's loving kindness flow through us, and seek humility deep in our souls.
#27 ~ is probably the best word to describe and define the life of faith.
Faith is not always efficient...faith isn't always about certainty and strength...faith isn't about my way or the highway. Faith evolves and expands...leads us to the brink of everything...asks us like Indiana Jones to step out in faith. Don't remember that scene from the 3rd movie? Indiana's father has been shot...he needs to go find the holy grail that might provide healing...but comes to the edge of a great cliff with seemingly no bridge. Wait...why am I trying to describe this in the era of youtube...just watch it...
But I also know there are moments when I step out and end up bumbling and stumbling...falling flat on my face.
But I also know moments of pain/frustration/humiliation.
Which reminds me that each of the above words has a shadow side.
Uncertainty/Doubt ~ can either lead us to mystery OR can cause us to feel like everything is sinking sand.
Justice ~ can either help give us strength to stand in solidarity or lead us to a self-righteousness ~ we have the answer (as opposed to one of many possible answers).
Kindness ~ can either help God's loving kindness flow through us or become a way to shut down what is going on in us because we are trying to live those words, "If you can't say something nice... don't say anything at all.
Humility ~ can either help us realize there is a more than...or can be humiliation.
Want ~ can either help give voice to our deepest desires or can be an unquenchable restlessness.
Need ~ can either connect us to humanities ever present need or always seeking that outside of what we have to satisfy.
Palm or Parade ~ can be a grand celebration or side step the fact that the palm branches pave the way to a cross?
So...start prayerfully playing with these words. Where do the words intersect? Where is there harmony in the words or where is there dissonance?
I pray this weekend you will find more than a trace of God's grace as these words start to soak and settle in to your soul.
Wednesday, April 3, 2019
In the last post we dove into two hymns that lifted up images of God. We could do this for many of these words:
For Jesus what jumps into my mind is Fairest Lord Jesus...Jesus Christ is Risen Today...
For the Spirit ~~ Sweet, Sweet Spirit....Spirit of the Living God Fall afresh on me
For the Trinity ~~ Holy, Holy, Holy ~ God in three persons...or the Doxology
For Friends I think about ~~ Bless Be the Tie that Binds
What a friend we have in Jesus...could be a double score hymn with both Friendship and Jesus.
You could continue on.
Wait, you say. You forgot to talk about strangers and efficient.
Yes..yes I did.
Those are a bit more difficult...no title immediately, instantly come to mind. I think of the great scripture passage, "You are no longer strangers/sojourners, but friends" that Paul says to the church in Rome. Or maybe the wonderful spiritual, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child" might give voice to those moments we feel like God is distant. If we would set to music and sing Psalm 22, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me," that might be a moment of feeling estranged. Or Psalm 137, "By the waters of Babylon (in exile ~ stranger in a strange land) we sat down a wept." Part of what this reminds me is that we don't always know our ancient hymnal of the Psalms all that well. The psalms give voice to not just "making a joyful noise" (#100) but the moments we "flood our bed with tears" (#6). The late Eugene Peterson memorized 7 psalms ~ one to recite each day.
What a wonderful Lenten practice.
Wait, you say. Lent is almost over...that isn't very efficient to give us that suggestion now?! Where was that 20some days ago.
Yes...yes that is true.
But the point of Lent isn't to slog your way through 40 days to reach some goal at the end of finally getting to eat chocolate again...or stop praying. 40 is an invitation to intentionally, prayerfully practice what will extend beyond this season. 40 days of Lent turn to 50 days of Easter. What better way to celebrate Easter than by continuing to connect to the spirit swirling and stirring around you and us? So what if this week you started to memorize one psalm? Just one. If you grew up going to church you might even have one in your back pocket...with a head start. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." (Psalm 23). What I love about the prayer practice of the psalms is that they sing to the heart, mind, and soul. When you say...sing...a psalm you have the chance to ponder prayerfully, "Is this where I am at?" Do I want to make a joyful noise or do I feel like I am walking/wandering in the valley of the shadow of death...or strolling by calm waters...or weeping under a tree where I have hung a harp and given up because I feel like a stranger in a strange land...or so frustrated I want to hurl rocks. In the psalms are just about ever human emotion. And God can take all of them.
May you find more than a trace of God's grace in whatever way you continue to take part in this journey of Lent...and beyond in these days.
Monday, April 1, 2019
In the last post...I invited you to find a hymnal and start looking for a hymn that might point toward a melody that these words are awakening right now:
The hymnal our church uses every Sunday starts with "Immortal, Invisible God only Wise". As you read these words, what sorts of ways to the sentences seek to define and describe God?
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.
To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.
There is in these words, what the theologian Karl Barth called, a "Holy Other". God as beyond what we can grasp. In some ways the mysterious more than of God is a good remember, especially to folks like me who try to capture and contain God in words. As one author said, "God's first language is silence." I am also struck by the third verse. God as life-giver...creator...relationship initiator... forming and fashioning all that is seen and unseen. Genesis 1 isn't just about God who created all this stuff around us...but God who began to create and is still crafting to this day. The Holy impulse of an artist is woven into our DNA. While you may think, "Whoa...wait just a moment here...I am not an artist." I would suggest that when you sing a congregational hymn in church you are part of a choir. When you read you an opening prayer in church you are part of a poetry reading. When you listen to a sermon, which in my mind are words being painted on a canvas, you are part of the art ~ after all if a sermon is preached in an empty church is it still a sermon? When you laugh with someone else, it is the art of friendship. When you hold another person's hand in difficult time, it is the art of caring. When you cook...clean...walk outside...talk...work...volunteer...move about this planet with prayer... you are participating in the art of living. The One who swirls and sustains us, continually invites us to see every moment like a line of a hymn...a stroke of a brush on a canvas...thread sewn on a quilt... or fill in an image with your wonderfully creative mind here.
What else from the above words leap off the screen and land in your heart, awakening your imagination?
One other hymn that sings to my heart is, "Bring Many Names". I've posted a video at the end of the blog if you want to listen...but I am especially taken by the second verse where Brian Wren writes,
Strong mother God,
working night and day,
planning all the wonders of creation,
setting each equation
gen-i-us at play:
Hail and Hosanna,
strong mother God!
First, I love that Brian reminds us that throughout Scripture, God is both mother and father ~ not just either or...but both and. God's wisdom is proverbs is known by the female Sophia. Jesus says God is like a mother hen...longing to gather her brood. God as beyond gender. We can get so caught up trying to defend our one description for God. But that says more about us than it does about God. Second, I love the way Wren is clear that God's strength is found in God's feminine parts. Notice the line about "Genius at play" could be a reference back to the Proverbs truth I pointed out previously.
Part of what I hope you are hearing is that our hymnal is our theological prayer book. What we sing on Sundays is shaping us more than we ever might have realized. On Sunday mornings, when you get to church, take a moment not only to find the hymns, but read over them ~ letting the words meet you where you are before you sing them.
May there be more than a trace of God's grace in that moment of both reading and singing this week. Amen.
Or this one is also swirling around in my soul for the way the Spirit composes and conducts a song in my life: