Wednesday, February 21, 2024

More than a brain with legs


Yesterday, I invited you to practice paying attention and setting your intention toward being open to and receiving God’s love.  How did that go?  Seriously.  Some of you are thinking, wait that was an actual assignment?  Can you give homework in mediations?  If all we do is think about love or stay too much in our heads contemplating love, we might get cut off from experiencing love.  You are more than a brain with legs.  Yes, your mind matters.  Yes, your intellect is important…but so is your heart, hands, and feet.  In the West, since the Enlightenment, we tend to over-emphasize our mind.  If we just think about it or dream it, we can do it.  The formula for success is ~ think it plus do it plus will power equals fame and fortune.  But life is messier than that.  You have emotions and soul and relationships and societal forces that all get thrown into the stew of your life.  To be love, we are invited to explore and experience love with our full self.  To put on a white laboratory coat this Lent and experiment with the mystery of your life.  What does loving God fully mean for you ~ intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, in your flesh and breath life?  This is not a one and done question, but one we must return to time and time again.  Just because we have the “right” answer doesn’t mean it will make a difference right away and forever and ever.  Knowing and doing are two different actions in our life.  The lawyer gives the right answer.  You can memorize this short verse of scripture and it can get caged in the cognitive cobwebs of your mind never to see the light of day in your words or actions or presence.  To come back to this verse about loving God and neighbor every day and set your attention and intention on how/who/when and where you pray for strength of the spirit to embody these words in your human size self (which is to say, I won’t do it perfectly, but in my beautifully imperfect way with God’s grace something sacred might stir).  Let loose these words from your head to heart to hands and feet this day.  May God’s love fill you to the brim of your soul to overflow to others.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Practicing Love


This week, we are focusing our intentions and attention on how to love God fully and let that love loose to those we encounter on our path of life ~ also known as our neighbors.  We are able to love, because we have first received love from God.  This was the truth at Christmas.  God’s love could no longer be confined or contained but came to us in the flesh and form of Jesus.  God’s love found a home in a manger (an animal’s feeding trough).  God’s love matured as Jesus grew in wisdom and in years (Luke 2:52).  Then, God’s love burst forth in the preaching, teaching, healing, and presence of Jesus as he wandered from community to community.  Note, this was not all pony rides and chocolate rivers for Jesus.  Everyone didn’t break out in songs and dance like in my favorite musicals.  Nope.  People got angry with Jesus.  Misunderstood Jesus.  Threated Jesus.  Eventually falsely accused him to get rid of him and his persist insistence that God is God, not Ceasar.  The gospel of Jesus confronts and challenges the gospels of domination and revenge and scapegoating ~ exposing these other “gospels” as false and that they will never lead us to full life.  And yet, the gospels of us verse them, might makes right, and if you are not with us, you must be my enemy still swirl and stir, especially in an election year.  Two thousand years of knowing the truth of loving God and neighbor, yet we still resist this way because we can’t take our eyes off the imaginary scoreboard of life ~ especially because we keep doom scrolling social media. 


Yet, to love God, we must marinate in God’s love.  As John Mark Comer says, you are constantly being formed by something.  Is it the news?  Is it the political landscape?  Is it your bank account or golf score or likes from friends on your recent post?  Is it God?  There have always been many gospels swirling and stirring in the air, both in Jesus’ day and in ours still today.  To focus our attention and intention on God will take effort and energy in following the way of Jesus.  Just as I can’t go out and run an entire marathon without weeks of practice, why do I think I can just flip a switch and start loving my enemies because I read a morning meditation?  Just as I can get physically injured if I run too fast or too far, so too I can get emotionally and spiritually injured by trying to love people ~ because people are messy (or like onions according to Shrek!).  We are complicated and contradictory mix of messiness and dustiness as we heard on Ash Wednesday.  True for me, you, and that person who doesn’t pick up their dog deposits from your front lawn…how rude!  If we don’t know ourselves fully, how can we claim to know another?  If we don’t love ourselves fully (which honestly, we tend to default to the factory setting of letting our inner critic have the last word rather than our inner ally), how in the world can we love another fully?  You can encounter God’s love in so many ways, there are so many paths of being formed and reformed by God’s love.  It starts with acknowledging where you feel most alive ~ where every fiber of your being tingles with enthusiasm (which literally means in theos or in God).  It might be sitting outside in the sun and feeling the wind.  It might be splashing in the Gulf waters remembering your baptism.  It might be music.  It might be good food with friends.  It might be silent prayer.  It might be reading.  It might be…fill in the blank here.  Now, go and find space in your life to be fully alive in ways that connect you to the Creator who longs to pour love into your life on this day.  Amen.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Embodying Love


“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27).

As we have held the parable of the Good Samaritan/Loving Kindness close to our hearts over the last two weeks, I pray you have discovered new nooks and crannies in this passage.  I pray you have found yourself pondering new titles for the parable.  Most of all, I pray you have found your life in this passage ~ for it is a gospel within a gospel ~ it is a summary of how we can embrace and embody God’s grace that is poured into our lives every single morning and with every single breath. 

Breathe in God’s grace for you this morning, breathe out the prayers that whip and whirl like the wind during a storm in your soul.

Breathe in God’s grace for you this morning, breathe out prayers for how you might find ways to practice the wisdom of the Good Samaritan ~ try to name a specific meeting or moment ~ person or place ~ when that might happen today. 

Before we leave this passage, I want to focus on the “correct” answer the lawyer gave to Jesus.  Remember, the lawyer had asked about full life ~ authentic life ~ thriving and meaningful life.  Eternal meant now.  Eternal meant residing and resting in the God’s realm before we breathe our last breath.  Eternal is being opened to God’s presence that is woven into everything and everyone all around, but we are too busy glancing or glaring or gnawing (see Morning Meditation from the week of February 4).  This parable invites us to gaze at what God is up to in our lives.  The lawyer’s question was about life ~ which is always our most basic question.  We are all longing to find the fullness and holiness of life.  And Jesus, as Jesus is oft to do, asked a question in response to the question.  How do you read, what do you think?  Jesus is inviting the lawyer to listen to his life, heart, and soul.

Pause and be in the prayer posture of gazing.  Slowing down long enough to listen to the rhythmic beating of your own heart and stirrings of your soul, because God shows up in our own lives. 

The lawyer responses by quoting two passages of the law.  The part about loving God from the top of your head to your pinkie toes comes from Leviticus 19:18 (who knew there were good verses in Leviticus of all places ~ the Bible is endlessly fascinating!!).  And the second part is from Deuteronomy 6:5.  The shorthand summary of the lawyer’s answer is love God, love others as you love yourself.  Full stop.  Love here is more than an intellectual ascent or re-arranging our cognitive furniture to a feng shui way of inner peace.  Love is work.  Love is fragile like Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall.  Love is resilient and will pick up the brokenness like a glass that has shattered into a thousand sharp pieces.  Love can become complacent, contradictory, and grow cobwebs like a muscle that atrophies.  Love can have a strong back and soft front ~ I can share my voice and be open to another’s voice too.  Love is so much more than words can ever describe or define.  Love lives in your body.  Today, I invite you to draw a stick figure.  This doesn’t have to be a Van Gogh level masterpiece, the more rudimentary, the better.  Next to the head write down definitions of the word, “love.”  Next to the ears write words someone said to you recently about love.  Next to the mouth write words you said to someone expressing your love.  Next to the nose write words about the aroma of love (stretch yourself beyond “chocolate-scented”!).  Next to the heart write a moment when you felt the warmth of love wrap around you.  Next to the hands write when you shared loved with another through your actions.  Next to the feet write people who are accompanying you on the journey of life.  I pray this might begin to give voice to the multitude of the ways love is experienced and expressed in real ways in our lives in these February days.  With God’s love to you.  Amen.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Friday Prayer


Storytelling God, thank you for narratives that open worlds to us and open the stories we tell ourselves like a mirror reflecting back who we are.  We all long for a full life in this beautiful and broken world.  We all long to live in the eternal now of this moment, but sometimes the heart break and soul ache pushes us into the ditch where we cannot help ourselves.  We have moments when our bootstraps that we are supposed to pull on have snapped or we don’t even have boots in the first place.  We all have moments when we have stood silently as spectators on the sidelines because there is so much that clamors for our attention and energy and says we are not doing enough.  Help us, God, because on the journey of life there are so many pains and people we encounter that we don’t always know what to do or how to help.  And help us, O God, realize that we are also the ones who need healing and help, which is a narrative most of us prefer to distance and disconnect ourselves from telling.  God of loving kindness that poured into the cup called, “life”, meet us this day in our life.  God of healing meet us in our woundedness.  God of people who help and those who pass by for reasons we may never know help open us from glaring to gazing.  God of messy stories that don’t just have one moral fairy tale message that we can put in our pocket and apply to our lives.  Thank you, O God, for words of wisdom that we need now more than ever.  Let the parable of our humanness and helpfulness and brokenness continue to speak and sing to the script of our life this day and this season of Lent.  Amen. 


Fun trivia fact from the Salt Project: February 16 is also the day in 600 that Pope Gregory, the story goes, recommended “God bless you” as the appropriate response to a sneeze. The plague was at its height in Europe, and the idea was that the blessing would help protect the sneezing person from sickness and death. As the plague spread, so did the custom.  May your life be a blessing as you sense God’s presence blessing and overflowing your cup today.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Parable of Loving Kindness


Before we leave behind the Parable of Full and Authentic Life (aka ~ the Good Samaritan but since Jesus didn’t title it that way, neither do we have to accept or adopt that as the only title), I want to focus on the beloved in the ditch.  We live today in a world that has left too many bruised, battered, and on the fringe and fray.  We know that too many people are hurt by systemic racism, trapped in generational poverty because cost of living is too high, legislation continues to tell people who they can love and how they can identify.  I know that each person reading these words has pain that is unprocessed and grief that is shoved into the cobwebbed corners of your soul in cardboard boxes layered with dust (note the image from Ash Wednesday that there is dust and stardust in you).  And yet when someone asks us how we are doing, we quickly say, “Fine”.  Because we are not sure we can say truly or fully are we are doing.  Or better yet we say, “Busy”, because everyone loves to be needed and necessary.


But I know I am in the ditch of life.  I know that I sit by a pool of my own tears.  I know that there is a woundedness that needs more than good advice.  I need gospel medicine that tells me a different story.  I need to hear that sometimes the one who can provide a balm in the Gilead of my soul will be the least likely person, even my enemy.  Gulp and Zoinks…that doesn’t sound like something we want to accept.  If you hold the Parable of Loving Kindness close to your ear and heart you might hear the man in the ditch trying to get the attention of the religious folk.  Who is trying to get our attention today but because of compassion fatigue or busyness or our own dusty brokenness we can’t hear or don’t want to help?  Maybe the man in the ditch is afraid with the Samaritan stops.  I don’t know if the man was conscious (literally or figuratively) of who was helping him!  We don’t know if there was ever a reunion that could be featured on the nightly news where the two met up again to share life.  There is so much in this parable that tells us not just a different story but gives us a different script then we were taught in school.  And it is a script that will frustrate and flummox us, because we know our friends and family may not understand.  While the world continues to pass by, we are called to tend those who cross our path.  While the world justifies their behavior and doubles down on their righteousness, we tend the wounded in ourselves and others (seeking to be what Henri Nouwen called, “Wounded Healers” ~ imperfect as we all are and in our how dusty humanness).  I pray this story doesn’t just sit on the shelf of your soul but starts to rummage and roam around your life creating all kinds of good chaos that faith is about.  May you and I be open to the profound ways that we are both wounded and healers and passers-byers and sometimes silent spectators on the sidelines or color commentators on what others should do and sometimes, by the grace of God, people who have experienced loving kindness and share that force with others.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Happy Lent!?!


Happy Lent everyone!!  What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than to have your pastor put some ashes from the palms of last Palm Sunday on your forehead (trace the place where the baptismal water of your “Beloved-ness” once evaporated as an eternal claim on your life)?  What romantic words to warm the cockles of your heart than to hear, “From dust you are and to dust you shall return.”  Good lord, I hear you thinking, thanks for this Pastor Eeyore, as you grab your keys to head to the store to get some dark chocolate to take the taste of the Morning Meditation out of your mouth.


I get it.  Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday are as different as night and day.  Only that Ash Wednesday is an affirmation that God loves us not in spite of our humanness, but because of it.  God takes on human flesh and form.  I know Lent is often wrapped in a heaping helping of blame and shame and guilt, but that isn’t the only interpretation of this day.  Lent is a season to reflect on our humanness.  The moments our religiosity can cause us like the Priest and Levite to create borders and boundaries to those who are hurting and in the ditches of life.  Lent is a season to honor how we find ways to let loose loving kindness.  Lent is a holy time to also name that we are the one in the ditch needing help and healing from others.  We are all the characters of the Parable of Loving Kindness as the way to life.  We do this through the dust from which God lovingly formed and fashioned you and me.  We are both soil and stardust.  We are both beloved and broken/bruised by the forces of life.  We embody both moments of grace and glaring at others.  We are both reaching out and retreating.  We are messy.  We are beautiful.  We are complicated and contradictory and held by our Creator.  I pray the Parable of Loving Kindness will be an invention to let the words of Jesus lose in your life and be a prayer practice for you and me in the days of Lent.  I pray that we will look at our life seeing when we are wearing the sandals of all the characters in the story of humanity.  I pray God will grant you and guide you through a holy Lent.  With God’s loving kindness to enfold and hold and empower you in these days.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Titles Matters


We have been playfully and prayerfully pondering the Good Samaritan for the last two weeks.  And it is important to note that Jesus didn’t title his parables.  Wait, you think, what?  Jesus didn’t say to the crowd, “I know present to you the parable I have entitled, the Good Samaritan,” pause for dramatic effect.  Nope, he just launched right into a story and people had to keep up.  There was no color commentary from the disciples that interrupted the flow of the conversation.  They didn’t say to the people, “Everyone, listen up here, Jesus is going to tell us about a parable with a life lesson we can apply to our lives like an ointment…you might want a pen and paper ready.” 


Nope.  If you go back and re-read the parable, Luke gives the reader (you and me) a clue that Jesus switched from conversation to story.  But for those who were eavesdropping and observing the conversation between religious lawyer and Jesus, they heard the lawyer’s question about neighborliness and Jesus saying, “There was once a man…”  Now, to be clear, it doesn’t take a MacArthur Genius to realize that an opening like that has shifted to story.  It would be like me saying, “Once upon a time…”  You recognize that familiar opening as the start of a fairy tale, so your mind shifts to story mode without a lot of confusion. 


Since Jesus didn’t title his parables, who did?  Scholars and Biblical translators added these later.  Now, before we jump to conclusions about conspiracies, let’s take a breath and give ourselves permission to re-title the parables.


Wait, you think, can I do this?   Yes, yes you can.  As a matter of fact, it is a wonderful way for you to be aware of how you are reading.  Maybe this is a Parable about the Ditches of Life that we all fall into.  Maybe this is the Parable of Good Intentions Unacted Upon that are part of all our stories.  Perhaps this is a Parable of a Guy Just Trying to do what he can.  Afterall, I don’t think the Samaritan was thinking, “Boy, people are going to know my name centuries from now.  I will trend on Twitter and in Morning Meditations.”  Most of our acts of loving kindness go unrecognized and unrealized.  The nightly news doesn’t show up at my house with a reporter saying, “Breaking news, Sally, a pastor in Sarasota just cheered up his college-aged son and is spending time with his wife.”  Titles matter.  And, and, they also can cause us to read a story in a certain way, they give us a lens of interpretation that can color how we see/read/understand the words.  So, play with the titles of this parable today.  Jesus said it was okay…after all he didn’t title it!  May the words of this Parable of Loving Kindness as the way to full life provoke and evoke how you live your life today.  Amen.

More than a brain with legs

  Yesterday, I invited you to practice paying attention and setting your intention toward being open to and receiving God’s love.   How di...