Saturday, June 30, 2012

Prayer Part One

If you Google images of prayer you come up with countless images of folded hand and heads bowed.  It is the traditional prayer posture.  The one most of us unconsciously assume when someone utters the word, "Let us pray."  
Because prayer can fall into a rut, I think it is important every few months to examine our prayer practices both personally and corporately as a church.  This week in church, I have revamped the liturgy just a bit to link our call to worship and confession together as one unit.  I do that so hopefully we feel like we are praying our way into worship.
But as our church tries out new forms of entering into worship, it is a good time to also look at our personal prayer life.  Over the next several posts I am going to offer some thoughts on prayer.
To be sure, I am stepping into a living stream of words upon words that have been poured out on this topic.  There are countless books and sermons on this topic.  But hopefully through these posts it will give you something to ponder both for your own faith and for our lived together faith as Christians.

A few of the posts coming up will deal with the fact that Jesus taught a prayer.
Another post will look at Doug Pagitt's book on prayer postures.
Other posts will simply offer a prayer practice for you to engage.

For today, I want to encourage you to pause and think about how you would define prayer to another person.

Is prayer about a petition to God, to get God to do something?
Is prayer naming a reality in your life, a reality God already knows?
Is prayer frustrating at times because you wonder if God really hears or if this time set aside is really making any difference?

I think of prayer as counter-cultural.  In a world that exists 24/7, always on the go, show me what you have produced lately, prayer says an emphatic "NO" to that.  Prayer says that it is not all about me and what I do, prayer is radical trust in God, even when it seems like things are going to hell all around me.  Prayer is best summarized by Psalm 42, especially verse 7, the deep calling to the deep.

If I had to define prayer, I would start with it being the deep within me calling out to the deep within God.

I invite you over the next few days to read and re-read Psalm 42.  Savor it, like you would an ice cream cone on a warm summer day.  What thoughts come into your mind and heart when you read this psalm?  What insights or questions does this psalm awaken when read through the lens of prayer?

Give that some prayerful thought and so will I for my next post.

May the traces of God's grace awaken the deep within you connecting to the deep, abiding presence of God in your life this week.


Friday, June 22, 2012


Today is my last day of class in the doctorate of ministry program at Luther Seminary.  In some ways it is an ending.  There will be no more classes.  There will be no more assigned reading.  There will be no more preparing to spend three weeks here at Luther.  Because it is an ending, there is grief.  As crazy as it might sound, I will miss it.  I have been blessed by the conversations over the last three years.  They awoken me to new ideas.  Just yesterday I learned what the six chief parts of the Christian faith are according to Martin Luther.  
Okay...perhaps not all that exciting, but it gets my brain thinking new thoughts and the synapses firing making new connections.  I will miss reading books I might never have picked up.  I will miss the chapel services where I could sit back and worship.

At the same time I realize it is not really the end.  I have research to do, writing to do, and next April I will defend all of that will unfold in the coming months.

But for today, I want to think about endings.  They matter.  Ever get to the end of a book or movie and feel frustrated by the way it ends?  Either it was too neat and tidy or it wasn't tidy enough or just did not seem to fit where the plot of the book/movie was going.  

Endings also matter in our life.  That is why I think there is something profound and sacred about our Jewish ancestors celebrating the Sabbath on Friday night to Saturday.  It gives space to look back at the end of the week, to reflect on where God was over the last week, what remains unanswered/unresolved, and most importantly Sabbath gives space to rest and remember who we are (the People of God) and whose we are (God's beloved children).  

As the sun sets tonight, I invite you to think about the ending of this week.  Where have you sensed God?  Where do you struggle to make sense/meaning of life right now?  How can you rest knowing that the One in whom you rest is both your ending and your beginning?

May the traces of the One who is the Alpha and Omega, our beginning and our ending be with you.

Grace and peace

Thursday, June 14, 2012


My class this week has been working through the parables Jesus told his disciples.  I thought the picture above is appropriate.  While we might remember some of the parables of Jesus about the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son or the five foolish bridesmaids who did not bring enough oil or how the kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed - we have sometimes domesticated these parables.  

What we often do with parables is to turn them into good advice rather than the radical pictures of God's realm that we are invited to participate in right here and right now.  Jesus challenged people's understanding of what was kosher and stretched people's comfort zones.  You think you know who would do the right thing: a rabbi or priest...but along comes a Samaritan?  Really?  That was unexpected, shocking, and even offensive.

This week we've spent trying to reclaim and remember the jagged edges of these parables.  Not so we can hurt each other, but because at that edge we find God's presence calling us into a Kingdom that is not like the world we live it.  Yet, by listening to the power of the parables, we hear what God is like and what our communal life as the People of God is to be like.  

I invite you to think about and re-read your favorite parable.  Let it linger.  Ask where is God in the midst of that parable?  Where is that jagged edge?  Where does this powerful parable call us as God's people?  Those are the questions roaming around my mind this week and I invite you to join me in the prayerful and faithful pondering.

May the traces of God's grace sustain you and guide you.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Luther Update 2

The picture above is a mosaic.  This type of art takes tiny broken unevenly shaped pieces, these come together to create a beautiful picture.  This image of a mosaic is great metaphor for the church.  We bring the pieces of our life to church: sometimes they feel tiny or jagged or cheerfully colorful or we are trying to make sense/ make meaning of the pieces.  
My class this week has helped me realize this.  But also that we rarely ask you to lean into these broken and amazing pieces of life we bring.  Think about our congregation on Sunday.  Statistics say that someone in the congregation is dealing with alcoholism or addiction, someone is dealing with abuse, someone is dealing with ethical issues at work, someone is dealing with broken family relationships, someone is celebrating an anniversary, someone is facing medical news she would rather not have heard, someone is struggling to find a new job or celebrating graduation.  And that just half the pews!
We bring these pieces and I believe firmly that the church needs to find ways for us to name those pieces and to name that we worship God who is found in the broken pieces and beautiful mosaics of our life.
The sacred truth about scripture is it meets us where we are, with what we bring.  But in order for that encounter to help us and nourish our faith, we need to open our lives.

This is just scratching the surface of the thoughts roaming around my mind, but I challenge you this Sunday when you walk into worship to be thinking about (even write down on tiny pieces of paper) the events, encounters, and experiences you are bringing with you.  How through worship do we help you and us as a faith community begin to piece the pieces together?  Of course in one hour you and we may not complete this work, but in many ways that is what liturgy (the work of the people) is all about.

May the traces of God's grace be found in the mosaic and in the pieces of your life today and throughout this week.

Blessings and peace! 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Update 1 from Luther Seminary: Identity

Yesterday, our class spend discussing the issue of identity.  This might seem like a strange topic for a seminary class, but stick with me.

For most of human history, your identity was handed to you.  You were born to a peasant family, you were a peasant.   Your dad was a farmer, you were a farmer.  And it was pretty much set in stone by the time you were in your early twenties (if not earlier). It is only recently that people were allowed within society to construct an identity.  And if I think back to my 20s, I know I am no longer the same person.

To be honest, it can be exhausting work.  Because not only can you shape your own identity, but you can change your identity now with the swipe of your credit card at the mall or Apple store or buy a new car.  So much of our identity is no longer wrapped in our job/profession - but in what we consume or which groups we belong to.  Family and religion no longer play the same role in shaping identity.  While we don't name that truth, it is there when we lament people not coming to church or even within our own families.

I want to invite you to think about your identity and how you would describe yourself to someone else?  Moreover, where would the church fit in that identity?  I don't ask that to make you feel guilty.  I ask that to honestly assess what role the church and faith play in your life.

I also ask that because in the afternoon we spent time reviewing a book we had read that had surveyed 18-24 year olds, who are called emerging adults.  Emerging because unlike their great-grandparents who were pretty much had their identities either given or at least established by that age, today our emerging adults are still trying to find ways to "stand on their own two feet."  It is not that they want to be living in their parent's basement or living a nomadic life style, they are just trying to sort through the exhausting work of creating an identity.

The problem is also that many people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, etc are also trying to re-create their identities.  They just have more resources (usually) to make the work easier.  However, we tend to look down on people in their 20s for this work, but think nothing of a 40 year old saying, "I don't know what I want to be when I grow up."

I hope as a congregation we can talk more about this in the coming months.  We know we (in the Mainline) don't do a good job of reaching out to 20 year olds...but I think we could if we listen to their concerns.  By and large they are not against the church, they just don't feel like the church cares for them.  Can we be a place that challenges that assumption?

God's blessings and peace...may the traces of God's grace be with you all!

God's Calling - We don't have it all figured out

  A few weeks ago, I offered the analogy of the Slinky as a serendipitous example of the ways calling can go off course and still end up in ...