Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Patterns take 3 ~ Codes

I began this series of blog posts by referencing a quote from Dan Brown...let me complete it.  After talking about patterns, the main character says this, "Codes are special.  Cods, by definition, must carry information.  They must do more than simply form a pattern - codes must transmit data and convey meaning.  Examples of codes include written language, musical notation, mathematical equations, computer language, even a simple symbol of a crucifix.  All of these examples can transmit meaning or information in a way that a spiraling sunflowers cannot."

So, let me ask you, as you have noticed patterns in your life - the good/the bad/the ugly - what meaning to they convey?

While all codes are patterns...not all patterns are codes.  My pattern of a cup of coffee while checking email every morning is just my need for caffeine.  Not a whole lot of meaning or depth there.  But our pattern of weekly pizza and ice cream is tremendously filled with a code of meaning.  It is family time that strengthens our bonds and we look forward to each week.  Or, look at it another way, some times turning a pattern into a code is in the eye of the beholder.  Maybe you see the picture above like my son who loves computer codes...sees beauty in it...and it is one way he makes meaning in his life.  I see a bunch of random numbers that means nothing to me.  Likewise, you might hear a poem and yawn, while I hear that same poem and get lost in wonder while rapt in the beauty of the pattern of the words. 

Codes are important because we are meaning-making people.  We want to know why we are here and where are we going (those are two questions that drive Dan Brown's book by the way).  While many different voices try to help us with answers to those two questions, it is how we sort through the patterns of life to find codes that will be our ultimate guides.  We do need others to walk with us.  I need someone like my Spiritual Director to tell me a story about ruts to take my less than healthy patterns to find new codes (or ruts) for the living out of these days.

What codes do you discern from the patterns?
What meaning do you assign to your daily living ~ for better or worse?

I pray you will continue to sense more than a trace of God's grace as you step back to see your life from the beautiful complexity of patterns and codes that it is.

Blessings to you~~

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Patterns take two

I pray over the last few days you have begun to see, sense, name and claim some patterns around you and within us.  Maybe you have noticed patterns that bring beauty like the shell above.

There are also patterns that can lead us away from wholeness and health. 

I have those patterns too.  Patterns of my type-A personality shifting into over-drive even when my tank is on empty.  Patterns of pushing off if to say to God..."Oh, I got this one, God.  You can go deal with some thing else."  I am always taken aback by the 15th Century reformer, Martin Luther who would quip, "Oh, I am so busy today...I must make time to pray."  I am so with Martin, until he said that second part. 

I like the patterns of busyness...which is to say patterns of feeling useful-ness and needed-ness.  Patterns when my ego proves just how needed and necessary I am...only to eventually go on a vacation and realize the church and the world can keep on spinning without me.

Patterns have positives and negatives.  It is not either is both and.  Both offer us a chance to reflect and see if there is a trace of God's grace moving in our midst.

So, what patterns help you discover and delight in God?
Which patterns distract you and pull you from the One who is the center/creator of the patterns?

My Spiritual Director just told me this story.  Up in New England, round about March when the ground will soften with a thaw one day ~ only to become hard as iron the next day ~ it is not uncommon or unusual for a dirt road to form deep ruts.  One day, while driving down the road, my director noticed a sign that read, "Be careful what rut you'll be in it for the next few miles."  That hilarious story names a truth in our lives.  We need to select our patterns carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully.  We need to now that we have the creative ability to move into other ruts that might lead to a deeper blessing for such a time as this. 

I pray as you turn the coin to see the other side of patterns, there may be a trace of God's grace leading you toward a different way and a different rut. 

Grace and peace everyone ~~

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Patterns of life take 1

Patterns are all around us and within us.  We see it above in the photo of a tree stump.  In Dan Brown's most recent book, Origin, the main character says this, "A pattern is any distinctly organized sequence.  Patterns occur everywhere in nature - spiraling seeds of a sunflower, the hexagonal cells of a honeycomb, the circular ripples on a pond when a fish jumps."  Patterns are also found within us.  As we map DNA or day-to-day life.  I have a morning pattern of going to the gym, drinking my coffee while checking email, and then heading to church.  I have a weekly pattern of what happens on Monday through Saturday.  These patterns are on repeat and are re-played in our lives.

What patterns do you notice around you?
What patterns can you name within you?

Patterns are important because ~ a). they reveal to us a certain beauty.  I love a Jackson Pollack painting of splattered paint as much as the next person...chaos can contain beauty too...but my life seems to hum best - as well as reflect God's creativity in nature - when I am in a pattern.  But also, b). patterns can help us find rhythm to God's presence woven in our midst.  I know ever week during worship one of the hymns or a sentence from the liturgist will send shivers down my spine.  Expecting and even anticipating the pattern helps keep us open. 

Without patterns we can feel adrift, lost amid too much tossing and turning.  Think of it this way, how often have you been away on vacation - having a grand/great time - but at some point said, "It will be nice to be home in my own bed and eating my own food."  When I say that, it isn't to take away from the fun or adventure of the moment, but to name/notice my own craving for the patterns of life.

I want to invite you to notice your patterns...

What patterns each day bring smiles to your face?
What patterns each week cause goosebumps to race up and down your arms?

One last example, every Friday night at our house is pizza and ice cream night.  It is a sacrament of Biblical understandings.  Every week, we sit around processing the week and then tasting the goodness of grace found in a double scoop of ice cream.  I can't tell you exactly how we fell into this pattern, but I will tell you our kids crave it to the point when we schedule sometime on Friday night, even something fun, they are prone to say, "But that is pizza and ice cream night!" in protest. 

Patterns matter...make a difference...and can reveal more than a trace of God's grace.

I pray you might sense that this day and this week.

Grace and peace everyone ~~

Friday, January 26, 2018

Lord's Prayer - Every day

Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and for ever. Amen.

We start with God.
We follow with us...our relationship and role in connection to God.
Finally, we land in the reality of every day.

We need food.
We need to process our pain so we don't pass it along.
We need to face our difficulties with others.
We need be honest about places where we feel overwhelm or the brokenness within us.

We take care of our body (food).
We take care of our hearts (forgiveness).
We take care of our souls (facing what is stirring within us)
We take care of our relationships with others realizing that leaves an impression and impact on us.

This is daily life.

We start by naming God.
We commit to living and acting in a way that is in concert with God.
And then we step out the door into a realm where trying to live the first two steps is not easy.

So in some ways this third stanza is both an invitation to look forward at the beginning of the day, but also an invitation to look back.  This third stanza is both a rear view mirror and the windshield.  It is way to bookend our day.

What care do I need today? And then, how did I care for my body?
Who do I need to forgive or seek forgiveness so that the pain of others is not passed along?  And then, did I act in a way of grace toward others?
Do we face the trials with an openness to God's strength?  Or did I try to rely only on my own?
How did I treat God embodied in others?

Letting this third stanza be both our first prayer of the morning and the last prayer of before we close our eyes is a beautiful invitation.  I pray will offer more than a trace of God's grace in your life this week.

Grace and peace ~~ 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Lord's Prayer - Heaven on Earth

Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and for ever. Amen.

If the first stanza deals with the names of God, the second stanza invites us into the mystery of heaven on Earth.  God is the one whose presence is both vast and intimate.  About fifty years ago, two theologians embodied the diversity of thought about God.  Karl Barth would describe God as holy or wholly other.  God is distinctive and different...and even a bit distant.  Paul Tillich would define God as the ground of our being...the soil supporting our souls...which is an more intimate understanding of God.  So we might wonder, which is it?  Is God the one who is beyond our imaginations or is God the one we know because God is so woven inescapably into our lives?  My response?  Yes.  God is as close as our next breath...yet we don't ways understand God.  We get a glimpse, hints, guesses or traces of God's presence.  We don't get unquestionable truths or facts (as if there is such a thing in our world today).  While there is a timelessness to God, there is also a timeliness in our lives of the sacred.  And if we were to ask, well which is it?  I would suggest both...God as both the One moves in our midst, but does so with mystery.  So, how can we know God or sense God or be open to God?

This second stanza says that it is where justice, peace, freedom and hope are found.  It is where we work for the lost and least....where we bring peace...where we freely see everyone as created in God's image....and hope becomes real.  Yet, rarely does this happen with big neon, can't miss signs, where God sends a signal.  God moves subtly and simply and sometimes just beneath the surface.  God in the world won't work according to our carefully constructed plans.  There is so much in our world today that doesn't live out or lean into these words. We are too complacent with divisiveness, we shrug off brokenness, laugh at jokes said at the expense of the left behind and left out...this prayer won't allow us to be so complacent.  We are called to work for justice for all people.  We are called to walk humbly with God by loving both our family/friends as well as our enemy's.  As theologian once said, "The Christian way has not been tried and found has been found difficult so left untried."  We are good at giving lip service to our identity as followers of Christ, but don't always live that identity as central. 

I am grateful for this second stanza.  After naming God, we name our role/responsibility in this amazing grace, unconditional love relationship with God.  Who are we?  We are the justice seekers.  We are the hope bearers.  We are the one who tried to find peace, wholeness for others and all creation. Yet, this is not only up to us alone...we work as co-creators with God.  The ways of justice, peace, and hope are not according to our definitions, but to God's wisdom for such a time as this.  We do less pontificating, and more listening. 

Continue to trust in the slow work of the Spirit as these words work in our lives.

Grace and peace ~~   

Monday, January 22, 2018

Lord's Prayer - Names

Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and for ever. Amen.

Over the next few posts, we will explore the New Zealand version of the Lord's Prayer above.  There are so many powerful, profound, and beautiful parts of this prayer.  I want to encourage you to not only read this...but let it roam around.  Don't only read it with your mind, let it rummage around your life.  Enter into the prayer with an openness and prayerful-ness that might make a difference in these early days 2018.

We start with the truth that New Zealand Lord's prayer starts with a variety of names.
Eternal Spirit;
Earth Maker;
Pain Bearer;
Source of all that is and will be;
Father and Mother...

There are so many names for God.  To refer to God as, "Eternal Spirit" reminds us that there is a timelessness to God.  There is no time when God was not.  The eternal part of God encompasses and embraces the whole of history.  Yet, there is a mystery...a spirit to God.  In John 3, Jesus says to Nicodemus that the Spirit is like the wind.  I cannot see the wind, but I feel it.  I may tune into the weather and hear the direction and pressure, but that doesn't tell you what it feels like to have a refreshing breeze baptize your face when you are standing in the warmth of the sun.  It doesn't tell you how the wind can cut through you when it is negative 12 below zero outside.  It doesn't tell you how a wind can knock you off your feet.  The Eternal Spirit suggests there is an endless presence that swirls and stirs around us.
We can know this mystery through the marvel of the earth.  Creation does proclaim and preach the glory, splendor and sacredness of God.  God crafting and creating all that is around us...from the smallest participle to a porcupine to a palm tree outside my window...there is a connection to God through creation itself.
Yet, it isn't only beauty, but also brokenness...God as the pain bearer.  Often we point to God's self-giving on the cross...but this quality of God was there from the beginning of Exodus when God heard the cry of the Israelites in Egypt.  This isn't a distant or disinterested is an intimate one that impacts God's whole being.  God's heart breaks.  God sends the prophets not to judge but to lead the people back to relationship with God.  God sends Jesus to show love embodied, even to the point of a cross.  This Eternal Spirit who fashioned humans in the divine image...knows our deepest woundedness and wonderfulness. 
So, God is the Source, the starting point of all that is and will be.  God as the center or core.  Theologian Paul Tillich would call God the ground of our being...the foundation on which faith flows from and forth.  Such a beautiful image says that we are not the center of our own universe, it isn't all up to us, we are part of a play in a thousand places...with people we don't even know.  The source, the well as the well as everything in-between...this is God.
Finally, I love that the New Zealand prayer breaks wide open the names of God to embrace both Father and Mother...the sacred female and male images.  Sometimes we need God to be our Father and other times our mother and still other times the Spirit source beyond definition or description. 

The New Zealand prayer starts this way to not be exhaustive in the ways we can name God.  Nor does this prayer say we have to choose one of these title exclusively.  The prayer starts something that we need to continue.  We continually have to ask ourselves, how do I understand God today?  What are the ways our understandings are helpful?  Are they hurtful?  Where do they stumble or soar; sink or stand tall?  All these questions are vital and important. 

How would you name God?

May that question open you to more than a trace of God's grace in these days.

Grace and peace ~~ 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Change take 3

We have grieved and let go.

We have spent time in the neutral zone, patiently persisting with openness.

Now we enter the third stage of new beginnings.

Remember that first day of school with all the nervous energy and endless questions.  What would the teacher be like?  How much homework would there be?  Would my friends be in the same class?  Would there be new friends?

Just as grieving is a process...
Just as being in the neutral zone can take time...
So, too, the new beginning - for the joyful anticipation, new car smell, hopefulness, and tentativeness it can awaken - needs to take time too.

We might want to rush in quickly...sign up for everything.  I see this sometimes around the church.  People dive in head first into everything.  After a few months when the constant, perpetual motion isn't offering the meaning, it is easy to get disillusioned.  To be sure, some people love the church and will attend every meeting with gusto.  But most folks, need to enter in like a child into a swimming pool by just dipping their tippy toe into the water to test it out.  Daring to dive in takes courage.  Daring to dive in, we need to take a deep breath and come up for air.  Daring to dive we need to let our lives be buoyed by a spirit.

In the new beginning celebrate what feels life giving.  But also name and notice where the new places maybe even has some disappointments.  Remember - no place or person is perfect or completely broken - usually somewhere in the messy middle.

I think a new beginning needs a slow, savory, steady pace with lots of breaks. 

I think a new beginning needs companions who help us celebrate as well as compassionately listen when it isn't quite what we'd hoped.

I think a new beginning is like when you start dating someone.  Listen, learn, and know that you cannot speed, microwave or manufacture your way through it.  Time is a gift in the new beginning.

Just as God's grace was there to help you let things go and grief.
Just as God's grace was there to help you patiently persist through the neutral zone.
Let God's grace be there to celebrate and immerse yourself fully in this new place and beginning.

Such is the nature of transitions and faithfully facing change.

Grace and peace everyone.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Change take 2

In the last post, we explored letting go/grieving changes as a way of transitioning.  Let's take time with the second stage of William Bridges process - known as the neutral zone. 

This is a time in-between or in the meantime.  Something has ended (and by God's grace we've grieved it).  But perhaps something new has not yet arrived.

The neutral zone is aptly named...we shouldn't feel any one way about it.  But it will bring feels of both excitement/freedom as well as some nervous/a sense of being too free.  People may constantly ask you - when is the next blog post coming, the next volunteer opportunity, or you get busy doing something.  We are so used to the litany of being busy...than when someone is waiting with a persistent patience (which by the way is a GREAT prayer posture) unnerves us.  So, we nudge them to get with the show.  Or maybe touches that jealous nerve in all of us.  Or maybe holds a mirror to our life we'd rather not gaze in. 

This neutral zone is a time of active waiting.
The neutral zone is the Church Season of Advent...when we are watching and waiting but don't know exactly when the new life will arrive because we did not order it on Prime and we cannot track it through a website.  It moves in the slow, steady work of the Spirit.

In the neutral zone there is work to do...

You wait expectantly...and appreciatively.
You keep open, gently taking each invitation into your hands.
You talk to others who are open to be still with you.

There is a line in contemplative prayer that you sit on the shore watching the boats go by, but you don't board ever boat.  You notice it.  Some may cause some excitement...notice that...ask why.  Some may look boring...notice that...ask why.

The neutral zone looks different depending on where you are at with letting go and grieving what is past.
The neutral zone looks different depending on how soon the new opportunity knocks on the door.
The neutral zone looks different depending on what it wants to teach and tell us for such a time as this.

To be in the neutral zone is to breathe and be.

And to trust that there is more than a trace of God's grace there!


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Change take 1

As we reach the midpoint of the first month in 2018, what sorts of changes are stirring within and around you?  Which changes have you initiated and which have others decided to initiate for you?  Which did you welcome and which would you like to show the door and say, "Thanks for coming, bye-bye"?  Are the changes happening in your head (thinking), in your heart, in your soul, or in your body?  Or all the above?  Are there changes in relationships, at your job, the place where you volunteer, in family or with neighbors? 

I am already one paragraph in on this post...and haven't even touched or talked about changes in our culture or country or world.  The one constant (ironically) is change.  William Bridges in his book, Transitions, says that change is what happens around us and to us, but transition is our response, reaction, and process by which we travel through the change.  That is an important distinction and difference.  We have an important part to play in the midst of change.  How we deal...or decide to not deal...with the change is crucial. 

If you made a list of changes right now, what would be on that list?
In our country

Beyond describing or defining the change...what sorts of emotions does that shift awaken?

Taking time to notice and name the change is a great first step.  Taking time to describe and define.  Taking time to be acquainted is as a great place to begin.

Bridges in his book will say in every change we need to grieve and let go of the loss.  Second, we enter the neutral zone.  Third, we embrace the new beginning.

What kinds of ways we grieve a loss?

I think you can get out a piece of paper and write down everything you celebrated about the past as well as the concerns it caused.  Remember to take off the rose colored glasses, nothing is ever perfect and very few things are ever completely broken.

As the past twenty questions and the first ten don't count.

Get our your colored pencils and color the loss.  Which ones to you find your hand naturally going toward?

Write a poem or sing the loss a song.

Go for a walk...better yet go for a walk and talk with someone else.  Speaking the change out loud I believe makes it more real, especially when someone else is listening.  For the person who listens, s/he is not allow to fix or give you advice.  Just one affirmation.

Find a symbol for the past.  You may need to hold it in your hands for awhile...or you may need to bury it in the earth.

Give yourself time and gentle, but firm...grieving is a process that no one else can define the timeline for you.  But it is good to write in light, light pencil the process.  Feel free to erase as the slow work of the Spirit moves in your midst.  Please know, this process needs to be constantly edited. It needs freedom.  It needs to take unexpected exit ramps.  It might go backwards or stop/stay still.  But check in with the process to listen silently to the truth it longs for you to hear.

Fill in your better ideas here!

Defining the ways we let go of a loss is one way to begin...then you roll up your sleeves.  Or to use another metaphor, you set aside your dinner napkin and put on your apron to get into the kitchen to cook and taste and try the recipes you need to move through this first stage of transition.

May there be more than a trace of God's grace as you do so...


Monday, January 15, 2018

Words of Wisdom

On this day when we honor the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, I want you to listen to the words he preached in his final Christmas sermon entitled, "Hope".

Now let me suggest first that if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

May these words of wisdom offer more than a trace of God's grace...but be born/lived/leaned into in such a time as these.

Blessings ~~

Friday, January 12, 2018

Random Thought 3

Recently, my son and I went to see the new Star Wars movie.  I will totally try not to spoil anything about the movie.  I think most know that Rey, the heroine of the movie, goes to study the way of the force with Luke Skywalker.  There is one exchange between them that I found so profound.  It went like this:

Luke Skywalker: Breathe. Just breathe. Now reach out. What do you see?
Rey: Light. Darkness. A balance.
Luke Skywalker: It's so much bigger.

The insight and idea that light and darkness are not opposites, but in balance, is really at the heart of all religious thinking.  Too often, religious language wants to say that some stuff/behavior/beliefs are good and other stuff/behavior/beliefs are bad.  But such either/or thinking truly needs to stop.  Not only is it unhelpful, it is hurtful to much of God's good/amazing creation.  There is darkness in this world.  Sometimes that is scary and other times sacred.  Almost every mystic at some point (regardless of which teacher s/he was following) has an experience of the "dark night of the soul."  You cannot go around it.  You cannot fast forward or buy your way through it.  You have go into the wild, wilderness wandering at night.  You have to stumble and fall.

It can happen when you get a pink slip unexpectedly.
Or grief pays an unwelcomed visit.
Or a relationship abruptly ends. 
Or pain just sits in your soul for some other reason.

So often, we forget in those moments to breathe.  Just breathe.  We also lose our ability to see quickly.  The narrowness of the moment puts blinders on our eyes.  All we can see is the loss or feeling left out.  We don't notice those who are reaching out, because we might be pushing them away or our pride might be preventing us for asking for help.  The root of the word, "anxious" is the sames as narrowness.  It is when we feel stuck between that rock and a hard place.  When all paths seem blocked.

That happened in Scripture as the Israelites were exiting Egypt.  Suddenly their forward process halted by a big old Red Sea.  Some threw up their hands in frustration.  (Sounds familiar).  Some wanted to give up.  (Yup, been there too).  Some said, "Thanks a lot God" because we love to deflect our pain to others.  Then, a new way opened up when the sea parted.  I wonder how many times I have been too busy mumbling or grumbling about the darkness or brokenness that I missed the parted seas in my life?  Because I didn't just breathe and be open to God who continually is creating anew and afresh.  And remember, even when the people of God got to the other side...they still had to wander in the wilderness for forty wasn't all promised land next left as their feet stepped onto dry land.

It is so much bigger than this.  But for now, can you let these random lines of dialogue sing to your hearts?  Can you enter into the mystery they point toward and proclaim?

May the traces of God's grace offer you moments to breathe and be on this day.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Random Thought 2

Laughter to me is a form of prayer.  I believe this because laughter is a full body experience.  You process the joke in your brain, your body responds with a sound of joy, your heart and soul dance to the music coming from you. 

We live in a world where so often we focus on the brokenness and pain.  To be sure, we should not ignore these realities and especially those who are hurt and need healing.  Yet, if we think we can manufacture a perfect world before we every laugh or enjoy...we might be waiting awhile.

I take joy in the fact that I believe Jesus laughed joyfully at times.  I think of the time some religious people asked him about paying taxes.  He asked for a coin...inquired about whose image on was on it...then I am convinced he pocketed that coin given to him.  Or the time when he invited himself over to Zacchaeus' house, he had to be laughing to himself.  I wished we had more stories about Jesus telling jokes with his disciples.  There needs to be moments when we allow the cathartic release laughter brings.

Would you please pray with me:

God who delights in the peculiar and perplexing,
God who formed the duck-billed platypus
And who crafted colorful rainbows that come out after the rain.
God who loved to appear in the most random ways
To Moses in a burning bush that wasn't consumed...
To Elijah who fled for his life and was hiding in a cave...
To our world in a dusty, drafty barn...

Help us find our love of laughing.
Help us rekindle our ability to laugh at ourselves.
For me to laugh when I get too serious or somber or scholarly,
Let Your grace work and wiggle in my life,
Tickling my soul with joy.

Surround us in these days to hear the beauty of laughter...
Sustain us in these days to see the wonder of joyfulness...
Strengthen us in these days to not only sing about joy to the world, but to embody that prayer in our very lives.

In the name of the One whose presence still brings a smile to our faces.


Monday, January 8, 2018

Random Thought 1

This past week as I was performing a wedding there was a random thought that fluttered and flew through my mind.  As the couple was exchanging vows, they arrived at those words:

"For better, for worse...
For richer, for poorer...
In sickness and in health...
In joy and in sorrow."

And I realized that perhaps those are not always either/or moments but rather can be both/and.  There are moments you can be both in a state of joy and sorrow...times when we your body might be sick and your mind/soul well...times when you can feel richer beyond belief regardless of a bank account and times when you know that life is better because of the person beside you even facing the most difficult moment you have in your life.

I think it is easy to hear these as either ends of a pendulum.  There is truth that sometimes life does swing from one extreme to another.  There is also truth that we tend to spend a majority of our time in the messy middle between those two ends.  Most days are not the best day EVER...or the worst.  Most days I am no longer a poor college student...nor can I retire quite yet.  With extra candle on my birthday cake, my body starts to show signs of another year...but I am still grateful for my health. 

I especially invite those who are celebrating a wedding anniversary this year to ponder the vows you said your partner.  I often tell couples that vows are elastic...they can stretch and grow with each passing year.  They can expand to include new experiences and encounters.  But vows need to be tended.  Think of your most amazing event (for us it is walking around Disney).  Of course we enjoy that.  But I also try to enjoy our walks around the neighborhood.  We love celebrating the special days but also the ordinary Wednesdays that come about every week.  In what ways are your vows allowing you to grow into who God crafted and created you to be?

I pray as you ponder might sense more than a trace of God's grace in your life.

Grace and peace everyone ~~

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Why Musical Prayers

I wanted to usher you into 2018 with two songs that are on repeat/replay both in my car and in my soul.  First, the prayer song by Matt Maher Clean Heart is taken from Psalm 51.  I want to invite you to go read that prayer.  You can click here for one version (NRSV) or here for another version (The Message)  

Seriously, I will wait while you actually read this psalm.

Your first reaction, if it is like mine, is, "Well thanks for that uplifting message, Mr. Donald Downer.  Next you are going to tell me that it is time to go see the dentist for a root canal."  This psalm is a bit like sandpaper on my soul.  It reminds me that we live in a world where religion has been mixed with pop psychology and positivism.  I can spend too much time talking about God's love and not about this truth: "If I am alright.  And you are alright.  Why is the world not alright?"  There is brokenness in this world.  Matt names it well at the beginning.  We woke up this morning and rather than our mind stay on Jesus as the spiritual teaches us, we started yelling and tweeting and trying to cling to power.  We woke up this morning not with your mind on Jesus but whether we are winning or losing.  This psalm reminds me that I cannot save myself.  I do nee to be open to God's work in my life.  But that patient, persistent, crafty, and creative will of God is working regardless whether I see/sense it or not.  Like water running over a rock, smoothing the rough surface, that is God's grace and presence in our lives. 

It is also important to notice and name that Psalm 51 was written as the subtitle suggests: A David Psalm, After He Was Confronted by Nathan (the prophet) About the Affair with Bathsheba.  Not only was this psalm written as a confession, but David the King had sent Bathsheba's husband into battle so that David could have the affair!  Brokenness often begets brokenness.  Which is why I wanted to offer you Matt's song early in the early in the year.

The chances are pretty good at some point in the coming three hundred thirty days you are going to do something you regret or wish you had a rewind button in you life.  There are moments when I say something and want to immediately reach out, grasp the words and put them back from whence they came (as if I could do that).  There are moments I feel boneheaded or cause brokenness.  This isn't about guilt or hanging my head.  It is a reality of life.  Mistakes happen.  And this song from Matt and the psalm help us process the pain so we don't pass it along (which usually sounds like, "Well, if so- and - so hadn't done such-and-such this never wouldn't have happened). 

Secondly, the Carrie Newcomer song, A Small Flashlight reminds me that I don't always see as clearly as I like and I don't always get to see the whole forest for the trees.  The pastor/poet Thomas Merton put it this way:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 

What is that small flashlight for you in the midst of the darkness?  Where is God calling you to shine the light...not that you can see all the way down the road to your final destination...but see enough to take the next right step?  Do you see the grace upon grace that we have that small flash light to help us with that next step?

I invite you to go back and listen to both songs again (I won't make you re-read the psalm...but know it is there for those moments this year if you need that confessional prayer).  Let those words continue to guide you with more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~~

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Musical Prayer take two

Let this video and song be a prayer for you today...

The way is dark up ahead of me
The way is dark and I cannot see
What I love the most is a flashlight beam
Lighting up the way when I cannot see

The way unfolds like an open hand
The way unfolds like I didn't plan
And only in looking back do we understand
That the way was true as an open hand

Over trials and trouble I've already come
And the net appeared when I needed one
Yes the road is dark and the ground is rough
Most the time a flashlight has to be enough

We move forward one step at a time
Wide-eyed and hopeful, lost and half blind
Mistake by mistake, we all learn to be kind

There is so much to see and to realize
If I could close my mouth and open up my eyes
And the world will tell us more than enough lies
But we'll find our way with a small flashlight

A Small Flashlight by Carrie Newcomer

May there be a bright trace of God's grace in your life this first week of 2018 that is a small flash light for your life.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Musical prayer

Let these words be for us a prayer...

Woke up this morning
The whole world was yelling
I wish I was dreaming
Of all that we've been through
My soul has been searching
For some deeper meaning
I know there's a kindness
That leads me to the truth

When everybody's looking for another fight
When trouble's on the rise, no end in sight
Oh Savior, won't You come and make the wrong things right
Let me be the place You start
Give me a clean heart

What is forgiveness if it isn’t given
We measure our mercy
When mercy is a flood
Give us a vision
Your eyes of compassion
In all this division
May we be known by our love

When everybody's looking for another fight
When trouble's on the rise, no end in sight
Oh Savior, won't You come and make the wrong things right
Let me be the place You start
Give me a clean heart
Give me a clean heart

You blessed those who cursed You
You loved those who hated You
On the cross You died for me
To bless those who curse You
And love those who hate You
You said to love my enemies!

When everybody's looking for another fight
When trouble's on the rise, no end in sight
Oh Savior, won't You come and make the wrong things right
Let me be the place You start
Give me a clean heart
Give me a clean heart
Give me a clean heart
Give me a clean heart
Give me a clean heart

Matt Maher's Clean Heart


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