Friday, February 28, 2020

It's Lent


It's been a few days.

Have you found yourself returning to this melody?  Humming it in the car or at the store.
Did you return to listen again, this time bravely and boldly picking up crayons to color a prayer?
Or are you just not sure what I am trying to do here, confused or confounded?
Or some combination of all the above.

Listen just to the melody again, softly hum along, riding the ascending and descending notes like waves on the sea.

Read slowly the first verse below remembering that hymns are poetry.  You cannot rush or race through poetry.  You cannot skim the surface of poetry.  You need to hold each word of a poem in the palm of your hand feeling its weight and exploring the contours/crevasses/cracks of a poem ~ every square inch.  Let the photos last Advent, you cannot glance at a poem, you need to gaze in order to reframe and refocus.  Here is the first verse of this hymn:

God of grace and God of glory,
on your people pour your power;
crown your ancient church's story,
bring its bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
for the facing of this hour,
for the facing of this hour.

Which line leaps off the screen?  Which word did you return to?  Why?  It could be for a good reason or one that is unsettling.

I find myself struck by the line, "grant us wisdom and courage".  I sometimes think this could be the most meaningful prayer I could pray each day.  Grant me God wisdom.  Not for haughty reasons.  Not so I could boast or brag.  Not so I could puff up my chest and prove that I am the smartest person in the room.  (Which reminds me of the great quote, "If you always think you are the smartest person in the room...you are probably in the wrong rooms).  Grant me wisdom, because this world is hungry and thirsty for that which is more than a text or tweet.  Grant me wisdom because there is so much I don't know, so many ways I get mixed up or mistaken about what I think is right.  Not only me, grant us as your people wisdom.  Wisdom won through the good and bad.  Wisdom that is found in the most unlikely places.  Wisdom...then courage to act on that wisdom; to live bravely and boldly the deep truths that have stood the test of time.

We need wisdom and courage in these days.  How might we uncover and discover such truths this day?  How might this verse of this hymn become your theme song on these first few days of Lent?  How much you seek wisdom and courage?  Who might you seek it alongside?

I pray that these words might be a blessing to you and open you to traces of God's grace in these days.



Wednesday, February 26, 2020

It's Lent...Wait...Please Read


Ah...Lent.

No more chocolate...no more singing/saying/even thinking the word, "Alleluia"...put on your serious and somber face as a spiritual practice.

After all, today, on Ash Wednesday, we will take burnt palm branches from last year and put them on your forehead or the back of your hand, saying the words, "From dust you came, to dust you shall return."  Thanks for that uplifting thought, Eeyore. 

Yes, recently, good pastoral people like myself have tried to reclaim and reframe Lent for you.  We have talked about rather than giving up...what if you took on a spiritual practice?  Or what if you volunteered more time.  Or what if you did something, anything, to connect with God?  But honestly in a fast paced, frenzied world where we wear our busy schedules as a badge of honor, giving up chocolate sounds a whole lot easier!

To give up or take on...that is the question.  What is the noble and needed way to connect with God in the coming forty days? 

What if it wasn't a mathematical problem to be solved?
What if this wasn't some algebraic equation God is testing you with where you have to try to figure out where God is at right now in your life?
What if God shows up disguised as your life right now?

Yes, your life.

With it's pile of laundry.
With it's floors that need to be swept.
With that which is unresolved and unfinished and incomplete.

Eek!  My life?  My messy, mixed up, less-than-perfect life?  God showing up here?  Now?  Um, just as second as I try to finished the dishes in the sink from last night and shove all that stuff I have been meaning to file away into the closet and put on something other than these sweat pants I am wearing.

God shows up in your life.

That was true in the very beginning...God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve.  God interacting and intimately interwoven.  After all God had sunk God's fingerprints into soil, earth, to make Adam (which is not a formal name but a word meaning, "earthling").

God shows up in your life.

That isn't always easy for me to discern where God is...I often only get traces of God's grace...usually it is in hindsight that I notice God. 

But I do know that music moves my soul.  Music speaks to my heart.  Music provides meaning.

This Lent, we will listen/lean into several hymns.  We are going to open our ears to the melody.  We are going to ponder prayerfully and hold lightly the words.  We are going to start with the hymn above, "God of grace and God of glory". 

If you are familiar with the hymn, great.  If not, that is okay.

I want you to listen to the melody in the video.  I know it is extremely difficult when you know the words by heart to stop yourself from singing along.  But try. 

Does the melody lift your spirits?
What is happening in your soul?
What images from your own life come to mind?  Is there an experience this might awaken within you that you had filed mentally away years ago?

Or better yet, get out some crayons and see which color you gravitate and grab when you hear this melody.

Or better yet, what prayer is evoked within you when you hear this particular combination of notes congregate together?

Listen...listen again.  Let this hymn tune usher you both into the season of Lent and holding your life as the way God shows up, sings, speaks and sometimes goes silently by your side.

May there be more than a trace of grace in this practice for you today.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Grasshopper



My mind was aflutter racing and running with things to do that day.  With each step I took, something new was added to the list.  Then, this grasshopper caught my eye.  He stood still, frozen in time. 

What was on his to-do list for the day?

Maybe find a leaf to munch for lunch?
Maybe see if he could leap higher than he did yesterday?
Maybe hang out on the glass door to see if anyone noticed?

Science website says that grasshoppers are not picky about what they nosh upon, they will eat fungi or moss.

They will rotting meat or weaker insects.

Okay, now I have lost my appetite.

They need to eat half their body weigh every single day.

No, I didn't ask this guy how much he weighed.

I stood there silently staring...
Wondering if he would be started and start to leap away...
And at some point fished for my phone from my pocket to snap the photo.

Who knew that on my list today was to do a photo shoot and spread for this grasshopper?
It wasn't there when I started the day.
Such a thought would have seemed absurd to stop what I was doing.
But in that moment that Mr. Grasshopper and I shared on that busy day,
I am delighted that his picture leapt and landed right at the top of what was most important.
I am delighted in that moment there was a trace of God's grace.

May there be moments to marvel at the mystery of the holy this day and week for you.

Blessings ~~ 

Friday, February 21, 2020

Collector of Quotes Three


From Small Simple Ways by Vinita Hampton Wright

Every day I am formed.
Situations...
Pressures within and without...
And my own fears and desires shape me.

Through conversations and mundane activities
Such as...
Commuting
and preparing a meal.

Much of my situation is already formed/fashioned.
For example - I am committed to a marriage and I am an employee.
Those two relationship form me, day in and out.

However, I can choose to include influences that help shape me into the image of God more fully.
I can pray.
I can engage in conversations that encourage.
I can keep learning.
I can share and shine my light in loving ways.
I can list right now the forces of my life and be honest about which form me into the person I want to be. (pg. 7)

That kind of prayerful activity might offer a trace of God's grace every day.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Collector of Quotes two


One of the things I love about quotes is that they can slow you down...make you really think...especially when there is a contradiction woven into the moment.

Life is too important...Wilde starts off saying.

Yes...life is very important.  Each breath is a gift of the present moment.  Every day hold mystery and magic and sometimes heartbreak or ache that we need space to process.  In the span of seconds congregating to become minutes forming hours and eventually a whole day, there is so much happening around us and within us we cannot possibly take it all in to our minds ~ let alone our lives.

Life is too important...Wilde starts off saying.

We can be uber serious and somber about it.  Grumbling and griping that this is the worst time ever.  Yet, I would suggest that living during the plague was pretty awful.  Living in fear and active persecution in Germany was really awful - especially for targeted groups.  Living right now in Syria is down right dangerous as people flee for their lives.

Me?

I have food, shelter, indoor plumbing.

That isn't to say, the problems don't matter or that life isn't without struggle for us all.  Yes, some people's struggles are more painful than any I will endure.  I will never be stopped because of the color of my skin.  People don't judge me based on who I love.  Yet, I have had moments of crying tears that won't stop and ache that feels like a hole in my soul.

Life is too important...and too often we take it so seriously believe that the joyful path (along with the paths of hope and love and peace too) are nice for Sunday morning but don't make it out in the dog-eat-dog world of Monday morning.  We lit a candle for hope back in December, but that was before the headlines this week.  We talked about the lion and lamb laying down in peace, but now we are out in the jungle thinking that was all naivete.  We sang sweetly about love, but the Christmas decorations are long put away and Valentine's Day is just made up by Hallmark.  Joy?  Please, just look at the is happening around us.

Life is too important...but when we only let the serious and somber have a say, there is never any release of joy that is found in laughter as a prayer or a good cup of coffee on a cold day or sitting close to someone you love holding hands.

What might you do this day and the rest of this week to live life differently knowing this one precious life is beautiful and sometimes broken but also way too short to be taken that seriously?

May there be more than a trace of grace for you in this exploration.

Amen ~

Monday, February 17, 2020

Collector of Quotes


Above photo was taken at the Santa Monica Pier in CA.

My mom collected salt and pepper shakers...my grandmother always bought a salt and pepper shaker everywhere she went...my dad was into model trains...and recently we held a celebration of life for someone who had over 500 nutcrackers ~ which we encouraged everyone at the service to take one (or six) with them knowing the person's fingerprints were all over this collection.

Me?

I feel like a collect quotes.

Quotes have a way of singing to my soul...they work and wiggle into my life.  One of my favorite quotes right now is, "Sometimes you have to let go of the life you planned for the the life you have."

See what I mean?

Those words have profound power and can evoke something within you.  After all, we are taught to have a dream and doggedly pursue it with passion.  We are told that if we happen to let the stumbles and set backs along the way cause us to give up, we have failed.  We have bought into the Disney quote, "If you can dream it...you can do it."  Sometimes this is true.  But sometimes, it just isn't so.

For example, I will never...never be the starting center for the Chicago Bulls.  First, I am only 5'10" ~ I am barely tall enough to ride the tilt-a-whirl at Disney.  Secondly (as if you need another reason), my eyesight isn't the best.  Okay, most of the time the people at the eye-glass story exhale loudly when trying to find a frame that might conceal the coke bottle lens I need to navigate the world.  Wearing glasses while playing basketball isn't exactly a positive.  Third (again as if this is needed), I don't shoot the ball well.  I am always the first out in the game of  H-O-R-S-E.  I can dream about it.  But sometimes you have to let go of what you planned for what you have.

What I have?

I have an amazing family who I care so much about ~ the life of a NBA athlete often takes him away from those he is closest to.
I have a job where people love me and listen to me and we laugh and lean into tough moments together.
I live in a place where it is warm...sometimes too warm in the summer, but you can't have it all.

What might you need to let go of?
What is right here and now that could be embraced?

May prayerfully living a response to those two questions give you more than a trace of God's grace in these February days.

Blessings ~~

Friday, February 14, 2020

Reconcile


What if today rather than boxes of chocolate and cards, you sought to show love to someone who frustrates you?
What if today rather than only hanging out with those who are easy to love, you did the riskier thing of loving your enemies?
What if today rather than only speaking about sappy, sentimental love, we delve deep into just how radical love can be.

Love is patient and kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude, the Apostle Paul prophetically and powerfully wrote.
We read those words over couples promising, pledging, covenanting to spend their lives together.
Then, we promptly forget them the second we walk out of the church to go to the reception.
Because that kind of love is demanding.
That kind of love is draining.
That kind of love would challenge and change us.

Love is patient.  I think of how I sit in the car waiting for my family to finish just one more thing, but I want to leave so we won't be late.
Love is patient.  I think of listening to someone even when I want to chime in with my own story.
Love is kind.  I think about saying words that won't just prove my point but seek to connect to the other person.
Love is kind.  I think about deciding that I don't always need to demand my way.
Love isn't envious or boastful...I don't have to brag, love is content to be share like a dessert with two forks.
Love isn't envious or boastful...it isn't a balance sheet.  Or to offer a quote, "Some of the most meaningful parts of life can't be counted...and often what can be counted are not that meaningful."

Love isn't arrogant or rude...but that doesn't seem to sell today.  Not on the news channels we consume.  Not in the ways the leaders relate.  Not even in our interactions. 
Love isn't arrogant or rude...what an hopelessly out-of-date idea. 

Only it might be the only one that can save us.
Only it might be the only way we can find our way.
Only it might offer us more than a trace of grace not just on this Valentine's Day but this election year.

May it be so for you and me and our broken/torn world to be mended.
Amen. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Clouds


As the shadowy somber clouds sail across the morning sky,
Occasionally permitting a sliver of the late night moon to peak, peer through.
I marvel at the mystery of the moment unfolding before me.

I know these clouds and they know me.
The usually come in the day time disguised as stress and strain.
They often introduce themselves as grief,
Tension in a relationship,
Vexing problems that won't be easily solved,
Pain that sits unprocessed in the arm chair of my office waiting, wondering if I will ever slow down long enough to pay attention...

The glimpses of light appear too in the comments of people who care,
In those who are willing to risk and dare,
In the loving sight of my wife and childrens' stare.

The light and darkness are always playfully interwoven into our lives, but we have bought into the false narrative that somehow we deserve...or have earned...or we should always yearn toward the light.
But from the beginning God crafted and created light and dark...the only day God did not bless the part of creation as "good".  Perhaps God did this because we need to break through the dualistic way of one being bad while the other is good.  Perhaps God wanted to say that both have lessons to teach and tell us.  Perhaps the mystery and marvel of that early morning walk amid the shadowy somber clouds was like that first morning.

What lessons might the clouds teach me today?

Will I be brave, bold enough to open my life not only to clinging to light?

Can I discover again the ancient mystery that there is more than a trace of grace in both?

Blessings ~~

Monday, February 10, 2020

Torn



  It was the middle of January, I was in the fourth grade, and I was wearing my brand new, recently unwrapped from Christmas corduroy pants.  They were tan.  They made that swooshing sound with every step I took.  They were awesome.  They were supposed to be reserved for Sunday mornings only, but I decided just this once I would wear them to school and to show them off to my friends.  Looking back, I don’t think anyone was impressed or even noticed.  After school my friends and I were playing, and we went to climb over a chain link fence.  I reached the top, I swung my leg over, and my guess is that you already know what happened next.  My beautiful, brand new corduroy pants got caught and I tugged to get free.  I don’t know which was louder, the ripping sound of the fabric or the sound of my heart breaking as I realized what had happened.  I raced, ran home, tears in my eyes, which because it was January in Iowa my face was half frozen.  My mom calmed me down, gave me some hot chocolate as I tried to tell her what was the worse day ever.  Torn.  Ripped apart.  Ruined forever…ever…ever.  Mark may have the briefest account of Jesus’ baptism but in a few words he creates a compelling and challenging scene.  He takes and tells us about baptism which is a profoundly powerful and poignant moment that we still claim as the central act of welcoming a person into the faith.  This baptismal moment, Mark paints the scene. Jesus cradled in the arms of John the baptizer.  Jesus being slowly lowered beneath the surface of the Jordan River, that was where centuries earlier Joshua having taken the mantel of leadership from Moses; Joshua parted the Jordan River and led the people after forty years of wandering in the wilderness into the Promised Land.  The Jordan is a sacred site with history.  And because water is constantly recycled, some of the water that Jesus felt soaking and saturating, dripping from his drenched hair and beard could have been the same water that his ancestors touched and they walked through into the land flowing with milk and honey.  It is a beautiful scene, just like my corduroy pants.  But as Jesus breaks the surface, gasps and takes a gulp of air, we are told that the heavens are torn.  Ripped apart. 
We know that feeling.  I have spoken words that have torn asunder relationships.  I have felt the pain of losing someone who I loved and even though their fingerprints were on my heart, it wasn’t the same.  I feel that right now every time I turn on the news.  Writer David Fitch puts it this way, “We’re living in angry times.  Wherever we go, whether to church, school, city hall, or Washington, DC; whatever we watch, whether cable television, Facebook or the local theater; however we do things whether by email or Twitter or telephone, in person, or in a meeting – in it all, our culture is rife with conflicts. Politics is full of strife.  Everybody is caught up with warding off yet another enemy.   And so many of us are just keeping our heads down, hoping to get through another day, causing as little trouble as we can.  Something is wrong and we don’t know what to do about it.”   All this leads us to say things like, “This is the worse time ever.”  But, let’s be clear that Jesus’ day wasn’t all chocolate rivers and pony rides.  Jesus lived in a time when the Roman Empire oppressed the people.  It was an angry time.  People played for political power and favor.  King Herod is said to have killed his own sons and wife because he saw them as a threat, and you thought your family had issues.  Some in the Jewish faith wanted to fight, some wanted to flee, and many were just trying to survive.  We have more in common with the emotional and spiritual state of the world Jesus lived in, we just don’t always realize it.
To be torn apart is often seen only in a negative light.  What possible good could ever come from something that is ripped and won’t ever be the same again?  Yet, you and I both know moments in life pain can either break us open or make us bitter.  You and I both follow one who hears today this baptismal claim of beloved-ness but will eventually question those words from the cross.  The torn and tattered parts of life are not easily fixed.  After I calmed down and finished my hot chocolate, mom took out her trusty needle and thread to mend the torn part of my corduroy pants.  She worked carefully and slowly, with each stitch trying to repair the rift of the rip.  When she was done, she pronounced that they were good as new.  I wasn’t so sure.  I could always see where the tear had been.  I knew that the thread wasn’t quite the same color.  But I am pretty sure no one else ever noticed or knew.  We are called in our lives to reconcile, repair, and work alongside God restore God’s realm.  What God is breaking open in baptism is a sense that our identity is tied to our net worth or position or power.  What God breaks open in baptism is the truth that you are God’s beloved too. We are called to let grace be a thread woven into our words, to let love be the connection that ties our lives together.  There will be many today who would rather say that it’s too late or that the brokenness is too bad.  They would rather cynically stand on the sidelines commenting than actually committing to act with the truth that God is not finished with us yet.  From the very beginning we have the choice.  We can decide each day whether we will let love win or let our political viewpoints stream roll over others.  We decide each day whether God’s grace makes a difference, or we’d rather get ours while the getting is good.  We decide if the baptismal claim that was spoken on your life will be lived or we rank and rate others.  Of course, in some ways, it is a false choice.  Those who have been compelled by Christ’s teaching and preaching and healing know that we can do no other that live with a compassion and care for all, all creation.  Those who have had their hearts strangely warmed by the mysterious presence of the holy need to share that with others.  Those who long to help work toward a world where all are loved, know that we have to pick up the needle and thread and get to work.  What was torn in us and around us may not be easily mended, but we keep prayerfully tending.  So may the fabric of our lives continue to collaborate and conspire with the One who is still sewing and singing and speaking in these days.  Amen.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Things Noticed While Driving Today


These are a few of things noticed while driving today.

1. The brilliant red of the stop light as time seems to stand still waiting for the "go" of green.  I feel my shoulders tense and tighten wondering/worrying if I will be late as I try to breathe in to the count of four, hold my breathe for the count of five, and exhale to the count of six to calm down.
2. The sound of a good song coming from the radio that I instinctively turn up the volume and begin to drum the steering wheel off-beat along with the music.
3. The person in the car next to me staring intently forward as if willing the light to change using the Jedi mind trick.
4. The person bicycling on the road as I safely swerve to give the person more space to pedal.
5. The mother walking her daughter to the bus stop, carrying her "Paw Patrol" back pack in one hand and grasping her daughter's hand with the other. 
6. The world outside the wind shield rolling past ~ lives I might never intersect with but are inhabiting this spinning world alongside me.
7. The air freshener in my car with the scent of vanilla making me think of warm cookies.
8. The movement of my foot from the brake to the accelerator and how the movement of the car lurches forward as I make contact.
9. The sense of the unexpected...a bit like Captain Kirk going into the vastness of face.
10. The words of a mantra I have been repeating since January to keep me in the present moment  that goes like this, "Now.  Here.  This."  That the present moment is what we have (now), the call to be in this moment rather than the past or future (here), and that there is more than enough in this moment to fill my life (this).

What presence of the holy might you notice and name as you wander around the world today.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Things Seen While Washing the Dishes


These are a few of things I noticed and can names as I washed the dishes today.

1. The sensation of warm water as I plunge my hand in, grasping and grabbing the first item I find beneath the soapy suds.
2. The soft soapy suds that cling to my wrists and forearm as I pull the dish out.
3. The apple smell of the soap that raises from the sink to my nose.
4. The wash clothe at first meeting the resistance of stuck on food and the tense strain of my muscles in response. 
5. Eventually, the way the residue of the meal gives way and the smooth surface of the plate which my wash clothe glides over.
6. The sounds of my children laughing in the living room watching some television show that I am only catching bits and pieces of.
7. My bare feet on the rug, the splash of water freed from the sink that lands on shirt, the way the cloudy and more clogged the water becomes with each clean dish.
8. The way my hand searches amid the murky water for a stray, lost knife that I know has to be somewhere hiding in a corner.
9. Once found, the careful balancing act of drying dishes congregating like a janga puzzle. 
10. A sense of peace as the water drains and tiny droplets of water are drying on the now clean dishes.

What might you notice and name as you are washing the dishes today?

Monday, February 3, 2020

Things Seen While Walking My Dog


One of the spiritual practices I enjoy is taking my dog for a walk.  These are a few of the sights, sounds, smell, and sensations that stirred within me as we strolled this morning:

1. More colors than could be contained in a box of crayons.  There were orange and soft red berries mixing with green and yellow leaves of a bush; variations of gray in the sky; a blue toy block by a car left behind by a child; and a tree leaf that left the branch right as I was walking past.
2. A family hugging their goodbyes, finding ways to linger before letting go.
3. The rush of wind that whooshed and swooshed past me as if in a hurry to get somewhere.
4. Sun trying to poke or prod its way through the clouds, with a few radiant rays that were successful.
5. The smell of bacon from someone's breakfast.
6. The hum of a motor from a lawn service vehicle and the engine of a car going past.
7. A squirrel that teased and taunted my dog dashing across our path playfully as my dog's tail shot straight up and tugged at the leash.
8. Our neighbor getting in her car, our instinctive impulses to exchange our, "Hellos" with a wave.
9.  Tall palm trees swaying rhythmically with the wind.
10. The sensation of peace I felt from the top of my head to my pinkie toe.

What might you notice, name as you wander around your corner of the world today?

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 ...