Monday, March 30, 2020

It's Lent


Okay...this may not be the normal music you would expect .  But, this video just makes me smile.  The energy and passion of Rodrigo y Gabriela leaps from my computer screen capturing my heart.  Maybe part of this is that I wish I could play the guitar like this.  Okay, I just wish I could play the guitar.  Sometimes music communicates so much without words. 

This music takes me on a journey.  A journey from excitement to silent, still moments.  As we come up on Palm Sunday next weekend, I hear in this the truth of Gospel.  I can hear the crowds who have gathered to welcome Jesus singing and shouting, "Hosanna."  I hear the intimate quiet of the Last Supper.  The powerful passion of Good/God's Friday.  Then, the triumphant joy of Easter morning.  If Holy Week could be captured in one piece of music, this might be a good example.

What do you hear in this?
What do you experience in watching the video?
Where does it stir your soul or awaken questions?

I encourage you to listen to this a few times today.  Sometimes when we hear something for the first time, especially something that doesn't fit neatly into our categories, we might be tempted to shrug our shoulders and leave it.  But sometimes when we return to a piece of music...or a poem...or a sermon a little later ~ we hear something that was hidden in plain sight. 

Listen.

Lean in.

Be open to this anthem for what awaits us this coming Sunday.

With many blessings ~~

Friday, March 27, 2020

It's Lent




There is something about music on a piano that is particularly meaningful to me.  Perhaps there is that wish that I had learned to play the piano.  Perhaps it is the sound that stirs within me.  Perhaps it is just the way I was made.

Today, I won't offer you a lot of words...just a piece by Phillip Wesley and a beautiful video.

I pray you find a trace of God's grace in this.

Blessings ~~

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

It's Lent


In the midst of the day-to-day life, music helps to ground and guide me.  What I listen to shapes me.  What we hear impacts and influences each of us.

Music causes the neurons in our brain to spark and surge.  I feel that when I put on music to go for a run that has a good bass and beat.  I feel that when I listen to something that causes a smile to cross my face.  I feel that when a gathering of notes causes the stress in my shoulders to suddenly evaporate.

One piece of music that calm me is "I need thee every hour". 

Those five words might be the most basic prayer ever prayed.  I need God's presence every hour (actually every minute).  I need God's strength to surround me...to enfold me and hold me.  It isn't just some nicety, God's presence is a necessity.  Yet, I can find myself getting so caught up in my to-dos that I miss moments of connecting with the One who activates and animates my life.  To be sure, I sense God's presence is always there...it is just sometimes I am paying better attention. 

I sensed God this morning in a walk looking at the clouds.
I sensed God as I laughed with my wife.
I sensed God as I sat for a few moments petting my dog.

And all of that before 8 a.m.

The world is alive with the presence of God...every bush is burning with God's presence...but we don't turn or tune our lives that way.

I invite you to listen...lean into this version of the hymn letting it remind you of our prayer for God's presence every hour...and God's promise of presence every second in response.  May this offer more than a trace of God's grace for you.

Blessings ~~

Monday, March 23, 2020

It's Lent...


There are moments when we all have a meh day. 

Not the WORST!  DAY!!  EVER!!!

Not the Great day in the whole history of my life...no wait...the whole of human history.

Just a day when your soul feels like it is wearing your father's suit coat or the time you tried on your mom's high heels and fell flat on your backside.

A day when something is off...and if you could identify what it was maybe you could do something about it...but the something is elusive and evasive.  The "something" keeps fluttering around like it is playing a game with you.  The "something" is like a housefly buzzing around.  You swat at it.  You try to ignore it...but it keeps whooshing past your ear.  So, you decide the only logical thing to do is to sell your house that way the fly will bother someone else!  (I am totally kidding, but there are days the thought has crossed my mind).

It is on those days when my soul is restless that music is soothing and settling.

There are many, many hymns that can cause me to breathe and be.

One of my favorite is the above, "It is well with my soul."  Part of what is so powerful is the juxtaposition...the contradiction...in the first verse:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It starts with such a serene thought...peace like a river attending our way.  I think of Psalm 23 ~ a cool, babbling brook, slowly meandering around.  I smile.  Then, the writer (who you may know had lost his family in a tragic boat accident) talks about sorrows like sea billows roll.

Wait.

What?

I was strolling by a peaceful stream...not being knocked over by waves.  I was in a happy place only to be taken/transported in just a few words to place of sadness.  But that is life.  Life can be joyful one moment and distressing the next.  You can be laughing only to have something happen that knocks the wind out of you. 

When has that been true in your life?
When has the above words become a soundtrack for you?

I invite you to listen to this beautiful hymn, close your eyes, and lean in to the truths it has to offer for you...which I pray will offer more than a trace of God's grace this day.

Blessings ~

Friday, March 20, 2020

It's Lent



One last time...let these words sing and settle and sink deep into your soul.
Let these words hold you close to God's presence.
Let these words invite you into a deeper sense of who and whose you are.

Please pray with me...

Still speaking, singing, swirling, and softly stirring God...thank you.
Thank you for ways You move in our midst.
From the first moments the sun peaks, peers over the horizon...
To the night time when we lay our heads down from a day filled with experience and encounters.
You are woven into our lives.

Thank you for this moment right now.
Here.
For the ways You saturate and soak right where we are as we read these words.

We do lay everything into Your hands.
We lay our thanksgivings for friends, family, moments of laughter, silent joys, and peaceful reassurances.
We lay the brokenness...the sharp shards of the shadow...and the comforts of sameness even when it hurts and harms us.
We lay the words we spoke that made a different.
We lay the words we said that we wish we had a rewind button.
We lay the actions that helped.
We lay the moments we stood silently on the sidelines.
We lay our whole lives trusting that You long for our fullest, deepest self to be caught up in You.

Help us continue to see that in You, through You, and with You we find meaning, life, hope, grace, and love that makes us whole and who we are.

Let us continue this season of Lent aware of traces of Your grace that makes all the difference and makes us different.

Amen. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

It's Lent


Listen again for one new word or phrase or part of this piece of beautiful music that moves your heart today.


I want to dive and dwell in the refrain of "You Say" that goes:

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me
In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity, 
You say I am loved when I can't feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don't belong, oh You say that I am Yours
And I believe (I), oh I believe (I)
What You say of me (I)
Oh, I believe

To find our identity in God's grace is a life-long; day-by-day part of faith.  Faith not as intellectual assent or affirmation; faith as the daily practice of seeking out meaning and living out of the truest part of ourselves (you are a beloved child of God).  Daigle gives voice to that shadow side of ourselves that wants to say we are weak...falling short...alone...isolated...broken.

Unfortunately, the history of the church is that we did a good job actually amplifying the message that you were "A Sinner in the Hands of An Angry God"...to quote the title of the famous Jonathan Edwards sermon.  To be sure, Pastor Edwards had his faithful reasons for preaching that particular sermon.  As someone who preaches every week, I shutter thinking that I might be known for just one sermon that I preached at one time.  We have no idea if Pastor Edwards ever even thought that was a good sermon!  Or was the one he wanted to be remembered for!  Too often Lent becomes the time to dwell in our brokenness and even beat ourselves up. 

We do need to name and notice our shadow side.  It can be our ego that wants fame or fortune or to be in the headlines.  We live in a world where we worship those who are rich and powerful.  Yet, who we are has nothing to do with the balance of our bank account or the house were we sleep at night.  Nothing!

As someone who presides at a lot of funeral...those who have been wealthy...those who have died with barely a penny to their name...those who were CEOs to those who worked on factory floors.  You know what?

Rarely does someone's job even bare a mention!
Rarely does anyone talk about how much money a person had!
Rarely does the achievements that hang on our walls get more than the briefest acknowledgement!

All these supposed measures of success in our world...all that we commit our time to...all that we are told should be our goals...in the end might be on display for people to glance at while they are holding a cookie at the reception.

Stop for just a moment...let that sink and settle in.  Not to discourage you, but to remind you.  You are more than the sum of money to your name or the title you hold or any other way we rate and rank people.

This is why faith is counter-cultural.
This is why faith is sometimes left behind.
This is why faith is so misunderstood.

God is constantly trying to tell you a different story, but it is one that is so hard to hear.

God is trying to have us live from the unconditional and unceasing love.  May that invitation, these words, and the music for today off you more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~~

Monday, March 16, 2020

It's Lent



This week we will focus on a more contemporary piece of music.  The video above has both the song and words together.  I invite you to breathe in slowly and exhale.  Center your hearts.  Listen to this piece of music as if God is singing these words to you.



For me, the heart of Lent is being honest about who we are.  I find Lauren Daigle's words profoundly powerful.  She sings:
I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I'm not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know 
You say I am loved when I can't feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don't belong, oh You say that I am Yours
And I believe (I), oh I believe (I)
What You say of me (I)
I believe

First, how many of us relate to the voices that clamor within us that say we don't measure up?  We look in the mirror and we see the flaws/failures/mistakes/missteps of the one staring back at us?  What often are our New Years Resolutions than the chance we see to correct those parts of ourselves?  How often to our Lenten practices echo that?  We want to lose weigh, so we give up chocolate for Lent.  Please hear me, giving up chocolate if it has become an addiction or an obstacle for your relationship with God is healthy.  But sometimes we self-deny because it makes us seem holy or to make ourselves feel worthy.

Daigle is identifying what psychologists have long called, "The Shadow side".  The Shadow isn't necessarily bad, it is just that part of ourselves that wants to keep us in the well-worn rut of sameness.  This is why change is so hard.  We try with our whole hearts.  But, then something happens, we fall back into our previous pattern we were trying to break free from, and we think, 'I knew it...I'll never be able to do it.' 

Which is why I find the next part so powerful when she asks the question, 'Am I more then just the sum of every high and every low'?  It is such a faithful question.  It is a rhetorical one.  Of course you are more than just the sum of what happens to you, more than the sum of your emotions, more than the sum of your knowledge, your degrees, and more than the sum of all that put together!

You are.
You are beloved.
You are a beloved child of God.

May that truth and our first deep dive into the poetry of this hymn offer you more than a trace of God's grace this day.

Blessings ~~

Friday, March 13, 2020

It's Lent


Listen again and afresh...
Listen with a wide open heart to uncover one word, one phrase that has been lurking hidden the whole time this past week.
Listen with imagination to see in your mind's eye these words come to life...

Now read these words with YOUR voice enlivening and embodying them.


Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

Part of what is so powerful in Whyte's words is that our relationships are not only with those who share our DNA, but also the parts of our life we might call inanimate.   The soap.  The window latch.  The stairs.  The kettle crying out to you. 

The sights and sounds all around you as companions.

Even the screen on which you read these words as a window to another world.

To be human is to be in relationship with each other.
To be a person of faith is to seek prayerfully to live in right relationship.
Not just with those who are human but with the world God so loves.

In what ways might you tend the tender relationships with others and with that which is around you in these days?
In what ways might that open you to traces of God's grace?

May the love of God be with you now more than ever.

Blessings ~~

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

It's Lent


The great thing about poetry is that you can return to a poem time and time again, each time it will shift or something in you has shifted...or the way a word suddenly appears although it was always there. 

Listen again...anew...afresh to David Whyte read his poem...letting the melody of his sing-song voice minister to you.

Lend your voice again by reading aloud David Whyte's words:

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

We live in a culture that loves individualism; worships at the altar of me, myself, and I; and yet you are you only because of relationships.  For better or worse. 

I am who I am because I was born in Iowa to two lower-middle class parents who worked long, hard hours.
I am who I am because I was born four years after my brother, a time gap that could never be fully closed.
I am who I am because of friendship that shaped me, sustained me, and still swirl within me.
I am who I am because I went to seminary, had teachers lecture about the good and not so great of being a pastor...
I am who I am because I met my wife...welcomed two children of our own...who every day now re-shape my life.
I am who I am because of the people on the church I serve.

Yes, I take responsibility and have accountability...relationships are not just for explaining away the rough edges or brokenness of our lives...relationships have a profound and powerful impact on our lives.

And Whyte is right...the great mistake of our life at such a time as this...is to act as if you are all alone.

Which reminds me of this wonderful anthem, "We are not alone"


May there be more than a trace of God's grace in your life that is tactile and tangible in these Lenten days.

Blessings ~~  


Monday, March 9, 2020

It's Lent




Sometimes hymns come in other ways than with the melody of music.  If we take the definition of hymns that, "To sing is to pray twice," (often attributed to St. Augustine), then for me there are other ways to enter the song of God's presence.  Poetry is one such invitation.  David Whyte's voice is as melodic and hauntingly beautiful as some of my favorite church hymns.  Listen to Whyte read his poem by clicking the video above.

Sit with it.

Now lend your voice by reading the words aloud:

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

Which words leap off the screen and land with a thud in your heart?
Which words got caught in your throat, your mind unsure if you were speaking that which was true and could be trusted?
Which words sounded so foreign or tasted like a mouthful of lima beans (or substitute here your least favorite vegetable)?

Sit with this poem. 

Sit with your response, reaction to this poem.

Let it work and wiggle in your life.

And may there be more than a trace of grace as you let this "hymn" wash over you in these Lenten days.


Friday, March 6, 2020

It's Lent



Save us from weak resignation
to the evils we deplore;
let the gift of your salvation
be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
serving you whom we adore,
serving you whom we adore.

There is one part of the rhythm, refrain of this hymn that deserves special attention:
Grant us wisdom,grant us courage.

Those six words are a profound and powerful prayer.  Grant us a wisdom, deeper than what humans currently have.  Grant us courage to realize/recognize we don't know everything. Grant me wisdom to not be such a bonehead today, and the courage to live the ethic of Jesus' love.  Grant me wisdom to see clearly, speak plainly, and then listen patiently.  Grant this, O God, because I need a strength that is bigger and bolder than my own.

Where do you need wisdom right now?

Is there a decision you are facing?
Is there a problem that sits uneasy in your mind waking you up at 3 a.m. to chat?
Is there a tension on your shoulders or stress in the pit of your stomach?
Where is that edge of your knowing?

Where do you need courage right now?

To speak the truth in love.
To be willing to be vulnerable.
To love the love you hide and care recklessly knowing that sometimes people will refuse.
To be the you God crafted in God's image.

Wisdom and her cousin, courage.  Courage that knows just pounding a bully pulpit is never enough.  Wisdom that keeps yearning toward the parts that are mysterious.  Courage to keep on keeping on.

How do those two words sing and speak to your heart on this Lenten day?  How do these two words become a doorway to more than a trace of God's grace?  How might they become a manta for you as we continue the journey ahead?

May grace and peace be with you now more than ever.  Blessings ~~ 

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

It's Lent



Cure your children's warring madness;
bend our pride to your control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss your kingdom's goal,
lest we miss your kingdom's goal.

Just when you thought it was safe to return to this blog...

Just when you thought, "Oh Wes will totally post something more uplifting this time."

Just when you thought, "Lent is about as exciting as a root canal."

We get this verse.

Which is good because we cannot think that one day of naming our wounds/wants/where it hurts and everything will be magically better.

I don't know about you, but my shadow side does not, "go gently into that good night."  My shadow side really likes its power and position.  My shadow side keeps finding evidence to divide the world into people like me and those people.  My shadow side keeps interrupting and disrupting the ways I long to live the love ethic of Christ. 

I appreciate that this hymn didn't just give us one verse to explore our shadow side but two back-to-back verse that cause to dive deeper if we are willing to listen.

We are a people who prefer violence to peace; winning to love; political point scoring to seeing all people as beloved child.  We love the quick profit and the growing bank balance.  We love to consume words and shiny technology and just keep skimming the surface of life.  When you get bored standing in line for two  minutes, your phone can rescue you with a distraction.  

Or to quote the hymn above, Lest we miss your kingdom's goal.

The kingdom's goal described in the Lord's Prayer as where all receive bread; where forgiveness is all our work; where we have a life giving relationship with God.  The kingdom's goal that would listen to God's first testament of creation and see leaves/trees/bugs/air as valuable as the person before us.  The kingdom's goal that would see the Beatitudes not as good advice, but good news that can challenge us to the core.  

How would you describe the kingdom's goal?
How do we all miss that?

I pray you will continue to let these words work in your hearts/minds/lives.  And I pray you will be surrounded by more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~~ 

Monday, March 2, 2020

It's Lent


We continue to let the melody, music of hymns guide us this Lent.  Lean in and listen to the second verse of "God of Grace and God of Glory":

Lo! the hosts of evil round us
scorn the Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.

So, I get it if your first response to this verse is, "Gee, thanks for that, Eeyore. Next you are going to tell me how using my cell phone can cause cancer.  I get that watching cat videos on YouTube is way more enjoyable way to spend your time.

Yet, in the world we inhabit, rather than being cynical and sarcastic...perhaps we could be more confessional.  Rather than shrugging our shoulders and staying silent on the sidelines, could we all start by saying that we don't get it right.  I don't have all the answers.  There are evils around us and within us.  Evils that cause me to lose my temper and say things I regret.  Evils of systemic racism, sexism, and homophobia that have persisted for generations.  Evils that overshadow God's love leaving us to seek, search for only traces of God's grace.  

So many of our evils are founded...as the verse says...by fear!  Fear of the other.  Fear of those people.  Fear of people who vote that way.  Fear that we won't get our way.  Fear that someone else will make more money and have a better life.  The tragic irony is that fear is perhaps the one things that unites us...and could be the one thing that could save us.  Save us, not because we fear God, but because in confessing - naming - noticing our fear we might actually begin to be vulnerable enough to - wait for it - gulp - talk about it!  

The brilliant theologian Ruby Sales asks, "Where does it hurt?"  That isn't just a medical question, it is a theological one.  

Where does it hurt for you today?
Where are fears casting shadows around you?

I believe it is only when we are willing to name our wounds/wants that we begin to free ourselves for prayer and praise.  But, there are not many places or safe spaces to do this.  Unfortunately, the church doesn't have a great reputation for this either.  You confess brokenness to a pastor and perhaps are told to just say this prayer - like some topical ointment that cures all that ails you - and go sin no more.  Or guilt rains down, which is totally not helpful when you feel vulnerable.  Words spoken over you won't cure the wounds.  Wounds heal from the inside out.  Wounds heal when they are spoken aloud from within you to another who listen - no fixing and no saving and no advising.  

Where does it hurt for you today?
Where are fears casting shadows within you?

I pray as you hold these questions, you will re-listen to the hymn...let the words of this hymn be a companion to you in these Lenten days.  And my there be traces of God's grace that offer you healing in this holy time.  

Grace and peace ~~

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 ...