Monday, June 29, 2020

Music Mondays

This coming Saturday, the United States will celebrate the 4th of July.  To be sure it will be different than in years past.  I live in a community where there will not be a large gathering on the beach to watch fireworks light up the night sky, there will be no baseball games for crowds to congregate, and while there will be backyard parties and amateur firework artists; I am wondering if this year the fact that the pandemic has took up residence in every nation might cause us to reflect in a new way.

So often what we have been taught and told about Patriotism can feel like a competition.  Some of the language we use to prove our national pride pulls others down to push ourselves up.  We have bought in to this notion of Patriotism as a ranking and rating rather than saying that this particular place we call "Home" on the planet earth has left soil in our souls in meaningful ways, but that it doesn't have to be at the expense of another person living in another place.

This year, I am taken by the hymn, "This is my song".  Listen to the opening lyrics:

"This is my song, O God of all the nations, A song of peace for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is; Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine." 

What a beautiful and heartfelt prayer!  It begins with good theology of God who, even on the 4th of July, loves all people in all places.  Second, it builds on that good theology of reminding us that God's prayer for us as people is peace.  The Hebrew word is, "Shalom"...wholeness...from the top of your head to your pinkie toe...from your heart to the heart of the person in China to Cuba; Australia to Antarctica...peace for everyone crafted and created in God's image.

The prayer goes on to acknowledge what stirs my soul.  The United States is my home, the country where my heart is.  The soil from Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Florida is woven into my soul.  Those places have left traces of love in my heart.  This is the place where my hopes and dreams take root and grow.  This is holy ground for me.

Then, I love the turn the hymn writer takes, "But other hearts in other lands are beating with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine."

What if Patriotism was less about a competition and more about expanding and enlarging the interconnection of us all?  If if Patriotism, pride here, could allow room for pride there?  Not as some sort of winner take all, but a sense that through our history individually and collectively could be greater than the sum of it's parts?

To be sure, such an understanding is not usually what we hear.  But then again, this year is not what any of us would call usual anyway.  So, maybe in the upset apple cart, where we are all trying to pick up the pieces, perhaps our understanding of Patriotism might be strengthened by looking at how we can affirm both our love for this particular place we call home and that there are other homes that have meaning to God's beloved children too.

May we find more than a trace of God's grace every day this week.  Amen.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Prayer Friday

Like stacking rocks, O God, each day I try to find the balance point of my words and actions.
Like stacking rocks, O God, there are times when everything comes crashing and crumbling down...
And I have to start over.
Like stacking rocks, O God, some tasks are bigger - I need to start there.
Some are smaller - but also are important for the beauty of life.

Guide me, O God, to notice that the big tasks are not always what I am paid for.
Big tasks - being kind; listening; loving; learning how to be a better husband and father and person.
Next tasks - being a friend; forming connections and community; staying open to traces of Your grace.
Next tasks - the to-do lists that can sometimes try to dominate or demand to be dealt with; daily tasks of living and working and being in this world (from laundry to labor)
The tasks on top - which often feel the heaviest but are rarely remembered, seem so vital in the moment but can vanish, quickly forgotten.

What rocks stack to make your life?
What might you describe as your big task and small tasks and how those might be out of proportion?

Let this prayer/meditation awaken your imagination and offer more than a trace of God's grace.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Word Wednesday

When you make a commitment you build hope...when you keep a commitment you build trust.

Hope is future looking, but presently planted.  That is, realized that today doesn't need to be like yesterday and tomorrow can be new too.
Hope refuses to be controlled or contained by what is happening, rather doggedly searches for the possible.
Hope is a fuel that can fed our souls.
Hope is more in short supply than toilet paper was in March!

Hope gets this reputation of being Pollyanna or misplaced.
Hope gets ripped apart by people who have not processed their pain and want their misery to have your company. 
Hope is that sense that this world is going somewhere, while we get lost and take wrong turns and wind up changing a tire in a rain storm, the journey is one of grace.

Where do you sense hope within us?
Where do you find your mind offering evidence to contrary, claiming to be real?
What do you hope for?
What if you set your energy toward that?
Might this actually be what prayer is all about?  Letting loose our energy toward the possibility and promise of God moving in our midst.

Hope might not be the first words to describe our lives today...but hope might be the trace of grace we need to turn this day around.

Blessings ~~ 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Music Mondays

As I write this...the coronavirus continues to increase.
As I write this...we continue to wrestling the raw reality of racism.
As I write this...the uncertainty and unrest hover/hang in the air.
As I write this...people are struggling to make ends meet.
As I write is raining outside.

Why would I post a video of U2's, "It's a Beautiful Day"?

Here are the opening words:

The heart is a bloom
Shoots up through the stony ground
There's no room
No space to rent in this town
You're out of luck
And the reason that you had to care
The traffic is stuck
And you're not moving anywhere

It actually starts off as a lament.  I am particularly taken by the line that the reason you had to care is no longer there.  When we feel stuck and stymied ~ stuck and stymied by a invisible illness and racism made painfully clear by countless videos.  Stuck and stymied by how we can respond?  Stuck and stymied by a systems that continue to hurt and harm people.  Stuck and stymied by life that no longer the way we wanted it to me. 

To lament is to offer our protest to God.  To lament is to give voice to the pain that swirls and surges within our soul.  To lament is heart and honest place where we can begin to name what is within us and around.  Lament is holy.

In that sacred space, we do start to see hope and moments of healing.  Hope is like a flashlight, even when what we are seeing is difficult and gut-wrenching, we are seeing it.  Seeing it might help us deal with it.  Dealing with it might mean that the brokenness would be mended, healing might happen. 

Or as the song says:

You thought you'd found a friend
To take you out of this place
Someone you could lend a hand
In return for grace

To connect with another.  To let our lives be woven together, especially if that person doesn't see the world in the same way I do.

I love the line near the end:

I know I'm not a hopeless case

That is a prayer of hope, persistence, and patience.
That is a sense that if God hasn't given up on me, then I shouldn't give up on this life, then this just might be a beautiful day.

Prayer: God let me see the ways You are still crafting and creating with traces of grace around and within me.  Amen.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Friday Prayer

One who strangely warms my heart,
Who beckons me to draw near,
That I might find a blessing in You,
That I need every day.

Thank you for the ways that You see me into wholeness.
Thank you for an openness that receives my fruitless searches.
Thank you for a holy patience and persistence that waits,
While I fumble and stumble around.

Renew me with a strength for the living of these days.
Remind me of the ways I might speak Your truth in love.
Restore me to relationships that have gone astray.
Refresh me with a wholeness found in Your eyes.

Send me out to be a conduit of compassion.
Send me to the places and spaces where care is most needed.
Send me to the people who I hold in my heart.
Send me trusting that You go with me always.

Let Your presence be a companion...a compass...a constant care I need every hour of this day.

In Your boundless love hear my prayer.


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Word Wednesday

Since I brought up music videos in the last post...I thought it would be good to share one so that we can all bask in the 80s nostalgia I am living in right now.  Plus, I really am compelled by the second stanza of "In Your Eyes" which goes:

Love, I don't like to see so much pain
So much wasted and this moment keeps slipping away
I get so tired of working so hard for our survival
I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive
And all my instincts, they return
And the grand facade, so soon will burn
Without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside

The first line is so heartfelt and honest.  I hear it as a prayer, "Love (or God or Creator or Spirit), I don't like to see so much pain."  I pray that every day.  "So much wasted and this moment keeps slipping away."  Yes!  There are days when that describes and defines what I am feeling.  "I get so tired of working so hard for our survival."  Wow...did Gabriel just write this last week?  "I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive...amen...amen...amen!

I believe what Gabriel does here in this verse, in addition to writing a modern-day-psalm, is that he taking about prayer.  Prayer is that moment when we are awake and alive...when our instinct of who and whose we are returns...when we can cut away from the noise and pride...when I reach out from the inside.

I encourage you today to listen to this a few times as a prayer Gabriel is singing to us...offering you more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~

Monday, June 15, 2020

Music Mondays

Flash back to the eighties!   The era of hair bands...leg videos...and sit coms.  Ahhh, the decade that shaped me.  While I didn't listen to Peter Gabriel as a kids, but increasingly I have found his lyrics moving and meaningful.  The above song for Music Mondays is, "In Your Eyes".  The opening verse goes:

Love I get so lost, sometimes
Days pass and this emptiness fills my heart
When I want to run away
I drive off in my car
But whichever way I go
I come back to the place you are

Those words capture and captivate my heart.  I have felt lost and empty heart-ed in the face of the world today.  Lost amid a virus that has made me afraid, closed off our sanctuary for in-person worship, upended my life, caused economic upheaval, and so many people to die.  Empty heart-ed when I turn on the news to see endless bickering and divisiveness, when African-Americans are killed at an alarming rate (both by the virus and police), when we don't feel safe.  I get why Peter sings about wanting to drive off - somewhere/anywhere!  But the wonderful turn, that whichever we go, there God is!

God is the one whose center is everywhere and circumference is boundless. 


The refrain of the song goes:

In your eyes
The light the heat
In your eyes
I am complete
In your eyes
I see the doorway to a thousand churches
In your eyes
The resolution of all the fruitless searches
In your eyes
I see the light and the heat
In your eyes
Oh, I want to be that complete

For me that is a prayer...that in God's eyes there is a light and heat - warmth.  In God's eyes, I am complete (even with all my foibles). In God's eyes there can be resolutions to my fruitless searches.

I invite you to hear this song as a prayer for this day and this week.  And may you sense more than a trace of God's grace...and may God's love surround you more than ever. 

Blessings ~~

Friday, June 12, 2020

Friday Prayer

We have come to the end of the reflections on Les Mis.  While there are many more songs that I could have reflected upon, I did not mean for this series to be exhaustive, just to open you to hear how God's wisdom can be found in a wonderful musical and powerfully powerful story written by human hands.  God moves within us.  God sings within us.  I find this finale song to be a heartfelt prayer that we would live.  I find that words, "To love another person is to see the face of God," to be ones that cause my heart to surge and be a prayer worthy of my life.  I pray you find more than a trace of God's grace as you listen to this prayer sung to you.  Blessings ~

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Word Wednesday

The word that stirs within me this week is, empty.  Often times we hear this word as something negative.  To be empty is to be lacking, needing, less than.  We live in a culture that worships the idol of abundance and extravagance.  We think that every moment our cup has to runneth over.  We know our portion sizes at restaurants have grown, our homes are McMansion compared to sixty years ago, our necessities of electronics that are designed to last only a few years cause us to constantly consume. 

Okay...if you are still reading this...thank you, but I realize that the above is not exactly uplifiting.

But, I also think that the word, "empty" has gotten a bad rep.  Empty can be open and spacious and ready to receive.  When you are empty, just a bit can begin to fill you...but when you are overflowing, just a bit more won't satisfy.  I think of communion where a tiny piece of bread and sip of juice we preach/proclaim is more than enough grace to sustain us.

It isn't either/or, but rather both/and.

Empty can be longing.
Empty can be a willingness.
Empty can be a grief and pain.
Empty can be a prayer of hope.
Empty can be a state in our hearts and souls that ache.
Empty can be a state where we have poured ourselves out and rest knowing we did all we could.

When you have had an experience of being empty that is both broken open and blessedness?

The song above is a lament of emptiness from Marius following the battle scene.  He has lost his friend.  He still has his love Cosette, but he grieves that he is alive while so many have perished.  I get that.  I know people who have died from the virus, yet I am alive.  I know people who daily risk, yet I have the chance to be more cautious and careful.  There can be an emptiness in these days that hurts and an emptiness that can moves us toward a deeper dream where all people can thrive.

Where are you empty right now?
Where might one trace of God's grace be enough to offer strength and sustain you this day?

May your responses to those questions open you to God who sings within each of us.  Amen. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

Music Mondays

While there are many songs in Les Mis that stir my soul and give me goosebumps, the two below are in the top five.   The first is the song, One Day More.  It is sung by all the members of the cast about how all their lives are at a cross roads and new chapters were beginning.  I think about the day of my wedding.  I think about graduations.  I think about the times as I was leaving a church and about to begin a new call.  There are momentous moments our hearts tell us, "Pay attention, this is important".  Of course, such significant times can be hard to capture in words all that we are feeling as we face an ending or new beginning.  I look back at the last three months of the current pandemic, we knew that something significant was stirring...we know that life has changed...we know that there is so much pain and suffering - both from those who are grieving the death of a loved one to people who have lost jobs and businesses that have shuttered forever.  In order for hope to be hope ~ you have to stare fiercely at the raw reality of a moment and draw upon something deeper than optimism.  Hope says, "Yes, this pain is true and yes, so is the courage to dream and act in new ways."  In many ways, hope gets lost in the pain of the past and present.  Hope is dismissed as wishful thinking or Pollyanna.  But hope is the inspiration that this day, even if it is just an ordinary Monday, matters and can move us toward God's dream of a world where all the voices and all our stories find harmony.  That is what I hear in this song...enjoy: 

If we are going to hope honestly, we need to process the pain so we can move in new ways.  One of the characters in Les Mis is Eponine.  She is in love with Marius; but Marius loves Cosette.  In classic, love story plot, one heart is bound to be broken.  Such a story is often our story.  We have our first high school crushes who perhaps never knew that we existed.  We have someone we thought was forever, but the relationship breaks down or fall apart.  This is an ode to how lonely we can feel.  It is not just the song of young people, it is the anthem of anyone who has ever grieved regardless of age.  I have heard this lament from all age categories; of people facing divorce to people whose hearts break when a spouse of fifty years passes away.  Humans long for connection.  One of the cruel realities of Coronavirus is that it is dangerous to stand do all those things we did to feel connection.  We grieve such distance, even as we try to adapt to the new way of connecting with our eyes while wearing masks and standing apart.  This is an anthem to that grief and gives it voice.

I pray both of these in their heartbreak honesty also offer you more than a trace of God's grace, God's love which is there in the valley of the shadow of death/depth of life.  
May God's peace be with you now more than ever.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Prayer Friday

In the far away places, tucked in my soul, where I prefer to keep roped off to You, O God,
Enter in with the refreshing rain of love,
Disrupt me with the beckoning rays of sunlight to be open.
In the vulnerable, wounded, places I prefer to keep hidden,
Enter in with a renewing sense that there is nothing that keeps us separated from You, O God,
Nothing means nothing.

Not our boneheaded mistakes.
Not our less than brilliant actions.
Not when we grade our performance today as a "F" ~ for faulty and flawed and fumbling.

Open us, O God, for You are open to us.
You open Your grace through flowers.
You open Your love through words of others gently coaxing us to be ourselves.
You open Your presence through this moment right here.

You are the circle whose circumference is everywhere
And whose center is nowhere. 
Enfold us.
Hold us.
Call us back to who and whose we are this moment,
And every moment this week.


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Word Wednesday

Metaphorically, we all have a bit of Javert within us...places where like the flower above we are closed, not ready to open.  We swim in a sea of this reality as politically we are more polarized.  We swim in a sea of this reality where we force ourselves to form an opinion quickly and defeat that position no matter what.  We push down pain to places deep within and sweep brokenness under the rugs of our soul.

I know this to be true for me, so I am compelled by Javert and how he holds a mirror up to my own fastidious and frantic ways I can cling to my way or the highway.

The reality is that the flower up above did open.
The reality is that which we push down will eventually boil up.
The reality is that moment can break us open or make us bitter. 

While I try to not be dualistic or get trapped by either or thinking, the truth is that often times my own frustration that I push down and put on a happy face will eventually come out to play ~ often at the most inopportune times hurting others. 

I recently had a moment where I was on a call and felt the tiny vein in my neck start to pulse.  The conversation quickly took an exit ramp to Disaster-ville.  Things were said.  Emotions raw were displayed.  My stomach felt upset for the rest of the day.  With grace and more conversation, the relationship was repaired.  But that does not always happen.  Sometimes a window does close and no door opens.  Sometimes the new normal is life without that connection that is closed off.

So, what truth is stirring within you?
What do the thoughts above awaken within you?
Can there be a trace of grace moving in your midst nudging you in new ways?

To own my inner-Javert and make peace with him, that is my prayer today.

Blessings ~~

Monday, June 1, 2020

Music Mondays

We continue to let the music of Les Mis guide us and open us to truths around/within us.  The above is sung by the character Javert.  There is a bit of a background to this character that will be help before you listen to the song above.  Javert is born in a prison.  There is a warm and fuzzy feeling for you today.  And this past pain in Javert's life forever haunts him.  For Javert life is black and white, right and wrong, either or.  There is very little gray in his life.  Whether he does this because of the past pain in his life or a deep desire to have order in a time of disorder, the truth is, we all know people like this.  We know folks to cling to a point of view and perspective.  I have empathy for those who are in this place.  Often they are a reminder that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and that if you give an inch some will take a mile.  There can be a slippery slope that if you allow something for this person, you will have to work harder to justify why another person shouldn't be given the same treatment.  Certainly if we are talking about love being given to all or that grace can never be earned, but when someone has hurt or harmed another that is where it is messy.  Or I am reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who cautioned against "cheap grace" where we forgive or forget too quickly.  Where we brush off an offense that has really hurt people.  I think here of ways we we try to put "cheap grace" upon sexism or racism or treatment of LGBTQ.  We try to pretend that everything is equal now, when economic realities tell us that women are paid less than men.  Or that since we had an African-American president, racism is solved, even as African-American are targeted while simply out for a run or suffering more from the Coronavirus.  Or how we turn a blind eye to legislation passed rolling back rights for those who love someone of the same gender or look with contempt upon someone who has transition from one gender to another or is gender fluid.

There are those who are like Javert and want to sing about order and rules.  Of course, we all want mercy for ourselves and our family/friends...justice for everyone else.  As Les Mis unfolds, Javert is shown grace and kindness by Valjean which he simply cannot comprehend or accept.  Here is the song at the end of the musical where Javert wrestles with grace and kindness.

I invite you to hear the complexity of Javert as a character.  It reminds me that it is easy to judge people based on what is surface level.  We know so little about each other, we know so little about ourselves and what motivates us.

Let this music continue to wash over and invite you to enter into the mystery of life ~ of why we and others do what we do.  I pray that there will be more than a trace of God's grace that works and wiggles in your life 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 ...