Friday, September 25, 2020

Morning Meditation

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 

If ever there was a verse of scripture that sings to my soul in such a time as this, it is the above words from Paul’s pen.  I feel tossed to and fro by the waves and winds of the world today.  I feel tugged and torn between wanting to help and wondering if I can really make a difference.  I feel moments of joy and times like I am falling flat on my face.  The crashing, shattering sound you hear is my soul each time I read the news or hear someone say something racist or homophobic or just plain hurtful/harmful to another person.  The crashing, shattering sound you hear is trying to go about this world spinning out of control with hurricane force winds, destruction like a wildfire, and leaving devastation behind.

Perhaps you are thinking, “Well, thanks for that inspirational thought, Pastor Eeyore.  I wonder if there is a new funny cat video on YouTube.”  Paul is reminding us that just because we have a connection to each other, doesn’t mean life will be perfect.  Just because there are people in our lives who we can let love loose with, doesn’t mean things will change immediately or instantly.

The world is broken.

People are broken.

I am broken.

I don’t say ‘I am broken,’ to shame myself or rain down guilt upon us.  I say that to realize that I am a participant (not an observer) in this world.  Even if I stay silent on the sideline, my presence at this moment in history is causing a shift like the wings of butterflies impacting weather patterns.  ‘I am broken,’ of course, is only half the story.  The other half is, “I am loved.”  Love, not because of what I manufacture or make or by trying to be good, I am loved into being with every breath because that is way God works.  I don’t earn love, otherwise it isn’t love.  Love is freely given.  Who is someone you can share love with today?  Who can you call or text or Facetime to express what is within you amid what is going on around you?  How does starting with love offer a firm foundation amid the winds of the world today?

May you and I find ways to be bring forth a bridge over the troubled, surging, swirling watery chaos of today.

Prayer: May that last sentence be my embodied prayer today. Amen.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Morning Meditation


So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

We need each other.  I know very few people who can make it on their own.  While we might idealize individualism, it is our relationships with others that help to give meaning to our lives.  When I hear this part of the passage to the Ephesians, I hear Paul reminding the church then and now that our connections to each other matter and make a difference.  I hear Paul challenging us to realize that not everyone will share the same gifts and not everyone will be faithful in the same way.  Our unity is not uniformity, it is found in the One who crafted/created/loved each of us into being.  The divine breath that fills us, the spirit that sustains/surges within us, is the source of our connection.

I also think of the great hymn, “Take My Gifts” by Shirley Erena Murray.  Read prayerfully and slowly the first verse:

Take my gifts and let me love You, God who first of all loved me,

Gave me light and food and shelter, gave me life and set me free,

Now because Your love has touched me, I have love to give away,

Now the bread of love is rising, loaves of love to multiply.

I want to invite you to hold those words today.  What responses to do these words awaken?  What actions might these words provoke for you?  How might God’s love introduced and infused in your life cause you, like bread, to rise and shine and share your presence with others in ways that are uniquely/beautifully you?

Prayer: Creatively connecting God awaken within me a chance to combine the ingredients of my life with others in humble, gentle, patient and loving ways this day.  Amen.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Morning Meditation

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3

The world around us can often define and determine the world within us.  The people and places which we encounter and experience so often leaves a lasting and lingering impression upon our minds, hearts and souls.  But there are some moments we would prefer to not allow to live rent free in our hearts.  There are some words we would prefer to not leave well-worn ruts in my mental file cabinet.  This pandemic has caused a shift in the ways we structure our lives.  Masks, washing hands relentlessly, heighted awareness how close I am standing, and a low-grade anxiety that is ready in a moment’s notice sound like the robot in the tv show, Lost in Space, “Danger, Wes Bixby, danger!”

How does what is happening around effect what is happening within you?

I ask because Paul was in prison.  As a matter of fact, if you look at chapter three in Ephesians, you will see he begins that chapter with the same claim. Apparently, Paul’s physically location was important to keep in mind.  Yet, like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail; or Conversations with Myself by Nelson Mandela or the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer; like Pilgrim’s Progress or The Enormous Room by e.e. cummings, sometimes great ideas are born in the small cells.  Sometimes when we feel confounded and contained, our minds break free from the walls that close in around us. 

Likewise, Paul found himself where his freedom was restricted.  Yet, Paul processes the pain and can transform, transcend his surroundings.  To be sure, that is not easy.  I know I have struggled to not let the brokenness of the world cause me to pitch my tent permanently at the camp site of cynicism.  I know I have had to work hard noticing and naming my emotions.  I don’t think Paul’s point is just to grin and bear it or put on a happy face or fake it til you make it.  I think Paul is holding the both/and reality of life.  His body is in prison, but his soul doesn’t have to be.  He may not be able to go where he wants, but he is able to control how he responds to others.  Too often, we can get tripped up and trapped in thinking, “Why bother?”  Rather than realizing that what we do and say does make a difference.  Maybe it won’t solve the pandemic or persistent racism or ever be remembered by anyone.  But that isn’t the point.  Paul is suggesting that we live a certain way because the One who feeds and fuels our lives inspires/infuses us with these traits:  Humility, gentleness, patience, and love.  I encourage you today to spend a few moments with these words.

How might you embrace and embody these traits?  With whom can you share them easily?  What objections and obstacles does your mind say in response to such a suggestion?  For example, my mind might say, “Really, you can’t be serious with this list, especially with that person!”  Hold these words, pull them close, and let them speak to your life this day.

Prayer: Out of places where we feel confined and contained and closed off, O God, cause us to enter the sacred spacious way of Your grace.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Wednesday Meditation


“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you.”  Isaiah 43:1b-3, 4a

Here we are trying to surf the world as we encounter and experience the reality around well as what is within us. Here we are trying to stay afloat amid the waves that come crashing down. Here we are trying to navigate our boat through the waters of 2020.

I wonder if part of what Isaiah was doing here was a riff on the resilience of faithfulness needed for daily living. Isaiah ministered to people in exile. People who had been carted and carried away from their homes in Jerusalem to live under the watchful eye of the Babylonian empire. People’s lives had been turned upside down. Babylon had burnt the temple, the center of faith, to the ground. Babylon had wrecked the holy city where God was believed to reside. What do you do when life as you know it no longer exists? How do you worship God in new ways? Like say, when in-person worship has been suspended because of a pandemic and you need to learn technology so that you can try to offer something meaningful to people. Imagine that?

Part of what Isaiah is saying is that we have been here before. Isaiah, in exile, is calling on the collective memory of their ancestors who had experienced/lived through the exodus. When God’s people faced the crashing, chaotic Red Sea before them and the Egyptian soldiers chasing them to get their free/forced laborers back. Freedom was blocked. People felt penned in and wondered, “Where is God?” When the sea parted, they had to have the courage to take that first step into the muddy floor now revealing a way where there was once no way.

We are trying to find our way. We are living in a time of upheaval, when the waters of a pandemic, systemic racism, polarization over everything, lack of any kind of unity, fear, anger, certainty that we right, depression, hurt, and ache all clamor of our energy. And that list is what we feel just before breakfast, who knows what is in our emails? We are trying to find our way. The biggest barrier that blocks us is that it is not safe right now to be together. It is not safe to give a hug that preaches a whole sermon. Yet, while we need to social distance, we can still connect. 

Call someone today. Zoom or Facetime someone else. Text a third person. Reach out to one another. And as you do, I invite you to say to that person, “(Your name), you are precious in God’s sight, God knows you fully, loves you unconditionally, and holds you eternally. Do not be afraid.” Then, have the person say that back to you. 

May that moment be like a lifeline thrown to you offering strength and love in these days.

Prayer: God of words that create worlds, give us strength to reach out and share Your love with others today.  Amen. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Morning Meditation


“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you.”  Isaiah 43:1b-3, 4a

Did your parents ever tell you the story of how they chose your name?  Perhaps your name goes back generations, so you are connected to a great, great, great grandparent.  Perhaps your name comes from a special relationship with a family friend.  When we were selecting names for our children, both times we settled on the middle name first.  Both our children’s middle names have a connection to a family member, we are saying to our children, “There is an important connection here.”  We then had to find a first name that matched and could avoid as much middle school teasing as possible.  If the Jewish rabbi, Abraham Heschel, is correct that ‘words create worlds.’  Your name creates a world.  Maybe you have had moments in your life when you have felt like you had to live up to your name, especially if you shared a name with a relative you admired.  Or other times you wanted to change your name because you wanted to inhabit and embody the world that name brought to mind.

Names matter.  Your name matters.

Isaiah said to people centuries ago, that God called you by name.  In the Christian church we echo this foundational, faithful truth at baptism by pouring water on you while saying, speaking your name.  You are claimed and known by God; Isaiah proclaims.  You are already redeemed, restored, renewed, even when every fiber of our being objects; even when the evidence of the news wants to protest; God’s grace cannot help by hold and enfold us.  But we get pulled by the words that are creating other worlds.  We need to return time and time again to the truth of God’s love.  This is one of the reasons why Catholics, Lutherans, and Episcopal churches have baptismal fonts at the doorway of the sanctuary.  You dip the tip of your fingers in to remember your baptism, to remind yourself that you are named and claimed by God.

Isaiah begins by reminding the people in Exile to not be afraid.  I realize telling people, “Do not be afraid,” doesn’t always help, because those words suggest what we should not do.  Yet, Isaiah gives us a faithful way to live without fear controlling the radio station of the soundtrack to our lives.  Here is the prayer practice: feet flat on the ground, settle into the chair where you are sitting, feel its support like God’s strength upholding you, breathe in to the count of four and exhale to the count of six or seven.  Repeat this until your shoulders finally release some of the tension that is sitting there.  Repeat until that knot in the stomach starts to loosen.  Then, repeat this mantra seven times, “(Your name), you are precious in God’s sight, God knows you fully, loves you unconditionally, and holds you eternally.  Do not be afraid”.  Seven times.  “Wes, you are precious in God’s sight, God knows you fully, loves you unconditionally, and holds you eternally.  Do not be afraid.”  

Return and repeat this practice as needed and necessary throughout today.

Prayer: Let these words sing to my heart and find fertile soil in my soul to grow. Amen. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Friday Meditation


One of the places I feel most alive is wandering out in creation with a camera in my hand.  To be sure, I am no Ansel Adams.  I am sure that no one years from now will pay…well…anything for one of my photographs.  But I don’t practice spiritual photography for fame or fortune, I practice this way of praying because the action feeds and fuels my soul.  I practice photography because it helps me pay attention.  I need to pay attention not only to what I am seeing, but often what I am hearing.  Sometimes it is a bird singing that I hear first before seeing the colorful wings.  Sometimes it is the rustling of limbs that I hear before I see the squirrels playfully chasing.  Sometimes I smell a flower before I see the brilliant, bold color.  

I invite you to look at the photo above.  What do you see?  Come closer and step into the photo, stand in the middle of it.  What do you hear?  What might you smell?  

Maybe you picked up on the rush of the water over the rocks.  Or saw the brilliant and bright green of the forest.  Or the logs that are laying near the water – a symbol of life and death side-by-side.  Or maybe your imagination really awoke and you heard a bird singing just out of view.  Or started singing, “Shall We Gather at the River…where bright angel feet have trod.  Gather with the saints at the river… that flows by the throne of God.”  Or “Wade in the Water” or “My Life Flows on in Endless Song”.  
Whatever stirs in your heart, I pray you notice what happens when we pay attention.  I also believe that whatever swirled in your imagination is your life getting a word in edgewise.  When we center our attention on one moment, we engage the world God crafted and created.  I pray this day, you might continue to practice this way of exploring this moment we inhabit.

May God’s love enfold and hold you now more than ever.

Prayer: God wash over me with a peace and presence I need this day.  Renew and refresh my soul as I seek to be caught up in Your symphony of life today.  Amen. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Wednesday Meditation


Today is my nineteenth anniversary of ordination.  On September 9, 2001, at Urbandale UCC, I covenanted with God to serve the church and share my light.  I have preached almost a thousand sermons (many of which I don’t really remember); presided at funerals that broke my heart and weddings that brought me joy.  I’ve held babies in my arms to baptize and even one went down to a river in New Hampshire to perform a full immersion baptism.  There are moments that stand and stick out in my memories.  I remember the handbell choir playing Silent Night every Christmas Eve at my first church; tearing out 1960s gold carpeting in the sanctuary of the second church (God knows what kind of dust was hiding there!); and having holy/hard conversations at our church about the problems that challenge us today.  I also hold onto the ways people’s love here at our church makes a difference.  I treasure the ways we laugh at church meetings and try to listen with love to one another.  

Nineteen years ago, I took a step of faith forward.  I think of Peter in the gospel of Matthew when he steps out of the boat to walk toward Jesus on the water.  Then, he starts to sink.  Yup…been there over nineteen years.  Honestly, I have been there this last week stepping out of the boat and sinking in a time of online ministry and trying to connect digitally.  As we water started to soak his robe, reached his knees, the hand of Jesus caught him before his chest was wet.  Yup…been there too.  Especially this year when I feel like I am hanging on by a thread, I realize that the fringe/fray of fabric is one of God’s love.  Then, I realize that God’s grace is a net beneath me to catch me should I fall.  

I am honored to celebrate my nineteenth anniversary here with you as God’s people.  Our church is vital and vibrant, diverse and divine.  You each reflect God’s handiwork in ways that bless me beyond words.  Our church is resilient.  I know that no matter what we face, we do so together.  I know no matter what else happens, we will try to do our best to love each other the good and bad.

At my ordination we sang the hymn, “Won’t You Let Me Be Your Servant?”  I have posted a version of this hymn above.  I invite you to play the video and join your voice in praying or singing these words with me.

Won’t you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? 

 Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey, we are travelers on the road; 

we are here to help each other go the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you in the shadow of your fear, 

I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.  

I will share you joy and sorrow till we’ve seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven we shall find such harmony.  

Born of all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony.

Prayer: God continue to let the words and melody of this hymn sing to my heart and inspire my ministry in these days.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Monday Meditation

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.  Parker Palmer

My very first job was working in the dish room at a local restaurant.  It was not exactly a glamorous or glitzy position.  I was elbow deep in warm soapy water trying to scrub off bits of food that had been baked on so long it clung to pan like concrete.  Stacks of plates congregated stuck together and cups with bits of leftover coffee (hopefully you are not reading this during breakfast).  It was hard work and I went home exhausted, my fingers wrinkly like a prune after spending hours in water, and smelling a bit like Salisbury steak.  Good times.  I forget how much I was paid, but I remember feeling like I earned every penny.  

On this Labor Day, I invite you to reflect on your first job.  What did that job teach you?  Maybe you delivered newspapers and learned how quiet the pre-dawn darkness can be.  Maybe you worked at a family store or mowed lawns or babysat the next-door-neighbors kids.  Those lessons from our first jobs stick and stay with us.  On this Labor Day, we affirm that where we share our time and talents is important.  We are shaped by our jobs, our co-workers, and bosses.  You will spend 90,000 hours on average in your lifetime at work.  I wonder if that number is increasing given how often we check emails and texts and reports at odd hours.  I wonder if the number of hours we work might be increasing especially as more people work from home where there is no separation.

I love Palmer’s quote above that we need to listen to our lives.  So often we can be lured to a position because of perceived power or prestige or money.  But as theologian Howard Thurman said, “Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it!!  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  We may or may not receive a paycheck for what helps us come alive.  Sometimes we work one place and volunteer in the place and with the people who warm our hearts.  Sometimes our paycheck comes from one place while our soul is feed/nourished by what we do somewhere else unpaid.  

I invite you to reflect on the ways work and volunteering has shaped you in good ways and perhaps not so great ways.  May God, who rolled up the holy sleeves and sunk God’s fingers into the earth to fashion and form creation be with you wherever you let your light shine and come alive this week.

Prayer:  Take my gifts and let me love you, God who first of all loved me.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Prayer Friday


This week full of moments...many of which will not be forever stuck in our memories.

This week full of experiences and encounters...many of which will soon be forgotten.

But for right now, they are accessible and available...right on the tip of our tongue.

Hold the moments of good ~ the laughter, the connections with friends, the music that stirred your heart, the book that gave you insight, the peace of sitting-breathing-being.  Name the good right now aloud to your computer screen.

Hold the moments of brokenness ~ the words you wished you had not said, the confusion that causes unrest within you, the times you'd like a rewind button to go back to try again, hold lightly for the sharp shards of this glass can cut you if you are not careful. Name the bad and ugly right now aloud to your computer screen.

Hold your life in prayer feeling God's grace holding all you have said and left unsaid.

Our lives, ourselves, are a mystery that is unfolding.

Our lives, our relationships, are evolving and expanding in ways beyond our control. 

And without moments to reflect, we might miss the beauty of the good, bad, and ugly where God is weaving the tapestry of "me" and "you" into a garment of life.

Hold in this holy moment all that was, is, and might be trusting that you do not hold this alone.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Word Wednesday


Thru the trees

The sunlight peeks through the branches of the trees
falling across the rocky road I am traveling.
Light and shadow mix, mingle together.
This is life.

Sometimes the road is steep, causing my feet to ache
And mind to wonder if I can make it.
Sometimes the potholes in the road cause me to stumble.
Sometimes I twist an ankle on a rock I didn't see.

I find the same is true when someone says words causing my soul to ache
And I wonder if I can make it.
The problems that I can't easily fix cause me to lose my footing...confidence.
The pain of those I love dying, racism, polarization, pandemic, and persist problems twist my heart.

Amid the rockiness of the road, the beauty of light still shines through.
Moments of laughter.
Conversations that matter.
Soul stirring and causing goosebumps to race down my arm.
Heart warming toward the light of God's love.

The two mix and mingle together in the road of life.
The invitation is to name and notice God's grace in both the joy and difficulty.
The invitation is to see that growth happens both with sadness and smiles.
The invitation is to be open to the One whose presence persists in all times and places.

Help me O God to live the truth of these words this day...and walk down this rocky road of life with me, I pray.


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 ...