Friday, December 31, 2010

For the Constants and the Changes

The jeweled flickers of sunlight
are constant
on the tumbling creek waters
even as the stream itself
continues on the journey.
Dancing, Beckoning Light:
please be the Constant
and the Change alike
in my life,
along my journeys.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ecstasy

Draw me after You!
We will run in the fragrance of Your perfumes,
O heavenly Spouse!
I will run and not tire,
until You bring me into the wine-cellar,
until Your left hand is under my head
and Your right hand will embrace me happily
[and] You will kiss me with the happiest
kiss of Your mouth.
-- Saint Clare of Assisi

from For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics by Roger Housden (Hay House, Inc. 2009)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Verb Became Flesh

And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

All things came into being through the Word.

And the Word was Being.

And the Word became flesh
and lived
and toddled
and laughed
and cried
and made friends
and learned
and traveled
and ate
and drank
and slept
and gazed at the stars
and watched the sunrise

because the Word became enfleshed.

The Word that is Life became a life.
The Word of Being became a being.
The Word that is, in fact, the Verb --
the holy Verb that causes Life and Being,
the Verb that is the action of God
-- the Verb became flesh
and was born.

And all of the verbs, all of the actions & attitudes of God
throughout time, throughout story,
came into flesh:
the creating and the guiding and the covenanting
and the saving and the anointing and
the judging and the sheltering and the loving,
for Israel and for the foreigner, for the widow and the wanderer,
for the king and the shepherd alike,
all of the activities of God came into flesh
in the Verb that was born of Mary;
the Verb, the sign of God, that was named
Emmanuel: God With Us
Jesus: God Heals

What has come into being through the Verb
is Life:
Life that proclaims "God is here!"
Life that heals the outcast and comforts the exile
Life that makes the leper clean
and lifts up the paralyzed man to walk,
Life that celebrates love
and sits down to eat at anyone's table,
Life that tells stories
and calls out lifeless religion and power-driven living,
Life that transforms
and speaks of new life,
Life that defies death,
Life that is full of the glory of God
Life that beckons our lives to live fully for God's glory
Life that radiates Light through the deepest night and sparks our lights

Life that is full of verbs

The Verb became flesh and lived among us.
The eternal activities of God
took on
Life and Breath and Time
so that our flesh, and our breath, and our time
could witness & learn from the Verb Made Flesh
and all of the daily verbs that we live and do and say
could reflect the holiness of the Verb's Incarnation,
could act and live with the courage & the hope & the trust
that God is made flesh
all around us

Emmanuel: God With Us

Come and adore,
Come and celebrate,
the Verb Made Flesh

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

I see you in the explosion of a sunrise.
I see you in the drifting chaos of clouds
and in the neat rows of plowed-down cornstalks.
I see you in the squirrel darting about frantically for nuts
and in the doe standing beside her fawn as they graze.
I see you, with my eyes closed, in a dream
and I see you, with my ears opened, in a song.
I see you in the towering beauty of a cathedral.
I see you in the knitting together of words and stories.

And now I will see you in the flesh of a newborn,
in fact, in the incarnation of every child.
Now I will see you in my neighbor;
now I will see you in the mirror;
now I will see you when the media or the ideologues
flash "enemy" before me, and I will remember that it is you.
Now I will see you in the brother who tries my patience,
just like I see you in the friend who lifts my spirit.
Now I will see more carefully,
knowing that I am always seeing
Christ
before my eyes.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent . Week 4 . Thursday

My soul is weary from traveling, my heart is longing for home, and I want to ease into a familiar space and be cradled by a familiar love. Jesus, be my Constant amidst all that is different or disorienting during this holiday season. Be the One Thing that helps me feel at home, like a newborn babe can suddenly make a stable feel like a sanctuary. Be Warmth and Affection when the solitude is too great or the crowds are too isolating. Stay by my side as I join the festivities for your birth, and restore my energy through this Christmas journey.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent . Week 4 . Wednesday

Wild Holiness,
Bursting Power,
Unimaginable Adoration of the heavens,
be gentle with me as you enter the world and step into my life.
Be mindful that my flesh bruises easily and my skin shows stretch marks where it has strained its limits. In your eternal brilliance, remember that my imagination barely leaps and hardly soars. Do not be discouraged with me, I pray, but condescend to whisper in words that I can understand and to set a path before me that I can discern to follow. Proceed carefully please as you break open my heart to brave fuller life, as you shatter the stained glass before my eyes to reveal deeper faith, as you call the whole of my existence to unrestrained use & unrestricted purpose. Amen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent . Week 4 . Tuesday

Still, my soul,
to behold the miracle:
the Divine in the finite
the Most Stunning taking on flesh
the Eternal within a lifetime

Still, my soul,
to marvel at Incarnation:
in the smile of a passing stranger
in the tired soul sitting & sipping coffee
in a swaddled newborn's yawn

Still, my soul,
to honor the Deep and Holy:
so subtle, yet right in front of us
so ordinary but beyond imagination
so satisfying, more than I thought I needed

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent . Week 4 . Monday

May my heart sing without ceasing

-- unhindered by the bitter cold,

unencumbered by holiday stress or
even a cynical ear full of world news,

unchecked by self-doubt or worried faith --

but freely raising its voice

saying,

Gloria!

Gloria!

Glory upon glory to the Wondrous God!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Proclamation

We are called to proclaim the truth . . . And let us believe:

It is not true that this world and its people are
doomed to die and to be lost.
This is true: I have come that they may have life
in all its abundance.

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and
discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction.
This is true: the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life,
the poor are hearing the good news.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last
word, and that war and destruction have come to stay forever.
This is true: death shall be no more, neither shall there
be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of
evil who seek to rule the world.
This is true: the Lord whom we seek will suddenly
come to the temple; and the Lord is like a refiner's fine.

It is not true that our dreams of liberation, of human dignity,
are not meant for this earth and for this history.
This is true: it is already time for us to wake from sleep.
For the night is far gone, the day is at hand.

The words of Allan Boesak, adapted from an address for the World Council of Churches, in Bread of Tomorrow: Prayers for the Church Year (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books 1992); quoted in Imaging the Word: An Arts and Lectionary Resource, Volume 2 (Cleveland, OH: United Church Press 1995), p 95.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent . Week 3 . Saturday

It came upon the midnight clear, That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men, From heaven's all-gracious King!"
The world in solemn stillness lay, To hear the angels sing.

I pray for courageous world leaders who pursue the common welfare before political gain, who consider cooperation before the triumph of strength: for real conversations about poverty and women's health and violence and hatred and greed. I pray for the nations' citizens to sing of peace on earth louder than they sing of patriotism: for listening and understanding to lead us in complex matters of trade and migration and security. I pray for foresight and insight to see the world's possibilities and live into them: to hear of war and still live for community, to see despair and still speak of hope, to learn of the breadth of injustice and yet work for reconciliation.

O ye, beneath life's crushing load, Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow --
Look now! for glad and golden hours Come swiftly on the wing:
O rest beside the weary road, And hear the angels sing.

(Text: Edmund H. Sears 1850; Tune: R. Storrs Willis 1850)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent . Week 3 . Friday

Do I dare not to live with deep joy and wild hope
when look! the trees even in their nakedness
are clapping their hands,
a
nd the sun through gray snow clouds
radiates praise,

and the frozen ground harbors seeds
for spring's rebirth,

and Orion faithfully accompanies the lonely traveler
through the night;

the wind, for all its chill, inspires us to sing
a new song of thanksgiving
for every warm cup of hot chocolate
and every moment of walking indoors;

the occasions of parting and coming together,
with all of their joy and pain,
draw us to fuller awareness of community and the need for God With Us;

so in prayer and breath and walking, I strive for joy today:

Hear, O Spirit, this gratitude for warmth
and this praise for nature's beauty, and
this longing prayer for love to sustain us.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent . Week 3 . Thursday

Thank you for snowflakes.
Thank you for dreams.
Thank you for everyday joys.
Thank you for color.
Thank you for memories.
Thank you for child-made crafts.
Thank you for evergreens.
Thank you for moments of elation.
Thank you, my God, for this life!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Advent . Week 3 . Wednesday

As we seek you -- through joy and pain, amidst the calm and the bustling, in Christmas tree lights and silent star lights -- O Emmanuel, fill us with delight in the journey and compassion for our fellow travelers. Keep us ever mindful of the wounds and strains of others, so that we participate in healing more than injury. Make us willing workers as we search for you, midwives of the fullest life that is still to come. Amen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent . Week 3 . Tuesday

The moon whispers a prayer
that I struggle to echo:
for peace with the extended darkness,
for patience through the wild unknowns,
for willingness to awe at the mysterious,
for the mindfulness to be quiet and restful.
I pray that the moon's prayer
will steady me through this winter night.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent . Week 3 . Monday

May we repent of self-indulgence, self-abasement,
and self-righteousness today.

May we indulge in other-awareness,
other-encouragement and empowerment,
and love of the sacred in all.

May it be so.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Heeeere's God!

It's announcement time in Advent, with a drum roll please:
"Here is your God!"

We have only two weeks left until Christmas, only two weeks remaining on this Advent journey of seeking the Christ Child. And it's time for the seeking to produce glimpses of God With Us. So Isaiah announces, "Here is your God, who will come and rescue you!" and he accompanies the announcement with signs: a shoot growing from the stump of Jesse; a Holy Way that is safe for all travelers; a young woman giving birth to a son. Signs that say, "Here is God! Here is God's Way! Don't be afraid, here comes God's Chosen One!"

It's time for the Advent excitement to start bubbling up. We should be like kids poking through hallway closets for glimpses of Christmas presents -- that's the sort of joy and eager anticipation that we should be feeling at this point in Advent. "He's almost here! Ooo, it's almost time! Look, I think I saw a glimpse of Emmanuel!"

But we've become a little skeptical about seeing Jesus, a little hesitant about announcing our sightings of God's work -- and not without reason! The world is full of people and signs saying, "There's God! There's Jesus!" and so many religious leaders saying, "This is the way! No, this is the way!" and a whole lot of righteous folks saying, "Watch me, see how I follow Jesus! I'm as good as God!" ...until all of the God-sightings and all of the Jesus-announcements become a whirlwind of noise and bad theology, and we prefer to draw within and let faith just be a quiet thing that we keep to ourselves.

So we appreciate John the Baptist's question from amidst the whirlwind of voices and powers in his time: "Are you the one, or should we watch for someone else?" (Matthew 11:3) No dancing around it. No pretense that he doesn't harbor doubts. No apologies for crying out to God when despair overwhelms him in the prison cell. Just the straight-forward question: "Are you it? Are you the foundation of our hopes?"

For John the Baptist, this isn't a theoretical question; this is a matter of life or death. (You might remember that John is jailed because he critiques the affairs of the royal family, and ultimately he is killed by beheading due to the fits and fighting within King Herod's family.) John has staked his reputation and his way of life on the task of announcing "Here comes the Chosen One!", and before he dies, John wants the reassurance that he's right, that this man Jesus is in fact a sighting of God's presence in a corrupt and chaotic world.

"Are you the one? Or should we keep watching? Is this the right sign to lead us closer to God? Is this Jesus over here? Is that Jesus over there? Is that Jesus within the walls of a sanctuary? Is Jesus there in the marbled hallways of Congress? Which signs are the right ones? Are you it, Jesus?"

And Jesus, never one to give a simple answer, says, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them." (Matthew 11:4-5) At first reading, it seems that Jesus gives John -- and gives us -- still more signs to follow, which isn't very reassuring for John who is in prison or for us as we are inundated with signs and proclamations.

But Jesus doesn't say, "Wait for more signs." He says, "Look and see the life and the healing happening around me. This is how you know that I am the One: where I am, there is life!"

Where Jesus is, there is life -- full, whole, healed and reconciled life! Blindness falls away and there is sight. Leprosy and isolation are cleansed and there is community. Ears are opened and tongues released and death overturned and poverty relieved and the good news is louder than the news of suffering.

How do we know that Jesus is here ... or here ... or here? Where Jesus is, there is life! Where there is life, there is God With Us!

When Isaiah 35 and Matthew 11 talk about the lame walking, the mute singing, and the desert blooming, I often hear these events as miracles, as extra-ordinary and unlikely events. But Jesus and Isaiah don't say, "The Advent of God means that the impossible will happen." They say, "The Advent, the Coming of God With Us means that the fullest life possible will happen!"

The fullest of life --
open eyes and open ears and open hearts engaged in living;
ready hands and strong feet to support one another along the journey;
a desert in full bloom, a spring of water overflowing;
and a wide highway, the Holy Way, where all people walk safely
and no traveler is called 'unclean' or discouraged from the path;
the fullest life possible will show you that here is God!

Where there is life
in place of suffering, there is God!
Where there is reconciliation
in place of faction, there is God!
Where there is a song of praise
in place of despair and lament, there is God!
Where there is a wellspring of care
in place of a desert of abandonment, there is God!


Are you searching for God With Us, watching for Emmanuel's Advent? Look! See the places where life blooms, and know that Jesus is there.

Be glad! Get excited! Already we are catching glimpses of God With Us in the fullness of life! Amen and amen.

Adapted from my 12/12/10 sermon, "Here He Is!", at Grace United Church of Christ (Lancaster PA) based on Isaiah 35:1-10 and Matthew 11:2-11.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advent . Week 2 . Saturday

Now praise the God of Wholeness
who meets you in broken places!
Lift your spirit and your hands in sweet gratitude
to the God of Acceptance and Patience
who sees holy beauty just as you are, and
gently kneads your hardness & stubbornness.
Be happy, and keep your faith
in the Awesome and Holy One who
challenges your pride with a single snowflake.
Place your hope in the Source of Life,
the Daily Wisdom, the Foolish Lover.
Say to your spirit each day and each moment:
"Do not be afraid. Praise the LORD!"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent . Week 2 . Friday

I sigh deeply and pray through my fear that things will not change:
that we will continue to commute blindly along the same roads, breathe without tasting the same toxic air, aspire to the dubious (and false) distinction of middle class security, deaden the same worries with wine and food and toys...

Spirit, there is more than this! More vibrant life, more playful dance, more keenness, more ache -- yes -- and also more love to claim! You call us to more than this! Like an impossible dream, you come ("Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!") and dare to announce that we can birth Jesus and we can feed multitudes and we can reconcile the world and we can walk on water! And we must, if things are going to change. O Spirit, I am longing for things to change!

"We have to be braver than we think we can be,
because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are,
to see through the plastic sham to living, breathing reality.
Earthbound as we are, even we can walk on water."
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art (Madeleine L'Engle)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Advent . Week 2 . Thursday

My soul sings "Joy!" as the sun shines!


My soul sings "Peace!" as the rock holds fast!


My soul sings "Hope!" as the brook travels onward!


My soul sings "Patience!" as it beholds the mountain's height!


My soul sings "Joy!" My soul sings "Joy!"


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent . Week 2 . Wednesday

Transform us!
Do something to us!
Cause a change to take place
in our hearts and in our relationships!
Let our watching and waiting not be a waste --
not because you don't show up,
but because we don't!
Call us to full & awake participation
in the advent of peace and hope and justice!
Make this, not a season, but a movement
of watchfulness that advocates
and waiting that engages
and adoration that stomps its feet
in restless resistance to a too slow and too comfortable Coming!


For a humorous take on watching and waiting, consider the lyrical (if random) antics of Disney's "Phineas and Ferb."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent . Week 2 . Tuesday

I am loathe to grapple with death in this season of hope and pregnant expectation and wondrous beginning. But the wind cuts to the core and the sadness creeps in unexpectedly, and I am forced to pay attention to the barrenness and the shortness of each day's breath. Help me with this, O God. The death must be witnessed, the pain acknowledged, the loss felt -- not out of holiday charity, but with self-vulnerability and genuine dis-ease. Death, too, has an advent, a time for preparation: candles are lit and hours marked and early sunsets mourned. O Holy Light of Advent, be present in this advent too. Fill me with the peace to be unguarded; grant me the strength to be weak. Don't let me skip winter's bitterness in my longing for the warmth and light of Christmas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent . Week 2 . Monday

Still-coming God, I pray for awareness of what has already arrived:
gifts of friendship, the hope of growing children, the light of a new day, the dance of dry autumn leaves and falling snowflakes, the moment of meeting you in prayer, the love expressed across distance. For all that sustains me today, for all that is still to unfold, I am grateful.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Good News of 'Megamind'

I loved DreamWorks' new movie Megamind when I saw it in the theaters recently. Loved it! Entertaining action, lovable villain, relatively unique plot, lack of the usual "farting" and "butt" humor that is prevalent in family movies and kids' t.v. shows today, fascinating moral dilemma (does good necessitate evil, and vice versa), fabulous cast, Michael Jackson's "Bad" during the closing credits, etc.

And -- are you ready for it?! -- it has a great Advent plot!

Megamind begins with a classic assumption: the strongest, handsomest, most privileged, most perfect, most popular guy is granted the people's trust and elevated to the status of superhero. In his fight to keep the people of Metro City safe from the chaos and mischievous schemes of the villain, superhero Metro Man always wins and always gets the girl and always has neatly coiffed hair. In contrast to our valiant hero, the evil Megamind is oddly proportioned and oddly colored, has weird friends (a fish in a bowl with a robotic body and apelike arms), and prefers elaborate inventions over graceful social skills. With good and evil, perfection and error, thus defined, all is right and balanced in the animated world ...

... until the bad guy wins. Totally trounces the superhero with a deadly alignment of space satellites and sun rays and laser beams. Free to rampage through Metro City and to make the mayor's office his own evil sanctuary, (spoiler alert) Megamind suddenly has to consider what it means to be a villain without a hero ... and, ultimately, whether or not he might become the hero himself. But who would cheer the heroism of a blue bald guy with a big head and a fish for his best friend? Who would erect a monument to this scrawny guy with a shady past??

Who would cheer the unimpressive pregnancy of a young woman who got knocked up before she got married? Who would applaud a baby born into poverty in an occupied territory, and say "Look! Here's a hero! Here's someone who can save us and right the world's wrongs!"?? What makes a growing toddler living in exile in Egypt any more likely of a savior than a blue-headed inventor wearing black leather?

Granted, those of us who have grown up in the church might scratch our heads and wonder about the comparison of Megamind-the-improbable-hero to Jesus, because we've always heard that Jesus is the Savior and Jesus is the obvious hero to every story. We forget that Jesus was a surprise to those around him and (in contrast to our preference for powerful & popular heroes) a bit of a rebel without much social savvy for getting ahead in the world!

But the Advent message urges: "Keep awake! Watch for the unexpected! Be prepared for the impossible!"

Not only does the hero have an unexpected appearance, but his acts of heroism are beyond imagining! The nerdy blue guy gets the girl and a parade in his honor. The rescuer of Israel makes the wolf and the lamb live together in peace. Advent doesn't just give us a hero that we don't expect; Advent gives us a social/world reconciliation that we don't expect!

For all of the familiarity of this winter holiday, for all of the comforts and routines that we love about it (or not so much), I suspect that we often miss the element of surprise which is necessary to Advent watchfulness. The baby in the manger is adorable, no longer compelling. The shepherds are sanitary, the wise men prompt, the angels routine ... without particularly inspiring us to seek out the disheveled loners, the star-gazers, the mystic intercessors.

Even the Advent lectionary readings that lead into Christmas cannot catch us off guard: a child playing near the hole of an asp, a desert in full bloom, an exiled people free to return home, a priest mute with disbelief, two pregnant women -- one young, one old and (supposedly) barren -- laughing and singing praises together. The familiarity of it all is lovely, but is it motivating?

What I love about Megamind for Advent is that it twists the usually-predictable hero plot so well that the viewer isn't quite sure how all of the pieces will come together. Long-time Christians who have heard the stories of Advent for many years are no longer surprised by the ending: "Oh my gosh, look! A baby was born!"

But someday we will be surprised -- utterly and completely surprised -- because God will show up in the last possible way or in the least likely person ever imagined. Maybe it will be tomorrow, and the Church will collectively roll out of bed, set her feet on the floor, look out the window at the natural presence of God, and say "Oh my goodness -- I think that God loves the queer community without strings attached! And *gasp* God calls and ordains women and same-gender-loving folks and trans persons into ministry!" Maybe it will be the end of time, and it won't matter whether you believe in instantaneous rapture or no-hell-just-heaven-for-everybody, because we will all be stunned and awed to witness the Holy Wildness that is God.

But in the meantime, for this Advent season, I appreciate Megamind for the reminder to look for the unimagined ... to look for something that I'm not trying to find, to watch for an unexpected agent surprising me with the presence of God, to listen for Advent themes in a silly family movie, to prepare for the radical idea that the obvious enemy can be the superhero for Metro City.

And maybe for Advent.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent . Week 1 . Saturday

I pray peace to the soldier
I pray healing to the hospital patient
I pray strength to the birthing mother
I pray reconciliation to the enemy
I pray rest to the burned-out
I pray laughter to the lonely
I pray courage to the domestic abuse victim
I pray safety to the trucker driver on deliveries
I pray kindness to the retail employee
I pray comfort to the mourning
I pray unbridled creativity to the children
I pray imagination to world leaders

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent . Week 1 . Friday

Ever-present Emmanuel,
Stand out to me this season
in colorful lights illuminating houses on a winter evening,
in carols and Christmas tunes too familiar from repetition,
in hand-crafted (and mass-produced) nativity scenes --
even the garish ones.
But more than these, stand out to me
in the bubbling-over, bounce-off-the-walls joy of children,
in the hidden tears and lonely heartache of a friend,
in the jubilant chorus of "Gloria!" silently ringing through
nature's hibernation.
Ever-present Emmanuel,
stand out to me this season.

Great Gifts, Great Deals!

Attention online shoppers: visit www.biddingforgood.com/GraceUCCAuction
for bidding fun and holiday shopping!

Place your bids soon before the auction closes
at 10PM EST this Sunday, December 5.


Proceeds benefit Grace United Church of Christ, Lancaster PA.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent . Week 1 . Thursday

The LORD is my healing and my strength,
who knows my body's aches and my soul's weariness
and revives me, even down to the very cells of my bones.

The LORD is my clarity and my every breath,
who centers and steadies the whirlwind of thoughts and tasks
and shows me the stillness and the moment.

Let my soul be filled with praise
until my tongue sings with love,
until my eyes smile with deep joy

for the body's cells and the burning stars are known by God
as are the rush of traffic and the path of a snowstorm.
Through all chaos and order, there is God.

Teach me priority and patience,
self-grace and expansive compassion; and
let me trust. And trust. And trust again

the LORD who is my healing,
my centering,
and my life.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent . Week 1 . Wednesday

Peace. Peace.

But I cry out,
"There is no peace!"

Peace. Peace.

But I cannot be still,
and I cannot catch my breath.

Peace. Peace. Peace.

But I am not done,
I am not ready.

Peace. Peace. Peace.

But see: look at the good work I can do!
Watch how well I scurry!

Peace! Peace.

. . . . . . .
Peace?

Peace.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Advent . Week 1 . Tuesday

Thank goodness
for car ads that rhyme
and toys that break within weeks,
for lights that blazon "Santa, stop here!"
and coffee shops playing "Jesus is born" elevator music.
Because really, God, how else would I know where to look for you
if the box stores & advertisers didn't say "Lookee here!"
with glitter and jingle bells and a price tag?
My God! O Holy God, Mysterious God,
for the things we do and say
in the name of religion,
forgive us.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent . Week 1 . Monday

I pray for the courage
to let this day be

what it is
and what it isn't;

to let it hold what it can,
and not cram it impossibly
with any more;

because it already is,
and it is full of God!


I pray for the grace
to let myself be

what I am
and what I'm not;

to hold what I can
and not guilt myself
with any more;

because I already am,
and I am full of God!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Still to Come

Can we start our reflection on Isaiah 65:17-25 and Luke 21:5-19 in not quite the usual way? Can we divert past the academics of it, the history of the text, even what it says about God to the people of biblical times or to the people of our time? Can we start, first, by listening to the emotions of these two passages? Because they are strong passages, with striking images, that are meant to evoke our emotions:

"Beware!" says Jesus. "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes, famines & plagues around the world; and there will be dreadful foreshadowing and great signs from heaven."
Fear.
Concern for safety.
Angst.

"Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating," proclaims the LORD God through the prophet Isaiah. "Rejoice, for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy; and no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, nor the cry of distress. Before the people call, I will answer."
Hope.
Relief, and re-creation.
Possibilities of peace beyond imagining.

How does it make us feel to hear Jesus say so directly: "You will be arrested and persecuted. You will be handed over to the powers of religion and of government. Parents and relatives and friends will turn on you. Even death will come."
Worried?
Abandoned by Jesus?
Disconnected? Maybe we don't hear this text speaking to us?

How do we feel when we hear Isaiah's vision of the wolf and the lamb grazing together peacefully? What does it do for our spirits to imagine a time and a place in which babies do not die of illnesses, and our older adults live strong and healthy past the age of one hundred; a place where homes are not foreclosed upon and jobs are not cut to spare the companies' bottom line?
Do we long for that day?
Do we laugh at the impossibility of it?
Do we feel stirred up with anger that the world doesn't run this way?

Emotionally-charged passages, clear and compelling images in both Isaiah and Luke ... and they're vivid and emotional "live wires" on purpose. These two passages are supposed to hit you at the core of your being; they are meant to stir up your emotions, because both readings are meant to make us respond. And even though the tones of Isaiah and Luke seem as different as night and day, they are trying to provoke the same response in us: active, fully committed faith.

Isaiah 65 appeals to the Israelites in the 6th century BCE who have just returned to Jerusalem after nearly fifty years of exile in Babylon. They come home rejoicing to be free ... only to discover a war-torn homeland and a devastated city in need of rebuilding. For so long, they had imagined coming home like it would be a return to a carefree Eden, and the reality is devastating. So the prophet appeals to them, stirs them up to imagine a homeland that is rebuilt, a capital city that is again glorious in its architecture and provides safety for all sojourners. Isaiah 65 aims to inspire the people's hope and their faith in God's promises so that they will commit to doing the hard work of rebuilding.

Luke 21 may have a harsher tone to it, but Jesus also is trying to incite his audience into an active and more authentic faith. He denounces those in power who have made the temple building into an object of worship instead of worshiping the Holy God for whom the temple is merely a seat. He implores his listeners to gird up their spirits, to strengthen their faith, in preparation for the sparring of global powers and the horror of natural catastrophes. And he warns them -- and I know that it's hard to hear Jesus making dire predictions, but there's also something pastoral about trying to give people a heads-up when he warns them -- "Yes, it's going to be hard. Yes, the worst of life will hit you like it hits everyone, and I cannot spare you the pain of that. But hold on to your faith. Take courage. And do not fall for the lies of those who run around trying to scare people in my name, saying silly things like 'God is judging us by abandoning us to wars and earthquakes.' Don't follow the ones who lead by fear. Keep your faith honed and strong."

The intense emotion of Isaiah's vision and of Jesus' warnings are meant to inspire a response of active, fully-committed faith from the people who are listening to them. Which should lead us to ask, what response do Isaiah 65 and Luke 21 evoke from us?

Here's my concern: It's emotionally difficult to hear this strident language from Jesus and to imagine such a series of devastating events -- persecution & famine & betrayal & cities torn down in war -- to hear that vision of discomfort from Jesus, the One we turn to for comfort. So it's hard to respond to Luke 21 with deep and fearless faith...

...and I suspect that we struggle to respond to Isaiah 65 with an active and committed faith as well, not because the imagery isn't beautiful and comforting, but because it so vastly contradicts our experience of the world. The idea of a city with no crying, where the lion eats straw like the domesticated ox, is an elusive dream for the world. How do we respond with faith if we struggle to embrace Isaiah 65 as a hope that is actually possible?

These passages from Isaiah and Luke are written to evoke an emotional and faithful response, but we struggle to respond to the discomforting words of Jesus and we struggle to respond to the elusive vision of Isaiah ... and my concern is that, as a result, we plop ourselves down somewhere in the middle between the frustrations of reality and the unattainability of hope & peace. And in that middle ground, do we stall out on active faith, at a loss for how to balance visions of turmoil with visions of peace? Luke and Isaiah may be trying to provoke a response within us, but maybe we feel so provoked that we'd rather just call it a day!

What response do Isaiah 65 and Luke 21 inspire within us, compel from us?

I remember once -- somewhere along the way in my life -- someone observed to me that one of the elements of a strong marriage is that you have to choose each day to be married to your partner; that each day when you wake up, you have to make the choice to pay attention to and support this significant person in your life; that you have to remember to keep giving and receiving through forgiveness and intimacy and respect; that you have to keep choosing to love one another.

The same can be said of faith:
We have to choose, every day, to live with faith.

We have to choose -- consciously, constantly -- to live
with the eyes of our hearts wide open in order to see God around us,
knowing that keeping our eyes open also means
that we will see the world's pains a little more honestly.

We have to choose, each day when we get out of bed,
to do the work of faith...
...and at the end of the day when we return to bed,
we have to have faith enough to rest.

We have to choose faith, even knowing
that there is still heartache to come in our lives,
there will be more wars to come on this earth,
there are and there will continue to be fear-mongers
and doom-sayers who live for conflict,
there are new powers still to come and
more uncertainties still to come;

we have to choose faith knowing that
there are days of joy still to come,
days of healing still to come,
moments of laughing so hard that you cry,
signs of life still to come that will catch your breath,
moments of love still to come that will let you know
that God's promises are not forgotten;

and yes, there is a time still to come when the powers that disrupt life
and take advantage of injustice will be overturned;

maybe even a time still to come
when a wolf and a lamb will graze side-by-side.

The highest of our hopes and the worst of our nightmares -- in other words, the full range of life experiences -- and some days we desperately wish that we could simply plop down in the middle and secure a moment of peace and sanity.

Jesus doesn't let us off the hook of experiencing the breadth and depth of life. He calls us to choose and actively live out faith, with every part of who we are and what we have and what we can do. God calls us -- through a whole book full of stories and visions and crazy dreams and stirring poetry and daunting prophecies -- to respond to this life that we have been given, to engage it, to encounter God in it; to let the worrisome stuff and the hopeful stuff alike compel us off dead-center, stir us up from lukewarm living, so that we choose full and active and wholly-committed faith ... trusting that, for everything that is still to come, God is moving and stirring and living with us!

Amen.

My sermon from Nov 14 2010 at Grace United Church of Christ; the contrasting moods between these Isaiah and Luke passages reflect the moody tensions of Isaiah and Matthew through the Advent lectionary ... and similarly call us to wake up and live fully!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Condemning the Fig Tree

The fig tree, there, so full of potential:
you waited, thirsting for its fruit
and when it didn't bloom,
you cursed.

Natural enough, scolding something when it doesn't do what one wants.
I have a lot of those:
cursing the thing that doesn't fit,
the thing that doesn't meet my needs.

Like Moses cursed the rock and struck it until a spring burst forth.
There is a stubbornness there,
a persistence that is both holy and human,
an insistence on goodness.

Except that you forgot -- in the humanity of cursing -- your divinity,
and the fig tree withered.
Or perhaps the withering was intentional:
holy commentary on the lukewarm, the half-assed.

I should have more of those:
cursing in myself the partial effort,
the motivation that isn't what it should be.
Jesus, remind me of the fig tree.

Matthew 21:18-19; also Mark 11:12-14.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Morning Meditation

Deep breath
so I don't rush past the holiness and the beauty

Quiet breath
so I hear the world beyond my own voice

Calm breath
so I bring peace, not panic, to this day

Prayerful breath
because God is met in these moments

Deep breath

Quiet breath

Calm breath

Prayerful breath

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cleaning Day

Dear Jesus,
If I strive to be more like Mary than Martha,
may I be off the hook of doing housework?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Faith and Politics (Luke 18:9-14)

I believe very firmly in the kingdom of God -- the realm of God -- that day, that space, that season
in which all people are fed,
in which the lame suddenly walk
and the blind miraculously see,
in which the deserts and places of drought yield a harvest
that isn't bartered away by greedy leaders
or trampled underfoot by invading military forces
who storm a village to rape women of all ages,
a realm in which the gifts of our daughters and sons
are celebrated and empowered,

in which our elders and our sick are not hidden away in institutions
but drawn into the community to be cared for and
turned to for their wisdom and their dreams;
a kingdom in which no one is shamed for who they love
or bullied and beaten for how they look or how they act.

Such a realm of God -- this possibility of a space in which justice and healing and community prevail -- is a vision that is consistently prophesied, encouraged, chided, built and rebuilt throughout Biblical history:
from the ancient laws of a fledgling nation called Israel
to the prophets like Joel and Amos and Isaiah
to the living flesh of the Holiest of Holies that we call Jesus.

It's a realm beautifully imagined in Isaiah, where "the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion together, and a little child shall lead them" (Isaiah 1:16-17). We hear it in the scolding of God through Amos: "Take away from me the noise of your songs. I will not listen to the melody of your harps; but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:23-24). The challenge and puzzle of God's realm are presented by Jesus -- "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20) -- and affirmed in the foundation of Israel's laws -- "The God of gods, the Lord of lords executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing" (Deuteronomy 10:17-18).

It's no big surprise if I observe to you that the kingdom of God is not yet fully upon us! (That's obvious!) But it's less obvious whether we believe, collectively and individually, that the kingdom/the realm of God is a far-off thing that will appear at the end of time if we just wait for it ... or if we believe that the realm of God is a near-by thing that we participate in here on earth. Is it a peaceful idea that's limited to heaven, and we get to experience it after we die ... or is it a very present challenge for us to live into and act out now?

What we believe about the realm of God matters very much, because it's almost Election Day, which means that it's time for us as people of faith to decide once again whether or not our beliefs about how God wants us to live in this world will inform our voting, or whether our faith and our politics are two entirely separate conversations that will never meet when we vote.

Christine O'Donnell (the Republican nominee running for the Senate in Delaware) took some flack recently for appearing not to know during a debate that the principle for the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Now, I absolutely believe that government and religion must remain separate, for the safety & integrity of the government and for the integrity & well-being of the church and of religions. However, I must say that I hear O'Donnell hinting at something that is -- despite her opinion of the First Amendment -- true, something that our conservative brothers & sisters generally practice better than us moderate & progressive Christians, which is, that faith does and should inform our politics. (Again, not our government, although that's happening these days in very problematic ways!) But faith should inform our individual politics: our voting, which boxes we mark, even our decision to participate in an election at all.

Just the fact that some of us are probably uncomfortable because I'm using words like "politics" and elections" in the pulpit tells us that we have placed significant psychological, theological, and practical gaps between the activities of our faith and the activities of our politics. But here's why I believe that we're called to bring our faith and our politics into the same conversation:

Jesus tells a parable about a well-to-do and deeply faithful religious leader, and an unimpressive cog-within-the-wheel suit-and-tie guy who worked for the government. (Now, we're biased, because we know already that we're supposed to scorn the Pharisee's actions and celebrate the tax collector's prayer in this parable, but the people listening to Jesus would have assumed the reverse. To help us hear the surprise element in the parable, imagine the Pharisee as a person you admire for his/her deep faith and well-intentioned living ... and, for the tax collector character, imagine a politician you dislike.)

So Jesus tells this parable about a well-admired church leader and a disliked government worker, both coming to God in prayer. The church leader is pretty sure that life is good and that God is good, and he is grateful and blessed that God made him a good guy in the scheme of life. When he comes to pray to God, he leaves everything else about life at the door, and he prays to God to discuss only the good and churchy things of his life -- how he tithes and worships regularly -- and all that he needs God to do, really, is agree with him!

When the suit-and-tie government worker comes before God, he brings all of the junk of life with him: everything he's seen in the course of doing his job that day, the people who are out of money, the people who are angry to see him collecting money, the papers full of new government rules that are handed down to him to impose, the lies that he's told, the failures he's experienced... Everything in his life comes with him into that moment of prayer; and he asks God to make a difference in the entirety of his life. "Have mercy!" he prays.

The respected church leader leaves everything at the door except for the nice churchy stuff, and he doesn't need or ask anything from God. The reviled government worker brings the whole of his life into prayer, and he needs God to act!

The Pharisee in the parable doesn't need the kingdom of God to be present on earth, doesn't particularly need God to be active in the daily realities of life. He fasts, he gives a faithful offering from his income, so the world must be fine because he's doing fine. He has no other expectations for himself or for God.

The tax collector needs a kingdom of God that is present and actively at work on earth. He prays with his fists clenched, pounding his own chest with longing for God to make a difference. He expects God to be active in his life and in the world, to be merciful and loving and just: "God, be merciful! Be present here! Be a generous and life-giving force at work in this world!" He knows that he is not fine, and he has seen that the world is not fine, and he believes that God is not going to wait until the sweet by-and-by to make a difference.

If the world is fine, if we are fine, and if we believe that the kingdom of God is a beautiful and just and peaceful reality that we will eventually see in heaven, then by all means there's no reason to intersect our faith and our politics in the same conversation. And we can leave our politics at the door when we come to church, and we can leave our faith at the door when we go to the polling booths.

If, on the other hand, we see that the world is not fine,
if we believe that the realm of God is a very present wrestling and a very present work, if we believe that God is not a far-off Being that rolled the dice eons ago and is simply watching the action with amusement but is a near-and-"with us" kind of God who is still active and engaged in life, then we cannot leave our politics at the door on Sundays or our faith at the door on election days.

When I set down my faith, when I leave it at the door, the only things left are my ego and my fear -- which strikes me as a poor way to vote or make decisions, but it's exactly the tone that we hear from the Pharisee in the parable! He prays with ego, "Thank you, God, that I am good," and he prays with fear, "Thank you, God, that I am not like them." If I set down my faith to vote, then the visions of the possibility of a realm of God unfolding in the world don't matter, and I only vote with regard to my security and my fear of others.

If, on the other hand, I pick up my faith to vote, then I pick up the whole conversation about life -- my life and our lives and the world's lives --
like whether or not people are getting fed,
whether we all can access health care
without a certain threshold of wealth,

whether children are empowered and educated,
whether or not we will continue to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear
when someone is shamed for being who they are
(flamboyant, butch, nappy hair, accented voice,
different social skills, different physical abilities)
...or...
if the world, if we, in our struggling for the fuller realm of God
will begin to believe the dreams of our youth
and hear the cries of the lonely and the impoverished
and welcome the stranger with open arms
and join hands with those who work for justice.

I believe, very much, in a present and still-coming kingdom of God. If we believe that the work of the realm of God is among us and a part of us, then our faith needs to participate in our politics...and not just on election day.

It can be hard to speak up for a faith that is inclusive, a faith that understands "family values" to include all families and households, a faith that looks to the Spirit of Restlessness rather than the Spirit of Security to inform its community. But if we don't take our faith with us when we exit these church doors, if we don't speak our faith in politics and in public, if we don't talk about and work for a present & relevant kingdom of God, then we are letting ego and fear lead us to praying contentedly alongside the Pharisee!

God have mercy, we are horribly clumsy with our faith and our politics alike! And when you put us all together, in a collective religion or in a collective government, God knows that we don't do much better!

But "God have mercy" is precisely the prayer that we need to offer! It's the prayer of the tax collector, it's a prayer for humility and wisdom, it's the best starting point that we have as we try to faithfully keep our faith, our politics, and our hope for the work of the realm of God all together intentionally in conversation and in action.

May God have mercy. And may we not be afraid!

Amen.

My sermon from 10/24/10 at Grace United Church of Christ.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Acts 7:44-53

Let the generations of prophets pray with Stephen
for the Spirit to break our stiff necks
and disturb our easy rituals,
for the God of heaven and earth
to pull out the cornerstones from beneath our church buildings
and scatter all Christians from the sanctuaries
until we learn
that the Most High is not an insurance agent
to restore our good fortune
or prevent life's disasters;
that the Refiner's Fire is not a theological gimmick
for othering and outcasting;
that the Only & Holy Righteous One is not interested
in our self-righteousness
or cleansing of sin;
because the pure sanctity of Heaven
-- the blessedness of the Kingdom of God --
is not preserved by our Bibles
or gilded bricks
or catechisms
or right beliefs,
but by the Living Body, the full Communion
of all people gathered,
justly, peaceably,
into one diverse community
that breathes with Life & Healing
and builds a house to shelter those most in need
(not those who worship wealth & stability)
and listens to God in the voices of strangers and widows
and treasures the unfettered movement of the Spirit.
But the Body is spoiled by its comforts
and stubborn in its factions.
So the Spirit cries out against the Church
while Stephen prays amidst the falling stones.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Our Kids Read In Church

Cross-posted from the PCC Sacred Conversation on Race blog:

I was surprised and frankly discouraged yesterday when my daughter, chattering away in the car as we traveled to-and-from soccer practice, said confidently that she imagines God to be a white man in his early 20s. The "early 20s" part of that image intrigues me, but the "white" and the "male" parts tell me that I still have a lot of work to do as a parent and a pastor!

For an 8-year-old to say that God is a white man says to me (at best) that my daughter has seen many images of a
white Jesus and has concluded, rather logically, that the Father of white Jesus must also be white. At worst, it suggests that she associates -- albeit, probably unconsciously so -- God with "normalcy" and normalcy with whiteness, ergo, God is white.

Read more...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Collect

Generous Lover,
who holds me through the night,
please take my cares for this moment
so that I can rest
in the comfort of your sanctuary.

Sweet Lover,
who brightens the sun's rising,
hold my hand this day
so that I know I am not alone.
I'm so glad for the warmth of your presence!

Amen and amen.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sycamore Scars

For the scars,
for the healed stories
and the still-open wounds,
I pray beauty in wholeness
and the peace of perspective.


Like the sycamore's scars
all gray and white and peeling
sometimes down to the bare wood
signaling growth (not disease or dis-ease),
wounds of new life and strengthened health.


If only I could stand so tall
amidst imperfections and insecurities
and know my scars, my wounds to be
external dressings only
on an irrepressible life!


For the scars,
for the healed stories
and the still-open wounds,
I pray beauty in wholeness
and grace for growth.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rainy Day

God, I would like to pray for permission to hunker down, curl up in a ball, crawl back into bed, and hide under the covers on this dreary day. It is not just the rain and the cold. There is too much hate and anger and bull* to wade through in the world today. May I take a day to be away from it all, please? I am disappointed by the (lack of) ways in which we care for one another, and cynical about our collective ability to change. I confess that lately I have checked out from the rallies that fight fear and the petitions that seek greater justice, because I cannot see forward motion. A news report of recent anti-gay beatings was printed today in the local newspaper directly alongside a report on efforts to save the county's Human Rights Commission from dissolution . . . and I pray, God, that you are seeing the irony and pain of this juxtaposition in newsprint. I would prefer to step away from the madness, just for today. Except that doing so, even for a day, isn't really "checking out" . . . it's choosing privilege: the privilege of disengaging when convenient, the privilege of remaining silent, the privilege of rationalizing that it's not "my" fight, the privilege of crying in private instead of lamenting on the street corner. So I cannot pray for permission to separate myself today. Instead I pray for courage to connect. I pray for forgiveness for choosing privilege. I pray for strength to speak and stand and work and support and raise Cain even when the bad news pours down like rain.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Playful

I pray for the courage to dance more often
when the gold of the rising sun enhances the oak's rusts and yellows

I pray for the self-release to stretch my hands skyward
when a moment of joy relieves the weight of stress on my shoulders

I pray for the chutzpah to laugh out loud
at the ironies of life, the small humors amidst the strains

I pray for the levity to whistle
at random, out of tune, as I walk through the day

I pray for the ease of spirit to love freely
like a fallen leaf tumbling across the ground without restraint

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Return of the Exile (Jeremiah 31:1-14)

"Love, why did you have to go away,
leave us here all alone
to survive these crazy, crazy days?" (Michael Franti)


Love will come back to you
like a son returning home,
like a ship coming in to harbor;
And you will return to Love
(although I suspect it will feel
like you have traversed the greater distance).
For in Love's absence
you found Persistence and Hope
and your heart, though scarred, grew stronger.
While Love was away,
Chaos and Guardedness took its place
but you met yourself again --
with the hard intimacy of
flesh meeting gravel
when the runner takes a fall.
I know your cries from the ground
seemed to go unheard,
and the loneliness of dusting yourself off
was deeply bitter,
But Grace found you there
(even when you could not be comforted)
because it was not Love's job to make life easy;
it was Grace's task to see you through.
Even so,
Love has not abandoned you.
Throw off your burdens and your mourning:
open your eyes to the raw beauty of this wilderness,
let a chuckle rise up,
dance and sing with confidence
that Love will be your partner again
and your exile will end with a new journey.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Prophetic Church (guest contributor)

The classic definition of the Church is found in the writings of Paul who proclaims "You are the body of Christ." Most interpreters understand "You" to mean the Church. I understand the statement to mean, metaphorically, that the Church (however you definite it in terms of composition) is the physical presence of Christ in the world today. What the Church does, how the Church presents itself to the world is how the world regards Christ. If any part of the Church acts hatefully, violently, exclusively toward others then Christ and the Church as a whole are perceived as exclusive, violent, and insensitive. By the same token, when the Church reflects the love of Christ, both the Church and Christ are seen as compassionate and accepting.

As I see it, the Church's task (and the task of every member) is to live out the teachings of Jesus. In that way, Jesus continues to live in the world today. Only those who attempt to reflect the acts and teachings of Jesus (including compassion, concern for those on the fringes of society, support for the poor, inclusiveness, forgiveness, etc.) can legitimately claim the name of "Christian" or use the title "Christian Church." Others are merely "pretenders" who muddy the waters, confuse the world and are less than worthy of these titles.

Integral to living out the deeds and teachings of Christ, the Church is called to exercise a prophetic function in today's world. The Old Testament prophets, despite some notable blind spots, acted as the conscience of both the religious and political institutions (leaders) of their time. The prophets constantly "called out" both groups when they considered either or both to be straying from the intent and purposes of YHWH. Like Jesus they stood on the side of the disenfranchised and oppressed, whoever and wherever they might be, and openly acted on their behalf.

This function as "conscience" is woefully missing in the modern Christian Church. We are not even able to exercise any degree of self-assessment or self-discipline --- we rarely publicly "call out" any part of the Church body that is blatantly ignoring or denying the compassion, acceptance and love exhibited in the life and teachings of Christ.

Equally as important, the Church in America rarely performs the prophetic function, rarely acts as a "conscience," in relation to the government. Performing that function is especially difficult in the United States because the Church --- while giving lip service to the idea of "the separation of church and state" --- has essentially "sold out" to the government by accepting, even demanding, the tax-exempt status offered to charitable institutions. In exchange for this "privilege," the Church must remain politically neutral and refrain from publicly, openly taking political positions as such. Although there are covert ways to circumvent some of the restrictions imposed by this arrangement the Church, largely, has been politically neutralized in this country. (Note: I do not regard the so-called "religious right" as a church but see it as a political movement -- a "wanna be," if you will.) The Church is afraid to openly oppose or support the government or its policies and, in particular, support or oppose individual candidates for fear of losing its tax-exempt status which, for most Churches, would be a financial disaster. The United Church of Christ experienced anxiety over this issue a few years ago in connection with a speech given at its national conference by Barack Obama before he became a candidate for President; a potential IRS investigation and unfavorable ruling was quite worrisome to many.

By and large, the organized Church in America has chosen financial security over prophetic responsibility.

I recognize that the content of this "prophetic function" may be the subject of significant discussion and inevitable disagreement. (Although it seems clear to me that, consistent with the Old Testament prophets and with Christ himself, such prophetic content would minimally involve identification with the poor, the oppressed, the outcasts, and the marginalized in society.) I, for one, would rather have a spirited discussion about the content of such prophesy than forfeit the prophetic function, as the American Church for all intents and purposes has done.

(Guest contributor, Rev. Raymond Luber, is a minister in the United Church of Christ, a retired pastor, and former Editor-in-Chief of International Journal of Partial Hospitalization.)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Prayer For Peace

O Beyond Understanding, O Wellspring of Peace,

be peace on my tongue
and peace in each breath

be peace where I connect
and peace when I am alone

be peace enough for this one life
and peace enough for this universal life

let frustration be tempered by dialogue
and disaster be met with willing hands

carry hope into the heart of cynicism
and healing to earth's wounds fresh with oil

where I can, let me be part of your peace
and where I cannot...well, remind me that I can

not because I am so good at peacemaking
but because you are, in action and in essence.

You are Peace Beyond Understanding.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dead End

...and then
the wall appears
stops me abruptly in my tracks

and the ability to see You all around me
goes out the window, because
it's just a blank wall...

i'm praying for perspective
praying for direction
praying for hope

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What God is Like

When people ask me, “What is God like?”

I often answer
God is like a shepherd
tending to the flock
leading me to still waters

Or I say that
God is like a rock
grounding all being
securing me through storm and sun alike

But lately I’ve come to think that
God is like a mother’s womb
birthing in pain a new creation
bleeding to give life with the cycles of the moon

Perhaps I should elaborate:
God is like a mother’s womb
stretching to hold a crying world and
feeding the hungry with divine placenta

In our scriptures, I hear how
God is like a mother’s womb
delivering people from and through blood
bearing justice for the sake of God’s name

In this world’s stories, I know that
God is like a mother’s womb
carrying the indignation of creation’s rape
braving to bear life to the weak

In my own life, I see how
God is like a mother’s womb
shaping my name and my ability to live
pushing me through the canal to be an agent of life

Finally and foremost, I believe that
God is like a mother’s womb
protecting jealously all of God’s children and
loving life above all pain.

(You can also read this poem within a longer post -- entitled "Statement of Faith" -- on my blog in July 2008.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Taffy Pull

Sweet and Divine Candymaker,
Stretch me out
and twist me around;
Knead me to pliable softness
with the warmth of your hands
Until I see life differently.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Primordial Mud (Matthew 6:25-34)

Worried? Run your fingers through the dark, stank mud. I grew the plants that formed that mud with the sun's rays and the cooling rains. I will be there when this summer's grasses wither and fade into the bay waters. Can you add a day to the life of the grass? Can you deepen the layers of ancient earth? Ah, but touch the mud and feel the life of thousands of years...and be at peace.

Anxious? Rake the wet sand with your toes and feel the ocean water seep up under your feet. I remember the oysters and clams and crabs that lived in the depths before their shells rolled in the waves and became the grains on which you stand. I know the turn of the tides and the movement of the coastlines. Let your fears wash out with the waves and ground yourself in the sifting sands.

Tired? Watch the snowy egret standing patiently in the water. Consider how it rises with broad strokes of its wings and settles, gently, only a few yards away. When did you last take your time, look carefully, sit still, move calmly, like the egret? Its meal will be found, its roost will be taken, and when its time ends, the egret too will be part of the primordial mud that nurtures the grass and feeds the crab.

So find your solace in the Maker of Mud. Tell your worries to the Storyteller of Oceans. Sleep and work and live under the same Eye that keeps watch over the egret. Let today be enough for today. Let God be enough for all times.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Lover

I invite you to let your mind and spirit rest, and listen for the voice of God reaching out to you through the voice of the Lover, the Shulammite, in Song of Songs. If you were sitting in the pews at Grace Church on Sunday, I would've invited you to close your eyes to let God's words of love sink in; for the blog, I encourage you to keep your eyes open but step away from nearby distractions so that your soul can be still to hear God singing to you with deep love:

How beautiful you are, my darling, my desire, my dream!
How incredible it is to know you!
I think about you each night when the sun sets;
like an anxious mother or like one who is captivated by love,
I stay awake to watch you sleep.
And when dawn comes, I want every ray of light
and the full spectrum of bursting colors
to reflect my love for you.

How beautiful you are, my friend, my companion, my soul's satisfaction!
How I pray over you and whisper blessings for you each day!
When your steps take you away from me,
I would move mountains to bring you near again!
I would build new roads if you would take them;
I would send messengers and flowers and exquisite gifts
if those things would endear you to me.

Oh! How anxious and impatient I am!
I am like a teenager in love -- every thought is overwhelmed with you
and I cannot wait to see you.
I burn quickly with rage with you jilt me,
and I am tired of the ways in which you keep me on the side:
set on the shelf as decor or a household idol,
or worse, draped over your elbow like eye candy
meant to impress, not to love.

The very stars fade before my anger when your mouth says "love"
but your actions in the world say "indifference" and even "hate."
If I were a steak knife, I would carve my heart
away from its attachment to yours;
if I were a surgeon, I would remove the cancer of narcissism
from within you and sew myself into you in its place,
so that my love would be your love,
so that I could hold you closer than any lover can hold you.

Then you smile at me, and I am swept away again.
I am yours, you are mine, we are intimately bound,
no matter the paths you take or the words you say.

How beautiful you are, my soul mate, my beloved, my spirit's reflection.
You are altogether beautiful!
You stole my heart at your first breath;
you are knit together like a work of art!
Your life, your adoration, your daily labor delights me!
I am fascinated to watch you work and play;
my spirit goes with you at each step
to inspire all that you do!

When your day has been long,
let my bosom be your pillow.
When life overwhelms you,
let my spirit be your peace.
When relationships strain and break,
let my heart break instead of yours so that you can rest.

If I were a knight in shining armor, I would take on the world
so that love could be perfected;
I would be ruthless against everything that diminishes life:
from the stress of dividing yourself to be everything for everyone
to the cruelties of hunger and war and rejection,
all that kills and starves and impedes life
as far as my eye can see.
Even now I am mounting up to wipe them out
so that the beauty of my love is not overshadowed
by the violence between brothers and sisters, or
the ugliness of fake & commercial glamour.

Come, my love. Do not be afraid. Let us love one another
without reservation, without disguise.
Eat this fruit, drink deeply of the clear-running stream,
lay peacefully in my garden
while I call the four winds to consecrate our love
and make us one
so that my love will be always in you;
and when the gods ask me about you, I will say to them simply,
"This is my beloved and this is my friend."

Burn my love like a wax seal on your heart;
tattoo my name on your arm
and know that my love for you will outlast the tattoo's ink;
my love will continue far beyond death.
The sun does not burn brighter,
the galaxies are not more expansive
than my passion for you
as I dwell within you.
No expense is too great,
no payment sufficient
to remove my love from you.

You are altogether beautiful, my darling, my desire, my dream!
Every cell in your body is a marvel,
every breath filling your lungs gives me the chills.
Make haste and come near to me!
We will love each other across mountains and in villages,
in the fields and through the vineyards.
We will go together to the ends of the earth,
even to the depths of the deepest of seas,
and my love will not leave you.

The time for singing has come!
The flowers are blooming,
the fruit trees are heavy with ripe fruits,
the air is full of fragrance like a new spring day.
This is our season -- this is my season to love you --
and I promise: it is a season that will not end.

Come with me, before I faint with love.
Abide with me -- live with me;
be my beloved and my delight. Let me live in you.
You will be mine; I will be yours.
Your beloved.
Always.