Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Blessing

With the rising sun
as with the rising new year:
may your faith be bright-eyed
with hope;
may your voice
be quick with song;
may your every breath
take in grace;
may your eyes see wonder,
your ears hear the trees whisper,
and your hands open wide
to convey welcome;
and may your load be light --
not because you are without cares,
but because you remember
that God is enough.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

These Days of Christmas

So Love has come,
no longer a heavenly concept
or ontological mystery
but a Life
of breath and flesh
showing that Love lived
is possible
in the fullest --
not nuanced or strategized,
not compromised or politicized,
but simply expressed
in touch
in bread
in questions
in fishing tales
in fellowship.
And in these days of Christmas,
the most basic question is
do we believe
that Love
lived, and
that Love
can be

Monday, December 26, 2011

Writing to God: Kids' Edition

I'm thrilled that the cover image of my upcoming book -- Writing to God: Kids' Edition -- is now posted on sites like Amazon! We're one step closer to the book's Spring 2012 release from Paraclete Press!

Of course I'm biased :) but Writing to God: Kids' Edition will be unique among children's prayer books, because it doesn't merely provide prayers for children to read or memorize; it engages and empowers children to find their own words for prayer using everyday experiences!

Check out the cover....

Saturday, December 24, 2011

At Last!

At last!
Like a sigh,
like a reconnection,
like the end of a work week,
like a moment of peace amidst a noisy household,
like a purple crocus breaking through the chilly spring ground,
like a child who has been waiting to open a present,
like a pregnant woman finally entering delivery... last!

At last
the waiting of Advent
is over, and
Christmas is finally here --
God is finally here!

All through Advent
we have been allowed
only peeks,
glimpses and signs,
just hints
of what will come
and of what could be.

At last
it is here!

God takes on flesh,
and the cry of an infant
gives us hope
that things will not always be
what they are now,
that life will not always be
what it is now.

At last,
a baby!

At last,

At last,
not holding back!

In a few days
we will ask ourselves,
"What next?"

In a few days
God will ask of us,
"What next?
What will you do,
how will you live
that I have not held back;
now that I am here
to oppose fear,
to offer hope?"

In a few days,
we'll start looking ahead again,
impatiently desiring
the next big thing,
restlessly longing
for a better fix of the world,
for a faster-acting Savior
who doesn't rely
on the limitations
of flesh
and goodwill.

But for tonight
what is a few days away
can wait.

Right now
we soak in
the peace.

Right now
we are satisfied
by this blessing.

Now, at last,
we believe
that Love comes,
that God permeates,
that the Holy Wild Boundless Light
draws us in like a child's smile.

Now, at last,
come alive.

Now, at last,
the long nights of watchfulness end
and we can let our guard down
to welcome God.

At last!

Friday, December 23, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

"Fear not!"
I am holding on to it.

"Fear not!"
I am resting with the satisfaction of it.

"Fear not!"
I am challenged, awestruck by it.

"Fear not!"
I am freed to sing it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

Infant Jesus,
Soften my eyes into a smile,
Lighten my spirit with your giggles,
Focus my heart on the joy
of holding you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

Are we there yet? Is it time yet? Do you think, O God, that we're fully prepared for the destination -- to receive you in our neighbors, to love our enemies with the same adoration with which we welcome a newborn, to carol unreservedly alongside the poor & homeless shepherds, to believe like children that goodness and love are enough to bring a miracle, to marvel at a familiar story that remains unfinished?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

Put on an extravagant spectacle, O Savior,
to disrupt our pallid routines.
Dance. Tease. Provoke.
Goad us with a parody
of our vain ambitions
and shallow truisms.
Like a searing comedian,
point us out to be stingy fools.
Name our asinine inconsistencies,
our disbeliefs and our contradictions.
Laugh that we have marveled at the cactus
when there are stunning flowers
about to bloom
in the desert.
By your birth, mock us
for the egos that we are
... and then rescue us, too.

Monday, December 19, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)


If, in fact, you are so brilliant,
why ever would you allow yourself
to be eclipsed?

If, in fact, You are so generously present,
why would you permit starvation
and isolation?

If, in fact, you know a better way,
why do you waste time
with wandering?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

Praise the LORD, all the earth!
Sharp-edged mountains
and blistering deserts,
plaintive seagull and
darting minnow.

Praise the LORD, all galaxies!
Uncharted stars and
guiding Gourd,
cosmic dust
and crashing comets.

Praise the LORD, all people!
From skyscraper rooftops
and street corners,
in solo and
resounding chorus.

Praise the LORD,
oh praise the LORD!

Friday, December 16, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

I pray for light (Light!)
to sustain me today

with flickers of warmth
and laughter

with the steady glow of love
and friendship

with the bright joy of

with the still-burning hope
of compassion.

I give thanks for light (Light!)
that encourages me onward

with gleams that illuminate
the purpose

and shadows that obscure
the details

with playful shimmers
that tease my uncertainty

and glares of the holy
that compel me to peace.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

For health and strength and daily bread,
For breath and for the paths we tread,

For love which keeps our hearts exposed,
For scars and dreams that make us grow,

For sunset's fire and ocean's storm,
For starry nights and blankets warm,

For stories, for hope, for morning dew,
We give you thanks, O LORD.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

I'm imagining you in an E.T. moment, dear God: with an outstretched finger lighting up to touch each one of us with love and healing. Please be like E.T. today.

Monday, December 12, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

to find God not absent
but within

to appreciate God in silence
despite the noise

to pulse with God's peace
in my core

to savor God's fullness
and mine

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Joy: All Decked Out

Let God whisper it in your soul.

Not happiness,
not that moment of elation when things come together
or that gleeful feeling like when you're about to dive into dessert.
Not happiness...

Not thrill,
not that rush of hype that is always temporary
like the thrill of a roller caster that takes you high before falling.
Not thrill...

Not pleasure,
not that feel-good that excites our senses
and leaves us craving more and more and more.
Not pleasure.


Joy: the exultation of a sunrise, glowing pink through the fog.

Joy: the soul-satisfying assurance of love from a friend, from a lover, from family.

Joy: the confidence of faith that no one and no thing can take God's presence from you -- not death or life, not slander or condemnation, nothing in the heavens and nothing in hell, no power or ruler, nothing in all creation can take God from you.

Mary -- pregnant, unwed, teenage Mary -- claims joy
not because her own circumstances are so spectacularly happy,
but because she believes that her pregnancy is holy evidence
that God is still struggling to relieve the hungry and powerless,
that God hasn't forgotten those who cry out for a savior.

She sings: "God has done great things for me,
and great things for all people.
God has shattered the proud and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things
and remembered his mercy.
And God will do it again."

Isaiah -- persevering, disillusioned Isaiah -- proclaims joy
to a depressed people home from exile only to meet more hardship,
proclaims joy and faith and hopefulness in God for the brokenhearted,
announces that joy will be like a bright garland or a flower lei
placed around the necks of the devastated and the weary.

Isaiah says, "Like a bride adorns herself with jewels,
like royalty all decked out in robes,
I will give those who mourn a fresh garland instead of ashes,
the sweetest perfume to dispel the stench of destruction,
bright clothes for the holy days even though the temple isn't rebuilt."

Joy is the confidence of faith that no one and no situation can take God's presence from you: not teenage pregnancy, not exile and displacement, not dishonor, not seasons of death, not fears of money or loss of power. Joy is the confidence that God is still working, that God is still struggling to relieve and to save and to heal.

Let God sing it in your soul.

Let God drape joy around your neck like a sparkling necklace that you can't afford. Let God drape joy on your door like a fresh evergreen wreath that shows beauty and life even in the dead season of winter. Let God drape joy on your shoulders like a brand new winter coat that isn't faded or patched or hand-me-down.

Let God show us joy like bright colorful lights sparkling across a world that has filled us with cynicism. Let God instill us with joy like the sweetest hot chocolate warming our stomachs (except it doesn't disrupt our sugar levels or get cold after sitting for too long). Let God show us joy that is so far beyond holiday happiness or the thrill of presents or the waning pleasure of hearing tinny Christmas music at the mall.

Let God show us joy and get us all decked out with faith to comprehend:
a garland of flowers amidst a pile of ashes,
a celebrated birth amidst uncertain times,
a song and a dance amidst sorrow and mourning,
glad confidence amidst holy mystery,
exuberance amidst doubt,
joy at all times.

Joy: because God's presence is unfailing.

Joy: because God's working is ongoing.

Joy: at all times!


12/11/2011 sermon preached at Grace United Church of Christ, based on Luke 1:47-55 and Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

A commissioning (based on Psalm 119:171-175), for this night and
for the upcoming week and throughout our Advent waiting:

Let your voice be full of God's peace.
Let your tongue sing with God's praise.

Cling close to God, whose hand
is always ready to help and steady you.

Delight in God's ways, and
let God's goodness be your satisfaction.

Live with the grace of God,
the love of Jesus, and
the courage of the Spirit.

Friday, December 9, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

As I crawl into bed and close my eyes,
let my spirit reflect:
"This day was enough.
Each moment, each interaction
is done. God was there
and God is here.
More than enough!"

As I rise in the morning to a new day,
let my spirit rejoice:
"This day is enough!
It is a gift, whatever it may hold.
And God will be there
as God is here.
More than enough!"

Thursday, December 8, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

Soft Light, Holy Light,
be bright enough
for these worrisome days
when humanity is devalued
and deaths scoffed in public.

Quiet Light, Holy Light,
be bright enough
for these uncertain times
when power parades unmasked
and poverty is derided as personal sin.

Pulsing Light, Holy Light,
be bright enough
to ignite the fires of prophets,
to swell an outpouring of compassion
and radiate hope in this long sobering night.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me ... to provide for those who mourn, to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. (Isaiah 61:1-3, adapted)

Come, much-needed God.

Adorn the shoulders of your weary people with garlands of joy.

Drape a lei of compassion around the necks of the impoverished and the poor in spirit.

Gift bright festive clothing to those overlooked and bullied.

Bejewel the weary and crown the exiled with gems of courage and pearls of holy hope.

Come, much-needed God. Be lavish in bestowing joy!

Monday, December 5, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

At night comes the haunting, a ringing of silence, a depth that the daylight does not understand: the intersection of terrible fear and wild possibility: the faint gleam of stars in absence of the sun: a space for dissonance otherwise unimagined and disallowed: the soul at peace conflicting with the restless heart. At night comes the haunting, the dream and the nightmare both: that is, the Holy.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

Ah, sweet Joy!
You have blessed me with breath today.

Ah, sweet Joy!
You have called me to labor today.

Ah, sweet Joy!
You have made me laugh and dance today.

Ah, sweet Joy!
You have whispered "There is more" to my heart today.

Ah, sweet and beautiful Joy!
You have wrapped me with love and dear ones today.

Ah, sweet Joy!
I will rejoice and show you a grateful spirit today.

Friday, December 2, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

Listen. Sssshh.

Peace be with you
like the sun warming your face,
like a soft teddy bear in your arms for comfort,
like the sight of a blue heron standing still along a creek.

Do you hear God's whisper?

Peace in your tossing & turning.
Now turn, in your turning, toward me
like Orion ever turning toward Taurus in the sky,
like a cat returning to a fireplace hearth for warmth.

Hear God speaking peace to all people.


Based on Psalm 85:8.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

A prayer between us, and just for you:

Peace to you. God's peace,
for the living of each day and
the striving of each relationship.
Peace. May you know God within you.
Peace; may I acknowledge the same.
And where there is any pain,
around or betwixt or within,
may there be healing --
the healing through peace that begins
deep in the mystery of our cells
that exist, suspended,
in unseen relationship
with one another.
Peace to you, my friend,
within and echoing beyond
our colliding little universes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

Unburden my soul,
float it up as high
as today's blue sky;
not for the sake of
my own reprieve,
but so my praise
may ring out
and unfettered.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

Ugh. I just can't get there today, God. So I will pray that you are waiting for me just as much as I'm waiting for you.

Monday, November 28, 2011

While We Wait (Praying through Advent)

I woke up in the house of God,
grays fading and pinks blazing
as the sun welcomed me into
a new day within God's sanctuary.
How can I be any less than satisfied
and grateful to be, and to be here?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hope: Even When The Sun Fades

Hope means having faith in something you cannot see.

Hope means believing even when you don't have reason to believe.

Hope means waiting for a change.

Hope means holding on, even when the sun is darkened and the stars fall from heaven.

Many of us understand the kind of hope that we feel when a sliver of sunlight breaks through the clouds on a cold rainy day. We know how to have hope even when the sun doesn't peak through the rain clouds because we've learned that the sun is still up there; we know that we will feel its warmth eventually. We hope in it, even though we cannot see it.

Most of us understand the kind of hope that it takes to endure winter until spring comes. We hold onto the hope that the sycamore and maple and oak trees are just sleeping, that the daffodil and iris bulbs are simply hibernating in the frozen earth, and that they will each share their colors again next season. We remember how the days grew longer last year as winter melted into spring, and we trust that it will happen again this year. Even for those who love the snow and ice, who marvel to see frost patterns on a window pane, there is still the knowledge that the earth will again feel the sun's warmth and spring will come.

Many of us understand and have experienced that kind of hope.

But the hope of Advent is not so simple or predictable. The hope of Advent dares to claim something much more impossible.

You see, our hope that the sun will shine after the rain, our hope that spring will bloom after the cold winter, even our hopes for social and economic injustice, are based upon our trust that systems balance themselves out. We trust that the system of weather patterns and moisture and air pressure will produce sunlight after rain. We believe that the system of earth's rotation and its orbit around the sun will reliably bring our hemisphere closer to the sun again. We hope that an unseen social system of human attitudes will balance itself toward justice after it has tipped to the extreme.

We hope because we recognize the patterns within familiar systems.

But the hope of Advent does not rely on patterns or predictability or the balancing of systems.

The hope of Advent holds onto God, believes in God's goodness, not just through rain or winter or injustice, but even when the rain never ends, even if spring never comes, even when the balance of justice doesn't return. Advent hope holds onto God even when the systems and familiar patterns that we rely on, that we so often place our hope in, fail.

So even when the sun fades and the moon fails to rise, Advent says "Have hope." Even when Orion's Belt falls from the heavens and the Pleiades -- the Seven Sisters of the sky -- part ways from one another. Even when the familiar balances between day and night, winter and spring, cease to exist because the planetary beings themselves fall out of orbit and die away. Even when the systems that we trust to keep power in check -- laws and ethics and reason and human decency -- fade like the sun and injustice seems to have no counterbalance to offer a glimmer of light.

Even then, Advent says "Have hope."

Even then Jesus says, "The truth and goodness of God will not fail."

Advent hope believes that God can make a new day dawn, not just in the morning hours when we expect it, but even in the middle of the night: like a sunrise suddenly, unexpectedly, bursting onto the eastern horizon at 1:00am just as the raccoons are scouring for food, just as the owl is rushing down upon its unsuspecting prey, just as an infant is crying out for a middle-of-the-night feeding, just as the world has settled into its nighttime patterns.

Advent hope holds on to God making the most unexpected, possible -- like a sunrise in the dead of night -- breaking the norms and patterns and systems in which we otherwise place our hope. Advent hope claims that it is precisely when the world is falling apart, precisely the moment when we cry out "All hope is lost!" that our hopes are fulfilled because then the way has been cleared for God to do a new thing.

Let us abandon our hope in this world's systems and settle into a wild Advent hope, so that God is released to do the unexpected among us!

Come, O Savior Jesus. Come and be among us, because your people are crying out that they have lost hope. The usual systems that we trust, the familiar gods that we worship, have failed us. Let your face shine like the bright sun rising unexpected in the middle of a dark night, and save us. You have shaken us loose from our comforts. Now restore our hope in the unexpected. Amen.

11/27/11 sermon based on Psalm 80:1-4, 17-19 and Mark 13:24-33; preached at Grace UCC.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Psalm 23 Remix

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
he reminds me that the piles of smelly crap
are a natural part of the rolling fields.
He teaches me to satisfy my thirst in
flowing streams, not stagnant puddles.

The LORD is my BlackBerry, I have everything I need.
It guides me through my days and provides focus;
it connects me to others even when I am alone.

The LORD is my soccer mom, I am content.
Even when I am exhausted and injured,
even though my opponent boasts and jeers,
my soccer mom treats me to ice cream.
She reminds me that I am good
and that I am loved.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life; and
I will dwell in the house
of the LORD forever.

Friday, November 18, 2011


"Blessed" is my statement of faith
and "Blessed" is my thanksgiving.

Blessed by the mystery when God is hidden
and blessed to be ever within God's sight.

Blessed to walk this twisting path
and blessed to fall upon the Rock.

Blessed to wait for the Spirit
and blessed in the seeking.

Blessed to be hungry for God
and blessed to be sustained.

Blessed for the 2am fear and longing,
and blessed in the morn's dawning.

Ah, holy God, bless my wrestling and my resting;
multiply my faith and my thanksgiving
so that you too are blessed.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


If and when we ourselves can ever cease to consume every moment, every person, every event, every experience for ourselves, God can prevail in us.

(from Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light by Joan Chittister)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Usually I ask you to fill me up,
to pour over me,
to satisfy my thirst
saturate my spirit,
to infiltrate and permeate my life,
to top off my cup
and run over.
But these days I'm already full.
Way too full.
Maxed out,
gorged even,
topped off
with so much
of my own stuff that
-- even when I come to you --
there isn't room.
Drain me.
Empty me.
Break the dams.
Clear me out of myself.
Rend wide open a holy void
(and while you're working
on emptying me,
probably add
a good scolding
for how I keep
holding onto crap
that isn't you
and isn't really me either).
I sooo need you, but
there hasn't been room.
Clear out the fullness.
Make room
for you.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Across The Water

Let the storm be stilled of all its raging
so my praise might echo clearly across the water.

For God has guided me thus far;
God's love and grace have been unfailing.
When the waves mounted impossibly,
the LORD of Life did not let me drown.
Every time the wind drove me in new directions,
the God of the sparrow did not lose track of me.

Let the storm be stilled of all its raging
so my praise might echo clearly across the water.

For God commanded the chaos to yield a harvest
and called the depths to reveal their hidden beauty.
No matter the tempest's threats of violence,
no matter the wild spinning of the compass,
God's Spirit whispered -- "Peace, peace" --
and there was my haven, right there.

Let the storm be stilled of all its raging
so my praise might echo clearly across the water.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Saints Day

I give Thee thanks
for saints and souls.
Let my tears be accompanied
by a chorus of Hallelujahs.

For saints and souls
like the man with white hair, a farm,
and a joyful banjo
who left a legacy of faith;

for saints and souls
like the woman with healing hands
and a gentle mothering spirit
who showed extravagant caring;

for saints and souls
like the wisecracking salesman
and his hardworking love
whose heart overflowed to each generation;

for saints and souls
like the blues man of God
and his brilliance
who demonstrated holy wrestling.

I give Thee thanks
for saints and souls.
Let my tears be accompanied
by a chorus of Hallelujahs.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


God, meet me now like a star in the bareness and chill of the deepening night -- an unfaltering, uncompromising beacon -- so that I gasp at the beauty and no longer weep over the darkness.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Autumn Invitation

Come: laugh, twirl, be silly with delight
over the downward spiral
of the maple's helicopters.
Rejoice in this!
Be in this moment with Me!

Come: stare, linger, even pull over
to step out of your car and awe
at the glimpses of red on a gliding hawk's tail.
Rejoice in this!
Get giddy in this moment with Me!

Come: sit, snuggle in, put your feet up
as the sun sets early; give the light's end
a moment of silence, a sigh of reflection.
Rejoice in this!
Be satisfied in this moment with Me!

Today's prayer-writing prompt comes from 1 Peter 1:6, with an introduction from verse 3: "By God's great mercy, God has given us a new birth into a living hope. Rejoice in this, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials." (NRSV, adapted) Rejoice in this! What gives you joy? What makes you smile and reminds you to hope? What causes you to pause, take a deep breath, and stretch out from your stress? How do these joys reflect/reveal God to you? In your written prayer, share your joys with God!

For more prayer-writing prompts, go to and sign up for weekly prompts on the "Contact" page.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011


It's a long path,
with bends out of sight
and dense fog on most days,
so I concentrate on my steps
and on knowing You within them.

a lightness,
a slower pace,
a reflection of the satisfied joy
that makes the trees burst with color;
and You:
the unencumbered Air,
the Pause for awareness,
the Smile and wild Ecstasy
in the simple ordinariness of autumn.

a driving rush,
a distraction of time,
a reaching toward the day's end
even before I fully enter its beginning;
and You:
the Impatient,
the full Moment in every minute,
the Birthing Mother frustrated by labor
and eager for the arrival, the completion.

Some days:
a weariness,
a stressed heavy pace,
a sadness over paths not taken
with all of their imagined possibilities;
and You:
the Stillness of rest,
the Well of a world's tears,
the Only One containing all knowledge
of what may be and what may never be.

It's a long path,
with bends out of sight
and dense fog on most days,
so I concentrate on my steps
and on knowing You within them.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Real Challenge of Philemon

Paul's letter to Philemon is a small little letter with a long and troubled history. From the latter days of the Roman Empire through 19th-century America, the letter to Philemon was interpreted by pro-slavery proponents as Paul's intercession to convince a slave master named Philemon to forgive his runaway slave named Onesimus. For centuries, that was the prevalent interpretation and application of this letter (and it's not the only letter by Paul that's been used to do some damage; Paul's writings have been/are used to support anti-gay, anti-woman, patriarchal, pro-slavery, etc. opinions within the Church).

That said, it's far more accurate to understand Philemon and Onesimus to be brothers -- actual siblings, perhaps, and "brothers in faith" within the same church community at the very least. The context for Paul's letter is a disagreement between the brothers over a debt that Onesimus may or may not owe Philemon, but so long as the two are fighting the whole church community that meets in Philemon's home is negatively affected and even stalled in its work.

The simplified message of Paul's letter, rewritten in a mother's tone of voice, is this: "I love you, but I don't care who started it. You need to behave. And I can come over there and make you behave, or you can act your age and choose how you're going to behave toward your brother. Say you're sorry. Now drop it, and go do what you're supposed to do, because people are staring."

Paul writes to Philemon not so much to promote forgiveness between the two brothers, but to wake them up to the fact that their argument is impacting the whole church. It's Paul's goal to compel them to reconcile for the sake of everyone else. ("If the two of you want to argue one-on-one, fine, take it outside. But since we rarely keep our arguments just between us and we pull others into it, for the sake of everyone else -- figure it out!") In fact, it's so important for this to be fixed that Paul is willing to personally pay for whatever debt they are arguing over.

Because it's not just the argument between the brothers that's getting in the way of the church being able to do ministry and be community, it's also the brothers' attitude that's preventing peace in the community. Whatever happened between Onesimus and Philemon, whatever debt was incurred, when the whole thing first unfolded, Philemon must have wiped his hands and said, "I have no use for my brother if he's gonna be like this" ... and Onesimus must have walked away saying, "I don't need him if he has no use for me" ... and both brothers copped an attitude: "Since we disagree, I don't need you!"

And how can there be community when one person deems someone else useless or unimportant or irrelevant, and refuses to behave toward that person as a brother or sister?

See, we may think that Philemon is an obscure little letter buried in the middle of the New Testament, but in fact it packs one of the hardest punches of all the letters. This isn't a letter about theology or right belief; it lacks any of Paul's usual long-winded discussions about the meaning of crucifixion or salvation, or about being wise against false teachers, or about moral living as the Body of Christ. But it's the most challenging letter because at the core of the Letter to Philemon is this most practical, most difficult question: how much are we willing to prioritize the community over ourselves?

Paul values the community so much that he is willing to pay off someone else's debt from his own accounts ... because if there is a debt between the brothers, then it needs to be paid; you can't just gloss over a wrongdoing. Onesimus can't just say to Philemon, "Dude, I'm sorry, please ignore the fact that I owe you money or that I injured you." Just like Philemon can't say to Onesimus, "I'm sorry, let's just forget that I dismissed you and demeaned you behind your back." In genuine communities, we say when we are wrong and we work to make it right even when it's hard work. That's prioritizing the community over ourselves. Philemon and Onesimus, assuming they heed Paul's letter, are willing to learn how to work together again after so many years of holding a grudge and discounting each other.

What are you willing to do, what are we willing to do for the sake of the community? How much are we willing to prioritize the community over ourselves, our own opinions, our own fears, our own agendas?

And pick which community you might apply that to: our global community, your neighborhood community, the church community, a family community. Where there is disagreement, where there is wrongdoing, where there is estrangement, where there is devaluing, are we willing to say what our part has been as an act of reconciliation? Are we willing to confess that we have not behaved as siblings who treasure one another? Are we able to listen to those who say we have been hurtful to the community? Are we willing even to be like Paul, who waded into a mess that wasn't his own and wasn't his doing but he made it right at his own expense?

As I sit with Philemon, I'm aware of my own cynicism and hesitation at times to extend extraordinary effort for the sake of the community -- especially (for me) our national community. I wonder why I might add my voice to the political mess when I'm increasingly convinced that one has to have thousands or millions of dollars to be heard. A little closer to home, I hear my kids expressing their doubts that "sibling community" should ever be prioritized over the "individual" .... my daughter thinks that my son always wins because he's older, my son thinks that he's held to higher standards of behavior than his sister because she's younger ... and they're both right, and probably Philemon and Onesimus had similar sibling issues that snowballed into this grudge between them.

If we laid it out honestly, we could all name our excuses for why we let our interpersonal disagreements drag down our whole community or our whole family; reasons why our opinion of right & wrong are important to hold onto rather than letting them go in pursuit of genuine community. Because why value community, why sacrifice for community, why work hard for the community, why hold on through the disagreements if the verdict isn't going to go our way? If our perspective isn't guaranteed to be affirmed by the whole group? If our needs and wants might become secondary? Who would bother prioritizing the community over themselves?

The name Onesimus means beneficial, and Paul writes to Philemon, "You didn't think Onesimus was useful, but in fact he's beneficial to you and he's beneficial to me." We are not, any of us, beneficial to ourselves. We are only beneficial in community. So none of us can say, "I can do without you. I can do without you."

And more than that: It's not just that Paul says to Philemon and Onesimus, "Hey guys, you have to hang in there together to preserve the community." No, the stakes are higher than that. Paul says, "You have to reconcile, you have to right the wrong, you have to swallow your pride if the community is going to get any good work done or do any good dreaming together about God's vision for the community."

The good news in the Letter of Philemon is Paul's confidence that the two brothers can, in fact, reconcile and revitalize their family community. Again, if we give Paul a mother's tone of voice: "I love you both equally, and I know that you can do this. But no more excuses. (And by the way, I'm coming to visit so clean your room.)"

You remember that song, "They'll Know We are Christians by Our Love"? This is what we say makes us distinctive as Christians, as a church community: that we love each other...and not only that we love each other, but that we work it out when it is hard. That we prioritize the community, even (and especially) when it is hard.

No fancy language. No long-winded theology. Just the call to work it out alongside Philemon and Onesimus, because this is what God expects of us.


Sermon preached at Grace United Church of Christ, 10/9/11.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


You are cutting me apart
in merciless love,
branch and limb severed
where I am bearing no fruit.
Apparently you have deemed it necessary
that I lose my balance for a while,
commanding, "Here,
try it this way."

Friday, September 30, 2011

Growing Pains

I don't know, God.
This is craziness,
this life into which
you've called me,
these continual twists & turns
through which you rebirth me.
I'm uncertain
about what it all is,
about how I'm doing
...and I'm still processing
life from three "contractions" ago,
still growing into myself in this space.
Good Lord! (I mean that in both senses.)
Should I pray to
catch up with you
in this birth experience,
or pray for peace in knowing
that you're ahead of me in the curves
beckoning through each twist and change?

Monday, September 26, 2011

God's Grace Will Outlast This Trouble (Rejoice Always)

Paul's letter to the church in Philippi is a caring "How are you?" written on paper and sent via messenger to this women-led community of faith that he is clearly so fond of. If you haven't read the whole of Philippians recently, here is the one paragraph summary of Paul's message:

"Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for worrying about me while I'm in prison. Please keep being the best church community that you can be. Trust that God is at work through you. Remember that life wasn't given to you to be easy, but also know that God is in the struggle. Understand that there are those who want to use the name of Jesus for their own gain, so be careful. Support the women who lead you, Euodia and Syntyche. Don't be discouraged; let the peace of God settle into your hearts."

Or, an even shorter summary: "How are you? I'm okay, despite everything. Are you okay? Are you taking care of each other and finding strength in your faith?"

From what we read in Paul's letter, the Philippian church doesn't appear to be experiencing a particularly aggravating internal struggle or any external persecution. Paul writes as a friend and mentor checking in on the community, just knowing from his own life experiences that sometimes life adds up and builds up to the point of boiling over...and when it does, it helps to hear a friend say, "You'll be okay, don't panic. God is here, and God's grace will outlast this trouble."

What do you need to hear, what do friends say to you when life hits saturation point? What would it take (what does it take) for you to not panic when life knocks the wind out of you? What would it take, what would you need to know to hold on to just a sliver of breathing room so that you don't feel constantly maxed out and stretched thin by life?

We could probably rattle off a list of devices and programs that are sold with the promise of improving our journey through life. We could make a long list of our own vices for coping when life presses down harder than we think we can stand. There are whole philosophies about happiness and balance. I know that a number of us learn from meditation practices and we just try to remember to breathe through the moments as they come.

Paul's response to life's pressures is "Rejoice always."

And I don't know what you think of Paul -- I'm generally not his biggest fan -- but most definitely Paul is not being glib or theoretical or cliche when he writes this, because Paul has been through some stuff! I give Paul plenty of room to be angry with God for the fact that he's in prison (again!) for talking about Jesus. I wouldn't fault him if he decided to take a hiatus from faith and ministry when I remember that, on his first trip to Philippi, Paul was arrested with Timothy for intervening to heal a slave girl; they were stripped down in the public square, beaten and whipped, and thrown in jail...which isn't a bad time in one's life to cry out, "What is up with this, God?! Where are you in all of this?" So we can trust that Paul is not being flippant when he encourages the church to rejoice always.

Still it's a daring thing to say -- "Rejoice always" .... and it's a difficult thing to hear -- "Rejoice always? I don't think so, no thank you, not today."

But here's what I think Paul knows:

When I asked earlier, "What do you need to hold on to just a sliver of breathing room so that you don't feel constantly maxed out and stretched thin by life?"....we see in the letter to the Philippians that Paul holds on to the people who care for him and encourage him, and he is reminded through their care and through their stories of growth that God isn't done.

What I asked, "What would it take for you to not panic when life knocks the wind out of you?"....for Paul, it takes knowing that God outlasts jail and God outlasts any circumstances that might temporarily bind or limit him.

I asked, "What do you need to hear when life hits saturation point?" .... When Paul's life is saturated with troubles, he repeats to himself, "This world doesn't own me. The people who are making my life hell do not own me. My citizenship, my life belong to God who can transform all things. And transformation might come today, transformation might come tomorrow, transformation might not come until after my lifetime, but God is transformative so I am at peace."

Rejoice always, rejoice!

Rejoice -- not because it's easy but because it's true.

Rejoice -- not because you're carefree but because God is caring.

Rejoice -- because there are people walking beside you, carrying God's Spirit beside you.

Rejoice -- because you don't know, you don't know how this one's gonna play out, which means that there's plenty of room for God to create a different, a transformative ending.

Rejoice always. Again, I will say, Rejoice! The Lord is near, and God's grace will outlast this trouble.


Friday, September 23, 2011

In any case...

Ah, God, if only I could find some peace,
I swear then I would pass it on to others.

If only I could catch my breath, then for sure
I'd be more present for a neighbor, a friend.

If you'd just give me a respite first,
then I promise I'd give more, love more.

. . . No?

Is that the answer I'm perceiving
as life continues at full throttle and maximum strain?

Or am I missing your inflection of the vowel,
carried on a Spirit's whisper?

In fact, did you say "Now"?

As in, "Yes you need peace . . .
now share peace and grace with others."

As in, "Yes you must pause to catch My Breath
. . . now listen, as you pause, to those around you."

And "Yes, I am your rest, now with this rest
you have more loving to give, more giving for love."

Not "No."


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Meditating on Beauty

Perhaps the true beauty of the trees
is their willingness to obey your seasons,
to bloom & thrive for a time,
to rest & sleep for a time.
Meanwhile I scramble for time,
believe that I can manipulate it,
pretend that my body and spirit
do not need respite or rejuvenation.
For my failure to see beauty within
the movement of time, forgive me.

Perhaps the ocean captivates me because
its faithfulness to your rhythm is relentless;
storm and sand cannot distract
the ocean from your tempo.
Meanwhile I build sandcastles with moats
against even the hint of a dark cloud,
and I stubbornly dig in my heels
against the push and pull of tides.
For turning a deaf ear to the beauty
of your musical rhythms, forgive me.

Perhaps the marigold plant is resplendent
because every flower is enough,
no matter its shade of orange
or its multitude of petals.
Meanwhile I am restless and unsatisfied,
certain that I could do better
that I could be better
that i could do and be more.
For lacking trust in your incarnate beauty
within all of life, forgive me.

A prayer-writing prompt for you: "On the beauty of your holiness and on your wonderful works, I will meditate" (Psalm 145:5). In your written prayer, praise God for the beauty of an object, an interaction, a moment that caused you to catch your breath and offered a glimpse of God's beauty to you.

If you would like to receive a prayer-writing prompt each Friday in your email, go to and sign up on the
Contact page.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Writing to God" on God Complex Radio

Check it out! My interview with Carol Howard Merritt and Landon Whitsitt, about Writing to God: 40 Days of Praying with My Pen.

Monday, September 12, 2011


It feels like a luxury
to remember
that You are in this day
long before my toes
stretch off the bed
to touch the carpet;
an indulgence
that means
I don't have to
charge into this day
to create it --
You already have!
(Thank goodness.)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Religion's Demons (James 1:27)

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (James 1:27)

To care for orphans and widows in their distress...
...or to blame the hungry and red-tape food stamps.

To love neighbors as we love ourselves...
...or to harbor suspicions of the "other" and tell lies about fairness.

To be generous to the stranger and the worker...
...or to wield money and power in defense of "ours".

Ah, God, how you must judge us -- and rightly so -- for our contortions of religion and our abuses of faith. Religion is naught but a weapon in the politicking for power, a language for other-ing and one-upping, a self-righteous reason not to care or understand. Not even the "spiritual but not religious" can pass your judgment; their worship of individualism and personal epiphany reveals just another form of ego-driven religion. Surely you have thrown up your hands over religion and given us up to our mockeries of faith...

...and yet I love religion dearly. Ack, what a quandary within me! I love religion's pursuit of understanding the divine (when it remembers to pursue rather than indoctrinate). I love its questions of mortal purpose and meaning, and its challenge to be defined by the Other. And I love its calling to community (although too often we never get past the calling to the embodying).

Do not abandon religion, please God, even though it has abandoned you. Instead, shake every foundation upon which we have built religious laws and idols. Disrupt our assumptions of one another; even more, disrupt our assumptions of the Holy. Tear down our Tower of Babel, stone by stone, until politicians have no religious rhetoric to shroud their lies; until phrases of faith are no longer code for hatred; until scriptures cannot be manipulated into documents for war. Indeed, strike us altogether mute about faith, so that our religious convictions can only be understood by our actions -- for better or worse -- and our gods are revealed by our deeds to be the demons they truly are.

If you would like to receive prayer-writing prompts via email every week (like the prompt that inspired this prayer), go to and fill out the contact form.

Monday, August 29, 2011


You: My Life

You: My Breath

You: My Goal

You: My Death

You: My Core

and You: My Success

Friday, August 19, 2011

Psalm 88

Agh! God, I am so desperate for your healing
that there is a knot of tension in my stomach
and I toss & turn through the entire night.
You are the source of my soul's troubling:
this terrible absence, this duration of silence
in which you have abandoned me
to my own frantically-whirling thoughts;
you have left me to fend for myself
against waves of sorrow and despair.
Where are you now
that I cannot find you?
Have you walked away from the
cemeteries lined with mourners?
Are you neglecting the arid fields and
the ones who eked their living there?
Is it no longer your holy habit to
sit beside the sick and struggling
or to hold a candle for those
who pray through the night when sleep flees?
It would be better for me not to know you at all
than to know your absence
or to suspect that you have discarded
your faithful ways.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bay Grasses (Psalm 90:4-6)

The tall bay grasses, with their roots
entwined around salt-water mussels
and their leaves parted for
the occasional white egret's nest,
silently mark their time
by the ocean's tides:
watermarks of highs and lows,
faded lines of flourishing and despairing,

evidence of being alternately
overwhelmed and exposed
every six hours.
I marvel at their life lines
and think that I cannot help but do the same:
to chart both past and future
by the joys and failures,
the deaths and births,
the lows and highs,
the holding fast and the letting go.
Have I told you, God, about
life's tides in this year alone?
About the five deaths in four months?
About unexpected new opportunities?
About laughing hard at a funeral, and
raging over a slowly-birthing joy?
Yet you, the One who is above all and beyond all,
you mark the time in a blink, like a dream,
while I struggle through these tides.
Perhaps I should not expect any more of life
than the grasses.

Remnants of long conversations with those
gifted in mindfulness and presence and being
whisper that I should let the highs and lows
simply be ....
but my brain and spirit clearly missed
those gifts from the start

(and the tides will still come
whether I am mindful or not),
so instead I will pray for mercy as I cling
through flourishing and failing,
withering and renewing;
as I cling through
life's marking of me.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Breathe on me, Breath of God

I breathe in search of you, praying for the Wind to stir the dry leaves of my spirit. I would settle for hearing them scratch against one another, any sign of Life in this otherwise dry & lifeless heat. Come, Wind, and dispel my stagnation, full of vain longings and dispassionate distractions. I am having trouble breathing, trouble being. I have stifled my breath in pain; I have taken to gasping shallowly out of caution. Whip around me until my breath quickens and my heart pounds with passion for living in you, for breathing deeply in you. Dare me to savor the fullness of sorrow and joy, love and despair. Keep me breathing through it all.

Today's prayer-writing prompt starts with a hymn, rather than a Bible verse, as its inspiration. If you would like to receive prompts to guide & inspire your own prayers, visit, send your email address through the "Contact" page, and get a new prayer-writing prompt in your email every Friday!

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Myth About Pastors

The myth about pastors, simply stated, is that we are helpers; that ours is a helping profession, counted alongside doctors and nurses and emergency responders and teachers and social workers.

Over and over again in my ministry, however, I am reminded that pastors are not helpers. We are not fixers or healers or solvers.
We do not, cannot, provide help. Which may sound shocking, because people often turn to pastors for help ... and pastors, in turn, like to think that they provide concrete help to others. But no, it is all a myth.

A story might add some explanation to my myth-busting:

This past week, my congregation loaned me out to the wider church to volunteer at our denominational outdoor camp. For seven days, my pastoral time and energy were focused on keeping an energetic group of 3rd - 6th graders safe as they climbed mountains & hiked streams & developed new friendships & peered closely at poison ivy, and on creating opportunities for them to connect the concept of God with the natural world around them.

At camp, falls and scrapes and bumps and bruises occur frequently. In my experiences with this particular age group, every fall or scrape or bump or bruise is inevitably a painful reminder to a young person that camp is not home. Last week, there was one camper in my group for whom a bumped toe prompted homesickness-related sleeping difficulties. "I can't fall asleep, are you sure that we shouldn't call the camp nurse to look at my toe, the ice pack isn't helping, I have to pee (1am), I have to pee (4am)." "It's okay, I can look at your foot again, I can walk with you down the path to the bathroom, let's wrap your toe in a Hello Kitty bandage."

But at the end of all that I could do for my camper and her toe at 4am, she still had to fall asleep in her bunk by herself. She still had to lie in her sleeping bag and navigate her own way through those dark-of-night moments of worry, the tears of homesickness, and the fears of that spider on the ceiling. I could not help her with those things. For all of the ways that I could talk and listen and keep her company and provide band-aids and emphasize that any deer wandering through camp would be more afraid of her than she was of it, ultimately she was alone with her thoughts. I could not get into her brain to help relieve the busy fears in her mind. I could not take every bug out of the cabin or add electricity to our small A-frame or make camp feel more like home so that she would feel more at ease during the night. She alone had to get herself to sleep.

I cannot help to mend or provide the tangible things of life, nor even help to resolve the emotional and spiritual wrestlings of life. I can be present; I cannot help.

The same truth plays out in my parish: I can sit and talk with a widow, but at the end of our conversation she will still return to a startlingly empty home; I cannot help to ease her heartache when she turns to tell her now-gone loved one a funny snippet about the day; I cannot help her find a new pattern for falling asleep without her spouse beside her. I can hear and affirm someone's hard questions of faith or their grappling reaches for God when those are shared with me over coffee or from a hospital bed, but I cannot hand out pre-packaged faith and I cannot help someone feel the Eternal Steadfast Rock beneath his feet if he is convinced that It is not there. I can visit a child or a grandparent in the hospital, but I cannot help their bodies feel better. I can say small words of compassion when people call my church looking for food, for rent assistance, for enough gas to drive to a new job, for new school clothes for their children; I cannot fix their finances or reassure their desperation, even though I am more truthful than they might know when I say "I understand."

But I cannot help.

All of this may be not be profound, I suspect. It may just seem that I am taking "help" too literally. Of course I cannot actually cause someone to fall asleep. Of course I cannot make someone believe in God or hold onto faith. Of course I cannot heal a body as a physician might. Of course the tangible forms of aid that I can offer are limited
. "That doesn't mean that pastors aren't helpers." I can hear the objections now.

Although sometimes I bemoan the limits of my usefulness, in fact I feel no need for guilt or self-flagellation or even encouraging responses of "You are a great helper!" In the best light, the clearing-away of this "pastor = helper" myth frees me to do the work of my actual calling:

I am a walker ... or rather, a walk-with-er.

My calling in ministry -- our calling in ministry as pastors -- is to walk with people, not to help them. To observe life together with them, not to fix it. To point out God moments (and Hell moments) along the journey, but not to be God. To witness to faith & love & Spirit in such a way that others feel emboldened in faith & love & Spirit, but not to claim the final authority or greatest insight on it all. To remind the community that we can do more (and here's the ironic, contradictory, counter-intuitive twist where we would otherwise buy into the helper myth) by making room for everyone's gifts to be used and included, not by burning every last iota of my own energy and gifts. To listen to the questions for which there are not answers, not to present an unshakable certainty about life and God.

We are walk-with-ers, walk-beside-ers. It is an enormous and humbling call. But it is not synonymous with being called to help others.

Perhaps it seems superfluous to try to dispel the helper myth. What's the harm, after all, of thinking that pastors can help people? Isn't it simply a nuancing of verbs?

The danger of churches continuing to believe (because many churches do believe) that their pastors are helpers is that congregations will rely solely on their pastors to do the work of community-building and pastoral care. It is the danger of congregations hoping in vain that the face of a new (and often young) pastor will alone resurrect a congregation. It is the danger of congregations requiring the pastor to single-handedly accomplish the healing of dysfunctions and of timid faith and of low attendance without any obligation or participation from the congregation.

The danger of pastors believing that they are helpers is that they/we will burn out from trying to help. That in our eagerness to be helpful to all people, we will forget our limitations. That we will neglect to invite the congregation to participate in its own ministry. That we will abuse our authority and overstep boundaries in our righteous (and self-righteous) certainty that we can provide help. That we will hurt our congregations in
our rush to save them, in our forgetfulness to walk with them.

I am at a loss for a grand conclusion, except to repeat again that the helper myth risks far more damage than good for pastors and congregations alike. At a recent ordination & installation service at which I presented the charge to both ordinand and congregation, I observed aloud that pastors are not Jesus; we are witnesses to what Jesus does. We are witnesses to people's lives and to the life of a congregation.
We are invitation-givers who call the entire body to do the work of following Christ. Sometimes we are the dreamers and leaders, but foremost we are the walk-beside-ers who observe the wild/wide range of life & faith in such a way that the community itself catches sight of the path and finds the compassion to lead one another on the journey.

I am a walk-with-er.

I am a pastor, not a helper.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Psalm 139:6

I wonder if you ever struggle for us, Holy Mystery, the way we struggle for you. Are we ever beyond comprehension to you, in our anxious counting of dollars or our oblique denial of interdependence? Do you wonder over us, with our frantic scurrying for daily life? I wonder if you long for us to find peace and faith as much as we do. Despite the hemming in behind and before, despite the intimate knowledge as deep as Sheol, there is an elusive distance between holy and human, between thee and we. Do you feel it too? We cannot escape you, yet we can turn from you. You cannot stop loving us, yet you can leave us to the whims of our distracted hearts. There are days when the distance of the mystery is a heart-breaking impasse. Somewhere in the struggling, I pray that we find each other.

If you would like to receive prayer-writing prompts via email every Friday (to write your own prayers like this one on Psalm 139:6), go to and fill out the contact form.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Visualizing Psalm 65

Praise is due to you, O God of all life,
and to you we commit ourselves
because you have been faithful in loving

You are there when injustice overwhelms us, an
you forgive us when we are part of the injustice.

Happy are those who stay close to you,
who walk in your ways throughout life.

Happy are those who are satisfied by you,
those who know peace without accumulating endlessly.

O Holy God -- Source of all healing and reconciliation --
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.

You are the hope of the mountain stream.
You are the hope of the Gulf of Mexico,
and the hope of the soaring hawk.

By your strength,
you drew the mountains skyward from the depths of the earth.
By our strength,
we whittle away at their stones and their beauty.

By your breath,
you calm and comfort the seas
into which our industries & our farms & our carelessness have bled.

By your wisdom,
you sooth the tumult of the peoples,
which we aggravate in our pursuit of prestige,
in our unrepentant and uncritical love of nation.

We are in awe of you,
O Eternal Trumpet who wakes the dawn,
O Holy Silence who calls the evening to sleep;
so in awe of you...

...except when we are more in awe of ourselves.

How infrequently are we satisfied!
How often are we restless with our insecurities!

Yet you make the soil rich
so that the fields of grain and the pastures of grass
are abundant for all, abundant for all, abundant for all...

...if we would not manipulate their abundance.

You water the earth
so that all can drink and wash and eat and irrigate
equally, equally, equally...

...if we would let all be equal.

The meadows and the valleys sing together for joy
and weep with longing for your intervention,
for you are the hope of all the ends of the earth.

You are the earth's richness and its reconciliation.
You know the way to the earth's healing;
you construct the gateways that open to paths of peace.

We repent of our lack of belief in peace.
We pray for hope to stir our souls.

With all the ends of the earth and with all the farthest seas,
we pray for hope. Amen.