Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lent 34

All the way my Savior leads me;
what have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt his faithful mercy
who through life has been my guide?
Heav'nly peace, divinest comfort
here by faith in him to dwell.
For I know, whate'er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well!

Hymn text by Fanny Crosby (1820-1915). Simply one of my favorites!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Lent 33

"Do not be afraid.
Do not give up.
Do not lose hope.

"Yes, it is scary.
Do not be afraid.
I am here with you.

"Yes, it is hard,
But it is not final.
I am Before and After.

"Yes, it is discouraging.
Have hope; the Dance continues.
I am the Dying Seed and the Blooming Promise."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lent 32

I'm out of whack today.
Whack? Wack?
Ugh ... probably both!
A little direction here, God?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lent 31

Help this oak tree of a soul, Living Spirit:
see where I am knotted and hunched,
where I am trimmed short by wounds,
how I have stretched out for the sun
yet again turned away from exposure;
know the hollowed out and dying places
also the deep yearning of my heart's roots.
Heal the woodenness that hinders self-grace.
Free my spirit to extend with unrestrained love!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lent 30

And now let me rest.
Let me have the grace
to be finished --
maybe not complete,
perhaps not quite enough
-- but ended for today.
Bless the setting sun and
bless this dying day.
Help me to let it be
done, to be as it was,
because it was
yours.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lent 29

Stewards of Change (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

During these weeks of Lent, we have been following the development of the covenant through the Old Testament. We've touched upon the major events and persons with whom God established and redefined a covenant:
  • starting with God's covenant with Noah, displayed in a rainbow, in which God promises to no longer be a warring god;
  • through the covenant with Abraham, in which God and Abraham publicly claim one another -- "I will be your God and you will be my people" -- and Abraham is promised land, children, and a reputation as the ancestor of a new nation;
  • the continued covenant with Moses and the wandering Israelites after their escape from slavery in Egypt, a covenant written in stone with rules, because the people are no longer a small tribal family but a nomadic multitude who need to live in covenant with one another to survive that wilderness;
  • and last Sunday, we read one of many stories of the covenant being tested, as the wandering people become impatient with God, and their fears of the wilderness cloud their ability to see God's goodness or to hold onto God's promises.

Today (with Jeremiah 31:31-34) we find ourselves in the midst of the years of exile -- an experience that spanned a generation, after the Babylonian Empire raided and invaded Israel, captured its leaders, killed so many citizens, destroyed the beloved temple in Jerusalem which was the central image of God's covenant with the people. As the exiled people struggle to survive from one day to the next, their faith struggles to survive as well. How do you continue to trust in God's covenant if you don't have the homeland that Abraham was promised? How do you experience God's presence if you don't have the beautiful temple that was first dreamed of in the wilderness? How do you continue to give witness to God's covenant if you don't have your community to remind you of God's laws and blessings?

The prophet Jeremiah struggles alongside the people for an understanding of God's covenant in light of the exile, but he maintains that God's covenant is reliable, that God will restore the people to their homeland. "Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O Israel. Again you shall take your tambourines and dance. Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria. Again I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. And I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and Judah; I will redefine it -- it will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors." (Jeremiah 31)

God promises that when the exiles return home, the covenant will be renewed and re-imagined. No longer will the covenant look like a husband (31:32) providing the security of a home and a name to his wife, as God first provided the security of home and name to Abraham. No longer will the covenant look like a teacher (31:34) enforcing the rules of behavior upon irresponsible students, as it did when God gave ten commandments to Moses and sent snakes to correct the people's complaining.

One gets the impression here in Jeremiah that God is assessing the whole scope of the covenant and seeing that it needs a significant update:
  • God looks back at Noah and sees that the covenant made with a man on a boat does not meet all the needs of a nation now in exile;
  • God looks at Moses and sees that the stone tablets given on a mountain were too easily broken, and the bronze snake on a pole was too easily idolized;
  • God looks at the whole history of giving the people a concrete covenant that they could touch in stone or measure in acreage; a concrete covenant that could be maintained by memorizing rules and scripture verses, by faithfully attending to temple sacrifices and weekly worship. God sees that the concrete covenant of blessings and curses, rules and rituals is no longer enough -- the world of empires and exiles has become much more complicated.

So when God hears the people in exile lamenting, "Where is God's covenant? How can we know that God is with us without our temple? How can we experience God's covenant when we're not in our homeland?" God replies, "I will bring you home again. And when you get home, there will be a new covenant: you will be the new covenant, not the land, not the temple, not the laws. Each of you will have my covenant within you. Each of you will know that I am your God and you are mine. Each of you will be responsible for maintaining and nurturing this covenant, with me and with one another. You yourselves will bring the covenant to life," God says, "from where it is written on your hearts, so that when people see you, they see my covenant.

"When I restore you to your home as I have promised, then I will require you to respond by living out the covenant with all of your heart, soul and strength, to all people, from the least to the greatest. When you have your home and you have your temple, then I will ask you to bring my covenant to life for all people to see, for all people to be healed, for all nations to be renewed as you have been.

"My covenant within you will become a catalyst. No longer does this world need a covenant carved in stone. It needs a covenant embodied in flesh that will get up and move about and seek to gather in the blind and the lame, the elders and the young women with children, the widows and the proud kings, the Black and the white, the citizen and the immigrant, the rich and the poor, the arrogant and the disenfranchised, all sought out and gathered together by a covenant on the move, in order for me to love them. With my covenant written on your hearts, this will be your task: to embody my goodness to all people, for the sake of the healing of all nations. My covenant on your hearts will be a catalyst. I will make you my stewards for the work of restoration, for the work of change."

God will make a new covenant, and the covenant will be your catalyst.

I've been discouraged by politics lately -- government politics certainly, but also the politics of how we interact with one another, the isms that impact us, and our expectations for one another. I've been discouraged -- frustrated -- heartbroken -- by so much that's happening, and I've been especially discouraged because I can't imagine these things changing. The reality that the spirit of our nation bends toward power and violence seems too entrenched to change anytime soon.

But as I look with God at the scope of the covenant, through the lens of Jeremiah 31, I see afresh that the history of the covenant is a history of God's imagination. God could imagine a rescue for Noah when flood waters rose, and God could imagine relating to humanity from a perspective of compassion. God could imagine a new family for Abraham, even when Abraham was 99 years old. God could imagine building and healing a community even in the middle of a wilderness. God could imagine a restored home for the exiles. God can imagine renewal for discouraged people and freedom for those who are oppressed.

What I struggle to imagine, what we struggle to imagine and bring about, God has already imagined! And God has written the theme of it on our hearts with the covenant: that we belong to God, that God loves us, that God seeks healing for all people, and that we are God's embodiment of the covenant. Our hearts are called to embody God's heart.

I, you, we don't need to possess the fullness of imagination in order for the world to change. We need to believe that God possesses the holy imagination for change. We need to remember that God has made us living covenants, and let the covenant be our catalyst.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Bluebells ring
beyond my ears' hearing
swaying and vibrating
with ecstatic joy
for their life in God.
O let my soul
hear the bluebells
and harmonize
their tune of gladness!


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lent 28

I've heard that, when a broken bone heals itself poorly or improperly, doctors must break it again and set it in place so that it heals as it should. O my God, we have let our bones heal in such a way that their misalignment has crippled the whole body ... and those are the "good" healings; more often, we have not healed at all but we have let the skin mend itself over the wound so we can pretend that we are not broken. That we are not broken over race. That we are not broken over gender. That we are not broken over class. That we are not broken over language and geography. That we are not broken over religion.

It needs to be done, O God: rip the scabs off to expose the wounds, re-break these bones in order to set them right, confront us with the body's broke
nness and damage...

...but not at the expense of our boys. O my God, please, no more at the expense of our sons!


Friday, March 23, 2012

Lent 27

On bright days when the paths look clear
and I am feeling confident of my footsteps,
I can easily forget that there is still a fog or
that my outlook is fuzzy with my humanity (like
wearing smudged glasses without knowing it).

Yet on those days that feel hazy with uncertainty
-- when I can barely see my daily path, let alone
the maze of trails which need to be navigated --
my steps slow with thoughtfulness and my spirit
remembers to appreciate mystery over certainty.

Be glad, o my soul, for even the densest of fogs
which instills eternal truth through its silence:
"What you see is not all that there is to see...
indeed, it is not even the beginning!" So be glad,
o my soul, in the Mystery that surrounds you now!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lent 26

It's bath time! "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7, NRSV). "Soak me in your laundry and I'll come out clean; scrub me and I'll have a snow-white life" (The Message). "Let my spirit be cleansed by aromatherapy, and let my body be washed with a plunge into the bubble bath so that I am clean and refreshed, inside and out" (New Revised Rachel Version). Let your prayer-writing be imaginative today as you delight in the image of a spiritual bubble bath, drawn for you by God for your rejuvenation.

I step into your grace -- a scalding hot bath
that catches my breath and eases my muscles --
and I let the heat seep under my calloused skin.
It's not just my stiffness that needs washing away; it's also
the dirt that I've been clinging to (not the other way around)
like a protective shroud around my selfish habits.
Wash the muck away and scrub hard by your Loofah-Spirit
until my very being is softened and raw,
sensitive to your touch again.

"Words in the Wilderness" at Huffington Post

"Language -- the handling of words -- is no small sacred cow among Christians, yet it may be one of our most measurable examples of human finitude. Like grass, language flourishes and withers, seemingly overnight. Words trend. Communication changes. Fresh slang waves at us like a bright green palm leaf before crumbling to ash..." Read my full blog post on Huffington Post!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lent 25

"Courage!" She whispers
to the closed daffodil.
"But it's cold and dark,"
the sleepy flower shivers.
She twinkles in the dew.
"Courage! Come out,
watch the sunrise!"

"Courage!" She calls
to the geese honking.
"This is a long journey,"
they observe in unison.
She gusts in their direction.
"Courage! Stay together as
pursue your northern home!"

"Courage!" She ripples
to the sandy mole crab.
"The gulls pounce quickly,"
and it scurries backward.
She breaks with a wave.
"Courage! Dig and dance
in these ebbs and flows."

"Courage!" She whispers
when I am closed up tight.
"Courage!" She calls when
I am distracted by noise.
"Courage!" She ripples
when I resist the dance.
"Take courage, dear one."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lent 24

Let all of my "stuff" --
my activities, my emotions, my stresses
-- be permeated by your silence,
like the spaces between fence slats
or the sun's rays through the clouds,
like the infinitesimal space of movement
between the quivering atoms in a solid table;
not a silent void
but a life-giving quiet
which pays close attention to your presence
within every breath and micro moment,
and surrounding the universal macro.
Let my stuff be full of holy silence.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Lent 23

There are no words for the bloodshed.
Perhaps that's why You are silent.

There is no lament that keens deeply enough
So let the psalmists set down their lyres.

Your children are being shot, burned, stolen.
Is it possible for the Divine to experience shock?

The Spirit is making a pilgrimage through the streets,
Laying flowers on the lifeless chests of Her playmates.

They were Her hope in the work of nurturing wisdom;
She was their hope through each day's encounter with life.

O my God, let the Spirit become an enraged mother
And cry out with indignation and pain for justice;

It is too uncanny to see Her silent with mourning.
How can I pray if She is without words?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Third Sunday in Lent (The Politics of Fear)

Snakes! Real snakes -- slithering, coiling, climbing, with fascinating ability to move and navigate without limbs! Harmless garter snakes, long black snakes, rattlesnakes, tree snakes, cobras, water snakes. Snakes that we've been taught to fear ever since the first tale was spun about the Garden of Eden.

Bronze, metallic snakes -- crafted in the middle of a wilderness in an ancient time, fine metals taken out of Egypt now smelted and reshaped to represent that long sinuous body. Probably the same meld of metals that were used to create the golden calf, but this new snake-like idol is actually endorsed by God to be made and mounted and stared at.

Then too there are human snakes -- not an indictment to be thrown around lightly, but true all the same. Snakes very much embodying the attitudes of that first snake in Eden, convinced of its own rightness and pleased to undermine others' perspectives, determined to protect its own skin and worldview by any means necessary. Snakes who put others down, snakes who know only that they must come out on top, snakes who deny any possibility of being wrong.

Real snakes, bronze snakes, human snakes, weaving this Sunday's Old Testament and New Testament stories together with the stories of our present day lives.

The story of snakes in Numbers (21:4-9) is a delightfully bizarre piece of the Israelites' history, from a time when the people were wandering for a generation at God's direction. As often happens when we're traveling but someone else is in charge of the trip, the people become impatient and anxious. "Woe is us! We will wander until we die! There is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food" (21:5b) ... which means that there is food, they just don't like it! So God sends poisonous snakes to bite at them for their whining, and soon the people come to Moses, repentant. At God's instruction, Moses sculpts a serpent of bronze that is set high on a pole, and when people look at the bronze snake after being bitten by a real snake, they are healed of the poison.

God rescues the people from their fear by instructing them to look at and name the thing that scares them. And, not only does God rescue them, God calls the bluff on their dissatisfaction so that they had to take back their lies and tell the truth to one another: that God was, in fact, taking care of them in the wilderness. So the people name their fear, and they start telling the truth, and they are healed.

If a bronze serpent could have that effect today, I'd be inclined to suggest that we build a really big one, because naming our fears and telling the truth continue to present a challenge to us, all these thousands of years later. We could make a long list of occasions when our fears and our avoidance of the truth -- whether individually or socially -- have needed some serious intervention and healing! Just think of the fears in your life, the fears in our lives, that startle us like an unexpected snake and make us want to cover our eyes! Yet you and I know that none of our individual fears or nightmares go away just because we hide from them. We step toward healing when we tell the truth about what keeps us up in the middle of the night.

The same is true on the larger social scale. We still collectively flinch and hide our eyes to avoid racism (to name one obvious example); it's so much nicer to believe the lie that we live in a post-racial society. So we shield our eyes at Trayvon Martin's death -- whose story is only finally reaching the mainstream news -- and when the publicity buzz over Trayvon ends, then we'll tell ourselves that his death was an exception ... and we'll not look directly at the snake to realize that this is the very real and frightening norm for young Black and brown men in America. We're going to have to gather up the courage to name the snake of racism if we will ever be healed of it.

Sometimes fear doesn't bite us directly. Sometimes fear distracts us and makes us flinch so that we just trip over ourselves....

...Like the Israelites who were genuinely afraid of those poisonous snakes, but most of all they were afraid of dying in the wilderness. They worried that food would run out, that springs of clean water would be hard to find, that wandering would turn into lost; the snakes became a more tangible, more immediate thing to be afraid of.

...Like this sham of a debate about women's health care. I respect that there are different views on the the matter of abortion itself, but the current range of new laws and inflammable comments over contraception and ultrasounds and women themselves represent a snake that we're being given to distract us. Because women's health care is tangible -- you can pin it down to one pill, one gender, one activity -- while matters like poverty, oil consumption, education, or foreign relations are harder snakes to pin down. Those snakes are more difficult to name because they are multi-faceted, more difficult to tell the truth about because money is involved and our own privilege is at stake. So fear is manipulated, politicked, so we don't see all of the snakes.

Snakes, biting at our heels. Snakes, permeating with their poison because we're unwilling to say that we're afraid, unwilling to look and see that something's not right, unwilling to 'fess up to one another that we're living in the midst of an overwhelming plague of snakes! Snakes that confront us, and snakes that distract us, and snakes that sneak by us.

But God says to the Israelites, "Hang up the snake, look at it, tell the truth about it if you want to be healed."

And Jesus says to Nicodemus (John 3:14-21), "The Son of Man will be lifted up like a bronze snake, so that those who look at it and tell the truth about it can be healed. He will not be mounted up so that people who look at him feel guilty and ashamed. He will be mounted up so that the truth can be examined in the light, out in the open, until the fears and distractions and snakes fade away, until there is healing."

The bronze snake in the wilderness was both a symbol of what the people feared and a reminder of what they were missing in their preoccupation with complaining. When Jesus retells the snake story to Nicodemus, Jesus becomes the bronze snake of the story. Jesus becomes the symbol of what we fear -- the fear that maybe God isn't with us, the fear and experience of suffering, the fear that we all have death coming to us, the fear even of God -- and Jesus becomes the reminder of what we are missing because of our fears and distractions -- the reminder that we are missing some incredible scenery along this wilderness journey, the reminder that we are missing the reassurance that God is feeding us along the way, the reminder that we are missing being ourselves when we let fears poison us, the reminder that we are missing being responsible when we let snakes distract us and hide the truth.

The Gospel of John is a book full of "I AM" sayings: Jesus says, "I am the bread" and "I am the way" and "I am the shepherd," etc. Here in John 3, Jesus implies one more: "I am the bronze serpent!" Jesus is the bronze serpent, calling out our fears, encouraging us to name the truth, shedding light on the politics of fear, and healing us -- over and over again -- by keeping us in the company of God.

And that's good news, despite all the snakes!

Sermon preached 3/18/12 at Grace United Church of Christ.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lent 22

Lord God, mercy is in your hands, pour
me a little. And tenderness too. My
need is great. Beauty walks so freely
and with such gentleness. Impatience puts
a halter on my face and I run away over
the green fields wanting your voice, your
tenderness, but having to do with only
the sweet grasses of the fields against
my body.

Mary Oliver. "Six Recognitions of the Lord" excerpt. Thirst: Poems by Mary Oliver. (Beacon Press 2006)

Friday, March 16, 2012

New Review of Writing to God: Kids' Edition

From ChristianBookPreviews.com: "This book could be functional for elementary school children wanting to be more creative in their approach to prayer, but, interestingly enough, it contains suggestions that many adults would find original and stimulating too." Read the full review here.

Lent 21

"The one who made the Pleiades and Orion, the dawn and the darkness:
the LORD is his name!" (Amos 5:8)

The one who paints pinstripes on the underside of hemlock needles:
the ARTIST is his name!

The one who pushes up a dandelion through the sidewalk crack:
DETERMINED LIFE is his name!

The one who styles the clouds into swirls and ripples and mountains:
SPLENDID DESIGNER is his name!

The one who dares to swim alongside Gigantactis in the deep sea:
WILD ADVENTURER is his name!

The one who entices the sycamore to shed its skin and reach skyward:
NATURE'S CONFIDENCE is his name!

The one who returns the sun's light to the moon after its waning:
FAITHFUL RESTORATION is his name!


The one who can recount the history of each grain of beach sand:
LOVING AWARENESS is his name!

The one who seeks each crayfish hiding in the still pools of streams:
CURIOUS CHILD is his name!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lent 20

Pick the scab
Press the bruise
Gawk at the news
Stare at the bronze serpent
Replay the scenes of our mistakes
How long will we remain fascinated by our own woundedness,
as if our ability to trip and bleed, our inclination to war and rage,
are new discoveries that lend credibility to the theory of our humanity?

Let me just break
without the shame,
Fall down without
anyone clucking,
Err and move on,
Look in the mirror
and be at peace.
I am limited; I keep
reciting this truth to myself
as often as the sun rises and the moon fades.

O God, let me claim a sabbath from self-guilt
and graciously accept these scars of humanity.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lent 19

Let peace mark your path
and love mark your spirit.

Let your breath be deep
and your arms be wide.

Let grace come as a downpour
and kindness shine as a rainbow.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lent 18


My fanciful soul strains to soar
like a balloon drifting into the blue sky
but my string is caught,
snagged in the branches of the world:
weighed down by the body,
knotted with fatigue,
twisted about by responsibilities
(joyful and tedious alike),
alternately lingering and leaving
but never completely loose,
never quite able to float carefree.
Ah, Jesus, give me peace
in this tied-down almost-flying
unsettling space that is
life.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lent 17

< scratch >
A match flares in the night;
the Holy One stirs from sleep.

< hiss >
The flame touches paper, spreads
like a quick and divine temper.

< snap >
A dry log catches, the fire climbs.
"Who is starving my children?"

< whoosh >
The heat intensifies, rage ignites.
"Who has refused them sanctuary?"

< roar >
"Why are the downtrodden
thrown again under the bus?

"Who has coopted my good name
and leveraged it for power?

"Oh, that compassion's quiet embodiment
would resound louder than
hollow citations of scripture!

"Let those idolized Bibles be damned and
consumed by my fire,
and let the people be lost
until they learn
my grace incarnate!"

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Rules and Ridiculousness (on Exodus 20:1-17)

There are debates raging on the political scene these days -- typical of a presidential election year, I suppose, although the "raging" seems to be particularly heightened. The rage and range of these debates center around rules about government, rules about rights, and rules about life.

The ongoing debate over health care, for example, questions the rules by which the federal government takes action to address an issue of national concern. Did our legislators in DC follow the rules about government when they approved health care reform, or did they disregard the balance between state and federal authority? What about our nation's rules on rights -- does the most recent health care reform promote the well-being of citizens by affirming a right to access quality health care, or does it undermine the right of people to access good health care without worrying about whether their neighbor also has that same access? In subtle ways, the health care debate also questions an assumed rule of American living: that we can choose, if we want to, to care only for ourselves.

The debate over voter fraud legislation in various states offers another example of our wrestling over rules these days. On the surface, it seems entirely within the rule and authority of a state to be sure that voters are who they say they are on Election Day. Yet government rules about voter identification make some problematic assumptions about the rules and standards of daily life. When a driver's license is required as proof of voter identity, it assumes that the American standard (rule) of living includes at least one car ... and ignores the reality that not everyone who votes has a car, that not everyone who votes has a driver's license. There is a willful neglect to calculate who is left out by voting rules that assume certain standard-of-living rules.

In the midst of all the rage and debate over rules, we find ourselves today reading one of the oldest sets of rules for a human community, the Ten Commandments: a set of rules given by an ancient god named Yahweh to an ancient wandering people who had been enslaved in Egypt; rules given to order how they lived in relationship to their god and how they lived in relationship to one another.
1. You shall have no other gods before me;
your only allegiance will be to Yahweh.
2. You shall not make idols; God the Creator
cannot be reduced to a created image.
3. You shall not use the name of the LORD falsely.
4. Remember to keep the Sabbath, and allow your family,
your servants, the immigrants in your community,
even your livestock to have a day of rest as well.
5. Honor your parents; be respectful and caring of them.
6. Do not murder.
7. Do not commit adultery.
8. Do not steal.
9. Do not tell lies about your neighbor.
10. Do not lust after what your neighbor has.
The ten rules outlined by Yahweh for the people were good rules; they were necessary regulations to help people avoid angering God and avoid angering one another.

But if you follow Biblical history and story beyond Exodus, it becomes apparent that these ten straight-forward rules cannot always answer every question and conflict that life poses. What happens, for example, when the God who says "Do not kill" sends the Israelites into war? Or, in Israel's pre-exile years as a small nation with a small army, surrounded by powerful empires with powerful armies, how could God expect Israel's king and Israel's people not to covet the sheer brawn of neighboring countries? Or another example: the rule about worshiping God alone was intricately bound up with the worship of God in a tabernacle or temple space; how could the people worship God alone when their worship space was destroyed? If we peek into the New Testament, Jesus often points out the limitations of rules, and he breaks the rule of Sabbath in order to pick grain with his disciples and to heal a man's hand.

Rules are important, but rules cannot answer every question that life poses. This was true in Biblical times and it's certainly true in modern times! But more than that: not only can rules not answer every question, rules sometimes force a black-and-white answer upon a very gray question. And when we choose to follow that black-and-white answer rather than delving into the gray possibilities, we put ourselves in a position of behaving ridiculously, just like the Pharisees behaved ridiculously when they scolded Jesus and his disciples for picking grain and healing on the Sabbath. We are often -- perhaps more than we might admit to ourselves -- willing to follow rules to the point of ridiculousness.

Take, for example, the rule that you're allowed to carry a gun. That's not even just a legislative rule buried in the stacks among legislative rules; it's a Constitutional Rule, which makes it sacred within civics. If you're following the local news, you'll know that --
in those instances when local schools and churches are used as voting sites -- the right to carry a gun in public places has come into conflict with the rights of schools and churches to create safe spaces without guns. So another debate rages, and some folks have written letters to the editor saying, "This is the rule! The rule says I can carry a gun, therefore I can carry a gun when I vote, no matter where the voting is held. And any questions about safety, any questions about the logic behind carrying a gun while voting, don't matter because the rule says I can do it!" Regardless of whether that particular argument is your personal opinion or not, it reveals that collectively we are willing to choose ridiculousness in the name of following a rule.

We do need rules for an ordered society, because we are each prone to self-interest and chaos ... and it's challenging to organize a collection of people who are all prone to self-interest and chaos! We even need religious rules (not a popular theme); we need a framework for understanding God's expectations for us, because we are fickle people who wouldn't mind naming ourselves to be God some days if God hadn't first said to us, "No, I'm God. That's the rule."

But as much as we are fickle in our selfishness and inclined toward the ridiculous, we are equally silly in our inclination toward rigid rule-following. We love rule-following when it makes us right, when it puts us in the majority, when it gives us authority. We're not particularly pleased to follow rules just because they're good for the community, if those rules don't also benefit us personally. We like rules that get us something or at least give us reason to say "I'm right." This is terribly obvious when Christians debate government and politics, because the trump card that we hear in those arguments is always "The Bible says so" or "God says so," which is just a fancy way of saying, "I'm right."

In our preference for being right, rules become a matter of power, not a matter of the collective good. To phrase it another way, the difference between rules and covenant (our Old Testament thread through Lent) is whether or not we are trying to be right.

And just to be really clear: God doesn't call us to be right, and God doesn't even call us to live by rules. God calls us to live in covenant.

There needs to be a significant change in our raging debates -- both in civic and in religious circles. Rather than making more rules or shouting over existing rules, there needs to be a change in our willingness to discuss the purpose of rules. Because in our ridiculousness over rules and our idolization of a concrete non-complicated view of the world, we have neglected to examine the purpose of rules in setting a standard of what is best for the good of the whole. Not the good of a few. Not the good of just one.

Wrestling with, working toward, the good of the whole is a question of covenant. (Covenant can be non-religious for civic discourse and faith-based within a religious community.) Covenant asks, "How are we going to related to one another?" rather than "How are we going to regulate one another?" Within the Judeo-Christian communities, the question of covenant as it is communicated through the Ten Commandments starts with the acknowledgment that nothing comes before God. And because God is our first allegiance, we don't need to dissolve into jealousy over our neighbor's things, and we don't need to neglect the Sabbath in determined pursuit to work every ounce out of life. Because God is first and above all, we don't need to always be right, we don't need to constantly covet power, we don't need to restrict others for the sake of preserving privilege.

Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) that our greatest wisdom -- even when we're behaving and not being fickle or greedy, even with our very best intentions and our best collective knowledge -- still our greatest wisdom is ridiculousness compared to God's wisdom. God's foolishness is sounder and truer than our rules, even our good and wise rules.

We can debate and rage endlessly, but every rule is finally ridiculous simply because we don't know it all. We cannot create enough rules to concretely resolve every situation that may arise as we live in community with one another. Which is why rules cannot be intended for rightness: we have to be willing to say that we don't have all the answers. We have to be willing to interact with one another and with all people with the active perspective that we could be wrong, with the curiosity to realize that we have so much more understanding to gain.

Most of all, riskiest of all perhaps, as people of faith: we have to be willing to engage God without believing that we know everything. Every time that we claim "This I know" or "Yes I'm right," we are asserting ridiculousness rather than faith.

But when we seek the foolishness that is God, and give up our need to be right, we may just find a bit of grain to eat along our journey and a wild dream to mark God's presence.

Sermon preached at Grace United Church of Christ, 3/11/2012.

Third Sunday in Lent

One thing I asked of the LORD,
one thing I seek after...


...to behold the beauty of the LORD!



Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lent 16

"Why are we so afraid to be human, depending on legalism and moralism and dogmatism instead? Jesus came to us as a truly human being, to show us how to be human, and we were so afraid of this humanness that we crucified it, thinking it could be killed. And today we are still afraid to be human... We are not perfect. Only God is perfect. And God does not ask us to be perfect; God asks us to be human. This means to know at all times that we are God's children, never to lose our connection with our Creator. Jesus was sinless not because he didn't do wrong things: he broke the law, picking corn, for instance, on the Sabbath. He was sinless because he was never for a moment separated from the Source." (Madeleine L'Engle, Sold into Egypt, p. 20)
Perfect God, Source of All Life,
give me the courage to be human;
let me have the grace for others to be human too.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Lent 15

I fool myself, not even a little, going about my day as though it's my day to be going about; as though it's my agenda to be living; my needs and goals to be pursuing. I imagine that you laugh -- uproariously, perhaps, or sympathetically if you are feeling patient with me -- before responding, "Did you create your own self from dust, that you seem convinced of your ability to micromanage your days and generate your own sustenance?" Stay true to yourself, O God, despite my foolishness: be slow to anger, constant in love, full of grace and mercy ... until the absurdity of this dust is reshaped and refined.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lent 14

Venus gleams with a secret; she is not hiding it well, broadcasting her bright joy from the depths of heaven. Jupiter, too, is dancing with a story of power and glory as he lingers over the western horizon. The moon smiles gently with the knowledge of the same good news:
The Holy God above all gods
is full of wisdom and good works;
the LORD alone coordinates
the celestial dance, and
guides the souls of the faithful.
The glory of God is perfect,
those who follow its brilliance
have stars in their eyes;
they walk with satisfaction.
Let my spirit run after the LORD
like the sun, unwavering in course
and radiant with joy!

Wardrobe Changes: My Experience of Ministry

"There are many days when the only notable difference between being a solo pastor and a single parent is my wardrobe." Read the rest of my blogpost for Alive Now.....

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lent 13

God alone: the peace in my storm.

God alone: the wind to my inertia.

God alone: the comfort of my life.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lent 12

You tug at me.
Really it's not fair.
Life would be simpler
if you were not so
provocative.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lent 11

Take these tears, O my God;
I cannot hold them anymore.

Catch them please. Use them
to pour out a river that I can follow

upstream to the well of your own tears
in which pain's water is turned to life's wine.

Teach me solace and perspective here
in the sacred circle of suffering and resurrection.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Second Sunday in Lent

God-in-the-family-way:
You are pregnant with what is coming!
Prepare us to be willing midwives
so that we can assist in your labor
for the safe birth of the twins:
Healing and Community.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lent 10

O Eternal God, brood over those places that are silent today in the wake of devastation. Remember the life that they held, the laughter, the comings-and-goings. Remember the lives that they held, the people who have been displaced, the people who have died, the ones who have fled in terror. Listen again to the horror that preceded the quiet with explosive pops, booming thunder, violent roars, frantic screams, desperate prayers. From your vantage point of immortality, you know that our lives have the span of a house fly. Yet in your mercy, be kind to us in these moments that seem to stand still, in these places where silence is the echo of dazed & heartbroken spirits.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lent 9

How good it is!
How good it is to be in God's day!
How good it is to bask in the warmth of God's love!

How good it is to taste
daily mercies and sweet delights;
to savor a moment of silence
like chocolate melting on the tongue;
to laugh, to jest, to care in community
and feel the ego's brittleness cracking loose.

How good it is!

How good it is to sing
praise and blues alike in a loud voice;
to give enthusiastic melody to
the heart's leaps and its heights;
or to moan in discordant tune
knowing that God intertwines a harmony.

How good it is!

How good it is to be bound up
and held tight for the work of healing;
to know the stretch marks and scars
that make for wholly human life;
to grasp for the mystery of stars,
to be interconnected across spaces.

How good it is!

How good it is to be in God's day!
How good it is to bask in the warmth of God's love!

Author Interview!

Check out my interview with blogger, author and book reviewer Nancy Sanders!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lent 8

Will you please bless this hurt, O Holy Life? Will you toss some dirt onto this crushed seed and shine grace from your face, so that something new might grow here?

Already you have been so good, so abundant with your blessings ... how can I come to you for more? Already you have overwhelmed my life with your goodness.

Yet what else would I do with this wound, if not present it to you and ask you to transform it? Bless me with gratitude and with patience for what may yet bloom.