Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Remembering To Breathe

Because your world, O God, is bigger than mine,
I will remember to breathe and open my eyes.

Because discovery is delicious to the soul, O God,
I will remember to breathe and be inquisitive.

Because humanity is both brilliant and destructive
-- and because we both know that I can be too --
I will remember to breathe and not just barrel along.

Because dawn is ever merciful and life is always full,
O God, I will remember to breathe and take my rest.

Because the ancients and elders have much to teach us,
O God, I will remember to breathe and listen closely.

Because tomorrow beckons and I forget to be present,
-- because I get wrapped up in my life's unfolding --
O God, I will remember to breathe and laugh and love.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hell on Earth

"I've come to believe that the differences among American Christians can be boiled down to one fundamental theological difference -- about hell. Specifically, do you believe that hell is a matter of the afterlife, or do you believe that hell is a reality in the earthly life?

"The practical implication of an eternal hell is the earthly responsibility to manage life according to moral codes that ensure one's acceptance into heaven rather than hell. The practical implication of an earthly hell is the conviction to prevent or resolve tangible hellish circumstances."

Continue reading my article for Huffington Post Religion here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Letting God Be God

"Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, 'May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!' A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him and sleep fled from him. Finally at dawn, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. When he came near the den, he cried out to Daniel, 'O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God been able to deliver you from the lions?' Daniel replied to the king, 'O king, my God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths so they would not hurt me.'" (Daniel 6:16-22, adapted from NRSV)

In the morning, King Darius comes rushing out to the den of lions. He hasn't slept all night, he's been riddled with guilt for letting himself get tricked by the courtiers who are jealous of Daniel. Darius has the stone removed from the mouth of the den and he calls out, "O Daniel, has your God been able to deliver you from the lions?" To which Daniel replies, "My God did just fine with the lions. I'm okay too, thank you for asking."

Of all the things to say to someone who has spent a night with lions! King Darius doesn't ask, "Are you okay? Are you exhausted from fighting off the lions all night? Do you need first aid -- did the lions eat your arm or nibble your toes?" No, King Darius says, "I feel guilty for putting you in a life-threatening situation, but I'm really much more curious about what your God did!" If I were Daniel, coming off of a terrifying night of sitting sleepless in the same space as lions, and someone asked me "How did it go between God and the lions?" I would be sooo inclined to say, "This is not about God this morning! This is about me, and I would like everyone to focus on comforting me and doting over me because I just managed not to get eaten!"

But Daniel knows it isn't about him; it isn't about whether he manages to survive in a lions' den. This whole event is about God's ability to be God, no matter the circumstances. Remember, this is a time when the diaspora of exiled Jews are experiencing a theological crisis: wondering whether God abandoned them when Jerusalem's temple was destroyed, doubting if they'll ever be able to find God in these foreign lands, questioning whether perhaps the Babylonian gods might not be stronger than Israel's One God. In the midst of this collective faith crisis, here is Daniel confidently trusting that God can still be God -- that God can still do God's work -- even without a temple, even in a foreign land, even in the crisis of a lion's den.

And really, who else are you going to trust in a lions' den? Daniel is a prettyboy who says wise things to kings and lives a pampered life. Wrestling lions is not his gift! But this is not a test of what Daniel can do, and Daniel knows that it's not his test. Not every crisis that comes is a test of our own strength or survival or endurance. Not every conflict is a test of our wisdom or faith. There are moments -- and Daniel can tell us it's usually the terrifying, heart-wrenching, soul-splitting moments -- that are all about what God can do.

And yes, your life might be at stake in that moment,
our lives and livelihoods might be at stake,
Daniel's life was very much at stake...
and still this moment isn't about Daniel, it's still not about us.

The thing to watch for in those moments
is not your own bravery or sheer willpower;
the thing to watch for in those moments is God at work.
The thing to wait for in those moments is God being God
instead of rushing in and straining to be God ourselves.

And sometimes these moments aren't crisis moments. They can be beautiful and awesome moments -- like having a new baby or committing to a new relationship -- when we pause to say, "God, this isn't about me. This is about you doing a new thing that I have the opportunity to be part of." So we set our egos out of the way and let God be God, and we let God do God's work.

Not every moment in this life,
not every battle or crisis or stress that comes to you is yours to fight.
Not every battle or crisis or stress that comes to you is about you,
or about your tenacious ability to plow through and survive.
There are battles and crises and stresses that come to us
which are about God's ability to be God,
about God's ability to rescue
and to foster life in ways
we haven't even envisioned.

It doesn't mean it's not a crappy night in the lions' den.
It means you can let yourself off the hook of playing God in the lions' den
-- because it's God's turn to do the work of being God.
Scary, perhaps, but also incredibly good news:
it's God's job to be God.

This is God's work.
This day is God's mercy.
This life is God's possibilities.
We are called to be part of it but
not to lose sight that it's not about us.

Watch for God at work.
Wait for a vision besides your own.
 Let God be God.

Sermon preached at Grace United Church of Christ, 8/19/12.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Cicadas' Psalm (on Jeremiah 31:4-5)

"Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O daughter Israel!"
Again you shall take your tambourines and join the dance of the merrymakers!
Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains and enjoy the fruit of your labor!"
(Jeremiah 31:4-5, adapted from NRSV)

Again...and again...and again...and over again, you will experience God's goodness! Again and again and again you will dance with joy for God's unfaltering love! Again and again and again God will harvest for you a bounty of grace from life's hardship! Let this refrain -- "again, again, again" -- inspire your pen's prayer.

the cicadas buzz discordantly.
They are insistent enough
to command a paused ear
in the peak of August.

let God's grace soothe you."

let God's strength sustain you."

let God's magnificence unsettle you."

let God's breadth invite you to the edge."

let God's holiness bring you to wholeness." 

let God's restoration surprise you."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Daybreak over the Bay




Let my soul be as still as the egret
roosting in the red cedar tree
while I wait for God's guidance to dawn.




Let my soul be as still as the bay grasses
when the wind has stopped its fussing,
so that I wait without distraction for God's peace.




Let my soul be as still as the soaring osprey is patient,
hovering and watching for a glint of fish below;
let not my soul be discouraged as it strains to see God.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

O my God, I wonder why you tolerate us.
Today we have reached into the stars...
and we have killed our brothers in prayer.
We have tested our strength in sport...
and we have hoisted our power in war.
We preach your holy insistence on love...
yet we insist foremost on our love of self.
Will you now harden your heart against us
and hide your eyes from our vain misery?
Let the cries of the dead and the abused
bear witness against our masochistic ego.  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

David and Goliath

You know the story: David triumphs over Goliath. Small topples big. Confidence conquers fear. Shepherd beats warrior. Faith wins over strength. Trusting in the limitless possibilities of God far outpaces, outweighs, outshines trusting in the limited possibilities of oneself.

We know the story. The question is, why don't we live like we believe the story? Why don't we live -- in our relationships, in our work, in our rest, in our church, in our finances -- as though trusting God has a tangible impact on our lives? What holds us back from living with complete peace and deep confidence in the knowledge that what God can do & imagine for us is better than what we can do & imagine for ourselves?

Why do we live (consciously or unconsciously) with the constant underpinning of fear that someone or something might cause us to fall or break or lose or destabilize or die at any time ... so that the fear of change and disaster compels us to create and hold onto as many securities as possible? Of course, something can cause us to fall or break or lose or destabilize or die at any time. The story of David & Goliath doesn't dispute bad things happening and tearing us down. The story of David & Goliath disputes living in fear and lack of imagination for how God can bless our lives, for how we might be built up, for how we can triumph and even thrive no matter the losses or the suffering.

Of all the Bible stories about David, this one might be my least favorite because it challenges me the most. Give me a story about David after he becomes king: when he's arguing with God's prophets, or when he's picking up women inappropriately, or when he's dancing naked; give me a story about David running for his life from Saul or from his throne-envious sons. Give me these stories of David being a flawed human and I will nod my head: I get these stories.

But the story of David & Goliath! This is a story of a human not living out his flaws but living out his beyond-belief possibilities through trust in God. This story doesn't invite us to identify with someone's flawed life. This story invites us to accept the challenge of living our flawed lives without fear, invites us to let our trust in God define us more than our fears of everything else:
more than our fears of others, more than our fears of heartache,
more than our fears of financial needs or health needs;
letting our trust in God define us more than our fears of suffering,
more than our fears of uncertainty, more than our fear of fear.

How would we live differently if we believed the story of David & Goliath? I don't know what the exact details of "living differently" might mean for you, but I know that it's time. It's time to practice trusting God in all things, in all moments, in all of life. It's time to remember God in all things, in all moments, in all of life -- daily, hourly, with each breath and each decision and each interaction.

Trusting fully in God, trusting boldly in God, let us not be afraid. Amen.

Sermon preached at Grace United Church of Christ, 8/5/2012.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Let No One's Heart Fail

Ah, Spirit!
I'm afraid I've lost you.
No -- I'm afraid I've lost myself,
because my heart feels unfamiliar and
the terrain of my soul is desolate wilderness.
I am seeking a rock to get my bearings...
encountering only wind and silence.
It doesn't matter that I know you to be
both Wind and Holy Whisper;
here in the vast space of
nondescript rustles and eerie quiet,
what matters most to my soul is that
I cannot grasp you when you are so nebulous,
cannot cling to you as my hand longs to cling to a Mountain
or as my foot hopes to hold onto a Rock beneath it.
Spirit, strengthen my heart to keep wandering.
Do not let my soul give up its willingness
to endure the Absence
and the Mystery.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

About a Gate

open reluctantly,
close unreliably,
dear wooden gate.
Shed your layers of paint,
let rust have its way with your springs,
tell long stories about years of treasured use
to your perfect plastic cousins:
of kids running through
and lovers walking out,
of wild fields entered and
vegetable gardens protected,
of roses blooming in manicured trim
and stray vines climbing your posts.
You have been the welcoming mat of homes
and the prosaic entrances of pastures.
You have hidden mansions and bungalows,
perched in decorative purpose among daylilies,
guarded raucous chickens and yipping dogs.
Stand tall, lean precariously,
sag on your hinges in age,
but never fail to watch
for the guest and the stranger
and the weary traveler
returning home.