Thursday, December 27, 2018

Presents or Presence

Link to Forward Movement graphic

Christmas is not over. That's meant to be good news. If you are exhausted from the lead-up to December 25th, maybe you can find respite and spiritual refreshment during the observance of Christmastime, the Twelve Days of Christmas.

We can make an exchange - the season of Christmas presents for the presence of Jesus. This is a worthy pursuit from Patheos blogger Rev. Melissa Cooper:

God is with us now, in the quiet and stillness of the in-between time after Christmas but before the new year really kicks off; and God will be with us as we move all-too-quickly into a Lenten season of new and different chaos again. Friends, this year, reclaim Christmas for yourself. Celebrate those 12 days not with presents, but with presence.

Seeking God’s presence a significant theme for me. The idea that the Lord visited us in the physical presence of Jesus is a compelling part of the Christmas story. 

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. (Matthew 1:23 KJV)

I’m not well read in the theology of incarnation, however, “God with us” is my personal experience. Like Rev. Cooper, I encourage you to seek God’s presence during Christmastime. Carve out a space in your routine for God. He will fill it in a surprising way!

O Come, Emmanuel!

We gather at Christmas
to commemorate,
to celebrate
God with us.

It's history,
our tradition:
God visited.
God with us.

It's present tense,
real time:
God abides.
God with us.

It's the future:
Creation restored.
God returns.
God with us.

May we experience
your presence,
Jesus Christ.
God with us.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Among Rocks & Thorns

I'm thinking about the Pittsburgh temple massacre, the Florida postal bomber...and Jesus' Parable of the Sower. 

Updating the Rabbi's analogy... 
If you could sample the soil of America's soul, I'm afraid you would find unhealthy levels of contamination. How do we "bear fruit" in these toxic conditions? 

Lord Christ, 
Where and how can I sew your Good News? 
On this rocky ground, beneath scorching sun, among thorns? 

A poisonous vine has taken root. 

A seed of resentment, in the soil of mental illness, 
Germinates in the manure of social media, 
Climbs a trellis of ordnance, forming buds of hate, 
And the spores spread, on tribal winds, 
Fanned by our contemporary Pontius Pilates. 

Father God, deliver us from evil! It's palpable. 

And use me as fertile soil, to sew your Good News, 
"and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold." 

Artwork credit (Sower at Sunset, Van Gogh)

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Supernal Creed

"He's got the whole world in his hands." That is more than a timeless spiritual. While I hear a children's choir singing it, the song is actually a metaphysical manifesto. It's critical that our faith rests upon an all encompassing God.

My Scripture Union Bible study recently cited the 1963 Christian classic The Christian Mind by Harry Blamires. "The first mark of the Christian mind is that it cultivates the eternal perspective."

That prompted a few deep thoughts about our boundless God.

Creator God,
Untether my earthbound faith,
hemmed in by science,
and the doctrines of other men.
Relax these limitations.

Holy Spirit,
Cultivate a faith of eternal perspective,
where time is contained within eternity,
where the natural order
depends on the supernatural.*

St. Paul instructs,
For in him we live
and move
and have our being.
(Acts 17:28)

Lord Christ,
Stretch my worldview,
bend it heavenward.

* - from The Christian Mind, Harry Blamires
A previous post on BIG GOD/little me. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Come to Me and Drink

We don't find a "meek and mild" Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7. He is assertive, speaking decisively about his connection to God, his earthly mission and saving power. Earlier, Jesus had claimed to be the bread of life. In the next chapter he offers himself as light of the world. His itinerant ministry of teaching and healing is concluding with bold claims.

I've been wondering about my reaction and response had I been in that crowd. Would I have been receptive, offended, noncommittal? The question persists.

Your words, Lord Christ, 

...he who sent me is true. 
You do not know him, 
but I know him 
because I am from him 
and he sent me.

You know God?
He sent you here?
Seriously? That's quite a claim! 

Would I have been threatened? 
Like the Pharisees.

Some people still react that way. 
Like several Facebook friends.

Would I have been curious? 
...committed believer?
I'm all in now (or trying to be.)

Was it the teaching? 
...the healing? 
...the miracles?"
For me, all of the above.

Was it your bearing? 
...something about your eyes? 
...maybe your touch? aura? 
I owe it all to your grace, to the Spirit.

Let anyone who is thirsty 
come to me and drink. 
Whoever believes in me, 
as Scripture has said, 
rivers of living water 
will flow from within them.

So many are thirsty. 
Some are parched. 
Yet they decline the cup. 
Friends. Family. 
Coworkers. Neighbors.

Holy Spirit,
Extend the cup. 
Touch it to their lips. 
To the heart and mind. 
Give them a sip of living water.

Lord, Liar or Lunatic?
As C.S. Lewis famously wrote in Mere Christianity:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

Photo credit: Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Melissa Habel

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

At the Beach

At the beach I'm reminded that I need less Microsoft Outlook in my life and more of the Lord's outlook!

God of waves and water, 
clouds and sun,

I stand on the edge of the Atlantic,
at the edge of North America.

I give you my rough edges,
my jagged edges.
Make them smooth, Lord.

I surrender my schedule, 
the task list and reminders, 
the deadlines and meetings.

Vaporize my crazy in the summer sun.
Crank up the surf's white noise.
Pummel my drama with a stiff ocean breeze.
Carry it off in a receding wave.

In nature, with family,
in breaking bread 
(with adult beverages)
smooth the edges.
Recharge this soul.
Refresh me.

Thank You!
For my coastal sabbath.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Politicized Faith

I offer this lament while attempting to channel William Barclay’s more generous spirit:

There are many ways to God. He has his own secret stairway to every heart. He fulfills himself in many ways; and no man or church has a monopoly of his truth.

Lord! Lord! 

I get so discouraged at the news media’s portrayal of faith.
Lately there’s a focus on “white evangelicals.”
I’m not even sure that represents a denomination or religion.
It’s a political party that meets in churches.
Their cultural leanings and political views have become their faith.
They weaponize the Bible.
Fear seems to be a greater inspiration than Spirit.
It’s not my version of the Christian faith. 

But you admonished the disciples...

Do not stop him for whoever is not against you is for you. (Luke 9:50)

Do not judge so that you will not be judged... Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (Matthew 7:1-3)

Still, I get so discouraged... 
Lord! Lord!

As a postscript, this comes from my Scripture Union Bible study. Robert Parkinson is writing about Micah 6 (act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God) and how people of faith sometimes act abominably:

In my work as a Christian minister, I often come across people of other faiths, or of no faith at all, whose daily practice of kindness, fairness and humility is exemplary. They conduct themselves as they may perceive God requires, and I am pleased to acknowledge this. Conversely, however, people of faith sometimes act abominably. We learn from Micah that whenever faith makes a person unkind, violent or haughty, it is a spurious faith. God does not lead people to commit acts of violence or to behave unkindly towards others. The God of mercy and love requires the same of any who would claim to follow him.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Royal Tidings

My God, My King,

The Royal Wedding, 
not my cup of tea.
Extreme pomp.
The excess and celebrity,
like watery Earl Grey.

But my wife is enthralled.
Do not dismiss those romantic notions.
Intimacy. Mutuality. Security.
That needn’t be the stuff of fairy tales.
It’s the high bar of true, abiding love.

And surprisingly, powerfully,
a prophet steps forth. 
Bishop Michael Curry
convicts and inspires
a global audience of 1.9 billion.

There was criticism 
of a discourse too long.
No, he was true 
to a divine script:

...imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial redemptive. 

When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down, down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way, there’s plenty good room, plenty good room, for all of God’s children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family. 

When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family. 

To those Royal Tidings.
To that very Good News. 

Bishop Curry's Homily: Text | Video

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday

Mardi Gras has concluded in New Orleans. Carnival celebrations across the globe have wound down. The party’s over. Lent begins with an international hangover. Maybe that’s appropriate.

It’s a time to look in the mirror, a time for confession. The sign of the cross, imposed on one’s forehead with ashes, is an ancient sign of repentance.

There’s a Litany of Penitence in the Book of Common Prayer. I’ve done a rewrite - my own contemporary version:

This is my confession. It’s unpleasant, but I’m thinking it’s supposed to feel that way.

Lord, I don’t give you 100%. Worship, Bible study and prayer are not priorities. I’m reluctant to share my faith.

I’m pretty choosy about caring for my neighbors. I’m prejudiced toward some, even contemptuous of others. Across town and across the ocean, I turn a blind eye to suffering, injustice and cruelty. I’m slow to volunteer hoping somebody else will step up.

And I’m slow to forgive, prone to hold on to slights and grudges. I’m impatient. I stretch the truth, even lie. I’m a prideful, envious and self-indulgent. I profess concern for the care of your creation, but I’m not very dedicated to the cause.

Indeed, I am a hypocrite…yet you care for me. You have sacrificed for me. You forgive me. You have my back 24/7.

Accept my confession, Father. Rouse me to repentance. Draw me closer during Lent. Amen.

I commend to you a modern confession [#893] in the Methodist Hymnal. It was added to the 1989 hymnbook, and it comes from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa. 

On Mortality, Penitence & Grace

…for dust you are and to dust you will return.
(Genesis 3:19)

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, Liturgy for Ash Wednesday)

Lord Christ,

It's not about me.
It's not about me.
(Repeat until it sinks in.)

Starring in my own life,
I must resist that.
This performance could close today.

Under the best circumstances,
my empire will fall in thirty years or so.
I'm counting on another Kingdom.

There are some things in my nature
that need to be seared or burned away.
I shudder as I pray,
but turn up the flame Lord,
if that's your remedy.

This is out of sync
with our "selfie" culture.
Yet I know your acceptance and love.
I know your presence in my life.

During Lent,
let’s proceed with my repair.


Evidence of Penitence

Serendipitously, I've been reading David Brooks' The Road to Character during Lent. 

The book ends with a six page, fifteen tenet Humility Code. It is a convicting prescription for repentance. Snippets:

We don't live for happiness, we live for holiness.

Humility reminds you that you are not the center of the universe, but you serve a larger order.

Pride is the central vice.

No external conflict is as consequential or as dramatic as the inner campaign against your own deficiencies. 

Everybody needs redemptive assistance from the outside - from God, family, friends, ancestors, rules, traditions, institutions, and exemplars.

We are all ultimately saved by grace. 

There's an Lenten prayer in Brooks' cannon.

Most merciful God, 

We confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

I dutifully recite those lines. When will I own them?

Suppress, excuse and sugar coat. Wipe off that Ash Wednesday stain. Restore my self-esteem. I'm not that bad.

No, I must own the broken parts, the sin. The thoughts, words and deeds. Things done. Things left undone. Sins against God and neighbor.

Break the dam of my denial. Allow grace to flow. Only in confessing, admitting - owning those ashes - is God's grace fully released upon us. 

Have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. 


(from Morning Prayer II, Confession of Sin, Book of Common Prayer)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Chosen & Sent

My Scripture Union Bible study inspires yet another prayer. John Harris with the Bible Society of Australia is taking us through 1 Samuel. In chapter sixteen, where David is anointed, Harris notes many blemishes on the Davidic line. This isn’t a story about royalty. It’s a lesson about grace.

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” We are often attracted to pedigree, wealth or, nowadays, TV personality. Do we truly believe that God’s purposes encompass the powerless, the marginalized and the dispossessed?

I have taken a slice of Harris’ theme and a portion of his words for this prayer:

The Chosen One...

Yes, he was handsome,
With some musical talent,
But a mere shepherd,
And the eighth son,
From an immigrant family,
With stories of adultery 
And prostitution in their past. 

And YOU chose him to be one of history’s most memorable monarchs, the Divinely appointed King David. 

The One Who Was Sent...

An embarrassing pregnancy,
The carpenter’s kid,
Born in a stable,
Then a refugee,
An itinerant teacher and preacher,
Judged a subversive,
Sentenced to capital punishment.

And YOU sent Jesus to save us. For daily living and for eternal life. 

YOUR grace is unpredictable. It never fails to surprise and awaken me. 

YOU are not concerned with pedigree, success or celebrity. 

And this confounding grace seems to tilt toward the powerless, the marginalized, the dispossessed. 

I acknowledge these truths! 

Now, what is today’s mission?
For what am I chosen?
Where would YOU send me?