Let us be Grateful: On Ridiculous Things

Last Sunday was Father’s Day and my family celebrated with me after church. The weather was hot, so they took me down the street to Kelli’s Deli, which is air conditioned. They ordered me a ridiculous pizza for lunch which I normally would not order. My younger child is a picky eater, so I do not generally order strange things. My wife knew that I had wanted to try the pizza for at least a year. On Sunday they bought the pizza for lunch. Yes, they ordered a cheeseburger pizza for lunch.

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Cheeseburger Pizza! Delicious!

The strange pizza was an utterly ridiculous gift to a person who appreciates simple gestures of affection. I spend a lot of time cooking for my family. I love saucy and spiced foods but we rarely eat them in our home because of our children’s tastes. I love pickles but we rarely have them as a part of our meals because of our children’s tastes. I love a lot of food that I never cook because my children have turned their noses up at foods that were too strange or too different.

My kids sitting with me and eating a weird pizza with me was a great Father’s Day gift. My youngest might have struggled to eat anything but the crust, but she still tried to make an attempt to eat a single bite with only minimal complaining. She only tried to change our order twice to something she would rather eat and that’s an improvement over most meals lately. Don’t feel too bad for her—she ate at least three pieces of our church’s Fathers’ Day cake at Fellowship Hour.

It seems strange, but it really is the little things that help a person feel appreciated. I invite you to remember that sometimes a kind word or a bit of love can turn a person’s day around. Today you may have the opportunity to make the world a better place for someone you come across in your life. I invite you to share love—be ridiculous if necessary. Sometimes it means more than you know.

Let us Ramble: Free Will

What choices are you making today?

I grew up into my own faith during an age of culture wars within the church. Some churches were beginning to adopt more charismatic contemporary worship and other churches were holding to the music of ages past. Some churches fought over drumsets and other churches restored magnificent pipe organs.

I have survived those culture wars. I now live with the view that Psalm 100:1 is ultimately what matters. Is it a joyful noise to the Lord? Well, good enough! Do I prefer certain music? Of course, but I am not the only person in worship on any given Sunday.

I am living in the midst of an ongoing cultural clash between different schools of Biblical interpretation. This is exemplified by the current struggles over LGBTQIA theology, but also rises up to the challenge on discussions of spiritual gifts, spiritual practices, and even the limits of God’s grace. I am surviving this clash by keeping my eye on my ultimate goal. I run this race with Jesus.

Interestingly, the culture clash that I believe is most important to our current situation became “yesterday’s news” before I even truly entered ministry. I believe this reality is a great tragedy because one part of the challenge we face as a culture requires the presence of a vital piece of theology.

I believe that we absolutely need an orthodoxy and orthopraxy that supports the concept of free will. We have become a culture that is complacent when we face situations that seem beyond our control. We have become a people that allows fate to decide some of the most difficult choices in our lives. To riff on the excellent work of Dylan Thomas, we go gentle into our own goodnights. There is no rage against the dying of our light, our neighbor’s light, or any light. We passively accept fate like people in Thomas’ poem accepted the end of life.

Let me explain what I mean through examples. These examples apply to many people, but certainly not everyone. In many cases they refer to very few people.

People are living within marriages where things are going to shambles. A lot of people live in marriages where things are going awry. I talk with people about marriage more than almost any other subject. People often accept that there is nothing they can do because their partner won’t change. Free will means that we can change their own behavior, but we almost always focus on the behavior of another person as the root of our problems. People give up their ability to change their circumstances and often do not realize what they are doing when they surrender their own choices.

People live life with children that have challenges. They accept they can do nothing about the situation because their children do not do exactly what they want them to do in life. People can be happy to give their children choices but are unwilling to accept that their choices have consequences. By letting go of their own free will they have set themselves up for further aggravation and hopelessness.

People are living in communities that are filled with anger and hatred. Facebook is filled with posts from angry individuals who rage at each other. People assume that nothing can be done, but we each can choose to set an example by our own behavior. We can affect our community through living out lives of grace and compassion, but we allow ourselves to be fated to frustration.

People can be frustrated by the lives we live in the United States. Politicians represent the people and ultimately power rests with the people. King George learned this lesson the hard way. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, ultimately the weight of corruption falls on the people who grant power in the first place. We tend to not accept our responsibility as citizens. One of the highlights of being a part of the Kingdom of Heaven is that we do not have to be in charge. In our secular lives in the United States, the buck ultimately stops with the American people.

We can choose to select our own identity in this world. We can choose how our behavior will affect our future. We can choose who we will become in the future by our actions today. We can make the world great tomorrow through our use of love and grace today. We must only choose to grab the helm of life and turn the ship around.

There are no shoals that we must strike. There are no hurricanes that must lie in our path. There is an ocean of possibility if we but believe that we can trim our own sails, lift our own anchors, and shift our own rudder. We can make the world a better place if we trust in God, accept God’s power to transform our lives, and live into the image of Jesus.

Let us Seek: “Confidence and Pride” or “On Lectionary Usage”

“Why do we use a lectionary?” “What use does a lectionary have for a minister in the church or for the community at large?” “Wouldn’t life be easier if you just picked out all of the scriptures?” One reason we use lectionaries as communities and as pastors is because they force us out of our own comfort-zones into scriptures we would ordinarily glaze over. I have been preaching out of the Narrative Lectionary which comes out of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. I post blog entries based off the Revised Common Lectionary as provided through the library of the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University. I use both resources to help round out my teaching as a preacher and teacher of the Good News. I also occasionally wander off and do a series based on a particular book or concept, because even a crazy United Methodist minister like me has freedom of the pulpit and it can be cathartic to exercise that freedom.

For today’s reading I decided to use the complimentary daily readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. In those readings I was struck by the reading from Hebrews. Hebrews 3:1-6 says: (NRSV)

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling, consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also ‘was faithful in all God’s house.’ Yet Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.”

The first question this passage raised was the obvious question for anyone who studies some selections of scripture. What is the “therefore” referring to in the previous section? The second chapter of Hebrews refers to: (Hebrew 2:17-18 NRSV)

“Therefore [Jesus] had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

(Sidenote: Hebrews is a logically organized book with a lot of “therefore” statements, so I will allow you to dig into the “therefore” of the previous chapter if you are inclined. Be forewarned that there are two more therefore statements with a significant amount of explanation in the second chapter before this particular “therefore.”)

In my opinion, the content of the “therefore” of the first verse of chapter three brings light into the reading, especially the sixth verse. Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. We are a part of that house if we hold firm to the pride and confidence that come with hope.

Why would we have pride? We are part of a people for whom Jesus intentionally entered creation. We have a merciful and faithful high priest in Jesus. Jesus came in service, sacrificed to bring atonement, and was like us in every respect. We are a people who have lived in futility but Christ has come into the world. We are part of the people which were blessed by Jesus’ presence. We are a part of the household of God due to the faithfulness of our brother and high priest Jesus. While pride is often a word used with negativity in church circles, there is surely some blessing and joy to be found in the reality that Jesus chose to become a part of our human family. There is a pride that does not come with smugness, but with peace. This is the pride that comes with the fulfillment of hope and faith.

The fulfillment of hope and faith are also behind our confidence. The legacy of the Christian worldview is a legacy marked with perfection in creation shaded by sinfulness, tranquility in a garden overshadowed by ejection from utopia, calling into community tainted by broken sovereignty and nationhood, and voices crying out from the wilderness drown out by earthly concerns. Throughout the history of the Christian and Hebrew journeys towards God there has been continual frustration marked by the stubborn refusal of God to give up on the people. We have confidence because Jesus has come to be our high priest.

Ancient promises, hopes, and dreams are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ as our high priest. Furthermore, we are brought into the family of God through the incarnation of Jesus Christ into humanity as our brother. We have pride and confidence because Jesus has willingly done these things with us and for us as a people.

Why do we use lectionaries? I had no intention of writing a blog post on a high priest or on the legacy of hope this morning. We use lectionaries because they lead us out of ourselves into God’s realm where the unexpected can happen. Making a choice to step beyond our comfort zone can be a blessing, but let’s not pretend that taking a risk is always easy. It takes confidence to believe God can meet us out in the wilderness where we relinquish control and it takes humility to listen for a word that we do not expect.

I hope this explains in part why your minister may or may not use a lectionary. There are many other reasons to use a lectionary, but I personally believe that this logic holds well. When I bake bread, I proof the yeast to make certain the yeast is alive and will help the bread rise. The lectionary tends to be full of life in my experience and sometimes the bread we need is not the bread we have in the pantry.

Let us Seek: Enthroned Forever

This morning I stood outside the elementary school where my children go to school. Today is Flag Day in the United States. Our children sang songs, marched, paid tribute to the flag, and were very patriotic. The presentation was a stirring event for everyone involved.

I returned to my office, visited with the CHOW folks serving in the Zimmer Annex, spent some time reading from my book for the Academy, and then sat down at my computer to look up the menu for the local deli down the street. I clicked on Facebook while Kelli made me a delicious sub for lunch. I saw an article about violence in Virginia. I read an article which was updating as I read. Violence, death, and pain suddenly filled my mind.

I wanted to go back to the circle in front of the school and see my kids celebrate the flag. I wanted to go back to the moment where all of my cynicism crumbled before a child who marched proudly and another child who signed boldly with their classmates. It had been such a powerful expression of innocence and I wanted to go back to that place.

I have been asked how I handle being a citizen of earth and a citizen of heaven. I tell people that I have dual-citizenship. I am a citizen of the United States and a citizen of Heaven. I love the nation where I was born, but have accepted allegiance to the Kingdom of God. I have made vows as a minister that have further tied me to that nation as an ambassador of the “Shepherd” of us all who serves within the church.

Ultimately, as a result of my faith and may vows, my allegiance falls foremost to my citizenry in Heaven. History teaches me that nations come and go, and that life is short. The dictionary teaches me that eternity is endless. My citizenship in Heaven is established by and through Jesus Christ and will last as long as I am held with love by God. My citizenship in Heaven is eternal since nothing can separate me from the love and God. My citizenship in Heaven is eternal since Christ will not lose me.

Unfortunately, my ties to Heaven do not release me from the sorrow of events like those that took place today in Virginia. My heart is broken as more folks lay in hospitals injured by violence. My heart is broken as I know at least one person lies in a morgue.

Even reading the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for today did not bring comfort today, and not just because Job gets told off by God in one of the readings. If anything the readings (except Job’s selection) brought longing for a better world into my heart. Consider the words of Psalm 29:10-11: (NSRV)

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!”

I long for a world where God sits enthroned over humanity. If Jesus is the image of the invisible God, then I truly long that Jesus would be enthroned. The world needs more compassion, more grace, and more love from her leaders.

In my opinion, the world would seemingly be a million times improved if Jesus were to return. Consider the promise of John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

In defiance (apparently) of Jesus’ words to us, my heart is troubled by the violence that I see in the world where I was born. On this Flag Day. I wish that everything could be happy songs sung by children, but this is a dangerous and questionable world. I want the peace of God to fill the hearts of the world, because the world just doesn’t offer the peace we need on days like today. I fear we need the strength spoken of in the Psalms, because this world can shift like sand in a single moment. We need to build on the rock for when the storms come.

The reading from John 14 brings more longing than perhaps anything else. John 14:25-26 says: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

Teach me, Holy Spirit. Teach us all. Remind us of Jesus’ words and teach us how to live in this world of rifles, bullets, and death. Our sins stain us scarlet. Wash us clean and we shall be as fresh as newly fallen snow…

Let us Ramble: In-between Spaces

My readings for the Academy for Spiritual Formation have led to me doing a lot of contemplation. Today I was reading through “Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God” by Macrina Wiederkehr. Here’s the passage that led to contemplation today: (24)

“Then suddenly you find yourself back in those in-between times. Distressing and boring as these in-between times of the season may seem; they can also be nourishing spaces for the soul. This waiting between dying and rising is like being in the tomb. It is a waiting room that is essential for spiritual growth. In this quiet tomb-place we feel, once again, that ancient tugging at the heart. We experience being drawn, like a magnet to the divine.”

Sister Wiederkehr had been speaking on the beauty she finds in the in-between times of life. She enjoys walking as the sun rises and sets. She enjoys the time between seasons. She finds these are the best times to romance the Word of God.

I’m not a morning person and I often put my children to bed around the time of sunset most of the year. I know that the dawn is beautiful, but that is not where I experience my in-between moments. The place where I have been experiencing the in-between moments like Sister Wiederkehr describes is in my garden.

A pepper plant from our garden. We need to weed again…

My garden is currently in an in-between place. Sister Wiederkehr explored the in-between nature of winter turning into spring, but I also connect more to that in-between place when spring is turning into summer. The plants have started to take root, the leaves are growing, and there are already a few blossoms on the tomato plants. There is growth and in time the pepper-plant in the image above will begin to create food for my family.

Spring is a time of hope, promise, and busyness in preparing the garden. Summer and autumn are seasons when these promises become a reality when the harvest comes in to be canned, frozen, and eaten. This is that in-between place where there is occasional weeding, occasional watering, and a lot of waiting.

I often feel like I experience these same moments in my spiritual life. I rush to make plans after reading a book, organize a wonderful event, or have a revelation that begins to change my outlook on life. I complete what needs to be done and then simply have to wait to see what will happen. This time of waiting in-between moments can be boring, but I agree with Sister Wiederkehr. These moments are essential for spiritual growth.

By my garage, at the base of a simple flower there will soon grow a tomato. The tomato will be small and green. I can watch it day in and day out. The tomato will be ripe on the day it turns ripe and not a day before then. As much as I would like to rush things, the tomato requires time, sun, and water to thrive. The tomato requires good soil, good nutrients, and time. I have provided sun, water, good soil, and nutrients to the best of my ability. Now, I need to have patience.

Spiritual lives require patience. A healthy spiritual life does not grow all at once. There may be mountain-top experiences and times when we receive revelation that shakes us to the core, but most of the time we need to have patience with God and with ourselves. One of the few times that God grew a plant overnight for a person of God in scripture it was almost immediately cut down by a worm to help teach Jonah a lesson. God can do all things and that includes asking us to be patient and wait.

In my experience Sister Wiederkehr is right about the silent, tomb-like places. The quiet-places are necessary to our growth as individuals. The silences also teach us how to hear God in the stillness and to feel that magnetic draw towards the divine. I invite all of us (including myself) to know the wisdom and longing that comes with patience in the quiet places of our spiritual lives.

Let us Ramble: The Narrow Path to Mars

Today has been a wonderful day. Saturday is one of my easier days in ministry. While I do not truly take the two days off a week that is expected of me by my Annual Conference, Saturday is an easier day for me as it almost always begins with family time. Today we went out to lunch and then went to the planetarium at Roberson Museum and Science Center in Binghamton.

At the planetarium we watched a video on the history of humanity’s relationship with Mars, especially in terms of how it fits into the efforts of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and the European Space Agency. I was struck by all of the attempts to reach Mars that utterly and completely failed over the years. There were a lot of probes, rovers, and other missions which failed spectacularly. Indeed, modern missions are informed powerfully by a history of failures. In a perfect world, these failures and challenges help to inform modern attempts to reach Mars.

The concept of necessity behind learning from the past came to mind as I was reading through my book for the Academy for Spiritual Formation. I was reading through “Thirsty for God: A Brief HIstory of Christian Spirituality” by Bradley Holt when I was reminded thoroughly of the efforts of the people exploring Mars. Professor Holt says: (12)

“The first reason to study the tradition and present day Christian family is to make us aware of our own narrowness, our own parochialism. Knowing a larger part of the whole tradition gives us better questions to ask of the fads of the present. We are endangered not only with ethnocentrism, judging all things by the customs of our own ethnic group, but also with ‘presentism,’ judging all previous ages as inferior to our own.”

Can you imagine what would happen if an engineer at NASA said “The United States has best space program! Why would we study what happened with the Beagle 2’s solar panels?” Well, if that person sent a rover or a manned mission to Mars and that mission failed in the same way, you could imagine how foolish that engineer would seem. If only that engineer had learned from the mistakes of others then NASA could have avoided the same mistakes.

I will admit, I do not believe that a NASA engineer would turn down hard data that could help to create a better plan for a space mission. Engineers are trained to consider as many facets of a problem as possible. I do know that Christianity has had a long history of folks engaging in this kind of behavior. We tend to avoid learning from other communities, whether they are Baptists down the street or Orthodox folks from centuries past. We have made a lifestyle out of believing we are the latest and greatest believers that have ever followed Jesus. This seems especially true of the Eurocentric church in the United States.

It is true—Wesleyans and Methodists have traditionally held John Wesley on a pedestal and he was not an American or even a fan of the American Revolution. It is true—Lutherans love Martin Luther even though he was a German monk turned reformer. Roman Catholics may identify strongly with Pope Benedict, Pope Francis, or Pope John Paul II—each of which came from a homeland outside the United States. Many Christians have their exemplars from other cultures, but it seems to me as if most of them are exceptions to the general rule.

I do not base this on a random assertion. I have had many conversations with individuals that state clearly and unabashedly that American Christianity holds two things above any other: love of God and love of country. There is a strong ethnocentrism in American Christianity that would be unacceptable in other realms of study or belief. There is a strong presentism in American Christianity that ignores the lessons of the faithful who walked in ages past and studied things that are now considered superseded by modern scholarship. My experience of American Christianity supports Professor Holt’s assumptions.

My own experience and own history of scholarship support Professor Holt’s assumptions, which is one reason I am undertaking the Academy experience in the first place. I will admit that I know the story of John Wesley in many ways that I do not know scholars, theologians, and mystics from other cultures. I will admit my scholarship and study focused around individuals connected with the institutions where I studied theology and Christianity either directly or through the recommendation of faculty.

There is a value to learning from a wide variety of sources which cannot be overstated. Christians are part of a rich tradition that has had adherents, leaders, scholars, and theologians from across the world. We have had many people who have had many different opinions. To be clear, I agree with Professor Holt that another reason to study the history and practices of spirituality is to learn the boundaries of our tradition (13), but it needs to be said that the boundaries are often further than any of us normally experience in the practice of our Christianities.

I am thankful today for inspiration through scientific study applied to the history of space exploration around Mars. The study has inspired me to look deeply at my own faith journey and the ways in which I approach realms outside of my narrowness. I hope that we all find ways to interact with and become a blessing with traditions outside of our own tradition.

Let us Ramble: Selling Silence

In his book “Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation” the author Richard Rohr states:

“How do you market that which is inherently unmarketable? How do you sell silence? How do you make attractive what feels like selling air or selling emptiness or selling something that, certainly to the capitalistic mind, would not immediately be attractive at all?”

These are good questions. This quote came to mind as I considered the reading I did yesterday for Academy for Spiritual Formation. I was reading through “Thirsty for God: A Brief HIstory of Christian Spirituality” by Bradley Holt when the following quote caught my attention: (1—I’m just starting the book)

“You may be dehydrated right now but not know it. One peculiar feature of our physiology is that the signals for lack of fluid are not immediate or strong. Thus we may feel uneasy or tired when dehydrated but not recognize these symptoms as thirst. By the time we recognize thirst as such, we have already moved through the early stages of dehydration. Why does this matter? It matters because keeping our fluid levels up is vital for our bodies to function in so many important ways: for energy, for healing, for our immune systems, for electrolytes, and yes, even for sex.

So one part of the human predicament is that we do not always know what we really need or long for. Another part is that we find it difficult to act consistently on what we do know.”

How does a person sell silence? How does a person sell water? We learn to recognize thirst as thirst by necessity. I think that we have to learn to sell people silence by showing them the value, the need it quenches, and to consistently model it ourselves. Hence, this is all I’m writing today. Silence…

Let us Ramble: Tall Curbs and God

The other day I sat in a Dunkin Donuts outside Syracuse looking out the window. I was in the city for Annual Conference and was beginning the day with a cup of coffee before heading to the OnCenter for the day’s events. I noticed a table outside the window. It was a beautiful table in a very pragmatic sense. It had three benches and a fourth side open for a wheelchair for folks with accessibility needs. I was really excited to see the table!

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The table in question…

Unfortunately, the table was in the middle of a grassy section surrounded by a mulched landscaping filled with shrubs and over an 8” curb. The only section without mulch was in the middle of a very busy driveway with very fast traffic, For anyone with a wheelchair to get to the table it would require either a very capable individual or a significant amount of help. It made me shake my head. I am assuming that the person who purchased this table had wonderful intentions, but that those intentions were blocked by poor planning. I imagined it would drive me nuts if I wanted to sit there on a nice and sunny day but could not make my way to the table.

I was reminded of this moment in the past two weeks while reading through a book for the Academy for Spiritual Formation. I was reading through “Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God” by Macrina Wiederkehr when the following quote came to my attention: (pg. 12)

“On some days we struggle to feel anything—certainly not some magnetic mystery tugging us toward intimacy. The most important question is, are we accessible? Can God get in? Or, is our need for certainty so overpowering that it become a prison walling out even the divine? Whatever our inclination, God is always calling us beyond what we can see with the naked eye.”

Reading these words on the nature of approaching the scriptures reminded me of that table outside Dunkin Donuts. I want God to be active in my life. I want to hear the Word ringing throughout my heart and my soul, but let’s be honest. The Word of God is not always a safe word. As Hebrews 4:12 says “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Sister Wiederkehr even points out: (11)

“The Hebrew people believed that one could not see the face of God and live…When I am confronted by God’s Word, I am sometimes able to recognize that some change is needed in my life. Ordinarily I name this piece of growth, transformation. Of Course, the other side of transformation is that until I am able to integrate the change into my life, with a certain acceptance it feels more like death.”

I want God to be in my life but the Word of God is a dangerous word that can transform my life in ways that I cannot always anticipate. As much as I love Micah 6:8, sometimes it softens the reality of the spiritual life. I can often convince myself that I can enact justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God in ways that are comfortable for my soul. The Word of God sometimes calls me to a humility that can be difficult to bear. Enacting justice sometimes means letting go of my own privilege and that is neither easy nor comfortable.

So, am I accessible to God’s movement in my life? Have I grown beautiful shrubs that are less ornamental hedgerows around my heart and effectively more like a maze or labyrinth? Have I created places where God’s word can easily reach my core or do I have the tallest of curbs creating a subtle barrier? Am I willing to allow God into my heart and soul if God might bring discomfort, challenge, or even death to some bogarted piece of my soul or being that I would keep from God?

These are difficult questions for me to answer, but I believe that they are questions all Christians must be willing to consider. Do we love God enough to ask these kinds of tough questions? Here are a few questions I could have asked myself in years past (which I personally struggled with for many years and still have my moments of struggle—I imagine you have your own difficult questions):

  • God created both my wife and me. We were blessed into a partnership in this life together. We are compatriots and companions on this journey through life. Culturally, the world does not always agree with that viewpoint. Does my place in the family as the father mean that I have some kind of special privilege when it comes to who changes the baby when the diaper is dirty in a restaurant? Am I willing to support restaurants with changing tables in one bathroom and not another?
  • Does my view of human sexuality keep me from sharing God’s love with someone because they disagree with me? Does my comfortable place of inclusion within my culture keep me from asking tough questions about how my view affects others?
  • I tend to see God’s love in my life as a source of blessing which sometimes spills into the physical world. Is it right to get angry at a member of the Seneca Nation because they would like restitution for events of the past? Is it right to get upset because my father [owned] a piece of property within disputed territory? As a person who is a member of the most affluent ethnicity within one of the most affluent nations in the world, can I ethically believe that I know what a member of the Seneca nation believes or feels?
  • God created the earth in wonderful ways! It is full of good creatures and good people. So, where’d that meat come from in that cheeseburger I just ate? Did the hen who laid the eggs I ate for breakfast ever experience an open field? Who grew and picked the coffee beans that I used to brew my coffee? Did they have the capacity to eat as well as I did this morning?
  • God created the world and the people who live upon it. God has created and blessed the people who comprise many nations. Can I truly believe an America first view of the world when we’re just living here? If we’re theologically tenants and temporally just passing through, is that kind of viewpoint just, fair, or righteous?

The Word of God is sharp! It can lead to very difficult places when we allow it into our hearts. So, is my heart accessible or not? Do I want that kind of accessibility when it could change who I am in a heartbeat? If I say that i do, what am I willing to put before God to make that a reality? Will I look on God if it might mean personal sacrifice?

Let us be Ramble: Poetry in a Jumble

Hello from the land between one space and another. Last week I finished up the last of the Annual Meetings for the two halves of my church charge. Next week we are welcoming a new Administrative Assistant into our church office. I have been without an assistant (during the day) for four months and things have been a little chaotic around the office.

This is the land between one moment and another. Exacerbating this time between moments is the fact that our preschool program is off on a field trip this morning. This church is a very quiet place today. I am taking advantage of the quiet to sit in our future assistant’s office to work and pray today. I am trying to imbue the room with prayer in an attempt to be a blessing to our new assistant.

A few minutes ago I was sitting in the quiet and reading through my next book for the Academy for Spiritual Formation. I began to enter into the next book on my list which is “Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God” by Macrina Wiederkehr. In many ways, this book is very different than the last book that I read for the academy. This book is focused on entering into the text and helping readers to grow deeper in their own time in scripture. There is less exposition and more reflection. Regardless, here is what Sister Wiederkehr writes on the very nature of entering into a quest for the word of God: (pg. 8)

“It is not easy to find the Word of God in the midst of a jumble of words. The secret is connection. A community of words connects with each other and somehow in that connection we discern God’s Word for us. Praying with the white space between the words, sentences, and paragraphs is also important. The artist in us needs white space—our place of waiting, listening, and being. White space is the womb and the tomb in which we abide. We will experience birth, life, and death there, as we keep vigil with the Word of God”

As I reflected on these words in this empty space a few things stuck out to me revolving around the white space and the connections between words through spaces. This paragraph was incredibly effective at drawing things out of my depths.

The first place this paragraph took me was into the present. I am sitting in a church office which is unoccupied by an assistant at the moment. My wife has been assisting before and after her work, but in general, this office has been empty. It is a white space. Melissa sat in this place and blessed this community. Bonnie sat in this place and blessed this community. My wife has sat in this place in a different way in an attempt to make space for the person who would follow her.

Soon our new assistant will begin her own ministry of blessing from this place. She will do things differently. She’ll connect to some traditions out of Bonnie’s methods and some tradition’s out of Melissa’s methods. She’ll create her own traditions and methods. Soon this place will begin to be reshaped by her presence in our midst. In the meantime, this sacred space is empty, quiet, and waiting in stillness. This is a holy moment—this is “the womb and the tomb” where a new ministry will be born, live, and someday conclude. Hopefully that conclusion will be many years and many blessings from now. This is a sacred white space.

The second place this paragraph took me to in my reflection was to Annual Conference. The entire idea behind Annual Conference is supposed to be “holy conferencing.” Somewhere in the midst of all of the debate, motions, and rules of order there is supposed to be a place where the Holy Spirit works, moves, and expresses itself through the people gathered together in prayer and discernment.

This paragraph reminded me of Annual Conference because of the sacred white spaces. I recall Cathy Hall Stengel standing up in conference this year asking the bishop where there was space for people not on two sides of a particular issue to express their voices. She called for white space. I recall JJ Warren standing up and expressing his call to ordained ministry when the doors had been closed on him due to his sexuality and requesting room to respond to God’s inevitable and unavoidable call on his soul. He was requesting that creative white space be made for the Holy Spirit to call the people God was calling into ministry.

I recall many moments where there was a need for creativity, grace, and kindness. Places were required for life to be born, live, and conclude through the power of the Holy Spirit. There needed to be white spaces before all became an unending cacophony of noise without rest, meter, or even tonal structure.

These thoughts came out as I pondered this selection, but I also found myself drawn to the concept of the connection of words. If everyone carries a bit of God’s image within them, then there is a bit of God’s creative word in all of the people we see. Sister Wiederkehr wrote (pg. 9) that “Every person you encounter during the hours of your day is a word that God has spoken into the world. You too are one of God’s spoken words. And now God speaks through you.” We are connected to each other through the very fact that we are part of the poetry God is writing in this moment.

My brother in Christ Kevin Nelson from Schenectady First United Methodist Church shared the African concept of “ubuntu” on the floor of Conference last week. He translated it roughly as “I am who I am because of who we are.” In my mind, his view of connectedness draws from this idea from Sister Wiederkehr nicely. We are who we are because of the voice of God spoken into each person at the table.

Why do we seek justice? The people we seek to help each carry a bit of God’s poetic word in our midst. Why do we seek love, mercy, and grace? The people who need these things (including ourselves) are all bearers of God’s creative word. Why do we comb through the scriptures listening, abiding, and trusting in God’s encompassing love? We do these things because who we are as a people has called us into a poetic dialogue with scripture. The words on the page, the words in our lives, and the white spaces between connect to create something beautiful.

Is this easy? No! In retrospect, the very first sentence of the quote I referenced above has proven foundational in all of the places where Sister Wiederkehr’s words led me to reflect today. It is definitely not easy to find the word of God in the midst of the jumble of words we come across in life. Even discounting the carriers of God’s words who like to honk car horns, cut people off, and act less than kindly, the words in the Bible itself can be jumbled, confused, and distracting.

As I do enter into the word myself this day, I will do so realizing the challenge within me. Following Sister Wiederkehr’s advice, I will wait for God, read God’s word, spend time listening to what was written with an obedient heart, pray through where God is leading me, and finally abide in the midst of the jumble. With God’s blessing the word of God expressed in my life will join in the dance of poetry found within the scriptures. Together it is my prayer that I will join in the great proclamation of God’s love and compassion.

Let us be Grateful: “God’s Unconditional Love”

Today I finished the first book of four that I need to read before the first session of the Academy for Spiritual Formation. I am grateful that I have finished reading the book as it was a very deep book. At times it felt as if the book was so densely packed that I would collapse under the weight of the ideas.

I was reading through “God’s Unconditional Love: Healing Our Shame.” Authors Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon Au presented a book which looked at shame from a lot of different directions. They wrote at length about the internal and external sources of shame. They provided exercises to enter deeply the ideas they were sharing and provided examples of what some of those exercises might look like when put into practices.

This book was a great book. I am grateful that I had a chance to read through the book and am equally pleased that one of the author’s will be one of my instructors at the upcoming session of the Academy. I look forward to going into the concepts explored in the book with the author.

I would invite you to pick up a good book if you have not taken the time to read something that challenged you to go deeper into your passion in a while. A lot of people I know find a million and one excuses to not read including the bane of free time known as the internet. I invite you to slow down and find a good book. I invite you to try this book out for size. If you aren’t into that subject, I will tell you the next book on my hitlist is “Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God” by Macrina Wiederkehr.