Let us Ramble: Bookmarks

I love to read and yesterday I had a few fleeting moments of free time in the middle of my day. A few weeks back my children helped me glue together fancy pieces of paper with old fashioned glue sticks so that I could cut them up and laminate bookmarks for the plethora of books I am currently juggling. I go through a lot of bookmarks between Academy books, science fiction anthologies, short stories, and the occasional need for several bookmarks in a given Bible during a given service. I prepared to make a lot of bookmarks.

The goal was that the glue would hold the paper together so I would not get any annoying slivers of the back of one piece of paper on another. I had nice pumpkins on the side of one of the bookmarks and a nice brick wall motif on the other side. It looked kind of nice as the earthtones of the bricks went nicely with the orange of the pumpkins. I was looking forward to lots and lots of earth tones.

I sliced, I diced, I julienned… Okay, I am kidding. I just used the paper cutter. I cut them all into perfect shapes so that I could put together the perfect set of bookmarks for the fall. I have a new kid on the way, so I know I will need a lot of bookmarks as I dive into the collection of books while rocking. I laminated with exactly a quarter inch of laminate around each bookmark. They were going to be perfect.

I looked down and saw a bunch of bricks peeking out from under the desk. I thought I might have an extra bookmark, but… no pumpkins on the other side. I whipped through the bookmarks. There was a pumpkin bookmark with a glaring-white back in the midst of my perfect bookmarks. Ugh… I was so close to getting everything right! Perfectionism demanded I throw it away!

So close to perfection…

So, realizing my heart was telling me something important, I stopped. Why did it need to be a perfect bookmark? Wasn’t it a laminated bookmark? Wouldn’t it hold the page just fine? Didn’t I love pumpkins? What is wrong with a white back anyway? Why was I so upset about a bookmark not matching the rest?

I slowed down and realized that I was getting carried away. Nothing in life is perfect. Nothing is absolutely, completely, 100% according to plan… What seems to truly matter is what we do with our imperfections. If God can work in my life and I am not perfect, couldn’t I give this poor bookmark a chance?

I still have the bookmark. It won’t be the first one I choose, but I still have it. The bookmark will be a reminder to me that I need to work with the imperfections even as I ask God to work with my imperfections. To put it another way, I can ask God to forgive me my trespasses, even as I forgive the trespass of this poor bookmark.

May you find room to live into the imperfections today. May that space bless you.

Let us Ramble: “Blessed are we who are poor”

Today I would like to address why I took a break from blogging for a few weeks. I would like to preface that conversation with a quote from Simon Tugwell. The quote appears in “A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants” by Upper Room Press. The quote is sourced from the work “Prayer.”

“Blessed are the poor! How easily we take that always to mean somebody else. Yet if we want to be with God, we must learn to hear it as ‘blessed are we who are poor’, we who have not got anything very impressive to give to anybody, whose giving may very well be rather a nuisance, but who still have not given up giving.”

I took a break from blogging because my poorness came to my surface. I was burning the candle at both ends both professionally and personally. Church ministry required 110% as the fall kicked into high gear. There were campouts, meals, sermons, prayer ministries, and countless places where God’s grace was needed. I tried to be everywhere at once, which was the problem as my children seemingly moved from being children in attitude to being tweens overnight. Neither has reached double digits, but they both have the attitude. When you add in the needs of my pregnant wife, there was a lot to do at home.

I found myself running from place to place constantly. I was trying to be all things to all people and I needed some time to find peace. Everyone has moments when they need to focus on the divine for more than a few moments. Jesus spent time continually seeking after God in isolated places. I needed some space to simply focus upon my own time and relationship with God, especially as church and family needs have remained constant.

From here out, I am going to attempt to find a better balance. The process of learning to say no, to setting boundaries in healthier places, and in finding places of quiet may not be an easy process, but I believe that it will be a good process. Thank you for your patience with me during these moments of silence.

Let us Ramble: Anthems and Priorities

I am just concluding taking a short break from blogging. I will post on the reason for that break tomorrow, but today I feel compelled to speak a word into the world in which I live. I am a member of two nations. During this life on earth, I am an American citizen. Throughout this life and into the next, I am a citizen of Christ’s kingdom through the grace of God. What is more, as a minister I am expected to follow God and to teach the truth even when it leads to persecution, which this post might.

Balancing between the role of being a citizen in an earthly nation and being a citizen of Christ’s kingdom is a bit difficult at time, but actually most of the difficulty is social rather than ethical. Ultimately, my citizenship through Christ is what matters most to me. As I was reading through Psalm 86 this morning I found myself agreeing with the psalmist time and time again.

In the Common English Bible, verse 11 says “Teach me your way, Lord, so that I can walk in your truth. Make my heart focused only on honoring your name.” Verses 14-15 say “The arrogant rise up against me, God. A gang of violent people want me dead. They don’t give a thought for you. But you, my Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy; you are very patient and full of faithful love.” Verses 8-10 say “My Lord! There is no one like you among the gods! There is nothing that can compare to your works! All the nations that you’ve made will come and bow down before you, Lord; they will glorify your name, because you are awesome and a wonder-worker. You are God. Just you.”

I love Psalm 86. I will admit that I am definitely a monotheist in my heart, soul, and mind. I love God and deeply believe in the words, the mission, and the person of Jesus Christ. I am dedicated to God.

My dedication to God means that I pledge allegiance to Christ alone. I respect the land where I live, but ultimately that land is land. What matters to me first and foremost is God and I care about what matters to God.

What does Psalm 86 say about God? God is patient and loving. If I want to be like God, I will be patient and loving. God is compassionate and merciful. If I want to be like God, I will be compassionate and merciful. If imitation is really the sincerest form of flattery, I will take these attributes and work them into my life.

In honesty, as a Christian and as a minister, I sometimes find myself stunned that there are people who claim the name of Jesus who believe that we can do anything less than seek to be like our compassionate, merciful, patient, and loving God. The logic of claiming to follow Jesus and seeking to act contrary to the teachings of Jesus seems absurd. We are called to love God with all of who we are and to treat other people like we would like to be treated!

These concepts are some of the most basic in Christianity. These things are part of the life we are called to live…

So, how can we get mad at people who kneel to bring an awareness to a need for compassion, mercy, patience, and love? If we love a God who is just, how can we get mad at people calling out for justice? If we believe that God reached out to the suffering Israelites in Egypt when they called out to God for justice, why do we believe God would not do the same in the midst of this time and in our midst?

A lot of people seem incredibly mad at a bunch of wealthy NFL players calling out for justice, but I can tell you from personal experience that people who are desperately in need call out for justice who are neither wealthy nor famous. Our country has problems and God hears the call of the needy even if we ignore it. We are angry about people not paying enough respect to a song while there are people who are suffering silently without any other voice that are people loved by God and created in the image of God. How does that compute? Are we angry they are using their voice or angry that we cannot ignore it?

Would the conversation be different if the President of the United States led the way in pointing out the injustice instead of tweeting against the free speech he is expected to preserve? Would things be different if he led from a place of principled leadership instead of from a place of stirring up anger and hatred? Would things be different if he were to put on sackcloth and ashes instead of planning military parades to intimidate others? I am not certain that the conversation would change greatly as racism and prejudice are unfortunately deeply ingrained in our culture, but I will remember moments like these the next time I vote and make choices in my own life. I will probably need to remember these moments for the rest of my life. The arc of history is certainly long… Thankfully, patience is a part of my curriculum as a disciple of God.

All of this to say, I am going to keep working on my own life. I will continue to look for ways to embody compassion, mercy, patience, and love. I will seek justice. I will do all of these things because Psalm 86 is correct. The Lord is God. Just the Lord.

Let us Look: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

Today’s blog post is a continuation of the series on the Stations of the Cross crafted by artist Timothy Schmaltz which is located outside the Malvern Retreat House where my cohort of the Academy for Spiritual Formation meets for our sessions. Today’s image is one of the more difficult for me as a Protestant, as the event has no record in the canonical gospels.


Station of the Cross by Timothy Schmaltz

The image is based on the concept of St. Veronica wiping the face of Jesus. The format which I have been using to contemplate these stations is to show up to the contemplation, slow down into the contemplation, stay still with the contemplation, and finally stay with the contemplation as I go out into the world.

Showing up to an image of Veronica requires me to honestly state that I do not understand the need to add to the Biblical accounts with apocryphal stories. A friend gave me a copy of a book retelling the folk-tale of the “Three Trees.” The story was a beautiful story, but it was a story. The story was an interesting parable and commentary on self-image/self-worth, but it was a story. To honestly approach this text requires me to state that I struggle with apocryphal stories. In the case of adding these stories, I find myself protesting (and being very Protestant) internally.

Slowing down into the story requires work for me, but as I slow into the image, I find myself appreciating the compassion that the folklore around St. Veronica’s tale contains. Was Veronica the woman healed by Jesus after touching the hem of his garment? Did she come back to Jesus and share compassion after his compassion was shown to her? If so, do we have a parallel in story to the Samaritan leper healed with nine others in Luke 17?

The thing about the leper’s tale is that the leper could have easily walked away from Jesus after Jesus had done what was asked of him. The other nine lepers walked away and the story of Luke’s gospel neither records ill-effects or curses upon the other nine. The Samaritan leper is told by Jesus that the leper’s faith has made the leper well. To hear such words from Jesus would be seen as quite a boon to the folks receiving the gospel account—they will never hear those words or that voice in this life until Jesus returns or they cross to the distant shore. The Samaritan leper is blessed.

Perhaps one of the valuable parts of Veronica’s inclusion is the invitation people have to see reciprocal compassion shared into the life of Jesus. The life of Veronica is one which legends seem to indicate was neither easy nor pleasant. If she is the one who has been bleeding for years, that could not have been pleasant, healthy, or even acceptable in that society. She was unclean. The legend allows Veronica to return love to the one who freed her from that state.

Perhaps the value of staying still with Veronica is the understanding that we all have our broken places where we bleed. We all have places where we sometimes feel unclean and unworthy of God’s love. What if the wonderful part of being still with the concept of Veronica is understanding that we might be invited into similar places of acceptance, compassion, and even reciprocity with this saint. Perhaps one day in this life (or definitely on the other shore) we might see our love returned (face to face) to the one who first loved us.

This concept of sharing that love and having it accepted is what shall stay with me as I go forward. May God lead me to such a blessed moment as Veronica’s moment in this legend.

May my Roman Catholic friends have compassion with me as I continue to work my way through these stations. All worldviews evolve over time. Thank you for your patience.

Let us Look: Jesus is helped by Simon

Today’s blog post is a continuation of the series on the Stations of the Cross crafted by artist Timothy Schmaltz which is located outside the Malvern Retreat House where my cohort of the Academy for Spiritual Formation meets for our sessions. The series is predicated on the concept that Jesus’ crucifixion is pivotal both in the story of the life of Jesus Christ and in the stories of those who follow Jesus. Romans 6:3 states that everyone who was baptized into Christ’s life were also baptized into Christ’s death. Jesus’ passion narrative has become part of the narrative of our own salvation.

The format which I have been using to contemplate these stations is to show up to the contemplation, slow down into the contemplation, stay still with the contemplation, and finally stay with the contemplation as I go out into the world. Showing up involves not only taking the time to contemplate the imagery but also taking time to center upon contemplation in that moment. Slowing down with the image means lingering into the contemplation past the initial things that are noticeable. Staying still involves pondering the deeper questions that arise, which may or not be comfortable to sit win in the moment.

By my very nature, part of my showing up to a scripture is going through the steps of analyzing the subject. I cannot focus on contemplation until I spend some time going through my preconceptions. As such, a bit of scriptural analysis is the first bit of preparation that I do before going deeper into contemplation.


“Jesus is helped by Simon” by Timothy Schmaltz

Today’s contemplation takes place within the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John actually states that Jesus carried the cross by himself in John 19:17. To be fair, the gospel of John does not mention Jesus falling either.

In the earliest gospel, Mark 15:21 says that a passer-by named Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, is compelled to carry cross in the verse directly after Jesus is led forth to be crucified. There is no mention of Jesus falling or struggling. Matthew’s description is likewise spartan. Jesus neither falls nor struggles before the soldiers compel a man from Cyrene named Simon to carry the cross in Matthew 27:32. Luke does not describe Jesus as falling before the description of Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the cross behind Jesus in Luke 23:26.


“Jesus is helped by Simon” by Timothy Schmaltz

In fact, Jesus is not described as falling in any of the canonical gospels. Simon is simply compelled to carry the cross, which presumably happens because Jesus is struggling. One of the challenges that Protestants often have with the stations of the cross is that there are large portions of the stations which are not described in the scriptures. The stories which are passed down from generation to generation often are not seen as binding or authoritative as the canonical scriptures.

This place of struggle with what is canonical and what is inspired by oral tradition is where I find myself as I show up to this station. I did not mention that neither of the previous stations were outside of canonical scriptures for the past two weeks, but that has been weighing on my mind. As I slow down in this moment, I find myself drawn to contemplation around both the idea of what is canonical and what is important to know as we seek after Christ’s face.


“Jesus is helped by Simon” by Timothy Schmaltz

Pondering these three images of this station of the cross, I find myself drawn to the imagery. Simon of Cyrene is compelled to help Jesus, but Simon does not seem angry about this task in Mr. Schmaltz’s depiction. Simon seems willing to help a man who is already about to collapse. He seems willing to use his strength, which is a good thing as all of the gospels depict that Jesus has already been through a lot on this journey. He appears bent over by the weight of the cross and it is a minor miracle Jesus does not fall every other step with the robe that Mr. Schmaltz has placed upon Jesus. He ’s bent over by the weight of things.

We are often obsessed with the canonical story as Protestants. We are a people born of a strange time in the history of the church. We are a bit sensitive about these matters, but some of these stories make sense. If Jesus really is fully human, would it not make sense that he would fall after what he has been through? If Jesus really is fully human, would it not make sense that he would need a hand? I was taught in seminary that Jesus died fairly quickly as some crucifixions could last days. The evidence of time shown in the scriptures shows that Jesus was already in a fairly dicey condition.

As I stay in this moment, I am drawn to contemplate the reality of things. Jesus taught his disciples to do for other people what we would like them to do for us. Jesus has a moment here in his passion narrative where the great teacher has his teaching lived out in his own experience. Who wouldn’t want a hand in a moment like the one Jesus is experiencing? Who wouldn’t be grateful for the gift offered by the man of Cyrene named Simon?

I think that is perhaps what will stay with me as I leave behind this period of contemplation. We are taught to do for others what we would like them to do for us. Simon of Cyrene blesses Jesus by doing something that Jesus is unable to do. He offers Jesus a treasure of a gift, even if it might have been compelled.

Perhaps our role as grateful Christians is to pay forward the kindness of Simon of Cyrene. I wonder what burdens people are collapsing under in the lives around me. How could I be a blessing like Simon of Cyrene in my community, in my family, and in my world? How can I use my strength to do for others what I wish someone would do for me if I were in their shoes?