Thursday, March 2, 2017

Welcome back....this blog is one I wrote on while in Seminary....posting a few new posts here and there for grins and for a spiritual practice during Lent, 2017.  Leave me a comment if you liked anything I've said here.  Eager to know your thoughts.  The first one here is from February, 2010 during Lent while I was interning at a UCC church.

Luke 13:  31-35
God is my Light; God is my source of Courage and Grace; and, God is my Hen!

Inward Journey

Metaphor.  I’ve seen it defined as an indirect comparison between two or more seemingly unrelated subjects that typically use “is” or “a” to join the two subjects.  For example, king David said, “God is my fortress”;  and Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage.”  In my beginning theology class, we did an exercise where we were given a list of metaphors that describe God and Jesus. We had to interpret in our own words why some of those images were attached to God.  Some of the images included God as Father, God as Shepherd, God as Architect, God as Creator, God as Hen, and God as Mother.  Mother.  God is spoken about as a comforting mother.  In Isaiah 66:13, the prophet writes, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”  Note a couple of words here, the words comfort and Jerusalem.  I’ll get back to those words in a moment. What are your images that come to mind as I speak of God as metaphor?  God as Father… God as Mother…Shepherd… Creator… Architect…, and Hen.  When I did this activity in class, my small group got the word hen to hash out.  What does a hen do?  A hen protects her young. This mother covers her chicks with her massive feathers and protects them from harm.  Her chicks are safe and secure under her wings.  Perhaps, she even might peck at them to keep them in line, but for their protection.  We’ll come back to hen in just a second.

What are some metaphors for Jesus himself?  Jesus as Lamb… Shepherd… Gate… Vine and Light…Bread of Life and Bridegroom.  I would wager to guess that you may have heard one or two of these at some point in time.  In John’s gospel, he writes in chapter 8, verse 12, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said ‘I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Third word to remember: light. 

In the gospel passage today, Jesus is being warned by some Pharisees (Not all the Pharisees were against Jesus) to leave and get out of harms way (i.e. Herod’s way).  Jesus politely tells them to go tell that sly fox (not the most respectful thing to say regarding Herod) that he will keep on doing what he needs to do.  “Listen I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow…”  And then he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”  What is God saying to us here?  I believe, God is saying together, each and every one of us holds a special and uniquely our own relationship with God, or as Wendell Barry terms, “the household economy” of togetherness.  Everyday we are in the trenches of work, school, just the ins and outs of everyday life in general.  The trenches can be lonely places, places of isolation and perhaps even danger.  People gossip about us, with all the best intentions things don’t go as planned, we encounter unexpected illness, or an accident occurs, we lose a parent or sibling, we worry about a sick child with a fever, or we suffer from depression and anxiety.  God knows our fears and our shadowed selves.  And God says to you, to us, it’s okay.  I understand your fears.  I understand your anxieties.  I understand how hard you work.  I understand how hard you try.  I’m here and I’ll protect you as I am a hen and you are my chick.  You are my child and I will cover you with my feathers because I love you, and want no harm to befall you.  Sit along side me, and together we will laugh and cry.  I will meet you in the ordinary.

Recently, I’ve taken to having quiet time in the morning.  In my imagination, I see Jesus sitting next to me on the couch and we talk in the early morning silence while I’m drinking my first cup of coffee.  In the quiet of restorative stillness, Jesus and I talk about life.  I ask him a question or tell him what I’m worried about, or sometimes even what I’m struggling to understand.  We talk.  Actually, Jesus talks and I write in my journal.  But together, we live life.  I am the chick and Jesus is the Hen.  I am comforted; I am loved; and I am protected.  And, here’s the kicker, sometimes I may not recognize that I am loved, but I am.  I may not recognize that I am protected, but I am; and, sometimes I may not recognize that I am comforted, but I am.  It shows up in the ordinary.  The smile from a stranger, the phone call or the friend request on Facebook from the long forgotten friend, or even in the person who you thought didn’t like you, giving you a kind word or gesture.   Let me say that again, together, you and God live life.  You are the chick and Jesus or God is the Hen.  You are comforted; You are loved; and you are protected.  And, here’s the kicker, sometimes you may not recognize that you are loved, but you are just the same.  You may not recognize that you are protected, but you are protected just the same; and, sometimes you may not recognize that you are comforted, but you are just the same.  It shows up in the ordinary.  As I end our inner Journey with this poem prayer I found, remember the three words of Comfort, Light and Jerusalem as you sit, with God next to you, in the restorative stillness.  Lent is  a time of restorative stillness.

“Under God's wings I am safely abiding,
Through the night deepens and tempests are wild,
Still I can trust; I know God will keep me,
God redeems me, and I am God's child.  And the refrain goes,
“Under God's Wings, under God's wings,
Who from sever the love?
Under God's wings my soul shall abide,
Safely abide forever.”...Amen

Outward Journey
UCC uses the revised common lectionary like many other denominations and churches in America today.  In the lectionary, each week, the gospel reading is accompanied with a selection from the old testament, a psalm, and a new testament reading other than the gospel, like the letters of Paul.  For today, Psalm 27 is the psalm that is coupled with our passage from Luke.  The first line reads, ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation;  whom shall I fear?  The Lord is my stronghold of my life of whom shall I be afraid?   The last two verses read, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the Living.  Wait for the Lord;  be strong, and let your heart take courage;  Wait for the Lord.”

I want to introduce two new words to remember:  Courage and Grace to our three existing words: Comfort, Light and Jerusalem.  Now, I need to step back and explain or remind, that Jerusalem is a place, true, but it too can be a metaphor.  It can stand for the world to come, or it can stand for God’s kingdom here on earth, right now.  God’s kingdom here on earth is a place where we acknowledge God’s love for us, and the fact that part of God’s personality, who God is, is to protect us and comfort us as a mother hen does with her chicks.  But, God also knows that when we acknowledge that we stand in God’s light, and we acknowledge that Christ’s grace prevails, our fears become courage.  And, we can become the hen to care for the world and for the people in it.

So, in the Inner Journey, Jesus or God however it’s comforting to think about it, was the hen and we were the chick.  In the Outward Journey, we learn to become the hen, where the world is our chick.  I learned recently in one of my classes that grace begets grace.  When a third person watches a good deed, they too will do a good deed, or even a greater deed.  And the action of love becomes a genuine response to being moved by something.  When we hear that Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake, and now yesterday in Chile, we want to help in any way we can.  It’s also when we want to take help someone whose in pain, even though others condemn them.  God gives us courage and grace.  We then go past what is believed, the bias, and we show comfort and light to others.  We bring Jerusalem right now to Austin Texas or Ecaudor, Chile, or anyplace in-between, or on either side, or above or below.  We go beyond reason and react from a place of love, fortified with courage and grace.

I would like to end with this prayer I found this week.  Please join me in prayer: 
Sheltering God:
When we are afraid,
You bring us into your heart;
When we have lost our way,
You give us gentle guides;
When we cry out to you,
You grace us with your presence.

Jesus Christ
Like a mother hen,
You gather up our doubts
And transform them into confidence;
You surround our fears
And transform then into faithfulness;
And pick up our brokenness

And transform us into your Body

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sermon on Luke 14:7-11

Luke 14: 7-11
The Timeliness of Humility

Humility is one of those abstract words that is hard, at least for me, to define. I looked up Humility in the Websters dictionary recently, and the definition given was this: Noun, the quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc. Then, I looked it up in a couple of theological dictionaries and they said this: that in the Hebrew, the word for humility is Anaw. Anaw indicates the act of humility as well as the profoundness of meekness. Anaw also indicates that God, Yahweh, shows favor to the humble, and that the humble are easily taught by God. In addition, it is the humble, and those who are afflicted who have a spirit of dependence upon God, which Yahweh promises to watch over.

In New Testament Greek, Humility, the word tapeinoo caries various shades of meaning. It can mean to make small, or to be obedient. When Saint Paul uses the word, tapeinoo, humility, he indicates that the word implies the compassion necessary to know what's it's like to be in need. To know what's it's like to be in need. That’s a phrase that makes me pause and think.

Okay...that all sounds well and good. But I still struggle with the absolute meaning of humility. Does humility mean that since you are meek, that you have no courage? Does humility mean to have no back bone, and let others walk all over you? My search for the meaning, came up with the resonating answer that humility is a calmness in's in the openness to listen to God and not to the self-indulgent echoes of yourself or others. As far as courage, humility is the strength to follow Jesus. Humility is a Christian practice. It's what is called a Spiritual Discipline. So, what is a Christian practice? One defining quote I found, said this, “The things people do together over time to address fundamental human needs, in response to, and in the light of, God's active presence for the life of the world.”

So, enough of the definitions and what does Jesus mean by the giving and telling of this parable. Let me reread it....

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

I heard a story in my Christian Education course. It was the story of Le Chambon France during World War II. Le Chambon is a village about 350 miles south of Paris in south-central France. This small village is known for giving sanctuary to 5000 Jews fleeing the Holocaust by 5000 Christians. That’s interesting: a one to one ratio. The Christian people of Le Chambon sheltered Jewish refugees. They did this and educated the sheltered children, as well as, arranged for hundreds to escape to safety in Switzerland or Spain through a well organized underground network. Le Chambon has long been recognized for their hospitality. But even more so, they should be recognized for their bravery and humility in following Christ. They could have easily in the words of the French Prime Minister in 2004 while celebrating the victories of Le Chambon, not stood up to all the dangers ; but instead they chose courage, generosity and dignity. And, I might add, humility and faith.

Pastor Andre Trocme served the people of Le Chambon during the years of the Holocaust. Through his direction, the Nazis never took any of the people hidden ,nor the people who gave them welcome and sanctuary in private homes, on farms and in public institutions. When authorities questioned possible wide-scale rescue activities in the region, they demanded the pastor to stop. His response was to say, “These people came here for help and for shelter. I am their shepherd. A shepherd does not forsake his flock. I do not know what a Jew is. I know only human beings.”

Maybe Trocme's words echo a stronger religious admonition....Jesus' words to us: Love One Another. The people of Le Chambon gave a banquet and invited the poor, the crippled and the lame. They knew somehow in the end that they would be blessed for their humility. Because, those who they brought to the table could not repay. The Christians of Le Chambon went past self-interest. Needless to say, they put their very lives on the line out of dignity and humility in Christ. They did not think they were superior to the Jews. They just knew what they needed to do. They exercised the spiritual practice of humility and in return they extended hospitality and protection, spreading God's love to those who needed it. They gave because others needed it. I read once that a person may give to another, simply because he or she could not help it. In other words, something seizes them to give, and to love. This type of giving is the only real way to give. As in Jesus’ parable, the law of the kingdom is this-if someone gives to gain reward, he or she will not be given any type of reward. But if someone gives with with no thought of reward (just doing what is right), then the reward is certain. The only real giving is that which is the uncontrollable outflow of love.

The allowing for that uncontrollable outflow of love, which comes directly from God, is what I term as humility. Interestingly enough. this parable in Luke is sandwiched between a story about the scrutiny of hostile men (Jesus being questioned by the Pharisees about healing on the Sabbath); and a story of the King's banquet and the King's guests (the parable that addresses those who are too busy or those too preoccupied within their world to recognize that they invited guests of the banquet housed in the kingdom of God.)

I titled this sermon, The Timeliness of Humility. Humility does not stop with stories like Le Chambon, France. Humility occurs everyday. Humility also, and most notably, takes patience and trust in God. Humility is not the attitude of I’m right; they’re right; that person is wrong, or they’re all wrong. My interest..Those types of stances are what is called pride. Humility, Christ’s humility, is comprised of the trusting, the faithfulness, the patience, and the openness to God. It’s finding the dignity to recognize God in our lives; and to recognize of all of God’s people, and their importance. No matter what. There’s a lot of tension in the world today. We are a fallen people. So, it’s a given that there is always tension. But it’s seems more ostensible now, economically, politically and socially. It’s in these times that we ask for God to give us humility. Humility, the spiritual discipline that is always timely.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Sermon on Hebrews from 8/8/10

The last two weeks have been trying, so I hope to get back to rescheduled blogging very soon. But until then, here is the sermon I preached in Salado yesterday morning. Hope there's something there that either makes sense, or touches you. Thanks for reading :-)!

Hebrews 11: 1-3 & 8-16
Salado FPC

I was working as a chaplain intern the weekend of July 4, 2009. On this particular Friday night I had many pending crises going on simultaneously. In the middle of juggling the different episodes of care, I remembered a lady I had visited earlier that morning. She had broken her shoulder the night before and was trying to stay positive as best she could in spite of the tremendous pain she was enduring. I remember she said poetry, especially by the poet Emily Dickinson, gave her comfort. So while I had a second that evening, I thought let me print out the poem I saw on my friend's blog by Dickinson, and run it up to her. I found it quickly enough and printed it. I reread the first stanza,
"Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—”

That will work I thought to myself.

She was delighted with the poem choice. As she lay in her hospital bed, the poem reminded her of her own faith. She found the touch of hope and calm in that faith. She in return gave me a tremendous gift that evening, as she in spite of her condition, saw God's purpose for me and affirmed God's promise in a few short words, “You are very special; you were meant to do this work.” Her words quelled my own doubts and my momentary lack of faith in God and myself.

Last summer I completed this hospital internship in Austin. Internships of this type go by an innocuous acronym, CPE, which stands for Clinical Pastoral Education. Some people regard, as myself, this time as one of the hardest things they will ever do as part of their seminary training. Not only are you thrown into crisis situations where you have little or no experience to offer pastoral care and direction, but you and the people in your peer group examine your life, your faith walk, and why you act and believe the things you do. Looking back I remember thinking and laughing with my group mates that the day I finish CPE is the day of the eschaton; the day I see Jesus. The end of CPE marked the end of the intense trial of self-examination, the questioning of faith; as well as the hope that I was actually following God's calling, and meant to do the work I thought God was calling me to do. The end of CPE, I thought, would mark the time of divine arrival, a happiness that would permeate my entire being and make every future interaction go perfectly. Now as we can all attest, every situation can never go perfectly. But through our experiences, especially the hard ones, faith's the thing, along side hope with feathers that perches in the soul. This perching becomes the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The Hebrews passage today talks about faith and hope. It's questioned if the letter to the Hebrews was actually written by Paul. But there is no question as to that it was written to encourage, and even written to stand on its own, or touch the soul, as some would consider in the way of a sermon. One of the ways it does this is by providing the example of Abraham to illustrate its point. Abraham listened, obeyed and trusted God so much that he set out for a place not seen. He believed God when told, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them...for so shall your decedents be.” Abraham believed God. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that had foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

But what is Faith? What is Hope? And, are we automatically happy because we have faith? Is faith ever questioned? Was Abraham happy? Was his faith ever tested? Abraham was in the promised land for years and did not ever see the glory of the promise itself. Did he ever doubt, then? Knowing some of the aspects of Abraham's story, and the echoes of Abraham's story in our own story, we know perhaps that this is true. The test of our faith is apparent by living everyday. We strive to be hopeful and faithful. We strive to be happy. We chase the substance of happiness. And think at times that if we're happy, that will be a sure sign that we have unquestioned faith and hope.

This is the 50th year of the longest running American musical, The Fantasticks. Some of you may not know this but the creators of the Fantasticks, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, both went to the University of Texas where they met and collaborated on many projects as students. Matter of fact as a side note, the University of Texas is hosting a celebration weekend of events this fall to commemorate the marking of this milestone in American theater. If you're not familiar with this musical, it's a fable about life with all its sweetness, hardships, turmoil and blessings. At the end of act one, the young couple at the center of the story are happily together, and their fathers restore their differences. Happiness and faith abound. However, the happiness they showcase is a form of brainless, idiotic happiness. They are happy without the substantive understanding that true happiness is more hard won than that. True happiness is found at the end of the play when the boy and girl, he after being badly bruised and battered by life; and she after losing what is most precious to her, find each other again. They realize that you can go through a lot of pain in life and come up standing. Happiness, and really faith, comes when you realize the human race, and notably you as an individual, can go through a lot of pain and come up standing. That's what we need to hear. Is that not the gospel?

I have a friend that speaks truth with humor and relevance, but always without malice. Do you know anyone like that? She recently blogged about a quote she came across that said, “The God-Life is a great life. He turns an ordinary story into an amazing adventure!” Aside from second guessing the author’s true intent, my friend calls superficial phrases like this, self-help drivel with a dash of Jesus juice. She writes that with this type of phrasing, she can only imagine the delivery of the line coming out of a Amy Poehler/Seth Meyers SNL Weekend Update sketch. She wonders if the trend to mask happiness into a sign of faithfulness is just pride parading around in the skin of positivity. She questions how some turn Christianity into an exclusive club, where its members, as she writes, “live such adventurous, glamorous lives where happy juice if the drink of choice and troubles are just little speed bumps that slow you down just enough to get you to pause and reflect but don't get you to stop, look and listen. Happiness is not an object to be captured. Happiness, and faith, are more hard won than that.
Let me give you the second stanza of Dickinson's poem, which I started with this morning,
“And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm-”

Two weeks ago now was one of the hardest weeks I've had in a really long time. I lost an immediate family member that I had no true adult relationship with, and consequently had not significantly seen since my late teen years. On the heals of this unexpected shock, I was not selected for two positions I applied, two dear friends moved to states away from Texas (I know the nerve), and I was bit by a rooster named Sue twice. (It's okay you can laugh at that last part...even though it did hurt and I still have the bruises to prove it). But on the other side of this exhaustive week, I realized that even though things appeared to be against me and coming apart, and perhaps I did not even see hope and faith in the exact moment; I did notice after a few days the ebb of despair dissipate and the pieces pull together. The way was made clearer, and little by little brighter. I could see the seeds of reconciliation planted in fresh soil, the transformation of understanding for the sensitivity of timing, and the appreciation for the promise of new life bestowed upon the friends I love. I regained a footing of faith and subsequently hope. I felt faith-filled. I sensed a tinge of relief centered happiness, but that of which only comes from a covering of peace.

I'm reminded that the gospel does not equal happiness. Happiness is an image, a glimmer from which the gospel resonates. The gospel is peace. It's the peace found in reconciliation, transformation, new life and resurrection. From that peace, we get a glimmer of warm happiness. Some call it joy. Reminder to self: Happiness should never be the object solely sought. Happiness, correction joy, comes out of peace.

Faith then, as a commentary I looked at put it, is an attitude of commitment by which one persists and endures while all things seem contrary. The experience of each person, as it’s shown in the letter to the Hebrews and in each of our lives, shows how faith works at some crucial juncture in each life. Each person 's story allows us to watch individuals wrestle for meaning in contexts that seem crushing and unmanageable. Abraham responds to life as a pilgrim caught between past and future in a very demanding present. And yet his trust, as well as our trust, in God's concern gives us perspective, patience and persistence. As Abraham, we’re of our own time, but stirred by looking forward, we’re seekers; directed by what was yet to be, encouraged by what is anticipated. Abraham sensed that the meaning of his days could be clarified in time and vindicated by God. True faith is characterized by a forward look and an openness to the pull of the future that God has planned. Abraham did not look back. He only looked forward.

But once we go through the hard times and arrive at the promised land, do we stop? Is every situation and interaction perfect now? Unfortunately no. However, no is never the end of the story. Faith and hope continues the cycle. God’s promises and steadfast love always endure.

Please indulge me to end this with the last stanza of Dickinson’s poem, and then once again the first,
“I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.”


"Hope", and I'll add faith, is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—”


Monday, August 2, 2010

A Writing Reminder

From Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson, "While personal experience often provides the material and the impetus-how can it be otherwise?-the act of writing is primarily an exploration of a larger world, entering into more reality, getting away from ourselves, moving beyond ourselves into other lives, other worlds."

According to Peterson, writing is not recast to the terms of ones own experience. I want to remember that in the midst of our crazy narcissistic world.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Prayer

From the book, Stumbling towards Faith by Renee Altson:

o god,
your love does pull at me
if i am silent with myself
I feel it,
as much as i feel my blood, my breath,
it is there, as present with me as my own self.

if terrifies me, this love of yours.
what does it expect in return?
what will it demand of me?
what part of who i am must i sacrifice for it?
how much of me will be lost?

i am afraid of losing what i have left
so much has already been taken away
so much i never gave,
so much i was never able to give
because it was never mine.

i am afraid that your love will take me apart
that it will undo me, rewrite me,
that it will strip me of my defenses,
my pathetic self-securities,
that it will leave nothing left.

my whole life has been a fear of being nothing.
i have held on to my terror, my shame, my grief,
believing it helped to keep me alive.

what does your love do with my shame?
what does your love do with everything in me that resists it?

and always, the same questions:
where were you in those harsh times? where was your love?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Video Saturday: Movie Comforts

This is one of my most favorite movies. And strangely, one I seek when I need a sense of comfort. Maybe it's the beautiful music and underlining quiet of the movie. Maybe it's the scenery (shot mostly on Robert Redford's property in Utah). Maybe it's reminder of the Hero's Journey we're each on. Nevertheless, for some reason it just speaks to me on many levels. Growing up in California, I was attracted to all the legends of the mountain men. So, maybe that's all it is :-). And the juxtaposition of dealing with our own aloneness and the ebb and flow of life. Enjoy, this beginning seven minutes from Jeremiah Johnson.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Quote by Annie Lamott

From an interview with Annie Lamott by Linda Buturian. A question proposed by Buturian: When you lie awake at night, what kind of child are you in the family of God? How old do you feel?

Annie's response is that nothing (no principals of insomnia..something she says she's suffered with since the age of 4-5) can separate herself from the love and strength of God. However, she does see herself about the age of 11. The in-between stage of being a kid and being a teenager. "It means that I can be a little bit formless and a little bit outside of that need to have an image or a definition to hang it all on."

I like that...and I especially love the question. What kind of child am I? At different stages in my life, I've been different ages in the family of God. I've been the responsible and dutiful adult, and the angst driven teenager. I feel currently about the age of about 9-10. I still need a lot of comfort and holding, and able to allow, even desperately seek and desire, that to occur from God. But, shaky as it is, have developed enough sense of self to stand for what and who I am. Also, at this age, typically not too many people are paying attention to you, so you come and go as you please. You have a sense of protection. You have friends but your existence does not hinge on them, as a teenager or someone in their 20s would. Oh yeah, and school is your whole life and existence, and that's a good thing. :-). All of which is how I see myself now. Next year will be a totally different age in God's family, as I transition from the life of a divinity student into a life of ministry.

I thought of what Lamott says about insomnia. Being someone who lets the ghosts of anxiety and childhood fears run rampart in thinking back over the present day(s) while trying to fall asleep, I got choked up when she gives the reminder that nothing can separate us from the love of God. The reality of truth is that absolutely nothing can.

So, when You lie awake at night, what kind of child are you in the family of God? How old do You feel?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Happy Birthday Stephen~

Today is Stephen Vincent Benet's birthday. He was born on July 22, 1898 and died on March 13, 1943. One interesting note about Benet: He wrote the musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Didn't know that.

Noted for poetry, here is one of my favorite poems by Benet when I was a child. It's called, The Mountain Whippoorwill. Do you remember it?

The Mountain Whippoorwill
(Or, How Hill-Billy Jim Won the Great Fiddlers' Prize)

By Stephen Vincent Benet
Up in the mountains, it's lonesome all the time,
(Sof' win' slewin' thu' the sweet-potato vine.)
Up in the mountains, it's lonesome for a child,
(Whippoorwills a-callin' when the sap runs wild.)
Up in the mountains, mountains in the fog,
Everythin's as lazy as an old houn' dog.
Born in the mountains, never raised a pet,
Don't want nuthin' an' never got it yet.
Born in the mountains, lonesome-born,
Raised runnin' ragged thu' the cockleburrs and corn.
Never knew my pappy, mebbe never should.
Think he was a fiddle made of mountain laurel-wood.
Never had a mammy to teach me pretty-please.
Think she was a whippoorwill, a-skittin' thu' the trees.
Never had a brother ner a whole pair of pants,
But when I start to fiddle, why, yuh got to start to dance!
Listen to my fiddle -- Kingdom Come -- Kingdom Come!
Hear the frogs a-chunkin' "Jug o' rum, Jug o' rum!"
Hear that mountain whippoorwill be lonesome in the air,
An' I'll tell yuh how I travelled to the Essex County Fair.
Essex County has a mighty pretty fair,
All the smarty fiddlers from the South come there.
Elbows flyin' as they rosin up the bow
For the First Prize Contest in the Georgia Fiddlers' Show.
Old Dan Wheeling, with his whiskers in his ears,
King-pin fiddler for nearly twenty years.
Big Tom Sergeant, with his blue wall-eye,
An' Little Jimmy Weezer that can make a fiddle cry.
All sittin' roun', spittin' high an' struttin' proud,
(Listen, little whippoorwill, yuh better bug yore eyes!)
Tun-a-tun-a-tunin' while the jedges told the crowd
Them that got the mostest claps'd win the bestest prize.
Everybody waitin' for the first tweedle-dee,
When in comes a-stumblin' -- hill-billy me!
Bowed right pretty to the jedges an' the rest,
Took a silver dollar from a hole inside my vest,
Plunked it on the table an' said, "There's my callin' card!
An' anyone that licks me -- well, he's got to fiddle hard!"
Old Dan Wheeling, he was laughin' fit to holler,
Little Jimmy Weezer said, "There's one dead dollar!"
Big Tom Sergeant had a yaller-toothy grin,
But I tucked my little whippoorwill spang underneath my chin,
An' petted it an' tuned it till the jedges said, "Begin!"
Big Tom Sargent was the first in line;
He could fiddle all the bugs off a sweet-potato vine.
He could fiddle down a possum from a mile-high tree,
He could fiddle up a whale from the bottom of the sea.
Yuh could hear hands spankin' till they spanked each other raw,
When he finished variations on "Turkey in the Straw."
Little Jimmy Weezer was the next to play;
He could fiddle all night, he could fiddle all day.
He could fiddle chills, he could fiddle fever,
He could make a fiddle rustle like a lowland river.
He could make a fiddle croon like a lovin' woman.
An' they clapped like thunder when he'd finished strummin'.
Then came the ruck of the bob-tailed fiddlers,
The let's-go-easies, the fair-to-middlers.
They got their claps an' they lost their bicker,
An' they all settled back for some more corn-licker.
An' the crowd was tired of their no-count squealing,
When out in the center steps Old Dan Wheeling.
He fiddled high and he fiddled low,
(Listen, little whippoorwill, yuh got to spread yore wings!)
He fiddled and fiddled with a cherrywood bow,
(Old Dan Wheeling's got bee-honey in his strings).
He fiddled a wind by the lonesome moon,
He fiddled a most almighty tune.
He started fiddling like a ghost.
He ended fiddling like a host.
He fiddled north an' he fiddled south,
He fiddled the heart right out of yore mouth.
He fiddled here an' he fiddled there.
He fiddled salvation everywhere.
When he was finished, the crowd cut loose,
(Whippoorwill, they's rain on yore breast.)
An' I sat there wonderin' "What's the use?"
(Whippoorwill, fly home to yore nest.)
But I stood up pert an' I took my bow,
An' my fiddle went to my shoulder, so.
An' -- they wasn't no crowd to get me fazed --
But I was alone where I was raised.
Up in the mountains, so still it makes yuh skeered.
Where God lies sleepin' in his big white beard.
An' I heard the sound of the squirrel in the pine,
An' I heard the earth a-breathin' thu' the long night-time.
They've fiddled the rose, and they've fiddled the thorn,
But they haven't fiddled the mountain-corn.
They've fiddled sinful an' fiddled moral,
But they haven't fiddled the breshwood-laurel.
They've fiddled loud, and they've fiddled still,
But they haven't fiddled the whippoorwill.
I started off with a dump-diddle-dump,
(Oh, hell's broke loose in Georgia!)
Skunk-cabbage growin' by the bee-gum stump.
(Whippoorwill, yo're singin' now!)
My mother was a whippoorwill pert,
My father, he was lazy,
But I'm hell broke loose in a new store shirt
To fiddle all Georgia crazy.
Swing yore partners -- up an' down the middle!
Sashay now -- oh, listen to that fiddle!
Flapjacks flippin' on a red-hot griddle,
An' hell's broke loose,
Hell's broke loose,
Fire on the mountains -- snakes in the grass.
Satan's here a-bilin' -- oh, Lordy, let him pass!
Go down Moses, set my people free;
Pop goes the weasel thu' the old Red Sea!
Jonah sittin' on a hickory-bough,
Up jumps a whale -- an' where's yore prophet now?
Rabbit in the pea-patch, possum in the pot,
Try an' stop my fiddle, now my fiddle's gettin' hot!
Whippoorwill, singin' thu' the mountain hush,
Whippoorwill, shoutin' from the burnin' bush,
Whippoorwill, cryin' in the stable-door,
Sing tonight as yuh never sang before!
Hell's broke loose like a stompin' mountain-shoat,
Sing till yuh bust the gold in yore throat!
Hell's broke loose for forty miles aroun'
Bound to stop yore music if yuh don['t sing it down.
Sing on the mountains, little whippoorwill,
Sing to the valleys, an' slap 'em with a hill,
For I'm struttin' high as an eagle's quill,
An' hell's broke loose,
Hell's broke loose,
Hell's broke loose in Georgia!
They wasn't a sound when I stopped bowin',
(Whippoorwill, yuh can sing no more.)
But, somewhere or other, the dawn was growin',
(Oh, mountain whippoorwill!)
An' I thought, "I've fiddled all night an' lost,
Yo're a good hill-billy, but yuh've been bossed."
So I went to congratulate old man Dan,
-- But he put his fiddle into my han' --
An' then the noise of the crowd began!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Another Link to the Sidebar...Meet Carol

At the end of this past semester, I was introduced to a new book called Tribal Church. The writer is an alum of my seminary, and now even a Facebook friend. At first I didn't like the title of the book. The word tribal to me suggests exclusion to the tenth degree. Traditionally, tribes do not band together with other tribes; they fight against one another. Tribe also suggests to me a clique. Cliques do not let outsiders in easily. Also outsiders must become like the tribe they are seeking adoption before they can be accepted. So, I was quite surprised about the book's actual premise. The book is great and I enjoyed it a great deal in its practicality and reverence. The book is about the changing needs amongst a new generation of people, and how they approach church. The changes in society reflected in the attitudes and needs of younger adults today must be addressed when it comes to providing them with spiritual nourishment and growth. Her blog gives this description of the book,

"lts today, she describes how churches can provide a safe, supportive place for young adults to nurture relationships and foster spiritual growth. There are few places left in society that allow for real intergenerational connections to be made, yet these connections are vital for any church that seeks to reflect the fullness of the body of Christ.

Using the metaphor of a tribe to describe the close bonds that form when people of all ages decide to walk together on their spiritual journeys, Merritt casts a vision of the church that embraces the gifts of all members while reaching out to those who might otherwise feel unwelcome or unneeded. Mainline churches have much to offer young adults, as well as much to learn from them. By breaking down artificial age barriers and building up intentional relationships, congregations can provide a space for all people to connect with God, each other, and the world."

She is coming up with a new book, set to arrive on the market soon. The new book is titled, "Reframing Hope" due out in August. This book continues to discuss the changing landscape of how we understand "church" in a new time and for a new generation of people. Anyway, I frequet her blog reguarly. So, now here's a formal introduction...(click on the word introduction). Today's post spoke on the burn out of ministers. I'm not officially a minister yet, but doing pulpit supply and interacting with others as a minister, I do feel different. I look at people and life differently. God has changed me from the inside out, so it speak. And let me tell you, change is never easy. And allowing yourself to surrender to God's changes takes a tremendous about of chutzpa (Yiddish for courage but even more so). Without further ado, from today's blog post,

The Professional Loneliness—Clearly, after you become a pastor, going to a party will never be quite the same experience again. There are people who will tell you every problem they have had with religion, or every problem that they have in general. They will apologize for cursing or for drinking. Or they are entirely too happy that you’re a minister. And all of it can make a pastor long to be just an ordinary citizen of the world. The problem becomes compounded when the pastor is single. I recently went to lunch with a wonderful group of clergywomen, who explained that they do not tell guys their profession on the first few dates. They tell them that they work for a non-profit."

Check Carol out. You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Martha & Mary: A story of obligation...

For this coming Sunday, I'm going to post probably a for today, here is my sermon I preached this past Sunday, 7/18.

Last January I was taking what is called a Jan term class. These courses are usually held, you guessed it, in January and meet everyday during the month. Sometimes they are intense, like when I took biblical Hebrew. And sometimes they are more introspective, like the class I took this past January. This class was a class on pastoral care in alternate settings. It was held in a recovery center, and the eleven of us students not only learned about care for families and individuals who deal with various illnesses and addictions, but we learned how to listen to God. We were tasked to keep a journal, and on a morning basis write a dialog with God. Our assignment was to read a bit of scripture, ask God a question, then listen. After listening, we were to write down what we had heard. This brought each of us not only a whole new awareness of God, but taught us about how we interact with each other. One of my revelations from this activity was to remember friends, get out more, look at things from a different angle, and learn to listen more intently to what God was saying to me. Even if it was something I didn’t want to hear.

So in late January there was a Girl’s Night Out planned and organized by a few women from my home faith community. (Now at this point I was working an internship at another church while taking this January term class...I was quite busy). With some hesitation, I went to the Girls Night Out and watched the movie chosen by the group. When I got home, I wrote a Facebook status. (Yes, I am a big Facebook user.) And this is what I said. “So glad I went to girls night out tonight...funny movie and great company. And it was good for my soul to go. I was totally irresponsible in going...sermon not written; paper not started, and apartment not clean..even dirty dishes in the sink.” The pastor of my home faith community left me this comment to my status, “sometimes it is the absolutely responsible thing to do, to do what the voices in my head say would be the irresponsible thing to do! dishes? homework? cleaning? No Way. Community and laughter and relaxing are what God likes better.”

Now I don’t think he was saying God likes shirking responsibility entirely, but God wants us to listen to the rhythms of life...people and community, and our selves as God speaks to us. In today’s world, there is no argument that technology, cell phones, the impulsion to multi-task, and the bombardment of messages demand our attention, time and concentration. This very issue was written about in a opinion column in yesterday’s New York Times. The writer tells a story about a lovely engagement party that consisted of delicious foods and champagne toasts. Although, one small glitch. The guests, with their cell phones on the table, consistently sent text messages to friends and each other throughout the entire party. The writer proposes, “Enough already with this hyperactive behavior, this techno-tyranny and nonstop freneticism (frenzy). We need to slow down and take a deep breath.”

I met a friend for breakfast last week. We meet at a sweet, bright restaurant. However, as we sat at our table, we noticed music playing, and TVs on. The TVs were playing on various walls. And I noticed that added to the frenzy of what was going on in the dining rooms, was a scrolling news banner toward the bottom of each of the TV screens. Is it too much? I’m sure the restaurant owners are not out to hurt their patrons by giving them a huge headache. They are offering hospitality in accordance, or in obligation to what society demands them to have in their establishment. They believe in order to serve people, they must offer them, TV, music and of course free WiFi. But at what cost? All in the name of Hospitality in our busy society.

In the Genesis reading, Hospitality is slightly different than today’s restaurant. Abraham sees three men amidst the Lord. He scrambles to prepare for his guests, making sure they can be refreshed under his favorite large tree, and the opportunity for them to clean their feet. He elicits Sarah to make bread and cakes. And elicits his servant to prepare a meal, complete with cheese and milk, all from a calf Abraham has personally selected from his herd. Abraham is in a frenzy. He wants to show reverence, and respect. And he wants to show love. His love for the Lord. His reward for the hospitality is the Lord granting he and Sarah their long time wish for a son. Well, maybe reward is not the best term to describe the reason for Abraham’s hospitality. He didn’t do it for a reward. He did it out of reverence, respect and love. His gain by virtue of his faithfulness was God answering his longly felt, deep prayer. Abraham’s example of hospitality would later become during Jesus’ time, societal obligation in order to show hospitality. To show reverence, respect, and love. And so it was when Jesus stopped with his disciples in a certain village and a woman by the name of Martha welcomed them all into her home. She became frenzied by the responsibility of being a good hostess. She wanted to show reverence, respect and love. So, she likely prepared a comfortable place for them to rest. She got things together to cook a delicious meal, and then probably even cleaned up from the meal. Yet, Martha starts to feel overwhelmed in the act of being a good steward of hospitality. Now Martha has a sister Mary who lives with her. However, as Abraham is able to elicit Sarah’s help and his servants help in serving the Lord, Martha does not have that luxury. She starts to feel frustrated with Mary. She continually tries to elicit Mary’s help. Mary should be helping. Should; but she’s not. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet. Mary is listening to Jesus. Martha in her exasperation asks Jesus to say something to Mary to get her to cooperate and start to help.

These two sisters, the story of Martha and Mary, is not about two women, one good and one bad. Not two to be pitted against one another. But, two women who each show their love for Jesus uniquely. Two women who find themselves obligated to show reverence, and to show love. One woman, Mary, focuses on listening to God. One woman, Martha, focuses on serving. Both women feel obligated to show love in different ways. Martha takes the conditioning society has taught to her . Mary looks at things differently. She feels compelled toward a different type of obligation. She knows that she can show reverence, respect and love in a different way. Mary knows that she can show love and reverence for God by listening to God’s son, Jesus. Mary knows that service to God also means listening to God’s voice, and for God’s voice.

For the gospel writer Luke, Jesus is not a divider. In response to Martha, Jesus lovingly tells her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” That one thing he speaks of is listening. He will not insist that Mary help Martha because Mary is learning to listen. She is learning to follow Jesus. She is remaining relaxed and enjoying being in community with Jesus. She is doing what is natural to her. She is open to seeing things in a new way than how she was conditioned.
What struck me this week is this quote I found. The writer says, “Being human we act on what we know, but being followers of Christ we need to constantly question what we think we know. Not women vs. women; nor choice vs. choice.” In the movie, Dead Poet’s Society, the teacher , Robin Williams character John Keating, has his students stand on their desks. Why does he do this? Because, as he tells his students, “just when you know something, you must look at it in a different way.” And so it is with Mary. Mary and Martha each have the goal of the pursuit of the truth. Each goes about it differently. But Mary takes the time to stop and listen.

Listening to God, let alone each other can be hard task in our day. Speaking on the frenzied state of our society, the opinion writer of the Times wrote, “Let’s put down at least some of these gadgets and spend a little time just being ourselves. One of the essential problems of our society is that we have a tendency, amid all the craziness that surrounds us, to lose sight of what is truly human in ourselves, and that includes our own individual needs — those very special, mostly nonmaterial things that would fulfill us, give meaning to our lives, enlarge us, and enable us to more easily embrace those around us.”

Like Mary our conditioning should not control us. Such things as technology (checking e-mail all the time; constantly attached to our cell phones) should not control us and keep us from relaxing and being in community with one another. To listen to one another. To stop and smell the flowers, so to speak, all the while listening to God. For when we are able to easily embrace those around us, we become able to embrace God, to embrace Christ. I’m going to end with the words I found yesterday by the opinion columnist of the New York Times who says, “Listen....Other people have something to say, too. And when they don’t, that glorious silence that you hear will have more to say to you than you ever imagined. That is when you will begin to hear your song. That’s when your best thoughts take hold, and you become really you.

And I’ll add, and that is when you begin to remember that you’re a child of God; and thus, begin to hear God’s voice more intently.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday Bonus Post

Check out this blog post. This is a link to Don Miller's, author of Blue Like Jazz, blog. Today's blog talks about a dear person to me and especially to Don, David Gentiles. Don was interviewed by CNN last December, around the time of David's passing. The post talks about the interview a bit, and then directly links to the article. The article is mostly about David and his impact on the lives of others. The article represents a beautiful testament to a remarkable person. What made David so remarkable is how he made each person feel. He made them feel as if they were the most important person to him. Read and find out why. I'm so pleased this article was written.