Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kinda Cute!!

Saw this on Yahoo, and then on a blog site I frequent. It's kind of catchy. Now, if I could only stand on the vanity like that. :-). Enjoy.

Friday, May 21, 2010

One more class article...

I wrote this piece about one of the pastors at my church who passed away this past December. David was one of those people who touched many lives. His kind, gentle spirit and huge smile left people feeling loved and encouraged. This week his three daughters took his remains to Haiti, a place that stirred a deep passion for David to help and care for its people. So, in his honor, here is the piece I wrote for my writing class about David. The topical prompt was Moments and Lessons; the title of the piece was The Undisclosed Box.
We do not know a significant moment until after it happens. It surprises us in tingling lucid stillness. This past Saturday morning I decided it was important enough to take a carload of “things” encompassed in a closed box from the duplex home of a friend to an unknown place of storage. Storage: also known as, “The girls only had like three days to make a decision before returning back to their lives. Right now they want to keep everything.” When I arrived lots of people were already there moving boxes onto the lawn to be loaded into cars. I went inside. Only undisclosed boxes marked by letter and number, and furniture stripped bare were apparent to the physical eye. Once most of things were out of the home, a Google map of directions was handed to each of the drivers for the goods future destination. And I was off to the place unknown to me, someone’s home in Round Rock. Before I officially left, I looked around the place someone once called home, one last time for anything left behind that my car could hold. Everything was gone, but then I noticed a cross still hanging above the light switch, left of the doorway. The cross was simple yet ornate, adhered to the wall by a simple white thumb tack. I took the cross down and mentioned to the people left in the room that someone forgot to pack this. I turned around and walked toward the kitchen and saw some other items not packed on the kitchen counter. I picked up a model of a 50s station wagon, an uncomplicated yellow cup and a ceramic vase with tiny flowers painted on the exterior. I mentioned I would take these things and put them in my car. On my way out the door, I picked up one more thing: an unopened canister of tennis balls I saw lying against the wall near the entry way that led to the bedrooms. As I got in my car, I set the items down in the front seat, wrapping my white cable-knit cotton sweater around the vase and the cross for safety. I started to drive off not wanting to think about the surreal nature of this moving of “things”.

It was only after I arrived to my home that I realized those items packed carefully and not as carefully marked the materialization of a revered one’s memory now gone from us. I stopped to think of where David might have gotten that cross, or the model car, or the vase, or even the cup. I stopped and smiled. What’s the reason for the tennis balls? I remembered. He loved tennis, and was part of a league, winning first place in his experience and age bracket. My mind went to the cross. Did the cross come from his missionary work in Russia? Did the other items have some semblance of specialness? Did it represent a young person whose life he touched, or just something that reminded him of his childhood? Or even, was it something that belonged to someone who mattered, to him? David who died exactly one week before Christmas day left behind three daughters, and testimony after testimony of humble adoration. To experience David was to experience the grace of God. He cleanly personified the definition of simple, uncomplicated love. David epitomized the attributes of patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. And those attributes rebounded.

People still write on David’s Facebook wall. Not long ago, one person wrote, “David, I am trying so hard and I wish I could be as good as you.” My memory of that statement struck something familiar within me. Wait, I want to be good. I want to be kind. I want to know the right thing to do, shown in a perfect way. I want to be like David too. But then, I remember that I cannot be another person. I am who I am. And, does Jesus want me to be good and right?

My education, my experience, my heart and my God tells me no. God wants me to be brave. By Jesus’ example, God wants me to be loving and thoughtful, all the while being mindful of hurt, pain, loneliness and oppression. Jesus shows me how to allow myself to become available to see the “Face of the Other“, regardless of who, and regardless of physical and historical characteristics. That was David’s example too. And just the same he was not completely good and right. He just remembered the humanity of others.

I drove way Saturday afternoon with David’s things laying on the carport organized by letter and number. My few odd items transported outside the barriers of an undisclosed box, now hand delivered to a friend. I sighed as I shifted from Park, to Reverse, then to Drive. In the midst of the sigh, I knew that I can not rest in a moment of giving up. I must try to revere the memory, the person; but let go, so the essence of the person and my memory of him can reverberate out. With God nothing is left behind, and with certainty, no one is forgotten.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Time will tell in what God will do with me

Last Sunday I was the guest minister at Grace Presbyterian church in Temple. My time worshiping with this congregation and its new interim pastor was such a huge blessing for me. And one which I was extremely grateful. I not only wore a alb for the first time but felt for the first time confident and affirmed in my role as emerging pastor. It was a good feeling. Here is the sermon I preached....

Ephesians 1: 15-23
Sunday, May 16, 2010

Marking time, we're in the seventh Sunday after Easter. How time flies, as they say. It seems as if Easter Sunday was just last weekend. People mark time according to the seasons of life. In this current time, spring has bloomed, and the evidence of the summer season approaches with the earmarks of school getting out, summer weddings, longer days, flowers in bloom and warmer weather. With longer days upon us, hope of relaxation gives us a much needed change of pace and the opportunity for a renewed frame of mind. It’s kind of like the last 36 hours. Friday gave us a stormy day, but about 11 a.m. Saturday morning, an abundance of sunshine poured in to establish a day with low humidity and an ending high in the low 80s. Absolutely gorgeous. I don’t know about you, but it definitely gave me a renewed sense of being. Parker Palmer in his book Let your Life Speak, says summer abundance is “...created when we have a sense to choose community, to come together to celebrate and share our common store (107). And, Summer is the season when all the promissory notes of autumn and winter and spring come due, and each year the debts are repaid with compound interest. In summer, it is hard to remember that we had ever doubted the natural process, had ever ceded death the last word, had ever lost faith in the powers of new life (109).”

Eastertide, as this time is called, is the season when we find faith in those powers of new life. Today marks a significant passage of time, but this passage is one of liturgical time. Today is what is called Ascension Sunday. A diffident passage of time both for Jesus’ disciples and for us. Today commemorates the day that Jesus leaves his disciples and gives them the command to act as witnesses on Jesus' behalf, carrying forth the legacy of his love and his life, and allowing a pathway for his saving grace to flow. As described in Acts 1, Jesus ascends to heaven to sit at the right hand of God. Acts 1 reads,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men [people] of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Paul in his letter to the church in Ephesus helps clarify how Jesus comes to us. How Jesus is in the midst of us as we learn to live out the seasons of our lives in love and hope. Paul reminds us, as he reminded the people of Ephesus, about the marks of the church, and how we should relate to one another in Christ. The church in Ephesus was not much different than us in many ways. They struggled to find understanding in their faith; and desired to live in a way that was honorable and pleasing to God. They wanted to share Jesus' love. They wanted to share with others in the life-renewing changes they had received in their own lives through Christ's grace. Paul sees the hearts of the Ephesians and provides encouragement to them when he says,

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”

Paul wrote this, let's just say, a long time ago. So, in virtue of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, how do we get to know God today through the marking of time? How does the church mark the divinity of Christ through time? The answer lies in the simple yet profound. One of the commentaries I read says that the true Church embodies two characteristics: loyalty and love for Christ Jesus being number one. And number two: to love all of God's children. In the work of all of us together, Christ's church, we can show this love by caring for one another. Let me say that again. We can show this love through community and caring for one another. The Apostle Paul gives us the metaphor that Christ is the head and we're the body. Paul says, “And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” We are Christ's hands, feet, heart and muscle, unique and separate, but all vitally important in working together to show Christ's love to others. We show our love for Christ by loving one another, by being community with one another. We acknowledge that we are the body of Christ.

One of the commentators I looked at had this to say, Christ is the head; the church is the body. The head must have a body through which it can do its work. The church is quite literally hands to do Christ’s work, feet to run upon Christ’s errands, and a voice to speak Christ’s words. The Church this writer says is the complement of Christ. “Just as the ideas of the mind cannot become effective without the work of the body, the tremendous glory which Christ brought to the world cannot become effective without the work of the church.”

Now I know that this is easier said than done. In our society today, individualism is at a height. The “I” can often be the central focus. My opinion. My feelings. What makes me feel good. Not to mention, the individualism as its rooted into seeing only the differences of the denominations that make up Christ’s church. It can lead to an us versus them mentality. At the time of this letter to the church in Ephesus, the world which Paul lived and witnessed to was in complete disunity. You had disunity among Jews and Gentiles; and among Greeks and Barbarians. It was Paul’s contention that Jesus’s death brought all the elements of discord back together. Jesus drives all that separates us to a point of reconciling person to person, people to people, and then not done, reconciles each person back to God. We need each other to do God’s work. Seventeenth century poet and Anglican priest, John Donne put it this way, “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

And through this main, God works through us. Jesus works through us. It starts by doing small things. Small things have a way of making huge impacts. Each of us has a gift to give. Each of us can be the hands, the lips, the feet of Christ. Before I started seminary, I had an idea to write a book about the small ways people make huge differences in others lives. I spoke with and interviewed many pastors, leaders of non-profits like Impact Austin and Habitat for Humanity, and lay people who know that somehow their efforts make a difference because they give from a place of love. Almost every person I interviewed gave me this one kernel of truth. The idea that one kind act can change the world. One of my interviewees who is now a bishop in the greater Seattle Washington area told me a story. It was the story of a made for TV movie called Door to Door. Have you heard of it? The movie made in 2002 stars William H. Macy, and is about a man named Bill Porter. Bill worked as a door to door salesman for the Watkins company for nearly 50 years, as well as one of their top sellers. Bill’s genuine good nature and caring spirit helped make him successful. However, there was one thing that tried to limit Bill to what he was capable of doing. Bill suffers from the effects of Cerebral Palsy. This charming and giving man could not make a life for himself working in the world helping others, without the help of others. The movie has a sequence that shows others becoming a community for Bill. They support Bill by helping him in small, small ways like fixing his tie, making sure his hat was on straight, sharing some food with him, shining his shoes, or giving him a ride to the bus so he could start his route.

What are the ways you all become the hands and feet of Jesus? I was looking at your website and was noticing all the wonderful ways you all help become Jesus for the world. I noticed how you contribute to such organizations as Meals on Wheels, Church Touching Lives for Christ (CTLC), and providing Communion for those home bound. This is such a few among many other gestures of kindness and grace I notice you all bestow on others. In this season, find small ways to share what is common. Christ is in the midst of us. You can become God’s healing for the world through your kindness. Hope is renewed in this new season quickly approaching. The realization of that hope is seen by witness of the work of our hands. Dear Saints, how do you mark time? How can the hope found in Christ be renewed through you this summer?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Another Piece from the Writing Class

This was the first piece I wrote on becoming a writer, or at least my experience with becoming a writer. Enjoy.

Several years ago I was waiting in a long drive-thru line at McDonalds. It was probably in the low 40s and slightly blustery. When my car was just about parallel to the front door, a man walked out of the restaurant and walked across the parking lot in front of me. As a watched him get into his Ford F-series pick-up truck, I hesitated at first glance, but then said to myself out loud, “Now that’s an image I don’t want to ever forget. That man has a story to tell.” This man wore a neat beard, a cowboy hat and boots. Not too terribly out of place for Leander Texas, 25 miles northwest of Austin. But it was the rest of his apparel that didn’t quite fit with the cowboy boots and hat. In place of jeans was a Scottish tartan kilt, complete with belt, buckle and Sporran. All this accompanied, of course, with the traditional linen shirt to top the outfit off. No added overcoat was necessary.

For me, when it comes to developing the art of becoming a writer, I need to remember the human character. Along with that, noticing the irony, humor, joy, even the sadness in life. No judgment; just recognizing that every person has a unique story, and almost never is it easily what the casual observer would suppose. It’s learning sensitivity to aspects that resonate the human struggle to achieve, to care, to love, to lose, to conquer, and to be ourselves. Case in point. The 2010 Winter Olympics is underway in Vancouver Canada. Twenty-three year-old Hannah Kearney won the U.S.’s first gold medal in the moguls freestyle event. She was coming back from many tough breaks and disappointments. Before her winning race, her trainer gave her a card. The card had a lighting bolt on the cover and inside the card, it read, “25,000 steps climbed, 14,000 jumps on a rope or off a trampoline, 1000 tricks off ramps into a pool of water and 126 hours spent on a bike.”*

My second point to remember: Purpose. Writing should have some kind of intent; albeit, one not to blame, shame or enslave but to educate, encourage, and maybe even, entertain. Lofty goals but well worth it, I tell myself. When I’m inspired and not looking, the words flow. When I know my audience, my fear enables my words to trickle, stumble, break; and thus, I use the excuse of one more online game of mahjongg and then I’ll begin once again. This leads to my third point.

In my donning of a writer’s stance, superstitions abound in finding the perfect introduction, middle and end to my piece. Mind you, even with typing on the computer, a perfectly sharpened pencil with eraser at tip must grace my right side along with pastel colored sticky notes, just in case. I love the energy, excitement and personal eccentricities of writing. The playing in the pattern and rhythm of words often give way to an infused refreshment of thinking, “Wow, I wrote that!” Phrases like, “Living life in desired yet imperfect earnestness.” Fourth reminder: Be honest, and be yourself. Wear your heart on your sleeve but don’t necessarily commit harakiri on the page. Resign from fear and have the confidence to write from instinct. Be also able to learn to forgive and find patience in the process. Perfection of a piece in the first sitting is a rarity. And, it takes courage to admit that the writing was not what was imagined. Like for example with such phrases as, “I hold on to the dignity to survive the obstacles that belabor me with the tenacity of my entire might. Albeit, I later realize that the downside surfaces in my ability to confuse suffering in silence with earnest and compelling humility.” Fancy yes, but did anyone quite get what I just said. Okay, the fourth reminder was a bit over packed. Perhaps, I could sum up this reminder with one pointed remark: Relax and let God’s grace align with my own heart to speak truth with compassion.

*Reference: Passan, Jeff. “A bumpy ride ends in gold for Kearney” Yahoo Sports: http: Feb. 14, 2010.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Back to Regularly Scheduled Blogging journal project for my writing class is complete. So, now I'm going to start blogging if not everyday, every other day. Well, at least a short term goal for the duration of this summer. Wish me luck because I need the disciple of consistent writing that's not for an academic paper. Yikes!!, right? So for my first restart for the hundredth time, here's the last article I wrote for my writing class. Let me know what you think :-).

How can I possibly fall when I know how to walk

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like not knowing. When I was barely out of my teens and on my own, I used to say, “Just let me know what’s ahead of me. I’ll be able to prepare and I can deal with anything that comes my way.” I must have certainty; for certainty leads to a life of self-control. This desired sense of fulfillment leads me to a favorite morning affirmation, “I need to get all my ducks in a row.”

Last spring term I was reintroduced to the idea of ambiguity. The word was used in the context of a seminary course on the New Testament of the Christian Bible. The declaration of ambiguity unfolded an idea that people live in the tension of knowing exactly who and what God is, how God operates, or simply not. I became aware that people must acknowledge this tension of knowing or not knowing, all the while leaning into this thing called ambiguity where faith rests. So a year later, I’m still struggling with the role of ambiguity in faith. I’m still struggling with just saying the word ambiguity, let alone the juxtaposition of faith to ambiguity. Does that mean that doubt embraces faith; and certainty brushes across the cheek of being non-faithful?

This past autumn, walking with purpose across the street from where I live, I fell. I could not accept the fact that I had simply fallen and hit my head. I built a whole story, with certainty mind you, of how the speed of my walk combined with the type of tennis shoe I was wearing allowed my toe to be caught in the uneven portion of the sidewalk. If nothing else, it made the story more interesting than the plainly spoken: In the act of not being able to regain my balance after stumbling, I fell. Falling was not part of the plan that day. Five and a half months later, I still do not walk with the certainty in my steps as I did before. I felt so dumb and at a loss. How could I fall when I know how to walk.

I’ve heard the Yiddish proverb, “Man plans; God laughs.” This colloquialism loosely based upon a line in Psalm 33 speaks of God frustrating the plans of the people. It leaves some doubt as to the assuredness in which we start each new day. But as for me, I’m learning that the faith in God does not come from a point of having to understand, but from the transforming fire of grace. The specifics of life are unknown. Many of us would not contest that notion. Events we’re looking forward to get canceled. Accidents occur. Work is not found. Cancer is diagnosed. Feelings are hurt. People are dismissive. And loved ones die without warning. However, in the midst of the doubt and through the ambiguity of faith, grace is found.

Grace is in the moment of exasperation that breaks into an unexplainable sense of peace, by a smile from a stranger, the phone call from the long lost relative, or even just the right advice that brings comfort in the moment. Theologian Paul Tillich said in a sermon, Struck by Grace, “In grace something is overcome; grace occurs in spite of something...Grace is the reunion of life with life...” We cannot have all the answers but in the midst of the tension of ambiguity, we can embrace the mystery of not knowing by finding the grace to be open to where the mystery calls us.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Journal Entry #10

This post carries an alias name: Closure. This last entry is also late.....

Nevertheless, here it is. The semester has ended and well, things again are not the way I had planned. This semester, no scratch that, this year has been rough to say the least. And, I am left, well, tired. Albeit, slowly regaining my sense of self. On my 100th post of my blog, here are the things I learned through my writing class:

*Be myself
*Be authentic and true
*Keep it simple and concise, but hey it's still me, put my chin out with an air of sophistication
*Trust God and be patient
*I might not be the best or even any good, but my work done in earnest still has value
*Reflect on what I'm actually meaning and saying...what's the best means to communicate

*Courage is found in honesty
*I am who I am, I will be who I will be (not to be confused with God who is I AM), and that's okay. What's not okay is not being willing to bend so someone else can better understand me, and more importantly so I can better understand them.

What to do now

Learn to allow myself to be open for God's love to flow
Write more often and with eyes set toward publishing
To carry on with my shoulders relaxed and not looking down.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Journal Entry #9

Tuesday Afternoon
4:30 p.m.

It was asked in class today: How has this class (the writing class) changed you spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally? In the last two posts I write, I'm going to think about some specific answers or musings directed toward that question. I'm going to process that question. My first thought is that it has not changed me much. Maybe it's helped me write cleaner and more frugal with my words, (more bang for my buck so to speak...thank you Michael) but it has not changed me in terms of challenging me to go places I have not been before in the art of self expression, or fine tune my writing style. If anything, I've doubted myself. Maybe, because of where I was this semester in my relationship with God and my comfortability within myself that's to blame. Maybe it's a dose of humility within my competitive nature that's been taken to task. All in all I think, I wasn't in a place I could articulate any positive outreach to others. My soul was tired this semester and it showed. That sounds strange, but in the next two postings I'll wrestle with this.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Journal Entry #8

Monday Morning
9 a.m.

The art of the encouraging compliment. Now that's what I call an ambition, to fine tune the majesty of that form. Someone gave me a compliment last week that's stayed with me. And continues to work on encouraging me in new ways. The person said, "It really sucks what happened to you but you've really rallied." The rallying part is the encouraging part. It's a part of who I am. It feels good that it was recognized. Now I need to rally once again for the ceremonial end of the semester. The flood of papers needing to be written at once. I have to believe. I have to rally. And I need to pass on the inconspicuously delivered encouraging compliment that rebounds and rebounds.

Journal Entry #7

Sunday Early Evening:
7:40 p.m.

Today I reflect on how far I've come. I always think in a childful way, "I wonder where I'll be a year from now" "I wonder if something good will enter my life in the next year?" "What will I be doing? What I'm actually saying is I hope some of my dreams will be fulfilled and life will be exciting, and maybe even I will become a better person at the end mark of another year. Somehow I'll be changed. Every year is full of challenges. This year seems to punctuate that remark. But, this morning as I preached and presided for a small congregational out in the Bee Caves area, I came to an understanding. One real quick sidebar: Didn't hurt to my epiphany that this church meets in a picturesque wedding facility that looks like something from another era. Back to my awakening: This was the seventh time I've preached in a public setting as part of a liturgical service. (Not counting the many times I led worship out at the Trinity Center) I preached five times while interning and two times in the capacity of visiting preacher. This time, I put together the prayers and even picked out the music. I never thought that would times to write and deliver a sermon. Wow!! And, I actually getting good at it and enjoy it. What is God conspiring on my behalf with all this experience?