Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Praise God?

Psalm 146.
1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!
2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.


What a bitter word ... sometimes.

Since we are often are led to think of praise as something joyful, exuberant, exultant - woo hoo, whoopee ding dang, and ain’t God’s love just the most wonderful thing in the world?”

But such is not the case with my good friend, Jeremiah the Prophet.

Nor is it the case with another good friend, Job.

Or, for that matter, my Savior, Jesus ... who certainly isn’t jumping up and down, waving his arms, and shouting Hosanna in the Garden of Gethsemane.

So, the question: does “praise” include the darker notes of despair, sorrow, bitterness, rage, disappointment? Does “praise” include the dark moments of a Jeremiah, a Job and a Jesus?

I believe so.

To turn toward God in despair, to lament the times, or one’s situation ... to level the charges of doubt ... to question God’s integrity ... to get totally pissed off at God ... to lay before God all the complaints of life ...

That, too, is praise ... 

It speaks the truth of the moment ... it’s honest and forthright ... and in a curious way, expresses confidence that God will hear, that God deserves to hear, that God can be trusted even when I’m expressing my gravest doubts - accusing God, questioning God, ready to walk away from God and never look back!

It helps empty the soul of darkness ... and heaven knows, and so do I, that the soul needs a good shaking out now and then, to empty it, of all things, good and bad, to make room for another day.

Whatever is has to be admitted, confronted, expressed ... repression is the servant of despair ... free expression is the consort of love ... “a love that will not let me go” ... because “there is a wideness in God’s mercy” ...

So, on those bitter days when God’s love seems more like a cruel joke than a blessing, this, too, is a part of our journey ... a chapter among many other such chapters ... so let God have it, express the darkness of despair, the Dark Night of the Soul, and such is, in its own curious way, a form of praise.

And I dare say, that God welcomes, above all else, honesty ... honesty is the first virtue of praise! ... the exultant expression, or the moment soaked in tears and bitterness, the dance of joy or the dirge of despair.

Praise the LORD ... all my life long.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Caught My Eye and My Mind (from Edward Carpenter, 1844-1929)

I used to go and sit on the beach at Brighton and dream, and now I sit on the shore of human life and dream practically the same dreams. I remember about the time that I mention—or it may have been a trifle later—coming to the distinct conclusion that there were only two things really worth living for—the glory and beauty of Nature, and the glory and beauty of human love and friendship. And to-day I still feel the same. What else indeed is there? All the nonsense about riches, fame, distinction, ease, luxury and so forth—how little does it amount to ! It really is not worth wasting time over. These things are so obviously secondhand affairs, useful only and in so far as they may lead to the first two, and short of their doing that liable to become odious and harmful. To become united and in line with the beauty and vitality of Nature (but, Lord help us ! we are far enough off from that at present), and to become united with those we love—what other ultimate object in life is there? Surely all these other things—these games and examinations, these churches and chapels, these district councils and money markets, these top-hats and telephones and even the general necessity of earning one's living—if they are not ultimately for that, what are they for?

Carpenter, Edward, 1844-1929. My days and dreams (Kindle Locations 4041-4049). London : G. Allen & Unwin ltd..

Reading bio of English Mathematician Alan Turing ... with the above quote from Edward Carpenter, an influence in Turing's life. The quote caught my attention, I downloaded the source to my Kindle, and here it is. That any of this "digital" stuff should work is very much linked to the work of Alan Turing. If, btw, you have seen the "Imitation Game," please do so.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Love Prevails

I think,
I believe,
I trust,
That love prevails.
Not in every moment, of course.
But ultimately.

Nothing so big to change the world forever.
But to keep the world moving.
With more good than evil.
Just enough good.
To outweigh
(not by much)
The bad.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Mundane Christianity Gets My Vote

I like the word mundane with regard to faith (Dictionary.com) ... at least in it's second and third definitions, with a few words from #1 ...

1. common; ordinary; banal; unimaginative.
2. of or relating to this world or earth as contrasted with heaven; worldly; earthly:
mundane affairs.
3. of or relating to the world, universe, or earth.

With respect #1, I affirm the words "common" and "ordinary" ... though definitely not banal ... and sadly, too often unimaginative.

But #2 and #3 seem terribly important to me.

The idea that faith is woven into every-day life and every-day life woven into faith ... like having lunch, or taking a nap, going for a walk, having a spat with a loved one, brushing one's teeth, watching TV, wondering what it's all about, and a fine glass of wine.

There was a time in my ministry when I wanted faith to be something more than mundane, and the Christian Publishing World, of course, provides entire libraries on how to be anything but mundane.

The contemporary church has spent a lot of time and money puffing up the gospel, and it's too bad, actually. It's less than accurate, finally addicting people to "experience."

So I vote for mundane ... finding God in all the small places of life, places out-of-the-way ... learning to appreciate the commonplace as an environment in which God is likely to be found, sort of like Bethlehem.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Why We Do What We Do

Most of us do what we do most of the time because of hope.
Hope that good work, and works that are good, make a difference.
Even a small difference.

What's good you ask?

Most of the time that's an easy question.
Good unto others is not rocket science.

What is it that makes life for good for us?
Would that not also qualify for goodness in most any other place?

Even when we're greedy, angry, bitter.
Something good still swirls around in the mess.

Maybe there are some who feel nothing good for anyone.
They're only a blind mass of desire.

But most of us, I think, know what's good.
And the heart often leads first.
Why not?

So we do what we do most of the time.
Maybe like Micah:
We do justice ... love kindness ... walk humbly with God.

Sometimes that gets complicated.
We know that.
But let's not complicate things too early.

Most of the time, we know what justice is.
The provision of safety for another.
The open door, the open arms, welcome and affirmation.

We know what kindness is ... a further element in love.
We know what humility is, too.
Though it often galls us. Ha.

We know these things.
From our very DNA, it would seem.
In all cultures and forms.

That's why we do what we do most of the time ... because of hope.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Cry of Despair - Psalm 25

This caught my eye ... from today's Lectionary: Psalm 25 -

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
          for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart,
          and bring me out of my distress.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
          and forgive all my sins.

19 Consider how many are my foes,
          and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20 O guard my life, and deliver me;
          do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
          for I wait for you.

Who hasn't been reduced in means and threatened with want?
Who hasn't had hope shattered and dreams scattered?
Who hasn't failed themselves and others, perhaps unintentionally, or even intentionally?
Who hasn't felt the sting of adversity, the judgement of others, the hatred/rejection of former friends?

Whatever is going on for the Psalmist, it's a cry filled with pain ... and pleading ... pleading with God who, for the Psalmist, can make a difference, can adjust the flow of time, the pace of history, the outcome of some events.

I suspect we've all been here, in one way or the other.
Alone, if not in reality, at least in perception.
Frightened of what may come our way.
Without hope in any predictable frame.

The cry of pain ... is often the beginning of rebuilding.
When we give up, sort of, and seek the ways of God, anew.

Life is full of dead ends and disappointments, struggle and strife.
Surely, punctuated by sweetness and joy and delight and peace.
How quickly the beauty fads in the moment of breaking.
For the Psalmist, it's all fallen, and she cries out in desperation.
Cries out for help.

And with hope that her integrity and uprightness, which are a part of her life, will be evident.
For none is without integrity and uprightness.
We all have such things ... and she prays that these things will anchor her character.

And may that be true for us all.

And the last word, mostly, finally, sort of .... "I wait for you!"

Thursday, June 18, 2015

I'm Glad to be a Christian

I'm glad to be a Christian, not that I could really be anything else, since I was born into a Christian family in a culturally Christian world (Wisconsin and Michigan - the Reformed and Presbyterian traditions), educated and trained in the Christian Ministry. Had I been born in a Muslim or Buddhist nation/culture, that's likely what I'd be.

But I am what I am, and I'm grateful for the faith that speaks of love and forgiveness as the great anchors of life and work. Other traditions focus on similar themes, and here's where I find a great deal of correspondence with people of faith everywhere.

In all of this, I find more commonality with people of other faith-traditions than I find with Christians who discriminate against LGBTQ persons, love guns and tolerate racism, and are willing to condemn the poor for the sake of Christian Libertarianism and its dreams of unfettered Capitalism.

I wish life were a little easier for me and mine when it comes to faith and the way we live, but if history tells me anything, life has never been easy, for anyone.

To my spiritual/religious friends, thanks for all your support and vision ... not every Christian agrees with me, naturally, and some take profoundly different paths, but so it goes - glad we're still friends, nonetheless.

I'm still learning and growing, too ... who knows where it will end, though for now, I'm happy to be where I am.

Monday, May 4, 2015

I Doubt It

"I doubt it!"
Some of the best words we can ever speak, when it come to things/ideas/peoples/religions/gods that seek to convince us otherwise.
I grew up hearing all kinds of sermons, some of them even good, about the "dangers of doubt." But I always had my doubts.
I went through three confirmation classes in two different churches and declined to join the church each time, until a constellation of factors, including a cute girl, caught my attention and my faith, such as it was.
I remember how I frustrated my 6th grade Sunday School Teacher because I refused to memorize and then say The Apostles' Creed and the LORD's Prayer, because, I said, "there was no value in simply memorizing them." 
I've since memorized both, and am grateful, but grateful, too, for that 6th grade boy who had his own brand of integrity.
I remember reading a great sermon, was it by Fosdick, "Time to Doubt Your Doubts," or something like that.
Well, if we're going to doubt, it's likely a wise thing to doubt everything, even our doubts.
Though I don't doubt that the earth revolves around the sun and the universe is very, very, old. Nor do I doubt my wife's love and that of my children, nor do I doubt the fact that I'm tired right now because I got up way too early this morning.
But let me get back to the central issue - doubt is the energy of learning ... doubt clears the way for faith, which is often strangled to death by certainty. Because faith is faith, never a done deal, faith always needs doubt like a garden needs digging and weeding and pruning.
When I'm certain that the new restaurant is down such-and-such a street is likely when I can't find it. A little doubt really helps, especially if I then ask D for some help: "Where's that dadgum restaurant?" Because mostly she knows things when I don't.
Seriously, doubt is the best friend God has when it comes to working the magic of love in our lives. 
Doubt allows God to sneak up on us, and God loves doing that.
Doubt cleans out the closest of old clothing from the last decade, or the last century, or the last millennium or two. Not that we're then left with nothing; not at all, because the Spirit is continually creating new stuff - new stuff to try on to see if it fits, how it looks on us, and if others like it, too. New stuff that has connections to the best stuff from long ago, but revised, adjusted, altered to be fresh and lively.
I doubt if I need to go on any more with this ...

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Reading the Text

I can only read Scripture as I read it.
With inner eyes and thoughts.
I bring a great deal of myself to the Text.

And God welcomes me.
Who I am and what I think.
For God has shaped me:

Over the years.
Through family and friends.
Teachers and torments.

So I pay attention to how I read the Text.
What is it that captures my eye?
Stirs my imagination and compels my spirit?

Fascinating, it is, for me.
What lights my fire or
Chaps my hide.

I'm inclined to believe, I hear the Spirit
Saying to me,
"Well done, and now read on!"

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

One World of Faith

As I see it, and perhaps too simplistically,
Christians can either remain convinced that
Only they qualify for heaven, and
All the rest for hell.

Or, "there's a wideness in God's mercy," and
All the world is invited, included and welcomed.
With all their religions, creeds and ways.
All their failures and foibles, sins and sorrows.

The first leads to only one conclusion:
Build the walls of hostility higher, wider and longer.

The second leads to some uncertainty, I suppose.
But peace as well.
Maybe the very peace that
Surpasses all understanding.

Welcoming the mystery of God's grace, that which
Strange world, then, without walls.
Sisters and brothers are well all.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Let the Nations Know - Psalm 96

Faith meanderings, Psalm 96.10-13 ...

Let the nations know, the world is on a firm foundation ... "it shall never be moved!"

And when God arrives to judge the earth, earth will rejoice.

And if earth should rejoice upon God's visit, then we might pay a little more attention to the causes of such joy - in the heavens, upon the earth ... for the sea and all the life that fills it ... for the field and all that it grows ... the forests and all its trees ...

Some serious environmental theology going on here ...

Without getting too dramatic, mountain-top-removal is not bringing a whole lot of joy to God's good earth ... or to the folks who live by those shattered mountains.

Nor is clear-cutting ... or fracking ... or limestone mining in the Upper Peninsula ...

How about the laying waste of the Amazon Basin ... or the desolation of the Niger Delta ... not to mention the horrors of industrial warfare, unexploded ordinance that will pollute the earth and maim the children who "toy" with the junk left behind by the greed of the nations ...

I doubt if the field and forest and the butterflies are too pleased with Monsanto's manipulation of all things living ...

Anyway, that's enough for the moment ...

Monday, April 13, 2015

Why I'm a Liberal!

Not sure when I became a liberal.
Though some of it's in my DNA, I think.

At different points in time.
It's the only position that made sense to me.

When it comes to my faith.
My Christian Faith.

By the way, the Devil hates liberalism.
Liberalism's compassion and kindness.

In all that I know about Jesus,
He's a liberal.

No wonder the rulers went after him.
No wonder they strung him up.

"See, this is what we think of your liberal ideas."
"We'll have none of it."

Yes, I'm a liberal.
My heart bleeds for folks.

My heart yearns for the Kingdom of God.
"Thy will be done on earth."

I know and believe.
There's no need for hungry children.

There's no need for war.
There's no need to be so afraid.

In matters of faith, I'm a Christian.
And that's why I'm a liberal.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Sunrise Within

May today's sunrise be within your brave heart.
May the ecstasy of bird song be your very own voice.
May the riotous color of a spring garden be the energy of your mind.

May all the things of this earth which bring joy, delight and peace.
Remind you of all that God created in your world within.
And gives to you today, anew.

To lighten your world.
To sing it alive.
To color it bright.

~ inspired by "The Lost" by Jones Very ( 1813 - 1880).

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Unhinged Christians

This morning's lectionary included Acts 4.13-31 ...
about "uneducated and ordinary men" speaking with "boldness."

And then the rulers, leaders, etc..
Who decide that shutting them up is a good idea.

But no way were the disciples going to cease and desist.
Then and there, they knew who
Their enemies were.

I read this lection with uneasiness.
Thinking of Cruz and the Iowa Homeschoolers.
Knowing full-well who "our enemies are."

As I read the passage, the word "boldness"
Left me flat.
And sad.

How in the hands of some,
A reading like this is dynamite.
License to lift up a little more bigotry.

I thought of those Iowa Christians.
Cheering and roaring.
With Boldness.

Glorying in their "oppressed" status.
Despising their enemies who wish to quiet them.
All the more determined to rid the world of LGBTQ persons.

A passage like this is dangerous.
It encourages the unhinged.
Who never seem to have a question about Boldness.

And heaven knows religious history is full of the:
Bold and the

Friday, April 10, 2015

Psalm 96 on Judgment

Psalm 96 Thoughts

To hear some folks tell it,
When Jesus comes again,
There will be hell to pay!

When Jesus comes again
To judge the earth.
Blood and guts, for sure.

Not mine, of course, but yours.

But Psalm 96 has another picture.
The peaceable kingdom.
The kindness of God.

For the LORD comes to judge.
Yup, that's the word.
With righteousness and truth, it says.

The righteousness of utter faithfulness.
Faithfulness to creation and all its creatures.
Great and small.

The truth that always manages
To set things free.
And restore lost beauties.

And the heavens are glad and the earth shall rejoice.
The fields exult, and all within them.
And the trees will sing for joy.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Women's Association Luncheon - FCCLA

Women’s Association Luncheon, April 9, 2015

Friend’s poetry book … 

John 15.12 …

From the fb page:

The purpose of this Association shall be to emphasize the spiritual development of a liberal Church, advance the cultural and social opportunities of the Association, and provide an avenue of Christian service for the women of the Church

How I love the phrase,
Liberal Church …
Can a church truly be anything but liberal?

Liberal in the things of God:
Grace, mercy and peace.
Faith, hope and love.

Liberal toward the world and its needs:
Liberal with energy and action.

Doing the great things of God.
God’s will and purpose.
To make all things new.

If not liberal, then what?
Overly cautious?

I don’t think Jesus was any of those things.
Do you?

I think Jesus was incredibly liberal.
And that got him into some trouble.
Wouldn’t you say?

So it is.
A liberal church

Full of grace.
So full of grace, it overflows.

A liberal church.
A labor of love.
The new commandment.

And so it is by the grace of God.

Let us pray:

Eternal God, 
Maker of heaven and earth.
Liberal in love.
Generous in mercy.
Without restraint and caution.
You created a world of amazing beauty,
wonder and

Full of odd creatures.
Including us.
A strange blend of dirt and divinity.

Your love is our bright morning star.
Your love brings us here today.
Your love opens windows of understanding
and service.

Your love sustains us.
Guides us.
Disciplines us.
And reshapes us constantly.
As a potter with clay.
An artist with paint.
An organist with music.

That we might be more like Christ.

We are yours, dear God,
For you have made it so.
And for that,
We are ever grateful.
And ready to serve.
A labor of love.

In the name of our LORD Jesus Christ.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Holy Saturday

It's Holy Saturday ... I read a book about this some years back.
Don't remember much of it, but the idea of waiting.
What will happen, if anything?

For the disciples, it was all over.
It was finished.
I mean, finished.

No one expected anything but death.
Death is like that, I guess.
It's the final word for us.

It's the final word for Jesus, too.

I think It's Holy Saturday only in retrospect.
So the in-between time is hallowed.

Death holds on.
Even death is given its day.
For awhile, so the story goes.

But that's tomorrow.
Today, I'll wait.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Maundy Thursday Moment

Maundy Thursday about 8:15.
Some early-morning grocery shopping.
My heart is full.
I'm singing and praying.

The black limo to my left, a few feet ahead.
Moves into my lane.
It was going to end badly.
The limo or the curb.

I hit the horn.
Took the LORD's name in vain.
Called the guy an idiot.
Like any good Christian on Maundy Thursday.

Took a few minutes.
Heart pounding, adrenaline rushing.
To recover my dignity.
I laughed.

Bright side, dark side.
It's all there.
Praising God.
Cursing a limo driver.

Ah well ...
For such as me.
He took bread and broke it.
And a cup and poured it.

Here, take this.
Taste the bread.
Relish the drink.
I do this for you ... and the limo driver, too.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Lenten Devotional Psalm 118

From my good friend and colleague, Bob Orr, who wrote this devotional ...

First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor - Lenten Devotional

Theme: Passion and Suffering
Palm Sunday, March 29

Scripture: Psalm 118

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
   his steadfast love endures for ever!
Let Israel say,
   'His steadfast love endures for ever.'
Let the house of Aaron say,
   'His steadfast love endures for ever.'
Let those who fear the Lord say,
   'His steadfast love endures for ever.' 
Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
   the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
With the Lord on my side I do not fear.
   What can mortals do to me?
The Lord is on my side to help me;
   I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
   than to put confidence in mortals.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
   than to put confidence in princes.
All nations surrounded me;
   in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
   in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees;
   they blazed like a fire of thorns;
   in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
   but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my might;
   he has become my salvation.
There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
'The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
   the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
   the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.'
I shall not die, but I shall live,
   and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
   but he did not give me over to death.
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
   that I may enter through them
   and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord;
   the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
   and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing;
   it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
   let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
   O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
   We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
   and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
   up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
   you are my God, I will extol you.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever. 


Let's be clear at the outset. This psalm/song comes to us in the Christian faith from our brothers and sisters in the Jewish faith. We owe them a debt which can only be repaid with daily gratitude. They lived and loved and followed our common God in ancient times centuries before Jesus, a Jew, was born in Bethlehem. This is one of a hundred and fifty poems which enrich our lives even as they surely did his. I urge you to read this Psalm slowly aloud and think why it was first sung. What did it represent to men and women of faith? Why was it important? What themes or ideas did the writer want to convey? What melody lifted these words to God?
In my wife's family, there is a dear cousin who is schizophrenic. He has been in and out of institutions, group homes and hospitals for thirty years. He's fifty-six and was diagnosed with lung cancer last August. His mother wrote that she heard him quietly singing "Jesus Loves Me" in his bed a few weeks before he died in January.
Now re-read this Psalm. Jesus may have quietly sung this song when he entered Jerusalem for Passover that last week of his life, or when he hung on the cross and died. "O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever."


Lord of life, we turn to you and remember that some things are worth dying for.
And living for.

About the Author

Bob Orr has been helped to pray the Psalms by visiting a community of Catholic Trappist monks in Kentucky where at seven services throughout the day they have sung or recited the Psalms, every day, seven days a week, month in and month out, for over one hundred fifty years.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Happy Birthday Mom

Today's my Mom's birthday.
1912 it was, when it began.

And when she took leave of us,
1988, I had no tears.
Until my daughter, then 12, said,
"I remember playing Uno with her."

A few years later, at a Jungian Retreat,
We were, all 30 of us, or so, on the floor.
Pondering ...

For some reason, the question came: "Do I want
My mother in heaven?"

I had to think about it.
At the time, no great desire to ever "see her again."
And to this day, no great desire.

But, then, a thought:
"Might she at last, at least, there.
Find a peace that eluded her here?

And with that, I was at peace.
"Let her find the missing pieces."
If that's what heaven's about.

To this day, the memories remain.
And they're not fun.

She laughed heartily when she laughed.
She had intelligence ... a fine mind.
Often mean in its skills.
And bitter with rage and jealousy.

She birthed me, for sure.
Slapped me and screamed at me.
Threw an ashtray at me in 10th grade.
She missed, and put a hole in the wall.

Home life was tense.

Fearful of the explosion.
That would always come.
Sooner if not later.
Mostly sooner it was.

I remember ... can't help it.
So I'll go with my Jungian recollection.
Hope she has found her peace.
What she never had here.

I give thanks for her DNA in me.
Perhaps I've realized some of the gifts of
Life she never could embrace.

I've found my own peace.
With the all the pieces of my life.

I'm grateful.

And with a turn to my life.
To my wife.
To my children.
To what has been, what is, and what shall be.

I'll turn to my Mom.
And say it in faith.
"Happy Birthday Mom."

"Be of good cheer.
Kick up your heels.
Love those around you."

"Happy Birthday Mom.
Happy Birthday."

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Let's Be Clear ...

Let's be clear:

1) the earth and its life-forms were not created in 7 24-hour days - it's a great story, a poem, a metaphor, a song and a dance, but it's not science; it's faith, and a good faith at that.

2) There never was an ark, though the ancient world seems to remember a cataclysmic flood in the eastern Mediterranean region. The story is an ancient writer's reflection on God decision to create a most befuddling critter. Or what we might call "buyer's remorse."

3) Neither fish nor whale swallowed Jonah - he was swallowed by his own hatred of Israel's enemy and his refusal to contemplate the fullness of God's love. It's Hebrew Theater at its story-telling best.

4) Virgin birth? Heck, lots of heroes, rulers and saviors, in the ancient world were born of a virgin. It's a device, a metaphor, to underscore God's hand in such things. But literal? Believe it if you want. But hold it lightly.

Enough for the day ...

Friday, February 27, 2015

Death and Lent

Lent is a time to
remember the suffering
of Jesus.

Did he shake his head now and then?
That folks could be so mean?
So frightened?

That folks would out-and-out
And bend and twist to please Rome?

Did he ever wonder if it was
worth it?
Worth the effort?

I think he was afraid at times.
Afraid of failing.
Afraid of what might come.

Death can't win, is the story.
But death ain't no fool.
It has its ways.

For a time, it won.
And the good folks who love death
were proud of themselves.

And rolled a big ol' stone
over the hole in the ground.
Just in case.

Death can never be too sure
about such things.
No chances taken.

Death is like that.
Oh, but Donne said it well.
"Death, be not proud."

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Onward Christian Soldiers

Yes, I know this is crazy, but I found myself thinking and singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" this morning.

Do I think we should sing it today?

No, I don't.

But I sang it as a child and young adult.
Sang it with gusto and joy.

Never once imaging it to be anything more than a metaphor.

And as a metaphor, well, I guess we'd do well with other images.
But I checked out the lyrics this morning.

I must say, there's wisdom here.

In truth:
Life isn't easy, and we need organization.
We need cohesion and purpose.

In truth:
Powers rise and powers fall.
Christian powers and hateful powers.
Whatever they may be.

Only one remains constant:
The cross of Jesus Christ.
A reminder of true power.

And the nature of God: to give.
Never take.
To die, if needed.

For higher purposes.
Other than survival.

With the constant refrain:
Come join with us.
There's a world to be won.
Not by sword and spear.

Or bombs and guns.
But a world to be won.
Creation to be honored.
Justice to be served.

Against such things, terrible forces aligned.
Terrible forces - they hate the cross.
Even as they claim it for their own.

Terrible forces - they hate the Christ.
Even as they praise him for light and love.

Onward ... no retreat in this matter.
No hiding.
No excuses.
No other way.

Without the cross, the endeavor goes crazy.
Without the Christ, the purpose grows mean.

But women and men of good heart.
Can see ... the cross on high.
The way of peace.
And goodness.

Marching with Martin Luther King, Jr.
Across the fateful Bridge.

Refusing to go to the back of the bus.
With brave Rosa Parks.

In the face of much evil.
Registering voters.
Saying no to fracking.
And oil madness.

Saying no to Wall Street.
And its ceaseless cruelties.

Working ... struggling ...
May I say, fighting?
Without the usual tools.

But only the weapons of faith, hope and love.
Grace, mercy and peace.

In the name of the Father,
And the Son,
And the Holy Spirit.

In the name of the Mother,
In the name of the Daughter.
In the name of their love for one another.

In the name of all that's holy and good.
In the name of every kindness ever done.
In the name of every prophet.

Who made straight the way of the LORD.
Who spoke truth to power.
Who pointed the way to a better world.

Onward Soldiers.
Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Jew.
Onward, women and men of peace.
Onward, to the better day.

With banners of light and love.
Held high.
Shining bright and fair.

So the world may know.
The liberating truth.
Truth given in every faith.
In every time and place.

Not by sword, but with the Spirit.
Not with violence, but of grace.
Not with malice, but always mercy.

Onward ...
Oh, soldiers of light and love.
Onward to the better day.

When Moses Takes God to Task

The PCUSA Lectionary today (2.26.15), Deuteronomy 9.23-10.5 ... 
Is, in its own way, hilarious ... as Moses recounts his intercession on behalf of the people when God was ready to give up on them, send 'em packing, and start all over again with Moses, and from him, make a new nation.
But Moses has to remind God that the "other nations will talk" ... God will look bad if an obstreperous people were too much for God to handle. "What will the neighbors think?"
But the point is made: We can't always choose the optimum moment; we can only work with what we have. And as for people? Well, damnit all, they're pretty much, mostly, just like you and me. As I once heard about marriage success, Harry stands in front of the mirror every morning and says, "Harry, you ain't no bargain!"
Well, the people were no bargain, and working with them, no cakewalk. And not even God can choose an alternative universe. God is stuck with this one, this realm, this moment, this people. This is the only story there is, and God has to work with it. No matter what. There is no walking away from this one!
And Moses says to God: "This is all there is; there ain't nothing, or no one else. Work with what you have, or give up on being God."
Delightful in the brusque manner in which Moses takes God to task - there isn't any time left, and Moses doesn't mince his words.
If this were a stage play, I'd see and hear God pause, take a deep breath, and mumble to Moses, "All right. Let's get on with it. Make two more stone tablets, and I'll rewrite the words as I did before." And, then, with a little more confidence, "You're right Moses. You know more about this god-thing than I sometimes do. Thank you ... now, let's get back to work."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I've Always Been Curious

I've always been curious.
Or so I'd like to think.

Reading was my childhood adventure.
And tree houses and rafts and ice rinks.

In my first year of seminary, I
Returned to my alma mater.

And had coffee with some guys, and was
Bested in a matter.

I'll never forget it. He was right.
I was wrong.

I vowed, then and there, that would
Never happen for long.

I'd learn more.
Study more.

Keept at it. And
Know more.

Pride? Of course.
Curiosity? For Sure.

I love to learn. The
New always a lure.

For something more. Because
God is always just beyond my "for sure."

So, I change, and
So, I grow.

Sometimes the whole field. And
Sometimes just a row.

I've always been curious.
Or so I'd like to think.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lent Ain't Easy

It's the First Sunday of Lent.
A spring-time season.
Days grow longer.
They lencten.

More light than darkness
To transform the earth.
Hard to break the hold of winter.
To grow up and out some new life.

For me, the strangeness of Lent:
How hard it is for God to make it.
To break the hold of winter in the soul of humankind.
To bring out new life from what death has claimed.

It's not easy for God.
It's hard, terribly hard.
God is great, but not super-God.
Only by cradle, only by cross.

With sweat, blood and tears.
Hunger and thirst.
Weariness of soul and body.
Will the light grow stronger.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Even God Has to Learn

Every time God used violence to force God's purpose,
It failed.
From the flood to the conquest.
Blood begets blood.
And of the flood,
God said, "Never again!"
Even God has to learn the
Basic Stuff.

Friday, February 13, 2015


Nothing like a friend.
The kind, I mean,
That embraces the years.

Lots of years, for the long haul.
Stretching back to another world
When we were young.

Some clashes and getting pissed off.
Finding and refining.

After all, we're friends.
Embracing years.
For the long haul.

Sunday, February 8, 2015


Psalm 103.1-2,
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name. 
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits — 
Forgetfulness drains away gratitude ... sure, life has its fair share, and then some for many, of hardship, disappointment and all the attendant sorrows of loss and deprivation.
And, I suppose, it's easy to fixate on all of that ... I know - been there, done that, though my life has been quite free of such things.
But the Psalm is a little reminder, a nudge, to be more expansive in thinking about life, a little more observant ... pay attention, if you will, to what is good and beautiful and kind; maybe the small things that finally make up the whole.
Perhaps even in the hard times, we might find something of God - "at work in all things, for good" ... though it's always dangerous, if not arrogant, to preach such things from one's couch of comfort.
I think the fulfillment of this Psalm occurs when I look around and begin to say "Thank you" for the people I love, and their love for me. Talk about grace ... amazing grace ...
The material joys of my life - yes, a whole lot of people have far less than I do; I know that ... but to stop saying thanks deadens my spirit, and certainly doesn't help anyone else. Gratitude grows me up!
To look, as well, at a cloud, a leaf, a bee ...
The curl of wave, the feel of sand, the warmth of the sun ...
The cheery note of an early-morning bird ...
All this and more.
And to say, Thank You!
I wasn't smart enough to create any of this.
I am dumb enough to destroy it.
But maybe saying Thanks
Reminds me that all things,
Great and Small,
Are of God.
And are good.
And must be honored for their life.
And it begins, at least for me,
With the words, Thank You!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Exploding Psalms

I do the PCUSA Lectionary most every morning.
This morning's first reading: Psalm 12 ... and it snuck up on me, as Psalms often do.
The writer laments the absence of truth from the land ... a land drowning in lies, boasting, flattery and bloated self-confidence.
At the Psalm's end, a plea for God's protection, because the wicked are on the prowl (looking for prey) and "vileness is exalted among humankind" - values turned upside down.
Just about anyone might read this and nod their head in agreement, clucking their tongues and lamenting the sad state of affairs. This is great stuff for preaching, as the "righteous" note their righteousness amidst the moral decay of the day.
The Psalmist knows how we work, how we're likely to pat ourselves on the back and smile knowingly at one another, as the preacher condemns the immoral and all who sully the land with their improper ways - those who break the laws of God, those who fail to love their families, those who steal and are lazy and no-good rotten, who deserve jail-time, who smoke dope and do drugs and lay around with another in unnatural liaisons.
The kind of preaching that sends the righteous home feeling mighty darn good about themselves, even as they remind God how lucky God is to have such fine people on God's side.
In the middle of the Psalm, a ripple upon the calm waters of the righteous soul, an unexpected wind, a cloud casting a chilling shadow.
The Psalmist offers some painful analysis. Rather than the usual list of "sins" from which the righteous are exempt and others not, the Psalmist goes to the heart of the story, God's litmus test of righteousness, the barometer that tells of a coming storm:
"Because the poor are despoiled,
Because the needy groan,
I will now rise up, says the LORD;
I will place them in the safety for which they long."
Suddenly the ease of the righteous is disturbed. Not simply that the poor are suffering (because of their laziness, their poor judgment, their immorality); no, the poor are "despoiled" - they are robbed, ransacked and pillaged. The little they have is taken, and taken violently.
And they groan in the face of the crime; they have no voice, no recourse, the poor are powerless against the wicked who are on the prowl for gain, who tell lies and flatter themselves with their own boasts of invincibility.
The LORD will rise up, says the Psalmist and give to the poor the safety for which they long.
The pathos of these few words are overpowering ... safety, the longing of the poor for safety - for their families, for their future, for their friends and neighbors.
Is not justice safety?
Is not safety justice?
The Psalmist sends the reader home with questions: How are the poor faring in our land these days? Who are the prowlers pouncing on helpless prey? Who are the wicked who exalt vileness? What are the lies they tell and the empty boasts they celebrate with flattering lips?
A small 8-verse Psalm explodes in my mind and heart.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"I've Been Offended"

I've been offended.
Not lately.
But I know the feeling.
One wants to react.
I've done it.
Doesn't work.
Let it go.
Grow some skin.
Who cares.
Move on.
Look up.
Much more to life.
The offense is for a blinding moment.
Wait until the eyes of the soul adjust.
And you can see straight again.
The offender is just another human being.
Subject to the same stupidity.
Same pride.
As is the offended.
Same hurt.
Same sin.
The offense is for a blinding moment.
Wait until the eyes of the soul adjust.
And you can see straight again.
Lest the offense grow.
And become malignant.
Full of pride.
Full of self.
The offense is for a blinding moment.
Wait until the eyes of the soul adjust.
And you can see straight again.
See the other in a better light.
A forgiving light.
A light the darkness cannot overcome.
I've been offended.
Not lately.
But I know the feeling.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Jesus the Trouble Maker

Jesus, the trouble-maker ...

From Mark 2.1-12.

There's quite a crowd gathered to see and hear Jesus - a typical crowd, pressing and shoving, thick and mindless - so that even the paralytic and his friends were unable to push through to Jesus.

The friends were remarkable - unwilling to let anything stand in their way, and so, through the roof they dig, until they can lower their friend into the very middle of the room where Jesus is.

Now here's where the matter becomes interesting ... scribes are there, the guys who know their stuff - the scriptures, the Book of Order, tradition and practice - every jot and tittle well cared for - "it goes this way, not that way; it's up and not down."

Jesus says to the paralytic: "Your sins are forgiven!"

My suspicion: Jesus knew well what was going to rankle the scribes. Would they have been distressed by a healing? Not likely. But to talk about sins and forgiveness - that's a no-no,  because such things require something more elaborate - like temples and lambs and blood and alters and flames and smoke.

This little moment in Mark reveals Jesus pitting himself early on against the religious establishment, and those who consider themselves it's gatekeepers.

He might have whispered words of forgiveness to the man, and no one would have known the difference, and he might have healed the man without taking about sin and forgiveness.

But Jesus knows what's at stake here ... the gatekeepers standing by elaborate gates with carefully guarded keys, heavy and ornate. If there's any paralysis anywhere, this is it - religion unable to move, religion stuck, religion frozen in time, ever-ready to defend itself.

Jesus said just a few words, but Jesus knew well that those few words would arouse immediate suspicion - the watchers of the gate are ever-vigilante for violations, and very quickly, Jesus violated their sensibilities.

While I rejoice in how Jesus tweaked their noses, I wonder: would Jesus tweak my nose! Where are my gates that I guard zealously? what are the keys I hold? where I am stuck and paralyzed? What might Jesus say to me, and I find myself grumbling and uneasy?