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.