Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On brokeness and hope

Life seems hardly worth the living!

The journey
Through the peaks and valleys of our existence
Is twisted and full of pitfalls

and we
 in our fragility
 often get broken

Like bottles tossed carelessly to the side of the road.
we lie
 shattered, in pieces,
irregular fragments glistening in the sun
Raw edges, sharp and tortured,

There are pieces of us scattered along the roads we have traveled,
In our brokeness we are empty,
Joy comes
but cannot be contained.
It seeps through the cracks to disappear.
Love comes,
only to go,
and ;hope, there is no hope
for one so broken.

And yet,
hope comes.
In a smile, in a touch,
in conversations lasting long into the night,
Step by step the metamorphosis begins,
and out of the jagged jumble
the first faint glimmerings of wholeness grow.

a thing of beauty....
how can such a battered creation be beautiful?'

but for all the seams and cracks,
the wonder of what was, and is,
and still might be,
beauty shines through.

and deep in the murky depths love comes
and stays

A re-publishing of a poem in honor of all those people
whom I work with who have been battered by life
and work
and husbands or wives
and have come to doubt

You are beloved children of God
You have value
You have a voice, your own voice

May you know that God is with you and for you
as difficult as that is, at times, to sense, and know, and believe

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thoughts on November Morning

A gray morning
Gray on gray as the mist
Wanders tentatively through the woods

In the quietness  
all seems settled
everything is in its place
and all is well

And yet underneath the stillness
is a stirring,
a moving
a living.

Leaves rustle
A bird lifts its head
in search of the goddess sun,
magnificent and solitary
a sentinel on a branch

A soul at rest
Not dead, no gravestone and no eulogy
But stirring with the energy of love

A exuberant quietness


God, may the energy of love
Move me not to dormancy
But to action

In this day may I be awake to your presence
May I be let the spirit move in my soul
As the mist moves in the trees
May I practice your presence,
And may I attend in love,
To the people
You place in my path this day

Sunday, November 27, 2011

At the root of Advent? A mess!

There is a story told about me as a child.  It seems my mom and dad went to San Francisco one time for a vacation, leaving me with my dad’s receptionist, who ultimately was the only baby sitter I ever had.  A woman we lovingly called “Aunt Pansy”.  They were gone what seemed to me, a 3 or 4 year old, a very long time.When they got home, or so the story goes, I am not sure it isn’t apocryphal, I climbed into my mother’s lap, looked up into her eyes, and asked, with what must have been a certain degree of uncertainty,  “Do you still love little boys?”

Many years later, I am the dad.  Sad to say I had moments when I would get a little frustrated with my children, who, truth be told, were great kids, but were also a bit challenging.  They would get a little wild, a little loud.  But I noticed that they would keep looking over at me.  I always wondered about that - until finally the kids told me about “the dad look.”  Apparently they could tell, by looking at my face, when they had pushed me far enough, and things were going to get ugly. 

As children we are very aware of our parents.  And they have a lot of power over us.  They make us feel safe, or not safe.  Secure, or insecure.  Valued, or not valued.

And there is almost nothing worse, I would guess
As a child, then to think perhaps
Your mother or father is mad at you
Disappointed in you
And nothing worse than the idea that you parent is so down on your that they are ready to just
Give up on you

In Psalm 80 hear the words of a person who is worried about his/her relationship with the heavenly parent, God.  Who is afraid, that when it comes to God, they have gotten “the dad look”.  Who are afraid that God is ready to through up holy hands and say “enough I’m done”.  Or is ready to explode in anger

And so we hear the plaintive questions……
Do you still love your children, Oh God….
Will God’s face shine on us again?

They concerns are not totally foolish
The reality is that at the time these passages things weren’t  OK
Because the people of Israel had gotten off track, they had made mistakes
They had not been perfect children
Not even close
Would it really be OK?

This is the uncertainty
This is the ambiguity with which they lived
And it is the uncertainty with which we live

Lets face it
We are not the best of children…
When it comes to being ideal, we miss the mark by a long distance

That goes without saying, I don’t even have to illustrate that reality
It is this reality which is behind the fact that the Gospel reading for today, from the lectionary, is Mark 13.  A passage that is all about the end of time

“But in those days, following that distress, ‘the sun will be darkened,    and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’  At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

This is about Christ’s second advent.  It is about him coming and dramatically setting right a  world gone wrong.  Why we he need to do that? Because we have made and continue to make, a mess of things.

At some level we understand that Advent is about the mess.  Advent expresses the insistence that all is not right in our societies. And the insistence that something has to change, radically.  The transformation anticipated in Mark is a monumental and all-encompassing upheaval.  We understand this.  And if we think about it, we might get a little spooked

Which brings us to the issue of how we see God.  How we think about god in the midst of our failure, in the midst of a mess that demands transformation.  When we get into trouble here is when we think that somehow we can destroy God’s love

We believe, many of us
Maybe not all the time,
But at least some of the time
We believe that we can get to a place where God will give up on us

And simply say, “that’s it, I’m done”

And that is where we would be wrong
Paul makes that very clear in the opening words of I Corinthians. 
I give thanks … because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus…You have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge…You are not lacking in any spiritual gift…You are strengthened…you are in the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord”

What Paul is trying to tell us is that we can trust in the love of God.  We can trust in the love revealed in Jesus Christ.  In Christ’s birth, his advent, in his life, and most of all, in his death.

God has amazing love for us!

Anne Lamott tells of a time a family in her church were talking about their choice to adopt a child with some special needs.  She was promoting a program called ASK, Adopt Special Kids.  She talked about how she and her husband had to filled out a very challenging questionnaire, with questions like
“Could you adopt an addicted baby?  A child with terminal illness?  A child with mild retardation, with moderate retardation?”  The woman ticked off the list, and then she cried.

The minister, Veronica, stepped to her side.  “God is an adoptive parent too.  And chose us all.  God says “Sure, I’ll take the kids who are addicted or terminal.  I pick all the retarded kids, and of course he sadists.  The selfish ones, the liars…”

What a wonderful way to think about God’s love

So how do we move out of uncertainty?
Out of fear?
Our of a sense that “we can’t do it?”

Rob Bell puts it this way:
"It all beings with the sure and certain truth that we are loved
That in spite of whatever has gone horribly wrong deep in our hearts
and has spread to every corner of the world,
In spite of our sins, failures, rebellion, and hard hearts
In spite of what’s been done to us, or what we’ve done
God has made peace with us
Done, complete
As Jesus said from the cross…”it is finished” “

Being rooted in this love is what makes all the difference
It is being rooted in this love that enables us to love ourselves, and yes, we are commanded to love ourselves,

It is this love that enables us to generously live our faith, practice it.

In living out "being-loved" we move beyond the oppressive demands we imposed upon ourselves.
We move beyond our fears.  In living out “being-loved” we become free to love and live lives of compassion.

We are people who are living in difficult times
There is war
And we have been co-conspirators, one way or another in all of this
And we wonder…

Will God’s face shine on us again?  Yes
Will God forgive?  Yes
Will it really be OK?  Yes

As Paul reminds us
The grace of God has been given to you in Christ Jesus
And he will strengthen you to the end

If that is true,
Then come Lord Jesus
We wait for your advent
We look for and accept your love
And trust!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On being Grateful!

I had a conversation the other day, and a friend and I were talking about prayer.  I suggested that since I really don't know how to pray (I really am bad at it), and because Paul tells me that I, along with all people, really don't know how to pray, and thus need the Spirit to do our praying for us, that I generally simply try to connect with God, and say "go for it God."  

My friend and I decided that there really are two kinds of prayer.  The kind where we want to tell God what to do, and the kind where we  are simply willing (ala Gerald May) and "let go and let God."

Later the conversation turned to pain, and toward all those situations where we really would like to tell God what to do.  I was reminded at that point of some words shared by Christopher Germer in his book "The Mindful Path to Self Compassion."  In that book he states "pain creates a conflict between the way things are and how we'd like them to be and that makes our lives feel unsatisfactory.  The more we wish our lives were different the worse we feel."  And then he makes this statement.  "We can measure our happiness by the gap between what we want and how things are."  Or we can think about it another way.  Pain represents the gap between what we want and what we have.

Which brings me to gratitude.  I have been finding, and believe me it has been a difficult task to come to this place, that the more I focus on what I have, rather than on what I think I need and want, the less pain I feel, and the more joy.  It is not that focusing on what I have gets rid of pain.  Things in my life still hurt.  But I don't suffer as much.  In letting go of my desires, or at least my attachment to my desires, I change my relationship to those things I don't have.

Which brings me to Thanksgiving.  On this Thanksgiving day I am going to think about what I have.  And I am going to be grateful to God for all the things God has given me.  And at least for a moment, I am going to let go of my obsession with what I don't have.  

I am going to be grateful

And I am going to sing from the heart, my favorite Thanksgiving hymn

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and bless├Ęd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Practice of Saying No

The snow has come here in Eastern Oregon.  This morning, after plowing the driveways and freezing what remains of an amputated thumb (it is sooo sensitive to cold now), I am sitting here drinking coffee and looking out at what is a very white and very still landscape.  The sun has not quite risen and the whitened forest has an eerie look, like something out of "A Nightmare Before Christmas".  All grays and whites and misty vagueness.  

I started thinking about my annual pilgrimage last week to Les Schwab for the "changing of the tires" ritual.  Although I got there plenty early (from my perspective) I was told it would be around 2 hours before I would get the pickup back.  Resignedly I settled in to wait, with absolutely nothing to do.  It was agony!  And I suddenly realized how difficult it is for me to stop and rest.  In fact is is not only difficulty, it is weird and painful.

Recently I was reading Barbara Brown Taylor's book "An Altar in the World".  In it she talks about some important "practices" that she thinks we as spiritual people ought to pursue.  One of them is the practice of "saying no."  That chapter (which echoes Wayne Muller's thoughts in his book "Sabbath") really spoke to me.  Taylor suggests that in our culture we are conditioned to say "yes", and see "yes" as they way to find success and joy.  "Yes, I want the job", "Yes I will marry you", "Yes I will help!"

But she believes that we all need to adopt the spiritual practice of saying "no".  I think she has something here.  It may well be our inability to say now that causes us to end up in a life that is both shallow and exhausting.  For yes, being busy does not necessarily equate to depth or satisfaction.  What happens to us when we live live roaring down our life's path in fifth gear?  Part of what happens is that we find it hard to slow down, to rest.  We wake up in the middle of the night still in gear, with our mind worrying about jobs, money, the future, our children.  We find ourselves in a moment where there is nothing to do, and we just can't shift from fifth to neutral, or even to first, and there we are, anxious, pacing, unsettled.

Taylor references Abraham Heschel who says that the first holy thing in all creation was not a people or a place but a day, "a place in time.. into which human beings are invited every single week of our lives."

It is not that God calls us to do "nothing" on the Sabbath.  It is not a matter of, as Taylor notes, "Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it boring."  But it is that God calls us to rest.  It is that God calls us to be free.  It is a time to "be"  and to remember that we live in this earth, among all its beauty, surrounded by unique and special people.  It is also a time to live in God.  "When you live in God" Taylor writes, "your day beings when you open your eyes, though you have done nothing yourself to open them, and you take your first breath, thought there is no reason why this life giving breeze should be given to you and not to some other....it begins when you let God hold you because you do not have the slightest idea how to hold yourself,...when you lose yourself long enough for God to find you, and when God finds you, to lose yourself again in praise."

But we can't do any of this.  Walk in the snow, have a picnic on a summer day, sit on the porch and look at Mt Joseph, watch the birds on the feeders... until we learn to say "no".  No to that extra task.  No to sheer busy-ness.  And it helps to remember, that behind our "no's" are "yes's"  When we say no to yet another volunteer activity (gasp) we might be saying yes to giving our own soul much needed rest. Or yes to our body (as we take that walk), or yes to someone we love, as we spend time with them, perhaps in silence,
with a cup of coffee on the porch, doing nothing more than watching the sun filter through the trees on a warm afternoon.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

The death of hopelessness

I remember reading about a person who got a letter from the department of social services stating: ‘You food stamps will be stopped effective April 1 because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you.  You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances.”

A change in circumstances?  When it comes to death we don’t normally think of a “change in circumstances” as an option.  In the case of Lazarus of Bethany in John 11, it was definitely not an option.  It was very clear that Lazarus was dead.  In the tomb for four days dead.

Stinky, gross, dead.  So dead that even his sisters didn’t want to open the tomb out of the certainty that would be present in there would be horrible decay.  And it was in the face of this kind of unavoidable, no hope, irreversible death that Jesus went to the tomb and said,  “Lazarus come out!!!”  

The point being?  With God it is never too late!  Which is good news, important new.  For lots of us, maybe all of us are in situations that seem hopeless,  where it seems as if it just might be “too late”

There is of course death itself.  But it isn’t just death…
There are so many situations, mistakes, so many things that can make us feel this way!
What one thing seems the most overpower, most hopeless to you?

This story tells us, that if God is in the picture…. It is never too late.  It is never hopeless.  If Jesus can restore a body that had been in the tomb for four days and has begun to decompose, he can certainly mend the brokenness and wounds of our lives.

Jesus said to Martha,  “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies will live, And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Jesus asks the same question of us also, “Do you believe this? Do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life? Do you believe that I can mend all the brokenness and wounds of your life? Do you believe that I not only offer you resurrection in the future but also the fullness of life now in the present?” Jesus proclaims that he is both the resurrection and the life. He promises future resurrection but also invites us to share now in the fullness of his life. The resurrection of Lazarus is not just a promise about a future resurrection, it is also an invitation from Jesus to enter into the fullness of his life in the present, right now.

Do you believe that Jesus calls you to enjoy the fullness of his life now? Do you believe that Jesus is now calling you out of any tomb you may be in? Do you believe that even now Jesus is saying to you, “Be unbound and go free.  If we believe this it raises a question….  How do we get out of our tombs?
There are many pious answers to this:  Pray, go to worship, read the Bible, meditate, be good.

Notice a theme here?  Now it is not that these aren’t useful tools at times, but they are all things WE have to do.  What did Lazarus do?  Nothing!  He just heard the call!  Lazarus come forth!  He was just willing.

Did he have a choice?  Could he have lain there and said,  “Ok I hear Jesus talking… but I’m dead!  No way I can stand up and walk out of this tomb…Nope, can’t happen, I’m just going to lay here !
Yep… rot, rot, rot, fester, fester, fester, that is my only choice!” 

Seems ludicrous doesn’t it ?  It is!  But it is possible to not hear the call.  In fact hearing God, seeing God, seems to be something we struggle with.  I love Isaiah 43:19.  “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.  Can you not see it?”  Why does God keep asking if we see it?  Here this amazing thing is happening, streams in the wasteland, and he has to ask… “do you see it?”  Why?  Because so often we don’t.

So, to use both images, we need ears that hear, and eyes that see.  Why is it so hard?  Perhaps in part it is because we really continue to insist that it has to be about what we do.  But I think perhaps the bigger problem is that God very often doesn’t act the way we expect.  In Isaiah, we are told about a new thing!
In John Lazarus is not just raised, he is unbound.  He has to be “set free”.  That little side story in the story is not an accident

God wants to do a new thing.  God wants to set us free, unbind us from what binds us!  But we don’t really have a very good idea of what this is going to look like.  We don’t know what God’s transforming power will do, to us, to our situation… That is scary!!  And it may be confusing! 

All we can be sure of is that it will be freeing, and it will be new.  But whatever happens, we can also be sure that we cannot put God in a box.

I was thinking as I wrote this sermon about my brother in law Dan.
After a visit the other day I was talking to someone who said about Dan and Sue,
“I just can’t believe God would do that to them… God is just giving them too much to deal with…”

First I don’t believe God “did this” to them
This is a fallen world.  Life, and sickness, and death, and failure happen….

But I do believe God is at work
A miraculous cure… guess not!
But the miracle is that Dan is still every bit Dan
Joyful, smiling, curious, impish, loving, engaged
He could be bitter, angry, disengaged,
But he is not

God is there

God is always there
Even when it seems too late…
There, not just raise us up,  but to unbind us
To set us free…
To do a new thing…

The voice of God is a voice that calls us from the past and calls us to the present. It calls us from our old habits and invites us to try new ones. It calls us from apathy and indifference to caring. It calls us from despair to hope. It calls us from darkness to light. It calls us from loneliness to community. It calls us from captivity to freedom.

Our day to day life as “unbound people” as “people raised up” may not include something as dramatic as the resurrection of Lazarus.  But resurrection life is ours, each and every day
I we only have eyes to see
And ears to hear