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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

It is a process!!!

How many of you understand the meaning of life?

Oh I know what the church has traditional say… “to love God and enjoy God forever”
But do you understand the meaning of YOUR life?

Do you know what you are here to do?
Where you are headed?
What God has in mind for you?  Specifically ?

There is a story about a person who wants to figure what life is all about.  He has heard that the wisest guru in all of India lives atop India's highest mountain, so the seeker tracks over a hill in Delhi until he reaches the fabled mountain. It's incredibly steep, and more than once, he slips and falls. By the time he reaches the top, he's full of cuts and bruises. But there's the guru, sitting cross-legged in front of his cave.

Oh, wise guru, the seeker says, I have come to ask you what the secret of life is. Ah, yes, the secret of life, the guru says. The secret of life is a teacup. A teacup? I came all the way up here to find the meaning of life and you tell me it's a teacup? The guru shrugs, so maybe it isn't a teacup

Many times we resign ourselves to the fact that we might not get certainty
So then we go to sayings like this…

I know I am not who I want to be
But thank God I am not who I used to be
Comforting ourselves with the fact that perhaps we have learned some lessons along the way…..
And there is truth in that…

I usually think about it this way…
I don’t know what the heck just happened!
I have no idea what is going on
And I don’t have a clue where I am going…. But I am hopeful!!!

The good news is that I can be hopeful
We can all be hopeful

If you are not too sure about that, well think about from the early life of Moses in Exodus 2. 

One thing that is very clear from the life of Moses:   when God is working with us, to get us where we need to be
To get us where we need to go
To get the job done, it is a process!
A wonder, crazy, confusing, but grace full and hope full process

With Moses
What a weird, twisted process it was…

First the birth
Then the rescue
Then… life as a prince
Smooth sailing, right?

The twist comes, Moses knows his origins, he knows he is a Hebrew
He sees the oppression of his people
And --  it eats at his heart to the point he can’t control himself.

And suddenly we have an act of violence.  Moses kills……
And things start heading a whole new direction.

But we have to note… the process started when the princess picked Moses out of the river.
He had time as a prince… quite a bit of time.  And In that time he learned some things
He learned to be a person of authority,
Perhaps learned some leadership skills
But it is clear he also learned to think of himself as “a power”
As a person who could do what he wanted

Reminds me of some professional athletes in our time….

So he kills the guard

But then  he gets ratted out by his own people, and has to flee
Off he goes, into the deser!
Surely the process is off track, right?  Maybe. 
But god is working, working

So there he is in the desert
Meets the women at the well
And ends up connected to a bunch of nomads
Probably not Jewish at all.  Not if the names are any indication!
In fact they were Bedouins… Arabs… hmmm
Not necessarily what we would have expected.  But there he is
And he taken by these people, Into their family

So there he is, part of a Bedouin family with what?
Six sister-in-laws… Now that is something.
Can you imagine?
I have to believe that one of the things Moses learned here was humility J

But I also believe he learned how to live, how to survive in the desert as a Bedouin

So now he has some humility
Mixed with his pride
He has leadership and an understanding of power, and its limits
But also a knowledge of how it is to live in the desert
As a Bedouin

See anything here that might come in handy as one leads the people of Israel into the wilderness?

I can correlate this story with my story
I started out as an English/Philosophy major at Whitman.  Not a very useful degree, to be honest,
But I learned, how to read, to interpret, and to write, to express
That was very useful, in seminary and in my work as a minister…. So many tools gained and lessons learned….

And for a while my story just rolled along.  Seemed on track!
But then I had my Moses and the guard moment
I blew it
Blew out

So there I am in the desert.  Feeling pretty lost.  What do I do now?
But I find myself working at NW Medical Teams
Not only does my ministry stuff come in handy, because I am asked to recruit and work with volunteers
But time spent learning to be an EMT when I was in my first church now comes into play
So suddenly there I am, working with international disaster relief work….

Earlier parts of my story helped me in this new part of my story

Then there I am at OHSU.  Lessons learned from ministry and NW Medical Teams enable me to be a part of the faculty there for 10 plus years.  And write a book on Healthcare and Spirituality.  Cool.
God seems to know what God is doing…..

Then, tired of the city I come out here
And I get the chance, because of skills learned as a minister, at NW Medical, at OHSU, to be a part of Wallowa Valley Mental Health, which is now the Center for Wellness….

It’s a process

When God works in our lives
Sometimes I think we expect things to
Just “happen”
Presto, chango…. Its all done
Instant transformation
Clear journey from A to Z

Rarely so…
It’s a process.
Its one step at a time
Its following the breadcrumbs…

It is a matter, as we saw last week
Of God taking whatever is there
And whatever has been
Good bad or indifferent…
And moving us forward….

God can use whatever is there, whatever happens
Whatever choices we make, even our mistakes
To fulfill his intention for our lives…..

Think about your life
The good….
The bad
God has been busy leveraging all kinds of things in your life
Taking them and using them, whether you knew it or not
To move you forward……

But it is always a mystery I think.  You think you are on the way… then wham
Everything falls apart.
You think you have the answers, then suddenly you don’t
You think you have totally blown it, but God takes the pieces, puts them back together, and uses them to move you on to the next thing.

That is the way it is with God
So I guess the question always is this….
What is next?

What is God preparing me for?
What is happening right now, for good or ill
That God is going to leverage, into the next ‘new thing in my life?

What is that next step God is going to ask me to take?

You may think you have it all figured out, and in fact you may have your life planned for the next ten years.   Don’t be so sure that plan is going to play out.

You may think you don’t have a clue.  You may think your life has fallen apart, and there is no next step.  Don’t be so sure.

The main thing is to keep the faith.
Keep looking to God
Keep looking for the breadcrumbs
Keep looking for the next right choice
The next step….

And God will shape your future
And get you were he needs you to be
With the tools you need
To do the task to which you are called.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In this place I rest

is it not funny
 how from time to time
 time is not
 is not a matter of seconds
 and minutes and hours and days
 but is in fact timeless
 and an hour is a second
 and moments timeless become
 as mind meets mind and heart meets heart

 and isn't it fun how space becomes
 spaceless... and the great
 dark emptiness that lies between
 becomes a delusion
 a mere shadow without substance
 or meaning

 as a hand reaches out
 and in the touch of a finger
 an intercourse so intimate
 so mysterious

 and in this timeless spaceless
 place i rest


Thank you God, for the gift of your love
that touches my soul
and binds me to you

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Softening the point of suffering

Sometimes Lord
I feel like a dried branch
cut off

a dead thing lying in the dust

I have been torn asunder
from the source of life
by rejection

a harsh word
love not returned
consequences of my own making

sometimes I have simply weighed myself down
and snapped
like a branch burdened by spring snow

I suffer

"only love, with no thought of return, can soften the point of suffering"  (source unknown)

thank your God for your love
given freely, scandalously
thank you for the love of others
that comes 
often unexpected
unasked for
that reconnects me
to the source
and restores me to life

Sunday, April 22, 2012

When life is a Mess

I have just started reading (again) the book of Exodus

The story of the Exodus starts with the people of Israel in Egypt
And as the story begins, the people are, oppressed

OPPRESSION:   It’s a big deal!
We can be oppressed by a lot of things.
We can be oppressed by other people – There are women are oppressed by men, but it can work both ways.  We can be oppressed by bosses, parents, other family members.  Lots of people use power “on” other people in an unhealthy way.

We can be oppressed by addictions.
By old patterns of behavior and living
By circumstance, economics, misfortune, even illness
We can be oppressed by our own emotions.  By fear, and hurt….

Anything that has power over us, that has the ability to control us, can oppress us…..

One thing we know about oppression
Is that it tends to make us less
Less whole, less happy, less free
But over all, it just makes us, as a person, less!

As the book of Exodus opens the old pharaoh, or king, who had loved Joseph, and honored his people, had died, and a new pharaoh was on the throne.  And this Pharaoh “knew not Joseph”. 
In that phrase we find the root of the profound oppression that would follow.  We tend to fear what we do not understand, and hate what we fear, and act accordingly.

This Pharaoh did not know or understand these strangers who lived in his land.  These --immigrants.  They were different.  And they were multiplying….

So he was afraid.  And he hated…. And he oppressed.  He set them to slave labor.

Now I just said that oppression often leads to depletion.  But that didn’t happen here.  The Pharaoh and his people oppressed, and the people of Israel just kept multiplying.  So the Eygptians oppressed more.  They enacted all kinds of legislation against these interlopers.  And the immigrant band still grew. So the fear grew, and the concern grew until finally a radical option was enacted.  The midwives were asked to kill all the boys.  But even that didn’t work.  The midwives wouldn’t do it, the people of Israel kept growing.  So the oppression grew ever more intense.

It is out of this oppression the whole story of Exodus and indeed the Bible unfolds.
The birth and rescue of Moses
The confrontation between God and Pharaoh
The plagues
The Passover
The Exodus itself, and freedom, and the promised land, and the Kingdom of Israel, and David,
and eventually  Jesus

There were a lot of things that jumped out at me as I read this opening movement in the story of the Exodus.

The first thing that hit me is this.  1.  God uses strange things, sometimes difficult things to move us forward.

Without the oppression the Exodus might never have happened.  The reality is that Egypt was pretty cool.  There was the Nile, and thus plenty of water, and rich valleys.  For that time it was a really good place to live.  I think the people of Israel were probably getting pretty comfortable.  Do you think they would have gone into the Desert? Easily? Ever, without the oppression?

Oppression, by itself depletes and destroys.  And no, I am not one who thinks God causes oppression.  But God can use anything.  And in God’s hands oppression can cause growth –it can make us think.  Cause us to examine ourselves, our behaviors, our values.  It can be a catalyst for growth.

Think of a person in addiction.  Who finally is so oppressed by his or her addiction that he says, she says….”Enough!  I can’t live this way!  I can’t survive this.  I have to change”. 

I have certainly had times in my life where things oppressed me.  Where circumstances were dark, negative, destructive.  And in those times, as I just kept moving, just kept putting one foot in front of the other.  Just made one choice at a time, I found myself, sometimes after a long period of time in the wasteland, in a new place, yes, even a better place.  God can, as Paul reminds us, make “all things work together for good.”

The second thing that jumped out at me here was the people God used to begin to shape this story, and the history of this people.   So lesson two is this -  2.  God can use anyone to impact our lives in a positive way…

I would have you note that the opening stories of Exodus, not just here in Chapter one, but going into chapter two, are all about women. All the key players are women. The midwives, who not only disobeyed pharaoh; they then told him a crazy story that he bought hook-line-and-sinker.

In chapter two Moses' mother was a hero. She defied pharaoh by hiding her baby, placing him in basket in the reeds.  Moses' sister was a hero. She stood guard over the baby. When pharaoh's daughter discovered the baby, Moses' sister said, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” What presence of mind!  The nurse of course was the baby’s real mother

And Pharaoh's own daughter was a hero. She defied her father by rescuing this Jewish baby. Everyone else might run scared of her father, but nobody was going to kill this baby while she was around.

This may not seem that big.  Today we hardly notice the presence of women in the story.  But when this book was written… they would have noticed.  Ancient Israel was a very patriarchal society
Men were everything.  Women, not so much.  The listeners of this story would have been asking…
Where is the hero?  And of course the hero came, in the person of Moses.  But at the beginning it was women, which reminds me that God can use everyone.  And that everyone has a role in fighting oppression.

On the one hand God will use all kinds of people to fight our oppression.  God will put the right people in our lives.  Move us into the right places.  That’s God, always working.  Nudge nudge..... 

On the other hand, God will use us, perhaps, to help another person with their oppression.  God will use us to fight even the big kinds of oppression that our out there in our world.  And fight we should.  If it’s wrong, oppressing the poor for example, it is wrong and we should be the ones to so…. “enough”.

This is a story about lots of things, as you can see…. But most of all, this is a story about God. As this story unfolded God, the great innovator was constantly at work.  In the rescue of Moses, in his discovery the princesses, and in everything that happened from there on out…. 3. So the third thing I see is that when we are in a mess, God is there, in the midst, working.

One commentary suggested that as this story unfolded God had a plan.  He insisted that Moses was not born by accident. He was part of God's plan. God knew the people were hurting. So, he planned.  For this baby to be born, and more! 

The commentator believes the story shows how far God plans ahead, how carefully God works behind the scenes to help his people. Nobody the commentator said, “could suspect that the baby was important. Nobody could see the plan. Moses' birth seemed unimportant, unplanned, even chaotic. Nevertheless, God was at work quietly behind the scenes, preparing, getting ready to act, getting ready to save his people.”

That to me is comforting.  It is nice to know that when we are in the midst… God has a plan.

But I honestly wonder, because we are who we are, and are so good at frustrating God’s original plan, whether the story that happened was according to plan.  I tend to believe that God often needs to adjust, change, innovate to bring the divine purpose into being.

Think about the Exodus.  It was not an easy journey.  Often we think we know where things are headed, and then suddenly things happen, and the journey changes. 

In this story there were many twists and turns.  It wasn’t smooth.  And the story as it unfolded may not have been God’s Plan A.

Where the people of Israel supposed to “settle into” Egypt?  Perhaps they were supposed to go home after the drought was over (that is why they were there).
Was Moses supposed to be impetuous and kill that guard? Or was he supposed to use his position as a prince to help his people?
Were the people supposed to falter in the wilderness, and end up wandering?

I suggest that perhaps this story was not the original story…

But what is clear is that through it all God was working
God used Moses’ banishment to the desert
God used the Pharaoh’s stubbornness
God used the people’s disobedience and time in the desert…
And eventually, they found their way to the promised land.

That is the way it is.  God is always in the midst…
Nudging, guiding… as we wander along we find that things “just happen”
These things might have been part of what God had in mind….part of the original concept

But sometimes it is just God being innovative.
We saw how god used oppression, don’t think he caused it but he used it
And he used whoever was willing…

God will take whatever happens.  He will take whoever is there…
God will take whatever we give him… And God will get us,
If just just keep trying to be willing
God will get us to “that new place”

To a land of milk and honey?

Perhaps not, but at least to a new place
A place along the way…
In our journey toward the “new, good thing” God has in mind for our lives.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Thoughts on love

I love you
You are loved

Used often
Thoughtfully, carelessly
Deeply, casually


I wondered today Lord about love
And thought perhaps you might have
A few ideas

Blue skies
Soft winds
The beauty of the sunrise, golden hued
Coloring with exhuberant joy the world
As it kisses it with light

Rain that nourishes the ground
Sun that warms and brings to birth

Moments and moments
Called people, Abraham and Moses
Promises kept

Might acts of love

A love that will not let me go
The love of a parent greeting a prodigal
The love of a God who lives at the center of who I am
Defining me…. In a grace full way

You are love
You love me
And there is nothing I can do about that……

And there in is love
Creative, joyful, life giving
There is love
Forgiving, giving, listening, caring
Being with and for

Lord, teach me how to love