Daily Devotional Archive Search
January 1, 2000
All Devotionals (results will be returned here)
The Space Between UsFor human beings, there's truly no harder land to till than the spaces between us.
A Heart Patient's PaceMay 20, 2013Studies show that people who walk faster, live longer.
God Goes ViralMay 19, 2013Read any of Paul's letters and you'll see how God-gone-viral caused a world of diversity problems for the early church.
Delusions of GenderMay 18, 2013Schooled in that "Women are invisible" point of view, I often miss what men or Jesus or fathers or sons are saying.
Green PasturesMay 17, 2013If the shepherd is God, then you know who we are.
Life or Death? You ChooseMay 16, 2013People of faith and faith communities can play a unique role in addressing the environmental crisis. That does not mean we will, however.
Easter LaughMay 15, 2013There is nothing you will go through that is so hard that you can't dispel some of the darkness by laughing.
And It Was Good!May 14, 2013Everyone an Adam; everyone an Eve.
I Gotta GoMay 13, 2013Jesus had to leave a space if the Spirit was going to get in.
Moms who make their kids go to Sunday SchoolMay 12, 2013Here's who I'm especially loving today: moms who make their kids go to Sunday school.
More RoomMay 11, 2013God's help often comes as more breathing space, greater freedom of spirit, a longer view, a bigger horizon, a little more time.
"Their Eyes Were Watching God"May 10, 2013When weather and the environment erupt and take things completely out of my control, my eyes should be watching God.
Excuses, Excuses, ExcusesMay 9, 2013I wonder how many excuses God hears every day.
You Have Got to be Kidding!May 8, 2013My confession: Part of me is afraid of everything.
Buying Boas in BulkMay 7, 2013Stoles tell us of the yoke of Christ, that yoke that is easy and that burden which is light.
Litter BugMay 6, 2013I remember childhood car trips when my family tossed trash out the window. I remember littering.
We Need the EggsMay 5, 2013Jesus is intent on taking from us all the ways we've learned to keep true life and real healing at bay.
"The World Needs Your Cargo"May 4, 2013Joy is often related to abundance - but not to excess.
God's Commencement AddressMay 3, 2013Today's passage from the end of the First Letter to Timothy would make a good graduation speech.
Moses at a Dead RunMay 2, 2013An old story imagines what happened after Moses died.
Only WonderMay 1, 2013Every year, it seemed, sometime during the week of Summer Family Camp there was a thunderstorm.
OilyApril 30, 2013This type of thing is exactly why I don't understand biblical literalists.
Jonathan and DavidApril 29, 2013O God, let us not keep our arrows in a quiver or ourselves in a dither.
Being Available 24/6April 28, 2013"There used to be a time when only God was that important."
A Loaded Statement and the Benefit of the DoubtApril 27, 2013I felt a strong connection to this total stranger. So in parting, I said, "I'll pray for you."
An Ecclesiastical Flash Mob?April 26, 2013I think the church could learn a lot from flash mobs. Maybe we could become a flash mob ourselves?
The Earth is the Lord'sApril 25, 2013"O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all; The earth is full of thy creatures."
Magical Thinking About Unread BooksApril 24, 2013I am always carrying books around in the hope of reading them.
Spiritual Water Skiing and Scuba DivingApril 23, 2013I did not want to be a spiritual water skier, bouncing along on the surface from one faith experience to another.
Beating Up BrotherApril 22, 2013It's hard to be an obedient child when you're bent on beating the tar out of your brother.
PromiseApril 21, 2013And God had wiped every tear from every eye.
My Cup OverflowsApril 20, 2013Overflow energy comes after we spill, not before.
The Outermost HouseApril 19, 2013Some of us discover that it will take a journey of solitude in order to reach the next season of our lives.
Someone Like UsApril 18, 2013Boston is one more horrific instance of what human beings do, what we’re capable of, even as we’re capable of selflessness and love.
Be Not AfraidApril 17, 2013A Boston policeman, right after the blast, said, "I need all the lanes open here." He meant it.
So Much at StakeApril 16, 2013The church, like the family, is that rare place where we get a chance to practice living with people we did not choose.
A Prayer for Tax DayApril 15, 2013The fact is, lots of good things have happened in my life because people I never knew filed their 1040's.
Spinning Straw Into GoldApril 14, 2013Spiritual alchemy is not rooted in magic creatures, fairy tales, chemistry, finance or doctrine.
The Invitation I (Nearly) MissedApril 13, 2013How might at least some of our interactions with others be different if we hear what they are really saying and not what we think, or fear, they may be saying?
FlurryApril 12, 2013As far as I can tell, here is how Communion is prepared in every Christian church everywhere.
Concert NotesApril 11, 2013May we be open, free, emboldened, and enlivened today, dear God, to join the great chorus, and sing out our Praise.
Pray for PeaceApril 10, 2013We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools.
Whispered in Your EarApril 9, 2013This, in essence, is what we whisper in the ear of anyone who comes to be baptized: "You are God's beloved." Those are the first words we hear. That is who we are.
Hanging From Your Own RopeApril 8, 2013"Those who live by the sword, die by the sword."
The Authority of an Open WoundApril 7, 2013During Eastertide we have a choice. We can open the graves and rise from them, with each other. Or we can get stuck.
Another Rock Star Disses the ChurchApril 6, 2013Unless some sane people claim the label, "Christian," the extremist fringes will have the last word.
Coming Clean, Starting FreshApril 5, 2013The hard path to new life means coming clean about our fears, failures and betrayals.
Say "Uncle"April 4, 2013Sometimes I allow myself to hunker down under the broom bush in my soul and surrender to the sweet agony of grief.
Satin-Lined CoffinsApril 3, 2013Death, as it turns out, does not actually have much of a sting. It's life that hurts, with all its uncertainty, intense feelings, learning curves throwing us for a loop.
I Met Jesus and My Life Is Not BetterApril 2, 2013Jesus may make life harder, but in ways that matter. He gives us problems worth having.
Facing InjusticeApril 1, 2013How could we ever live into the new realm of Christ if we forgot the injustices that necessitated our new beginning?
Easter MaybesMarch 31, 2013Even I, who have never missed an Easter Sunday in 65 years, have no way to explain the "resurrection of the body."
Anyone Can Pick Out a HouseMarch 31, 2013Anyone can pick out a house. What my mother did was make each one a home.
Raw MaterialsMarch 30, 2013We tell this story not out of guilt, but hope.
Jesus or Barabbas?March 29, 2013Why do we sometimes choose one part of ourselves over another - as if active and passive resistance, love and anger are opposites?
What's an Hour?March 28, 2013An hour can be hard. Sometimes we are not up to the challenges of an hour. Sometimes an hour is more than we can bear.
FaithMarch 27, 2013Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
ExtravaganceMarch 26, 2013But there are times when extravagance is something other than foolish or wrong. There are times when extravagance is beautiful and beyond right.
Show and TellMarch 25, 2013Every person who has experienced the life-giving power of Jesus is up for inspection.
The Injustice of GodMarch 24, 2013Social justice as well as injustice abound in the passion narratives of Holy Week, but not always in expected ways.
Spiritual ExhaustionMarch 23, 2013"Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
The Things That LastMarch 22, 2013We are forever confusing the lasting and the momentary.
GloryMarch 21, 2013Even the fanciest of human-made crowns can't compete with the one Jesus wears.
An Antidote to the AntichristMarch 20, 2013We don't use the term "Antichrist" much in the United Church of Christ. Neither does the Bible.
Fast CarsMarch 19, 2013Sin isn't only the doing of bad things; it's making anything into an ultimate thing.
Running Back and ForthMarch 18, 2013If evil can be defined as an absence from God, running back and forth can have a tinge of evil to it.
Why Life Is Short and So Am IMarch 17, 2013In the midst of bringing in new life, my mother dealt with the daily fear of death.
Didn't I Wash Your Feet?March 16, 2013"Hey, didn't I wash your feet on Sunday night?"
Jesus Performs a Non-Miracle!March 15, 2013Entering a church for the first time at age 34, I did not need the miracle stories explained away.
God AvailableMarch 14, 2013If a worship service has no prayer of confession, I wonder, "Am I the lone sinner in church looking for more power than I brought in here?"
At the End of Our Own Private ResourcesMarch 13, 2013It happens. We get to end of our rope. The end of our own private resources. What then?
Dancing on the MountainMarch 12, 2013Sometimes, you can have your faith and sing it, too.
Practicing EasterMarch 11, 2013Alleluia, praise, and joy are not something we believe first and practice later.
Free at LastMarch 10, 2013It's one thing to be released from an abuse or an imprisonment; it's quite another thing to be free from it.
The Familiar StrangerMarch 9, 2013Is there someone in your life, perhaps very close, perhaps even a member of your own family, who is like a stranger to you?
What's That All About?March 8, 2013Go visit the Holy Land and you'll find rocks everywhere. Big ones, little ones and stacks of them, just like the pile described in Joshua 4 near the Jordan River.
The Sting of DeathMarch 7, 2013We know about the sting of death, especially that worst kind of death, useless death, the kind that has no point and just stings and stings and stings.
My Election Night DoppelgangerMarch 6, 2013How often do I just trust that I know what I saw? How often do I assume I don't need to check?
Strike the RockMarch 5, 2013There are times to do something bold. Times to take a risk. Times to stop diddling around and strike the rock.
The Third Sacrament?March 4, 2013In baptism God comes to us. In communion we come to God. In Coffee Hour we come to each other.
ReckoningMarch 3, 2013"Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness" [Rom4:9] Facebook will not save you!
Where Does Your Heart Lie?March 2, 2013The Bible is not a book of coupons redeemable for what we want. It's a book of connections with God that redeem our spirit.
Misleading SignsMarch 1, 2013How many misleading signs do we accept every day?
Holy PlacesFebruary 28, 2013Most Protestants have more of a sense of holy place than we usually let on.
Laying on of HandsFebruary 27, 2013The slightest touch, the slightest laying on of hands, can make all the difference in the world.
Different SpiritFebruary 26, 2013I thank God for all the Calebs who give us the confidence to follow God wholeheartedly, even into strange new territory, even when we feel like grasshoppers.
I PromiseFebruary 25, 2013We all know that promises are only as good as the persons who make them, but there is another side to promise-keeping.
Free for LoveFebruary 24, 2013Sometimes what's corrupt is considered normal.
The Importance of Being With FriendsFebruary 23, 2013Is our culture so disconnected that we are in constant touch electronically, but just too busy to see one another in person?
Come and See What God Is DoingFebruary 22, 2013What God is doing is our story, our hope, and the source of our energy.
When in BoulderFebruary 21, 2013Discovering and experiencing God's grace in a Christ-centered community is what we all most desperately need and often it's the last thing we make time for.
A Mean-Spirited MeetingFebruary 20, 2013As much as we church folk love bringing people together for meetings, there are times when it just doesn't work.
Accustomed to DiscomfortFebruary 19, 2013I often wonder what has happened to our sensibilities, so stoned are they by similarity.
In the Shelter of the Most HighFebruary 18, 2013Had the Psalmist lived in the Sonoran Desert, perhaps he or she would have written of a graceful palo verde protecting a baby saguaro.
MercyFebruary 17, 2013Mercy always sounds to me like a word for bigger-deal people than I am.
The Feast in Your PocketFebruary 16, 2013We tend to devalue small things. Jesus never does.
Don't Run Away and Join the CircusFebruary 15, 2013It would never happen to me, I promised my young self. I would never become an exasperating parent.
Wiping the Dust Off Our FeetFebruary 14, 2013Resorts and retreats work when they produce refreshment, even if only for a few brief days. They work longer if they carry the promise of broken habits.
A Cleansing FireFebruary 13, 2013In the UCC church of my childhood, we didn't "do" Ash Wednesday.
I Don't Even Know Where to BeginFebruary 12, 2013God, I cling to your goodness.
We're Like GodFebruary 11, 2013What we ask of God, God asks of us.
Have You Been to the Mountain?February 10, 2013Grant us courage to risk the mountaintop.
UnmakeFebruary 9, 2013What do you spend so much time, energy, and money on that somebody would think it's the God you worship? Consider finding a symbol for it, taking it out back, and smashing it.
Morally Straight?February 8, 2013The church does not have a stellar record of overlooking race, sexuality or gender in favor of more important identity markers, like, say baptism.
Welcome HomeFebruary 7, 2013If the home in which you live is a sanctuary or roiled with conflict, grand or plain, a real place or merely the stuff of dreams, we all have the same gracious home in God.
TornFebruary 6, 2013In life, we never fit entirely into one group or another. But when a group demeans you for who you are and treats you like a second-class citizen, you have two choices: try to reform it or move on.
The Lessons of LanceFebruary 5, 2013There are lots of things you can do for yourself by working hard, striving, struggling and competing. But being forgiven and set free aren't among them.
Against Reason - Sort OfFebruary 4, 2013Is there anybody else out there who’s tired of a reasonable faith?
Dealing with ObstinacyFebruary 3, 2013One of the things I love about the Gospel of Christ is that it can never be compelled by force.
RecognitionFebruary 2, 2013The demand for recognition is a basic human need. Its refusal is a common source of anger—or indifference.
Look Back in WonderFebruary 1, 2013When you hike the Grand Canyon, you're walking through literally billions of years of time and almost every eco-system on the planet, down to the center of the earth and back.
King at EightJanuary 31, 2013This morning I asked my eight-year-old what he would do if he were king. He said, "Make a law that says people have to eat pancakes every day!"
Perfection in PerspectiveJanuary 30, 2013There is a certain Don Quixote in each of us. Who among us isn't on a quest to preserve and prolong the best of our experiences?
Expect a MiracleJanuary 29, 2013I love seeing the "Expect a miracle" bumper sticker.
What I Learned at the Tattooists ConventionJanuary 28, 2013What would happen if we abandoned our careful discussions around the conference table and instead spent the day hanging out in the lounge with the tattooists?
AnointedJanuary 27, 2013I don't want to exist but to be anointed to good news. That is what we mean by joy.
Seeking JesusJanuary 26, 2013Joseph and Mary were "seeking" Jesus, which put his parents in the same position as the rest of us.
Got the Answer?January 25, 2013There is no shortage of quick and easy answers for life’s perplexities. Some religions and some atheists and some everyday philosophers are armed and ready with all the right answers all the time.
Getting It TogetherJanuary 24, 2013We can't know God's love if we overlook parts of ourselves we'd rather weren't true. Sooner or later that trips us up.
FillerJanuary 23, 2013"Let the words of my mouth…be acceptable to you" [Ps19:14] Don't know how to start? Pray till you do.
Good Guys and Bad GuysJanuary 22, 2013For Christians, as Paul puts it, the world does not divide into "good guys" and "bad guys." We wish that it did. If it did, it would be easy. Everyone thinks they are the good guys.
Martin Luther King, Jr. DayJanuary 21, 2013Nonviolent resistance emerged as the technique of the movement, while love stood as the regulating idea. In other words, Christ furnished the spirit and motivation, while Ghandi furnished the method.
Free FoodJanuary 20, 2013Sometimes we get confused about what is free and what we have already paid for. God's grace is free. Pretty much everything else comes with a price tag.
Hen/HostessJanuary 19, 2013The Psalmist invites us to imagine God as a mother bird (those who insist on the maleness of God, take note!)
Let's get real about weddingsJanuary 18, 2013Let's affirm the good intent of the writer of 1 Corinthians chapter 7 and then let us move on. Let's get real.
The Beautiful Transience of a Remote PlaceJanuary 17, 2013I'm in a tree house in a jungle in Nicaragua, looking out over a beach where the waves are so loud they keep you up at night. But in a good way.
Cheerful GiversJanuary 16, 2013"God loves a cheerful giver," says the Apostle Paul. But is there any other kind?
What's On Your List? January 15, 2013What are your idols? What do you give your time, energy, or homage to?
You May Say I'm a DreamerJanuary 14, 2013Dreamers might be the most practical and useful people on earth.
Waters of AffirmationJanuary 13, 2013At baptism we are affirmed. What else must we do but live into the fulfillment of who God says we already are?
Two Powerful Stories of ForgivenessJanuary 12, 2013So many things are done easily the moment you can do them at all. But till then, simply impossible, like learning to swim.
StrengthJanuary 11, 2013Weak or little faith - "as small as a mustard seed," Jesus says - can "move mountains."
More Power to YouJanuary 10, 2013Worship and faith are about power, power that changes lives and changes the world.
Strong Isn't EnoughJanuary 9, 2013Don't you know people who are spiritually "strong," but who are completely inflexible?
Let's Start at the BeginningJanuary 8, 2013How often have I forgotten to acknowledge God - the real leader of my life - and how often have I had to pay the price for my neglect?
Always Ready for a ResurrectionJanuary 7, 2013Do you miss kindness in your life? Become kind.
You Are Not the Power SourceJanuary 6, 2013It's a fine line between meeting God's power source with your own, and mistaking yourself for the whole power plant.
Both Sides NowJanuary 5, 2013Transitions - whether of the calendar or in the seasons of our lives - are powerful, poignant, and challenging times. They can be both confusing and exhilarating.
CircumcisedJanuary 4, 2013Stephen, the first Christian martyr, gives his famous speech to the Council and hits 'em where it hurts: in the circumcision
Do Not Abandon That ConfidenceJanuary 3, 2013In 1960, Madeleine L'Engel was a 42-year-old school teacher and aspiring writer. Married with two children (and a member of the UCC at the time), L'Engel hadn't published a major work since her early twenties. But she'd become fascinated by Einstein's theory of relativity and quantum physics. That year she incorporated those ideas into a science fiction fantasy for young adults.
Honest AgnosticsJanuary 2, 2013"Knowledge" comes from a Middle English word meaning acknowledgment of a superior, honor, to stand in awe of, to worship. Reverence has meant the same thing.
In The World as I See It, Albert Einstein said knowledge begins in awe. "We cannot help but be in awe when we contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if we try merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day."
Commencing With CommitmentJanuary 1, 2013Have you ever noticed how many people live with "commitment-phobia"? Perhaps you are one of them. In these days of uncertainty, we find it daunting to make long-range commitments, especially publicly. What if we lose our jobs? What if the people we commit to prove untrustworthy? What if we just don't feel tomorrow the way we feel today?
Watch NightDecember 31, 2012It's New Year's Eve, and doubtless you've made your plans already. Happy to have survived the predicted Mayan apocalypse, you’re going to celebrate another year of being a living, breathing earthling. Perhaps you’ll mark the feast in a quiet way at home, or a noisy way out and about. Or maybe you're going to church.
What Are You Teaching Today?December 30, 2012We all know that some of the greatest lessons in life are not given by those designated as teachers. The great lessons in life are not confined to classrooms and lecture halls. The Christians at Colossae, a city in S.W. Asia Minor, were admonished to teach one another in word and deed.
I Had PlannedDecember 29, 2012King David had great plans, but God had other plans. The one thing he wanted most—building the Temple—he had to leave for his son Solomon.
David's story is a good one for this year's final days. What plans did you have for 2012? What do you need to let go of?
As the year draws to a close, a prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, written shortly before his assassination in 1980, offers this insight:
Making Room for the Familiar StrangerDecember 28, 2012I have always loved the writings of Dylan Thomas, particularly his short stories. His prose sounds more like poetry than most poems do.
Jesus the BabyDecember 27, 2012Isn't it amazing that we get a text about the death of the baby so soon after his birth?
In the BeginningDecember 26, 2012Christmas day has passed, and now we are left with the wrapping paper, the empty boxes and perhaps a few empty hearts. For some people, yesterday may have been a delightful feast of love and giving. Others may look back on the day we are all supposed to look forward to with a little relief that it's over. Are we allowed to say that?
Merry MeditationsDecember 25, 2012If you really think about it, the Christmas story is far too amazing to be fully comprehended. An ancient prophesy from Isaiah promising the birth of a child who would be called 'Wonderful' and on whose shoulders the government would rest. An imperial tax emanating from Rome that brings a carpenter and his pregnant fiancee to the obscure little town of Bethlehem. A barn that serves as a venue for the first-born of a young virgin. Shepherds on the night shift enraptured by a multitude of the heavenly host proclaiming: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace. Good will toward men."
A Stable Lamp is LightedDecember 24, 2012Maybe more than anything else what we need is a reawakening of awe, something that stops us in our tracks, interrupts our usual thoughts, and inspires us to look again at what's right before us.
Don't Skip Church TodayDecember 23, 2012Admit it. You know you were thinking about skipping church today. Or at least some of you were.
The Original Step ParentDecember 22, 2012In church tomorrow, and again on Christmas Eve, Mary and her son will be in the spotlight, which is as it should be. And they will be attended, as usual, by kings, angels and shepherds.
Merry ChristmasDecember 21, 2012I come from a family that wasn't big on Christmas. By the time all the kids had gone to college, scarcely any effort went into Christmas back home. My father tried—he put a plastic wreath on the front door one year—but it wasn't easy to swim against the current of my mother's cynical attitude toward the holidays. She claimed to believe it was all a crock—not just the commercialism, but also what she considered the phony piety of religious people, the idiotic Christmas tunes on the car radio, and the pure insanity of light displays on people’s houses.
At the Foot of the Cross: A Reflection on NewtownDecember 20, 2012This is the season of the cradle, not the cross, but we need the cross now. The cradle is bathed in too much light from Star and Angel. Radiant beams only hurt our eyes, which have recently become unwillingly accustomed to deepest dark. For now, we need the cover of night.
They Might Be GiantsDecember 19, 2012I remember three things about my encounter with the Rock. He was very polite. He used exact change. And he was reading the latest issue of The Economist.
Some BelieveDecember 18, 2012Some believe because they see what is wasted become fertile. Others believe only if you show them that all people have some kind of strength.
Wells of Deep JoyDecember 17, 2012
Wells, springs, early rain, late rain, snow, the dew on Mt. Hermon and Isaiah's streams in the desert. With the exception of Noah's flood, wherever water appears in the Bible, it's a sign of new life and God’s blessing.
What Can You Give to the God Who Has Everything?December 16, 2012God needs nothing from us. Indeed, everything we have and everything we are, we have received from God's hand. We cannot give anything in return.
EnchantmentDecember 15, 2012There is a beautiful story recounted every Christmas in the forests of Provence in southern France. It's about the four shepherds who came to Bethlehem to see the child. One brought eggs, another bread and cheese, the third brought wine. And the fourth brought nothing at all.
Anam CaraDecember 14, 2012The ancient Celtic words Anam Cara mean "soul friend."
A More Generous GenerosityDecember 13, 2012Those who have the least are often the ones who give the most.
Staying Close to the WaterDecember 12, 2012What keeps the cattle around instead is a deep well of pure water. Cows may not be the smartest of creatures, but they soon learn you don't want to wander too far from the well.
Chosen for PeaceDecember 11, 2012Being chosen by God involves sharing God's blessing, not monopolizing it or wielding it over others.
Holy LaughterDecember 10, 2012Our mouths are filled with laughter because, despite all, God is God, and God gets the last laugh.
DayspringDecember 9, 2012If you haven't sung "Come, Come, Emmanuel" yet this year, chances are you're about to.
God Bless Us Every OneDecember 8, 2012Charles Dickens reminds us that God can use remarkable dreams to open a person's heart.
Advent is a ProcessDecember 7, 2012In spiritual marination, we come slowly to the birth prepared by the pregnant God.
Cute At Any AgeDecember 6, 2012While I have no trouble believing that God constructed us to be more careful with little ones, I think God made us able to love creatures of all ages and to delight in every stage of life.
Alternative Gift GivingDecember 5, 2012This year, consider an experiment. Keep St. Nicholas Day and give a gift secretly.
Nothing NewDecember 4, 2012Something you probably already know: after Mary found out she was pregnant, she sang the revolutionary song we know as the Magnificat.
Dirty GodDecember 3, 2012Cleaning up for guests, including God, is good.
HasslesDecember 2, 2012May we have "the strength and wits" to make it through everything that's coming up between now and Christmas! Much lies ahead before we celebrate the birth of Jesus, "the Son of Man."
Larger Than Life VisionsDecember 1, 2012Let's leave dreams and visions that are worthy of dedicated sacrifice and support beyond our lifetime.
Sometimes Spirits Need SheltersNovember 30, 2012Ellie adapted and adjusted to limitations caused by aging, redefining loss as opportunity.
What Has God Done for You Lately?November 29, 2012Even if our experiences of God's saving grace didn't have the special effects of the Exodus, I suspect each of us can, as the old Spiritual sings, "look back in wonder at how we got over."
Eleven WordsNovember 28, 2012At a couple of church gatherings the week before Thanksgiving, I asked this question: "Who will be around your table at Thanksgiving and does that represent any challenges?"
Mr. HeavenNovember 27, 2012Whenever the trumpet sounds, may we be sure to hear it.
Let me in…November 26, 2012The people have been telling themselves that God lives in their temple and will always do so, no matter how they act.
Rebuking JesusNovember 25, 2012Sometimes I think Jesus, being God's son and everything, just doesn't understand the problems of everyday people.
Inoffensive FaithNovember 24, 2012Thinking generally of oneself and others is easier than being particular about what distinguishes us.
The Cure for a Turkey HangoverNovember 23, 2012So what's the best cure for a Thanksgiving turkey hangover? A re-do. A little hair of the fowl that bit you.
ThanksgivingNovember 22, 2012Thanksgiving seems to me a "deep well" kind of holiday. The fences are down as strangers and sojourners are extended an invitation to the table. Like the well in the outback, the feast draws people from far off, some even returning from being lost for a time.
To Walk with God and One AnotherNovember 21, 2012hether from 3,000 years ago or a mere 300, the covenant to walk with God and one another affirms that faith is a journey, best taken with others.
Love of NatureNovember 20, 2012We usually think this passage means that we love one another...as in each other, as in human beings. It may also mean that we love mother earth.
Do This in Remembrance of MeNovember 19, 2012Do this in remembrance. Do this because you remember. Do this in order to remember.
Thanksgiving DayNovember 18, 2012Thanksgiving Day is approaching and everyone's mind has turned to sides and strays.
ElijahNovember 17, 2012What would it take for you to believe in somebody else's god? What would it take for you to at least listen to what they have to say?
Remember the Sabbath - You Do Not Walk AloneNovember 16, 2012Hotel workers have asked the community to bear their struggles with them. And many religious scholars have joined them, so that they will not walk alone.
One Pray at a TimeNovember 15, 2012In spite of all the ways we can misunderstand, enable, judge, or expect the worst of one another, every day is an opportunity to re-make relationships and recover hope.
How Did You Sleep Last Night? November 14, 2012What helps as we struggle to minister with ever-scanter resources is the assurance that we do what we do in the shadow of God’s wings.
What a Reward!November 13, 2012It has been said that we are not so much punished for our sins as we are punished by our sins.
Abundance or Scarcity?November 12, 2012Do you live out of a sense of abundance or scarcity? That may be an economic question, but certainly it is a faith question.
ArrowsNovember 11, 2012The arrows in the hands of warriors today are infinitely more powerful and accurate than their equivalents of old.
Sleep, Play and WorshipNovember 10, 2012Question: What do sleep, play and worship have in common?
Animals, Human and OtherwiseNovember 9, 2012In today's story, which comes near the end of the whole ark episode, God makes a covenant not just with Noah and his descendants, but with every living animal, everywhere.
When it Matters the MostNovember 8, 2012I wonder what troubled marriage or life partnership couldn't be saved if one spouse/partner demonstrated more of a love like this.
Many Different Kinds of PowerNovember 7, 2012We had to remind ourselves that there are different kinds of power than the kind we don't have
No Small VotesNovember 6, 2012From church meetings, to town meetings, to a national presidential election, there are no small votes. Because each voter stands on the big shoulders of the mighty cloud of witnesses who came before.
How Do Christians Vote?November 5, 2012Some say there is a Christian position. Maybe, but I'm not so sure.
JustifyNovember 4, 2012What if I spent less time devising brilliant speeches that show the world how awesome and clever I am, and more time devising speeches that show the world how awesome and clever God is?
Front StageNovember 3, 2012How much of our energy goes into being jealous of what others are, do or have, rather than into becoming the selves God made us to be?
Voting and TrustingNovember 2, 2012Voting and trusting are not the same thing. We vote for leaders we consider the best. We trust in God whose ways will prevail over any leader's violation of them.
Those Whose Race Is WonNovember 1, 2012We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, but except on All Saints Day, it hovers over us unnoticed.
How We "Treat" Each OtherOctober 31, 2012God, help me put on like a costume all my memories - the sweet and the teary, the deep and the simple - so that I can offer hospitality for all your wandering children. Amen.
The After-Tax BlessingOctober 30, 2012So when we got to the subject of charitable giving, I told him we were tithers. "Tithers, huh?" he said. "Is that ten percent of after-tax income or pre-tax income?"
Putting Feet to Our Faith(s)October 29, 2012People of faith, regardless of their particular practice, need to view the world through the lens of their religious beliefs.
Your Money or Your LifeOctober 28, 2012I don’t believe God zaps people for holding back, but perhaps that is because God does not need to.
Patient AmusementOctober 27, 2012Do you want to be well? That was the question Jesus always asked as part of his healings. He knew all will be well. It is just a question of when.
Faithful FrustrationOctober 26, 2012Patience may not have been Job's forte. Profound faithfulness certainly was.
Not in My LifetimeOctober 25, 2012When does one generation's present indulgence become the next generation's inherited curse?
The Bare MinimumOctober 24, 2012These days an increasing number of people are trying to pay their bills on minimum wage. That's harder to do today than it was thirty years ago because at $7.25 an hour, the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation.
False PromisesOctober 23, 2012Being patient is difficult. Knowing what it means to draw on God is challenging. But this is how we can at least glimpse, and sometimes find, what's truly trustworthy - and worth waiting for.
DeeperOctober 22, 2012There's something haunting and powerful about Jesus' words to Simon Peter, "Put out into the deep water."
The Earth is the Lord'sOctober 21, 2012When you enjoy a national park, raft a wild river or explore the wilderness, keep in mind Secretary Udall - and the Word that shaped him.
The Separating Power of PossessionsOctober 20, 2012Sometimes the more wealth we have, the more impoverished our lives can become.
An Office BlessingOctober 19, 2012When was the last time you blessed your office?
The New GrowthOctober 18, 2012The prophet tells us that the root of Jesse will return. He surely means something larger than the reconciliation of individual relationships – although, if you are like me, that often is your fiercest hope.
FringeOctober 17, 2012The fringe of Jesus' cloak that the people touched was no ordinary fringe. It wasn't just the place where his outfit ended; it was his tzitzit, the tassels worn then and now by observant Jews, like Jesus.
No Longer a ForeignerOctober 16, 2012It was through her that I learned that although I am not of this world, I am a citizen of the place where I will one day see my mom again.
It's a Living HellOctober 15, 2012My friend let his old adolescent relationship with his mom die. A new adult peer to peer relationship was born. Both son and mom were set free.
Talk About Your FaithOctober 14, 2012Progressive, inclusive, justice-seeking churches are learning that we need to share our faith, too.
We All Have Our MomentsOctober 13, 2012All of us have our moments . . . and more than a few of us live with chronic depression.
Zapping OurselvesOctober 12, 2012I don't believe God zaps people for holding back, but perhaps that is because God does not need to. We pronounce judgment on ourselves.
Back to Where We StartedOctober 11, 2012We have so much more going for us than we've realized!
Reading as PrayerOctober 10, 2012Many books - not only the Bible - but all those books that cause us to listen, to wonder, to pause and to ponder, can lead us to reading that is a form of prayer.
Paul on SexOctober 9, 2012Hallelujah. For once, Paul gives sex advice that doesn't sound like it comes from somebody's maiden aunt.
Born YesterdayOctober 8, 2012We know all the quips that vaunt the value of our experience and veteran status: "I've been around the block a few times." "This isn't my first time at the rodeo." "I didn't just get off the boat, you know!" And of course, the ever-pervasive: "I wasn't born yesterday!"
Hardness of HeartOctober 7, 2012Hardness of heart is a spiritual matter in love relationships, divorces, between siblings – and in the garden.
"Making Health the Center of Your Life" and Other Bad Ideas October 6, 2012While we can support our own good health, there is absolutely nothing we can do to guarantee it.
Being "Convicted"October 5, 2012"I've heard a lot of sermons in the past ten years that make me want to get up and walk out," wrote Garrison Keillor.
VirtuosoOctober 4, 2012This is one of those places where knowing a little Greek helps a lot.
IntegrityOctober 3, 2012Losing my family was hard, and I hated God and the church for a long time.
Avoiding RepetitionOctober 2, 2012What we put down or brush off often comes back to haunt us in ways we don't recognize.
In a StormOctober 1, 2012In a storm, whether literal or figurative, we can easily lose our heads and panic.
Today We'd Put Them on Reality TVSeptember 30, 2012I love my church but I find it difficult to imagine all of us emptying our savings accounts and dumping them into a common pot.
A Biblically Bad Hair DaySeptember 29, 2012Stylish looks are nice, but our genuine power comes from God, and our confidence thrives from being our authentic selves.
What Do We Have in Common?September 28, 2012According the book of Acts, the early followers of Jesus held "all things in common."
Ordinary. Bold. Ordinary and BoldSeptember 27, 2012Rather than being surprised by the connection of the bold and the ordinary, we should, by now, have learned to expect it.
Acts of GodSeptember 26, 2012People abuse power; God doesn't. What good, I wonder, are God's mercy and grace if they are powerless?
Money and ValueSeptember 25, 2012We don't often admit it, but how we spend our money says a lot about what we value in life.
Strange BedfellowsSeptember 24, 2012Any good love story has its complications.
Who's in Charge?September 23, 2012Jesus calls us to look beyond conventional ideas of success and what it means to be in charge.
The Power of Negative Thinking September 22, 2012The author of Ecclesiastes apparently missed the memo about being cheery and positive, and salting every other sentence with the word "Awesome."
Tell No OneSeptember 21, 2012Why did Jesus, after performing this marvelous miracle of healing, order the witnesses not to tell anyone about it?
The Living Faith of the DeadSeptember 20, 2012Everything new is bad - that's the default credo of some congregations, and their dogged traditionalism drives them into the ground. But the opposite happens too. In their lust for change, some people believe that everything old is bad.
The Portable ChurchSeptember 19, 2012The church is so much more than a building. Whether you're in your yoga clothes or in a long black robe, whether you are in the pews or at the gym, once you have a church, it has a way of finding you wherever you are. It's remarkably portable.
Death is Real, Not PoeticSeptember 18, 2012What makes the most sense in this text is that word "hidden."
Is This a Joke?September 17, 2012When reading the Bible, genre matters.
We Shall Not be MovedSeptember 16, 2012"What we most need," writes the author of The Wisdom of Stability, is "A way of life founded on solid ground, freeing us from the illusion that we can live without limits."
Just Do ItSeptember 15, 2012Right now. Just do what the psalm says. Stop whatever you're doing or whatever you're worrying about, and make a list. Not of your groceries or your "to-do's." Make a list of God's wonderful works to you.
EmergencySeptember 14, 2012Years ago, when I was about to be ordained, I was at a summer folk festival on a gigantic farm in Vermont. Things went a little Lord of the Flies with all the drugs and alcohol around, and four young men got into a pushing fight with an older man. He had a heart attack, and died, just five tents away from me.
But Can You Dance To It?September 12, 2012Among the most non-committal people in the world are young teenagers at their first dance.
Looking UpSeptember 11, 2012Before the 11th day of September, 2001, if something fell from the sky, it was snow, rain, or hail.
Is It Really a Battle?September 10, 2012Perhaps you, too, have noticed how often we speak of illness and death using the language of "battle"?
CorrectionSeptember 9, 2012There are plenty of places in the Gospels where Jesus calls people names to get their attention, to wake them up, to turn them around. This is not one of them.
AnnouncementsSeptember 8, 2012It's hard to know where to put the announcements in a worship service.
The Way We LiveSeptember 7, 2012One of the great clichés about death is that we will die as we have lived.
Are You Positive?September 6, 2012When I was upset growing up I was always told to "look on the positive side." That never worked.
Honor Your Father and Your MotherSeptember 5, 2012While people today sometimes lament longer life expectancies and accompanying decline - which I understand - I am grateful for these bonus years in which I have been given the chance to learn more deeply what it means to "honor your father and your mother."
Feminist PsalmistSeptember 4, 2012The modern reader with modern views about gender and gender roles has much to put up with in the Bible.
An ethicist, a Bible scholar and a preacher walk into a hotel...September 3, 2012There are all kinds of reasons to ignore a boycott, but most of them begin with a concern with the self.
You're DifferentSeptember 2, 2012I thank God again for the gift of difference. It's the chance to know one another and ourselves a whole lot better. It's the path to peace.
Spend, Share, SaveSeptember 1, 2012How do we know how much to keep for ourselves, and how much to give away?
What are you going to give up in order to do that? August 31, 2012So when I want to take on a new project, I like to run it by a wise person or two. And if I am filled with enthusiasm for the new thing, the wisest one will ask me this pointed question: "What are you going to give up in order to do that?"
What is Your Testimony?August 30, 2012God is still speaking to you in holy impressions. Do you miss God, thinking you are not worthy? Stop belittling yourself. You are one of God's windows into the world.
Take a HikeAugust 29, 2012I recently learned a new expression, solvitur ambulando. It's Latin and means, roughly, "It is solved by walking."
The Facts of DeathAugust 28, 2012What I do remember with blazing clarity, however, are the conversations I had with them about the facts of death.
The Gift of TrustAugust 27, 2012She told me I could grow new hydrangeas out of old ones by putting a brick on a stem. In the fall, the plants are straggly, with shoots coming out of them all over. I trusted her.
Eating RightAugust 26, 2012To hear some of us super-smart, well-educated modern Protestants tell it, you'd think Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper just to give us something pleasant to contemplate, not to actually change anything about our lives.
A Knock at MidnightAugust 25, 2012A continuous knock at midnight can only be motivated by a strong faith.
The Monks Who Take Long PausesAugust 24, 2012I was struck by how often I just barrel through readings in worship and how often I barrel through conversations in life. What a difference a few quiet pauses might make.
Every Time I Remember YouAugust 23, 2012When we remember people who have died, simple things remind us of them - a smell, a song, a flower, the gathering of family and friends. And we remember them…
Having a Bad DayAugust 22, 2012When anxiety or frustration set in they can strike us blind, deaf and mute. What then? Take a break. Take a few deep breaths. Go for a walk. Figure that everyone has a bad day every now and then, even the disciples, even you. Even Jesus maybe. And then take it again tomorrow.
The Soul of a BuildingAugust 21, 2012Whatever our own house of worship may it be a sacrament - a place that embodies the grace of God.
Somebody Ought to Say SomethingAugust 20, 2012How many times in any given day are we assaulted by bad news? Seems like we can barely recover from one depressing declaration before we are confronted by another.
Why I Don't Wear a WWJD BraceletAugust 19, 2012I have never been a fan of those WWJD bracelets, where the initials stand for the question, "What would Jesus do?" They seem to imply that we should answer that question at every turn and that it should then influence our actions. What would Jesus do? OK, then I will do exactly the same.
Climbing EverestAugust 18, 2012The singer songwriter Melody Gardot had a terrible bicycle accident that kept her in a hospital for 18 months. She described her ordeal as "like climbing Mt. Everest every day."
ToleranceAugust 17, 2012They say that those who, because of unpopularity or paranoia, suspect someone might one day try to poison them can defend against this eventuality by taking tiny doses of common poisons, gradually increasing them until they can withstand huge amounts.
The Uses and Abuses of AngerAugust 16, 2012Of all the Deadly Sins, only anger is so precariously perched on the border of good and evil.
Divine HunchesAugust 15, 2012What is the dream or hunch God gave you? God is still sending Divine hunches, many more than we acknowledge.
I Will Tear You ApartAugust 14, 2012"God is good!" we announce, and everyone responds, "All the time!" All the time, that is, except all those times in the Bible when God threatens to tear people apart.
Finding Friends in the Midst of FoesAugust 13, 2012One of the greatest disappointments of his life had to be the day that King David discovered that his chief adversary and rival to the throne of Israel was his own son, Absalom.
God's PerfumeAugust 12, 2012In scripture there are many descriptions of the kind of life we are to live. The Apostle Paul offers a particularly vivid image. He says we are to be "the aroma of Christ."
Can Prayer Change Anything?August 11, 2012Why pray if it's not my will that counts but God's? Besides, doesn't God already know what I need?
Both / AndAugust 10, 2012"Carry each other's burdens" and "Each one must carry his own load." Both are true. God gives us the task of discerning when it's the time and place for one or for the other -- or both in right measure.
TrapAugust 9, 2012Don't you know what it's like to be trapped by your own whatever - pride, anger, high moral dudgeon, offendedness, propriety, rightness, hurt?
Made in America?August 8, 2012Is it just me, or does it seem that the outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs only becomes a prominent issue during elections?
GamesAugust 7, 2012In the greater gift, we get over competing. Really, what does it matter who has the best gift, or the most useful gift, or the smartest gift, or the most unusual gift, or the most expensive gift?
10 Signs You Should Not Be Getting Married in a ChurchAugust 6, 2012May God bless all those who marry, wherever they may do so, that they will rejoice even more in love's winter than in its springtime.
FailureAugust 5, 2012For weeks now (if you follow the lectionary) we've been hearing how great David is. David this and David that.
Neck VerseAugust 4, 2012History is rife with occasions when knowing Scripture by heart has made a material difference in people's lives, even saved their necks.
You Do Not AnswerAugust 3, 2012Sometimes we think that if we work hard at our spiritual practices we are bound to experience God, to feel God within us. But not everyone feels God, no matter how hard they try or how much they want to. Many know only the ache of absence. The truth is that God is often silent, dark, and distant—so much so that it can be painful to be around people for whom God is cheerful, close, and chatty.
It's Better HereAugust 2, 2012The worst side of things is often more memorable than the best. It's always the red lights I remember driving downtown. It's usually the negative comments I remember after meetings.
Consider the Lilies, If You CanAugust 1, 2012This is the time of year when I begin to cross items off my to-do list. Not that I have accomplished them. I just cross them off.
Give To All Who AskJuly 31, 2012I encountered a homeless woman, and gave her a dollar. She said, "Thank you for noticing me." Not: thanks for the buck. Not: thanks for the means to eat, or live. But: "Thank you for noticing me."
The Disciples Did Not AccessorizeJuly 30, 2012Perhaps packing and repacking can be moments of theological reflection. What do we really need and why? What should we leave at home, but don't? What do we bring that works?
The LeftoversJuly 29, 2012I've sometimes wondered if the thing that would really challenge us in the church isn't another budget shortfall, but a wild, overwhelming abundance.
The God of Second ChancesJuly 28, 2012I love officiating at weddings for second marriages. In fact, I often prefer them to weddings for first marriages.
The QuestionJuly 27, 2012At the Penn West annual conference meeting in June, someone popped the question. It was WHERE ARE THE YOUNG PEOPLE?
PioneerJuly 26, 2012In the UCC, we're fond of making lists of the members of our denomination and its predecessors who did something pioneering while following the great Pioneer.
The God ParticleJuly 25, 2012The recent announcement of the discovery of the Higgs boson particle has both scientific and religious communities abuzz.
The Power of a Funny ApronJuly 24, 2012I have heard a lot of stories like this, from people who wear a comma pin or carry something that points to our church.
Showing UpJuly 23, 2012I can't tell you how often people are absent from church for a while, then come back, and when they pass through the receiving line at church say sheepishly, "Sorry I haven't been here - I've been bad."
Naked GospelJuly 22, 2012Let the church speak, speak the naked and urgent gospel. "Rise up O Church of God, have done with lesser things." For the people are as "sheep without a shepherd."
Hiding in Open SightJuly 21, 2012Have you ever lost something and found it right where it was supposed to be - in some obvious place?
Voyage to IntimacyJuly 20, 2012Back in the 60's, Sly and the Family Stone intoned: "I want to thank you, for letting me, be myself, again!" I think that song makes for a great Christian anthem.
LemonadeJuly 19, 2012Many of the best stories are stories of origin. The best conversation-starter is how did you meet?
Talking CancerJuly 18, 2012When we talk to people who are going through a very difficult time, we often don't know what to say.
Green ManJuly 17, 2012Beautiful, and dangerous, and the foundation of everything.
Happy Birthday!July 16, 2012I love birthdays, probably because my mother always made sure that our birthdays were fun and festive. Our family would all dress up for dinner and, as the birthday boy, I got to determine the menu.
Sunday, Sunday. July 15, 2012Sunday afternoons are a wasteland. Even when it’s not gray and rainy and can’t figure itself out, it often feels gray and rainy and not-able-to-figure-itself-out.
Is Nothing Sacred?July 14, 2012One Sunday at a church I was visiting in New England, the time had come in the worship service for 'Joys and Concerns.' People stood up one by one to request prayers for successful outcomes to minor surgeries and a few actually serious life situations.
OwnershipJuly 13, 2012In these days of economic stagnation, public school crises and health care debates, it is extremely difficult to find any person or entity willing to step up to the plate and take full ownership and responsibility.
We Need More SaintsJuly 12, 2012Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
Promising FriendshipJuly 11, 2012It's hard to have close friends. Some blame this on the pace and pressure of life today, with financial and career demands more time-consuming than ever. Others argue that social networking lets simpler virtual friendship make up for the real thing.
PatienceJuly 10, 2012When I was a kid my mother used to exclaim, "You go at everything like you're killing snakes," which I am pretty sure was a way of saying I was short on patience.
ChickenJuly 9, 2012Here's the real reason your church is in decline: you're not doing evangelism.
Jesus, Amazed!July 8, 2012Have you ever wondered if the Amazing Grace could ever be amazed? What could possibly cause Emanuel, God with us, to ever be astounded, taken aback, startled or amazed?
Spare ChangeJuly 7, 2012You see him on the street, long before he sees you. His posture is bent, as though he is looking for the courage to emerge. "Spare change?" he mumbles.
Tacky WeddingsJuly 6, 2012There is no accounting for taste. I have seen it all when it comes to weddings, and heard even better stories from others.
FireworksJuly 5, 2012America, we got a problem. With over 300 million privately owned guns, we are the most heavily armed civilian population in the world - by far.
FreedJuly 4, 2012David sings a song of gratitude to God for having freed him and Israel from the rapidly declining rule of King Saul.
WorkJuly 3, 2012I was walking my dog around the local pond recently when I saw a father with his two small daughters riding along the bike path toward me. The Dad was steering his bike one-handed while talking on his cell phone, using the tone of voice I think of as "business-pompous." The two girls pedaled behind him silently.
What's Ahead?July 2, 2012What's ahead of me today is a lot of what I wanted to get done yesterday or some time ago
TouchJuly 1, 2012So much that is done cannot be undone. What we can do is touch. Or refuse not to touch. Then power circles.
What's to Become of the Double-Minded?June 30, 2012We admire people who pause at a fork in the road. Often they are the ones who are able to see both sides of an issue, and they know how to weigh options.
Not a Hometown HeroJune 29, 2012When Jesus returned to Nazareth, his hometown, it began well, but quickly went sour. The people who knew him best honored him least. Why?
Is God Easy, or Hard?June 28, 2012When we come to God for healing, how we complicate things that are so simple.
HybridJune 27, 2012Jesus went to extreme measures - walking on water - because he was intent on keeping us calm. So many of our other solutions don't work. I guess it took an extremist.
WorkJune 26, 2012It's like the psalmist is God's mom or something, and God's slept too late on the weekend again.
ExhaustedJune 25, 2012Life can be exhausting. Recently I have gotten into the habit of waking up at 4:00 in the morning just so I can get things done before my calendar begins exerting its control over me.
When It's Good to Have a ChurchJune 24, 2012In the days after a death, a family will gather in my church office to discuss the service.
Look What They've Done To My SongJune 23, 2012The ark of God's covenant includes a mercy seat that covers the law and is not complete without it.
Don't Go ThereJune 22, 2012As his life and ministry drew to conclusion Paul was determined (like Jesus before him) to go to Jerusalem—even though doing so meant danger and possible death.
How Love HappensJune 21, 2012What does it mean to be saved? There are many answers to that old question.
The EndJune 20, 2012What were you doing last year when the end of the world was predicted, twice (unsuccessfully, it would seem)? Did it change what you're doing today?
LightJune 19, 2012I think that electricity might be a blessing but I am not sure. The evidence is not yet all in.
Are you an "innie" or an "outie"?June 18, 2012Are you an "innie" or an "outie"? Are you concerned with your physical body and everyone else's? Are you preoccupied with status, appearances or the social impression you make on the world?
ParticularJune 17, 2012For most of my life, I have not been a fan of babies. I do not mean that I disliked them. I mean that my appreciation for them was...academic.
Perhaps He Can Feed MeJune 16, 2012I am grateful for the reminder that the point of reading the Bible is not to pick it apart but to be nourished by it.
Hosting GodJune 15, 2012If we truly believe God is still speaking, should we not leave room in our prayer time for God to speak?
Having ImpactJune 14, 2012In John 7 we find Jesus talking with his brothers. They are after him to leave rinky-dink, nothing-ever-happens-here Galilee and head for the big city.
Are You With Me?June 13, 2012We've heard a lot about the rigid ideologies that polarize people and impede government operations.
Jesus' Packing InstructionsJune 12, 2012People have different philosophies of packing.
Fight, Flee — or PrayJune 11, 2012The "fight-or-flight" response is wired into our nervous system. In the earliest humans fight took the form of combative behavior, and flight was simply fleeing from danger.
FamilyJune 10, 2012Often as I visit different congregations I hear the church described as a "family." I'm never quite sure about this — speaking of the church as "family."
Relax, It's SaturdayJune 9, 2012Could this be a moment to examine the way you spend your time? To remember a lazy childhood Saturday when the hours stretched out as possibilities, languorous and unscheduled?
Almighty PurposeJune 8, 2012I can't speak for everyone, but I cannot imagine a greater living hell than that of going through life without a purpose.
Game-ChangerJune 7, 2012Very few of us need more instruction in what the epistle means about a "multitude of sins." We belong to the "would-a if we could-a" people.
Little LightJune 6, 2012I was always faintly embarrassed by the singing of "This Little Light of Mine" by groups of adults. It was just a little too silly for grownup church — plus somebody with terrible rhythm always starts clapping.
BlessingJune 5, 2012I want them to be blessed. And so I bless them, giving thanks to God for the privilege and responsibility of blessing others.
"O Lord-how long?"June 3, 2012Everyone has their favorite scripture texts, and this is one of mine (along with "How long, O Lord?" from Psalm 13). It is easy to memorize, and it comes in handy on those occasions when you think you just can’t stand another minute of whatever is going on, but you have no choice. You’ve got to endure until whatever it is ends. And you don’t know when that will be.
Go with GodJune 2, 2012Jesus is like a distant ideal. He's inspiring from afar but I can't see him as a role model because I'm not as good as he is
In the Last DaysJune 1, 2012Just about everyone has heard or read some dire prophesy concerning the cataclysmic upheavals and super seismic apocalypses of the last days.
A Ministry of TransportationMay 31, 2012In church, when people lose their ability to drive, or find themselves unable to be as mobile as they once were, it's hard for them to get to worship.
BoneMay 30, 2012Here's what the story says: dry bones are not the final state of things. Death will not win. Here's what it says: life wins.
See and SpeakMay 29, 2012We keep so much to ourselves in a kind of blindness to the need we have to know what others think of us.
Memorial DayMay 28, 2012It is said that no one can hold back the river of time, and that is true. Time does rush on. But we can build bridges across the rushing river, and today — Memorial Day — is one.
I Was a Teenage WerewolfMay 27, 2012Sometimes parenting is a job that is so hard, you couldn't pay me to do it. And sometimes it's a job I do so poorly, you wouldn't pay me to do it.
God's Outstretched HandMay 26, 2012Trouble comes to all types of people, and contrary to popular opinion, it is not God's punishment.
What CountsMay 25, 2012It's often said, "No one is indispensable." And it is easy to wonder how important we really are and what lasting difference we actually make doing anything worthwhile.
Fiat Lux!May 24, 2012For our church's 150th anniversary, we celebrated throughout the year in every conceivable way, including turning Pilgrim Hall into a rainbow sparkle-themed disco for one wild and crazy Friday night, where our theme was "Party like a Pilgrim."
The C StudentMay 23, 2012O God, release the high school seniors and their parents from the clutches of college anxiety, and restore the sight of those blinded by the accomplishments of others. Amen.
Don't Disqualify YourselfMay 22, 2012Dear God, we know that leadership is a divine call, but help us to remember that it is also a social responsibility.
OutfitMay 21, 2012What if you dressed the same way? Not in the same outfit (though that would be awesome), but with the same kind of significance?
Where is the Good Soil?May 20, 2012We simply never know where God’s kingdom is going to take root. Our job is simply to spread kingdom seeds with something like abandon so they might take root where God sees fit.
The Peace of GodMay 19, 2012There is always a certain peace to be found in the presence of those we love and cherish.
DazzlingMay 18, 2012You probably never do this, but I sometimes sort of skip over the verses from Scripture and go right to the rest of the devotion, especially when — like today — it's a long reading.
MiracleMay 17, 2012If a meal can start with a prayer, it can be spiritually digested.
UnshakenMay 16, 2012Psalm 93 focuses on what stands firm. It speaks of the mighty providence that sustains us amid all that works to tear us apart. It's hard to see this when trouble is rampant. More than our faith and vision alone we need the insight and support of others. Together we can know and inspire confidence that works of love are backed up by power much greater than our own—and stronger than death itself.
MajestyMay 15, 2012The Psalmist says that the natural world is the robe of majesty God wears, a sort of regal outfit she puts on to show how great she is. There's nothing wrong with being awed by the outfit, but that's not the same as worshiping the one who wears it.
Now That Looks Like YouMay 14, 2012Service. Compassion. Justice. Mercy. Forgiveness. Restoration. Reconciliation. Patience. Steadfastness. Hope. Joy. Courage. Liberation. Friendship. Kindness. Honesty. These are all expressions of love.
The Other DuckMay 13, 2012My mother was a magnificent entertainer, but it was not the cooking.
Doing a New ThingMay 12, 2012It is axiomatic that people often resist change.
FavoritesMay 11, 2012Listen to a litany of that slave master, the self. Only you can prevent narcissism. It is all up to you. You are number one. If you don't take care of yourself, who will?
Laboring in VainMay 10, 2012Ever feel that you have little or nothing to show for all your hard work? Do you sometimes wonder if you have labored in vain?
Beyond WordsMay 9, 2012So the next time you are at a loss for words, or when all you can think to say has been said many times before, don't worry about it. Words have their limits. There are things that are beyond them. God is one of them.
The Surprising SamaritanMay 8, 2012I was armed only with an idea: Each week we would act out a different parable. One week we gave the parable of the Good Samaritan a decidedly modern twist.
Watching. Waiting. Listening,May 7, 2012The whole town stopped in its tracks when Samuel showed up. "Is there bad news...from God?"
BranchMay 6, 2012"You are the branches, and I the vine," says Christ to them who'd be free. Give over your life for those you love, and you find new life in me.
Times of ShakingMay 5, 2012There are lots of experiences or events that can shake us up, some quite badly. Where I live we get earthquakes every now and again. It's quite a strange, and very disorienting, feeling when truly everything is shaking.
Magic and MiraclesMay 4, 2012The magic died the day I discovered what was really behind that veiled stained glass in my little church. But the miracle began the moment I realized that even though that room was not heaven, people used it to prepare themselves for baptism anyway.
Hack TimeMay 3, 2012Google and Microsoft inspire creativity by asking their employees to observe "hack time" and use 20 percent of their work day on projects that most interest them, regardless of regular tasks.
GraceMay 2, 2012We are in a deep shift in this magnificent 21st century. We can no longer trick ourselves into thinking that there is one cuisine or one God. Thus we must learn to pray again, if for no other reason than to banish the awkwardness of table graces.
Dance Around the MaypoleMay 1, 2012In my first year at Bryn Mawr College, one of the five Seven Sisters schools that remains single-sex, I could hardly believe how excited a bunch of jaded, sophisticated, feminist intellectuals got over dancing around a Maypole.
A Messy DeskApril 30, 2012So I no longer claim that my messy desk is more efficient. I don't call it a wilderness of free association. Now I think of it as a call to confession.
Please AdviseApril 28, 2012Agatha Christie once said, "Good advice is to be ignored, but that's no reason not to give it."
Politics and ReligionApril 27, 2012Politics and religion are linked. Spirituality and religion are linked. All four are related to each other. Get over it and on with it.
Even Our IgnoranceApril 26, 2012How many times have we been completely convinced that we were right, only to discover that our rightness was based upon a partial or partisan understanding of the truth?
Available 24/6April 25, 2012There would be no working, no buying, no selling—at least, not on that block, not on that day. These people of faith will make themselves available 24/6, but not 24/7, because the seventh day is hallowed as the Sabbath.
ChorusApril 24, 2012When the ancients tilted their heads back and contemplated the night sky, they were filled with the same kind of wonder you are when you do the same thing. Which is why they thought God lived up there.
Loaves and (Gold)fishesApril 23, 2012Maybe the Bible’s stories are alive all around us, and it’s our job to find ways to tell the old, old stories in beautiful new ways. You’ve heard of rose-colored glasses. Well, what if churches’ stained glass windows were lenses that colored the way we see the world through what’s depicted there?
Who Me, Repent?April 22, 2012It’s a loaded word, “repent.” We conjure the bearded, sandwich-board clad prophet of the end times, and the red-faced and angry preacher of the old times.
Cash the Check!April 21, 2012It's one thing to know we are loved and respected, another to act on it. But the less we act on it, the less we know it. What does love or respect mean if it's just left sitting there? Like a gifted musician or a skilled athlete, if we don't use our gifts they waste away and we wonder if we have what it takes to perform well.
The One Who Gives Us RoomApril 20, 2012"You gave me room when I was in distress," the ancient Psalmist writes. "You have put gladness in my heart...I will lie down and sleep in peace."
AntichristApril 19, 2012Know what's super fun? Picturing the world as a giant battlefield where the forces of good and evil are fighting it out.
Endangered Blank SpacesApril 18, 2012From a recent article in The New York Times: "Add this to the endangered list: blank spaces."
Eternal LifeApril 17, 2012Eternal life is a scary concept. Consider all the laundry, dishes, dusting that could involve. Consider the arthritis or the love handles or the varicose veins. Also consider what it would mean to live unafraid of dying as a body and living on as a spirit.
Psalm for Getting it OnApril 16, 2012With a wink and the wag of a head, the singer asks an annoying question of the workaholic: What do you really gain running yourself ragged, rising before dawn and pushing past midnight? Why settle for "the bread of anxious toil," always coming home long after the plates on the table have turned cold?
Death, Taxes, and ResurrectionApril 15, 2012It's April 15. Taxes are due tomorrow. Today is also Easter Sunday for Orthodox Christians and the Second Sunday of Easter for the rest of us. Taxes and Easter. What a weird juxtaposition of timing.
FeetApril 14, 2012Yet another in the long list of metaphors you might not have known comes straight from the Bible. King Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a scary statue and wants to know what it means. Daniel tells him: the statue has clay feet and so will fall.
UnityApril 13, 2012If we understand that unity is not about collapsing everyone into sameness, but instead, allowing our differences to breathe and mature until they can all be collected into a collage of the very best, we could change unity from a distant pipe dream into a present reality. Behold, how good and how pleasant that would be.
Simple ChurchApril 12, 2012In our own times and experiences of things breaking down, can we glimpse the new church that is breaking through, that is being born among us?
Secret of the BluesApril 11, 2012Whatever stands between us and our strength in God cannot silence our faith. One way or another, that's what we can sing about.
Do You Have Anything to Eat?April 10, 2012Fifteen centuries ago, Saint Benedict wrote that Jesus comes to us disguised in every stranger knocking on the door asking for hospitality and asking for food. And if that is true, the question on his lips surely is: "Do you have anything here to eat?"
The Day AfterApril 9, 2012We need a quiet Monday, so that the walls of the church can rest, the halls of the classrooms can breathe, the cloud of witnesses in heaven can sigh and remember that one day later, Christ is still risen. He is risen indeed.
Easter! A Really New DayApril 8, 2012The sun came up that day. That's the one tangible thing about Easter the four Gospel writers agree on. They don't see eye to eye on any other details of the most important event in the Christian faith.
Holy SaturdayApril 7, 2012We don't need more time — instead we need to know that timing is everything, in life and death as well as seeds and money.
Now the Green BladeApril 6, 2012They thought they were burying Jesus when they put him in that desert tomb. They thought he would stay in there forever. But here's what they learned, what they taught Wangari Maathai, what she taught the ladies of the Green Belt Movement: they weren't burying Jesus that day; they were planting him.
It Can Also Be Blessed to ReceiveApril 5, 2012There's a time and place to be generous givers; and there is also a time and place to be generous receivers. This night, this week, is one such time.
Be QuietApril 4, 2012Sometimes the most impressive thing we can say is nothing. Sometimes the most eloquent defense is to remain quiet. Sometimes the most convicting word is the one that remains unspoken.
Every Vote CountsApril 3, 2012In a real sense, all of us have a vote whenever we are confronted with the ethical questions of life. On certain critical matters, to abstain is to be morally irresponsible. And even if we find ourselves against the grain of the popular mood, we must remember that history respects a dissenting vote far more than no vote at all.
A Heads-UpApril 2, 2012When someone tells me they're giving me advance warning about something, or "a heads-up," I assume I'm being told to be on the lookout for trouble. Not so with faith. You and I are told to be on the lookout for the new life that Easter is all about—a promise easy to miss amid all that's so wrong. "Take note!" It's soon to spring up on you!
Palm SundayApril 1, 2012There's a neat trick to folding the palm fronds in just the right way so that they become crosses. Let's turn our palms into crosses so we won't be tempted to use them as swords.
Not a VictimApril 1, 2012
A Prayer for the Holy SeasonMarch 31, 2012During the Holy Season that is upon us, it would be great to learn to see what has long been held in denial about the economic crisis in which we dwell. Offered here is a prayer for conversations around holy tables that deny denial.
TrembleMarch 30, 2012Sometimes you tremble because you're scared, or cold. Sometimes it's because of neurological or muscular issues. Sometimes you just overdid it at the coffee shop.
Abundant EmptinessMarch 29, 2012"He emptied himself," Paul writes of Jesus, and he entered into the emptiness of human life. Because he did, we can, too, for we know that even in the hard and empty times of our lives, God is there.
The Thing That Bit MeMarch 28, 2012Jesus' followers blessed and healed those who cursed, oppressed, imprisoned, and killed them, humbling themselves as did their Jesus, reaching beyond short-term failure and disappointment; embodying the One of precious salvation, healing, and forgiveness. They overcame the deep darkness and grasped Easter hope, in a Good Friday world.
But GodMarch 27, 2012When it seems the end has come, "but God." When you see no way forward or out, "but God." When death has done its work and it seems all hope is gone, "but God." Because of these two little words, because of the defiant divine disjunction everything is different now.
BrokenMarch 26, 2012This side of eternity we can't know it all. But in the spirit of Christ we can work for, and look forward to, the remaking of all now incomplete and, often enough, torn apart. Thank God.
Terrible Taste in FriendsMarch 25, 2012Sometimes it seems like Jesus has terrible taste in friends. And, of course, I am among them. But, in essence, Jesus says to the church, "If I can put up with all of you, you ought to be able to put up with one another."
The Temptation to JudgeMarch 24, 2012Don't let other people's comments or judgments slow you down or discourage you. You know what you need to do for Lent, and God is still eager to help you do it.
What's God Got to Do With It?March 23, 2012Too often we find ourselves turning away from love – human, divine, all of it. (As Tina Turner put it, "Who needs a heart, when a heart can be broken?") So the next time you find yourself shutting down, turn on your radio or pull out your Bible, and listen for the words of God, singing to you.
When You Feel Like QuittingMarch 22, 2012Though you will surely suffer for it, don't quit. Others will get rich financially and you won't, but don't quit. Keep loving through the mystery of uncertainty to experience a sustaining abundance of Divine joy...just don't quit.
Who Is That Singing?March 21, 2012One day, when our children were still very young, a Beatles song came on the radio. I grew up listening to the Beatles so, of course, I began to sing along. Then our daughter, Alanna, asked, "Who is that singing?"
The Way Out of No WayMarch 20, 2012The author of Psalm 107 is thankful for many things — the hungry being fed, the prisoners set free, the sick healed. He or she sums it up in one line: "God delivered them from their troubles and led them by a straight way."
WaterMarch 19, 2012Have you noticed how many of the stories in the Bible revolve around water? Seas, wells, floods, rivers, bitter water, holy water, living water. The biblical storytellers had water on the brain because they needed to think about it pretty much all the time just to survive.
Touchy FeelyMarch 18, 2012While I wouldn't ever leave the church over the passing of the peace, I do appreciate the profound awkwardness of it. Some people greet each other with such warmth, it makes the rest of us feel left out. Others are so sullen and lock-jawed, you wonder if they are passing the peace under duress.
RepetitionMarch 17, 2012So the psalmist calls us to repeat, and repeat again, aloud or silently, words of thanks and praise to God, our never-ending source of strength and guidance. That's what produces excellence in faith.
Giving Up Our To-Do ListMarch 16, 2012Maybe this Lent, we could focus on and rejoice in what God has done for us to set us free and give up, at least for a little while, our own sometimes self-centered "to do" lists.
The Rough PlacesMarch 15, 2012Life is pretty full of rough places, not to mention pressure points. But we're not put here to spend our lives looking for the most ingenious padding to put between us and life's every unyielding surface. We don't hear it very often in our therapeutic culture, but sometimes the best thing to do is tough it out.
HouseMarch 14, 2012So back to my wonderings: what do you love about the place where you worship? What's your favorite part of your sanctuary? And what do you know about God because of it?
The Great Church FireMarch 13, 2012Long before I was the pastor, on a winter Monday back in 1988, fire trucks from neighboring towns came together to fight the blaze at my church, struggling to keep the water in the hoses from freezing.
The Miracle of MultiplicationMarch 12, 2012We tend to devalue small things. Jesus never does. Instead, he points to the power in small things that we might so easily overlook.
Talk About Best PracticesMarch 11, 2012Houses of worship are made holy by the zeal of their people to worship God by practicing justice. Houses of worship are made holy by the sacred offerings of love and devotion that the people bring to give to God and each other.
Steering in a New DirectionMarch 10, 2012When arriving in an entirely new area, there is one important factor to keep in mind: how easy it is to get lost
Magic WordsMarch 9, 2012Part of what is going on in worship and prayer, when we praise and thank God and join with others in the community of faith, is that we, too, are "rescued from our own selfishness."
The Danger of Being Brought Back from the Dead March 8, 2012Most of us understand the hazards and perils of life. We've constantly been made aware of the physical dangers and toxic behaviors that threaten life, liberty and limb. But those of us who, through faith in Christ's resurrecting power, have been brought back from the death of sinful selfishness and wanton materialism face even greater dangers.
Queen for the DayMarch 7, 2012It will come as no surprise that pastors and priests are sinners. You might want to think something else, as it is so spiritually convenient to have a spiritual surrogate. But your house will be built on sand.
MultiplyMarch 6, 2012I feel a little weird about it, but here is a true thing: I give my money away because I want to be richer.
Changing FaithMarch 5, 2012In God, our life never ends but we're called to move on. We will find new ways of believing and seeing what's always there, seeking us out, loving us, leading us, and supporting us.
Again and Again and AgainMarch 4, 2012A faithful churchgoer was talking with a skeptical friend about why he bothered going to church. The friend asked him what his favorite part of the service was.
Tell No OneMarch 3, 2012It's not the first time in Mark's gospel that Jesus has told someone not to talk about him, nor the last. Scholars have a fancy name for it. They call it "the Messianic secret."
Spoken Words and Unspoken ThoughtsMarch 2, 2012Ethical behavior is vitally important. Yet, there is something about faith in God that moves our consciousness beyond outward actions to the viscera of inner intentions, desires and meditations.
In Search of a Girlfriend...or Maybe Just a Sixth CatMarch 1, 2012Other people seldom agree to our rules. Other people have their own ideas about things. Other people can be needy or they can ignore you. Other people can be warm and cuddly one minute, cold and aloof the next. Come to think of it, sometimes other people are a lot like cats.
LeapFebruary 29, 2012Every once in a while, time just doesn't add up. Doesn't work out. Every once in a while, you need to mess with time a little bit to make it all come out right.
Less BoastingFebruary 28, 2012We may be warned against boasting, but that doesn't mean we don't boast! Karl Jung says we sneak our biography into just about everything we say.
What Are You Hungry For?February 27, 2012The Psalmist cries, "As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God." Could it be that all of us long to have a relationship with God, but that much of the time we don't recognize that that is what we were hungry for all along?
A Kiss Before DyingFebruary 26, 2012The only constant between the affirmation and the tribulation of Jesus is the Spirit of God. The same God who confirms us in love is the same God who drives us into difficulty. In this life, there is something about the need for everyone to be tested that is as compelling and as necessary as a mother's love.
Some Really Good NewsFebruary 25, 2012In a world that at least sometimes is nasty and harsh, this is the really good news. "God keeps God's word even when the whole world is lying through its teeth." God is faithful. Trust this and live this day boldly.
Why Me?February 24, 2012Just as Jesus turned a loaf and a few fish into food for thousands, so with us, small and powerless as we feel. Being chosen means believing God can do a lot with our littleness and never more so than when we think our caring and compassion don't amount to much.
MentorFebruary 23, 2012Everybody recognizes the importance of mentors on the job. The best mentoring relationships tend to be the intentional ones, where the older, wiser, seasoned person agrees explicitly to take some promising green young thing under her or his wing. Usually, not only the mentor and protégée profit; the organization or profession does as well.
Ash WednesdayFebruary 22, 2012Let this day, this Ash Wednesday, be a day for fewer words all day long. Let it be a day for some stillness, for paying quiet attention to mystery, to beauty, to the sacred.
Cheap GraceFebruary 21, 2012Cheap grace drives you to inconsequentiality. Grace drives us to consequentiality, not the kind that makes us self-important so much as the kind that pours out, overflows, gets everything that was all dry all wet again. We are NOT to sin more so that grace may abound. Just the opposite: we are to make our mark as creatures of a God that was not fooling around.
Who Wants to Be the President?February 20, 2012This President's Day, I want to say a prayer for them all, past, present and future, for seeking a job that strikes me as impossible. And I pray for a more peaceful political culture in which an impossible job might be redeemed.
Free WillFebruary 19, 2012The truth is, when we choose to improve the world through selfless service we come to know a joy beyond our comprehension.
The DifferenceFebruary 18, 2012It's the loving vigil and simple care we show others that makes the difference
TrainFebruary 17, 2012I've recently become something of a runner, and the more I've done it, the more convinced I've become that the running metaphors one finds all over the New Testament actually work quite well.
Tiger GodFebruary 16, 2012Today's reading from the Letter to the Hebrews is all about discipline. God disciplines God's sons and daughters. The message is that God's discipline is an expression of God's love.
The Goodness of the Lord in the Land of the LivingFebruary 15, 2012Sometimes religion can be a means of escape from the urgent realities of now.
"Sit Down and Eat"February 14, 2012There is something about the bond that is formed over that meal that leads us towards the light. And like those meals with our children, the more we commune together, the stronger we become.
Expecting Too LittleFebruary 13, 2012The man crippled since birth in today's story began to ask for money from Peter and John. He didn't ask for what he really needed but got it anyway: the ability to stand up and walk and even jump and leap for joy. Now he could take care of himself!
TrustFebruary 12, 2012The leper may have had that dreadful disease of leprosy but he was also full of trust. If you have ever wanted for trust, you might even be jealous of his skin condition. Being bereft of trust is an acute kind of poverty.
Name ChangeFebruary 11, 2012Names are important. A name is so much more than, say, a label attached to a jar. We identify with our names. In fact, I feel so closely identified with my name that if I had a different name I feel like I would be a different person.
Known By Our Enemies February 10, 2012Make no mistake about it, our identities are confirmed as much by our foes as they are by our friends. We are known not just by the company we keep, but by the haters we incite. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus warns his followers to "Beware when all people speak well of you."
My Last Will and TestamentFebruary 9, 2012As an adult, it took me far too long to make a will. Who wants to consider the time of one's death? I didn't. Besides, there was nothing complicated about my estate, I reasoned. Anything I had would just go to my family. Wouldn't that just happen naturally?
Very Good/ Not PerfectFebruary 8, 2012For which we can be grateful. "Perfect" would have been like, "don't touch a thing." "It's perfect, don't mess it up." It's complete, finished . . . perfect.
EvaluationFebruary 7, 2012There is nothing like an evaluation to shake things up. Paul and Barnabas are doing a review. They are taking the risk of looking back. If you love something, like the gospel, enough, you won't dare be unaccountable to it.
For the InstitutionalizedFebruary 6, 2012I'm not saying every committee meeting the church has ever held mattered; most of them didn't. I'm saying that all institutions are annoying, AND that the church is the one that brought your faith to you. So when you're feeling ground down by yours, right after you refuse to chair another task force, but before you decide to quit forever, just remember this: the work you're doing is at least as much for your grandkids as it is for you.
Write Your Own EndingFebruary 5, 2012You may not be able to find today's reading in the regular part of your Bible. Chances are good that it is hidden in the footnotes in very small print with a line that says, "Not part of the best manuscripts, probably added later." Mark, scholars tell us, really ends at 16: 8 with the words, "They said nothing to anyone for they were afraid." That doesn't so much end as it breaks off. But then someone came along and added on. Wanted to pretty it up.
RestlessFebruary 4, 2012Relationships, love, and even our own faith leave us "restless," as Augustine put it, until our hearts rest in the assurance only God provides and nothing less.
Not "Staff"February 3, 2012A few years back I got grumpy about hearing myself, as an ordained minister, referred to as "staff," as in "our church staff." In a way, of course, it was true. My colleagues and I were "church staff." But in another way it seemed to me misleading and a bad sign.
Overlooking InsultsFebruary 2, 2012It's only natural to want to give an immediate response to an insult. If we've been injured, we feel that we have the right to respond immediately with wrathful indignation. After all, the sooner we let those who hurt us know how we feel, the better. And if our responses are bitter and acidic, so be it! Maybe next time they'll think twice before they cross the line with us.
Lessons from the Shoe MuseumFebruary 1, 2012I was struck by how long human beings have been torn between practicality and beauty. In some rare cases, they pulled off both, as was the case with a pair of Cherokee moccasins covered in hand-sewn glass beads hundreds of years ago. They looked both beautiful and comfortable, something to delight both the wearer and the world. But do we always have to strike that balance? As Marilyn Monroe’s bright red stilettos bear witness, sometimes the extremes are what we remember most.
A New ThingJanuary 31, 2012So here's what happened. The Apostle Stephen had been preaching in Jerusalem. As good Christian preaching sometimes will, his sermon angered his audience. They stoned him, and that understandably scared many of the other apostles out of town.
Sweet SpotJanuary 30, 2012Many people claim that to be at the center of conflicting ideas and opposing opinions is valueless. Many believe that compromise is never a viable option.
Still Open and Affirming, After "All" these YearsJanuary 29, 2012It seems like a long time ago that our church went through the Open and Affirming process and made a statement welcoming all people to the church. But when I look at my calendar, I see that it was only two and a half years ago. In a congregation that is celebrating its 150th anniversary, that is very recent history.
God Dwells in the DetailsJanuary 28, 2012It's easy for those of us who fancy ourselves "big picture" types to pooh-pooh such attention to detail. But we're wrong when we do that. As a rabbi friend puts it, it is God (not the devil) who dwells in the details.
Appointed and AuthorizedJanuary 27, 2012He imagines we can find the clumsy words to speak his gorgeous message. We are appointed and authorized. Our names have been called.
ShootsJanuary 26, 2012Here's how it appeared the word of God had failed: the Shoot of Jesse was cut down. Here is how it did not fail: turns out, the Shoot of Jesse was like the Jurupa Oak, and it sent up shoots, and they were you. And if they are burned down, he will send up more, and more, and more, and each time they will spread further, until the whole world is green and rustling with salvation.
God and the CityJanuary 25, 2012Some folks don't have much use for cities and don't think God does either. Cities are too big, too messy, too . . . much. God dwells, we imagine, in green pastures and amid soaring mountains. Personally, I think God likes both, both city and country.
Street Smart in Sunday SchoolJanuary 24, 2012If you have a Sunday school teacher you appreciate, send them this devotional, and thank them for moving beyond the simple answers to the wisdom in the streets.
Be StillJanuary 23, 2012"Be still and know that I am God." Being still, even if people get your name wrong, is a place beyond serenity.
A Prayer for the New YearJanuary 22, 2012Sometimes a prayer like this is needed to wake us from our slumber, to shake us loose from our fears, and to set us on our way of "immediacy" toward long-forgotten hopes and longings and dreams. I think this is a prayer for the New Year.
A Silly Question?January 21, 2012Jesus asks so many questions in the four gospels—307 different questions, to be exact. Some of his questions are profound, while others are probing. And then there are the silly questions.
DaffodilsJanuary 20, 2012Deep participation in a tradition greater than our own invention is the bulb under the earth. It will live through the cold, to rise again, long after my self-made bouquet has faded.
One Possessed of a KnowingJanuary 19, 2012If we are to believe The Jerome Biblical Commentary, "Nazareth was an insignificant village never mentioned in the Old Testament. [And] no prophecy had connected the Messiah with Galilee, and certainly not with Nazareth."
Helpless BelieversJanuary 18, 2012It's amazing what God can do with just a few who dare to let weakness out of the closet.
A Mother's ImaginationJanuary 17, 2012You know, my mother thought I could do anything, too. She was always exaggerating my gifts.
A Teachable SpiritJanuary 16, 2012Conversion for Calvin was not an ending or a finished point. It was a beginning, an opening point. Experientially, it is closer to waking after a long sleep. Awake and teachable.
The Value of a Good NameJanuary 15, 2012I’m old enough to remember when a person’s good name meant something. My mother would send me to the corner store in our neighborhood with a list of things that she needed, but with no money. The grocer would fill the bag with the items on my mother’s list and give the bag to me to take home. No payment was required at the time, simply because of my mother’s good name and her reputation for paying her debts. My mother’s good name alone put food on our table many nights.
Christians are Joyful SinnersJanuary 14, 2012Does worship in your church include a prayer of confession? If so, it is probably near the beginning of the service. One reason for this placement is that God’s presence reveals things to us. In God’s clarifying presence we see things about our lives that we might not see otherwise. So when Isaiah had a dramatic encounter with God in the temple, his first response was confession. And it can be the same for us in our worship.
Back it up!January 13, 2012Paul was asked to speak an encouraging word by a leader in the Jewish community. What he then said was all about Jesus as the proof and power of faith. His words moved many because they were backed up by specific instances of history and experience beyond just his own.
AppearancesJanuary 12, 2012Appearance matters. What other people see when they look at us matters. We care what others think. Some of us are also slightly bothered by how much we care about what others think. We live with a sense that we are being pulled in too many directions. Time runs out, just about every day.
For Those Who Are Doing Just FineJanuary 11, 2012Psalm 86 is the kind of prayer usually reserved for when things go really bad. A prayer for when it has all fallen apart and you’re at the end of your rope. If that’s where you are today, then pray it, hard.
The Real ZealJanuary 10, 2012It's one thing to challenge injustice out there in the world. But when the injustice is manifested in our own family; when prejudice is as close as our own dear friends; when phobias dominate the mentality of our own fraternities, sororities and civic organizations; or even when our religious fellowships attempt to sanctify discrimination, do we possess enough zeal for God to make a godly difference?
Touchdown TheologyJanuary 9, 2012A few weeks ago, Tim Tebow's pastor, Wayne Hanson, said he knew why the Denver Broncos were 7-1 since installing Tebow as quarterback. "It's not luck," Hanson said. "Luck isn't winning six games in a row. It's favor. God's favor."
Baptizing Newborns of Any AgeJanuary 8, 2012Unlike some Christian traditions, in the United Church of Christ we do not have a normative age for baptism. So I have baptized infants who are just weeks old and I once baptized a man who was 87. Somehow the waters of baptism make newborns out of us all.
The Right AltarsJanuary 7, 2012South African Albie Sachs wrote a prize-winning book called The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter. In 1988, an assassin found him in Mozambique, where he was exiled from South Africa, and blew up his car. Sachs missed death but lost a leg and an eye.
KneelJanuary 6, 2012We're good at listing all the people we won't kneel before. We don't kneel for crowned heads. We don't bend for terrorists. We're clear on how we feel about kneeling to bishops. By and large, we are a straight-backed, lock-kneed people.
Why Trifle with Anything ElseJanuary 5, 2012On its surface, the book of Proverbs appears to offer laws or maxims that have their own irrefutable formula. If one follows them, one will reap their outcome.
Steve Jobs and the BibleJanuary 4, 2012Why worry about the future? We can't do anything about it anyway. Few can get away with this attitude anymore. Too much is at stake with our children's future, our financial well-being, and our national and personal safety and security, not to mention that of those far less fortunate than we are.
Wisdom BitesJanuary 3, 2012When I think of wisdom I think of my grandmother, Victoria Moon Robinson. Orphaned as a child, she was raised by a kind family in Ohio. As a young woman she became a licensed pharmacist, not all that common for women in the World War I era.
CreedJanuary 2, 2012The word “creed” comes from the Latin “credo,” which means “I believe.” It’s a statement of faith, an attempt to capture in words the essence of the content of the faith.
The Break DownJanuary 1, 2012New Year’s is the perfect time to plan and to execute building projects. Whether we’re building better health through diet and exercise, or building better relationships through listening and compromise, or building a better democracy through voter education and registration, there is always a certain excitement that characterizes our building endeavors.
Resolve December 31, 2011If you've started thinking about your resolutions for the New Year, maybe you've noticed that some of them are depressingly familiar. Lose 40 pounds, take ballroom dancing lessons, get that tattoo removed. Now it's December 31st, and you're no closer to doing any of those things than you were a year ago.
Acting Out on the AirplaneDecember 30, 2011Even before the flight took off, we knew who would be offering our in-flight entertainment. The man in the seat in front of me began by taking out a ballpoint pen, putting it into his mouth and then taking a dramatic inhale.
Become both Spiritual and ReligiousDecember 29, 2011The "Spiritual but not Religious" crowd practices without preaching, prays without sourcing: they soul without body. The "Religious but not Spiritual" preaches without practicing.
EncoreDecember 28, 2011C.S. Lewis said a great obstacle to loving God is summed up in one word: encore. Instead of being satisfied with what God always offers us, we are greedy for the next performance.
The Planet in PraiseDecember 27, 2011Make no mistake about it, the entire earth is a declaration of God's awesome power to create and sustain life with wondrous beauty and fathomless splendor.
Leaning Toward the FutureDecember 26, 2011For many, this season is laced with nostalgia. We might glamorize the old days, perhaps being, in John Irving's phrase, "nostalgic for a time that never was." Or, it might be more like it was for my father, who, this time every year, would evidence the effects of a potent mixture of nostalgia and melancholy.
The Last Minute GiftDecember 25, 2011There was one Christmas when we didn't know whether my father would make it home. He was a foreign correspondent, covering the Iran hostage crisis, and I was a nervous kid, because one of my father's journalist friends was being held hostage at the time.
A Subversive StoryDecember 24, 2011We've finally arrived. In Bethlehem, at the manger. As Martin Copenhaver noted in the Introduction to this Advent booklet, it's the same story every year, the familiar story, nothing different.
Small is BeautifulDecember 23, 2011Praise is the purpose of Christmas. If we miss its joy, we miss Christmas. If we find its joy, we find Christmas. My friend has a sign on her refrigerator: "It's not going to happen that way." She is preparing herself for a day and a life of surprises.
"How Can I Keep From Singing?"December 22, 2011"My life flows on in endless song," affirms an old hymn, "above earth's lamentation. . . . I hear the real, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation. Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing; It sounds an echo in my soul—how can I keep from singing?
InterruptionsDecember 21, 2011For the most part, I don't like interruptions. I would rather plan my day and plan my life. So usually I begin the day by surveying all the things I want to accomplish and hope no interruption will prevent me from doing so.
Who Am I?December 20, 2011Martin Luther described sin as life curved in upon itself. The theme of today's psalm, praise, is pretty much the opposite of that. Praise is life opened out, expansive, a jubilant response to a gracious and astonishing God.
Different This YearDecember 19, 2011There's so much that can make us say with regret at Christmas, "it won’t be the same," and our most fervent wish is that things could go back to the way they were. Since they can't, a lot of people feel downcast at Christmas, when reminders of loss seem to spring up everywhere.
Home for the HolidaysDecember 18, 2011In a basic sense, "home" is wherever we feel that we belong. Many of us find that sense of "belonging" at specified addresses among certain people. Others find belonging in the various corridors and communities they inhabit in their journeys along the roads of life.
Don't Forget to EatDecember 17, 2011I know there are two types of people in the world: those who forget to eat and those who can't imagine forgetting to eat. But either way, this passage speaks to us all. It's about tending to the basics in our bodily life.
Angels All AroundDecember 16, 2011At this time of the year we're into angels. There's angel Gabriel showing up to say to Mary, "Hail, O favored one!" There are angels on Advent calendars and perched on Christmas trees. We hear of choirs of angels filling the night sky to serenade shepherds.
ArkDecember 15, 2011A few miles west of Jerusalem is a town called Abu Ghosh. Tradition says it's the location of Abinadab's house, where the Ark of the Covenant rested before coming to Jerusalem. The Ark was the chest—now lost—that contained the Ten Commandments.
The Challenges of WaitingDecember 14, 2011Advent is a season devoted to waiting. It is a time when we celebrate waiting, honor those who waited for the coming of the Messiah, and seek to learn something about how we might join them in waiting for the Spirit of Christ to be born again in our midst.
On the LookoutDecember 13, 2011Elisha knew that the older prophet Elijah was about to be taken from him. He wanted the assurance that the spirit of Elijah would be his as well. This request would be granted, he was told, "but only if you're watching" what’s about to happen.
How Tall is Your Tree?December 12, 2011A child stood with her parents in a store. The parents stood with a frazzled clerk who had opened a white plastic Christmas tree to show them what it looked like. The child looked at the tree and made a quick conclusion. "No," said she, "it's too small. There won't be room for all the presents you're going to give us under such a small tree."
Hope of the RighteousDecember 11, 2011I was taught that righteousness is simply having a "right" perspective and acceptance about one's relationship with God and one's fellow creatures and creation, and one's powers and limitations. Such perspective does not come from ordinary human knowledge alone but through attentiveness to life's "holy moments" amid the mundane and the frightening.
The Prophets of Advent – Cost and JoyDecember 10, 2011We should never assume that our celebrations of the advent of God in Christ Jesus will attract and appeal to everyone. Isaiah’s prophesy about the life and sufferings of Jesus are enough to prompt the question: Is anybody really willing to celebrate and to follow a messiah of sorrows, who was acquainted with grief?
In the Ups and Downs, God Levels Things OutDecember 9, 2011People who are facing a serious illness tell me they have a new respect for how changeable life is. Suddenly, they realize how precious the ordinary moments are. One man once told me what many others have said in different words: "I used to complain about being bored. But I could use a little boring right now."
Impractical GiftsDecember 8, 2011Here are some of the gifts being offered in various catalogues this season: There is “The Remote Controlled Rolling Beverage Cooler.” If someone across the room looks thirsty, you don’t even need to get out of your seat to serve them. Then there is the toaster that can emblazon the emblem of your favorite team on your morning toast.
"Can You Hear Me Now?"December 7, 2011How many times have we abandoned all efforts to communicate with persons who were non-responsive? After a few unanswered messages or e-mails we've had it!
UncleanDecember 6, 2011Ministers spend a lot of time struggling against the culture's frenetic, consumerist interpretation of Christmas. Which is needed. But I wonder whether we go too far, like the Puritans who forbade the celebration of Christmas altogether because of its roots in paganism. I mean, if God can make unclean animals clean for Peter to eat, can’t God find a way to turn a pagan holiday into a Christian one?
Look Up, I Can HelpDecember 5, 2011A friend shared this story about her mother who was a choir director and music teacher for her entire professional life. If there came a time in a performance when things started to go awry--the accompanist was off-beat, or the sections were drifting from each other--the natural reaction of choir members was to hunker down, to concentrate really hard, each on his or her own music.
What Looks TrueDecember 4, 2011God does not change. Our understanding of God changes. Love for our spouse, partner, or children may not actually change. What that love means and asks of us certainly changes. Forgetting this, we can confuse something different with something lost.
God Bless Us Every OneDecember 3, 2011Charles Dickens reminds us that God can use remarkable dreams to open a person's heart. Consider Peter, the red-headed apostle, as the prototype Ebenezer Scrooge – his heart narrow and pinched when it came to offering good tidings to Gentiles.
Much More than WordsDecember 2, 2011As we approach the celebration of the incarnation of God in Christ at Christmas, our ears are already filled with the festive, majestic words of the season. "Shalom," "Glad tidings to all," "Peace on earth," "Wise men still seek him," "The greatest gift of all," "For unto us a son is born; a child is given," "Silent night, Holy night," "Behold the star," "Joy to the world!"
Here's Why We HopeDecember 1, 2011Sometimes, you're hopeful because it's all you have left. Your options are exhausted, and all you can do is bow your head, cross your fingers, and hope. That ain't Advent. Advent is hoping for a reason, and with a purpose. The reason: God has already wrought all this greatness. The purpose: So that you can get in on the action.
Magic TricksNovember 30, 2011God is so not a Communist when it comes to apportioning talent. And I think our denomination needs to pass a resolution correcting God on that, because that's how we roll.
Telling it Like it IsNovember 29, 2011There's a tendency in the church, perhaps particularly in a season like Advent, to censor out such realities and such raw emotions. Church becomes a place to be polite and on our best behavior or to be only upbeat and happy.
Peaceful PresentsNovember 28, 2011If you really want swords beaten into plowshares you're going to have to work. You're going to have to pay and organize. You're going to have to convince other people, people like you and people who run businesses that do stuff that you can't do yourself, that peace is profitable.
Christmas is a Surprise PartyNovember 27, 2011In a way it is unfortunate that we always celebrate Christmas on the same day of the year, because that makes the coming of Christ seem almost predictable. But Christmas is more like a surprise party.
Life Before DeathNovember 26, 2011When Jesus speaks of eternal life here (and throughout the Gospel of John) he isn't only speaking of something that happens after we die. He is speaking of something that happens right now.
Black FridayNovember 25, 2011Today is Black Friday, the American holiday on which we honor and celebrate…shopping. Here's what I suggest: just say no. Spare yourself, restore your soul, and stay out of stores today.
Strong DependenceNovember 24, 2011On Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge our dependence. At least that was the spirit of the impoverished Pilgrims who made seven times more graves than huts while setting aside a special day of gratitude for divine strength and support. They could not otherwise account for their endurance and survival. They knew they could not rely on their own guts and willpower alone. They were dependent—and proud of it.
Being EarlyNovember 23, 2011My congregation, which is a great congregation, likes to think of itself as “early.” Because of its location in Greenwich Village, and its general New York snootiness, this conceit is ever so slightly true. We watch. We see trends early. We were open and affirming before Stonewall. We wouldn’t think of not recycling or singing a Broadway tune right after “Abide With Me.”
Advocates and DefendersNovember 22, 2011Haman had devised a plot for the destruction of the Jews. As the new official set above all other officials, he is angry with Mordecai, a Jew, who does not bow to him. When Mordecai learns of the plot he turns to his cousin, Esther, a queen in the kingdom. Mordecai implores her to make supplication to the king and entreat him for her people. For if the plot goes through, she too will not escape death.
Who’s That Knocking at My Door?November 21, 2011In The Rule of Benedict, the remarkable document that has ordered the life of Benedictine monks for 1500 years, there is a particular role delineated for the “porter” of the monastery. Quite simply, the porter is the one who opens the door to the monastery when someone knocks. Not much of a role, you say? Ah, but there is so much to it. Author Joan Chittister goes so far as to say, “The way we answer doors is the way we deal with the world.”
The Limits of TasteNovember 20, 2011Someone was complaining to me about why she had stopped going to her church, saying, “You know, when it came to worship, I just didn’t get much out of it.” To which I replied, “Well, it wasn’t directed toward you.”
SparkleNovember 19, 2011If you saw Sparkle in church, you might infer from her feather, leopard, and vinyl outfits that she is a member of a profession that is very difficult, very old, and mostly performed after dark. Nobody knows for sure, and Sparkle's not saying. In fact, she won't tell you anything about herself, but if you talk to her in coffee hour, she'll tell you a whole lot about God, and about why church matters. She loves them both with a passion.
Heaven Must Be Like ThisNovember 18, 2011If Revelation 22 is a symbolic depiction of heaven, have you ever wondered why anyone would need healing in heaven? Mind you, not just healing from the scars and tribulations inflicted in an earthly lifetime, but continuous healing—healing from the leaves of the tree of life which bears fruit monthly.
Sometimes a SheepNovember 17, 2011It calls us to, “Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving; and God’s courts with praise.” It makes me think--or better, feel--the happiness of going to church, the sense of anticipation on a Sunday morning, the joy in gathering and the feeling of being caught up in praise of God, “who is good, whose steadfast love lasts forever.”
Look at it!November 16, 2011Moses' ragtag wilderness wandering people complained, whined, and grumbled at God. They missed Egypt. They were impatient with the route. Bored with manna (which we think of as a blessing) they said, "We detest this miserable food." Poisonous serpents came among them and many of them died. Was that a metaphor in the mouth of the biblical storyteller? We don’t know. To cure those bitten, Moses erected a replica serpent and the people would look toward it and be healed.
GoodbyeNovember 15, 2011Nobody likes goodbyes, and we go to many lengths to soften or avoid them. A colleague leaves or a friend moves, and we say it’s not goodbye because we promise to have lunch, or to write, or to Facebook. Sometimes we avoid the moment altogether: even though I barely knew her, I once hid in the bathroom for half an hour at a coworker’s goodbye party to avoid the moment when she actually left.
Moving Onward and UpwardNovember 14, 2011When I turned 50 last month, my oldest son kidded with me. He said, “Well, Dad, it’s all downhill from here.” We shared a hearty laugh. How does one escape the sure lot that befalls everyone? How do we reconcile ourselves with the ever-present end?
What's Important?November 13, 2011In Jesus' parable of the talents, two servants were given a lot of money and congratulated for investing it wisely. The third also got a lot of money, but not as much, and so he chose to bury it for safekeeping, making Jesus angry. One talent equaled a lifetime of earnings! There wasn't much difference between getting 5,000 and 2,000 talents, as the first two servants did, and 1,000, as the third did.
Wellness: The Presence of EaseNovember 12, 2011Many people imagine that unclean spirits are a thing of the past. So quaint. So primitive. So forgetful of the latest research on disease or addiction. Permit me to differ. Unclean spirits inhabit more space in the 21st century than we imagine.
We Need to Remember to RememberNovember 11, 2011Inside the old town hall with the pressed tin ceiling, crumbling revolutionary flag, voting booths pushed into a corner, the gathering was small. Memorial Day draws a better crowd because of the band, and companies let people trade this holiday for the day after Thanksgiving.
Our Dwelling PlaceNovember 10, 2011I will never forget the last Sunday I worshipped as a member at the church I attended during the three years of my seminary education. The historic Ebenezer Baptist Church of Atlanta, Georgia, had become my home away from home, my refuge from the grind of academic rigor, and my place of safety amidst the hazards of theological deconstruction and reconstruction. The pastor had welcomed me, the congregation had embraced me and the Holy Spirit had edified me at Ebenezer. Upon graduation from Emory University’s School of Theology I was called to a pastorate, and that meant leaving Ebenezer.
The Poor Are Not LuckyNovember 9, 2011A well-dressed woman at a religion conference told me that she had learned that it was harder for rich people to experience God’s love than the poor. “The poor,” she explained, “have so little that they have to rely on God’s love so much more. They just seem so much happier.” This was presumably why she delighted in mission work overseas, where the poor were “just so grateful.”
Abundance or Scarcity?November 8, 2011So much of our scripture is a celebration of abundance. The first chapters of Genesis are a song of praise for God’s generosity. With each act of creation, the divine refrain is, “It is good, it is good, it is very good.” And it pictures the Creator saying, “Be fruitful and multiply.”
The Source of Action is AweNovember 7, 2011Jesus really did say that children have a better chance than non-children at entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Now the writer to the people at Corinth is telling us just the opposite. What happened? Is the mature church-builder becoming religious instead of spiritual? Or was Jesus too child-like to survive adolescence?
Donation SeasonNovember 6, 2011In more ways than we usually realize, we already are one. "They" includes you and me. We can take hope in the power that flows when people release their confident belief in "us" and "them," when they look at someone else and recognize, "That could be me."
The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!November 5, 2011In Matthew 24 Jesus noted a bunch of scary things: wars and rumors of war, false messiahs, torture, famines and earthquakes. Sounds pretty much like our daily news. Lord knows, there's plenty to be anxious about these days. But the real danger is that we become so frightened that we hurt ourselves (and others).
ForeignersNovember 4, 2011It’s easier to tolerate and enjoy what’s foreign than to consider it carefully—as on U.N. Day in the elementary school I attended. Colorful crafts and dress (we called the attire “costumes”) along with exotic culinary treats made the day.
Someone Out ThereNovember 3, 2011I’ve heard people say that some relative or friend, a pastor, a child, a stranger, someone out there, was “an angel” to them. What I understand them to mean is that this person was sent to them in that precise moment when they were most needed. Out of nowhere, and with no prompting, they appeared or called or sent a book or wrote a letter or prayed a powerful prayer.
What Would Jesus Do?November 2, 2011My grandmother had a small reproduction of Raphael’s painting of the Transfiguration in her house. Apart from family photos, and a picture of Pope Pius (not a family member), there weren’t many pictures in that house, so as a child I used to like to look at this one. It had Jesus in a white robe floating amid illuminated clouds in the top half of the picture. In the bottom half, there was a knot of distressed-looking people, all pointing in different directions, some of them kneeling or lying on the ground.
SaintsNovember 1, 2011Here’s what it means to be a saint: it means you have direct access to God. It means that you can see the Heart the breaks for all that is broken. Here’s who is a saint: every member of the church, and that means you.
The "Not Yet Factor"October 31, 2011There is a forward momentum to the Christian faith that is absolutely undeniable. No matter what goals we've attained or challenges we've conquered, there is an element of our faith in Christ that keeps beckoning us toward something more. There is always something yet to be consummated in us, something yet to be realized about us and something yet to be received through us.
SpringOctober 30, 2011Perhaps it is time to take a hint from the psalms and the singers and the dancers. I rise because all my springs are in you. And we are not talking here about either pastor or parish. We are talking about you: the spring of the spring. Sometimes it is important to get church out of the way of Spirit. Other times it is time to transform Church so it is spirit. Most of the time it is time for both.
A Ministry of TransportationOctober 29, 2011Early in his ministry, Jesus had a reputation for healing, and so he was starting to get mobbed wherever he went. The crowds were so big because there were, and still are, so many people who long for physical healing. The irony was that in order to push through to the front of the crowd, you would need physical strength. The sickest and physically weakest would never have a chance by themselves.
Don’t be a Jerk October 28, 2011Marcus Borg says it is exegetically correct to replace the word “commandment” in this text with the word, “relationship.” As such our first or greatest relationship is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, the second great relationship is to love our neighbors as ourselves. There is no relationship in life, law, or eternity greater than these.
An Offering You Can’t RefuseOctober 27, 2011This time of year I have a recurring fantasy. A member of my church calls me on the phone and invites me to lunch. Over lunch he says, “You know, Martin, I am aware that the church is pressed for funds, particularly in this financial climate, and it takes a lot of energy to raise those funds. Well, I came into some money this year, so I want to cover this year’s budget with my own gift.”
PerfectOctober 26, 2011I read this one book in elementary school about a hapless kid who's always making a mess of things. One day, he finds a guide that promises to make him perfect. Hilarity ensues. In the end, he discovers that perfect people spend all day sitting around drinking weak tea with the window shades drawn.
FollowershipOctober 25, 2011If you experienced a college orientation this fall there's a pretty good chance that the college or university touted itself for being in the business of "educating tomorrow's leaders." It's difficult, however, to imagine a school that would announce we "educate tomorrow’s followers."
Have MercyOctober 24, 2011Mercy doesn't mean do whatever you want and be forgiven anyway. It means since you have been forgiven learn to forgive others, or pray that God does.
Packaging vs. PresentationOctober 23, 2011The reason I love scissors is that they cut things out and up. Scissors frame a geranium by taking off the parts that have already had their show. They take a picture from a magazine and make it look all yours.
The End of All Our SearchingOctober 22, 2011Many of the religious thinkers of Jesus' day were troubled by Jesus, by his thoughts about God, by his approach to truth. The same was the case in the early church when the gospel of John was written. To be fair to some of these folks, they were not ready to let go of cherished ideas and theological doctrines that may have held the strongest sway in their lives for a long time.
The Passages That Make Us Say “Eew”October 21, 2011Today’s assigned reading from the Bible is from the letter to Titus, sometimes attributed to the Apostle Paul, chapter 2, verses 7-8 and 11-15, which of course sent me immediately to verses 9-10 to see what was left out.
A Mother's Work is Never DoneOctober 20, 2011This story cracks me up. Simon's mother was very ill, consumed with a fever, but Jesus was able to cure his friend's mother, to literally "raise her up." What a moment that must have been.
What is Your Testimony?October 19, 2011The gospel narratives, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are compelling testimonies to a life-changing, mysteriously powerful, spiritual presence wrapped in human form . . . Jesus. The gospel writers' reflections on Jesus' greatness and on people's reactions in his day still inspire people across continents and centuries.
Majoring in Minors, Minoring in MajorsOctober 18, 2011Determining what’s really important and pertinent to our lives is an ongoing struggle. Too often we confuse the tangential with the essential. Why else would high school sports command the attention of the multitudes while high school graduation rates plummet with little public concern? Or what about the fact that more people are likely to vote for the next “American Idol” than for the next governor of their state?
Applause in ChurchOctober 17, 2011I was recently in a congregation where everything was greeted with applause. Well, okay, not quite everything. People applauded the choir’s anthem, the children’s song, all the announcements and even the prayers of a lay leader. But no one, as I recalled, applauded the offering.
About TaxesOctober 16, 2011Entrapment is the aim of the question about taxes posed to Jesus by the Pharisees. But Jesus is too smart to fall into the trap. He’s also too smart to supply a yes or no response. And, for sure, he will not answer a question each of them must answer for themselves.
HandsOctober 15, 2011Here’s the thing about hands. The same pair can be used to build a bomb and to stroke a child’s face; to smack your spouse around and to paint a masterpiece; to flip somebody off and to remove a cancer from an ailing body. It’s all about who’s in control.
Consider Breaking a RuleOctober 14, 2011Peter is hungry and has a vision in which God tells him what to do: “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” Wait a minute, Peter says, I’m not going to just kill any old thing and eat it! There are rules against that, and even having God tell him it’s OK—not once, not twice, but three times—isn’t enough for Peter. He’s still greatly puzzled. What could it mean?
Has God Spoken to You Lately?October 13, 2011It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to be spoken to by God face-to-face. What would God look like? But this is to mistake speaking for seeing. Moses did not see God; rather God spoke to him. This was a personal experience, but it wasn’t meant to be private.
AskOctober 12, 2011Nine of us were in the same van, driving from the Detroit airport to the Renaissance Center for a two-day conference on racism. The van driver was white. In the middle seat were two black women, in the front seat three white men, in the third seat, three white people, including me.
UnstoppableOctober 11, 2011Unstoppable in the face of horrific persecution, early Christians continued proclaiming the Jesus story. Persecution seemed to stimulate Christianity’s spread, farther and faster, to Judea and Samaria.
Into God's CustodyOctober 10, 2011For all of us who are so easily distracted from the paths of truth by vain trivialities; and for all of us who sometimes allow doubts and fears to diminish our godly resolve, the benediction releases us and commits us into the custody of the one who is able.
Two Thumbs Up!October 9, 2011Two thumbs up for Roger Ebert. Two thumbs up for all those who work to make a more loving, less shallow world. Two thumbs up for taking your spot in the meeting place, and being appreciated for who you really are, deep down.
What Should We Do?October 8, 2011Most preachers I know have a collection of stories about things people have said to them while shaking hands after worship. (One of the favorites in my own collection is from early in my ministry. Someone said, “You know, Martin, every sermon is better than the next one.”
Whose Fault is it? October 7, 2011It never ceases to amaze me how people search for fault as though it were important. I got hit by a drunk driver once, head on. My first thought was, what did I do wrong? When I go to the vet, I assume the vet is judging my animal care. And I could go on about the ways I place myself at the center of dramas that never cast me.
MoobyOctober 6, 2011The golden calf reference is pretty glaring. The claim about what constitutes idolatry, on the other hand, is uncharacteristically subtle for a Kevin Smith movie. Jesus and the prophets would have gotten it, though.
Designer ReligionOctober 5, 2011What this passage describes--a God so awesome and holy that it’s just too much for us mere mortals--is becoming increasingly difficult even to imagine these days. In the Bible, the Hebrew people find close encounters with God are more than they can handle. They need some distance. God is too awesome, too overwhelming, too dangerous.
Bread and BourbonOctober 4, 2011We are asked to share what God does, not try to do it ourselves. Justice and reconciliation are mine, says God, not yours. Our job is to act it out.
This is God’s HouseOctober 3, 2011Superstar athletes are fond of saying “this is my house” when referring to the stadium or arena of their team. Whether or not this phrase was popularized by them, it has now become commonplace.
Forget What Happened YesterdayOctober 2, 2011Energy Maburutse, a 21-year old from Zimbabwe, has the greatest name for someone who has never been able to take one step on his own. Born with a severely crippling bone disease in a rural Zimbabwean village where wheelchairs were unheard of and his mother carried him everywhere, Energy is now a college freshman in the U.S. You can read the full story by New York Times columnist Frank Bruni here. “His is a miserable story that became a miraculous one,” says Bruni.
Non-Verbal CommunicationOctober 1, 2011Dr. Fred Craddock, my homiletics professor in seminary, used to tell us often: "Preach Christ. Use words if you have to."
Tell Us How You Really FeelSeptember 30, 2011I'm always a little surprised to find that the Jesus in the Bible is really not the same as the Jesus in hymns and on those decorative plates your grandmother had.
Today, Can I Have a Three-Martini Lunch? September 29, 2011I am so happy to read in this scripture that Jesus is telling me to go out and have a good time. Let’s all throw away the boring old sandwich we made for lunch and go out for steaks, cake and martinis instead.
Happy Birthday, AlannaSeptember 28, 2011When I arrived home after the birth of our daughter, Alanna, 27 years ago, I opened a bottle of champagne, lit an enormous cigar and called everyone I knew.
Enough AlreadySeptember 27, 2011For most of us, "enough" is defined as something more than what we have, a shifting standard that can be, and often is, adjusted upward.
RighteousSeptember 26, 2011In the Northern Hemisphere, we’re in the midst of the great season of harvest and thanksgiving, when the food that we’ve been working to grow all year will be gathered into granary and store, there to see us through the winter. Well, in theory, anyway.
Darn That Jesus!September 25, 2011Darn that Jesus! Isn’t it just like him to mess up my Sunday. Here I was planning to go to church where I could pledge my support for truth, justice, kindness, generosity and all right causes and feel pretty good about myself, before coming home to take a long nap, watch a violent football game, have a few stiff drinks with dinner and go to bed.
The Cost of ForgivenessSeptember 24, 2011Forgiveness can't mean much if we don't believe there's much to forgive. Neither can responsibility. Moses knew both and his days ended happily. So it can be for us.
Sneaky ResumesSeptember 23, 2011Self-satisfaction is a real problem. We can learn instead to be humble about our blinders. We can also learn to talk about the bread and openly "brag" about how it is better in Italy. We can especially brag if we keep a smile on our face and a joke in our heart about how great we really aren't.
For Your Own GoodSeptember 22, 2011When this passage speaks of God teaching us for our own good, I believe it is referring to our protection, our prosperity, our posterity, both spiritually and materially. And yet, these aspects of a good life pale in comparison to the deeper good that we are.
Finding God in All the Wrong PlacesSeptember 21, 2011No one ever says, "I'm going to worship an idol now." Instead, idolatry happens when we invest our fullest energy and our ultimate allegiance in those things—perhaps even good things—that are not ultimate. And if we worship idols, instead of the one true God, we will be ultimately disappointed. There is only one God worthy of our worship.
Quibbling and QuotingSeptember 20, 2011“So what does your church believe?” If someone asked you that question, what would you say?
A Blessing for God's Handy-PersonsSeptember 19, 2011This is a wonderful day to celebrate the spirit of God in every kind of craft. All around our churches and our communities are quilt makers and auto body mechanics, plumbers and watercolorists, potters and pipe fitters. Some of us use God's handy skills for amateur activities; some of us use our gifts for employment. Many of us are fortunate enough to be able to do both. Let's give ourselves a hand!
What Have You Done for Me Lately?September 18, 2011“Used to go to dinner almost every night / Danced until I thought I’d lost my breath. / Now it seems your dancing feet are always on my couch. / Good thing I cook or else we’d starve to death. / Ain’t that a shame? /What have you done for me lately?”
Shout Out to Sunday School TeachersSeptember 17, 2011It occurs to me this being Saturday, and early in September, there may be a fair number of folks preparing their first Sunday School lesson of the year today (or tonight). Thank you.
The TestSeptember 16, 2011Paul here instructs the folks in the church of Corinth to test themselves. Rather than the teacher giving the test, Paul is urging self-examination. Test to see if you are living in the faith. Test to see if your faith is vital. Test to see if Christ is in you. You can know the answer if you take the test.
FaithfulSeptember 15, 2011How has God been faithful to your church over the years? What promises has God kept to your community, and how?
What a Miracle Feels LikeSeptember 14, 2011When you're straining at the oars against an adverse wind, remember that at any moment you might look up and see salvation walking toward you, even if that seems as impossible as walking on water.
My Ways and Your WaysSeptember 13, 2011Knowing how to leave room for others and when to relinquish our ways for them to shine is a key to rewarding relationships — and a good expression of the spirit of Christ himself.
"Holy Ghost" BoldnessSeptember 12, 2011My former religious tradition spoke of needing Holy Ghost boldness" to deal with "the Devil." Today we tend to say "Holy Spirit" and speak of evil rather than of a Devil. But evil does not stop when we say, "Please Mr./Ms./Institutional Devil, go away," or "Why can’t we all just get along?"
Under One SkySeptember 11, 2011On this tenth anniversary of the invasion of American sky by attacking and suicidal airplanes, my congregation is putting up prayer flags. There will be hundreds of them across our grand interior sanctuary, each hand-calligraphed by artist Carla Shapiro on pillowcases.
“Our Father / Our Mother”September 10, 2011In August of this year, my mother celebrated her 84th birthday. In all my life, I have seen her visibly shaken and upset on just a couple of occasions. One of those occasions occurred a few years ago.
The Greatest StarSeptember 9, 2011My mother used to try to pull everyone into self-confidence by saying, “You are the greatest star.” She’d say it to me to pull me out of my childhood shyness, which mortified me, of course. The last thing a shy person wants to be is the star of the show. But that was her mantra. “You are the greatest star.”
Glimpses of the FutureSeptember 8, 2011Sometimes we can glimpse the future through an individual. In some people, the future seems to arrive ahead of schedule.
"Blessed"September 7, 2011As we face the so-called debt crisis, and its debt “service,” I keep thinking of the beatitude that says, “Blessed are the poor.” It obviously means a blessing for those in debt. Being “under water” in our own homes, being out of pocket, paying off credit card debt or national debt are all more like curses than blessings.
TreasureSeptember 6, 2011God has just finished visiting the ten plagues upon the people of Egypt, and Pharaoh has given the Israelites permission—actually, has begged them—to leave. The Israelites know it’s time to get the heck out of Dodge, so they head out with their bread still unleavened and their pockets stuffed with treasures given to them by the Egyptians.
Labor DaySeptember 5, 2011Our church and many of its leaders have been supporters of the labor movement over the years. We have supported efforts to insure that laborers were treated with respect and paid fairly. We have backed the right of workers to collective bargaining.
Easy VictimsSeptember 4, 2011Correction here is what reconciliation requires. And we’re to take the initiative. But when I’ve been hurt by someone I don’t think I should initiate reconciliation.
Hindsight is 20/20September 3, 2011Even the scribes and Pharisees engaged in “Monday morning quarterbacking” and “hindsight is 20/20” claims. According to them, had they been around when the prophets were killed they would have had no part of it. They are pretty sure of this.
Worship StyleSeptember 2, 2011In this passage from Exodus, Pharaoh tells Moses the people can go, but they can't take their livestock with them. The problem is they're going to need some of those animals to sacrifice in worship, since that's how they did things. Without them, says Moses, "we will not know what to use to worship the Lord."
Free to WorshipSeptember 1, 2011In the southern church I serve in Georgia, congregants are sometimes disturbed when they hear “too much politics from the pulpit.” “Just stick to the gospel,” they say. “All we want to hear is what saith the Lord!”
Spiritual but Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me. August 31, 2011On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is "spiritual but not religious." Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo.
Open DoorsAugust 30, 2011The book of Revelation was written by the disciple John to Christians who were experiencing severe persecution by first-century Roman emperors determined to destroy the church of Christ. With doors of social acceptance, religious tolerance and political favor being closed violently in their faces, John proclaims to Christian believers that "God has set before you an open door!"
Falsely AccusedAugust 29, 2011Being falsely accused of wrongdoing is a miserable experience for anyone, and acutely so for children. If you want to see indignant, blame a 7-year-old for something he didn't do. Maybe the reason kids get so infuriated is that they have no court of appeal. Parents, baby-sitters, teachers, and principals are the Supreme Court justices of childhood. To be accused is to be convicted.
Hard ChoicesAugust 28, 2011My mother used to say, “I’m not one to throw a brick and hide my hand.” Well . . . sometimes, you may need to hide your hands and perhaps not throw any bricks at all.
A Rhapsody to JesusAugust 27, 2011What was it about Jesus that in his presence people found healing?
Happy Women's Equality Day!August 26, 2011I thank God that I cannot imagine a United States in which women could not vote. 91 years ago today, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was certified, after having been ratified by the last necessary state a few days earlier.
Looking and SeeingAugust 25, 2011Is there a difference between looking and seeing? Or between seeing and really seeing? Here, as the Exodus story begins, we read that God "saw." The Hebrew word is ra'ah.
On Feeling SmallAugust 24, 2011When I spend time at the ocean, as I have this past week, I can feel very small. The horizon is so distant that really it is nothing except the limit of human sight. Sometimes the waves are so powerful that they can toss a grown man about like a fragile toy.
ImprovisationAugust 23, 2011Improvisation is when you don't have enough information to do anything but just take the next step. Actors say the secret to improvisation is to go only as far as you have to and not a step or second more.
Kindness and ConfessionAugust 22, 2011We’ve got it backwards. It’s not repentance that leads to God’s kindness but the other way around. It’s God’s kindness that inspires repentance.
Holy and AcceptableAugust 21, 2011I own a small leather-bound book titled "The Catholic Girl’s Guide," published 1918, edited by the Rev. Francis X. Lasance, apparently an expert on Catholic girls.
Multi-Tasking Leads to Mini-LivingAugust 20, 2011Remember the days, decades ago, when multitasking was hailed as the greatest invention time management had ever seen? Well, decades later, most of us know that it really doesn't work.
Keep On . . . Keepin’ OnAugust 19, 2011Life sometimes knocks us down. It happens to everyone. The key is to get back up and keep moving. The psalmist offers a simple formula for getting through tough times:
Jacob Wrestles with the Angel August 18, 2011We overuse the word “problem.” There is the problem of the debt ceiling, the problem of hunger, the problem of global warming. The cure we need is from the problem of calling things problems.
Reconciliation JourneyAugust 17, 2011This is part of the long and wonderful story of Joseph's reconciliation with his brothers. Here Joseph tests his brothers and perhaps himself as well, to see if, having gotten older, they have also gotten wiser. They have. They are no longer the jealous brothers who threw him into a pit and sold him to slave traders. They are older and wiser.
Elemental LifeAugust 16, 2011What Paul was trying to do after his conversion is bring together the Gentiles and Jews of his day. Paul has embraced a new understanding of who belongs in the graces of God, and his mission is to graft them onto each other.
WildAugust 15, 2011Paul uses a farming metaphor to put you in your place. Originally, he was writing to show how Gentiles (the wild olive shoot) had been brought into life with the Jewish God (the roots).
God's Holy FoolsAugust 14, 2011I have always identified with the disciples as they are depicted in Mark’s gospel. Far from holy and wholly together, they are the original "Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight," fumbling and fickle, often missing the point.
A Little FaithAugust 13, 2011There’s so much I can’t figure out about faith. For one thing, so many prayers for healing seem to go unanswered. What helps is the thoughtfulness of others who are honest about their own doubts.
The Best Idea You Never Heard OfAugust 12, 2011I often tell people that our congregation is "the best idea you never heard of." In olden days and ways, I would have said we are marching to Zion. Our congregation – and many others – remind me of nothing so much as the Isner/Mahut tennis match last year.
Encouragers of Hearts August 11, 2011Willie "Brown" Flake, a close family friend from my childhood church, didn't say much. He was a handy and likeable guy—so likable that when Dad bought me a Yogi-bear t-shirt, I asked him to buy one for Brown as well.
Nothing But the TruthAugust 10, 2011In one of my favorite scenes from "The Pink Panther," Inspector Clouseau (a fictional French police detective) interrogates a woman suspected of perjury in a previous testimony. "Madame" the Inspector says, "this time I want nothing but the truth. Don't confuse me with the facts."
Your Work Can Be Your MinistryAugust 9, 2011One of the great pleasures of writing the daily devotionals is hearing from readers, like Jim Cope, a full-time dentist and a part-time licensed minister. I have to admit; the mix of those two callings fascinated me—the caring for souls and the caring for teeth.
This DayAugust 8, 2011This is the day that God has made and given to me, to all of us, as a gift.
SibsAugust 7, 2011The story of Joseph and his brothers reads like a textbook on birth order dynamics. There’s Joseph, he of the famous coat, who’s effectively though not literally the youngest.
All Our SpillsAugust 6, 2011I was filling up the car with gas. When I put the pump back, I realized that I had oil and grease all over my hands. Whoever had previously filled had spilled.
Play to the LordAugust 5, 2011As it happens today is my birthday, so I figure that today’s Scriptures might have a special word for me. I think I found it in today’s psalm, second verse: “play to the Lord.”
Wealthy WomenAugust 4, 2011Christianity began among the poor and persecuted. But it grew because of the middle and upper classes—especially wealthy women. They became primary converts.
Jesus Goes LocalAugust 3, 2011A colleague of mine has a cartoon on his office door about the biblical story of the multiplication of the bread. The multitude is seen behind a few folks holding baskets filled with bread. One of them is asking, "Did Jesus create these locally?"
What’s Mine is YoursAugust 2, 2011Have you ever lived with anyone who has a "what's yours is mine" attitude toward possessions? Maybe a sibling when you were growing up, a teenager in your household, a friend of a teenager in your household, a roommate in college, a co-worker?
An After-Hours InvitationAugust 1, 2011According to Ephesians 2:8, we are saved by grace, through faith, so we have nothing to boast of, regarding our own self-righteousness. But an exclusive emphasis on God’s grace and mercy can sometimes give license for lack of integrity and moral accountability.
ProximityJuly 31, 2011Reflection by J. Mary Luti "But, Jesus, we have only this much food," the disciples say. They are doing triage, counting heads and fishes, tallying up loaves and hungry mouths, and making a plan—which is to stand around and wring their hands, because they can’t make the numbers work.
Knitting Prayer Shawls and Baby BootiesJuly 30, 2011Reflection by Lillian Daniel On Tuesday nights, a group gathers in our church lobby to knit prayer shawls, baby blankets and booties for the members of our congregation. The knitting ministry meets the same night as our church council.
Return to Me July 29, 2011Do you know someone who is perpetually serene, someone who remains calm and in control while everyone else is running around having a catastrastroke? It can be good to have someone like that around to restore perspective and order in the midst of chaos.
Living DeeplyJuly 28, 2011If we can speak of the psalmist as poet, we can speak of earth as Eden. In this vein, Eden is not a lost and guarded location somewhere on earth, to which we humans have no access. Instead, Eden is lost to our consciousness, the gateway of seeing and experiencing life "together" as an interconnected organism.
Just a SmidgenJuly 27, 2011Jesus, the master teacher, teaches us that mixing prayer, Bible study, fellowship, work for justice, forgiveness, with just a "smidgen" of hopeful expectation, persistence, and love brings forth the Realm of God into our lives. With it, God transforms our weaknesses, failures, loneliness, disappointment, battles with illness, addiction and grief that seem too hard to bear...into life's greatest masterpieces.
Sword DrillJuly 26, 2011Why not commit to learning the books of the Bible this summer? Why not commit to getting your kids, or your Sunday school kids, to do the same? The Table of Contents will always be there, but your life of faith really will be easier if you get the basics down now.
The Biblical FamilyJuly 25, 2011Reflection by Anthony B. Robinson Every now and then someone claims that there's something called "the biblical family." It seems to consist of a father and mother and two kids, all four brave, clean and reverent.
Jesus is the QuestionJuly 24, 2011Jesus asks 307 different questions in the gospels. (No, I didn't count them myself, but someone did.) By contrast, Jesus only directly answers three of the 183 questions he is asked in the gospels. Instead of answering a lot of questions, Jesus responds in other ways.
RESPECTJuly 23, 2011Reflection by Donna Schaper Have you ever noticed that what people really want is respect? The mandrake of respect. They can put up with poverty, but can't live without respect. They can put up with not being recognized for their labor, but not live a minute without respect.
God's HouseJuly 22, 2011Reflection by William C. Green The oldest known house of worship in the world was located on top of a hill in what is now eastern Turkey. It was part of a religious complex named for its location, Gobeckli Tepe (pot-bellied hill).
"Get Up and Eat"July 21, 2011Here is the angel of the Lord, like somebody's grandmother, urging Elijah to "get up and eat." It's not much—bread and water—but fortified with two such meals, plus a couple of naps, Elijah is fit for his forty-day journey.
"The Doctor is NOT in."July 20, 2011Reflection by Lillian Daniel Why didn't Jesus want people to know he had the power to heal diseases? Why wouldn't you want to advertise something like that?
God AvailableJuly 19, 2011Reflection by Ron Buford When a worship service has no prayer of confession, I wonder, "Am I the lone sinner in the house looking for more power than I brought in here?"
How Sweet it Is!July 18, 2011Reflection by Kenneth L. Samuel How often do we think of human unity as some utopian dream with no hope of actual realization? In the current climate of partisan bickering, class warfare and religious rivalry, social unity increasingly appears to be a distant mirage.
We Are Not Climbing Jacob's LadderJuly 17, 2011Reflection by Anthony B. Robinson I love this song, "We are climbing Jacob's ladder, we are climbing Jacob's ladder . . . every rung goes higher, higher, every rung goes higher, higher."
"Don't Just Do Something"July 16, 2011Reflection by Felix Carrion We have heard it said, "Don't just sit there, do something." The message here is get busy; don't let this moment pass you by. When those who love us tell us this, they are desperate for us; they believe in us, they know that there is kinetic power in our moving.
Searched + Known + Loved July 15, 2011Reflection by Quinn G. Caldwell This is my mother's favorite Psalm. For her, the idea of a God this all-knowing is a source of supreme comfort. To me growing up, it was mostly just creepy.
The Gifts of SummerJuly 14, 2011Reflection by Martin B. Copenhaver In recent years the summer has become the repository of my unfulfilled plans and dreams from the rest of the year. During other seasons, I often say to myself, "In the summer I will have time to _____." Fill in the blank: De-clutter my desk.
Praying for HelpJuly 13, 2011Reflection by William C. Green This psalm is not only a prayer of petition but one of instruction. It's called a "maskil" of David, a Hebrew word meaning a lesson.
Social InsecurityJuly 12, 2011Reflection by Donna Schaper Social insecurity is the issue of the day, when Medicare and Medicaid are not. For all I know both sides in the debates are wrong. Maybe even the middle is wrong. Some compromises end up compromising everyone and everything.
Locked in a Room Full of Open Doors July 11, 2011Reflection by Ron Buford I am told that alligators bred in a fenced area for many generations won’t go beyond the fenced perimeter, even after the fence is removed. It is as if they are locked in a room full of open doors.
Nameless HeroesJuly 10, 2011Reflection by Kenneth L. Samuel The Apostle Paul played a leading role in the spreading of the gospel and in the establishment of the first-century church. Indeed most of the narrative of the book of Acts is a vivid chronicle of the life, witness and ministry of Paul.
Blamed, Shamed and FramedJuly 9, 2011Reflection by Lillian Daniel Most grandmothers teach their grandchildren how to make cookies. My grandmother taught me how to make a gin and tonic. That was the easy part. What was hard was getting the gin bottle out from inside the raw chicken, where it was hidden in the fridge.
Salty LanguageJuly 8, 2011Reflection by Martin B. Copenhaver Words matter. Words can either inspire or discourage, heal or hurt, offer a blessing or a curse. As someone once told me, "Whoever said, 'Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,' must have lived among deaf mutes."
AtheistsJuly 7, 2011Reflection by Quinn G. Caldwell I like atheists. They tend to have considered the issues. They tend to have asked themselves the holy questions about the origins of the universe, about happiness, about what constitutes the good life, about good and evil, injustice and mercy, about how to live.
Foot-WashingJuly 6, 2011Excerpt from John 13:1-17 “After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?’” Reflection by Donna Schaper What follows is an odd story for the middle of summer--even though manicurists often do their most business in the sandal months. Two years ago at Christmas, a manicurist in New York City, around the corner from where I live, had to go to the bathroom. She had been washing people’s feet for what she described as 12 straight hours. The owner of the shop said she could not go, as there were more clients and more feet. She refused the refusal. As she left the shop that night, six other foot washers walked out with her. We could never find them, not through the Domestic Workers’ Alliance, the Chinese Workers’ Alliance and several personal contacts. Why were we looking? Because of Jesus. And a sobbing phone call that told us the story, begged for help, and then disappeared. She wanted help she could not receive, for whatever reasons I’ll never know. I get a pedicure from time to time, and my mother who is 20 years my senior gets one every week. I am glad for her. I no longer go to the salon around the corner. After my Christmas appointment that year, I was no longer welcome. I don’t like Chinese women bowing down in front of me, but I do like supporting their growing businesses. I also enjoy their attention to my feet. I just can’t stop thinking about Jesus who washed feet and understood that the disciples didn’t understand. Their quandary is mine. Jesus’ kindness is often mistaken for weakness, as the rap singers say. Plus, humility is one thing, bowing down another. Freedom at work and freedom from overwork is a third. In sandal season and at Christmas, remember this ideal man who washed his disciples’ feet, then put on his robe and returned to the table. Prayer Jesus, you are the Spirit of the Living God, whose hands and feet we are. Help us understand why some people think they are better than others. Bring us all, robed, to your table. When we are always waited upon, and never wait, find us some feet. Let us wash them. Amen.
Winter Shall PassJuly 5, 2011Reflection by Anthony B. Robinson Winter is a season but also a metaphor for a season of the spirit. Wintry times come to all. We lose someone we love and who loves us, and everything goes grey and bleak.
The Dizziness of FreedomJuly 4, 2011Reflection by William C. Green Esau didn't get his father Isaac's blessing. He had traded away this birthright to his younger brother, Jacob, for a bowl of stew. Jacob then tricked his father into giving it to him.
O God, Hold Court in My HeartJuly 3, 2011Reflection by Felix Carrion They said of John the Baptist “he has a demon.” They said of Jesus, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”
Drawn Out to Draw OthersJuly 2, 2011Reflection by Kenneth L. Samuel Is there any connection between the debacles from which God saves us, and the duties to which God calls us? So often, the deliverance from tragedy and trouble in our lives ends only with relief; but that sense of relief is not always translated into a sense of responsibility.
A New ThingJuly 1, 2011Reflection by Quinn G. Caldwell So here’s what happened. The Apostle Stephen had been preaching in Jerusalem. As good Christian preaching sometimes will, his sermon angered his audience. They stoned him, and that understandably scared many of the other apostles out of town.
We Are FamilyJune 30, 2011Tomorrow our denomination gathers in Tampa, Florida, for its 28th national gathering, General Synod, when delegates from our churches all over the country gather to be the United Church of Christ together.
Why Jacob?June 29, 2011Reflection by J. Mary Luti The grown-up Jacob was always working an angle, manipulating the system, scheming to get ahead. He was even born that way. His twin, Esau, was delivered ahead of him. When Jacob emerged, he was grabbing Esau's heel, trying to pull him back in.
Things are Not as They SeemJune 28, 2011Reflection by Ron Buford If the Bible teaches us anything, it is that might and power do not always win the day – even if they seem to for a while. Moses led the children of Israel across the dry ground of the parted Red Sea with chariots and soldiers in pursuit -- soldiers who, when the waters began to suddenly flow back, drowned under the sheer weight of their armament.
Where the Twain MeetJune 27, 2011Excerpt from 1 John 4:1-6 "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God; every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world." Reflection by Felix Carrion In our collective history human beings have been too quick to slap on the other—person or doctrine--the label of the anti-this or that. Whole religions or denominations have carried for some the stigma of being the "antichrist." The list of great and venerated individuals of religion and science who were once called the anti-this or that is a long one. Humility would remind us that for each idea we hold, there are opposing camps that would label our ideas their anti-this or that. Even Christianity was once an anti-this to the established order. So was Jesus. When our most cherished ideas, symbols, and ideologies collide with other and are labeled anti-this or that, instead of corralling opposing camps--or worse trying desperately to eliminate them altogether--why not perceive the pure energy of the encounter? Do we test opposing ideas? Do we engage them in painful re-examination? Or, do we emphatically hold our ground without the test, without the daring openness, without the earnest re-examination? Without ceasing to be what they are, yin and yang, light and darkness, order and chaos, sky and ground, heaven and earth, spirit and flesh--all have met and the twain have produced the pure energy we call life; remarkable, miraculous, life. Fundamentally, the search for a more unified understanding and experience of God and of our human collectivity is one of the most dynamic, exciting, generative journeys the human being can ever embark on, and it begins where the twain meet. Prayer O God, lead on. Amen.
ThreeJune 26, 2011Is there anybody else out there who doesn't get the Trinity? Is there anybody else out there for whom 3 = 1 just doesn't compute? Anybody who fears they're the only one in church that doesn't have the triune God figured out? If so, here’s good news: Nobody. Gets. The Trinity.
Happy Anniversary UCC!June 25, 2011John 17: 21 "That they may all be one." Reflection by Anthony B. Robinson Today is the 54th Anniversary of the United Church of Christ. Congratulations to one and all. Our denominational motto, taken from Jesus' prayer for the church in the Gospel of John, is "That they may all be one." "Oneness" seems like something we ought to want and to achieve, and yet at least sometimes we aren't all that good at it. I am helped by a remark made by the preacher Tom Long, who said, "A congregation is the place where a person goes in order to be with people he or she may not want to be with under other circumstances." You could probably say the same for a denomination. Maybe we have a better shot at oneness if we assume that we don't all like each other all the time and don't have to. If we just figure that being part of a church will put us in proximity to at least some people we might not want to be with under other circumstances (and who feel the same about us). Then "oneness" isn't as much about us as it is about God. We work and worship together not because it was our bright idea, but because in God's strange wisdom God has chosen to put us together and make use of us. It's actually one of the things I like best about the church: God puts me with people I would not have not chosen for myself and who wouldn't have chosen me. It's sort of the opposite of when kids choose up teams. In the process, I learn things and grow. I learn about my blind spots. Sometimes I learn to love people I don’t like. Sometimes we share in a common sense of hope and purpose despite our rough edges. In this sense, it could be that our "oneness" is not so much a project we have to do or a goal for us to accomplish as it is a gift given to us, a gift given to us by God. This messy thing we call "church" and "denomination" is God's odd gift to us. Against all the odds, you/ we are, by the grace of God, one. Congratulations God, you're amazing. Prayer O God, Eternal Spirit, we thank you for our church, which despite its foibles and failures, is yours. Make us more truly so. Amen.
Healing TouchJune 24, 2011Reflection by Martin B. Copenhaver Our God is a healing God. Sometimes God heals through the ways in which we have been created, with wondrous immune systems and with bodies that are able to recover from injury. Sometimes God heals through the skill and expertise of doctors. But scripture also affirms, and experience confirms, that prayer also can be an instrument of healing. Any of these forms of healing can be called miraculous, because the word miracle means, literally, "a sign that points to God."
The Joy of ClemencyJune 23, 2011Excerpt from Micah 7:18-20 "[God] . . . delights in showing clemency." Reflection by Donna Schaper People talk a lot about getting revenge. "Living well is the best revenge" is an oft-quoted American literary expression, said wryly to conquer cynicism or to acknowledge the devil most Americans don’t think exists. People may not go all the way to revenge but they do talk about getting over past hurts. They talk wistfully about being "resentment"- free. There is a famous restaurant conversation, which goes like this. Waiter approaches table. You are eating a good meal slowly. The waiter asks if you are still working on this. You assure him that you were never working on this. You were always delighting in this. At a dollar a forkful, why wouldn't you? The get-over-resentment conversation is like this, too. "I am really working on getting over my past hurts." When we have to work too hard on getting over resentments, or beyond revenge, we miss the boat. It is easier than you think. There is a delight in showing clemency. It is the delight God shows in forgiving us. It is fun. It is spacious. It is generous. It is slow, not pushed. Nor is it pushy. When you speak to that waiter, you speak with a smile in your voice. I'll never know why attachment to resentment or revenge is so strong in us. It does not delight us and it does self-punish. As Lillian Daniel said to me just recently, resentment is drinking rat poison and hoping the rat dies. Why would anyone do that? Especially when the joy of clemency is ours to give and to receive. Prayer Jesus, you who showed us the path beyond revenge and resentment, teach us to delight in clemency, for those who murder, those who abuse, those who steal, those who work at their meals, those who rush us--and help us to do so in large and small ways. Amen.
SilencedJune 22, 2011Excerpt from Job 39:26-40:5 "I'm ready to shut up and listen." (The Message) Reflection by William C. Green "If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut." I doubt these words of Albert Einstein would have gone over well with Job. This rich and righteous old man had been rendered destitute at the behest of the devil who said Job only believed in God because he was so blessed and successful. "The patience of Job" is a misnomer. Had he been patient he wouldn't have complained so much. Job reminds me of the cartoon in which a golfer is struck by lightning and yells to the heavens, "Why me?" A booming voice responds, "Why not you?" What law in the universe says that any of us should be spared trouble and tragedy? Suffering can be arbitrary, evil is incomprehensible, and injustice is wrong by any standards we can imagine. When trouble strikes home it only makes matters worse. Job doesn't really shut up on his own: he's silenced when overwhelmed by recognition of a power far beyond his own—a power that's got the whole world in its hands. It holds us tightly and close, whatever we face. It's love more awesome than anything that denies it. It finally restores Job—and it can restore us, however severe our own circumstances. Prayer I can't keep quiet when bad things happen, God. But remind me that your goodness is far greater than anything wrong and, although I can hardly believe it, all will be well. Amen.
Powerful EnoughJune 21, 2011Reflection by Christina Villa In the TV coverage of the storms and tornadoes this summer, I was struck by pictures of trees with their bark stripped off by the force of the wind. I didn't know that could happen. I couldn't begin to imagine a wind powerful enough.
Hog TimeJune 20, 20112 Peter 3:8 "But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day." Reflection by Lillian Daniel There's a folksy story about a busy young man who came up behind a poor farmer who was taking his hog to market. The market was a few miles away, and as the young man walked briskly, he got closer to the slow-moving farmer and caught sight of the spectacle. The farmer was picking up this enormous hog, carrying it about twenty feet, and then dropping it in exhaustion. Then the farmer would wipe the sweat from his brow, take a few minutes to catch his breath and pick the hog up again. When the young man caught up with the farmer he had to comment. "That is the most inefficient way to get a hog to market I've ever seen. The market's half an hour away but this is going to take you all day. Why don't you just let the hog walk?" To which the farmer replied, "Shucks, son. Time ain't nothing to a hog!" Which one had it together, the hurrying young man or the farmer? It all depends on how you define and value time. Who are you in that story? Are you the rushing young man, full of concerns for efficiency? Or are you the old farmer, going about things your own way without much sense? Or how about this, what if you’re the hog? What if all of us are the hogs? And God's the old farmer. God picks us up, carries us a little way on the journey and then puts us down for a rest. Then God picks us up and carries us a little further, and stops, giving us small increments on the journey, one piece at a time, in the hope that we might stop focusing on where we are going, and instead notice where we are. After all, time ain't nothing to a hog. Prayer God, you are greater than time and space. Thank you for carrying me through this temporal world, and help me to adjust to your schedule, rather than expecting you to adjust to mine. Amen.
The "Holy" KissJune 19, 2011How precious the memories of that "Holy Kiss." I still keep a bottle of Old Spice around just to remind me. And whenever I see a blue can of Maxwell House..."good to the last drop," I think of Dad.
Commanded to EnjoyJune 18, 2011I have heard John 14:15 used to justify submission to biblical literacy and unquestioning obedience to all of the onerous laws of the Old and New Testaments. But Jesus never commanded us to obey the commandments; Jesus commanded us to obey his commandments. And as far as I can tell, the commandments of Christ are not draconian, outdated or sexist. The commandments of Jesus are simply this: once we accept God’s love for us, we are commanded to love God and love one another.
The Gospel According to Eighth-GradersJune 17, 20111 Samuel 13:8 "The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." Reflection by Lillian Daniel Around this time of year, my head is full of the theological musings of our eighth grade confirmands who, after two years of study, must each write a substantial paper. In the eighth grade, you get judged quite a bit by appearances. I remember. I did it and it was done to me. But God looks into the heart, and these confirmation papers are my little glimpse into their hearts. One wrote, "To me being a follower of Jesus Christ entails accepting that there is someone outside our plane of existence who guides us along the path to enlightenment." I don't think I learned to talk like that until grad school. Another said, "I like the comparison of the Holy Spirit to a blown out candle. Even when you are in a room that feels completely still, if you blow out a candle and watch the smoke, it travels and moves around the room. I think the Holy Spirit is this constant breath that is always there, even when you can’t see it." I wonder where else this eighth grader gets to stretch her spiritual muscles with metaphors like that? Confirmation takes a lot of work on behalf of the teachers, the sponsors, the staff and the young people. But everyone gets as much as they put into it. And when I think about our future, these words give me hope. "I am so proud and honored to be part of the UCC." "I feel safer at this church." "I'm fourteen and ready to be one hundred and fourteen." "I am so excited to become an adult member of the church." And it wouldn't be our church if at least one person didn't write something like this: "I believe in almost everything this church does." Welcome to the UCC. You're perfect for us. Prayer Jesus, great teacher, please bless all the confirmands who have joined the church this year and bless all those who have worked to draw them closer to you. Amen.
Consider Yourself Entrusted and AppointedJune 16, 2011I will always be thankful to my parents and my home church for entrusting me with the gospel of Jesus Christ. In my upbringing there was nothing more important than being a disciple of Jesus and a member of the church. Theirs was the responsibility to share with me all that they had learned about Jesus and salvation in him. It was clearly understood, affirmed and taught that a life in Jesus was a better, richer, greater, more fulfilling life than any other life that could be lived. Both my parents and my church were vigilant over me, wanting for me to "guard this good treasure entrusted to me."
LightningJune 15, 2011Excerpt from I Kings 19:11-1 "Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence." Reflection by Quinn G. Caldwell Benjamin Franklin was baptized at my church on the day of his birth in 1706. Five decades later, the pastor of the church would denounce him as a heretic. Why? For inventing the lighting rod. See, Rev. Prince said Ben was trying to "control the artillery of heaven." God's arrows: that's what the Psalmist called lightning, and Prince agreed. He wasn't alone, then or now. Elijah, however, learned that God is not in the storm, but in the moment following. The terrible pause after the storm when the time is ripe to ask, "What are we to do now? What can we learn from this?" When the people decide what meaning to make of what’s happened. When God whispers into the silence, and tells us something about the future. Twenty years ago tomorrow, lightning struck the Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station in western Massachusetts. The incident ignited a movement among neighbors who feared what might happen if a truly cataclysmic event were to occur. The plant was eventually decommissioned under the neighbors' pressure, and the group they started is still advocating for safety around nuclear plants. Lightning strikes. Tornadoes whirl. Earthquakes bring other nuclear plants to their knees. Elijah knows this: God is not in them, but in the moment afterward when people of good faith pray, "What now?" Prayer Oh God, you whispered the lightning rod to Ben. You whispered a movement to the people around Yankee Rowe. Grant that the next time I pass through a storm, I might listen for that same whisper. Amen.
Planting SeedsJune 14, 2011Excerpt from 1 Corinthians 3:5-9
"I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth."
Reflection by Martin B. Copenhaver
When I was in high school I taught a church-school class of fifth-grade boys. I was not a very good teacher. And I am not being falsely modest here. Winston Churchill said about one of his contemporaries: "He is a modest man who has much to be modest about." As a teacher, I had much to be modest about.
Saturday night was usually a late night for me. I wouldn't look at the church-school curriculum until Sunday morning, and then with bleary eyes. That's about as far as the lesson planning went. I didn't know how to make the material interesting. The boys in the class were bored and were not beyond telling me so. And a large group of very bored fifth-grade boys is not a pretty sight. So, much of the time, I felt like I was running out the clock. When each week’s class finally ended, the boys would run out the door as if freed from prison.
So imagine my surprise some twenty years later, when I got this phone call: "Hello, Martin? This is Justin Peterson. You were my fifth-grade church-school teacher. I've thought back on that class so many times." Uh-oh. I couldn't imagine where this conversation was headed. "I've become active in the Presbyterian church in our town. They asked me to be a Deacon. And I think it all started in that church-school class you taught." Really? "Anyway, I’m getting married this summer and I would be honored if you would perform the ceremony."
It was one of the most surprising conversations I have ever had. I still don't think I was any good as a church-school teacher. But somehow a seed was planted, and then it was watered and God gave it growth. You just never know.
God, help me to plant seeds with joyful abandon because only you know where they will take root.
The Good LifeJune 13, 2011Excerpt from Romans 8:18-24 "The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pang . . . . We are enlarged in the waiting." (The Message) Reflection by William C. Green Across cultures and religions, the journey to the good life involves moving out of comfort zones. Odysseus leaves his safe kingdom for the Trojan war, the young Buddha leaves the palace, Abraham and Sarah head out to an unknown land, Jesus calls his followers out of the life they had known, St. Francis goes on pilgrimages to the Muslim world, Queen Esther and Joan of Arc enter the world of battle to protect their peoples.. Pursuing the good life entails pain and wounding. But in all accounts the wound becomes "sacred" and enlarges life significantly. This is the precise meaning of the wounds of Jesus. I think of this on a modest scale when I really want to change but can't let go of old ways. Change is a good idea—as with getting rid of bad habits—but it's often painful. And so with relationships. Dependency on old patterns of behavior suffocates closeness with others. But those patterns are often hard to break. The same with congregations that say they want vitality and growth but then get consumed in debate about re-carpeting or whether to asphalt or cement the parking lot. What are the old ways we need to abandon for something new to be born? Change may hurt, but, in the spirit of Christ, wounds can heal. As Mary asked, "Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?" Prayer Enlarge my spirit with yours, O God. May your promise of new life make me strong enough to let go of what I must leave behind. Amen.
Pentecost SundayJune 12, 2011What happened on Pentecost is the early church got unstuck. They found a power larger than the power they had known. It came from outside them but invaded their space. A lot of us get stuck and know the desperate need to have somebody open the door and let the wind rush in. We ourselves can’t even move out of our chairs. Our elbows rest on the table, holding up our sunken chins. Pentecost guarantees that the whole climate can change in a room, that the "weather" can shift, that people who thought they were stuck can be unstuck.
Ever Feel Invisible?June 11, 2011We expect to work hard, be attentive to family, church, colleagues, and love interests, juggling schedules, meetings, and concerns. But isn't it frustrating when we feel like an invisible part of the machinery in our lives with those we love?
Seeing God Through the SmokeJune 10, 2011I don't know about you, but if I had approached Mount Sinai and witnessed the billowing smoke, the blaring trumpets and the quaking ground, Moses would not have had to tell me to refrain from ascending the mountain in order to see God. The awesome scene at Mount Sinai alone would have been more than enough to keep me in place.
Is Grace Here?June 9, 2011I was a guest preacher in a downtown, tall-steeple church. Fifty years ago, that church had Sunday school rooms bursting at the seams, with kids all over the place. But these days there weren't many children at all, just a handful on a good Sunday.
Sing One Another's SongsJune 8, 2011In Paul's letter to the Colossians, in the midst of a demanding list of commands to live a righteous life, it is startling to come upon the command to sing: ". . .and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God." Why did they need to be commanded to sing? Isn't singing a great joy?
God TalkJune 7, 2011When I read this line, I frantically flipped through the book, looking for the part that said Peter was talking only about how to act in worship.
AccountingJune 6, 2011When this century is over, we will have to give lots of accounts. We will have to account for what we did about global warming, what we did about nuclear power, what we did about the public schools, whether we allowed the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer, – the great historian in the sky will have quite a few tales to tell.
This Misplaced PreoccupationJune 5, 2011What is all the fuss about the "end times"? More specifically, why are there predictions about the rapture of the church, or those who are truly saved, which will mark the beginning of the end? A simple but careful reading of scripture clearly reveals that no one knows this date.
Thou Art With MeJune 4, 2011Every parent knows what it is like to be awakened in the middle of the night by the cries of a child who has had a nightmare. Sometimes the fears are easily quelled: "Daddy, I think there are bears in my closet." "No, there are no bears." "How do you know?" "I'll turn on the light and you'll see."
Don’t Give UpJune 3, 2011I don’t know about you, but some days it seems like there’s a veritable Greek chorus of voices in and around me chanting, “Why bother?” “What’s the point?” “Who cares?” and “It makes no difference, give it up.” Or we may say to ourselves, or to God, “What good has been done by all this effort and struggle?” Or flat out, we assert, “It’s done no good. I have nothing to show for all my toil and trouble.”
“The Promise”June 2, 2011Today marks the ascension of Christ into heaven. Just as we are, the disciples are promised further blessing and told to expect it. Jesus’ admonition to not move on without this blessing is expressed in an old English Ascension Day custom called “well dressing.” After the homily, the priest would lead a procession to the wells in the parish, which were nearly hidden by specially placed flowers. At each well, God’s blessing was invoked to consecrate the waters and their purity. The wells were dressed with flowers as the promise of further blessing on which lives and livestock depended.
Flood ManagementJune 1, 2011The floods in Alabama and Mississippi over the past months provide a stark reminder of how much devastation uncontrolled water can bring. And to be sure, the devastating floods of fierce deficits, pounding unemployment, dysfunctional schools and raging health care costs are threatening to drown all of us in a sea of economic turbulence and rampant social malaise.
FireMay 31, 2011When the Israelites begged Moses to be their intermediary, it was because they had felt the fire. They had no desire to feel it again.
Memorial DayMay 30, 2011Memorial Day began after the Civil War as an effort toward reconciliation between the families of veterans in the North and the South. After the war, there was already a tradition in the North of decorating soldiers’ graves, called "Decoration Day." But in 1868 an organization of Northern war veterans decreed it ought to be a national holiday. May 30 was carefully chosen as the date because it was not the anniversary of a specific battle, and therefore would be a neutral date for both sides.
Divine GentlenessMay 29, 2011Reflection by Donna Schaper We hear a lot of talk about lost tenderness, increasing toughness; lost softness, increasing hardness. The writer of James suggests the divine origin of gentleness. That origin may matter more than we think. Gentleness turns the tide of a conversation, when we respond with a smile to a person headed straight to the land of rude. It changes the tone of meetings, when we insert a joke onto the table where everyone else has decided to take matters too seriously. It changes what we say about recessions, when we insert a fact, quietly, about how white families have a dollar for every dime black families have in accumulated wealth. How do we say something like that with gentleness? We say it quietly, softly, and slowly. We acknowledge every time we complain about how the recession is hitting us that it has hit others longer and harder. What is gentle about such truth? It takes the long view. It depersonalizes. Gentleness is wisdom from on high. We are allowed to bring it down to earth. Prayer Spirit of Gentleness, tenderness and grace, grant us a divine tone to our speech. Let it be gentle, wise and real. Amen.
God is still gathering,May 28, 2011Though feeling somewhat ill last summer, I simply could not pass up an invitation to Fire Island. My feeling withdrawn yielded the gift of added capacity to observe. Walking almost the length of the beach alone one afternoon, I saw many diverse couples on the beach—straight, same-gender loving, interracial, all ages, shapes, sizes, and mixes—nearly everyone in a couple. That’s when it hit me: God is still gathering, two by two. . . the same way God gathered the animals into Noah's Ark and later scattered them.
May 27, 2011May 27, 2011After accessing favorable conditions, you set out to accomplish your purpose. Then without notice or expectation, these conditions flip on you, and a violent force blows against you and your best-laid plans. You feel caught, you can’t seem to turn, you are driven by outside forces, and you are scarcely able to get control of your life.
ArkMay 26, 2011Noah's ark scares me. It all just seems so precarious, you know? All the life on earth, every bit of viable DNA that still exists, is floating there, just one well-placed hoof-kick through a bulkhead or one escaped ember in the hay away from the end of all life forever.
The Third MileMay 25, 2011Is there a limit to extra chances, to second miles? If there are times when we all need a second chance, are there also times when it is wise and right to draw a line and set a limit? Are there times when it's best to say, "We've gone the second mile with you, but we're not going to go no third, fourth or tenth mile." I think there are.
Don't Try This at HomeMay 24, 2011This fall, a beloved saint in our congregation, Marjorie Scoboria, died just short of her 104th birthday. The Sunday before her death she was in her usual spot in the congregation in the fourteenth row on the left.
Last Year’s CompostMay 23, 2011I have never liked the idea that some ground is more holy than other ground. I appreciate the reminder to notice how holy the ground is, but I am not willing to elevate one ground over another.
The Pursuit of HappinessMay 22, 2011One of the myths of America is that we became a great nation thanks to individualism and a do-it-yourself spirit. Tell that to the Founders! They understood the Declaration's "pursuit of happiness" to mean social happiness, social well-being—a collective, civic achievement. Strength and satisfaction were not just individual attributes developed alone.
The Blood of the LambMay 21, 2011How do you wash something in blood and have it come out white? Well, you can if it's symbolic. It's not real blood. Or a real lamb. Or even a real robe. And it's not literally "white" either. The blood, the lamb, the robe, and the color white symbolize other things. Once we're taught what those other things are, we can think about them. We can think about the ideas of suffering, sacrifice, innocence, and redemption.
Why a Bush? May 20, 2011Given that God can do absolutely anything, why did God appear to Moses as a burning bush? When God finally decides to appear, this smoldering shrub has always struck me as decidedly anticlimactic. Yes, a bush suddenly on fire is unusual, but let's be honest, if this were a scene in a movie, would you be on the edge of your seat? I don't think so.
Start the CarMay 19, 2011I refuse to drive people places who won't tell me all the places we are going BEFORE leaving home. I hate crisscrossing town.
A “Grown Folks’ Conversation”May 18, 2011As a young boy, I would often watch my mother conversing with friends and relatives. Every now and then, she would turn to me and say: “This is a grown folks’ conversation.” That was my directive to leave the room.
A Grade of "Incomplete"May 17, 2011Little children in school are taught the importance of completing their assignments. In college, if you don't write your final paper, you get a grade of "incomplete," which seems to imply that when you finally write that paper, you will be complete.
The True Measure of LeadershipMay 16, 2011The true measure of leadership is how it treats the most vulnerable. This is true in all spheres of life: the religious, political, social and economic.
SheepishMay 15, 2011I don’t remember what they were talking about, but several years ago at General Synod a few years ago, someone said something disparaging about being a sheep. Someone else stepped to the mic and said, “I don’t mind being a sheep if I trust the Shepherd.” It struck me as a very un-American thing to say.
Excuses, Excuses, ExcusesMay 14, 2011Early in our marriage my wife, Karen, and I got tickets to see The Elephant Man, which at the time was the hottest show on Broadway.
Before You JudgeMay 13, 2011Recognition and respect can be more important than agreement. Think of angry times in personal relationships—or disputes at church. Often one side or the other feels that their position is not really listened to or taken seriously. Disagreement is easier to handle on the other side of respect.
Peace Then, Peace Now, Peace in the FutureMay 12, 2011More people know this one by heart than any other—and well they should. Watching people mumble it at funerals is one of life’s great joys. Maybe you or your children haven’t memorized it yet. You’ll want to.
Rain in the NightwatchMay 11, 2011I belong to a congregation in which a gifted pastor led a handful of people in a dying urban church to become more than 500 members. After her departure, interim adjustments, and the typical lull came another gifted young pastor, and now the congregation is growing again. A common ingredient? Servants of God who withstand the rainy nightwatch.
Wants and NeedsMay 10, 2011I don’t know about you, but I’ve been wrestling with Psalm 23 for a long time. As a boy, I used to read the first line of this Psalm as one complete thought, with no comma or semi-colon. Then my mother kindly instructed me that it would make no sense to worship the Lord if I didn’t want him.
Wet FeetMay 9, 2011There's an interesting thing about this story of Israel crossing the Jordan here in the Book of Joshua. God says, "You've got to get your feet wet." This is, of course, their second time to pass through the waters on their Exodus journey. The first time, entering into the wilderness, was at the Red Sea. This one exiting the wilderness, at the Jordan, is the second. And there’s a difference between the two.
Mother's DayMay 8, 2011This is a Mother's Day message for all mothers who just want to lie down. Mothers who don't have nannies, babysitters, housekeepers, or cleaning ladies. This is for all the mothers who don't have help.
What Will We Eat?May 7, 2011So, was it just human death that God defeated on Easter, or was it all death? Do just humans get to participate in the end of dying, or does everything?
Action CommandMay 6, 2011Action has a great public relations agency. People want to be active, not passive, engaged not distant; they remember the folk wisdom that “actions speak louder than words.” But action without a prepared mind is dangerous.
I Can Weather the RainstormMay 5, 2011"Old Faithful," in Yellowstone National Park, was named in 1870 by the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition. In 1871 Nathaniel P. Langford wrote, "It spouted at regular intervals nine times during our stay, the columns of boiling water being thrown from ninety to one hundred and twenty-five feet at each discharge, which lasted from fifteen to twenty minutes. We gave it the name of 'Old Faithful.'"
I Just Don’t Get ItMay 4, 2011Jonah in the belly of the whale is one of the top Bible stories non-religious people bring up as an example of the absurdity of the Bible. In their view, you have two choices with the Bible. You either believe it is literal truth or you think it’s all a fairy tale. And if you think the belly of the whale is actually a metaphor for something else, you aren’t really religious anyway, you’re an English major.
He Appeared to MeMay 3, 2011I’ve been blessed or cursed to serve congregations of the highly-educated. Usually around Easter someone takes me aside to explain to me that they just can’t buy the whole Easter thing.
Getting ResultsMay 2, 2011How good is your faith? How effective is your parenting? How well are you spending your time? “Outcomes measurement and evaluation” is the tool of the day for assessing organizational and staff performance.
“Can I Live Here?”May 1, 2011I have traveled across counties, countries and continents to visit shrines and cathedrals. I've been blessed to visit the sacred sites of the Holy Land in Israel.
Where Are Your Wounds?April 30, 2011Two men faced God on the day of judgment. One looked beat and beat-up. Arm in sling, forehead bandaged, clothes tattered and torn. He looked awful. Moreover, his life had been so hard, he felt a failure.
Are You Saved?April 29, 2011The woman on the phone asked me, "Are you saved?" She read something I'd written and determined from it that I probably was not. So she started talking to me about Jesus, about what he'd done for me and what I owed him.
A Hasidic LegendApril 28, 2011When God created human beings, the angels were jealous because God had endowed the humans with divine wisdom that would guide them through life. So the jealous angels conspired to hide this gift from the humans.
The Responsible LeaderApril 27, 2011Each day we face battles. Some days we take on battles that satisfy our egos but that leave behind human and spiritual carnage. Is it worth it? Have you looked at what it costs you to be right? Is it at the center of God's divine purpose for you, your family, those for whom you are responsible? Slow down; take time to be mindful today.
SingApril 26, 2011There are about 5,400 animal species that make complex, intentional, repeatable, musical vocalizations. That is, there are about 5,400 species that sing.
Stand FirmApril 25, 2011It was a Saturday night. The next day was it. That was the day callers would go out after worship to visit every member of the congregation and ask them to make a pledge to the capital funds drive to restore the church’s rundown and neglected buildings.
He is Risen!April 24, 2011The gospel accounts of the resurrection differ in some of the particulars. In some, Jesus appeared and then disappeared again as quickly as a thought, while in other accounts he lingered. For some, Jesus could be described as a spiritual presence, while for others his presence was so real that they could only say that he appeared in bodily form.
"Hot Dish"April 23, 2011You have stood there in the snow and the rain. You have watched your friend's casket lower into brown dirt. You have watched your friend let her husband or wife or partner go to dirt or ash. You have made it through the long winter. You deserve the daffodils.
It is Not FinishedApril 22, 2011In the weeks after the earthquake in Japan, more than 2,000 swept up on the shoreline in Miyagi. Exhausted rescue workers were shocked at the horror of so much loss of life
Are You Bold?April 21, 2011This day is called "Maundy," coming from a word meaning mandate or commandment. The Bible has already spoken of this commandment. In Leviticus (19:18) we're told to love others as we love ourselves.
Who Was Your Favorite Teacher?April 20, 2011The current budget battles in many states have focused a lot of attention, much of it negative, on teachers. I have a theory about why people are so ready to jump all over teachers for being "glorified baby-sitters" who work "part-time" (out at 2:30!) and "take summers off."
Life's Greatest RiskApril 19, 2011A friend complained about his mom, a wealthy woman who wanted for nothing...but was miserable. "It's a living hell," was her constant refrain while shaking her downcast head, when even life's smallest things went wrong. This so bothered my friend that their time together was difficult.
A Sight to BeholdApril 18, 2011As a humble Christian, I've always considered Christ to be the reason why people are drawn to the church. After all, the worship celebration is all intended to praise and to glorify Christ.
No Swords in Church April 17, 2011One Palm Sunday early in my ministry, the children were all at the front of the church for a children’s sermon being given by my colleague. His words were thoughtful and well-planned. There was only one, small problem.
The Things That LastApril 16, 2011In New York City you can always spot the visitors. It's not from the way they are dressed, because you can dress any way you like in New York. It isn't from their accents, because New Yorkers may have grown up in Kansas or Katmandu. Rather, the telltale sign of visitors is that they are always looking up, trying to take in the tops of the buildings.
Double-DippedApril 15, 2011My parents wanted us to make our own decisions about whether to be baptized. As a young adult, I took the plunge.
Constantly Praying For YouApril 14, 2011Almost every time I speak with my father he lovingly reminds me of his prayers for me and my loved ones. I have no doubt that every day my Dad prays for us, sometimes two and three times a day.
Getting AngryApril 13, 2011We’re told the Psalms are full of anger toward God, along with praise. But I’ve rarely heard that anger expressed at church.
Where Are You From?April 12, 2011Oysters have a distinct terroir, which is a wonky wine term used to describe how place affects product. A river, inlet, or bay imparts a unique flavor to each oyster. Similarly, we are gifted by our origins.
Dysfunction With a ViewApril 11, 2011Mae West once said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and rich is definitely better.” Elijah has prophesied drought. The king wants to “shoot the messenger.” Elijah is on the run.
The Odd SeasonApril 10, 2011Lent is not a self-help season. Lent is about death and resurrection, the mystery of God's power to raise the dead to life. For that reason Lent is odd. Odd, necessary and true.
Understanding the ScripturesApril 9, 2011Much of the unrest in the church today has to do with disagreements over the interpretation of Scripture. There are Christians who claim adherence to the literal words of Scripture (usually the King James Version), and there are Christians who believe that in order to take the Bible seriously, we cannot take the Bible literally.
The One Who Stands By Our SideApril 8, 2011The presence of the Holy Spirit, so wonderfully manifest in Jesus, continues to stand by and work through those who continue to follow him after his death and resurrection. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit we have Jesus' continued presence at our side always.
The Fighter's ComebackApril 7, 2011Because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Talk about a comeback.
See and SpeakApril 6, 2011I'd like my eyes to be open. And if genuine macular degeneration comes my way, I imagine I will still rely on Jesus to keep me open.
RedeemApril 5, 2011Maybe redemption is finding something — someone — worth spending your life on.
For the ThirstyApril 4, 2011In the Bible, blessings are poured like water onto people because the spirit's need to be blessed is as urgent as the body's need for water. Just assume that everyone you encounter is thirsty, somehow or other. Pour water on the dry ground to revive and bless someone's spirit today.
Just One LookApril 3, 2011Maybe just one look was all it took for you to know exactly how you felt when you met your spouse or partner. But another look can challenge the happiest romance and the best relationships as circumstances and feelings change.
I Met Jesus and My Life Is Not BetterApril 2, 2011Being touched and blessed by Jesus may not mean our lives are suddenly successful, as society defines success. Jesus may make life harder, but in ways that matter. He gives us problems worth having. And when we experience hard things on his account, that is when we come to really know him.
Asking and Not ReceivingApril 1, 2011We've all heard the proverbial, "You have not because you ask not." But if merely asking was all that was necessary, we would surely have all of our needs and desires met by now. According to the book of James, the problem is not simply that we don't ask. The problem is that our asking is often misguided and prompted by the wrong motives.
Eden AgainMarch 31, 2011But, thank God it's a new day, with a new orbit. Now, go tend Eden again. It's waiting to reveal the bright colors and sounds you missed yesterday. The show is waiting to begin. Like light, it's been promised.
Wilderness CravingsMarch 30, 2011Just because you crave it doesn't mean it's good for you. Sometimes the thing we crave is quite terrible for us.
Does God Get Mad?March 29, 2011Does God get mad? It depends who you ask. Some say, "No, never." For them, God is benevolent, always. When good things happen, it's thanks to God. When bad things happen, it's something else, usually unspecified...maybe global warming? Those of us without degrees in theology are left to wonder.
Have a Party for God's SakeMarch 28, 2011For God's sake, let's bring into our churches this harvest, these instruments, this joy. Let's rock n roll, let's swing our hips, let's give ourselves permission to praise with complete joy, let's feel good about who we are in Christ Jesus.
So How's Your Job Going?March 27, 2011Today's reflection by Ron Buford suggests that the next time you complain about your job, think of Moses.
God's Dwelling PlaceMarch 26, 2011When we imagine our lives as doorkeepers to the courts of the holy, we let go of what we think is the norm on behalf of a new normal. We live a different way, as people who "wake up and smell the possibility," in the great words of Alice Walker.
Rest for Their SakesMarch 25, 2011One hundred years ago today, a fire broke out in a New York City sweatshop. Before it was all over, almost 150 women were dead, having burned, asphyxiated, fallen from a faulty fire escape, or jumped.
What You Cannot Expect When You Are ExpectingMarch 24, 2011And, in my experience, you cannot expect how much having a child makes you feel vulnerable to the hurts of the world. Before our children were born, the world and the people in it seemed to have limited power to hurt me. I faced risks with a certain equanimity. After all, what's the worst that could happen?
Still the Same Old StoryMarch 24, 2011When we are older we tire of most stories after the first few readings. But there is one story we do not tire of, because it stirs something in us each time. It's the story of God's fierce love affair with the world, known first in God's relationship with the people of Israel, and then through Jesus Christ.
Making ToastMarch 23, 2011What would life be like if we lived beyond and without blame? First of all, our days would be happier.
Less Praise, More FeedbackMarch 22, 2011It's right to praise God and it can be fun too. Even if God doesn't need our praise, we need to praise God, to shout and sing that God is good, no matter what. Praising God puts things in perspective. No matter how bad it may be, God is still God and God is still good.
He Knew MeMarch 21, 2011I didn't know Jesus, but Jesus knows me — and shows me that God is with us, too, wherever we are. Oh yes!
Many MeaningsMarch 20, 2011Today's reflection by Anthony B. Robinson explores how at Jesus’ birth, magi, who were Gentiles, came seeking him. Now, as a kind of bookend, Greeks—also Gentiles—came once more just before Jesus’ death, also seeking him. “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” What powerful words!
The Realm of God: Compassion and HopeMarch 19, 2011Jesus is "filled with compassion" and describes faith as the unwavering decision to believe in the power of God to change the world – despite appearances. Through these, the "kingdom [or Realm] of God" is unleashed in the world.
Still the Same Old StoryMarch 18, 2011Paul told this same story in his sermon to the people of Antioch. So, as they shook hands with Paul at the door after worship, they asked him to tell the same story the following week. Again! Just tell it again.
Thank God for GrandparentsMarch 17, 2011Today, let's acknowledge the work of grandparents and elders. Their faith lives on in the new generations.
Responsible ParentingMarch 16, 2011Parenting today seems much different from parenting when I was a boy. My mother spoke to my siblings and me with authority and often meted out punishment to any of us who challenged that authority. When I became an adult, I read the assertions of juvenile experts who said that strong discipline in one's upbringing leads to violent tendencies in adolescent and adult life.
In Praise of Guilt and ShameMarch 15, 2011Guilt and shame feel terrible, but that doesn't mean they're always bad. As often as we let them be, they are invitations to reshape our lives for greater faithfulness. And the pain they cause digs channels in the soul that God is just waiting to fill up with grace.
At Foot SpeedMarch 14, 2011A long time ago I was having my shoes shined. I picked up a magazine to pass the time more quickly. What I read opened my understanding. "Our senses were made to function best at foot speed." The implication: at a slower pace our senses take in more and are able to appreciate better the many-layered sensations of our lives.
Good TemptationMarch 13, 2011This Lent may we see that often the temptation we need to resist is not something we already know is wrong but something we think is right.
Become Like ChildrenMarch 12, 2011How do false adults avoid the slow fast of the 800 number? We get clear about efficiency and how it knocks the child out of us. How do we become childlike? We stay intimate with sincerity.
After You, Who?March 11, 2011Make time today for the one you love and for God. Each minute is a brick in your life's bridge, not only over troubled waters and loss, but to a million cherished memories.
Busted and CalledMarch 10, 2011Jonah was called, a second time, to go to Nineveh bearing God's word. What we may miss, unless, we get our Bibles open, is that just before Jonah was called here in chapter 3, he was busted in chapter 2.
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to DustMarch 9, 2011As we begin our observance of Lent on this Ash Wednesday, let us be mindful of our imminent mortality. Let us repent for being reckless, negligent and sometimes ungrateful for this precious gift of life. And from this day forward, let us never take another day for granted.
I Do Not Understand My Own ActionsMarch 8, 2011Often we excuse our own actions by focusing on our intentions: "Well, I know this didn't turn out too well, but I had good intentions." For Paul, however, his own good intentions only make his behavior that much harder to take.
Road TripMarch 7, 2011Later people told me I was crazy, but none of us would have gotten there alone. Life's just better when we help each other.
Why Me?March 6, 2011Jim Crawford, the retired Senior Pastor at Old South Church in Boston, was visiting a man in the hospital. The man was very angry that he had cancer and was not being healed of it. "Why me?" he kept saying. Crawford responded, "Why not you?"
JezebelMarch 5, 2011So today, let's give it up for all the interfaith relationships out there: Christian-Jewish, atheist-believer, Christian-Muslim, Protestant-Catholic (which isn't exactly interfaith, but still), and who knows what-all. Tell them you know it's not easy, and thank them for their faithfulness.
All that Kills Abundant LivingMarch 4, 2011The United States has much to be grateful for and proud of, but no nation stands above God's judgment. I recall, in our prayer, a verse from the beautiful hymn, "For the Healing of the Nations."
FindingMarch 3, 2011We bear the image of our creator, tarnished though it is, obscured by other of our features. We have within us traces of divine love and strength. These come to light in our relationships with one another when something of the spirit of Christ breaks through guarded habits and fixed dispositions.
Claiming Your PowerMarch 2, 2011Sometimes you gotta claim it. Sometimes, apparently, you have to reach out and take hold of the power that has been given to you. Power may have been granted, but it must also be claimed.
"Can You Hear Me Now?"March 1, 2011How many times have we abandoned all efforts to communicate with persons who were non-responsive? After a few unanswered messages or e-mails we've had it! After all, who would even want to communicate with someone who obviously doesn't want to talk and couldn't care less about building any kind of mutual relationship? What kind of person would keep reaching out and trying to establish dialogue with people who are obviously not interested?
Running on EmptyFebruary 28, 2011I don't believe God ever wants us to be broken and running on empty. I also believe, as one writer put it, that God's power can only enter where there is a void to receive it — and we no longer try to fill it by ourselves.
Justice Can PrevailFebruary 27, 2011What happens to people who get fed up because they are not fed? Will blood pour out in the streets, as well as justice? Must blood pour for justice to be obtained?
FastFebruary 26, 2011Lent, the great season of spiritual housecleaning, is just around the corner, and our house certainly could use some cleaning. So this year, instead of giving up chocolate or swearing, give up something whose absence will actually matter in the world: carbon.
Caring for Those in NeedFebruary 25, 2011Taking care of the vulnerable, paying attention to those at life’s margins, is a core practice of the church. This is often expressed in the Bible as “caring for widows and orphans,” both because widows and orphans were among the vulnerable and as a symbolic shorthand for all those who are particularly vulnerable.
God Does Not Like WhinersFebruary 24, 2011Whiners always fine reason to whine. And those whose lives are marked by gratitude always find reason to give thanks. It is clear which kind of person God expects us to be.
Awash in MemoriesFebruary 23, 2011The other day the water heater in my basement sprung a leak, and I prepared myself to write a big check. What I did not prepare myself for was to be awash in memories.
A Single CommandmentFebruary 22, 2011The whole chapter five of Galatians is worth a good long read. It is about the subject of Christian freedom, which the writer imagines is a kind of slavery to love.
Soft PowerFebruary 21, 2011When Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in the rampage that left five dead, staffer Gabe Zimmerman was killed coming to help. Speaking at Zimmerman’s funeral, Mark Kelly, the congresswoman’s husband, said that moments before the gunman opened fire, Zimmerman intervened in a heated argument between two constituents at the ill-fated “Congress on Your Corner.”
Bricks Without StrawFebruary 20, 2011As a society we've pretty much said to people who are gay and lesbian, "Make bricks without straw." Make a sane life without any of the usual supports. It's time to leave Egypt behind.
May I Have This Dance?February 19, 2011It is said that no one has seen the words, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office" on a tombstone. A former pastor told me that she decided to re-think her priorities after asking her 4-year old daughter to do something and, "I can't mommy, I'm in a meeting," was the reply.
Reparations? Really?!February 18, 2011I know that in American racial discourse, the term “reparations” is explosive. Quite a few black and white Americans agree that the whole notion of giving reparations to black people for the unspeakable loss and damage brought about by some 200 years of slavery and some 100 years of segregation is futile and counter-productive to racial progress in America.
Confessions of a Picky EaterFebruary 17, 2011I have to confess that I am a picky eater. Not a righteous eater. Just a picky one. I don’t want to be. I want to be the kind of person who tries the octopus, who loves snails and eats whatever is offered.
The Power in BlessingFebruary 16, 2011There is great power in the act of blessing. So why we don't offer more blessings for one another?
MercyFebruary 15, 2011Mercy always sounds to me like a word for bigger-deal people than I am. If I were the king, I could be merciful. If I held a loan that someone was having trouble paying off, I could be merciful.
Almighty LoveFebruary 14, 2011Today is Valentine’s Day. Should I write on the day, contorting the text into a heart-shaped interpretation, or not even try? After reading Psalm 119:9-16, I decide to try. The heart-shaped words are already there. Just use your imagination and romantic sensibilities (and smile).
Getting Out of the WayFebruary 13, 2011Sometimes I do what I think best only to discover that it wasn’t the best thing to do. I try to help by doing something useful when the best help could be praying that God do what I can’t.
The Young and the OldFebruary 12, 2011I remember when my parents first saw me wearing blue jeans. They were horrified. Daily I meet people who of don’t approve of Facebook or don’t like baseball caps worn backwards. Have they really forgotten how they broke their own parents’ hearts, right in front of the neighbors?
The Young and the OldFebruary 12, 2011Generational warfare is universal and maybe even harmless. People seem to need to justify themselves. One of the ways we do it is by wearing what our parents didn't. The disciples had bad manners and some people thought that needed comment. Jesus didn't.
Divine InteractionFebruary 11, 2011The symbolism of Moses, the lawgiver and symbol of the law, and Elijah, the prophet and symbol of the ancient prophets, in dialog with Jesus says something important for us today. It reminds us that the law is not irrelevant, and neither are the writings of the prophets. Both are best understood in communication with each other and with God's exciting new revelation for the world.
Bunch BallFebruary 10, 2011When I coached six and seven year olds in soccer, I noticed their default style of play was “bunch ball.” Everyone ran to the ball, forming a swirling scrum where shins were kicked, kids wailed and the ball went nowhere.
IntegrityFebruary 9, 2011Sometimes I think that integrity—the confidence of inner truth—is in danger of becoming extinct. So much of what we do is designed to win the appeasement and applause of the crowd.
A Mere Tip of the HatFebruary 8, 2011Our own efforts may be small, but through them the largest of all realities — the love of God — can be communicated. A mere tip of the hat can offer hope and change a life.
Know the End of the StoryFebruary 7, 2011I always have a problem with scripture when it suggests that God is the reason someone (or some people) just don’t get it. If this is true, then no one really knows if they are responsible for anything or not.
The End of DenialFebruary 6, 2011Protestants are almost at the end of the denial of our own death as an institution. As Orhan Pamuk chronicles so well in his memoir, Istanbul, there is nothing so melancholic as the sadness that comes of living amid the ruins of a lost empire.
HypocriteFebruary 5, 2011I often hear from worshipers who are unsure whether they should say or sing something in worship. One guy can’t get his head around the Trinity, and wonders whether he should be singing the Doxology with the rest of us. A woman doesn’t think she should pass the peace because she rarely feels particularly peaceful herself.
Ambition is Over-ratedFebruary 4, 2011Back when I was in college, I would periodically get out a yellow legal pad and write the years ahead of me on each line, and then write next to each age exactly what I thought I would be doing. My future graduation was duly noted, as were plans for grad school, and even the years when I would be having children.
Enjoying God's CommandmentsFebruary 3, 2011Sharing groups at church rarely share much when God’s commandments come up. The Ten Commandments take second place to the Great Commandment, loving God and others. That can seem safer because it’s more general and could mean a number of things.
Tend to YourselfFebruary 2, 2011Out in my neck of the woods, we’ve enjoyed a completely unexpected playoff run by our heretofore hapless football team, the Seattle Seahawks. I’ve been interested in listening to new Seahawk coach, Pete Carroll.
Lethal InjectionsFebruary 1, 2011A man was working outside in his garden one hot summer afternoon when a snake appeared out of nowhere and bit him. While he was bleeding, the man chased down the snake and beat it to death with his shovel. After chasing and conquering the snake, the man tried desperately to catch his breath and calm down, but he felt extremely light-headed. When he finally stumbled into the door of his home, he collapsed. His partner rushed him to the emergency room.
Fret NotJanuary 31, 2011What are you fretting about today? The church budget? A co-worker? Trouble in the family? The Congress? A health problem? The situation of an aging parent? Something someone said to you that you didn't like? There's really no end of stuff that we can be, probably are, fretting about. Fret. Fret. Fret. It's one of those words that sounds just like what it is.
Do This in RemembranceJanuary 30, 2011When I hear Jesus say, "Do this in remembrance of me,” I often think of fishing, of all things. Although I have fished throughout my life, it still strikes me as a most unlikely endeavor.
GloryJanuary 29, 2011Reflection by Donna Schaper What is sin? It is to fall short of the glory of God. It is to miss the mark of our ideal humanity. It is to be distant from God. Jesus, as the ideal human, might be defined as one who never doubted the full presence of his Father. What made him so special was how close he stayed to the one he called “Abba.”
We Shall Not be MovedJanuary 28, 2011"What we most need," writes the author of The Wisdom of Stability, is "A way of life founded on solid ground, freeing us from the illusion that we can live without limits." Perhaps it is not just a good life that leads to a well grounded person, but ground - place and stability - that shape a good life?
I ain't gonna tell no lieJanuary 27, 2011Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You'll be a blessing and also get a blessing.
Not Later--NowJanuary 26, 2011In the 1960’s, my mother and father left the church they grew up in for many reasons. One thing they really objected to was the idea that we shouldn’t ask for too much in life because we’ll get our reward in Heaven—also known as “pie in the sky, in the bye and bye.”
EnemiesJanuary 25, 2011Who are your enemies? Do you have enemies? Sometimes, you get the impression that success in being a Christian would be being so nice as not to have any enemies whatsoever. Being a good Christian means being liked by all, being sort of like the "most popular student on campus." Really?
Dementor JesusJanuary 24, 2011There was only one problem with the Christ Window: nighttime. Each evening, as the light began to fade, so would Jesus' face. Of course all stained-glass windows fade as the light behind them does, but I'm telling you that that face disappeared a good half hour before the rest of him did, leaving behind a black hole surrounded by glowing white robes: Dementor Jesus. It was terrifying.
Spiritual SpontaneityJanuary 23, 2011Today, if someone wants to get a baby baptized, they first call our church and check some dates against the church calendar. Then they may call around to family, godparents and friends to see who might be available for the brunch. Perhaps next they see if the baby fits into the pre-purchased little baptismal outfit, and if he suddenly looks like a ten-pound sausage in a five-pound bag, they might choose that earlier date. But it all takes a lot of planning.
Follow MeJanuary 22, 2011The W-2 forms are filling up the mailboxes. The IRS is on its way to its annual collection – and we are on our way to our annual grumpy submission. I happen to love paying taxes, as I think they are the best way to redistribute wealth. I know I am weird.
LedJanuary 21, 2011We ought to be something we're not. I should be smarter, more thoughtful, not so impatient, more self-confident, less risk averse, not so concerned about the approval of others. The list is endless. We're never enough. So it seems.
Christians are Joyful SinnersJanuary 20, 2011Does worship in your church include a prayer of confession? If so, it is probably near the beginning of the service. One reason for this placement is that God's presence reveals things to us. In God's clarifying presence we see things about our lives that we might not see otherwise.
There Will Never be Another NowJanuary 19, 2011Three religious groups are represented here, each of which viewed time differently: The Pharisees to whom Judaism owes a debt of gratitude looked to the past to preserve it; John's sect, which some think were the Essenes, warned of the coming destruction calling people to repent, fast and be baptized; but Jesus said, "Don't miss this special time right now."
Giving What You HaveJanuary 18, 2011One Sunday, an irate woman announced to some members of our congregation that she would be leaving our church and changing her membership. When she was asked why, she responded: "Because the Pastor here does not preach enough about sin and judgment."
You Can't Hijack a LegacyJanuary 17, 2011It seems that on Martin Luther King Day, the list of groups claiming his legacy gets more bizarre each year. Organizations that appear to have nothing in common with his vision of justice broadcast clips of his great speeches at their events.
Cheerful GiversJanuary 16, 2011"God loves a cheerful giver," says the Apostle Paul. But is there any other kind? In my experience givers are cheerful. I have never known any truly giving person who has not been a person of cheer. Joy is one of the indelible characteristics of the giving person.
EvolveJanuary 15, 2011In today's passage, Jesus evolves the Disciples into Apostles, readying them to be sent out with a message (see that word "post" in "apostle"? Just like the mail!). I for one am glad they let it happen; if they had chosen not to change, Christianity would have died when they did.
A New OfferingJanuary 14, 2011I heard a man say, "My father once asked me, son, why do you think God made you with two ears and one mouth? Not knowing, I asked my father why. Son, God made you with two ears and one mouth to do a lot more listening than talking."
Tunnel VisionJanuary 13, 2011Idolatry is trusting what ends up breaking our hearts. In our day the culprit is often said to be the love of money, success, pleasure, or, perhaps, a partner thought to offer as much. But these are not the real heartbreakers. What shatters us is more subtle. It can sneak up without our knowing it. It sounds less dramatic than the havoc it wreaks. It's called tunnel vision.
A Common EarthJanuary 12, 2011I know a secret about people's suitcases. I found it out by accident when I was writing a little book about rock gardening. I thought I was the only one who lugged rocks and stones from far-off places home in my suitcase. It turns out that many people do this.
A Passion for ExcellenceJanuary 11, 2011The Simon in this story, a great magician and healer, is fascinating. A new guy, the great Apostle Phillip, comes to town and dramatically upstages him, Simon does something that most of us find challenging. Simon's followers just up and leave him on the spot. But here's the surprise...Simon goes along, too!
Please Interrupt MeJanuary 10, 2011Most of us don't appreciate being interrupted. We don't care for someone cutting in or cutting us off when we're speaking. Understandable. We're taught as children, "Please don't interrupt." Interrupting is bad manners. Wait your turn.
Here Comes the JudgeJanuary 9, 2011I remember the first time I was summoned to appear in traffic court for a speeding ticket and some unpaid parking violations. I could have just mailed in the fines, but I'd failed to do so in a timely way. I had never been to court, and being in my early twenties I wasn't quite sure what to expect. All the horror stories I'd heard raced through my mind as I sat in the crowded courtroom waiting for the appearance of the judge.
CriticismJanuary 8, 2011Like the fable of the blind men and the elephant, each of us can believe we've got hold of the real thing. How different the world feels to each of us! Arguments miss the point and persuade no one when this isn't taken into account. We get hung up on what seems logical to us. We look at the world through the lens of our own experience.
Thank-You NotesJanuary 7, 2011No one is born thankful. Gratitude is something that is learned, and perhaps the best way to learn gratitude is by repeatedly expressing it. It is by offering thanks that we can come to something like thankfulness. When our children were young we would often prompt them to express gratitude ("Say 'thank you' to the nice gentleman."), not merely to teach them manners, but also so that they might learn gratitude. After all, thankfulness takes practice.
Epiphany of the LordJanuary 6, 2011When you move from being a fraulein to being a frau, from a senorita to being a senora, a girl to being a woman, things change. Men also become men and leave the great land of boyhood. We each hope to rise, while losing inches from our spine and avoiding osteoporosis of the soul.
Upside DownJanuary 5, 2011If you have a true love, better spring for 12 drummers drumming, because tonight is the last night of Christmas. Tomorrow begins Epiphany, the season of revelations. The first revelation will come tomorrow, when Matthew says that wise men will bow before the baby. You might have heard that they were kings, which Matthew never mentions. If you have, it’s probably because of this Psalm. Many years after the time of Jesus, commentators conflated the kings mentioned in it with the wise men from the Gospel. Then somebody wrote that song, and the rest is history.
Unemployed and UnderemployedJanuary 4, 2011There is a place on the annual pledge card where people can add comments. This year, as in the last two years, there is one comment I saw way too often—“I would like to give more to the church but I am unemployed.” Or someone is underemployed, working part-time, piecing together benefits and insurance.
ResolvedJanuary 3, 2011It’s January 3, and your New Year’s resolutions are now three days old. How are you doing? If you’re like me, resolutions to do things differently from now on start to fade when the special times of holidays or vacations are over. It’s back to the old grind, to business as usual, and all the familiar coping mechanisms gradually start to kick in again.
The Word Became FleshJanuary 2, 2011Far from being "in agony over having to associate with flesh and the world," the Christmas story tells us that the Word was made flesh. Which means that here, in this world, amid its messiness and humanity, God has chosen to dwell and be revealed.
Commencing With CommitmentJanuary 1, 2011Have you ever noticed how many people live with “commitment-phobia”? Perhaps you are one of them. In these days of uncertainty, we find it daunting to make long-range commitments, especially publicly. What if we lose our jobs? What if the person(s) we commit to prove untrustworthy? What if we just don’t feel tomorrow the way we feel today? Fear of commitment gives us the shaky satisfaction of believing that our options are always open. So if we don’t commit to one person, we can still choose from an array of others. If we don’t commit to one set of beliefs, we can just sample all the others in perpetuity. If we don’t commit to any one church or body of believers, the role of visitor suits us just fine. And if we don’t commit to any plan, then whatever happens is OK. So we think. Public commitment carries a public accountability that many of us are not willing to shoulder. What we fail to realize, however, is that lack of commitment also carries accountability. Jesus says that a failure to acknowledge commitment to him publicly will result in the loss of a relationship with eternal consequences. To fail to decide is, in actuality, to make a decision. This is not the year for closeted confessions and commitments. This is the year to step outside the shadows of shame. This is the year to discontinue the deceptions and duplicities of the down-low. This is the year to publicly embrace all that we are and all that we believe and all that we have in Christ. Progressive Christian? Political liberal? Critical thinker? Open to dialogue and revelations from other faith traditions? Consistent supporter of the work and witness of a church body? Dedicated in loving relationship to one significant other? Not ashamed of the gospel of Christ? For me, these are not really questions. They are all a part of my public commitment. I’d stand to forfeit too much in relationship, responsibility and reward if I openly denied any of them. Who and what are you committed to this year? Are you willing to make it public? Prayer Dear Lord, we begin this year by acknowledging our faith in you and our commitment to live unashamed as your disciples. Help us to know the power of your open love for us, and help us share that power as we openly declare our love for one another. Amen. “So You’re Thinking About Joining the Church” – a helpful brochure from the Writer’s Group.
Sanctuaries FoundDecember 31, 2010Where are you on New Year's Eve? I'm in an AA meeting, one of God's strong sanctuaries, even though they are often located in church basements. Some of you will be there, too, later today – it's the kind of holiday that is hard to take "one day at a time."
The Planet in PraiseDecember 30, 2010Make no mistake about it, the entire earth is a declaration of God's awesome power to create and sustain life with wondrous beauty and fathomless splendor.
Who Am I?December 29, 2010Martin Luther described sin as life curved in upon itself. The theme of today's psalm, praise, is pretty much the opposite of that. Praise is life opened out, expansive, a jubilant response to a gracious and astonishing God.
Remember Whose We AreDecember 28, 2010My little brother's linen and frilled baptismal robe hung in the coat closet at my house for decades. He is now past 50. One day he called and wanted it. I said, your children are grown, so are mine. Why?
Seeing GodDecember 27, 2010When my son was three and away from his mother he would point to a wall or a closed door and say, "My mommy's there." He couldn't see her, but he knew his mother was with him.
Learning from CriticismDecember 26, 2010Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news. Have you ever heard the expression, "Don't kill the messenger?" It became an expression for a reason. People hate to be told off.
FleshDecember 25, 2010This is what we celebrate: that God, who didn't need one, got a body. That God was so hungry to be close to us that nothing—not eternity, not power, not immortality—was too much to give up, and nothing—not time, not weakness, not a mortal body—was too much to take on. This is what we celebrate: God with a body.
Home for the HolidaysDecember 24, 2010It's almost Christmas Eve and I ask you, "What exile are you bringing home for Christmas?"
The Christmas GiftDecember 23, 2010If you haven't found the right gift by now, you may be feeling desperate. Desperate, anxious and maybe a little irritated. Lot of pressure, the gift-giving thing. The ads tell us that if only we get/find/buy the right gift, then we will be loved.
The Season of ShowingDecember 22, 2010God is starting to show. Usually that doesn't happen for at least three months, at the end of the first trimester, when the fetus is so small that it creates no bulges. Then comes the bulge, the ballooning, the sense of no longer being one's own person, the sense that something important is happening, within our own wombs.
Do You Like Surprises?December 21, 2010I've always hated the question, "Do you like surprises?" People ask you that when they have something they are debating telling you. They hold some piece of information about your life and they want you to tell them whether or not they should tell you. How can you answer such a question? It's the worst kind of pregnant pause.
Grace for the Old, TooDecember 20, 2010With these words the angel Gabriel told Zechariah that he and his wife, Elizabeth, were going to have their first child. It was an improbable announcement as both Zechariah and Elizabeth were by now far too old for such things and had given up hope. And yet, they would become the parents of John the Baptist.
The Best Advice I Ever GotDecember 19, 2010As a child, our home was one of the places visiting ministers came to stay - sometimes for a few days of preaching, sometimes for a week. Each day was like Sunday – especially at mealtime.
Borne in PerplexityDecember 18, 2010In fact, let's take perplexity out of the old broom closet, dust it off, shine it up and put it out on the mantle piece in the middle of the ecclesiological living room, because a little perplexity can be a wonderful thing in the life of faith. It's the people who ask the questions who get the answers.
Results Beyond MeasureDecember 17, 2010Poverty, oppression, all manner of disorder and disease still prevail. That's measurable. What's immeasurable is God's promise that this will be overcome. In this expectation we are meant to live, to plan, and to love.
The TrapDecember 16, 2010Whatever our crutch may be, whatever our particular temptation, we mistakenly think that it will ease our worries. But that kind of behavior brings worries of its own. Before you know it, the crutch has become a trap.
No RefundsDecember 15, 2010I don't know anyone who would cheerfully accept the plundering of their possessions, as today's scripture puts it. On the other hand, maybe most of us would cheerfully accept our possessions being plundered — if it were the only way we could hang on to "something better and more lasting."
Leaning Toward the FutureDecember 14, 2010For many, this season is laced with nostalgia. We might glamorize the old days, perhaps being, in John Irving's phrase, "nostalgic for a time that never was." Or, it might be more like it was for my father, who, this time every year, would evidence the affects of a potent mixture of nostalgia and melancholy.
C&EDecember 13, 2010C&E Christians may not make it to church much, but Jesus points out that God cares more about what we do out in the vineyard than about what we do when the authorities are looking.
Burning LoveDecember 12, 2010Advent hymns can sound like dirges next to the bright carols of the holiday season. Those who appreciate their haunting beauty deplore the mall-like rush to Christmas.
Sacred Moments EverywhereDecember 11, 2010This season is full of traditions and rituals, only some of which take place in church. In our family, decorating the tree is a yearly ritual that is so firmly ingrained that it seems to have its own liturgy.
Shoutout to All the AbbasDecember 10, 2010Much is made of motherhood during Advent, as well it should be. But too often, Joseph recedes into the background, and Zechariah, who like Mary receives the annunciation of his special kid's birth, hardly gets mentioned at all.
More WonderDecember 9, 2010"I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord." And then he adds, "Among you stands one whom you do not know." Even John didn't know him. But he's here, among you, in our midst, said John.
Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?December 8, 2010But what God prepares for us is not just about what's on the table. What God prepares for us is also about who's around the table. At God's table, we should anticipate not only, "What's for dinner?" we should also anticipate, "Who's coming to dinner?"
Christ Jesus Has Made Me His OwnDecember 7, 2010At this time of the year, it's a good bet that we are pressing and feeling pressed. Lots of pressure.
The TakeawayDecember 6, 2010So if you want what we appear now to call a "takeaway" from this first Sunday in Advent, take this: You may have to reverse path to get on the path.
The Season of ListsDecember 5, 2010The prophet Micah, in this wonderful phrase, says we are to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with our God. Those are the sorts of things that make for a rich and full life. But how often does anything like that make it to the list?
The New NormalDecember 4, 2010Many pastors were taught not to sing Christmas carols until Advent was over. We don't want to "rush" Christmas. We also don't like displeasing our grumpy seminary professors who want the world to be less urgently sentimental than it is. Finding a way to be normal can be hard.
WaitingDecember 3, 2010Jesus comes as the promise of light at night. He was born at night. And that's where his spirit meets ours.
Why Are You Here?December 2, 2010With many religious rituals — going to church, confession, communion, baptism, or celebrating Christmas —w e often forget why we do them. John makes us stop and think.
HopeDecember 1, 2010Hope is not just a vision of the future. Hope is also a mandate for the present. Hope has a way of ordering our present in such a way that our present becomes congruent and consistent with our promise.
Rejoice!November 30, 2010This psalm issues a call to rejoice. It is a common theme in scripture. Over and over again we are enjoined to rejoice, instructed to rejoice and, indeed, we are commanded to rejoice. Obviously, someone thinks this rejoicing business is pretty important.
Learning to Listen and to IgnoreNovember 29, 2010Last week was Thanksgiving, followed by that morning when some of us awakened early and stood in line for holiday gift sales. Yesterday, Advent began, and many of us sang, "O Come O Come, Emmanuel." Today is the first weekday of Advent, a moment to choose how we will spend the next four weeks and what kind of a Messiah we will be awaiting.
Advent is a Season I LoveNovember 28, 2010I like Epiphany, I respect Lent, I wish we did Eastertide more and better, but it's Advent that I love.
AnticipationNovember 27, 2010What is it that you can't wait to hear? Is it that tickets have been released for your favorite performer? That the one you love is coming? That a long-expected baby has finally arrived?
Abundance or Scarcity?November 26, 2010So much of our scripture is a celebration of abundance. The first chapters of Genesis are a song of praise for God's generosity. With each act of creation, the divine refrain is, "It is good, it is good, it is very good." And it pictures the Creator saying, "Be fruitful and multiply."
A Thanksgiving GatheringNovember 25, 2010My father was not a good cook, but he believed himself to have certain "specialties." Each year when he and his friends got together for Thanksgiving, he would volunteer to bring his "famous pecan pie." But really, these pecan pies were infamous because of the first time he made them for the group.
Let me in...November 24, 2010The people have been telling themselves that God lives in their temple and will always do so, no matter how they act. Enter the prophet.
Life Before DeathNovember 23, 2010When Jesus speaks of eternal life here (and throughout the Gospel of John) he isn't only speaking of something that happens after we die. He is speaking of something that happens right now.
Life Before DeathNovember 23, 2010When Jesus speaks of eternal life here (and throughout the Gospel of John) he isn't only speaking of something that happens after we die. He is speaking of something that happens right now.
LocalNovember 22, 2010I remember when "local" was a bad word. Most of us went to high school in places where the idea was to get out as soon as you could. Now local is new, glossy, glisteny. Who knew?
Are You Saved?November 21, 2010Am I saved? These days the question may be put more smoothly. In whatever guise, it lingers. And it does get to the heart of faith.
What Are You Hungry For?November 20, 2010We yearn for something and know not what. We may try a bit of this and that for a time, perhaps only in our imaginations, but nothing is quite right or enough to satisfy. Someone described the people of our age as "those who don't know what they want from life and don't get it."
Blessed AssuranceNovember 19, 2010Some religious people think they have all the answers about Jesus, his resurrection, second coming and so much more. And while these topics may be interesting, they are not central to our faith in the God as made know to us by Jesus, whose central message was the shockingly good news of God's unfailing love and compassion.
No Dead EndingsNovember 18, 2010The very thought of dead ends seem to make us want to just stop. We anticipate the final period. We sense the approaching finality. We rarely expect to go any further. But what about the homes, the people, the streets and the opportunities that God places at the very end of dead-end roads?
Holy Camp GroundNovember 17, 2010Do you have a place that for you is holy ground? For our family it is a family church camp we attend each summer on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.
ThanksNovember 16, 2010I was speechless. I had my moment, but I had no words. Then, eventually, still shaking her hand, with a bit of a stammer, I said, "Thank you so much, Miss Fitzgerald." That is all I could say.
"Let Your Life Speak"November 14, 2010It's so hard to trust that each of us has an original voice, authentic to ourselves. God has placed it there, with its attendant wisdom. The words of this voice flow from this river.
Finding GodNovember 13, 2010A Muslim (Sufi) story says a lot about finding God. "Help us find God," the seeker begged the Elder. "No one can help you there," the Elder answered. "Why not?" the seeker insisted. "For the same reason that no one can help a fish find the ocean."
Think Outside the Water BottleNovember 12, 2010Consider thinking outside the water bottle when it comes to your call from God. We have so many habits that distance us from the divine. How about changing just one this week, and another next week? Think of it as taking one step on a stepladder to the heaven of worthiness.
You'd Better Know God for YourselfNovember 11, 2010The power in life is the Presence of God. Therefore, let us approach the Stillspeaking God with unrelenting desire, trusting God and letting go.
God's Preferential OptionNovember 10, 2010God has a preferential option for...the unlikely. When God got the redemption project going, God chose for his start-up a couple of old coots, Abraham and Sarah, impossibly beyond the age of bearing even one kid much less a whole people.
Stealth SinsNovember 9, 2010Few of us avoid the experience of envy. We can all think of times when we put our own interests ahead of anyone else's — just because we could get away with it.
How the Bible WorksNovember 8, 2010The Bible came alive, and comes alive again today, in the company of other "men and women moved by the Holy Spirit of God." The spirit of God that Jesus awakens happens among us, not simply within us. Together, as part of a community of faith, personal responses to the Bible are put in play with the responses of others.
An Offering You Can't RefuseNovember 7, 2010I have a recurring dream, particularly this time of year. Someone calls me on the phone and invites me to lunch. Over lunch that person says, "Martin, I am aware that the church is pressed for funds, particularly in this financial climate, and the church has to spend so much energy to raise those funds. Well, I came into some money this year, so I want to cover this year's entire church budget with my own gift."
MushroomNovember 6, 2010The giant 13-pound chicken mushroom on the altar table was found along the side of a road, in the Putnam County, New York, woods, facing north in the autumn's sun. In about an hour's worth of time on the phone and email, we sold her to a very high-end Manhattan restaurant for $100. She was soup by the evening.
Animals, Human and OtherwiseNovember 5, 2010Did you catch that? In today's story, which comes near the end of the whole ark episode, God makes a covenant not just with Noah and his descendants, but with every living animal, everywhere.
An Honest PrayerNovember 4, 2010A seminary intern was offering the pastoral prayers one Sunday and received a request to pray for a woman who had a last name he found very difficult to pronounce. It was a name from a country whose language most of us did not speak, Polish, and it sounded nothing like it was spelled. But in the intimacy of congregational life, we had learned how to pronounce it over the years.
Nothing Good WithheldNovember 3, 2010I had just purchased a brand new Dell Computer from the Best Buy Store. I was frustrated because I couldn't get the thing to work right. I had wireless internet from Verizon and I had a brand new computer, but I still couldn't access the Internet or check my e-mail. In an agitated flurry, I put the computer back in the box and took it back to the store. Surely some device or some cable had been omitted from my computer package.
Beware of False ProphetsNovember 2, 2010It's Election Day all across the country today. So Jesus' warning to beware of false prophets who are really ravenous wolves in disguise seems timely.
All Saints DayNovember 1, 2010Every year on November 1, All Saints Day, I remember Sacred Heart cemetery in the town where I grew up. It was a huge Polish cemetery situated on a long sloping hill next to a busy intersection. Starting at dusk on November 1, the eve of the Catholic All Souls Day, the entire cemetery would be lit up with thousands of red votive candles on nearly every grave. It looked like the dead were getting ready to have a party and had turned on all the lights in the house.
When Criticism WorksOctober 31, 2010Have you ever received a harsh criticism that later you considered to be a gift? At the time, you may have argued against the criticism. Perhaps you even lashed out at the one delivering the bad news. But later, after you had time to think about it, you realized you had been told something you needed to hear.
The Agony and the EcstasyOctober 30, 2010Who or what are the "enemies" we face that account for our agony? Before they die their own death, can facing them teach us how best to live, wiser and stronger than ever?
Finding Ourselves in the Lost and FoundOctober 29, 2010In Jesus' parable, the shepherd leaves ninety-nine sheep to save the one that is lost. When he finds the lost sheep, he is so tipsy with joy that he throws a party. And at this party the sheep is not the main dish, he's the guest of honor.
The God of All ComfortOctober 28, 2010Surely Jesus was sent to travel the highways and byways of life, looking for lives in distress. Our distresses might be brought upon us by circumstances out of our control, or they could be the result of our own negligence. In any case, what we need initially is someone to help us up and out, not push us down further.
UnstoppableOctober 27, 2010Unstoppable in the face of horrific persecution, early Christians continued proclaiming the Jesus story. Persecution seemed to stimulate Christianity's spread, farther and faster, to Judea and Samaria.
God Shows No PartialityOctober 26, 2010In Jesus' day there was great enmity between Jews and Gentiles. So perhaps it is not surprising that, in the earliest days of the church, there were many who thought that the good news of Jesus was for Jews alone.
ProofOctober 24, 2010Jesus Christ lived, suffered and died, returned, and is right now doing stuff that matters for your life.
Singing Ahead of TimeOctober 23, 2010As a liturgically correct sort of guy, I am puzzled by today's reading. It's the Magnificat. After hearing from Gabriel that she would be the mother of Jesus, Mary lets go with this song of ecstatic praise.
Coming Back to Church as a Grown UpOctober 22, 2010These days, very few people who join our church were raised in the UCC. Most of them were raised in other forms of Christianity, and they may have some negative feelings about the church of their childhood. And so they drifted from church and sought to go it alone, without a faith community.
God is Not Far From Each One of UsOctober 21, 2010A church in my neighborhood recently had on its sign, "Don't like religion? Join us, we're very disorganized!" This was an attempt (which I'm not sure was successful) to appeal to people who say they don't like organized religion, or who say they are "spiritual but not religious."
Here's to Two Old SinnersOctober 20, 2010Notice: two sinners. When you are a sinner who knows that you have received mercy, you are better able to extend mercy to another, to do your part in the dynamic flow of mercy received and mercy given.
Wound a Little Tight?October 19, 2010So how about you? Wound a little tight about something you'd rather pretend you did not do? Think about it, pray about it and let it go. "Perhaps a far greater complaint could be lodged against you, you know."
Time to Drop ItOctober 18, 2010I would suggest that what often passes for pleasing God is really a fearful effort to appease God. To appease is "to calm or pacify, especially by granting demands." If your God is a demanding, exacting, and punishing God, to be feared more than loved, then you may feel compelled to give this God what he/she demands - or else.
Things I am Tired ofOctober 17, 2010I am tired of hearing people say stupid things in the name of Christianity. I am tired of nutty pistol-packing pastors who want to burn the Koran. I am tired of televangelists who claim that natural disasters are the will of God. I am tired of Christians who respond to the pain of disease with a lecture about behavior. I am tired of preachers who promise prosperity.
"What do you want me to do for you?"October 16, 2010This story turns out well for Bartimaeus. He begins the day in Jericho as a blind beggar, and within a few verses he's off and running into a new life of empowered vision. My mind too easily conjures an Aladdin-like shift: new sight comes with granted wishes of clean clothes, a steady paycheck, food on the table, whiter teeth...
PreyOctober 15, 2010Perhaps when we are at our most frenzied and hunted-feeling is just the time to stop running. To pause, and take a drink. Try this: next time you're feeling hunted, stop. Just stop, and between your panting breaths, ask God to come and quench your thirst, to refresh you, to pour Godself out on you in waterfalls of grace.
Consider Breaking a RuleOctober 14, 2010Sometimes following rules, or doing things the way we think they're supposed to be done, gets in the way of what God wants us to do. Following rules or sticking to procedure can be good ways to avoid challenge or risk. We're playing it safe, but we never do anything that might be considered divinely inspired—or even very important to us.
Let It BeOctober 13, 2010Without realizing it we can try to outdo Jesus. We want to be understood and appreciated when trying to handle a difficult situation with the best of intentions and good insight. Jesus knew that the hardest part of caring can require leaving things alone.
UnchainedOctober 12, 2010Gospel is when we say yes to each other, the way Jesus said yes to all we are—wounds, tattoos, cuttings, aging, all and more, all chained up, yearning to be free.
I'm One of Them TodayOctober 11, 2010I remember the Rev. Harold Mars, an 80-something Native American Christian pastor, and a Rhode Island tribal chief. Though I was only 17 at the time, I still remember the change in his kind, grandfatherly voice as, with his 6' 2" strong regal bearing, he stood unbent though a bit stooped, and with furrowed brow, sternly asked our congregation a question that still haunts me...
Just Say "Thank You"October 10, 2010Here's another good Samaritan, but different than the really well-known one in Luke 10. When ten sick people asked Jesus to heal them, and he did, the only one who came back to say thank you was a Samaritan. Jesus noted this and asked, aloud, why?
Show MeOctober 9, 2010At some point during my years in seminary I heard this directive: "Tell the world about Jesus; use words if you have to." Since then, I've often thought about how to preach Jesus without using words. It's a daunting task, indeed, but it's a task that has never been more necessary.
Joyful, Noisy and FurryOctober 8, 2010Last year our church had its first annual Blessing of the Animals service, on a lovely fall Saturday morning. Outside the chapel, greeters waited with dog biscuits, cat treats and bowls of water, as the pets and their human friends got to know one another.
God Knows Already. So Why Pray?October 7, 2010Jesus said that God knows our prayers even before we utter them. That affirmation leads to an obvious question: if God knows all of that already, what is the point of prayer?
A Way ForwardOctober 6, 2010What does it mean that a grief or injury is over? Is it when we stop weeping? Or is it when we start? Is it when we wake up in the morning without the boot in our stomach? Or is it when we recognize that there is a boot there?
Against the PinchedOctober 5, 2010Today, find a way to loosen up, let go, and worship God as the unnamed woman did. Do something unexpected: skip across the room for joy, write a big check to a charity, sing a nonsense song of praise, dance around like a fool for God. Be spontaneous, unseemly, even wasteful in your worship, and for once, don't worry about what the rest of us think.
Protect my Soul and SongOctober 4, 2010We do not stand in judgment of those who wept and prayed but in silent vigilance lest we, too, descend into the hells of hate and violence.
ConvictedOctober 3, 2010The book of Lamentations is a litany of laments over the fall and exile of Judah. The sacking of Jerusalem in 597 BC was followed by the bitterness of the Babylonian exile, which separated many of the most prominent Jews from their homeland for some 60 years. Diminished communities, severed families and stolen citizens gave the children of Israel much to lament, and their mourning is graphically and even poetically expressed in Lamentations.
Getting What We NeedOctober 2, 2010Since God already knows what we need, why is it necessary to ask for help? Because that's the way faith expresses itself. It resists the temptation to suppose that what will be, will be, and our job is simply to deal with it. It resists the resignation that says, "I'll just leave it up to God" or "It's God's will." Faith does not capitulate to circumstance. It recognizes that what is unmanageable or unbearable is not so with God.
Church: You're AmazingOctober 1, 2010These aren't easy times to be the church, are they? The financial bottom-line is nipping at your heels. Some group in the congregation is complaining of this or that. And you have to contend with headline-grabbers who attach the name of Christ and the church to their sorry, stupid schemes.
Trash Your WrathSeptember 30, 2010As one sage put it, "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."
Nostalgia Ain't What It Used to BeSeptember 29, 2010Nostalgia is a very natural and powerful emotion, particularly for those of us who are older. But nostalgia has its dangers. If it gives us renewed appreciation for the ways God has blessed us in the past, then it can be a wonderful occasion for thanksgiving. But nostalgia also can make us idealize the past and in ways that make the present pale by comparison. So nostalgia can rob the present of delight and the future of hope.
Be KindSeptember 28, 2010Chapter five of Galatians is worth a good long read. It is about the subject of Christian freedom, which the writer imagines is a kind of slavery to love. It is about the difference between the law and grace, using circumcision as an example, concluding that it matters little if we are or are not circumcised. Instead it matters a lot how we talk about the subject to each other.
The WhistleSeptember 27, 2010The writer of Revelation depicts Coach Jesus as asking us to: Focus; Include God; and Aim high in our goalsetting.
The Great In Spite OfSeptember 26, 2010I was a stranger in an unfamiliar city, attending a conference. I was far from home and, in the words of Jesus of Martha, I was "anxious about many things."
LessSeptember 25, 2010If you want to be great, get small. If you want to be good, get small. If you want to be like Jesus, use power differently than everybody else does. Get rid of it.
By GraceSeptember 24, 2010Here's how Paul says it works: Step One: live as faithfully as you can. Step Two: get saved from out of the blue. Step three: respond in gratitude. Step Four: the blessings come full circle.
What Are You Giving Up for the Recession?September 23, 2010If you have not had a significant financial loss in recent months, then you probably know someone who has. Whether you've had to sell the Lexus or apply for food stamps, you've been driven to it by a downgrade in your financial status. And that's never fun, no matter what tax bracket you're in. It means letting things go, giving things up. That's OK for Lent, but not OK when there's no end in sight and you don't get to choose what to give up.
Tired of Learning the Hard WaySeptember 22, 2010Most of us would prefer to learn by listening, but if we're honest, most of us learn by messing up. Every deep lesson I have learned in life has come at a cost. It's only after kicking myself for my stupidity that the message registers. That really is learning the hard way.
Look WithinSeptember 21, 2010It's so easy to develop a negative mindset about other people. Turn on the TV news at night and receive a rundown of that day's crimes. The newspaper gives details of a terrorist attack on humanitarian workers in Afghanistan. A politician is caught in a web of lies. Once you start looking for it, you can find ample evidence of people embroiled in all kinds of terrible behavior.
You Got Rhythm?September 20, 2010Everyone is talking about balance these days. We want more balance in our lives. We complain about the lack of balance. We strive for the right balance between our work lives and the rest of our lives. Magazines provide carefully balanced lists of suggestions about how to get more balance. But, frankly, to me the whole concept of balance sounds exhausting, like balancing on one foot or balancing a tray of full glasses while walking on a rocky path—I can do it, to be sure, but not for long. I don't know of anyone who can stay balanced for very long.
It's Not All About You and MeSeptember 19, 2010If you are like me, I like an encouraging devotional to start my day. This is not one of them.
Total FreedomSeptember 18, 2010It's a good thing - no, it's really a good thing—that after this was written, many, many people throughout the course of history, around the world, never fully, if at all, took these words to be undeniably the exact representation of how God sees it.
Trial SeparationSeptember 17, 2010When I was ten, my parents sat me down in our formal living room to explain that my dad would be moving out for a while. "Are you getting a divorce?" I asked. "No," they said, "This is just a trial separation."
A Prayer from the PitSeptember 16, 2010The only thing worse than the deep dark agony of desperation and suffering is silence. Out of the abysmal cauldron of his condition, Job speaks, but not just in rants to those around him who would listen. Job speaks in faith to God, for there is no other way to speak to God. Prayers from the pit of painful predicaments are nevertheless acknowledgements of God's presence.
Behemoth and LeviathanSeptember 15, 2010I love this part of Job. Up till this point, I'm always with Job, demanding from God an explanation for terrible things. But here, where God's all, "You better check yourself before you wreck yourself," I come around to cheering God on.
Wake, My SoulSeptember 14, 2010The writer of 2 Peter reminds people living day-to-day with a sense of wonder in a time of persecution to, "Be here now."
FallingSeptember 13, 2010Lots of people are afraid of falling—and they aren't all old or frail. A wise physical therapist told me that we should be less afraid of falling than we are of not being able to catch ourselves when we fall. I have watched my 85-year-old mother climb stairs. She knows how to catch herself—and she catches herself so well that she doesn't fall. Catching has to do with muscles and alertness and practice and foresight, as in scanning the whole route ahead of you before you step.
How God SpeaksSeptember 12, 2010God is not absent. We are. We are when we lose direction, get lost going our own way, but keep on going anyway until we reach a point where we want to give up.
"That they may all be one" – The Motto of the United Church of ChristSeptember 11, 2010A rabbi told me that a town with two Jews would need three synagogues: The one I go to; The one you go to; and one neither one of us would be caught dead in. Christians are much the same. But Jesus' prophetic words assure us that someday, God's people will ALL be one – within and across faith groups.
The Heart of the MatterSeptember 10, 2010Not long ago, I was on a panel of religious leaders where we were all to talk briefly about our different churches and what we believed. Most of the panelists seemed to believe in searching. With considerable enthusiasm and no small certainty, one panelist proclaimed, "That's what our church is all about, the search." I wondered, "If someone actually found something, would they have to leave?"
Moving the Heart of GodSeptember 9, 2010I can't speak for everyone, but for most of my life I believed that the providential will of God was settled and fixed for eternity. I believed that there is absolutely nothing I could ever do to change or to move the heart of God. I believed that the immutable or unchangeable nature of God rendered any attempts to alter God's plan futile and sacrilegious.
What Would You Do if You Were Not Afraid?September 8, 2010What would you do if you were not afraid? What would you do if you had no chance of failing? Spend some time in prayer with those two questions and see where God leads you.
Look Who's WatchingSeptember 7, 2010I was once asked to recruit some folks to stand outside the entrance of our local supermarket on a December Saturday to solicit contributions for the Salvation Army. All the volunteers were asked to do is stand beside a red bucket and ring a bell. I thought I should take a turn myself. It was fascinating to see how people responded.
Do Not Neglect Your GiftsSeptember 6, 2010Whoever wrote the letter to Timothy was pretty smart. Flattery will get you everywhere—and the idea that we have a gift in us makes us feel good. Unfortunately, the good feeling is a lot like bubble gum. The sweet goes out after a few chews. What is your gift? Is the emphasis on "your?" Or "gift?"
Build People Up, Don't Put Them DownSeptember 5, 2010When Paul wrote this letter to the Roman church, he was giving them instructions on how to be a community of Christian virtue. Don't judge each other. Don't get in each other's way. Don't be consumed with your own perfection. Instead, build each other up. In your relationships, don't just look for pleasure or advantage, but be friends of character.
ScoffSeptember 4, 2010Is anybody else out there tired of sarcasm? Am I the only one sick of his own smug superiority, of earning cheap laughs while desperately trying to appear sophisticated or something?
A Shared WitnessSeptember 3, 2010News Flash: The letters of the Apostle Paul, sent to churches throughout the region of Asia Minor in the first century, were not e-mailed, faxed or texted to individual church members. They were sent to corporate bodies of believers and they were always read aloud in the collective settings of Christians, gathered together. The letters of Paul were never intended to be read by individuals in isolation. They always evoked a shared witness, and shared hearing and a shared reflection.
Asking for HelpSeptember 2, 2010It's better to give than receive but the best givers are good receivers. Otherwise giving is one-sided and leads to resentment. We act as though others need us more than we need them and miss what they have to give.
Address: 5715 Broken SpiritSeptember 1, 2010Where does God dwell? Where is God to be found? If you're looking for God, where should you look?
The Best Choice You Never Heard OfAugust 31, 2010I often tell people that our congregation is "the best choice you never heard of." In olden days and ways, I would have said we are marching to Zion. Our congregation'and many others'remind of nothing so much as the Isner/Mahut tennis match at Wimbledon. It was the longest game of tennis ever played'and in it, everybody wins. You can't possibly say that someone who stayed in that long a match LOST. When you last that long, you don't lose.
What Doesn't Change?August 30, 2010If faith in Jesus is thought to have become weaker and narrower than it used to be, our vision is limited to the northern and western parts of the globe. In the south and east, Jesus is a rising star.
Love EnduresAugust 29, 2010In his famous hymn to love, the Apostle Paul says that love 'endures all things.' Endurance is not one of the sexier spiritual virtues. It sounds like a lot of work, and not always pleasant work at that.
An Appeal to the HeartAugust 28, 2010Many of us have been taught to believe that the word of God is utterly immutable and eternally unchangeable. According to Scripture, 'The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of God stands forever.' Consequently, when God speaks, we are only to submit and obey. Any other response to God's word would be sinful and sacrilegious. So we have been taught.
UrgencyAugust 27, 2010In seminary we were taught to pretty much disregard words like the ones that begin this passage, "The end of all things is near." "Early Christians," we were told, "expected the Second Coming of Christ and the end of history to happen very soon. But we know that didn't happen."
Get the DownloadAugust 26, 2010When your computer begins to run a bit slow and you get a pop-up window notifying you of an upgrade and asking if you want to download it now, do you think to yourself, 'I don't have time today. I'll do it later'' You put it off . . . and off . . . and off. Eventually your application grinds to a near halt. You now have no choice but to download the upgrade.
Ms. Christina Villa
Minister for Resources and Communications
Publishing, Identity, and Communication
Local Church Ministries/Office of General Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.