Friday, December 25, 2009

The Rest of Christmas

Well after four Christmas Eve services I think I'll take some rest. So I may be blogging or not, we'll see. I came home last night after the 11:00 service and could not go to sleep. The momentum of Christmas surprised my tired self. So, I watched the movie, "Christmas Story." They play it over and over again for 24 hours so you can always just jump right into the story. Yea, he about shot his eye out...again.

And last night Jesus was born, again. It is the same story told over and over again every year. You can just "jump right into the story." Last night in the worship services I offered those who would listen the chance to "register" along with Joseph and Mary. I mentioned that the language I grew up on did not say that they went to Bethlehem to "register." They made the rough trip because, "A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be TAXED." It was a taxing experience for this homeless couple. They were not "registering" for a course but then the truth is they were registering for taxes or they would have ended up on the government's naughty list.

I then asked those crowded into the sanctuary...(it's always crowded on Christmas Eve you know)...if they were there to "register" or "audit" the evening. I offered all of us the chance to register and put our name not on the world's list where there is so much "no" but on God's list where we could become "the people we have been waiting for."

The Christmas story goes on and on and you can jump in anytime but it is meant not to be watched from a distance or audited. It is invitational and we need to "register." So I could not go to sleep. I stayed awake for a while...after "Christmas Story." I stayed awake with Joseph and Mary for a while. It was just me alone. The crowds were all back in their homes "with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads" or something like that.

It was a kind of nice moment. I asked myself if I wanted to register....again this jump into the help the baby do what he came to do...make a difference...change the world...offer God's yes in the face of all the "no." Joseph and Mary finally decided to get some rest. Even they had to have some Christmas you have some Christmas rest. And when the tree is down and the manger scene is once again in that box...remember....the story goes on and and I can jump right in anytime...
Bless you

Saturday, December 19, 2009

We Need a Little Christmas

I love listening to Christmas music and it's a good thing I do. The radio stations start playing Christmas music the month before Christmas and do not stop. How many times have you heard, "O We Need a little Christmas, right this very minute?" So how do we get what we need?

Each year we pull out manger scenes, decorate trees, buy presents, surf the channels looking for those Christmas specials, and long to "feel" something that we felt before. We need the sweetness of Tiny Tim blessing us with those innocent words, "God bless us everyone." We want the Grinch's small heart to grow three sizes. We long for the scene when Jimmy Stewart discovers that bump on his head and finds out each year how an angel gets his wings. And we count the number of years we've heard the news of a dreaded decree that "went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled."

We still "need a little Christmas." This week I found out why "again." I spent the night at our church's Room in the Inn ministry with 12 guys who were "on the street." They all had stories and most of them were looking for jobs that they could not find. One fella asked me if he could take some extra bananas that were on the table for breakfast the next morning. "These could come in handy," he said. He told me the night before that he used to "be in real estate."

Yesterday I visited the jail to see someone who was locked up for doing some really bad stuff. A few days before I listened to the hopes of a young mother struggling with cancer and watched a 7 year old child struggling with that same disease sing with the children's choir. And...I made the mistake of watching the evening news.

We need a little Christmas. Why do we love and need that decree for Caesar Augustus each year? It is because the "good news" came in the midst of the bad news. There was a big time "recession" going on in the land when the government announced yet another taxation. A young teenager named Mary barely escaped being stoned to death for adultery only because of the kindness and hope of a man named Joseph who was willing to step out in faith and give Mary's baby a last name.

And yes, "there was no room in the inn" for a homeless couple who probably wondered what in the world God was doing if they could not even find a descent place for the child to be born. We need a little Christmas because the original story tells us of a God who comes in the midst of all the darkness and the questions. This is not a dramatic presentation with stage lights and a church choir in the background. This is the light shinning in the darkness reminding us of the darkness and the hope that the darkness cannot overcome the light.

O yes, we need a little Christmas right this very minute. As a Christmas card I received years ago stated, "Unto you this day is born a savior....but it was night." May the star of Bethlehem shine into your darkness this year. May you have what is there to receive: a little Christmas.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Identity Crisis

Each year on the Sunday before Christmas I have an "identity crisis." Being one who is supposed to proclaim the good news I have a bit of a problem at Christmas time. What can be said about the Christmas story that has not already been said? Having a desire to do something that needs to be special and unique I come to a kind of crisis. What shall I do?

So, I decided years ago to simply tell the story. I do this by taking on the identity of someone "in" the story. I call it my Christmas monologue. The problem is that after I've been at a church for a few years all the characters are "used up." I've been the innkeeper, a shepherd, a wise man, Herod, Joseph, and even a stranger who finds himself as a guest in the inn on that fateful night. So, what was I to do this year?

I pondered the story. Was anyone else there? Then it hit me, those famous words that we have all heard from the days of childhood and bathrobed shepherds accompanied by wise men carrying gifts that look strangely like they were taken from somebody's jewelry cabinet: "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered." Alas, someone had to register them. So this year I will be a "census taker in Bethlehem," which of course is simply another version of a dreaded "tax collector."

I just finished creating him. He is a lonely man who like all "characters" whom we think to be "bad" has a story. This census taker happens upon that scene in the stable and gets caught up in the "story." He gets to "see" Christmas and his life is changed forever.

That is the way the story goes you know. It is not a story that is to be observed from a distance but one that invites the hearer to come close and step into the story. It is meant to be our story. God comes close in the form of Emmanuel...God with us.

The best way I can convey this truth to all of you who are reading this is to share what happened the very first time I did one of these characters. It was years ago and I was the innkeeper. When I got to the part of the story when the innkeeper went to the door he simply said this: "I went to the door to let some of the cool night air in. I had long sense quit answering the many knocks at my door because I had no more room. I had listened to every story and lie you could imagine from people trying to get me to find some room. I was tired of hearing them so I'm not sure why I opened the door late that night except to get some fresh air...There they were...shabby looking couple. The woman was leaning over the neck of what looked like a very tired burro. Then the man said what was unbelievable, 'Sir, do you have some room? My wife is about to have a baby?' Well I thought I had heard it all. Did this man think I was supposed to believe that he would take his wife out on a night like this if she was about to have a baby? Was I supposed to believe a story like that?"

...Then before the innkeeper could say the next words something happened. 4 year old Teddy Gellar was on the back row of the crowded sanctuary. His mother later told me he was standing on the pew bending forward, spell bound by the innkeeper's tale. When he heard the innkeeper say, "Do you expect me to believe a story like that?" Teddy shouted out across the room, "Yes!"

For a moment there was silence. The innkeeper froze. Then there was a solitary laugh. Then the innkeeper simply shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "What do I do now?" Then the magic happened. The laughter took over the room like a tide that had come in and swallowed us all.

Teddy Gellar told the story with one word: "Yes." O, the innkeeper regained his composure and finished the monologue but he and everyone else knew that it was a child who understood that in the face of all the world's "no" God had said "yes."

I've been offering my identity crisis monologues ever since that Christmas long ago. I've been many characters and I've re-written all of them several times, but none will be able to compare with the day that an innkeeper heard a child's voice from out of the dark....Yes, Teddy I believe it.

May you hear the story afresh this year. Stop, look, and listen and you too will hear in the midst of wars, recessions, and a world framed in terror the one word that matters...the "yes" that comes from a stable.

Merry Christmas

Friday, December 11, 2009

Is This It?

Anybody out there old enough to remember when it was a big deal to ride around and look at Christmas lights? Why was it a big deal? Well, there were not as many Christmas specials on TV for one thing. Why...because TV had not been around long enough to make the specials.

So instead of sitting with our heads in a box we had to go out and make something "special." I suppose more people had time on their hands so they would decorate their porches and trees and roofs with all sorts of lights. Not as many people do that, do they? Or do I simply not pay enough attention. Or if I am paying attention am I so overstimulated with the light shows of culture that it simply does not impress me anymore?

Why ride around when you can see it all from the comfort of your home on HD? Well first of all we did it as a family. We actually talked about the lights instead of simply watching them. I remember if all went well we ended up at Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone. That was special.

I remember at the small rural church that I served years ago the tradition was to stuff brown paper bags on a certain Saturday afternoon with nuts, an orange, an apple, and an assortment of small candies. These were called "pokes." The kids would grab them the next Sunday afternoon and were underwhelmed to say the least. These pokes were no longer special to children who did not much like the fruit and were used to having all the candy their stomachs could handle most any time they wanted it.

But the adults wanted to do it because they could remember the days when pokes were special. They still had stories lining their memory chest of their parents who reminded them that a poke was all they got for Christmas. It was special. So I joined in this tradition of remembering the ghosts of Christmas past. In a day when video games would soon relegate coloring books to the attic these adults at least felt the need to nod to the simple days of the past.

Which brings me to what the dear woman said the other evening at the Live Nativity scene. The shepherds were taking their places, the wise men were making their way toward the stable, and Mary and Joseph were now looking down at the manger. I was getting ready to walk over to the microphone and read the Christmas story for the first time that evening when the woman asked me, "Is this it?" "What do you mean, " I responded? "Well is this it or is there something else?"

I felt the need to tell her that I was getting ready to read the story and that yes there would be some dramatic presentations later and some music. For this passing observer, however, something needed to "happen." Simply witnessing the scene and the characters was not enough.

The children that night, however, seemed captivated by simply seeing the scene. Some of them would come up and stare at a "real" Mary and Joseph and then they would stand over the manger looking at baby Jesus. None of the children asked if "anything was going to happen." It already had...

So tonight I think I'll drive around and look at some Christmas lights. I might even go find a Dairy Queen. And as I taste that soft serve I will remember how special small things can be and that the reason for the lights is that something indeed "did happen."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas: God's Bandwidth

Well I got all excited when I was pondering what the word, "Emmanuel" means because I thought of a technology expression that seemed to go with this biblical title. "Emmanuel" means, "God with us." It is the stuff of Christmas carols and angel announcements. "His name shall be called Emmanuel."

So I thought I had this wonderful word that I overheard that has to do with computer stuff called, "band-with." This is great. Is that not what God does in that manger. God "bands with" us....Emmanuel...get it? Then I found out that the word is not "band-with" it's "bandwidth." Shucks, my image comes to speak.

But alas the meaning of the word "bandwidth" has to do with the amount of data that can be handled in a certain amount of time. It is kind of like pipes and water. The bigger the pipe the more water can go through and the faster the water can get to its intended destination.

So, I'm back with the image. Emmanuel, God's bandwidth. God decided that we did not have enough bandwidth so the message was simply "not getting through." God tried laws, prophets, and all sorts of signs like floods and rainbows but we thick headed children simply did not get God expanded the bandwidth. The way God did it, however, really surprised most folks. How could so much information come in such a small package? How could the heart of God be contained in a manger?

Just goes to show you that when it comes to God bandwidth gets turned upside down. God becomes flesh, the transfer of information is instant, but the method is quite small.

Emmanuel, God with us...God is still trying to get through to us. The information highway is filled with all sorts of data but in the midst of all the "bits" and gigabytes...whatever they are... there comes again this year the "good news of great joy to all people...unto you is born a savior...Emmanuel"...God gets through to us. In the midst of all the bad news and the horror that seems not to go away God gets through. We may run out of bandwidth and things can slow down or get clogged up but God will not be denied. It seems that God has all the bandwidth in the world. And you thought the Internet was big.

Advent blessings

Friday, December 4, 2009

Wounded Tigers, Party Crashers, and a Manger

"On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a Tiger who hit a tree. On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me a pair of White House party crash-ers." So would go the new version of that familiar song if you believed what was really "the news" for our day. Why are we an obsessed, celebrity driven culture? What is the need behind us wanting to have heroes who remain unblemished while possessing the power to capture our imaginations? Why do we care that some flashy couple duped the not so secret service?

I'm not really sure why? It is almost like we need to "go back to go" and start over. No, life is not a Monopoly game but we sure could use a new deck of cards and a transformed set of "pieces" to move about our pilgrimage toward wherever it is we seem to be going so fast.

For those who want to not take the express route to Christmas there is that "road less traveled." At the fork in the road is a crusty old fella with locusts in his teeth and the smell of honey on his breath. The centuries call him John the Baptist. He sounds like the alter-ego of Santa Claus as he seems to be making a list and checking it more than twice while he screams out every year in his wilderness to "repent."

The word "repent" has a bad rap. It's been screamed out by too many "modern" would be prophets as a means to "scare the hell" out of people so that they would straighten up and fly right before it is "everlastingly too late"...or something like that. The word actually means to "stop, look, and listen...and then go in a different direction." See there...that sounds more like a "stop sign" on the road rather than a hammer with which to hit people up side of the head.

My stop sign happened last night at our church's live Nativity. Our youngest daughter signed up to be Mary. I kidded her (and I probably should not have...see I've been jaundiced by our culture too) about her role asking if it was a way of doing penance for those wild and crazy days of her youth. She just smiled at me. In that smile I saw a bit of Mary and not just Amanda.

What really got my attention were the children who stood around the manger. They were truly fascinated. They wanted to touch the baby. No, it was not a "real" baby but somehow that did not matter. To them the scene was real. Perhaps they knew just enough of the story to want to see for themselves. Something real sure was happening at that manger.

So, I think I need to repent. I'm tired of news about wounded Tigers and party crashers. I need the "good news" that comes in the wilderness. I want what those children seemed to want. What if we can hear the old story and let it come alive for us? What if we can still help that baby transform this crazy world and this upside-down culture?

That was "really" my daughter up there. Those children "really" were captivated by the story. The news on the talking box is not the reality we need. I walked away from the manger and thought to myself, "Come into my heart Lord Jesus...Come in today...come in to stay...come into my heart Lord Jesus."

Blessed Advent to you,

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Blue Lights and Open Arms

What is it about the Christmas season that offers us the invitation to walk through the back door of life and remember the past? Is it the longing that we have as we get older to not completely lose the part of childhood that still lives in us?

Why do people watch,"It's a Wonderful Life" over and over again? Why does Boris Karloff's voice echoing over the years telling us that the "the Grinch hated the whole Christmas season" make us smile...over and over again?

My hair disappearing, my jogging time getting slower and slower, and my inability to really touch my toes makes getting lost on "memory lane" at Christmas even more appealing. So I remember traveling by train up to the strange land of North Carolina when I was six. We moved three times that year as my father changed jobs only to "land" one up in the far least it seemed like the far country to a child in Biloxi Mississippi.

Dad came up early to "set up house." Mom and I arrived late one foggy night. As I looked out the window all I could see was a solitary figure standing under a dim lamp near the door of the train station. I let go of my mother's hand and ran toward the figure. My mom screamed for me to stop. Who knew if this silhouette was indeed my father? All I knew was that I needed him to be.

As I ran I hesitated for a moment. Maybe this dark figure was not the one who had gone ahead to prepare a way for us. Maybe I was running toward Jack the Ripper. Then the figure slowly lifted both of his hands in a sculpture like pose. I broke from my frozen stance and ran into the enveloping arms of my father.

He drove us to some little brick house with the fog still holding us. We were refugees and the fog seemed to protect us from all that would seem strange. As I walked toward the new "home" I opened the door to see a decorated Christmas tree filled with large blue lights. I shall never forget the sight of that tree. I had never seen a tree with only blue lights. It was so beautiful. In today's standards it would seem rather dull and unimpressive, but to a child who had no idea what the future held in this strange land, it was a sign that someone had prepared Christmas. Christmas would happen in the new place.

I wish for you some special memories this season. You may have to reach back and push away some of the sad recollections that get in the way. So do. Find a place of blue lights for you. For you see, Christmas is about another "father" who prepared the way on a still night. It all happened because of a world that was in need of some good news. It seems this world of ours, shrouded in the deep mist of a wonder, was asking questions that sounded like, "Is someone really waiting for us out there?"

Yes, someone was waiting. Yes, someone is waiting. If it takes reaching back to childhood days when we all needed the reassurance that someone would make a place ready for us, then do it. And if you know of someone out there who is still making memories that need someone like you to help make those memories precious, then give the present of making sure they have something to hold you and your caring.

We have a God who understands blue lights and open arms....
Bless you

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Beginning Again with Thank You

It's time to start over...again. I use a small blue book for my morning time. The readings in it are based on the Christian Year. So I got to the final page again last week. I like it that the Christian year is different from the calendar-on-the-wall-year. I need that difference.

Anyway, my "morning book" ran out again so it was time to turn to the beginning for the first week of Advent, which is the inaugural season of the Christian year. I've been using this book for twenty years now, so the readings have become like old friends that I reintroduce myself to after a year's absence. As I read them I wonder how I was feeling when I read them last year. As the old wisdom saying goes, "You never put your foot in the same stream twice." Life is always moving even if you do not want it to move.

Advent always comes around Thanksgiving time. So I ponder those pages of my life that I have turned in years past at Thanksgiving. There was that Thanksgiving when our second child interrupted the family gathering by having the audacity to be born at 11:17. She was 10lbs 2oz. I let her know over the years that she was my 10lb turkey.

There was another Thanksgiving a few years later when we left my parent's house after having a wonderful evening. Our oldest daughter Abigail had written a tribute to my mom for an assignment in her High School English class. She wanted me to read it to see how it sounded. I cried as I "listened" to her recount days of childhood when she sat on my mother's lap as mom sang "Fly Little Blue Bird Through My Garden." Abigail also remembered those special "granny breakfasts" that were prepared just for her.

After reading it I said to Betsy, "Wow, mom needs to read this before something happens to her." My mom was not that ill but she did battle various ailments most all the time. Mom read it that Thanksgiving evening and cried. She said through her tears to that first born of ours, "I thought you had forgotten."

Later that night my mother leaned her head over while reading a book in her favorite chair and died. I was broken hearted but....the first thing I said was, "Well, we had a sort of going away party without knowing it." I was thankful for that evening.

Now it is time to start over again...again. I'll pick up my little blue book full of old friends and start the journey. I'm not sure how I'll feel each day as I read familiar words. I'm not even sure that I will make it to the next end, which will proceed the next beginning. These readings and this new year remind me that all we have is "daily." I forget that so often. I worry about tomorrow too much. It is as if I'm skipping the readings for today.

Anyway, I'm thankful for memories. I'll try again this year to be thankful...daily.
Bless you,

Friday, November 20, 2009

Do You Wanna Dance?

I'm not much of a dancer so it intrigued me when I found myself bouncing around with speakers in my ears just after one of my morning runs. You know, you've witnessed this have you not? You see some crazed individual with his or her ears stopped up with music and they are bobbing around in their own private world. They are listening in to a beat that stirs their souls and their bodies but you are not privy to the words or the music. They are "lost in wonder, love, and praise" as old Charles Wesley once wrote.

It's a sight to behold to see someone possessed with an unseen spirit. Reminds me of something straight out of the pages of the bible when the words say, "the demon caused him to flail around and dance about." Actually the word "demon" in the bible has a history. Demons in the real old days did not connote "bad." To be possessed by a demon could be good. A demon was simply a spirit beyond self that was powerful enough to possess you.

Well...back to my demon that overwhelmed me just after my run. At first I did not know why old shy-not liking to dance-me found myself jiving around near my driveway not seeming to care who might be watching and wondering. Was it the words, the beat, the music? After an initial pause to see if anyone might be driving by...or driving by and having stopped to look...I listened to the words. Ah...not only was it the beat of the bouncing spirit. I realized that I liked the words. They reminded me of another song...a hymn...but not one of those dreary, dirge-like hymns. This hymn makes you want to dance. In fact this hymn is dance:

I danced in the morning when the world was begun
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun
And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth

Dance then wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the dance said he
And I'll lead you all wherever you may be
I'll lead you all in the dance said he...

So what was this other not so religious song that captured my early morning spirit? Alas it was the Avett Brothers singing, "Dancing Daze." At first it was the upbeat music that made me dance around, but then I realized that the words reminded me of that one who "danced one morning when the sky turned black," even though its hard to dance "with the devil on your back." And then the dancing Lord goes on to say, "They buried my body and they thought I'd gone, but I am the dance and I still go on..."...and then the words I love, "They cut me down and leapt up high, I am the dance that will never never die...I'll live in you if you live in me...I am the Lord of the dance said he."

Okay so I was possessed that morning but here are the words from that mystical demon who is way good before demons turn way bad... The words were probably written about a girl who looked at life in a wonderful way...written by a guy who admired her "possessed" style of dealing with whatever came her "way" by dancing her "way" through good and bad times....Here goes...put on your ear plugs and have at it...

"I've seen the way you look at things
The troubles that this life will bring
If it gets to you then I can tell by the way you sing
You act like it just doesn't mean a thing

I see you dancin all your, dancin all your, dancin all your daze
Maybe you can tell me how it is you got that way
Dancin all your dancin all your dancin all your daze
Come on, come on, there's got to be a way

There's all these things that get me down
The dirty world is full of clowns
They build you up just so they can knock you down
Laugh at you while you're there on the ground
....but you...I see you dancin all your days

...I really like the way it feels
I look at you and it's real...

come on...come on that's got to be the way"

As I finished my possessed dance I thought of all those dear people to whom I try to minister who are really struggling with the bad demons of cancer, or loss of jobs, or mates who disappear, or children who go to far countries. I often wonder how some people get by...and then...I hear the words...."there's all these things that get me down"..."it's hard to dance with the devil on your back"....but then come those other words..."I've seen the way you deal with things...I see you dancing all your daze...come on, come on, show me the WAY"

He once said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life"....ah now I of those ways is to dance no matter what because there is one who is the Lord of the dance who even danced one Friday when the sky turned black....and who in spite of it all said, "I am the dance that will never never die...I'll live in you if you live in me...I am the Lord of the dance said he"

The way, the truth and the life.....dancing, all your, dancing all your, dancing all your days...come on come on that's got to be the way...

Bless you,

Saturday, November 14, 2009

God, Gabriel, and Google

I wonder....if...

"Hey Gabe, google Jody Seymour and see what you get."

"But you're God for heaven's sake. Why do you need to google him?"

"Well, I've been sort of busy lately and I want to catch up. After all I've got other stuff I do besides keep up with those people of mine. Did you see that new galaxy that I started forming from that exploding star? What a show. And I've got it down to a couple of million years...the whole process. Why I might even start me a whole new set of creatures one of these days...but for now do what I said. Google that Seymour guy."

"Let's see. There's not really much here. He's written some stuff...and he's still doing that ministry thing you got him into. That's about it."

"I forgot. You're using that old slow thing of yours. Come over here and let me show you something. This is my personal computer. It's a lot faster than yours and the search engine on it...well...lets just say that when I use the term "google" it is an expression of sorts. The search engine I use makes Google look like an old black and white photo compared to a full length movie in 3-D."

"How come you've never let me use your computer?"

"I'm God and you're not."

"O, I forgot."

"Yea, I'm used to that"

"Well, what can you 'look up' on yours that I can't on mine?"

"I can search the heart. I can examine motives. I can research the 'why' of it all. Ah, Gabe there's far more to those people of mine than meets the eye. Why just come over here and look at my screen and what is reveals when 'I' google Seymour."


Bless you....(and with that Capital One credit card commercial as a reminder..."What's on your screen?"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Front Porch

A famous person once said, "In my father's house there are many rooms." He was not talking about square footage. The actual word he used for "rooms" is better translated, "dwelling places."

A dwelling place is of course a place where you would enjoy "dwelling." For me that was my grandmother's front porch. On that porch filled with two rows of rocking chairs you could find everybody rocking back and forth, from the town drunk to the governor of the state. Everyone was welcome.

There was always a pot of coffee brewing to satisfy the thirst. That thirst could be for the bitter taste of the dark brew or it just might be for the deep need of the soul. Remember this was a dwelling place. It was no ordinary front porch. What made it special was not its location next to a busy highway. What made it a dwelling place was my grandmother who welcomed anyone who wanted to sit a while and talk. Somehow she left judging people behind in her own journey. Somewhere she decided that everyone deserved a cup of coffee, a rocking chair, and a listening ear.

Word got out that everybody was welcomed at "Hattie's house." The Mississippi delta heat was persistent and the old brown Sears's oscillating fan could only do so much to cool off the tired, weary pilgrims who rocked and drank hot coffee on that front porch. So why would they end up there?

I think it was the reality that everybody's story was valuable on that front porch. Status and even the penalties of the past seemed to be left at the gate that you opened when you walked up the sidewalk to the discover the ever present smell of coffee.

"Come sit a while and tell me your story." That is what people knew they would hear from Hattie. That...and a cup of coffee was all most anybody ever really needs.

Hattie is gone now. She told me when she was 93 that she was worn out and "needed to go home." I squeezed her hand and said, "I know grandma but I hate to lose you." She responded with another tighter squeeze and said, "Boy, I don't want to out-live myself."

When I conduct funerals I most always use those words, "in my father's house are many dwelling places." I use them because they are given to be used, but I mostly use them because of that front porch. I am confident that the dwelling place that I offer to those who sit before me who are grieving surely has a front porch. There are rocking chairs and I bet there's some coffee. There you can find Jesus and grandma rocking back and forth...and well...You can also fiind the types of people telling their stories who will probably surprise most of us since we have a bad habit of not leaving the judgement stuff at the front gate.

Bless you

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Common Good

The recent debate about health care reform and some words I heard recently about how there needs to be a movement toward the "common good" made me ask, "Just what is the common good?" It seems according to various sociologist that our culture has turned into one of "expressive individualism." The focus for what is valuable and what needs to be done in society is centered around "me and mine."

My right to have a gun, my right to decide about my health insurance, my right to worship where I please, my right to talk on my cell phone while I'm driving, and my right to drive what I damn well please no matter what the gas mileage seems to be part of the air we breathe. I too breathe this air. I like "my rights."

But there is another question: Just what is "community?" Is there something "real" like community? Is community as real as the individual or is community simply what you get when you add up all of our individual "rights?"

I'm beginning to think that the "common good" is something like an old IBM electric typewriter trying to get its message out in a world full of I-Pods and Blackberries. We see the words but we do no pay much attention. It is an old message from a by-gone era.

But with the typewriter sound in the background we experience the highest murder rate by handguns of any developed nation in the world, we keep up our addiction to oil that is in the hands of those who make us have a foreign policy that keeps us fighting all the time, we continue to warm up our air and oceans and claim its our right to do so, and we talk, talk, talk, while we drive, drive, drive...and don't tell us we can't.

Is the common good a museum piece? Why are we so afraid of loosing our individual rights? Is there any room anymore for giving up at least a small amount of something for me so that "you" might have something? Are we standing in fear-filled lines for swine flu vaccine in part because we are "infected" with a far more serious virus known as the "expressive individualism" disease? What would be a vaccine for such a pandemic?

There are some very old words that were given even before the IBM dinosaur. They are words from the ages which speak of community being more important than any one individual in the community. The words do not come from Karl Marx. They come from crusty old prophets who proclaimed that God cared for those who were struggling in the community and the individuals in that community better start caring for them or there would be judgement.

In this community there was a responsibility to care for the orphan, the widow, and especially the stranger. Later on a faith descendant of those prophets showed up on the scene and declared that the way to "salvation" and balance in life and society was to "clothe the naked, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, and give grace to the stranger."

After the society of the day got rid of this trouble maker who was messing up individual rights those who decided to follow his way... anyway... formed a "community" where it is written in that old document called the Bible that "when anyone was in need the members of the community brought what they had and laid it at the feet of the apostles so that no one would be 'without.'"

Those who wish to follow this "old way" have a source for understanding the common good...but there are too many people like me who are too busy talking and driving to pay much attention to that "old stuff." I have a sneaking suspicion that the common good would be well served if some individuals paid attention to some of that old stuff.

Bless you,

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Rest is Light

Below is a poem I wrote for All Saints Day. I was inspired by the recent discovery of the latest Gama Ray Blast that occurred 13.5 billion years ago but the light from that "star explosion" traveling at the speed of light just arrived on the scene. I thought of this in the context of the phrase that comes from the Commendation that I use at the end of a Memorial service. I offer these words as I commend a person's soul to God: "Let perpetual light shine upon them...and may they be granted everlasting rest." The poem is entitled, "The Rest is Light"

The Rest is Light

Some distant star
its source so
far removed
Yet it is here
the now is
present in our
dark sky

Its radiance created
in the womb of
a distant birthing
But its light is in
the eyes of
our beholding
the moment

For the One who knows
the light also
holds the darkness
Our need is deep for
the shinning hope
that in the dark
there is presence

And so when we let go
of our breath
that is life
We are promised rest
that is deeper
than the darkest
night sky

"Let perpetual light
shine upon them"
echoes in the dark
And the wound-born
words from the
tomb now empty
the rest is light

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Where Are You Little Star?

Dion sang the haunting words in 1961. They were the lament of a young lover who desperately needed a star upon which to wish. "Where are you little star?" This yearning for love needed the twinkling of a star to ignite the flame of romance.

Well, they've found your star. It may be a little too late for the particular star-gazer of the song but none the less the light has come. It is known as GRB 090423. Let's see how can we work that into the lyrics of a new song?

The letters stand for Gamma Ray Blast. The numbers are I suppose what you would push on the juke box if you want to hear the sound of it all....well...not exactly.

This Gamma Ray Blast is the oldest and farthest away point of light that we have discovered thus far. The "blast" happened about 13.5 billion years ago not too long after the "Big Bang." The light just now got to us after traveling at the speed of light for a little over 13 billion years. And you and I get impatient if our high speed Internet does not flash what we need on the screen quick enough.

Gamma Ray Blasts happen when stars die and explode. The next thing that happens is maybe a black hole of some kind. These blasts are the brightest things that happen in our rapidly expanding universe. Our universe is supposedly made up of 70% dark energy and 25% dark matter. All this dark stuff is supposedly what keeps together the 5% of "regular matter" that reflects light...or visible matter. The dark stuff is the "glue" for the "light stuff."

Another way of putting it, if you are getting lost in the letters and numbers, is this: And God was "brooding over the dark." This expression comes from a literal translation of the first few verses of Genesis when the "earth was formless" and the "wind of God" swept over the deep, dark waters of chaos and formed "something." The "something" that we now call Creation happened when God said, "Let there be light."

The "wind" comes from the Hebrew word for the flutter of a mother bird's wings over her nest. In other words this seems to refer to a kind of cosmic "egg" that the mother bird is protecting as it gets ready to "hatch."

Are you ready for the really exciting part? Astronomers and cosmologists tell us that the whole cosmos got its start from the explosion of a small....uhhh....egg-like something. This all happened about 14 billion years ago and is now called "the big bang."

"Where are you little star?" Finally the star arrives "fresh" from 13.5 billion years of travel. The star proclaims a message overheard from the first "days" of Creation. "Let there be light." God's "brooding" reflects the love of the one who creates all light and even all dark. It seems it takes the dark to keep the light together. And you wondered why there was so much darkness in this life of ours.

"Twinkle, twinkle little star. How I wonder what you are." GRB 090423. Astronomers call the hum that can be heard in radio telescopes "background radiation" left over from the original big bang explosion. I think it is the music of the stars....or...maybe it is God laughing at us with love because after 13.5 billion years we are finally catching up.

And God said let there be light. Thank you, O divine Creator, for "hatching" up such a wonder-filled place from which we can "wish upon a star."
Bless you,

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Messing with Time

Here we go again. We are going to exercise our power by changing the time. Someone is going to sneak into some cave somewhere and push a button. "They" say it happens around 2:00 in the morning. Of course that is if you live on the east coast of this particular continent. On the coast of some other piece of terra firma it might just be 2:00 in the afternoon. But it is the same cave....they say.

Did anybody get to vote on this? When did we fall down the rabbit hole and discover that some mad hatter gets to mess with time? The original Mad Hatter told Alice, "No wonder you were late. Why this watch is two days slow."

We human "beings" like to really be human "doings." We have to feel like we are in control. We convince ourselves of this by doing life. One of the best ways to "do" life is to think that we have a handle on time. When we start loosing control of time we take it back by adding an hour on to the day or taking an hour away. Like some "Alice in Wonderland" character we do our time math and then stand back and say, "There now...We changed time...How about that."

The "one" who is beyond time must smile at our efforts. This God of "all time" knows that we are not really in control of our time. I wonder if we checked our cosmic e mail "in box" we would discover a short message that read, "Quit your attempts to change time and figure out that it is really time for change."

Once upon a "time," except this really happened, a certain time traveler spoke some words that echo over the ages into our modern attempt to mess with and change time. He said, "Repent, the time is at hand." In his native tongue that ancient word he used means not so much to feel shame about who we are but rather the word "repent" means to "turn around and make a change."

So, soon we will do our "day-light savings" time change thing. Down in Alice's rabbit hole the King said, "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop."

We'll soon "receive" an extra hour. I suppose it will be a gift. Then again where did all those other hours come from? Were they gifts?

The time is at teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Bless you,

Thursday, October 22, 2009

But Can I Keep the Boat?

His name was Foster. He was my uncle...the crazy one...they said. As a child all I knew was that he often smelled funny. I later learned that the aroma was from left over trips to the local watering hole. Foster liked to come in early from his shrimp boat and spend quality time with his friends at the bar that was adjacent to the dock.

His other brothers, who also owned shrimp boats, took the bait that was offered by the new shipyard that came to the area. They quickly realized that the money was better, the hours shorter, and the income a sure thing. Shrimping was kind of like farming. One never knew what the result would be from the long hours of investment.

But...they had to sell their boats. To maintain shrimp boats takes time and money. Foster, however, hesitated. He too liked the lure of the money and the sure thing, but he also liked the life style that allowed him to come in early from his boat and load up at the dock. He liked the idea of more money but he knew that he too would have to give up the boat and the "perks" that came with what happened on those times when he simply wanted to stop work and start drinking.

This reminds me of another group of fishermen who once said to the one who offered them a different life style, "If we repent can we still keep the boats?" Jesus basically said, "no."

As the story goes they hung up their fishing nets one afternoon and went off to follow a man that promised them that they would be fishing for people....but they could not keep the boats. The new life meant leaving the old behind.

Me...I want my cake and eat it too. I want to follow Jesus but still keep my boat. No wonder I don't catch more people or something like that. To follow this fisher of people means giving up some old stuff. Like Foster I've established some "ways" that I kind of like. So...what does your boat look like??
Bless you

Monday, October 19, 2009

I Woke Up in the Dark

I don't think I have "seasonal affective disorder" but then again I might. What's the deal with all this dark? I know, the time has not changed yet to at least give us a break in the morning. That is the way it works, isn't it? I also have day light savings time disorder. I always get mixed up with "fall forward" and "spring backward." I spring when I should fall or something like that.

Anyway I sure know why all those people in the past came up with rituals in the month of December. I mean by the time December gets here it is really dark. No messing with our watches can change it. So, long ago people lit fires and danced around them. Sometimes, depending on their religious or non-religious persuasion, they asked, pleaded, or enticed the "sun" or "sun god" to please come back from his or her hiding place. This makes me feel a little better. I don't feel so alone in the dark. They did not like it either.

Speaking of December, there is some debate about the dating of Jesus' birth. It seems that Matthew and Luke did not bother to pay attention to the calendar. They were so excited to tell the story that they forgot to tell us what day it was. You say, "What do you was December 25 of course." Well that's when we celebrate it because we sure need to. We need the light in the dark. We need a good story with a happy ending. We need to not always wake up in the dark.

Since those early gospel writers failed to mark the calendar it seems that one of the Popes long ago got penned up against the wall and felt he had to offer an encyclical authorizing the exact date so that shepherds and Wise Men would no longer be "in the dark." It did not take him long to know exactly when God would have done such a thing. It had to be in the darkest time of the year. Maybe the Pope had that seasonal affective thing.

He did not need a calendar because he knew that the light needed to shine in the darkness. Maybe the exact date of that exceptionally bright star is a mystery, but it is not a mystery to me. We need and it's not even December yet.

One of the earliest Christian expressions ever recording was one word, "maranatha." It simply means, "come Lord Jesus." Some folks these days get all worked up about the word because they assume that the it refers to the literal second coming with all the end of the world fire-works and all. I simply like what it really means. Day-light savings time or not....maranatha...come into our dark mornings...and too early dark evenings...come into the dark that cannot be measured in people's lives who are without the light of love or hope or care...come into all the dark with the kind of light that penetrates the darkness like only you can...maranatha...

May you experience his light today.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

This Time it's 2012

Well, I've just seen the trailer for the movie. It's even been suggested on none other than the "History Channel" that the world as we know it will come to an end in the year 2012. Shucks I'm still getting over the millennium bug and now we have the 2012 virus and the upcoming movie with the number as the title.

The doomsday proponents dusted off predictions that had been stored in the attics and basements and brought them out to the light when 2000 loomed and computers were going to crash and stars would fall. Toilet paper disappeared from grocery store shelves? did canned food and other staples that could be stored wherever it was that people were going to hide.

I've done a little research on the 2012 phenomenon...very little...but I'm as much of an expert as some who are writing books and making movies. Yes, there seems to be a galactic alignment coming, and yes the Mayan calendar seems to "run out" about December of 2012 (of course some scholars think that it kind of starts over...but don't confuse end of timers with such dangling conflicting facts)...and yes there is always the possibility of a big chunk of space stuff colliding with our spinning ball of cosmic dust...but

If you check out the "history" of end of the world close encounters of every imaginable kind you will find one common element: they've all been wrong. Another common devise is to use the Bible to make the time-line-charts...and again is wrong. Every biblical "mathematician" and prognosticator have gone down the black hole of evidence that is manipulated to meet the criteria of a certain prejudiced ideology.

Why do we need "anti-Christs" and Armageddons and apocalyptic predictions? Last time I checked there was enough fear to go around without thinking about all this. Do we really think that God has some calendar type kind of plan? If there is one, are we supposed to figure it out?..and if so...why? Is it in order to "get prepared?"

Jesus seems to have never visited a Hallmark store in order to purchase a calendar. He did once say that, "Before THIS GENERATION passes away you will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds." As soon as Jesus went back to where he came from, folks rushed to the store and bought calendars and rulers so that they could make time charts.

Jesus did not show up at the "end of time" least not at the "end" that they plotted. What did he mean by "this generation?" He obviously did not mean the way we measure "this generation." God's time-clock is way beyond our meager let's quit playing this silly game and getting people all worked up with anxiety.

Jesus got cornered one day about all this by some of his disciples who wanted to know when the "end would come." Jesus gave them a definitive answer; "I don't have any idea," he said..."Next question."

Basically the "way" that Jesus offered to those who would listen was time sensitive for sure. "Live now and be present to the present...the end is always near." That's about it.

How about we if "spend" our time making life full and better for all God's children. Let's "consider" those lilies Jesus seemed to have us ponder. Let's fill our remaining hours looking for the "least of these." According to my calendar the time is now...that is all any of us have. Whenever the "end" does come, the God who gave us the beginning will be there. That is about the only "chart" we need.
bless you,

Monday, October 12, 2009

Defending God?

I wonder if atheism goes in cycles like, you know, wide ties? Lately it seems that books on atheism are on the best seller list. "God is Not Great," and "The God Delusion" are two that come to mind. Laced with this are thoughts like those of John Shelby Spong who wants to debunk "theism" by stating that there is no God "up in the sky." I'm not just being defensive because I think we can learn from the "loyal opposition."...but...

The problem with some of this "God is outdated" kind of stuff is that the choices given are 1)to be simple minded believers or 2) with-it realistic atheists. Somebody needs to tell these God knockers that there are a whole lot of choices between being a rigid fundamentalist and a "no thanks to God" advocate.

For one thing, God and science do not have to be such opposites if one has an expansive view of God and an educated understanding of what the Bible is and what it is not. Don't lump me with the foolish believers who have to spend all their time criticizing evolution and the big bang theory. The God of the universe has enough imagination to do whatever God wants when it comes to creation.

And I'm tired of TV talking heads who seem to "represent" Christianity. Most of them do not represent my understanding of Christianity so quit doing the "one size fits all" kind of defense of atheism. The God that some of the atheists don't believe in sounds a lot like the God I don't believe in either.

I like what Karl Barth, the eminent German biblical scholar and theologian said when asked, "Dr Barth, it sounds like you do not take the Bible literally?" His response was, "I take the Bible far too seriously to take it literally."

Well that goes not only for the Bible, it also goes for one's understanding of God. There are many ways to understand God besides the simple "man upstairs" or "cosmic policeman" or "divine puppet master." Another theologian named Paul Tillich called God, "the ground of all being."

So you can save your wide ties and know full well that atheism comes and goes along with all kinds of "views" of God. The deal is that if there is a God, and what do you think...I think there is...then the real God has to be much more complex than our mere views of that God.

So yes functional atheism can kick in when God let's us down or does not show up or is accused of allowing some "god-awful" (interesting expression) event to happen like a tsunami or something. The God who is way beyond any sky and a whole like deeper than our human thoughts can handle our disbelief and disappointment. Some religion can't handle complexity, ambiguity, and doubt; but the God of the universe is way bigger than religion.

I'm not big on the "Faith for Dummies" brand of faith that the latest atheists suggest that we believers espouse. There is no fact about the Bible or finding from the world of science that "true believers" need fear. Bring it on. The really big God, who by the way cannot fully be understood literally, can handle the questions.
Bless you

Thursday, October 8, 2009

It's Time to Fly

Well they're here. Those caterpillars I told you about a few weeks ago who ate to the ground Betsy's parsley plants are now flying around our backyard equipped with the colorful wings of Monarch butterflies. They seem to be having a good time bouncing from flower to flower. I mean they've been in a cave for a few weeks, remember.

Wonder what a "to be" Monarch thinks while he or she is in that cocoon? "I'm done. I'm never getting out of this hole. The darkness is too overwhelming. I don't care what those others said it's lonely in here. Maybe what they said is a lie. Maybe there is nothing on 'the other side' of this darkness. What if I just wither up and die in here...heck this feels like death already. Is this feeling I have a real spinning of something else or am I wasting my time?"

The only way that a once upon a time caterpillar will know that the waiting in the dark was worth it is when the day the seal is broken and the light surrounds those strange new stained glass windows of flight. No wonder butterflies are loved all over the world. Could it be that we look at them and have those subliminal thoughts about us and our doubts about what will happen one day when we end up in the dark...that day when life calls it "a wrap" and life says "lights out." Somebody will take what's left of us and well...put us in a box...somehow...and then....

Well all I know is that the Monarch butterfly goes through four stages...It is only the fourth generation of Monarch that lives longer than two weeks. The fourth generation somehow lives four to six months and they will soon migrate 2,5000 miles to Mexico and end up in the same trees that their great grandparents went to. Now how do they know to do that?

The mystery wraps us all in a cocoon of wonder. So have a good trip my winged friends. You remind us all of a Creator who must be really be enjoying all of this. We sure are...

Bless you,

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Colored Water

I just finished the book, "The Color of Water" in which Ruth, the main character, tells one of her 12 children who asks, "What color is God?"..she replies, "God is the color of water." This white woman married an African American man. The story of her life, her struggles, her faith pilgrimage from Jewish to Christian, and her views of God are fascinating stuff.

I am reminded of the poem I wrote years ago when I reflected on that day in Biloxi Mississippi when as a child I mistakenly drank from the "colored" water fountain. It was around the corner from the "white only" fountain. Here are my "old" words:
Colored Water

"Colored" read the sign above the fountain
whose water I had drunk
Would I be sick from drinking "colored" water?
For I was "white only
though but a child

I asked a big person
but my mistaken drink was washed away with
So I waited to see if I would turn ill
or perhaps "colored"
for no one would say

There was only laughter at my childish question
and the strange word, "nigger" tossed about like
a toy
some strange enjoyment I did not understand

Now I am a "big person" with no signs to read above
And my children laugh when I tell them the
colored water story
For they do not understand how water could
make people sick

Ah but we "big people" do know that colored water did make people sick. Ruth learned it. We who have age on us remember the fountain of racism, the "colored" balcony at the movies, the back of the bus world, and that other part of town that was called "colored."

We had to learn that God "is" the color of water. It is we who are God's creation that attach labels and make water and even people "colored."

Have we learned? My children disbelieve me when I tell them that there were really fountains that read, "colored." They think I'm making it up. They can't believe anyone would really do that. There's hope. They can't believe it. I hope they believe along with Ruth that God is the color of water.
Bless you,

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why ARE There So Many Songs About Rainbows?

Well all I can say is she took my breath away...again. The wedding was over, the sacred words were said...she was surprised when "Grow Old Along With Me" was sung...and she and her new man turned to walk down an isle toward the rest of their lives...

And then...she and her man walked through the door for the party. He danced with her to the words, "You swept me away." I watched. It was nice...and then...

It was my time to dance that father/daughter dance. I wondered what song she would pick. Then the banjo started strumming...and there was dear Kermit singing, "Why Are There So Many Songs About Rainbows." I'm tingling right now as I write this. I used to sing it to her when she was a "girl." She knew that..and she remembered.

She looked up into my moist eyes and she said, "I had all kinds of trouble finding this song. I had to have Kermit sing it, not somebody else. I had to buy the whole CD just to get it..but I wanted it to be our song."

I held her and made my own rainbow with sunshine and the water of memories. That girl could make me cry in many ways but this was special.

Why are there so many songs about rainbows? It is because we need those illusions and visions. We need them to be painted over our sour headlines. We need them to touch the "lovers and dreamers " in all of us. We need them because life is sometime just to "real."

O my goodness what a moment it was. In the colors of that moment there were years of memories. As I swayed to that simple, child-like melody I was somewhere over the rainbow. There are not many moments like that one. There's not supposed to be.

I looked into those eyes as the music ended and I realized how much she really is "my child." O I know, she's somebody else's now...but you know how that goes. There will always be rainbows.
Bless you,

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Wedding Toast

I thought I would share the toast that I composed to offer tonight to Abigail and Brent. Abigail is our first born who will wed Brent later today. I share this with you as a way to remember for those of us who said vows long ago:

May your joy be found in the discovery of what makes the other happy.

May your happiness be found in the reality that happiness is not something that is found in the pursuit of it but is discovered as you share from your heart.

May your love be something that you never take for granted and if you do may your foolishness be discovered early.

May your togetherness have enough spaces to honor each other but enough closeness to realize that what you make in your relationship is a living, breathing thing.

May your marriage be one of constant learning and growing for that which is not growing is in the process of decay.

And may you always remember that God loves you more than you will ever love each other and that same God will not do the work of love for you but stands always near to give you the grace to learn the kind of love that God has for you.
God bless you.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Little Girls and Wedding Dresses

With the echo of "carry me" still hanging in the air she will walk down the isle in a few days in a wedding dress. Abigail liked to be "carried" as a child. There were those days when the carrying consisted of being lofted onto daddy's shoulders so she could see the world from on high.

Soon I will carry her down the isle, let go of her arm, take a small revolving step and change roles from dad to the one offering she and her "knight" the opportunity to join as one. What happened to the long dance recitals, the days of sneaking out her bedroom window, and the struggle to pass math (3 times) so she could finally get out of college?

All that will be part of her. The new "man in her life" will find that out if he does not already know. Those of us who have spoken sacred words in front of some guy holding a book know what the two whom I will stand before soon do not really know: no one knows what they are doing when they get married.

As Scott Peck once wrote, "if we call it falling in love....what happens when we get up?" this case it's called "marriage." It's lab work. It's hard. It's supposed to be. Everybody is hard to live with and there are not violins in the background to smooth things over because as the song says, "life is more than two hours long."

So, I'll walk her down the isle and remember how I used to carry her. She does not know what she is really doing but neither did I. Heck, I did not know how to be a parent either when that came along even though the old gentlemen who saw me staring through the hospital nursery window at the new creation that first day said to me, "Don't worry son they come with directions." Did you ever find any directions? I didn't.

Like with marriage, I learned as I went and usually learned the hard way and sometimes the painful, slow way. I've told her and she seemed to listen that there would be speed bumps and that when what I call "saddle sores" develop from the wear of marriage that it is wisdom that seeks some help outside the marriage. She seemed to "take it in."

So for now I'll "carry her" one last time down a path where we will make some new beginnings. She will be on my arm and not on my shoulders this time. It seems like such a short time ago that those small reaching arms asked me to be her support to see the world from on high.

I'll whisper a prayer to one who does see it all from "on high." Help her pay attention, Father. Give her courage to learn when the time comes. Show her what you do best: teach her how to forgive. Grant them a good measure of the best thing you ever give any of us: a love that continues to grow and expands by giving.

Bless you

Monday, September 21, 2009

It's Mine

"It's mine," is the cry of the child who does not want to share. I know. I am an "only child" who did not get the computer chip implanted in my "wiring" that tells my hardware to share. I have to download sharing. It does not come naturally for only children.

That is, in fact, why we have two children. Betsy announced a few years after we had our first child that "one was enough for her." I abruptly responded, "O no we will not do that. You had a brother. You don't know what it's like being an 'only.' It is not the real world."

So we had two. Betsy reminded me when that second child got into the adolescent girl spiral in a rather large way that this second child fit into my only child "It's mine" category. She pointed to that second child and said, "She's yours."

It seems of late that we are an "only child culture." Everybody is claiming and even screaming that "it's mine." We seem afraid of loosing our rights to have a gun, make sure our hospital insurance is untouched, or choose who we will have as neighbors both literally and culturally. The latest culprit who seems to get the role as parent is none other than the government. We seem to want certain things from our "parent" like protection and roads and the "pursuit of happiness." But there are certain things that make us scream, "it's mine."

Those of us who dare claim the title, "Christian" need to take a look back at our family heritage. Our foundations are built on a Hebrew understanding of life that did not have, "it's mine" in the glossary. Community was the building block of culture. In fact community was so important that the community had to even be careful about those who came their way who were not part of the community.

These "strangers" were called "sojourners" by the God who made the rules. The reason that the community was required to be careful of and do justice to the sojourners was that this God said that everyone was a sojourner. God seemed to realize that one of the first things people do when they get a bit settled is that they start the only child thing and claim that most everything is "mine."

So God reminded the people that the land was not really "theirs" but was on loan. The land was God's garden shared with sojourners who were passing through. All the "stuff" that the people ended up obtaining and holding so tight to as "mine" was in reality in the category of "gift." Sharing at first was the norm because community was always more important than individual rights. Individual rights stemmed from a secure community but was never meant to become the norm.

Later those first people who claimed that Jesus was the human face of this same God started not a religion or a movement but they started a "community." Records (the book of Acts if you are interested) show that this community was a place where people brought together their resources and shared them with the "apostles" so as to make sure that all people had enough.

Well...we've come a long way. To listen to some who still wear the Christian sweatshirt you would think that individual salvation and right thinking and believing are the top ingredients of the Christian way of life. Community gets lost amidst that old and always dangerous idea that "it's mine."

I've bumped into St. Francis again recently. His prayer is a good antidote for the recent revival of the "it's mine" way of life:
Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.Where there is hatred, let me sow love;where there is injury,pardon;where there is doubt, faith;where there is despair, hope;where there is darkness, light;and where there is sadness, joy.O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;to be understood as to understand;to be loved as to love.For it is in giving that we receive;it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

Bless you,

Friday, September 18, 2009

Green Scales Fell Like Rain

Puff the Magic Dragon came out of his cave briefly to bow his head once more. Those who got a glimpse of him were considered by many to be either delusional or told that they "never grew up." Skeptics included those who could not find Narnia nor could they catch a glimpse of Aslan or hear his "fearless roar."

Puff had not "roared" in years ever since he took to his cave at the loss of the innocence of "little Jackie Paper." Puff is a very sensitive dragon and of late there has not been much reason for him to risk coming out from his place of refuge. Puff never liked the grown-up world. There is much not to like.

The past few days his head "was bent in sorrow" for word came to him about the death of his friend and "keeper" Mary Travers. Along with her friends Peter and Paul, Mary would occasionally bring Puff to life, at least for a while. When they sang his song and children of all ages started singing along Puff could hear it. The words somehow seeped into the darkness of his cave. Many times he almost thought of coming out of his hiding and making another go of it, but each time the sounds of larger voices screaming of terror, fear, and insecurity made him slip deeper into his cave.

But because of his deep love for the sweet voice of "his" Mary there was a Puff sighting and to honor his friend he came forth from his shelter and bowed. A few green scales, those left from other days, fell like sacred rain. And then somehow, from down deep in his old soul, there came forth a roar. It was a roar that seemed reminiscent of days of Camelot. It was a roar that remembered how some of the children who used to love Puff also brought his friend Tinkerbell back to life one day. It was a roar that said innocence still lives.

As he roared he looked out to "the sea" and for a brief moment he saw his friend Mary again. This time she was on of those Pirate ships that used to pass by so often. She was no longer weak and drawn from the disease that captured her one day. She was young again and she was singing as she passed by. She waved at Puff. Puff noticed that the flags of the ship were again at full mast and they were "blowing in the wind." Ah, blowing in the wind. Next to his song, Puff liked that one best for Mary and her friends not only sang it they seemed to believe that the answer "was" blowing in the wind. For so many years they proclaimed not only Puff's message of love but a message of steady protest against principalities and powers that seemed so often to win.

Soon Mary passed by and the ship dipped below a horizon that was held in balance by a glorious sunset. Puff bowed again and turned to slip back into his cave....

If you are still reading this stop now and sing his song....sing his song...Let's bring him out of his cave. Stay with us Puff. If Mary has to leave, stay with us....

Puff the Magic dragon "lives" by the sea...

Bless you,

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

To Set Coordinates

"Do you know where you're going to, do you know what life is really showing you, where are you going to, do you know?" So goes the haunting words of the song that Diana Ross sang years ago. So, do you know?

I've been told that one of the first things a pilot does before ascending into the clouds is to "set the coordinates." These coordinates determine where the plane is headed. If you set the wrong coordinates but you follow them you will end up "someplace else" even though you stayed the course.

I see this in religion. Often people ask me why they cannot communicate with someone else about faith. As I listen I realize that the two people talking are in fact traveling "beside" each other but that their coordinates were set to different directions. They are talking "religion" but they are not going to end up at the same place. No, I'm not talking the "heaven or hell" thing. I mean that the more they talk the more they are going to drift apart because their coordinates are set.

If you want an example do the old "creationism vs. evolution" thing. If you take the first two chapters of Genesis as science you set your coordinates that way. If you understand these chapters as a description of "why" God created the cosmos rather than a description of "how" then you set your coordinates thus.

We have a lot of people screaming at each other of late about such things as health care and immigration who have different coordinates. So we have people screaming across the great divide.

How I wish that we could at least acknowledge the different coordinates rather than yelling about how wrong the direction is. So much for that.

How about a caterpillar update. I blogged about caterpillars the other day in the know a story about caterpillars... but we have a whole host of real Monarch caterpillars literally devouring the parsley in our front yard. I've never seen anything like it. They have eaten "to the ground" three parsley plants. This could sound very destructive but the truth is that Betsy intentionally put the plants there because she knew two things: Monarch caterpillars like parsley and Betsy likes Monarchs.

She set her coordinates a few months ago when she planted the parsley. See and you wondered how I would work that in...I'm a preacher....I can work anything in...
What are your coordinates? You can bet those caterpillars know where they are going. I can't wait till they "get there." .....butterflies...butterflies....
Bless you,

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mad as Hell

"Mad as Hell," is an interesting expression is it not? I preached about anger yesterday and told the amusing story of my father whose memory is not as good as it used to be who said to me when I told him last week what I was preaching about, "Didn't you preach about anger a few months ago?" I was surprised he remembered but I smiled and said, "Yes I did Dad but you know I've got a lot of angry people over there and I preached a while back about forgiveness too but I reckon I'll have to do that one again also."

We are angry people. Joe Wilson's recent outburst in the "well" of the Congress, Serena Williams threatening words to the lineswoman at the U.S Open Tennis match, and the volatile words screamed out at Town Hall meetings show that our "anger thermostat" is set rather high. So if you want the whole "shooting match"..the whole set of cards...the entire enchilada: you can pull up my sermon tomorrow on our church web site(9/13/09)...but here are a few highlights if you want the Reader's Digest version on Anger:

Anger is a natural emotional response to a real or perceived threat. It is natural to be angry and probably unavoidable. What is avoidable is our response to anger. Those responses are learned and can be challenged by our self-reflection...if we choose to be self-reflective. Anger is a secondary emotion and is usually "attached" to feelings of frustration at not getting what we want or need. The anger begins "in us."

The movement of anger goes like this: irritation then anger then rage. The secret is to catch this "movement" at the irritation stage. The four features of anger are blame, hurt, seeing the "other" as unattractive, and becoming judge and jury. These features resemble child-like actions because they are "learned" in childhood.

It is okay to be angry and some anger is very justified. In our society we need those old words that say, "Be angry but do not sin." Sin usually involves hurt. Research shows that anger management begins with taking some deep breaths before we "act" and remembering what it is we are "not getting." To hurt someone "back" of course just escalates the anger cycle. Anger experts tell us to try to "re-frame" what is happening. If we are disappointed in someone is the truth that we have unrealistic expectations of that person?

Since the anger thermostat in our culture seems to be set so high these days it is time to examine why we are "so" angry and why so many people are expressing anger in "high volume" ways. It all begins with "us." It always does.
Namaste (the divine in me greets the divine in you)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Know What a Boomupper Is?

Now that it is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock I've decided what my generation has become. We are "boomuppers." A boomupper is a "yuppie" that became a "boomer." When I was a yuppie I was building family and career. The "upwardly mobile" part seemed understandable but then like in the children's book, "Hope for the Flowers," one can discover what the "top of the heap" really is.

In this wonderful children's fable, "Stripe" and "Yellow," two different caterpillars launch off to discover who they are and what life is about. Yellow decides to go "inside" and risk transformation while Stripe goes off to find the top. He crawls up the hill made up of other caterpillars and strives to "make it to the top."

When he is almost there another caterpillar passes him going down and Stripe hears the tired caterpillar whisper, "There is no top. It's only being on top of another caterpillar." Stripe starts to doubt not only his destination but his journey. He then finds himself at the bottom of the "heap" looking up at a strange yellow creature with beautiful, almost transparent wings who seems to be waving at him but this creature from "beyond" can no longer communicate with this feet (and many feet) in the clay stripped creature. Yellow has become a butterfly. She gave new definitiion to upwardly mobile.

Yellow has been transformed. She risked going another way to find the way "up." Okay enough for children's fairy tales. What about us? I suppose each of us has some "Stripe" and "Yellow" tendencies do we not. Where are you the the bottom of the heap..somewhere on the journey trying to decide if you need some risky transformation?

Well, I'm a Boomupper. I've done the upwardly mobile thing...the children are out of the house (most of the time) the career has been "built." I suppose I've managed to get to near the "top" of my field. The top...hummm....I know a little of what old Stripe discovered. Don't get me wrong, I'm blessed indeed....but you know what this Boomupper has's the's the journey that needs the attention...not the top...40 years ago Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young sang what Joni Mitchell wrote for and about Woodstock:

Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, "Tell me where you are going"
This he told me,
Said, "I'm going down to Yasgur's farm,
Gonna join a rock and roll band
Got to get back to the land and set my soul free
We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get back to the garden"

..."Well then, can I walk beside you?"

Ah, we are stardust, we are... We and the caterpillars. And this boomupper is more mindful of that than ever. The old story says it clearly: Right after God finished making the caterpillars God picked up some left over stardust and breathed into it...played with it a little....stepped back...looked at it and said, "Well, that's pretty good. I think I'll call it human." God then turned toward the caterpillars and said, "What do you think about these creatures?" But they had crawled away looking for some transformation. God then turned to the new creatures and said, "Transformation....sounds like a good idea for you...Never get so far 'up' that you forget to look down and remember the lesson from the caterpillars."

God turned and sure enough one of the new creatures was munching on an apple...

Bless you...
jody (a sometimes transforming Boomupper)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Love Like the Movies

Ready for a big word: "logorrhea." Jacques Ellul made it up. It means, "words are vastly used but emptied of meaning. One cultural observer said the epitome of logorrhea is advertising that breads a "cultural tide of dishonesty." Political speeches suffer from a lot of logorrhea.

Where am I going with this? Well, it's blog do I really have to going anywhere? Maybe I'm doing some logorrhea right now.

Anyway I thought about this yesterday as I finished my run while listening to the Avett brothers sing, "Love Like in the Movies." Our oldest daughter introduced me to the music of the Avett brothers. I changed Scott Avett's diaper once. See, I have a claim to fame. His parents were our buddies and I got left with Scott one day for some reason. I was used to changing diapers on girls...we had two. But I had never changed a diaper on a boy.

If you are a parent you know where I'm going with this. I got sprayed by dear little Scott. With girls you do not have to worry about that. Somebody send this to Scott and let's see if they can write a song about this!!

Back to logorrheah. Bet you thought I'd never get there. Here are some of the words from the before mentioned song:

So you want to be in love like the movies
But in the movies they're not in love at all
And with a twinkle in their eyes
They're just saying their lines
So we can't be in love like the movies

Now in the movies they make it look so perfect
And in the background they're always playing the right song
And in the ending there's always a resolution
But real life is more than two hours long....

Why, indeed, I changed the diaper of a future philosopher. We use words like "love" and "God" so much that sometimes they loose their meaning. The "real" of the word gets lost in the constant use like we're in some kind of movie that gets played over and over.

I love that line, "real life is more than two hours long." Real is where resolutions take time and sacrifice without the needed music in the background. Real is sticking with it when things are not pretty and the lighting isn't right. Real is taking a deep breath and knowing that the "real" God can't be captured in a word or a scene.

Real is watching the caterpillars that covered the parsley plant that Betsy planted "just for them" eat their way to life. Love is not like in the movies and there is a lot of imperfection in real love because we are not acting out a script. This is real life. There is no dress rehearsal or screen play. Words can only carry so much meaning. Tis in the living of it that makes us human "beings" and not actors. May you have a less logorrhea day. May we be mindful of our words...and may we be good listeners to those around us. This is no movie.
Bless you

Monday, September 7, 2009

John Wesley Had a Blog!!

Yes, I've been missing in action the past few days. Have you missed me? I've been hanging around a bunch of "large church pastors" at a Conference. No, I'm not talking about over-weight clergy. This was a gathering of clergy from the "top 100 United Methodist Churches in America." So, how did I end up serving one of those? Just goes to show you that God has both a sense of humor and a way of dispensing amazing grace.

Maybe I'll say more about what I learned at the Conference but for now I'm still spinning with one of those, "a funny thing happened on the way home from the Conference" kind of things. Betsy and I stayed at an old Hotel in Savannah. Our good buddy and travel agent Connie picked it out for us. Who was I to know that it was built over the site where good old John Wesley's parsonage was when he was on his brief...and I mean brief...stint to the young colony of Georgia from 1732-1733.

As I opened the trunk of the car there across the street stood John with his hand pointing in my direction. Well, it was a statue of John. Like old Simon Peter said when confronted with the accusation that he was tipping the bottle too much that Pentecost Day, it was not yet time for "Happy Hour," so this was not John in the flesh but he was standing there in all his glory.

John Wesley was an utter failure in Georgia. He came over from England to be a missionary to the local Indians but that did not work because he did not speak their language and even if he could have it would not have worked because he discovered that he also could not speak the language of the folks in Savannah.

John was a prude. O don't get me wrong, he was a good prude but he could not relate to the local "natives" or the local imports. Remember everybody was an import back then except the real natives.

The young ultra-religious Wesley ended up refusing Communion to a young woman to whom he was attracted but who did not respond with much affection to John. When she came forward to receive the elements he told her she had not filled out the proper forms. (loose translation of what actually happened..but it happened...I'm not making this up).

Her name was Sophie Hopkey. Are you impressed yet? I wrote a paper on this in seminary. Wesley ended up leaving Savannah rather hurriedly. It seems that Sophie's daddy was a man of influence and he was not a happy camper when he found out that Rev. Wesley had refused his dear daughter the rites of the church.

This is when John Wesley started his blog...Well...He did put it in his "journal"(the old way of blogging) that he felt a failure. John's journal later became very famous. Scholars are still going over this old way of blogging for clues into the founder of Methodism's thoughts. Anyway, all this is to say I feel even better about blogging knowing that John thought it was a way of sharing who he was and what he felt.

I stood below his outstretched hand the other day and thought of how far "we" have come. I laid down that night near the spot he must have placed his weary head and wondered how he felt as he "left Savannah." O John, did you have any idea what you started? You left feeling like you had wasted your time. I left the place of your "failure" having come from a conference of very alive United Methodist churches. And now John, it's on "my blog."

You went back to England still carrying the heavy weight of your "failure" in Savannah. Then one night you "stumbled" into a meeting on Aldersgate street where you simply wrote in your "old" blog that, "You felt your heart strangely warmed." The rest is history....our history.
Bless you,

Saturday, August 29, 2009

To Tie the Knot

Well, I'm doing a wedding later today. That's an interesting expression come to think of it; "doing" a wedding. I wonder if we "do" marriage. After all marriage takes some doing.

I heard a couple at a marriage enrichment event say, "The reason we are still married after all these years is that we did not fall out of love with each other at the same time." Scott Peck wrote that weddings happen when two people "fall in love," but then asked, "If you fall, what happens when you get up?" I call that marriage...and it takes some "doing" to stay married.

The blurry eyed couple who will stand before me later today do not really know this. They never do. O, they think they know it but as my marriage counseling professor said the first day of class, "Let's get something straight, no one knows what they are doing when they get married."

We have to figure it out though don't we? What happens after you "get up?" Peck also said that real love takes two things: work and courage...Work is the overcoming of the selfish desire to get lazy in relationship building....and courage is the overcoming of the fear that I need to learn who I am as well as who the "other" I am married to really is.

One old saying is that when two people get married the "two become one." The trouble starts when they try to figure out "which one." Marriage takes a lot of figuring out. Statistics reveal that as a culture we often do not figure it out.

Everybody is hard to live with so why are we surprised? In the "old wisdom" of the Bible it clearly states that the only real hope of staying married in a healthy way is to discover something called "agape." The word is translated "love" but it means "dis-interested love." In other words you love the other person not for what they can do for you or for what they need to be for you...You love them for what they need and who they are.

God does not "love" us...God "agape-s" us. To say that "love" is from God is a bit too casual because we "love" cars, potato chips, and sitting on the beach. Loving another person is different and therein is the problem. We've confused love. I tell people most of what we do should be spelled "Luv." We "luv" all kinds of things. Luv is closer to lust and possession and contains a lot of co-dependence.

So today I'll "do" a wedding for two people who are definitely in "luv." I hope they will discover "agape" somewhere along the road. They will need you. If you are reading this and you are married you know what I mean.
(I'll be at a continuing education event next week so I may not be blogging..if not I'll return the next week...until then may you find some "luv" and even more "agape.")
Bless you,

Friday, August 28, 2009

The End is Near

When I was a child I was afraid that Jesus would "come back" and I would be in the bathtub. Then I got over it.

I never understood, even back then, how Jesus was supposed to "come back" and everybody see him at the same time all over the world. Then there was that time that a lady was cutting my hair and she rested the scissors on my ear and said, "Don't you want Jesus to come again and end it all so that your children will not have to grow up in this evil world?"

I had not thought about this since my bathtub days but her scissors rested on my ear so I was not sure whether to tell her the truth or simply say, "sure" and perhaps save my ear. This lady was adamant about Jesus needing to come and get us out of this mess. "Aren't you a minister....Don't you want Jesus to come again and save us?"

I took a chance in spite of the risk of ear slashing, "Well, no I guess I don't. I want my children to follow Jesus and grow up and help Jesus redeem this broken world." Well, I still have my ear and I still feel the same way.

I do not have much patience with those who are always talking about the end especially those who seem to be sure they are going to be taken out of this world and a whole lot of others are going to be "left behind." A good deal of the biblical interpretation that this "fiction" is based on is what I call the "Bible out of focus." After some study, this view called "dispensationalism" is found to be based on what is known as Darbyism. In my humble opinion Mr. Darby got it wrong but once you set your coordinates at the beginning of a journey your destination is "determined." A lot of folks just don't realize that the coordinates are wrong and end up talking about the "end" when the beginning is wrong...but don't confuse them with the facts.

Anyway, I think we have a lot of work to do "now" and ought to leave the "end" to God and the cosmic time clock that is beyond our horizon. I'll put my "chips" on the premise that God still has some healing to do with this broken world and we are to be part of that healing.

I'll close with a portion of my friend Ed Kilbourne's song, "I'd Rather be Used than Saved"...bless you

I'd Rather Be Used Than Saved
(Ed Kilbourne © 1971 Myown Music)

Did the Jesus Movement, move you?
Did you buy their plan?
Did you memorize lots of Bible verses but never meet the Man?
I'm always mad when I've been had but I could have done much worse
Like the gang that keeps humming 'bout the second coming
'Cause they probably missed the first

CHORUS: I know the Pope lost all hope
He won't even wave
And the Jehovah's Witness, question my fitness
They think I misbehave
And the Children Of God think that I'm a fraud
They're sure they got it made
And Billy Graham may not know who I am
But I'd rather be used than saved

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Face of Fear

Between the angry voices and faces on TV and some of the reflections from people who drop by my office of late it seems that fear is becoming more infectious than the "swine" flu. The symptoms of the "fear virus" are not new. This dis-ease causes blindness. All of a sudden people can no longer see other people's point of view.

Fear then seeps into the voice box where language seems to be created but the truth is that the symptoms run much deeper. Language is a reflection of what is in the "heart" so fear does unseen damage to the soul. The emotional temperature rises and then a process begins which can be termed "the demonetization of the other." The "other" not only becomes wrong but becomes "bad."

Next, the ears become infected and the channels of listening become narrow and constricted so that the only voices that get in are the "like me" phrases and words. Somehow the fear virus quickly spreads even to the extremities and fingers become clinched around causes creating a fist so full that nothing can be received from outside.

I wonder what can be done about the spread of this "virus?" Hand sanitizers are now being seen everywhere for fear of the new strain of flu. Can we supply some kind of preventive "salve" to help resist the proliferation of fear?

I share with you a poem that means a lot to me:

The Place Where We Are Right
by Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

God save us from the fear virus. I think I'll go wash my hands now and also take a long deep breath.
bless you,

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Jesus Didn't Have a Phone Booth

When I was a child I suppose I thought of Jesus as a kind of Superman figure. Most of the time he was this really neat guy who seemed to like children, hang around women that he was not supposed to hang around, pick strange people to be his disciples, and tell really good stories about sheep, flowers, and lost people. Then when he need to, he would "change" and become a divine "superman."

Paul wrote, "When I was a child I spoke as a child...(and so on) but when I grew up I gave up childish things." So, did Jesus have a phone booth in which to "change" into Superman? Well, I've decided he did not need one. (O come on, I know they did not have phone booths back then...but hey check it out we don't have them now either cause with all those little devices hanging from our ears..we don't need them...Superman would have a hard time finding a changing room these days...back to my point...if there is one)

Jesus, according to something called "Process Theology," was divine because he was fully human. Our problem is that we keep from being fully human. Jesus was able to access all of the powers of being fully present, fully alive, and fully daring. He wasn't afraid to step into the storm, see what he could do with water when the wine ran out, reach into the blind darkness of another human being's need, and even step into the cavern of death to laugh at that old rascal.

Martin Luther once said, "You are a little Christ to your neighbor." We think that is just a nice saying because we know we sure are not "Christ-like" most of the time. Here's the deal...We can be more Christ-like that any of us imagine. Some say we only use a small portion of the intellect or brain that we have. The same is probably true of our human potential that is "God given."

I use the "I'm sure not Jesus" excuse as just excuse for not trying, risking, and living a fully human life that stands up to principalities and Jesus did...

Bless you,