Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Poem

Narrow Streets
A Poem for Christmas

Familiar but only in the
distant past
Were the narrow streets
in the place of his

Now he brings his Mary
for another birth
But this was not her place
but his- and not
of his choosing

And then to hear those words
“no room”
Too narrow was this
place of origins
for new beginnings

But God crowded into the
narrow streets
For starlight was tired of
waiting for us to
create the space

So the child came into
our narrow streets
The creator of all born
in cramped quarters-
What is this?

Our too full lives and
narrow places
Cannot stop the expansive
love of a God who
so longs to
our narrow streets
with love.

Jody Seymour, Christmas 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Candidates Debate?

The words are forever etched in my generation's musical memory. "Going to the candidates debate/Laugh about it, shout about it till you have to chose. Anyway you look at it you lose."
It is the warning song for "Mrs. Robinson." Mrs. Robinson you remember is someone who gets lost on the way in the classic movie, "The Graduate." She becomes so self-focused that her longing for pleasure envelopes all who get caught in her web. Pretense becomes the order of the day. All is fine until love gets in the way. Mrs. Robinson tries to "hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes...put it in your pantry with you cupcakes." But it does not work. It never does.
Conflicting loves unwrap the cupcakes and throw open the doors of the pantry. Well, as I watch, or attempt to watch candidates debate and listen to those who used to be candidates but who are now "elected" offer their polarized talking points I want to announce that the gig is up. I want to be like old Dustin Hoffman shaking the doors at the back of the church in the movie as a horrified Mrs. Robinson looks on. I want to scream, "Stop it all for heaven's sake."
The song says, "We'd like to help you learn to help yourself." How many of us are screaming behind those doors for candidates and elected leaders to get a grip and quit acting like children? This is crazy. No one wants to talk anymore, they just want to make points. Well, we have to learn to live together and we have to learn to give and take. It was a lesson that parents were supposed to teach. Our leaders have forgotten both that lesson and have also forgotten their manners.
"God bless you please Mrs. Robinson; Jesus loves you more than you will know." Well God and Jesus please help our leaders come out of the bubble they must be in and see that we are tired of their childish "get my way or else" attitude. It is hurting the rest of us. Look to the back of the "church" and see that we are shaking the doors and yelling, "Stop."
The song ends with "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio our nation turns it's lonely eyes to you/What's that you say Mrs. Robinson Joltin Joe has left and gone away." We do not need Joe DiMaggio. Our lonely nation is lonely for lack of leadership that possesses the depth and maturity to know that governing means working with those with whom you disagree. We don't need Joltin Joe, we need people with the vision to know that the issues with which we are dealing are not summed up in talking points but in negotiating the complexities of where we find ourselves. It is time to quit playing with our lives as they play with political agendas. Turn around, the doors behind you are shaking.
"God bless you please Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know...Heaven holds a place for those who pray..." I now direct this old song to our leaders in Washington. God help us do better than this.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Black Hole

There is a black hole under the desk where I do much of my work. At that desk I ponder, study, and compose my sermons. She often accompanied me in my work from her place next to my feet. Cassidy, our family canine company for the last few years, was a "gift" from our oldest daughter.

She came first to us on loan. Abigail was moving to California for a "few years" and the place where she would live did not allow dogs so could we keep Cassidy for "a few months?" That was five years ago. She was black as night and unless she just returned from her trip to the groomer her long, thick black hair resulted in her resembling a small black bear with four legs.

She was a rescue dog that Abigail found beside the road. She was obviously abused and was very pregnant. Abigail cared for her and I suppose distributed the offspring. Cassidy had a good deal of Chow in her and an almost black with purple laced tongue betrayed her heritage.

She was about the gentlest dog I've ever met. The only time she would bark was if the door bell rang. She gave up running years ago even before she tore an ACL that prevented her from hopping up the steps. Often she would collapse spread eagle on the floor as her legs gave way. We would have to either help her up the steps or pull her up from her flattened position on the floor.

She was completely deaf, partially blind, and as I just mentioned could walk around only within limits. Of late she started pacing a lot like she was looking for something that she could not ever find. She ceased to be a pet a few years ago and became someone we needed to care for. But then that is the fine print of the whole pet thing. They give unconditionally to you and the favor is one of return.

Sometimes she would look up at me from under the desk with a look that said something like, "You know you are intruding on my space here. This is not really a desk, it is 'my black hole' and I do not remember inviting you here." She was so black herself that she almost disappeared in that recessed space just beyond my feet. Once in a while her snoring reminded me she was there.

We did the merciful thing the other day and "put her down." That is such a strange phrase but it is applicable because to put her down was to somehow put us down too. Though she was often invisible in her hole she was quite present in our lives as only an animal can be.

So now we have another kind of black hole in our lives for a while at least. I keep looking for her under the desk. I can still smell her. She left me with the scent of a memory and she left me with more. She left me with those penetrating eyes that seemed to say in her last few years, "I know you're having to take care of me and I appreciate it." Can any creature on this tiny speck of dust show more appreciation than a dog?

So now Cassidy you've gone beyond that black hole to wherever place it is that souls like you go. Heaven may be full of such love as you gave. I'll continue to look at that dark space under my desk in days to come...and I'll remember.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Sky is Falling
(ok here is a “poem” based on the satellite that fell on us recently…It inspired some rather childish thoughts on my part.)

Space junk up in the sky
Falling our way, my O my
Millions of dollars burnt right up
While smiling TV faces tell us “to duck”

Seems everything thrown up
Must come down
Speaking of throwing up
The S&P doth make me frown

The Sky is falling yes indeed
Doomsday predictions are the latest creed
News from Greece jerks the chain
And the screams from traders inflicts great pain

Tell those guys on Wall Street
To quit watching the news
They’re playing with my money
They aim to confuse

Let’s all calm down while looking on high
Not at space junk up in the sky
But to One who is smiling at our need to control
The One who planted down deep in our soul…

The ability to wonder what it’s all about
I wonder if God is about ready to shout,
“Hey kids settle down and take a deep breath
You’re always acting like you’re scared to death

The sky is not falling in spite of your ‘junk’
Though in your test of faith you often flunk
I’m still in love with your speck of dust in the sky
And you’re still my children, my O my”


Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11 Remembering the Right Things

I offer this prayer as we remember September 11

“Remembering the Right Things” by Jody Seymour
God of all people, part of us does not want to remember that day and the other part of us knows that we must. So we call to mind first those whose lives were lost to terror but who were only flying to a destination or working at their desks or simply living life that day.
We remember those who pushed aside their own safety and who did what they felt they had to do. They were firefighters, and policemen, and all those in a uniform or not who stepped into the smoke of uncertainty to offer hope and help.
We take a deep breath and offer you our helplessness as we remember husbands, and wives, and children who did not see the horror on TV as something to be witnessed but who lost part of themselves that day as they lost the people they loved. Bring them comfort as only you can, O God, into those spaces that are still vacant.
You must do something for us God that we often cannot do for ourselves. Lead us away from anger that seeks revenge for the rage of that day seemed almost contagious. Our understanding fails us so you must grant us a vision that goes beyond our understanding of it all. Your resurrection hope can arise in the midst of fallen towers and we ask for that hope this day of remembrance so that we can remember the right things rather than the wrong things.
Your child, O God, spoke words of forgiveness as he looked from his cross into a sea of terror and fear. How did he do that for we struggle so hard to even understand our enemies much less forgive them?
Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.
O God of all the nations, even those who claim you not, we need your wisdom and your strength to remember the right things.
“Blessed are those who morn for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Those are his words….your child’s words. Bless us this day, O God, as we try to believe them.
O God our help in Ages past, our hope for years to come; help us remember the right things this day. Amen.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I am Waiting....Again

Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote a poem years ago where he expressed his desire that we needed a "rebirth of wonder." His poem starts out like this:

I Am Waiting
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
Of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

In light of the recent political disarray in Washington and the continuing "fear" about our economy and our world I now offer a new "I am Waiting" poem:

I am Waiting for a Rebirth of Reason
by Jody Seymour

I am waiting for the dome to be opened
on the capital building
and some light to come rushing in
I am waiting for the darkened minds
of politicians to wake up to
real people and real life and real truth
I am waiting for all the suited talk masters
to take a remedial lesson in manners
or be given a "time out" like the
children they seem to become
when they get off the bus in Washington
I am waiting for a rebirth of reason

I am waiting for all the phones and screens
at the Stock Market to be unplugged
so that when someone drops a penny on
the sidewalk in China
the whole damn thing does not free fall
into some deep valley that seems to be filled
with crazy people who act like they are
playing Monopoly with play money
instead of "our" money
I am waiting for a re-birth of reason.

I am waiting for all the "reality shows" on TV
to get real and go away
I am waiting for the bachelor and the bachelorette
to get a life rather than a wife or a husband.
I am waiting for Good Morning America to
really be that
rather than TV talking heads throwing words all
the time at each other in an effort to always
bury the other
I am waiting for a re-birth of reason

I am waiting for religion to find God again
instead of the gods that have been made up to
sell things, scare people, argue over who is right
and who is "in" and who is definitely "out."
I am waiting for the real big God to show up
and close down some of the branch offices that
bear God's name
I am waiting for a Divine temper tantrum that
will end in tears of sadness at what we have
done to the true religion that has to do with
healing the world....and the people
I am waiting for a re-birth of reason

And I am waiting for waiting to be re-discovered
rather than everything speeding up so fast
I am waiting for the line in "Avatar" to become
something not in a movie but in real life...
I am waiting for someone to really say,
"I see you."
I am waiting for us little people to realize how
big we really are in the scheme of things and
I am waiting for us to start acting like it.
I am waiting...waiting...for a re-birth of reason.


I am Waiting...

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Need to be Right

After watching the uncompromising situation in Washington I would like for every Senator and member of Congress to memorize the following poem.

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 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.

What we have observed in the last few weeks as accusations and polarizations rule the "houses" of congress makes me feel like it is indeed a "ruined house." There is such uncompromising anger in Washington that the whispers that need to be heard can not be listened to.

The big issues are not simple talking points to prove ideological realities. The big issues are complex and will involve some very hard choices...and compromise. But it seems that the children of Washington have trampled around so long that the yard is hard because they have to be "right." While they are being right fear is ruling the money markets and the people who think that the social safety net is being unwoven.

Being right is not the most important thing sometimes. Listening to all the "rights" and realizing that all of them cannot be "true" in a system of government that is supposed to represent many interests of a very large "community" is a needed addition to the name calling and label making agendas. Ah there is the other problem. Does anyone really believe that we care about the total community anymore?

Those shouting the loudest seem to fear that community interests are "taking over" individual "rights." Somebody tell the children in Washington to stop by a local motel and steal the book that is in the top drawer of the bedside table. There they will find prophets shouting about selling the poor for a pair of shoes and living in fine houses. Being right took second place in the
bible to being just and caring about the total welfare of the community.

We seemed scared that we are going to lose something that is "ours." Look, we need to fix systems including things like Medicare and Social Security. But throwing things at each other from various fox holes with flags flying over them proclaiming various themes of being right is not doing anybody any good.

The place is hard and trampled like a yard. We need some healthy doubts to make us all realize that the solutions are complex and will take give and take. I'm not even going to mention the other word in the There is little love left in our nation's capital. It is now full of mean-spirited "individuals" who want to be right.

My prayer is that the still small voice that often must be listened to as a whisper will somehow fill the ruined house. We need a new attitude from our leaders. Being right is not getting us anywhere but lost.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Big Questions

Well if you don't want to know don't ask, right. I asked my congregation a few months ago what they wanted to hear from the pulpit and I've been "trying" to preach on those subjects the past few weeks. It's been a challenge. I think I'm going back to picking what "I" want to preach about and going over to the "don't ask don't tell" philosophy of picking subject matter.

The most requested topic was forgiveness. It seems a lot of people struggle with this issue. Basically we don't' want to forgive another because it just does not seem "fair." We think we are excusing or blessing bad behavior. Forgiveness is for the person forgiving. It may have nothing to do with the person to whom the forgiveness seems aimed. It is a matter of "giving up all hope for a better past" so that one can move to an expanded future.

Forgiveness means to quit playing old grievance stories. I usually always tell Lewis Smedes story, "the Gift of the Magic Eyes" that he uses in his book, "Forgive and Forget." It is the story of a man who ends up bent over with a heavy heart because he cannot forgive his wife for her adultery. An angel informs him that though she did wrong his unwillingness to even look at her as a person apart from him who was needy and selfish was weighing him down and preventing him from moving on with his life.

He says he is "helpless" to do anything so the angel asks if he wants to be "free." He does not how so she promises that every time he tries to look at his wife as a person apart from him who acted out of her own pain the angel will come by and take a pebble from his heart. It took a long time but pebble by pebble he found a way to gain a lighter heart.

I ended the sermon by holding up a small container of pebbles and offering them to my people: "Here are your pebbles. What do you want to do with them?"

The following weeks the topics included "science and religion" and last week "resurrection of the body, heaven, and hell." Basically I said there was really no conflict with science and religion if you have a healthy up to date religion. Many believers do not practice what old Paul suggested: "When I was a child I thought and acted like a child but when I grew up I gave up childish things." The kind of religion that uses the bible as a science book misuses the bible. Mature faith studies the bible for what it is not what it is not.

God can and did use "big bangs" and evolutionary principals obviously since they are scientifically true. God is not simple or stupid. We just have to keep up.

And last week it was resurrection-heaven-hell. (I'm going back to sermons about "let just all love each other.") The summary: Resurrection of the "body" means that we take who we are and what we do or do not do with us to eternal life. We don't take the "flesh" but we do take "the body of evidence." Heaven is going to be a surprise but a good one and it is most likely "another dimension" that is as close as our next breath rather than beyond the last galaxy. Hell is biblical but often misunderstood and the words sometimes mistranslated. Consuming fire could be refining fire and what some want to translate "eternal damnation" could also be translated "pruning" after a set amount of time."....Big difference.

I simply left my people with the words of the "cheater of death" who told his fear-filled disciples, "Hey don't be so dog-gone scared...In my dad's house there are so many rooms you can't count them and I'll be there with things all prepared for you." With Jesus' few references to Hell he mostly used the word Ghenna, which referred to the burning garbage pit outside Jerusalem where often flesh would burn and gnashing of teeth could be heard as dogs scavenged through the remains. I wonder if Jesus is interested in burning up garbage or burning up people? You decide.

When you think about it, and that is what grown-up believers do, everybody starts out from different "starting places" in eternal life. What was your starting place? How much choice did you have? From my starting place I ended up a United Methodist Christian. I had love, shelter, and guidance from my starting place. Lots and lots of folks start from different places. I'm tired of hearing security seeking Christians condemn others whose starting places were very different.

Let's get on with helping God heal the world and give the judgement stuff back to God whose job it is to begin with....

So in summary: We need help with forgiveness because it hurts "us" if we live in the past. God is very big and very smart and can do science better than we can...and...Heaven is real, what we do matters, and Hell is a mystery that God will have to figure out...personally I think God will have to "take out the garbage" in the end. We don't do so well with it.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Is Anybody Paying Attention Anymore?

Ok the other day I turned out of my driveway and drove my usual route to work. I passed four people out walking. All of them had their heads down looking at a phone. I suppose they were texting.

Two of them were literally in the road. They were not even on the sidewalk which I suppose could be considered a "safe-texting-zone." So here's my point. Pay attention to where you are going. I don't mean that as ugly as it sounds. I mean pay attention to the walk not the text. You are passing by flowers, trees, people, (cars), and

Those who are not texting are talking on the cell phone as they walk. Leave the phone at home. It will be there when you get back from your walk. Walk and pay attention. I read this week that the Painted Bunting is on the loose. They are mutl-colored birds that do not visit us for long. One them could land on one of the texter/talker' shoulders and he or she would not even see the colors for the text/words or whatever.

We are becoming too "connected" for heaven's sake. Separate yourself from technology at least for a walk. There are sounds out there that are not coming from a device. They are coming from crickets and birds and why did you know that the breeze even makes a sound. You have to be sort of quite to hear the sound of the breeze but it is worth the wait.

Look up when you walk. Listen to the breeze when you walk. Life is getting too full. To fill our walks with ears full of sound waves and our eyes full of "text" is to leave us empty.

As Emily said in the play "Our Town" after she was allowed to come back from death to observe one day in her life; "Does anyone realize life while they are living it?"

I hate to tell you Emily but it is worse than when you came back.



Thursday, May 19, 2011

Going Green

Going Green is in these days. It is an expression that offers the chance for environmental sensitivity. It means that whatever activity is going to happen the priority will be to use up as little of earth's resources as possible.

Well it seems that nature had the idea first before it became a slogan. Spring is the time when all of life goes green. My wife's garden is definitely going green and red and yellow and bursting out all over. It is the season of new creation.

The birds sure love it. I can barely keep the bird feeders full. Their favorite color seems to be green. They sing about it, play in it, and fly through it. Life is happening all around and green is its primary color.

I recently spoke words of encouragement to the class of 2011 at the College from which I graduated 42 years ago. Wait a minute let me catch my breath....42 years ago? The college colors are, you guessed it, green and white. Those eager faces who listened to my words were "green." They were new to the world. They may think they are ready to burst forth and be full blown grown ups but I reminded them that they were "green" and it was OK. They were supposed to be.

I cautioned them to be mindful that they were beginners in learning not graduates of it. I offered them a poem that I often read to those standing before me who are being married. Here it is:
The raw materials of love are yours–
Fond hearts, and lusty blood, and minds in tune;
And so, dear innocents! you think yourselves
Lovers full-blown.

Am I, because I own
Chisel, mallet and stone,
A sculptor? And must he
Who hears a skylark and can hold a pen
A poet be?
If neither's so, why then
You're not yet lovers. But in time to come
(If senses grow not dulled nor spirit dumb)
By constant exercise of skill and wit,
By patient toil and judgment exquisite
Of body, mind and heart,
You may, my innocents, fashion
This tenderness, this liking and this passion
Into a work of art.

I told them if they lived life carefully they would remember these words so that even though they were not yet adults "full blown" that "by patient toil and judgement exquisite" they might fashion the life they were given "into a work of art." In so many words I reminded them they were still green and they were supposed to be if they wanted to truly grow.

And now for the rest of us I remind all who read these words that we are always to remain a bit green. If we think we are finished then we are. Life is about growth. We must be open to what the day's sunlight will bring us.

This Sunday I'll speak to another group of graduates. This time it will be high school students. Yes, they are even more green but they probably think they are farther along than they are. They'll learn in time that they are not "full blown." So I'll give them some additional words from the lips of "Red Molly." It is a song I use sometimes at points of transition to remind all who will listen that "this is the best time of your life." Here are the words:

From: New Non-Fiction (2001)
Copyright © Susan Werner
May I suggest
May I suggest to you
May I suggest this is the best part of your life
May I suggest
This time is blessed for you
This time is blessed and shining almost blinding bright
Just turn your head
And you’ll begin to see
The thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight
The reasons why
Why I suggest to you
Why I suggest this is the best part of your life
There is a world
That’s been addressed to you
Addressed to you, intended only for your eyes
A secret world
Like a treasure chest to you
Of private scenes and brilliant dreams that mesmerise
A lover’s trusting smile
A tiny baby’s hands
The million stars that fill the turning sky at night
Oh I suggest
Oh I suggest to you
Oh I suggest this is the best part of your life
There is a hope
That’s been expressed in you
The hope of seven generations, maybe more
And this is the faith
That they invest in you
It’s that you’ll do one better than was done before
Inside you know
Inside you understand
Inside you know what’s yours to finally set right
And I suggest
And I suggest to you
And I suggest this is the best part of your life
This is a song
Comes from the west to you
Comes from the west, comes from the slowly setting sun
With a request
With a request of you
To see how very short the endless days will run
And when they’re gone
And when the dark descends
Oh we’d give anything for one more hour of light
And I suggest this is the best part of your life

So...May I suggest to you that we are all "green" and that if we stay open to continued growth this is the best time of our life.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Left-over Easter

I've been on a blogging vacation...but for now I thougth I'd share with you what I shared with my people on Easter...It's all about "Mr. Saturday Night"

Mr. Saturday Night Gets the Last Laugh
John 20: 1-18

His name was Buddy Young and his older brother and supporter was Stan. The whole movie Stan puts up with Buddy and his insults. In fact Buddy’s main form of humor was insults such as looking at a woman in the audience during one of his Saturday night stand up comic routines and pointing her out saying, “Wow who puts on your make-up, Ringling brothers?....or …Did you get too close to the Avon Lady when she exploded.”
Another scene in the movie after Buddy is an aged out comic and is no longer a headline he looks at his brother Stan and says, “So what do you do down there now that you’re retired?”… “I play golf and enjoy my friends,” responds Stan. A surprised Billy says, “You got friends?” Stan shoots back, “Yea they came with the condo. You could get friends or cable so I chose friends.” Buddy responds, “Over cable?”
Then comes a famous line I want you to hear today. Buddy says to Stan, “Did you see what I did there?” This small line is full of meaning. It is an inside way between brothers of saying something like, “Did you pick up on my way of turning things around so that the joke worked…Did you see what I did there?”
The movie I am alluding to is “Mr. Saturday Night” a 1992 movie staring Billy Crystal who plays the aging stand up comic Buddy Young. Throughout the movie his older brother Stan tries to help Buddy but there is really no helping this self-absorbed sarcastic but very talented comedian. But at various times in the movie Buddy says to Stan, “Did you see what I did there?” This line is a way of describing the moves of a joke. Of course if you have to explain a joke it looses something but between brothers this is a way of pointing out the talent behind the comedy.
Well today I offer you another Mr. Saturday night. It seems this Mr. Saturday night pulls off one of the greatest jokes of them all. He outflanks death on Saturday night and come Sunday morning he gets the last laugh. Jesus leaves an empty tomb and in today’s story he sort of says to a mystified Mary, “Did you see what I did there?”
Of course no one quite gets it in our story today. The only laugh they hear is the deep dark laugh of death that overcomes their hopes and dreams. Sure Peter and John run to the tomb but they are not quite sure what to do with what they see.
I mean did you hear the story? Breathless from their run to the cemetery after Mary comes to fetch them to tell them that the body is missing, Peter and John lean into the dim light of the vacant tomb and then..and then…They go back home.
What? This is like saying, “He won the 10 million dollar lottery and then went back home and enjoyed his oatmeal.” Come on something happens here. How could they just “go back home?” I wonder if they could really respond to a Jesus who says, “Did you see what I did here?”
I mean let’s not miss the stand up that Jesus pulls off on the Sunday after Saturday night. He plays a cosmic joke and Death is the fall guy. Woody Allen once said, “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Well our Mr. Saturday night is there when it happens and the joke is at Death’s expense.
There is a book out about the start-up careers of the famous comics of the 1970’s. The title comes from another famous line that comics often use when things are not going well in their stand up routines, “Can’t you see I’m dying up here?” The book is, “I’m Dying Up Here: the Heartbreak and High Times in Comedy’s Golden Era.” The book chronicles the journey of such people as Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Robin Williams.
The introductory line for these comics who follow their “shot in the dark” dream to LA is, “Hey I can be broke anywhere, I might as well be broke somewhere where it’s warm.” Jesus takes a shot in the dark and ends up playing a joke on Death that last jokester who would like to say to us, “Turn out the lights the party’s over.”
Do you ever wonder where Jesus goes those three days that the joke is on him? Well of course we do not have documentation on this but some who study such things think that on Saturday night he is “playing” in Hell. That’s right the oldest version of the Apostles Creed says that he “was crucified dead and buried, he descended into hell, and on the third day arose from the dead.”
It seems that such an ancient affirmation states that there is nowhere that the love of God in Christ will not go…even to Hell looking for the lost. And here I thought at least Jesus would get some rest after 3 years of intense ministry but then this is Jesus we are dealing with here and when it comes to finding lost coins, lost sheep, and lost people..well to Jesus it seems no laughing matter.
Our Mr. Saturday Night is busy even in death because our God will not have death be the last word or the last laugh. Jesus seeks the lost even after he says from his cross in the midst of the laughter of darkness, “Can’t you see I’m dying up here?”
What would it mean to think that on Saturday night when Mary is in the midst of her grief and anticipating going to the cemetery to morn her dead Lord that Jesus is even then looking for the lost? What does it say about a God whose son never gives up even in death though Peter and John are locked away on Saturday night full of fear and left over denial?
It says that we have a Mr. Saturday Night who gets the last laugh on Sunday morning. Part of me would like to think that after what Jesus goes through from Thursday to Friday that he would have at least have a 3 day vacation from trying to save the world. I mean give the poor man a rest…but listen..we are dealing with a God here who longs to save the world. So even though some of us no longer say it in our Creed maybe our Mr. Saturday night is working to save the lost even in his death.
I work with people who are going through hell…the hell of grief..the hell of lost dreams…the hell of lost health…the hell of depression. The hope of Easter is that our Mr. Saturday Night never gives up even in the face of death and Hell.
So today what does this story say to you? Peter and John run to the tomb and really want to believe but notice that they simply “go back home.” Is that the way you came today? Part of you wants to run up here on this Easter Sunday and proclaim “He is risen” but in a few minutes you too will “go back home.” How will you go back? Will you go back home wanting it to be true but not really knowing?
Our story says simply that Peter and John went back home for “they did not yet understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead.” Well perhaps my task today is to send you back home understanding the scripture. Notice that the sentence does not say he “would” rise from the dead but that he “must” rise from the dead. Why…because God will not allow death to have the last laugh.
As a pastor I deal all the time with people who have trouble accepting a God who allows so much death in life. I know people who will not come to church because they want nothing to do with a God who allows children to suffer, or tsunamis to happen, or cancer to spread, or wars to rage. Well you do not need me to tell you that there is enough hell on earth to go around but I’m sending you back home with the words ringing in your ears that Jesus “must rise” from the dead because there is too much death out there. There is no place God’s love will not go even on Saturday night. Easter is about victory over death…all kinds of death…not just the death we experience when we take our last breath.
Easter is about a God who is with us on stage when our Saturday nights turn bad. When we or the people we love feel alone on the stage and want to at least whisper because of our fear, pain, or grief, “Can’t you see I’m dying up here?”
Well Jesus can see. He’s been there for you and me. His suffering and death is a way of God saying that you are never alone…even on your dark Saturday nights.
And then there is Mary. I wonder what Mary is doing on that Saturday night before we find her in the garden looking for the body of a dead Lord? Does she go over in her mind what she will do when she arrives at the cemetery? Does she wonder if she can persuade the guards to let her into the tomb so she can say a final goodbye to her lost dream?
But what does she find? She finds an empty tomb, the cruelest of jokes. She assumes that the last sacrilege has happened. Someone has stolen his broken body and laid even more waste to it. She too does not understand the scripture that he “must” rise from the dead for she is still hearing the laughter in the darkness that comes from that black Friday when she heard him say, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”
Mary joins by asking that same question for now this is a God forsaken world. Her Saturday night has convinced her that there will never be laughter again in her life.
So can you imagine when Jesus walks up behind her in her grief and says, “Say why are you crying so much here on this beautiful Sunday morning? Why the sun’s coming up and it looks like to me it’s going to be a wonderful day. What’s a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this anyway? It’s a cemetery after all. Are you looking for somebody?”
And then Mary not knowing the punch-line that is about to come from this very special Mr. Saturday Night steps into Jesus’ stand up routine. “Listen, I do not know who you are or what you are doing here but if you know what they did to my Lord’s body please tell me and I’ll go find him and put him back where he belongs.”
Then comes Jesus’ version of “Did you see what I did there?” All he really needs to say is her name, “Mary” and she knows the joke is on her…and for that matter the rest of the world. Death has been defeated. Mr. Saturday night has the last laugh.
When Mary turns toward the sun she sees not the gardener, nor a dead Jesus. What she sees is Jesus’ “stand up” routine as he stands up in the face of darkness and the laughter of death. Jesus is the ultimate Mr. Saturday night who gets the last laugh on Sunday morning.
Now to all of you who came today I say it’s time to “go back home.” But I send you back home not even as Peter and John went back home. I send you back home with a hope for understanding of the scripture that he “must” rise from the dead. I send you back home hopefully with a smile on your face from the realization that not even hell is safe from Jesus’ reaching love. I send you back home with laugher ringing in your ears from the ultimate punch-line as Jesus laughs in the face of death for us all.
I send you back home with the assurance that even in moments when you utter the words, “Can’t you see I’m dying up here” that you have a God who not only sees but who has been there. I send you home with the Easter promise that the words “must rise from the dead” are true. He did rise from the dead and perhaps he says to you and me today with a resurrection smile on his face, “Did you see what I did there?”
So let me send you home today with a story that will put a smile on your face and laughter in your heart…In a certain village the townspeople always had a Passion Play each year to portray the drama of Holy Week. The people of the village played the various characters.
One particular year they could not persuade anyone to play Jesus. Finally the only one who would agree to play the part of Jesus was the rugged town bully. He was always getting in trouble and often picked fights with the people of the town.
So it came as a surprise when he agreed to play Jesus. The people very much believed in doing the play so they went along with the deal. As the play came to a close the very man who had for so many years pushed his way around town but who was now playing Jesus was carrying his cross toward the scene of crucifixion. The people of the village playing the parts of the crowd who was mocking Jesus on his way to his eventual death were really getting into the part especially since it gave them a safe chance to yell insults at the town bully.
As “Jesus” passed by one man in the village who was in the angry crowd got carried away at his chance to shout at the town tyrant and he suddenly spit in the face of Jesus. At that moment everyone got quite wondering what the cross bearing Jesus would do.
The town bully stopped, looked over at the man, and just before going on with his cross bearing pointed to the man who had spit in his face and simply said, “I’ll be back to take care of you after the resurrection.”……..Did you see what I did there?

Smile…laugh…our Mr. Saturday night gets the last laugh on Sunday morning….and yes even in those moments when you say, “Can’t you see I’m dying up here” he will be back to take care of you after the resurrection.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Good Friday Meditation: He Didn't Want to be There

He Didn’t Want to be There
Meditation for Good Friday

He didn’t want to be there. Pilate usually spent the days at the coast enjoying the cool breezes of the Mediterranean at his palace in Caesarea. His balcony overlooked the sea and he could dream of the day he would be able to return to Rome and get back to civilization away from this forlorn place that seemed to be loved by crusty prophets and religious sages.

Pilate on the other hand had no use for their strange religion of one god. All he cared about was keeping the peace so he could get back home. But he had to make the trip to Jerusalem for their high and holy festivals where the fools would flock to their temple and chant their strange words of hope that had no basis. He had to be present to oversee the crowd control but he didn’t want to be there.

And this time he found himself dealing with another one of their “kings.” Empty words of promise and religious platitudes were fine with Pilate but don’t go calling yourself a king. That did not make for a peaceful religious holiday nor did it set well in the belly of Rome. There was to be only one real king and his name was Caesar.

O, Herod could have his quaint title as “King of the Jews” but everyone knew what that really meant. It meant nothing. It resulted from a back room handshake late at night so that the mob could at least say they had a king. Herod was under Rome’s thumb and everyone knew it including Herod but it worked for the festivals.

But now we had this upstart king who talked about kingdoms not of this world. Pilate would rather be sipping wine on his porch in Caesarea and now he had before him a rather pathetic looking character that seemed to be stirring up the crowd. He tried a ploy to satisfy the mob by offering a good faith gesture. After all Pilate just wanted to get back to his porch by the beach and then eventually back to Rome where they all knew who the king was and who the gods were.

But now the mob would not even accept his offer of release for this donkey driving king. He obviously was no real threat but even the presumption of kingship was a danger with these desperate people. They could make a king out of nobody if left alone and Pilate knew he could not leave them alone but he sure did not want to be there.

So he ordered his bowl of water and washed his hands of the matter. All this guy was to him was crucifixion number 637. He had people crucified with the same frequency he had his evening wine. “Get rid of the bum I want to go home.”

Simon did not want to be there either. He was coming in from Cyrene to enjoy the festival. He got caught up in the crowd as he tried to make his way into Jerusalem. The mob was making their way out screaming as if they wanted something to happen that was not happening fast enough.

Simon found himself pushed to the edge of the teaming swarm when suddenly words came to him as if a landslide covered his tired body. He was weary from his trip and simply wanted to get to his relatives in Jerusalem. He didn’t want to be there, but he was.

“Carry this,” screamed the soldier. “My God this was a cross. This isn’t my cross. I did not earn this burden. Why me?” He didn’t want to be there.

Before Simon knew it the wooden beam was pushed his way. The man who had been carrying it looked half dead already. Simon quickly surmised that the reason he was being forced to bear this cross was that the soldiers must have realized that the crucifixion would not happen if this poor criminal was forced to keep carrying his means of execution. He was going to die on the road and deprive the crowd of the main event.

Simon struggled under the weight of the cross. He didn’t want to be there.

And then there was Jesus. Just the night before he told his father that he didn’t want to be there. “Is there a way to take another road, father? This cup before me is beginning to taste like poison.”

But he was there…broken…beaten…betrayed…beyond hope of saving. Jesus barely made it to the place of the Skull and there his arms were again placed on his cross and the nails driven deep into his writs and feet. He looked up at the horizon and saw Pilate’s courtyard. He looked down from the cross as they lifted him and it up and he saw Simon still recovering from his brief time of carrying the unwanted burden.

Pilate…Simon…Jesus….they didn’t want to be there, but they were.

And because they were there so we are here facing this cross. I do not know about you but I too don’t want to be here.

Could we not fill out some form or go through some exercise of will in order to be redeemed by God? Could we, like Pilate, find some retreat place of solace and go where we could simply hear God speak to us of better days? Why can’t we join Simon in slipping through the crowd and get to a place of calm and safety? Why do we have to be here facing this cross? But we are here because we have to be.

Jesus did not want to be here. He fell in love with life and he so wanted to offer it abundantly to all who would listen and follow. But his way of love was rejected and the one reason we are here despite our unwillingness to be is that his way of love is still rejected…rejected not only by this “not wanting to be here world” but also rejected by us…by me.

So we come and we say first that we are sorry for walking away from his ways of love and forgiveness. We then come to say “thank you” for his willingness to overcome his desire to not want to be here.

So now we know that in all those places we will go that we will not want to go…those places of sorrow…grief…failure of our bodies…and yes even in those places of darkness and evil…wherever there is the deep darkness …where we do not want to be…he was and is there…

And in that place where we forget…in that place we have no other word to call it but “sin”…for us sinners he was there.

Jesus did not want to be there…but he was…Thanks be to God.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jesus and the Moon Roof

Can't you just see Jesus smiling and waving to the people as he makes his way through the crowded streets. His arms gesture back and forth as he acknowledges the acclaim of thousands. From his perch inside the Mercedes he has an excellent view of the teaming masses and the open moon roof helps protect him from a might be trouble maker...even a lone assassin. Secret Service agents posing as disciples surround the car and push away any who would come too close.

Of course it did not happen this way. Jesus ends up on a "colt"... a donkey...some disappointed bystanders may have even called it a jackass. Jesus sure made a fool of those who thought he was going to set up a new kingdom where the gospel of success would rule. Of ccourse they thought it was Jesus who was the fool. But hey Jesus got what he deserved it seems for disappointing all those people. He ended up out on the town garbage heap uttering even more foolish stuff about forgiving those who hung him up there.

Jesus' entrance these days continues to disappoint many people. Lately the rhetoric about priorities of how we are going to allocate our money is heard rather than "Hosannas." Underneath some of these phrases is a view of Jesus' words that somehow seem to come from that moon roof. "Love God and you will be blessed. God wants you to be successful. You are a child of the king and you should live like a king in your castle."

Forgotten are the words that the man on the donkey would have used from his ancestor the prophet Amos: "Thus says the Lord...for the three transgression, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes....they trample the head of the poor into the dust, and push the afflicted out of the way."

Jesus spent a good deal of his time with those who had been "pushed away" and the latest debate about local school budgets and our national budget seems to be willing to do just that so that "we" can make sure we do not lose any of "our" resources for our castles. Sure our systems need reforming. Sure we have created a welfare system that breeds too much dependence. But for God's sake let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater nor change the donkey into a Mercedes.

The gospel of success is a mockery to the man who came into our world in a stable and on a donkey. This coming week is Holy Week. The human face of God will again strip off his shirt and kneel to wash the dirty feet of surprised disciples. He will tell them that real love is serving those who need to be reminded that they are cherished because they do not feel cherished.

He will raise a cup and say "Love is not love until it is poured go pour yourselves is not about is about giving." OK, that is a loose translation but it is an extension of what he meant. The cross of Jesus stands today amidst an i pad/i phone/i pod world. None of this technology is bad but the pronoun in front of the device is a symbol of an "i" culture.

Jesus came on his donkey to remind me that it is not all about me. Let's work to make our systems that help the "needy" be made better but let's not sell out for a pair of shoes or a Mercedes.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Blogosphere Inquisition

Well I better be careful. I attended a clergy ethics training event recently that drilled into my head that what you write "on line" is available to all and can be dangerous. This is evident by the recent "dismissal" of a United Methodist student pastor for what he wrote on his blog some of which was about Rob Bell's new book, "Love Wins."

It seems that brother Bell is challenging the "standard" concepts of heaven and hell and " the all who do not believe in Jesus are forever lost" stuff. Well I like my church and my job so what am I to say? I probably should sign off right now. But the truth is this kind of thing has always bothered me even before there were blogs and tweets and texting. It seems those of us who claim the name of Christ have trouble dealing with a text that predates the thumb producing constant barrage of words that fill the space of on line information.

What we do with the Bible is rather amazing. Rob Bell's words are just the latest battlefield for a new round of Bible Wars. Rob simply pulls "out of the closet" the same thing that many people have hidden in their hearts and minds. I deal with these people as a Pastor. It is usually is in a one on one situation because they are almost afraid to say the words in the light of day. "Is my Jewish friend going to Hell?...Are all Muslims doomed to damnation?...If Jesus is the only way what does that really mean?"

The little bit I know of Bells' new book is from the reviews and the video on Y tube. His basic premise is that the rigid literal view of a burning Hell where all who do not believe a certain way are assigned for all eternity seems to represent a God whose love is limited by the people who interpret the ancient text. I like what the Biblical scholar Karl Barth once said when confronted by a reporter who said to him, "Dr. Barth it sounds like you do not take the Bible laterally?" Barth responded, "I take the Bible far too seriously to take it literally."

When I teach about the Bible I often use Martin Luther's image of the Bible being the "cradle of the Christ Child." I then refer to a very special cradle that was given to us as a present by a man when we served a small rural church. It was a surprise gift. We still treasure it even though our children are far removed from needing it. If you step back from it you notice that it leans a bit to the right because the rockers are not exactly even. Remember it was hand-made. Running your hand across the top of the cradle you notice that the finish is a bit rough for it is made of different types of wood blended together by the hands of its creator. It was and is a gift of love. What really makes it special is what it held; our Amanda.

The Bible is the cradle of the Christ Child but remember it is hand-made. There are rough parts in the Bible that need to be understood and even explained. It holds within its hand-crafted exterior the love of God given to the people of God but it is not made in a factory or by a programed machine. It is an earthy book made by people. Yes it is filled with "inspired" words but those words of inspiration come through people like you and me so they often times need the gift of discerning study.

The Bible is important enough to be studied for not simply what it says but what it means. Rob Bell challenges the interpretation of the Bible that leads to a rigid understanding of the "fires of Hell." Study shows that the image comes from the people in Biblical days remembering the burning flesh in the valley of Gehenna where the burning rubbish from Jerusalem Temple sacrifices was collected. It is a pretty brutal image and is often the predominant one used when people want to make sure that the Devil gets his due.

There are a few passages where Jesus is quoted as referring to a place where "there shall weeping and gnashing of teeth" but those are mostly related to parables and stories where Jesus often uses exaggeration to make his point. Most of the time Jesus deals with "Hell" it is the hell people are living in. He goes there...places where people are outcast, poor, despised, forgotten, and in darkness.

In the oldest version of the Apostles' Creed the phrase "he descended into Hell" is found. We Methodists tend to leave that out because it does not sound "nice." But I like the assertion that love never gives up and goes to "Hell and back" to find the "lost." I wonder if that is Rob Bell's point; that love never gives up. Why would that bother Christians so much? Are we afraid that someone is going to get what they do not deserve? Just how small or big is heaven anyway? How big does a Hell need to be for a God whose love seems to know no bounds? Do we decide the size of eternity and do we get to limit God's love?

It seems that some Christians have to have Hell in order to have faith. Hell has often been used in the Christian proclamation to instill fear into people. It's the "If you think its hot here in July...remember Hell awaits those who do not believe." The "perfect love casts out fear" stuff ends up in the drain that goes down to the Gehanna sewer.

I'll leave Hell to God. Most of the fire mentioned in the Bible seems to refer to refining fire rather than consuming fire. The God that Jesus talks about most of the time is the God of the prodigal, the God of the shepherd who unwisely goes after the one lost sheep, and the God of the cross whose boy gets a "hell of deal" when he gets strapped to a tree near the city sewer. Jesus goes to hell and back for love. I wonder if that is what Rob Bell is getting at?

Why don't we spend our time helping people get out of hell know the hell of poverty, racism, sexual exploitation, even the hell of religious intolerance that can lead to people killing each other in the name of God? Takkum Olam, is a Hebrew expression that means to help God "heal the world." I still have a job?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Temptation Buffet

Have you ever stepped up to the Temptation Buffet? I passed it up one time but now wish I had "partaken." No, this is not material for an afternoon soapopra. I"m talking about the time I was in Israel and we went to the traditional place where the Devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness. It says that Jesus fasted 40 days before the Devil tempted him with the old "turn these stones into bread" routine.

When we arrived at the spot the guide pointed to a rugged mountain that was the supposed site where Jesus met up with that rascal who loves to tempt anyone who will pay attention. It was about lunch time and we were hungry. So we were escorted into a restaurant that was in the valley that looked up at Temptation Mountain. We did not fast. We ate.

And you guessed it the name of the restaurant was "The Temptation Cafe." I had a sandwich but I noticed that if one desired there was a buffet. We did not have much time so I did not partake of the buffet but just think if I had I could say for all time that I "ate at the Temptation Buffet." I even passed up the temptation to purchase a shirt with words imprinted across the chest that said, "I Ate at the Temptation Buffet."

So what's on your temptation buffet? We all pass by it do we not? I suppose you can accuse the Devil of preparing the offerings or you can use the line I used recently, "Lead me not into temptation, I can find it myself."

The original "buffet" consisted of "Hey aren't you hungry already? Here take this rock and make yourself a Wonderbread sandwich. You can do it. I know you can." We can dismiss this as not really on our buffet because it sounds like a magic trick but that would be what the Devil would want. It seems to let us off the hook.

This temptation is really about using our personal power because dog-gone it we deserve it. We're hungry and no matter what, it is time to fill ourselves. The reality that we might should do without is dismissed. "Go ahead eat that doughnut even though your waistline is telling you otherwise...Go ahead step outside your marriage vows. After all she/he hurt you and does not really understand you...go ahead spit that hateful word back at the person who spit one at you. He/she deserves it."

Get it?

The second offering on the buffet was something like, "Hey, do a two and half off the top of the Temple and land on your feet. That will put you on Oprah for sure." This has something to do with proving ourselves. How do you prove yourself? Getting the approval of others can be a "black hole" of sorts. It takes a lot of energy and it can suck the life out of us. And do we ever accomplish getting the total approval of others? What tricks do we have to do to gain status, love, esteem? Might as well jump off the top of the Temple...

The third item on the buffet has to do with "Who you gonna serve?" Bob Dylan wrote a song about this one:
You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you may like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you're gonna serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna serve somebody.

So as in days past, the Temptation Buffet is open for business...always open...24 hours a day. The offerings are constantly being served up. The only question for us who stop by is the same question asked on that mountain long ago and again asked by a modern day songwriter: "Who you gonna serve?"

I've discovered that when I do step up to the serving line it helps to invite someone to come with me. He's been there before. So as I look over the offerings I can whisper to that one who wrestled with the Devil the first time, "Well, what do you think?"

Bless you

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mining for Dust: A Poem for Ash Wednesday

Gold is now selling for $1441.00 per ounce. I thought of this as we step into Lent with ashes placed on our foreheads as we hear the words, "From dust you came and to dust you shall return...repent and believe the good news." I offer you this poem for Ash Wednesday....

Mining For Dust
A Poem for Ash Wednesday

Our hands reach toward
a shinny past hoping
to strike it rich
So we strain through the
dirt of our lives
to mine it for
a gold that
often eludes us

But the maker of it all
mines not for the
glitter of our world
Our God mines for dust
and through those
ancient hands there
is a sifting
for what is precious

As the earth makes gold
and we long for
its lofty worth
So the God who formed
the earth and its riches
cares not for the gold
but loves infinitely
the dust

The dust is God’s gold
for into it the divine
breathed life’s breath
And those old hands
shaped us into living beings
whose value is
much beyond
shimmering nuggets

And to sanctify it all
the old miner
of all Creation
Sent the child of Bethlehem
to sift through
the rubble
and be dust

Standing knee-deep
in the running waters
of an ever-flowing stream
God Almighty reached
into the earth
and pulled from it
the dust
now gold

“From dust you came
and to dust
you shall return”
Are the customary words-
But when spoken by
they really say,
“The dust is my gold”

Jody/Ash Wednesday/2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What Me Worry

That smiling foggy faced gap toothed image haunts me. Alfred E Newman smiles at the onlooker with the words imprinted below his picture; "What Me Worry." He may imaginatively walk the halls of "Mad Magazine" but he also appears once in a while in my mind's eye reminding me of my worry habit.

I was almost over my irritation of waiters and waitresses responding "No problem" when I thanked them for my food when the phrase changed overnight. I mean I am not talking about problems when I say "thank you" so why should the response be "No Problem?" Have I bothered them or something and they are excusing me? My youngest daughter insists that I'm hung up and that this is simply her generation's way of saying, "You're welcome."

So just about the time I settled in to "No problem" I started hearing, "No worries." What? Do I look worried when I look up from my hamburger? Did I oversleep only to wake up in a world of "no worries?" Wouldn't that be nice.

I recently preached a sermon on Worry. I had to admit to the congregation that me giving advice on not worrying was like Osama Ben Laden giving a lecture on peace and love. So as I have often done before I was preaching first to myself.

I used Jesus' famous, "Why are you worried so much" talk that he gave to his tiny band of "worried" disciples. It seems he sat them down in the middle of a field of wild flowers, picked one of them, and said,"Look long and hard at this flower...does it look worried?...The birds flying overhead, do they seem to suffer from anxiety?...My dad seems to be able to provide for them so why are your brows so furrowed and your stomachs in knots?"

So while I preached I held up a single wildflower and reminded me and any who would listen some interesting tid-bits about worry...Want to hear some of them?
-40% of what we worry about never happens
-30% is worry over the past so we can't do much about it
-12% is needless worries about our health
-10% is centered on petty, miscellaneous worries
-leaving 8% worth worrying 92% of our worries are as Earl Nightingale in his book "The Essence of Success" says are "pure fog with no substantial chance of happening."

How about them odds?

I also mentioned signs of unproductive worry as listed by Robert Leahy in "The Worry Cure."...
-you worry about unanswerable questions
-you worry about a chain reaction of events
-you reject a solution because it is not perfect
-you think you should worry until you feel less anxious
-you think you should worry until you control everything

Can't you just overhear a flower say, "Hummm I wonder if the sun will come up tomorrow...and if it does not how will I survive...and if I have trouble surviving what about the seeds I was going to spread next Spring?...and if I can't spread seeds then why am I even here?...but if I concentrate on these 'what if's' at least I can keep from being so afraid...but how can I get hold of the one who controls the sun???"

There is a kind of strange silliness in my/our efforts at worry. It betrays a need for control but also a deeper need to develop the art of letting go so that we can again be faced with the issues of trust and faith. Carl Jung once responded when asked if he believed in God, "Believe...? I know there is a God! God is my name for all things that I did not myself create that come across my path and gets in the way of my carefully developed plans and desires."

It is not just a saying on a cross-stitched wall hanging. It's wisdom: "O God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...the courage to change the things I can...and the wisdom to know the difference."

What me worry? Today I will attempt to pay a little more attention to those few flowers that are attempting to break Winter's grip as they remind me that Spring is coming. When will it come? If you listen to the breeze that blows those flowers to and fro you will hear a a gentle whisper that says, "No worries."

Bless you

Saturday, February 12, 2011

To Be or Not to Be...a Minister

This week I was part of a long intense process where candidates for ministry come before a Board of Ministry to be "reviewed and evaluated" as to whether they are ready "to be" a minister. After seminary there is a preliminary "testing" and if you pass that you are checked out for a 3 year "provisional" period. Next you write a whole bunch of papers in response to a series of questions, video tape a sermon and a bible study, and come before 3 separate committees to respond to what you have prepared.

I would not want to have to do this "again." I did it 38 years ago and wonder if I would make it through now. My understanding of some of the doctrines and theology that are evaluated...well are different than what a committee might want to hear. Wear and tear do that. Doctrines that come out of books take on a different "look" when exposed to the light and the dark of real life.

Then there's the preaching committee. I listen as candidates have to "defend" their sermons. The sermons get picked apart by well meaning ministers who make up the committees and whose task it is to pick them apart for the good of the cause. I know my sermons get evaluated most every week but I often do not have to see the "report card." And fortunately my folks are not sitting out in the congregation holding up numbers on cards like they are scoring an ice skating performance or diving competition.

The picking apart probably happens at the same time families are picking apart chicken on a plate just after service. But at least I don't' have to listen. The candidates I sat with last week do.

Each would be minister's call is "questioned." You may think that to be strange and even a bit cruel but that is the way it is supposed to be in this church we called Methodist. God's call is real but it is meant to be examined by the church one is "called" to serve. Then we ministers have to equip ourselves for ministry. It's important stuff so that equipping is examined as to its quality and effectiveness.

Around 40% of the candidates do not make it through the first time and are deferred for another year when they must come back and do it again having learned something and often needing to do some more work in a certain area. It is hard telling this "called of God" people that they are not "ready."

In conversation we hear expressions like, "It's not rocket science"..or "It's not brain surgery" when someone is referring to a certain skill level. Well what we ministers do is neither of the above but we do work with people's lives and we do handle "the scared word and the holy elements." Yes, one can actually get some kind of license to be a "minster" from a magazine but you can't do that in our system. We've decided that this "work for God" stuff is too important. You have to be tested. Some may feel they have been "drawn and quartered" but it is all done by those of us who had to do it ourselves. We know it is important and it is needed.

So now I'll stop this and go back to preparing this week's sermon knowing that I will not have to take it before a committee but before a "real life" group of people who are not as much interested in taking it apart as hoping it will feed their spirits and help them experience the divine while discovering meaning in a world where challenges are at every turn.

Personally I think the sermon this week is a 7.8....but I never know until I dive off the platform...

God bless those dear people I faced this week who are willing to go through this time of testing. It's worth really is.


Friday, February 4, 2011

A Preacher's Groundhog Day

Was it because it actually was near Groundhog day or was it due to the natural anxiety that anyone has about being caught "not prepared?" I've been told that the "naked dream" is common when it comes to our shared human condition.

You know what the naked dream is do you not? It is when you dream that all of a sudden you are in a group of people and you do not have any clothes on. So you hide under a desk or in a closet or you hear the laughter of those who observe. The resulting panic and embarrassment leads you to wonder just how in the world did this happen? Whose fault is it?

Those who make their money writing books about anxiety and worry and dream interpretations say that this "naked" condition represents being "exposed" in a state of being unprepared. The pop test is put in front of you and you have no idea what the subject matter even is. It is time for a speech and the audience is waiting and your name is called but you did not know you were giving the speech. It is time to pay the bill but you have no money. You are "naked."

Well I had a kind of strange naked dream last night. It was a version of the movie "Groundhog Day." It started with me marching into a crowded church and giving the same sermon every day. Each time I marched into the sanctuary the crowd was the same, the people lining up to go into church were always in the same line with the same expressions on their faces. They didn't seem to much care to be there but the conversation never changed.

And...I kept giving the same sermon...and I got the same reaction...sort of bland but acceptable...nothing really special but then the time was over stared all over again....same crowd...same sermon...

And then...

I was walking into the same church but the person walking beside me was different, the crowd seemed like mostly the same crowd as before but all of sudden it was "the next day" or something...but alas I had that same sermon that I had been preaching to the same crowd over and over again...but this time I was supposed to preach a different sermon guessed it I was "naked." I had no other sermon. What I had was that same old, tired sermon that was about to drive me crazy. I was tired of hearing myself all those days...but this crowd had not heard it like I had. They were expecting not the sermon from "yesterday" but a fresh new one "today." But all I had were yesterday's words...If I preached it "again" I would see the expressions of their faces of bewilderment. "Doesn't this clown know he preached that same sermon yesterday...what's the matter with him?" Naked!!

I did not have time to run to the "file" and find an old sermon that I could give in a fresh way that the crowd had not heard. I did not have time to "compose" new material. All I had was the old "Groundhog" sermon.

The great thing about the "naked dream" is that you wake up, usually with "some" clothes on. So I woke up, laid there a minute tyring to figure out if this really happened, and then took a deep breath that it was after all a dream.

But then I got up and saw my shadow....O my

Bless you...and Happy Groundhog day

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself...but There's a Lot of It

Those words spoken by President long ago to reassure a shaky nation that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself" are hope filled words that seem to be falling on deaf ears these days. Perhaps our deafness is caused by a constant bombardment of fear-filled words coming to us from 24 hour news that has now been amplified by intense and polarizing rhetoric from the "right and the left."

In a recent article, "Faith Verses Fear in America" Katherine Marshall offers a telling observation. When fear is in control four things tend to happen: 1 Thinking is shut down 2 There is a heightened stereotyping of others 3 Actions and words are driven by emotion and 4 People are more susceptible to charismatic leaders.

Mix this with what Frank Fured terms "cultural cooling" and you have a recipe for a fear casserole. Fured in his book, "Culture of Fear" writes: "A culture of fear estranges people from one another and breeds an atmosphere of suspicion that distracts people from facing up to the challenges confronting society."

So we are afraid that illegal immigrants will be the ruin of society. We fear Muslims are plotting to take over the world. We fear that too much money is going to inner city schools thus depriving children with "real potential" the resources to exceed. We fear crime so we buy more guns and get very angry if someone suggests that we do not have the right to arm ourselves with whatever kind of gun we chose even if that gun might be a danger to the "larger welfare of the whole community." We fear the loss of individual rights in the face of creeping government intervention.

The partial truth is that all of the above mentioned "fears" are grounded in some reality. The question that is lost, however, in an atmosphere of fear is how much of it is truth and how much of it is amplified by the magnifying glass of our fear. Donal Walsh came up with what the letters for "fear" sometimes really mean: False Evidence Appearing Real.

I'm not saying that we should roll over and play dead when it comes to real threats in our society but what is the role of "people of faith" in the face of fear? If the saying, "Feed your faith and starve your fears to death" has any real meaning it is time for a faith banquet.

In the Christan tradition we attempt to follow a man who looked into his first follower's eyes and saw fear. He loved them very much so instead of scolding them for not having enough faith he simply said, "Do not let your hearts be so troubled...believe." Research shows that the world he selected for "troubled" actually means "terrified." Jesus knew that fear was human and natural. He told his disciples basically that it was okay to be a bit afraid since they were all journeying toward a city where death awaited, but he said do not be "too not be not be scared to death for heaven's sake."

For a follower of Christ fear is to be put into a larger context. Do we feel that some of the things we fear will be "the death of us?" What will we Psalm 27 says, "The Lord is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear. The Lord is the stronghold of my life of whom shall I be afraid. When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh, my adversaries and foes, they shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident."

Those words might be a good start for a faith casserole. Fear robs us of vision. Fear steals the ability to risk loving. Fear wants to rule. Fear likes an enemies list and wants to limit the people on our love list.

Having faith does not mean that we are naive and stupid but having faith has always meant risk. After all faith is faith. It is sometimes called a "leap of faith." That does not mean jumping off the cliff of reason but it does mean not sucking in the atmosphere of fear that is being offered so much lately.

Fear is doing a number on us. It is time to feed our faith so that at least we can make some of our fears "anemic."

The "faith manual" says something like this...What can separate us from God?...shall tribulation, distress, persecution, peril, famine, sword (have I gotten to your fear yet).. neither death, nor life nor principalities nor powers...nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth (are we there yet?)...nor anything in all creation shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus... That about wraps it up.

Bless you

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Numbered Days

OK I admit that the only "blackberry" that I have is hidden behind the frozen onions in our frig. And my "i phone" is simply bad grammar for, "Yes, I have a phone." In other words when it comes to technology I am Rip Van Seymour. I awakened into a world that sped by while alas I did sleep...or something.

Anyway I was made aware of all this when it came time to "change calendars." My friends pull out little pencil like gizmo's and punch in code on blackberry-druid-i phone-type devices while I pull out my spiral bound pad, not i-pad, and gently slide it into the hard plastic cover that I have used for, O 20 years or so.

I then look at the penciled in dates that I scratched in for the next year in those tiny blocks that allowed me to predict the future by writing words in "next year's calendar" that is always at the back of "this year's calendar." This can make one fall victim to the illusion that somehow we are in control of time. We block it in, fit it in, cancel it out, scratch it out if written in pen, or simply erase it from memory with pencil in hand. What power!

Of course the creator of all time must get a kick out of our efforts to make time, find time, keep time, or even delete time. The old wisdom saying offers the counsel; "Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom." So when I go through my yearly ritual of changing calendars and transferring dates I get the chance to literally "number" my days.

This year I paused while carrying over time. I thought of the young mother with two children who has not many numbered days left. Her battle with cancer is nearing an end. She is counting days in a different way. Teach me a better way to number my days O one who "calendars" all our days. I so often live days like they are postage stamps I use to send something off somewhere. I forget that each day is not only numbered, it is sacred. It does not have to "be." It was not scheduled or ordered from a catalogue. Each day is "given."

The square space on my calendar cannot contain the day, only an image of the sacred space that awaits my presence. So the next time you go to either the frig or your pocket for your blackberry...or the next time you enter an appointment on your i phone pause a moment and realize that time is a special thing. Pay attention to those beings that are passing time with you rather than spending too much time with the devices we use to "contain" and schedule time. My spiral bound old fashioned "device" is not the time I have. The numbering cannot really be done by a calendar. The numbering must be done my me. And the number that matters is the space I occupy now. That is all anyone has.

So teach us to number our at a time...gently...respectfully...fully aware and that we may gain a heart of wisdom. So on some device it says that today is January 13, 2011. Wisdom says, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." You can plug that date in any device you use to "measure" time.

Bless you