Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Wouldn't Leave My DOG with this "GOD"

So my daughter brought home her new fiance. She met him through some stranger on a street corner who screamed at her until she gave in and came over to be introduced.

Her new beau is really something. He is very set in his ways, never budging an inch on any issue. He insists she sever ties with any "unclean" family, friends and acquaintances that don't agree with him. He has promised she will be with him forever if she loves him and does what he says. If she doesn't, he'll torture her, kill her, and then see that others spend all of eternity desecrating her corpse. He even killed his own son as a way to pay for all the sins he says my daughter has committed. He did it for her. Otherwise, he couldn't let her near him. He says those are his rules.

What's not to love?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Hamster Wheel

“After a dozen years in parish ministry, I can tell you I am not interested in adding to the cultural noise…”

I initiated this blog with these words five full years ago. Today, after 17 years of parish ministry, they have never ringed truer for me.

This past Sunday (March 3, 2013), my first back from a reflective “stay-cation,” I preached a fairly long sermon titled “Maintain I Contact” which has garnered more response than any in recent memory. (The audio file will be available soon here). In the sermon, I spoke of noise, the incessant commercially and politically motivated promotion of anxiety, and an antidote to our  “hamster wheel” existence.

I drew from two very recent experiences for my sermon: a 45-minute solitary session of profound centering prayer in our sanctuary, and my first ever experience with Long Slow Distance (LSD) training runs.

The experience of the prayer time in the sanctuary is too profound to describe in anything but face-to-face discussion. If you want to hear about it, ask me the next time we spend time together. The LSD run involved complying with specific instructions from my marathon trainer (and lovely wife) to run at an uncomfortably slow pace for an uncomfortably long period of time. I will be extending my LSDs every Saturday for the next six weeks to re-teach my body to devote extended periods of time to a singular enterprise..

I am achievement-based. 

Running far slower than I can or want to -- in public, no less -- is not of my nature, says my ego, which is used to being in charge. But there I was, dressed in fluorescent yellow, jet black and electric blue, trudging through the hills and vales of my hometown: a day-glo zombie.

No earbuds. No noise. No achievement. Just this step during this breath. It was so foreign to me, so against what I’ve chosen as “my nature.” But is my true nature of my choosing?
Most of us regularly allow ourselves to be whipped to a froth. We don’t stop to ask ourselves what that “breaking news” is breaking. We grind away to get the job done without stepping back to discern what the job is doing. We spend time without considering what we’re buying with it. It’s a hamster wheel, my friend, and so much of what we encounter, consume and absorb is designed to keep us mindlessly giving our power to we-know-not-who-or-what!

We hold the remedy for so much that is plaguing us. It is an abiding peace already planted within us. Movement is you in relationship with the place you're in. Silence is the soft sack that carries noise; peace, the solid ground on which every disturbance stomps. All that remains is for us to will ourselves not to let our nows be huckstered away.

Start right here. At the end of this sentence, when we reach the period, I ask you to simply close your eyes, take deep, regular belly breaths, and let yourself lean back into your silence, regardless of what is swirling all around, without and within you, for as long as is long for you.


Last Sunday in our church, several of us made the commitment to ourselves and each other to thus get off the hamster wheel for a little while each day. It might do you some good to join us...

Listening is the beginning of prayer. – Mother Teresa

Deep prayer is the laying aside of thoughts. It is the opening of mind and heart, body and feelings – our whole being – to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond words, thoughts, and emotions.  –Fr. Thomas Keating

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Guns, Sex, Religion, 4th&Goal, Healthcare Reform

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 
But I have calmed and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord, 
from this time on and for evermore. – Psalm 131

Jumping into political discourse these days is a lot like painting the eaves of your house. You think you’ve got it all under control (if I can re-e-e-e-each out just a little bit mo-o-o-o-re), when suddenly you realize you are contorting yourself and over-extending beyond your center of gravity, reaching out into thin air high above the ground and far beyond what’s safe and reasonable.

Some folks cling tightly by their fingertips and toes to their shaky, off-center support and continue to slap at the job, reality-be-damned. Others abandon the task at hand. The wise climb down, and revisit the problem from solid ground below (maybe if I adjust my position or slide over just a bit – maybe if I come at it from a different angle – is there something I’m overlooking?).

Painting your house or stating and defending an opinion: With each, the job you do will be out there on display for all to see and judge. The state of the exterior tells a lot about what kind of shape the inside is in, whether we’re talking about your home or your mind.

If you find yourself so extremely angry at those with whom you disagree that you consider them mortal enemies; if you stubbornly misrepresent their position in such an exaggerated way as to make it nonsensical; if you find fault, heap scorn, and assign sinister motives with anything they say and everything they do… I think you should consider climbing down off your ladder for a few minutes. You’re way beyond your center of gravity.

Calm and quiet your soul…

Look at your primary news sources: Do they simply reinforce opinions you already hold? Do they add to the pile rather than unearth new ways of looking at issues? If you mostly nod or shake your head along to the TV and radio, that’s probably what’s happening. If you slightly shift your head and bring your hand to your face, your preconceived notions are being challenged and you’re learning something. 

Like a weaned child…

Turn it all off for a few days. Drive to and from work in silence. Unplug the shop radio. Hide the remote and don’t even turn on the TV for a weekend. Go outside instead.

...with its mother…

Pray. One of the first things I advise when someone is consumed with anger toward another is that they pray for that individual. The catch: Don’t pray that they will change their ways or be saved from themselves, but simply pray that God will bless them, and nothing more. Try it for a few days. The results will amaze you.

Yes, I’m talking about guns. Yes, I’m talking about immigration. Yes, I’m talking about Barack Obama. Yes, I’m talking about Mitch McConnell. Yes, I'm talking about contraception. Yes, I’m talking about illegal contact in the endzone. Yes, I’m talking about Al Sharpton. Yes, I’m talking about Franklin Graham. Yes, I'm talking about healthcare reform. Yes, I’m talking about the crap you post on Facebook. Yes, I’m talking about auto-tuned popstars. Yes, I'm talking about your blanket e-mails. Yes, I’m talking about the Mason-Dixon Line.

Yes, I’m talking about you and me.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Seeking Sacred Ground

I highly recommend the use of headphones, as I MUMBLE a bit toward the end...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Weed Theology

Meet Alice and Lola, who are here to explain in great depth and all seriousness my theology and ministerial philosophy as pastor of the altogether splendid West Bloomfield (N.Y.) United Church of Christ.

Guinea pigs are sweet, unassuming critters who have a preposterous way of showing delight: they popcorn. When they are really happy, they will repeatedly, spontaneously hop and turn. Watching a guinea pig popcorn is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

Here. Watch this YouTube video of someone else's guinea pig popcorning. Keep your eye on the little one:

Now THAT'S fun to watch! Keepers of guinea pigs get an instant reward for pleasing their pets. And what pleases Lola and Alice most?

Fresh dandelion greens.

And so, the noxious weed I have done all in my power to eradicate from my yard for decades has suddenly become a prized find. In fact, I have caught myself weeding grass out from around dandelions to ensure my guinea pigs would have a fresh supply. The once Round-Up deserving usurpers of my pure and holy lawn are suddenly a welcomed and honored guest.

Of course the local rabbits knew the value of dandelions long before I did. I imagine they sat in the bramble shaking their heads at how I used to poison, rip up, curse and fling away one of their favorite food sources, leaving them no choice but to decimate my much less flavorful garden lettuce instead.

I wonder what else in my life I have erroneously deemed useless only to stunt blessings and complicate matters. Who have I poisoned? What have I  ripped up, cursed and flung away from me that might have proved valuable, even blessed to me or someone near me if not for my arrogant, ignorant prejudice?

We don't weed out our faith community for this very reason. There's a lot to be said for attracting and keeping all kinds of yahoos and misfits. Immediately, it makes for more varied and confounding coffee hour conversation. Even more, broader minds and wider viewpoints can help us to recognize good in what we too readily discount or disregard. An invitation to our church is an opportunity to fraternize with folks you'd otherwise probably not get to know, which, of course, is an opportunity to a life of greater depth, breadth, wisdom, and blessing. Consider yourself invited.

In the 4th chapter of Philippians Paul urges us to rejoice always in our faith, to show gentleness to everyone, to lay our worries down and let the peace of God rule our hearts and minds. He goes on to suggest we should seek to discern what is true, honorable, pure, pleasing, commendable excellent and praise-worthy in all around us.  Since this directive falls within Paul's discussion of healing rifts between people, he is not suggesting we winnow out all that is imperfect. Rather, he is asserting a vein of Godliness might just run through us all if we'd only see "inconvenient" or "inconsequential" others (and ourselves) with new eyes.

This is what we strive to do at our church. It doesn't always make sense. Sometimes it's freaky. But, hey, we're more frontier than fortress.

And that, my friends, is Weed Theology.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mrs. Jesus H. Christ

Perhaps you've seen the recent reports regarding Harvard University Christian history professor Dr. Karen King, and her unveiling of a tiny piece of 4th century Coptic papyrus which quotes Jesus speaking of his wife.

Now these sorts of things pop up from time to time, and who knows if what they document is actual fact, or even precisely what the term "wife" may have meant for a first or fourth century itinerant rabbi. Still, I find it intriguing to consider the possibility of a Mrs. Jesus, not just for the Dan Brown-eque messianic bloodline, but for the woman herself, and for Jesus' sake.

If you've never read Kazantzakis' brilliant, tender 1953 novel The Last Temptation of Christ, I can't recommend it enough. In it, Jesus on the cross has flashed before him what might have been had he married, settled down and raised a family instead of charging headlong into his ministry -- mounting bold, public opposition to the religious, social, and political leaders of his day, ultimately to a tortured death (well, not ultimately, but that's a story for another day...). Avoid the 1988 movie, which made a poorly acted and worse edited hash of it all. Check out that book!

I like the idea of Jesus having known wedded bliss, home and hearth. For example, I love the thought of his spouse serving a delicious meal and beaming with love and pride when he takes pleasure in it. I prefer the idea of the Son of Man having a place to lay his head. And, no, I have no problem with Jesus taking part in any other element of marriage. I have always cherished the fully human Christ. I relate to him best. I rely on him most.

I know some folks need a much higher christology. I don't begrudge that in the least. But for me, the greatest power of the greatest story ever told is that whole idea of the messiah pitching a tent among us as one of us: living in a real body in the real world. I acknowledge the "super"but gravitate to the "natural."

Maybe it comes down to my faith in humanity and myself. I've never managed it, but I believe here and there we could probably find people who come very close to living the ideal provided by Jesus. As I strive to move closer to him myself, it is some comfort to think of him showing up closer to me than expected, too.

What do you think about a Mrs. Jesus?

Draw near to God and God will draw near to you. -- James 4:8