Votive Candles

Something Is Terribly Wrong. Advent First Sunday.

Exactly how much mayhem does one need to witness before concluding that something is terribly wrong?  Daily headlines of extrajudicial killings of African-American citizens, war, mass migrations of persons fleeing from war, terrorist attacks in the name of God and the rude  slander of persons by leading presidential contenders are enough to convince us that something is off balance.  Right?  But the fact is, Americans polarize into extremes and some, on the left, want to naively believe in the last superstition, progress (as Christopher Lasch wrote in his book, The True and Only Heaven).  Or those on the right hunker down, double down and promote more violence as the solution to violence. It is a self-defeating proposition but logic is not a strong suit of the NRApocalyptic view of the world.

Enter the biblical narrative of Advent, which is to say, the coming of the Christ in our midst.  This Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent.  How much we need to hear this account again!  The world is plunged into darkness.  It is more than evident to anyone willing to put down their ideological playbook that human beings are sinners in need of a Redeemer.  Don’t like the word “sin?”  Try this:  human beings are deeply alienated and in need of reconciliation.   However we state the obvious, we would do well to begin our journey to a sanctuary of peace such is offered by our church. Not to the mall, clawing our way through crowds and the push-and-shove of consumer frenzy.  Not to a party.  But to the sanctuary of the Holy One who would speak to us again of peace and justice and a Redeemer.

See that field of shepherds?  It is night.  And it is night in more ways than one, for they are poor and live in the midst of a brutal Roman occupation.  Set in the night sky is a star.  That is a luminous symbol of Christ’s presence in our world as the dim tides of history and the inhumane plots of wicked persons blot out the light. The Gospel of John captures that scene in another way, saying, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (1:5)

This is the First Sunday of Advent.  Let us take a step toward light, toward love and peace.  ~See you Sunday.


Give Thanks. Always.

Through every entrance of any beautiful garden I have ever visited; beside retinues of trees aligned in an array of stippled, green, pinpoints of color; standing on the borderland of shoreline that separates sea and sky and earth while at the same time acting as a seam that sews them as one fabric called the universe; engraved within a ring worn as an emblem of life…I have always heard these words resounding as a chorus, the coruscating high descant, the rose adorned emblem engraved onto the wooden gate :

Thank you

Begin and end there.   Let it be the incantatory response of your life, for life.  See you Sunday~  Thanks be to God.

Paris and the Defilement of Our World

solidarity-with-parisWe are polluted.  I do not refer to our cities teeming with smog or our lakes and land polluted by garbage and run-off.  I mean we, as in you and I.  The world is defiled.  We need to grasp this fundamental fact about our natures or all attempts at a resolution about what is evil and wicked ends up chasing symptoms instead of root causes.

This is not easy to hear in a liberal culture (and anyone who knows me understands that by Baptist and other Christian standards, I am liberal). But there is an assumption in our materialist culture that people are good (this much is true, we are good since we are made in the image of God) and that God is to blame for everything evil.  That kind of pie crust thinking was a favorite mode of thought of the late Christopher Hitchens.  Unfortunately, while we are good and capable of great good, we are also bent toward evil or what the bible would call “wickedness.”  And there is nothing quite so evil or dangerous  in the world as a seventh century religious zealot armed with twenty-first century armaments.  The 16th Century French reformer, John Calvin (in his Institutes of the Christian Religion) noted that “even the Cherubim themselves must veil their faces in very terror” in light of the diabolical aspects of human nature.

From theft to war; from feelings of inadequacy to outright despair—these rise up through our soul life like flames, consuming us and the world at times.  Calvin’s assertion was that human beings are polluted by a craving or lust (concupiscence)  so that it defiles us.  Bob Dylan and the Buddha both knew that it is easy for a person to be defiled in this world. Consider the second Noble Truth for a similar discussion of desire/fire/lust or Tanha.

Consider the Sufi (Islamic) poet, Rumi’s verses:

Why do you stay in prison

When the door is so wide open?

 Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.

Live in silence.

Flow down and down in always

Widening rings of being.

Equally, the Apostle Paul’s words are as important:

“If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.”

Light a candle in this darkness.  Confront the shadow that resides in us all.  Pray for France.  With courage, let us stand down the enveloping darkness that has violated so many. There is a time to stand up to evil and wickedness.  Perhaps not since the rise of Nazism have we seen such a force for wickedness emerge in the world.  Let us be resolute in love and brave in confronting what threatens to annihilate the innocent.

We Pray For France


We pray for and stand with France.  How wicked of persons to claim the name of God as they destroy innocent people.  The Lord have mercy on those who are so desperately grieving after these heinous actions.  Paris, city of lights, never extinguish your light.  May the world rise with you to resist this darkness that encroaches on humanity.


At The Crossroads: Let Us Be Found Ready

We are impoverished.  I mean by this what Johannes Baptist Metz means in his luminous book, Poverty of the Spirit, when he writes, “We are all beggars. We are all members of a species that is not sufficient unto itself. We are all creatures plagued by unending doubts and restless, unsatisfied hearts. Of all creatures, we are the poorest and the most incomplete. Our needs are always beyond our capacities, and we only find ourselves when we lose ourselves.”

We find ourselves as we resign ourselves to God and into the care of others. There are simply things we cannot do for ourselves.  It is a sign of our poverty that others must act for us and on behalf of us.  This poverty is not something of which to be ashamed but it is merely an acknowledgement of our interdependence.  When you are selfless, acting on behalf of others, you find yourself.  This is something of what Jesus must have meant when he taught, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.”  Yes, we are impoverished and need others—and others need us.  In selfless, devotional acts, we redeem our lives and the world.  Our interdependence is a remarkable spiritual truth… and a remarkable, redemptive opportunity.

Our church is at a crossroads as we submit who we are and ourselves and all that we do into the care of others who do not know us nor share our view of the world.  That is okay. That is, as noted above, the condition of humanity.  I pray that we will be given a fair hearing, a just consideration, and that people of humane spirit will link with us in a brilliant, humane and humanist effort to heal the world around us. Whatever decisions get made, however our journey is travelled, our destiny remains unchanged:  we live in this world by God’s grace and we are trekking always and ever toward the Kingdom of light and peace.  May God bless those leaders and decision-makers who have some sway over our immediate circumstances.  May the mission and mandate, as Metz describes being a human, be met in us so that “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” would find us ready.  Amen. So be it.

apsen sky

Speak, For Your Servant Hears

You go to the cinema and you pause long enough to determine which seat you prefer to sit in, not necessarily for comfort (since the seats are all the same) but because you desire to position yourself in the best possible way to hear and see the movie.

You pay for a class and upon the first day of entering the classroom (be it an academic setting, an art or craft class, or a one-time lecture) you take a moment to determine where you will sit.  Factors may enter into your decision like how best you can hear or see the screen or chalkboard or how isolated you might be from interference from others taking the course.  You do this in order to maximize the experience and get as much as  you can from the class.

Positioning ourselves, orienting ourselves toward the source of information is something we do every day and certainly in moments like those noted above.  This is a skill that can serve you well as you ponder your spiritual life. Consider the boy, Samuel.

In our First Sunday Bible Study this past Sunday, we discussed chapters 1-3 of I Samuel and in that narrative there comes a moment when the young boy, Samuel, hears a voice calling his name in the middle of the night.  He goes to the high priest, Eli, and says to him, “Here I am, you called me.”  Eli, in so many words, tells the boy to go back to sleep.  ”I did not call you. Go back to bed.”  The third time this happens, Eli realizes that the Lord God is the one beckoning to Samuel. And then we read this in chapter 3:

“Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”

This week, every day if you can, upon awakening, position yourself as Samuel did and say, “Speak, for your servant hears.” The point here is not to pry some mystical experience out of you.  You and I may hear nothing like Samuel heard. But the point is to position ourselves in a way that we may hear what God is trying to tell us.  And, of course, one way to do that is by worshipping together on Sunday as the Word of God is addressed to all of us through scripture and proclamation.  God is calling to us.  ~See you Sunday