I Saw You


communion_handOne of the most fulfilling aspects of being a pastor is the vantage point from which I get to view the world, especially the world of faith, hope and love.  From children to teen-agers to middle-aged adults and seniors, I get to see the treasure of faith developed, sculpted, woven, composed–pick a metaphor!–and it is a beautiful sight.  I would like to share with you some of what I have seen from this overlook of a pulpit.

I saw  you:

Entering the church with crumpled clothes and looking like you had just ascended from some journey in the inner earth, the smoke rising from you and your gait limped.  I saw you arrive earlier than anyone but me in order to make coffee for worshippers and prepare the house of the Lord in your own humble way.  I saw you wearing a robe of faith and laughter for a crown.

I saw you …

Speaking words of kindness, filled like flowers by nectar and so sweet and genuinely kind that they pulled hurt and broken persons into your field of view.  The fragrance of your mercy and hospitality have awakened in people their own quest for the holy.  Your love of God gleams like a star, it dispels darkness.

I saw you…

Praying fervently in the pew, eyes shut tight and lips moving, and words from your inner life falling on the floor like crepe-paper cut-outs of hearts, but rising like spirit and wind.  Your warrior nature submitted to the Prince of Peace in service to God, kingdom of Christ and church.

I saw you…

Singing with your head thrown back and a smile on your face like you were seeing God or at least an angel and I am pretty certain you cannot “sing” like a pop diva or some smooth crooner singing for his livelihood, but sing you did and full of heart and soul so that your notes were pulled like filings by the magnet of God’s love and formed with the celestial choir for a gift of eternal praise.

I saw you…

Weeping.  Your face was cupped in your hands for all the grace you have known and for all the grace you will need to get through whatever it is you’re going through.

I saw you…

Helping your mother into her pew, caring gently for her and thus mimicking her care of you when you were a child. Your devotion was a royal purple robe you pulled onto her shoulders while the God of mercy and love simultaneously placed you beneath the shelter of a wing.

I saw you…

Giggle and smile and roll your eyes, lean into your parent’s side for comfort and peace andthen hop down the aisle to share the Peace of Christ.  Child of God, you are so full of light that I am filled by your light.  The face of Christ peers deeply into my eyes when I look into your face.

I saw you…

Greeting a stranger in the foyer, making sure they knew where to go and how to get there. You smiled and touched in measures of sugar and spice so that friendship could be served, offered as tokens of hope on a paper plate, baked golden brown.

I saw you…

Overcoming your fears, resisting hatred and death and refusing to pick up the stones of ill will that graveled the paths you walked throughout the week. Instead, you turned stones to communion wafers and shared the cup of salvation, grape juice from a jar transformed into symbol of love that overcomes hate, life that overcomes death, light that the darkness cannot put out.

I saw you…

Enter the Shepherd’s gate into the city of God, find your place in the community of believers, link your hands in prayer and extend every fiber of your being toward the Light of the World.  You stood tall, head bowed and one hand extended to the heavens like God was a face to be touched.I saw you worship God.  I saw you full of dignity as the People of God.  And because I saw you, I saw the Nazarene, his clothes crumpled and the smoke of the grave rising from him as he limped on broken feet, ascended from the inner earth,  as he gave a shout that the kingdoms of this world could no longer hold sway over him.  Bless the Lord, you people of the Lord.  Now and world without end.  Amen.


Your Formlessness


The bible is constantly warning us against idolatry.  It’s an old word and one that has little resonance in our culture. Why? Because our culture is strewn with the litter of little idols, their plastic impoverished thingness of little use to anyone, clogging rivers and sloshing at ocean’s depth, piled in landfills: the things we gave our hearts to but in turn could provide us nothing but some immediate titillation of the new.  Idolatry is simply worshipping that which is not worthy of your or my devotion.  If “worship” is a problematic word in that sentence then simply substitute “following after.”

On Sunday we enter a sacred space to bring ourselves before the One, the Holy and Just, the Compassionate and Loving God who is worthy of our worship and whose Being fills us with being.  This act of worship is a tossing overboard of idols; a clearing of the decks of those things that compete for our heart’s devotion but instead burden us; a cleansing of the debris and dust of a world-in-love-with-death that pelts us with its hatreds and assorted curses.  No wonder then upon leaving the church’s sanctuary, we feel lightened, relieved and renewed. We have exchanged the cheap copper coins of our culture for life.  We have untied the loads of assumptions and presumptions and left them behind.  We have picked up the gentle yoke of Christ instead.

Find a sacred space and confide and reside in the One who alone gives you peace, transforms hate into love and cures us of our warmongering.    I like this poem from the Sufi poet, Rumi, that speaks to this idolatrous tendency of our culture and time entitled, “You Embrace Some Form,” translated by Daniel Liebert in the book, The Rumi Collection, edited by Kabir Helminski.

you embrace some form saying, I am this

 By God, you are not this

Or that or the other

you are Unique One

            Heartravishing

you are throne and palace and king

you are bird and snare and fowler

like water in jar and river

are in essence the same

you and spirit are the same

your every idol

prostates

before you 

your every thought-form

perishes

in your formlessness

 


Hi! I’m The Greeter or, Calculation of Presence II


Roseate Spoonbills - "Visions in Rosy Pink"At some point in any given week for the past two years, I’ve parked my electric car in the garage of a shopping center that has free chargers, gone upstairs and parked my, uh, self in a chair and sipped on a chai latte or a coffee with a shot of peppermint, read emails, make phone calls and, like an anthropologist parked behind a shrub, watched the people who enter and leave the Starbucks.  Before I make my larger point, I do want to offer one aside about this experience and what I have observed:  in our post-modern consumer culture, individuals flock like spoonbills on a river cul-de-sac and while they are together and some are taking in conversation, most are plugged into ear plugs, plugged into phones, plugged into the parallel universe of the internet.  I’d call such a gathering a collection but I wouldn’t call it communion.  There is something about us and our alienated existences that beckons to us from such a scene. And there is a lesson as regards the communion and communal aspects of Church that compels us to think deeply about human nature and the Gospel.

So one day this past week, while sitting in a corner with what I think I remember to be a “flat white” in one hand and my iPhone opened to a kindle app, reading a book by the philosopher David Bentley Hart (God) in the other, I watched as a little girl, perhaps six years old, stood on a ledge near the door in her pink rain boots.  Her mother was sitting at a bar along the glass window keeping watch. The door would open and then this child would give a little wave to the persons who entered and say, “Hi! I’m the greeter.”  Singlehandedly this child–and as all children she was a pillar of light–dialed up the happiness quotient in that room.  People smiled, people giggled, and some stopped to chat with her.

Last week, I challenged us to calculate our presence.  This child did no overt calculation that I could see. She simply was herself, greeting persons with joy.  I thank God I was able to witness her radiance sparking across the room of the caffeinated.  You have light in you. The scriptures say as much.  Got light?  As the song says, let it shine.  Such presence is nearly incalculable.  ~See you Sunday.


Calculation of Presence, the ANC and Riverside Church


chalice_SalvadorHow does one  go about calculating presence?  By ‘presence’ I mean the actual appearance of someone into the equation of any group, be it your office, your dinner outing, a family reunion, and yes, a church.

And I’m not talking about—or at least I don’t want to talk about—the drunk uncle at the family reunion.  That is a kind of obvious and negative ledger sheet with which we are all familiar.  We have all said at some point in our lives (even in elementary school when deciding at which lunch table to sit), “I hope so-and-so doesn’t show up, sit down, come along.”

Let’s focus for the moment, or moments it takes to read this, upon the positive.  We have also said things like, “I am so glad s/he was there. What a difference s/he makes.”  Someone’s presence livens up a room, fills a room with light, replaces sadness with joy or hands out courage and hope in large bowls.  Calculating presence is an inexact art but we all calculate every day how someone’s presence in our lives makes a measurable difference for how we think, feel and act.

This holds true for institutions in our communities as well.  I recall not too long ago how a particular club along what is now called “The Wharf” impacted our community in Southwest. Suddenly it seemed we had more trash littering the parking lot of our church and streets, drunks sleeping in cars on the church lot, and assorted other behaviors we need not list here.  The neighborhood was revolted by that institution’s careless regard of others.  We expect more from one another and we calculate presence by how not only an institution appears on a corner, but how they deepen our humanity and raise our sights by calling us to noble ideas and actions.

This week and week-end, calculate your presence.  Consider how you individually bring light and hope into a group; ponder how you raise the sights of others, deepen the humanity of others.  The amazing thing about that kind of presence is this—while giving your life away in kindness and service to others you yourself are deepened and ennobled in the process.

Monday of next week, the ANC will address our church’s plans for the future as we attempt to do well by those who preceded us by securing this institution for those who will come after us.  The ANC commissioners will be calculating our presence as it were. One would hope such calculation goes beyond capitalist ledger sheets like how many burgers did you sell this week or how many widgets do you have in your widget piggy bank?  Instead, if the calculation of presence is predicated upon the deepening of humanity, the luminosity of wisdom and love, then we stand a chance of being understood.  Our little church on this corner of Southwest has had a great voice for exactly these kinds of values. We speak up for the inclusion of all, for the dignity and humanity of all, for justice and peace.  We cry out for these values but we also take actions to implement those values in our lives.

Were you to stand across the street where the Wharf is currently a kind of desolation row (and it will be exciting to watch as desolation is transformed into a wonderful intersection of human discourse and concourse), and if you looked across the street at our corner, I believe you could see not a building but a light.  On any given Sunday this is what we hand out:  light and salt, seeds of hope and empowerment that in turn transform our community, our work places and our lives.  ~See you Sunday.


Return


st-augustine-of-hippo

Winter has arrived. Ah, well, it is late January and what would we expect but some snow and ice?  It is a season made for introspection as we huddle beneath blanket or sweater, sipping tea near cold window panes.  The blue-gray dusk of winter outside, our interior luminous and warm–if the power has not gone out!  For your introspection then, some words from Augustine of Hippo in Africa (4th Century).  He offers words across fields of time for your sipping and pondering.  And as we hear him we are led quite naturally to Black History Month, reminding ourselves that Augustine and many others of Africa configured the West and the Christian religion.  Take time with this passage from Book XII of The Confessions:

O let the Light, the Truth, the Light of my heart, not mine own darkness, speak unto me. I fell off into that, and became darkened; but even thence, even thence I loved Thee. I went astray, and remembered Thee. I heard Thy voice behind me, calling to me to return, and scarcely heard it, through the tumultuousness of the enemies of peace. And now, behold, I return in distress and panting after Thy fountain.

{Augustine, Saint; The Works of Saint Augustine (2006-06-19). The Confessions of Saint Augustine (Optimized for Kindle) (p. 230). Kindle Edition.}

Refuge In The Storm


hurricane IreneLike you I have stumbled into a temporary place of refuge at the right moment.  You know, when the heavens opened and it rained like the first day it rained on Noah’s head and he likely said, “What the?”  And then scrambled inside the ark he built.  What a wonderful story of refuge in the storm.  I recall when years ago hurricane Irene rumbled through here and the wind battered our trees and windows and lashed us pretty badly.  I was glad I was in the house and not outside.

There are volumes and volumes of books written on the church and what it is.  Truth is, there are several kinds of churches in the New Testament, all different and interesting in their own right.  I do not believe there is one way of being the Church (though there are some core ingredients common to all churches, like baptism and communion).  I would say this–a church is a refuge or at least, it ought to be. And we try at Riverside to be that kind of place.  Amazingly enough, in a one hour service that includes a praise/song/hymn time, prayers and a sermon, we –or at least most of us– leave energized and renewed. Sometimes, it suffices just to get out of the storm for a while. Turn off the talking heads.  Put down the spin masters in the newspaper or on the tablet.  And practice peace, contemplation and rest in God.  Here’s something from St. Augustine’s Confessions in Book VI:

…I sighed, and You heard me; I wavered, and you guided me; I wandered through the broad way of the world, and You did not forsake me.

Read it again, slowly.  That is a confession of refuge.  I hope you might stumble into our sanctuary this Sunday and pray those words uttered by Augustine in the Fourth Century.  They have echoed through the corridors of time and arrived here in this moment.  Use them.  Come out of the rain and storm.  Peace. The Peace of Christ.  The Peace of Christ abide in you.  ~  See you Sunday.