Saturday, May 26, 2018

Living Faith

Thursday morning I went to the "Living Faith Awards" which was, as always,  inspiring.  This is an event  which recognized the faithful lives of ten very disparate people.  Some were leaders who started ministries and others were faithful volunteers who for years did things like bring dogs to nursing homes and serve meals to the homeless.  Everyone was genuinely humbled to get recognition for what they were doing.

Here are some quotes from some of the recipients:
John Cantrell, who has volunteers for 30 years at the Buckeye Ranch, quoted Dorothy Day  "Each of us are part of the mystical body."
"When one suffers, all suffer"
Butch Zurbriggen, founder of the "Under the stars" ministry to the homeless: "Service to others is the rent you pay"
Jamie Hobson, who cares for people and animals at Ohio Living Westminster-Thurber community spoke about a mid life change of "turning my attention from my self to other people."
Pat Gibboney, former executive director of the Spirituality Network talked about the "coincidences" of her life that led her into the service she did.

The keynote was Lama Kathy Wesley who is a Buddhist teacher.  Her talk was such a great beginning.   She spoke about the "Awakened Soul" of Buddhism.  Interestingly, the Spirituality Network has a new vision statement: "Awakened Lives Transforming the World."  It all fits together.

She explained in simple language the 4 noble truths of Buddhism
1. Suffering is part of life
2. Suffering has a cause
3. Suffering has a solution
4. There is a path forward

That first statement is so important because we live in a culture that wants us to do everything we can to avoid suffering.  The cause of suffering is clinging.  I continue to ponder all of the forms of clinging that we do - besides clinging to people and our material stuff. We cling to our notions of fairness, we cling to our "happily ever after" mentality,   we cling to the hope that our children can go through life without any failures or disappointments.

And the solution?  It is letting go.  Letting go of our desire to be in control, to have things make sense on our terms and letting go of our egos.  She said ultimately, it is letting go of our selfishness.  Both the idea of clinging and letting go is a lifetime worth of understanding and work.

And the path forward then is mindfulness, love and service to others.  This is a great definition of "Living Faith." She talked about a path of small decisions guided by an interior principle that we might be guided by our "indwelling goodness."  The language I would use is "holy spirit"  It is all the same thing as we struggle to live our lives as free, peaceful and authentic human beings.
It is about living with discipline, generosity, ethical behavior and patience.

After her keynote we had ten examples of the way ordinary human beings were allowing God to guide them into acts of service for others. It was inspiring and I am grateful to have been present.

Interestingly she began with a quote from the 8th century Shantideva::
  "Behold the utter frailness of goodness.  The power of good is always weak and the power of evil is vast and terrible."

What I have learned is that Buddhism believes  - not in the power of positive thinking - but the way of life.  Living in a commitment to goodness.
In their  blog " No Zen in the West"  Jiryu Mark and Hondo Dave write:

So what does Shantideva say, what is his point?  How do we live and act in such a world of vast and terrible evil, atop such a frail goodness?  By vow, that’s all.  We abide in a vow to live for the sake of the awakening and well-being of all sentient being
And so, I start this Saturday morning with Buddhist wisdom which completely affirms my Christian faith - we are called by God to receive and give the love of Jesus into this world.  May it be so.
Ending with a prayer by Maxine Shonk
May the God of SERVICE be with you.
May God minister to you in your vulnerability.
May you know God's giving presence in your powerlessness and in your humanity.
May you serve the needs of all those whose path of struggle and need crosses your own.
And may they know the healing touch of God through your service and presence.
May the God of SERVICE be with you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Gospel of Hope

This is the title of a new book by Walter Brueggemann I found in the library yesterday.  It seems to be a compilation of sentences and paragraphs from previous books and sermons.  I began today with the first chapter and wrote down some of what spoke to me.  (since I guess I can't underline in a library book!)  I could spend time reflecting on every one of these statements. 

 - To be weaned away from the stuff that only makes you more hungry

 - We signed on for the Jesus story of abundance

 - four great verbs - He TOOK, He BLESSED, He BROKE, He GAVE

 - Scarcity is a lie

 - Commodity thinking versus covenantal thinking

 - Do not forget when you are full
          Being full causes amnesia
           Being comfortable causes indifference
           Being secure makes us unresponsive

 - The Drama of Abundance in which creation bears fruit in extravagance

 - Communion is not about sin and salvation but God the creator who moved directly against anxiety to overwhelm us with reliable abundance.

This is a good way to start the day.  Sitting on my back porch literally surrounded by signs of life and new life.  Green and lush. 

I start this ordinary day of abundance knowing that I will have more than enough to eat and drink and will encounter people who love me and who I love.  Of course there are some areas of struggle and confusion but even there - God is present and working and bringing healing and new life.  I love the phrase RELIABLE ABUNDANCE.  We can count on it.

Here is a blessing to start the day 
May the God of HOPE be with you,
inspiring, calling, inviting you to drean and to believe in possibilities.
May you trust the dream that is forming in you and may your uplifted face and courageous spirit inspire others who have lost hope.
May the blessing of HOPE be with you.

Maxine Shonkn.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


This is a word I learned recently reading Wisdom of the Body and found myself  greatly enamored of it.  Viriditas is one of the fundamental principles of Hidegard's worldview and it means "the greening power of God.....a life force that we can witness in forests, gardens, and farmland."  I witness it in my backyard as I sit on the couch in the porch and marvel at the lush green of grass, trees, hostas, that surround me.  It is "Viriditas."

I referenced this word in a sermon in Bowling Green Ohio on Mother's Day.  I decided to preach - for the first time on Mother's day - on Mother Mary as an archetype for us all.  In it I talked about the invitation that God has for her to give birth - which is "Viriditas" or participating in bringing life into this world.  Mary for us represents not only the invitation that God offers but also the response we might make - which is YES.   This is part of the sermon:

I learned a new word this week – “Viriditas” – the greening power of God.  We see it around us this time of year – the creating and recreating spring flowers and trees and shrubs. 

And it is just a metaphor for the ongoing new life that God has for you and for me.  That is what God does always – brings life and grows us to become like God – in two ways – our compassion and our creativity.
Mary is an archetype for the unlikely people through whom God can bring new life.  And Mary – whether you are male female – resides within us.
She is the voice of YES when the invitation comes.
Yes I will trust what I do not understand
Yes I will allow myself to be changed inside out
Yes I will place myself in a situation where I may be misunderstood by others
Yes I will trust God even though I feel very vulnerable in this moment
Yes I will bring life into this world.
Yes I will choose love

As I sit on my porch pondering this, my eyes fall on a new angel I was given that Sunday.  As I arrived at the church, a woman I did not recognize asked if she could have a few words with me.  Of course, I said and led her into the office that had been mine for the thirteen years I served as pastor there.  Her name is Glenna and she is the sister of Virginia, a former member of the church who had passed away a year ago.  Virginia, suffering from cancer, gave Glenna a list of twenty names of people who to whom she wanted to give a gift.  My  name was on the list and Glenna had learned that I was preaching on Mother's Day.  So, she explained how she and Virginia had enjoyed traveling and shopping together and especially appreciate "Jim Shore" and his figurines.  They each acquired over the years quite a collection.  She presented me with two angels and said that her experience had been that one of them would speak to me.  They each were labeled and when I saw this one, I knew it was the one.

On the bottom of it are these words: "New Beginnings."  So, as I prepared to speak that Sunday about the angel coming to Mary to invite her to give birth, I brought with me to the pulpit this angel.  And, in my mind it all connects - viriditas, birth, new beginnings and God's invitation.   It is all about being open to see the angels and hear the voices inviting us to new life.

Here is how I ended the sermon on Mother's day

For a New Beginning
John O’Donohue
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again
with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.