Saturday, February 28, 2015

The big question

I am late to this blog today because I got involved in binge watching "House of Cards" on netflix.  It is the third season of this political series that is about the lies and machinations of Frank Underwood in his attempt to gain and wield political power in Washington DC.  In this third season he is finally president and now trying  to pass what he thinks are important bills and find a way to be elected in 2016.  It is well written and acted and really interesting and somewhat depressing.  Is this truly the way that people in power are - or is this just a caricature?

So I go from this to looking at today's readings and find myself focusing on the question that Jesus asks his disciples. (Mark 8: 27-30)  First - "Who do people say that I am?"  Followed by "But who do you say that I am?"

Peter answers - You are the messiah.  And then I sit and think what did that mean at the time?  what does it mean to me today?  who is Jesus to me now?

And really, what is the answer.  It seems to change - you are the son of God, a model for me, a teacher, you are the source of love and grace, you are my Lord. You are the one who has called me to a different kind of life.

And sometimes, Jesus is the one in the background - deep background as I live my life as if I were on my own.  And as I watch shows like "House of Cards" I wonder where God is and where Jesus is in the lives of the powerful people who  who seem to have so much control over our lives.   Yes, true confessions - I am all over the place about who Jesus is to me. 

  However  I will say, that when I am in the darkest, loneliest scariest times of life - I know and sometimes feel - that Jesus is the only one who understands. When I sit in silent prayers, I am filled with this blessing of what feels like God's presence and love in that moment.  And when I look back over my life I see events and timings that seem to be of divine origin.  Who do I say that you are, Jesus?  It depends on the day.

One of my favorite prayers of all time is this one my Thomas Merton:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that
I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Faith and Doubt and Disorder

"Now Sarai, Abram's wife bore him no children."

This is the first sentence in the readings for today. (Genesis 16: 1-6, Psalm 22:23-31;Romans 4: 1-12)

There has been a promise - a seemingly impossible promise of a child for these old people.  In faith, they have responded to God's leave their country to the place that was promised.  And now they wait for this baby.  And it has not come.

And Sarai, in her doubt and possibly despair, has hatched a plan to have Hagar, an Egyptian slave girl. bear the child.  This plan blew up in her face. Hagar  conceives, Ishmael is born and Sarai finds herself the object of contempt by this woman who had been her slave.  There is so much in this mess to ponder - the powerless women jockeying for power, the weakness of Abraham, and the ultimate rejection of this first born son. Ishmael is traditionally seen as the forefather of Mohammed, the founder of Islam.  There is alot here.

What I love about the Bible is that tit does  not "clean up" the stories of the people of God - in either the old testament or the new testament.  We see doubt  which led to disorder and every one of these characters  in some sense then becomes a  victim and a perpetrator.  And to go back to the beginning of it all (Genesis 12: 1-5) there is  God who is the one who starts us on a journey with a relationship that promises what seems to be impossible. .I wonder, if before Abram's initial  encounter with God, whether Sarai would have gone to these extremes in order to give Abram an heir. It is possible that it was she was given hope again after years of giving up on the dream of having a family.

When I looked at the Roman's reading, it was clear that Paul was not delving deeply into the relationships of these three.  Instead he uses Abraham as an example of one who has faith - not because of what he has done - but because of what God has done.  In the message Eugene Peterson writes that Abraham is "willing to live in the risky, faith embrace of God's action for them."

This morning I ponder the blessing and the challenge of being people of hope.  It is hope for something better and something new that can lead us into actions that are not God's will but start because of the promise..  And  we act because we are in relationship with God (have faith) . We act because  we are willing to live in the risky, faith embrace of God's action for us.

Paul Tillich wrote that doubt isn't the opposite of faith, it is an element of faith.  Sarai's doubt led her into actions that affected not only herself but others and truly had everlasting consequences.  And we can say that "Our God who makes all things right" did not abandon Hagar and Ishmael and that this son of Abraham became  the Father of another religion - or pathway  that led to God.

I have often felt an affinity for Sarah.  Thirty years ago, I was starting in ministry and newly divorced with three little girls.  I distinctly remember feeling barren - empty - bereft.  This  story of  Sarah waiting spoke to me - waiting for new life to be born, waiting in hope. As I look back on my own history I can see times when I did not wait for God and tried to make things happen on my own and ended up in disorder that affected not just me but my family.   But that is not the end of the story.  Thank God.

Today  I find myself in that place of knowing that the abundant life, the way of God is always about trust and   I recognize that really and truly living in faith is never without struggle It is hard to live in the in between times  - between the promise and the birth, between leaving Egypt and finding the new land.

But I wait today  - in faith and doubt and hope.

May the God of HOPE be with you, inspiring, calling, inviting you to dream ad 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.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Our God setting things right

The readings today started with the Covenant between God and Abraham (Genesis 15: 1-6; 12-18) included 9 verses in Psalm 22 (23-31) and ended with Paul writing about the righteousness of God in Romans 3:21-31.

Like many people I find the writings of Paul to be a little challenging and some of the language - like the words "righteousness, justified, redemption and atonement" to need interpretation for me.  And so I found myself looking up the Romans passage in Eugene Peterson's "The Message" and it came to life for me.  He writes: "The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become the Jesus-setting -things-right."  And that idea - of a God who sets things right is so much more understandable to me as I consider this walk of faith, the idea of covenant and call.

Here are another other quotes from the Romans text in the Message:
"What we've learned is this: God does not respond to what we do, we respond to what God does."

And so as I look at Abraham - who is called by God -  I see that what Abraham does is respond.  He says yes to God's invitation.  This is not about Abraham's goodness but about his response.  Similarly, I have always believed that Mary gave birth to Jesus because she said YES - not because she was good and pure and innocent.  The relationship with God is started by God and set right when we say yes.  The text continues: "We've finally figured it out.  Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade."

What I know is that saying YES is just the beginning.  Abraham is such a great example of the up and down journey with God.  He doubted God's power and protection for years and was driven by pride and anxiety as he tried to pass his wife off as his sister and produced an "heir" with Hagar.  He shows that letting God set the pace means sometimes we have to trust and wait longer than we want and other times we have to be ready in the moment to act. As I look back on my life I see so many times in which I have acted out of anxiety or pride and either moved impulsively too fast or failed to respond when I should have.

I found myself drawn this morning to spend some time with Richard Rohr's A Lever and a Place to Stand. He writes about the movement from "ego consciousness to soul awareness, from being driven to being drawn."  I have had too much of "being driven" (by pride and anxiety!)  and I have come to learn the difference of being drawn into something by God's inviting spirit.  And my hope is that I can continue to recognize  that mysterious movement that brings life to me and others.

.The message for me this morning is that our God is righteous - setting things right.  Paul writes: "God sets right all who welcome his action and enter into it."  And his action is love and grace and mercy.  There is the abundant  life for us as we accept God's love, grace and mercy and find healing. 
There is a peaceful and fulfilling life as we  allow God to set the pace for us - so that we might be used by God to set things right.

"We are just the reeds, the instruments, the flutes of God, who allow ourselves to be played." Richard Rohr

May the God of SURRENDER be with you, leading you gently beyond your fears and hesitations to the freeing surrender of love.
May you be unagraid to give to God all that concerns you, frightens you, and causes you to be anxious.
May your loving surrender be a source of strength and encouragement to others who long to be free.
May the blessing of SURRENDER be upon you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

To be Tempted

I start this day with three texts that make me think about being tempted. (Proverbs 30: 1-9; Psalm 77, Matthew4: 1-11.  I know something about temptation and the fact that is ongoing and never ending.

The Matthew Text is an expansion of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  And as I wrote on Sunday, I have certainly preached on this alot.  As I sat with it this morning, I thought about my standard three points that are just foundational to my faith.

1. There are anti-God forces at work always.  In the temptation of Jesus people can get really caught up in the devil and whether this is "real" or not.  I always like to go back to the beginning and the story in Genesis of Adam and Eve and the snake that is in the garden tempting them. And my read of it is that it shows us that right from the start of creation, there was an anti -God force at work.  Again, the why questions are a dead end?  Why is this?  Why is there temptation?  Why is there suffering?  Why is there death?  All of that to me is impossible to answer and all of our answers won't change what is. .  What the story says to be is what it is - we live life with temptation, with suffering and with death.  That is our reality.

To go back to the serpent in the garden, the temptation was more than to just "eat the apple," the temptation was to disobeying the creator, who shows us the way of life.  I think it was Walter Brueggemann who said that in this dialogue suddenly the people are talking about God instead of talking to God.

2. We have times of being vulnerable when we are more likely to be tempted.  I remember learning about HALT and addiction - that when we are hungry, angry, lonely and tired we are more likely to succumb to our addiction. And so, part of being healthy is to be attentive to what is going on with us and "get ahead of it."  And then maybe we can control temptation?

While this is true, the other reality is that there are times when GOD leads us into places of vulnerability.  Matthew 4:"Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Jesus..."   I suppose you might call this the bad news.  It is my experience that to take seriously this way of God is to understand that we are being led into vulnerability and we will be tempted in all kinds of ways.

A really important book to me in the past few years was Ruth Haley Barton's Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry. She writes so well of the tension of church life: "There is the tension between knowing how to "work the system" and entering into trustworthy relationships characterized by trust and a commitment to one another's well-being.  There is the tension between the need for an easy discipleship process through which we can efficiently herd lots of people and the patient, plodding, and ultimately mysterious nature of the spiritual transformation process.  And then there is the challenge of knowing how to speak of these things in fruitful ways in the very inside places of power without becoming polarized in our relationships with one another."

she writes : "The temptation to compromise basic Christian values - love, community, truth-telling, confession and reconciliation, silent listening and waiting on God for discernment - for the sake of experience is very great.  In a high performance culture (both secular culture and religious) holding to deep spiritual values in the face of the pressure to perform - whether performance is measured by numbers, new buildings or the latest innovation - is one of the greatest challenges of spiritual leadership"

Believe me, I know that temptation and I know how easy it is to push or dismiss or override or ignore people and important issues in order to get things going or get something done.  And I also can see how easy it is to avoid leadership or even involvement in a church because of all of this.

But most of all as I reflect on this - God calls us into places of vulnerability and one of them is the church.

3. The only answer is to trust God - with everything we have.  "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him."  Because it is in God that there is grace when we have the courage to face ourselves in the times of temptation.  And it is in God that there is strength to stand in the tension  and it is in God that we are able to love others as they are and ourselves too. 
Augustine said " Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him."   The answer has to be "Be still and know that I am God." and in that we find peace and grace and power to continue on our own paths of service.

Here is a wonderful prayer by Ted Loder which speaks to me this morning.

O God of such truth as sweeps away all lies,
     of such grace as shrivels all excuses,
 Come now to find us
   for we have lost our selves
       in a shuffle of disguises
           and the rattle of empty words.

Let your Spirit move mercifully
   to recreate us from
     the chaos of our lives.

We have been careless
   of our days,
     our loves,
       our gifts,
           our chances....

Our prayer is to change, O God,
   not out of despair of self
     but for love of you,
         and for the selves we long to become
            before we simply waste away.

Let your mercy move in and through us now......


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

My cup of Compassion

I am receiving the daily lectionary readings via email and the heading for today said: "Tuesday's readings about suffering." (Job 5: 8-27,Psalm 77, 1 Peter 3:8)

My first thought was  - really?  I don't want to go there.  Yes, avoidance of suffering is probably built in to our DNA.  But unfortunately,  awareness and acceptance of suffering is part of the journey to wholeness.

The first reading is from Job and it is his friend Eliazer who is instructing him about how God is disciplining him in his suffering.  And he represents all of us with our answers for the suffering of others.  I have heard preachers talk about how suffering as the refiner's fire and it is reforming us.  And maybe there is truth to this.  However, the danger we have in facing the suffering of others is our certitude, our instruction  and our answers to the mystery of why this bad thing is happening.   And then when we ourselves go through our times of suffering we can end up feeling isolated and even ashamed because we brought this on ourselves or we are not being strong enough.  What I continue to know is that often our "answers" to the "why" questions about suffering are a dead end street.

We do suffer - physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  And we follow Jesus who walked into the garden of Gethsemane and came out of it choosing to suffer.  And the only "answer" that makes sense to me is found in 1 Peter 3:8: "Finally, all of us have unity of spirit, sympath, love for one another, a tender heart and a humble mind."  God does not want us to suffer alone - but be community with one another in love and in hope. The only answer to the mystery of suffering is compassion.

In her book "The Cup of Life" Joyce Rupp tells this story:
"One Thursday when I was visiting at Kavanaugh House, a residence for terminally ill persons, I met a woman named Agnes.  She was sitting by the bedside of her husband, Al, who had a brain tumor.  The next Thursday I again found Agnes faithfully sitting there by Al.  This time she told me about Marian, a woman whose husband had died at Kavanaugh House the week before.  Agnes only knew Marian from a few conversations they had before Marian's husband died.  This new widow understood what Agnest was going through and wanted to support her.  Sje began calling Agnes each evening to see how she was coping.  Agnes told me how much the phone calls helped her to get through each day.  As the weeks unfolded, I saw how one woman, in the midst of  her own loss, reached out in compassion to another who was in pain.  Marian couldn't "do" much for Agnes by changing her situation but she helped greatly with her caring presence. "

Jack Kornfield writes about the truly loving person breathing in the pain of the world and breathing out compassion.  And so today  I look forward to going to the zoo with Fred and Trixie and other friends to remember Lisa who would be 37 years old today.  May we come together and breathe in the pain of grief and breathe out the love of God - TOGETHER. And in this act  - surprisingly - there will be a special kind of joy. Macrina Wiederkehr wrote: "The most helpful discovery of today has been that right in the midst of my sorrows there is always room for joy.  Joy and sorrow are sisters; they live in the same house."

This is a world of joy And  suffering and God wants us to not be afraid to stand with those who are in need of our presence and our love.    My prayer for myself is that I will allow God to break through my resistance and fill me with his heart of love and embrace the cup of compassion.

Here is a wonderful prayer by Joyce Rupp

My cup of compassion
holds tears of the world,
it overflows with sorrow,
struggles, and sadness,

my cup of compassion 
hold the cries of childre,
unfed, unloved, unsheltered, 
uneducated, unwanted.

my cup of compassion
holds the creams of war,
the tortured, slain,
the raped , the disabled.

my cup of compassion
holds the bruised and battered,
victims of incest and abuse,
gang wars, violent crimes

my cup of compassion
holds the voice of silent one,
the mentally ill,
illegal immigrants,
the unborn, the homeless.

my cup of compassion 
holds the emptiness of the poor,
the searing pain of racism,
the impotency of injustice,

my cup of compassion
holds the heartache of loss,
the sigh of the dying,
the sting of the divorced.

my cup of compassion
holds the agony of the earth,
species terminated,
air polluted,
land destroyed
rivers with refuse.

my cup of compassion
I hold it to my heart 
where the Divine dwells,
where love is stronger
than death and disaster.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Created in Christ Jesus for Good Works

     I am getting to this later in the morning than I usually do because I have been watching TV coverage of the Oscars.  Of course I was up til midnight last night watching it, but then today I like the aftermath of conversations about it - how was the host, what do you think about the winners and then the whole fashion thing.  I love movies and since the time I was a little girl I loved reading about movies stars.

   Now in my "later years" the movies still are important to me, but the movie "stars" not so much.  Instead I find myself attracted to and curious about the creative process and the way men and women are inspired by a story or an idea and bring it to life.  And then that movie can affect us in ways that are a lot more than just entertaining us.

 I remember watching "The Deer Hunter" in the sixties and "Platoon" in the 70's and know that both of them had an affect on me and my whole orientation towards war.  And in the past few years, I have come to a deeper realization of the sin of racism that continues in our country through watching movies like "The Help." "Precious"  The Butler" and "Selma." 

This year my favorite movie was "Boyhood" which was an amazing project to begin with -Richard Linklater had a vision that a movie could be made over the course of 12 years and follow a young boy's growing up.  Just that idea is impressive. As I watched it, I thought the film  really captured family life ,  the ways in which the parents' decisions affect children, and just what I would call  the muddiness of life. We watch a young boy trying to make sense of life and his parents doing the best they can as they have their own issues (don't we all). At the end there is an awareness of how quickly it all goes.  And boy, did that speak to me.

And so this morning I think about all of this as I look at the texts of this day.  (Job 4:1-21, Psalm 77, Ephesians 2: 1-10.)  Trusting that this word - like a good film - may contront, disturb, explain, inspire and help me to make sense of life.  The overarching theme of these readings  is that God is God and I am not.  Which means a lot - means I understand a part and never the whole, it means that I am like a "house of clay" easily washed away, it means that I am not holy before God, but can draw holiness from God.  And I start the day with God's word to remind me that I am HERE to be WITH God which means that I can then find what I need - strength, forgiveness, healing and direction.  That's my faith.

In the Ephesians Paul writes "For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life."

And the good works can be to live out our lives as creative beings.  To allow God to give us visions and inspirations to do whatever is our form of art and creativity.

An important book to me ofter the years has been Madeleine L'Engle's "Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art."  Here is what she writes:
"The artist who is a Christian like any other Christian,  is required to be in this world, but not of it.  We are to be in this world as healers, as listeners, and as servants.  In art we are once again able to do all the things we have forgotten; we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move, unfettered, among the stars.
We write, we make music, we draw pictures, because we are listening for meaning, feeling for healing.  And during the writing of the story, or the painting, or the composing or singing or playing, we are returned to that open creativity which was ours when we were children.  We cannot be mature artistss if we have lost the ability to believe which we had as children.  An artist at work is in a condition of complete and total faith. ".

I believe that we are all created to be creators in many ways.   And while I always enjoy the Oscars for a variety of reasons I now know that it is never about "winning" because there really is no competition between people who are each connected to living out their own "good work."  I remember watching "Amadeaus" and truly understanding that we each have our own call to create.  Salieri needed to be himself and not even try to compete with Mozart.

I also believe that when we are in that place of creating we are truly connected to God (although we may not realize it at the time!)  Which is not to say that it is easy.   As I think to times of creating sermons or retreats or anything I know I can find myself  consumed by ego or self doubt or judgment and criticism.  Madeleine writes  "the only way we can brush against the hem of the Lord, or hope to be part of the creative process, is to have the courage, the faith, to abandon control."  I think that means to be vulnerable and trust God.  Yes, that 's the journey, that's the way of life."

And so as I start this Monday morning I pray that this day may be a day of "Good Works" for God.
Here is a wonderful blessing by Maxine Shonk

May the God of CREATIVITY be with you, helping you to brave new ground and test new horizons;
calling you to trust and risk being a co-creator of the Kingdom.
May the gift of creativity bring you to a recognition of ever new revelations of God's goodness.
May the blessing of CREATIVITY be on you.  Amen


Sunday, February 22, 2015


          This is the first Sunday of Lent and often I have preached on the passage about Jesus going into the wilderness following his Baptism.  I always like preaching on that because I recognize that everyone of us knows about the wilderness and are frequently - in some aspect of our lives - in the wilderness.

    So this morning as I sat with this scripture I reflected on my wilderness at this time.  It is the waiting for the next chapter in my life.  If you looked at my life right now you would think everything was great - and on one level it is.  I write about time with grandchildren, I read books, go to movies, have opportunities with my daughters that are wonderful (like the murder mystery dinner last night with Marnie)  And yet, underneath everything I sit with a question and a waiting.

  This  is not new for me.  I remember in my twenties wondering what God wanted me to do with my life and what my "call" was to be.  When I had Kacey - my first baby - that questioning was answered for a while.  I really felt like it was enough to change diapers and care for this precious child.  After Audrey was four the discontent and the questioning came back and eventually I ended up in seminary and then pastoral ministry.  And I was not without "wilderness" but the question about purpose was answered for a while.

  But now I am here and I am determined not to jump too fast and "make something happen." Because I certainly can do that.  I am here for 40 days contending with the temptations of Satan and with the beasts and the angels.

I was lead this morning to a small book by Henri Nouwen called "In the Name of Jesus."  It is writing about leadership and he is guided by 2 stories: the temptation of Jesus and the story of Peter's call to be shepherd.  Henri Nouwen was a great spiritual writer who taught for many years at Harvard but later answered a call to work and live  with mentally handicapped adults at L'Arche in Canada.
This book on leadership is about the temptations to be relevant, to be spectacular, to be leading.
And the reminder to me is that this countercultural life with God is about "wasting time" in prayer, it is about humble service that may not be seen or recognized, it is about being led instead of being in control. All of this is radical and difficult.

Here are a couple of quotes that I underlined
 - "I am tellling you all this because i am deeply convinced that the christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.  That is the way Jesus came to reveal God's love.  The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God's word and followers  of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.  "

"The secular world around us is saying in a loud voice, "We can take care of ourselves.  We do not need God, the Church, or a priest.  We are in control.  And if we are not, then we have to work harder to get in control."

"The question is not: How many people take you seriously?  How much are you going to accomplish?  Can you show some results?  But: Are you in love with Jesus?  Perhaps another way of putting the question would be: Do you know the incarnate God?  In our world of loneliness and despair, there is an enormous need for men and women who know the heart of God, a heart that forgives, that cries, that reaches out and wants to heal."

He ends the book like this
"I leave you with the image of the leader with outstretched hands, who chooses a life of downward mobility.  It is the image of the praying leader, the vulnerable leader, and the trusting leader. May that image fill your hearts with hope, courage, and confidence as you anticipate the next century." (written in 1989!)

And so, as I sit in my wilderness place, I am grateful for those who can articulate this journey.  And for the angels who are with me and nourish my spirit and give me strength in the midst of temptations.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Go and learn

As I read the three scriptures of this day  (Psalm 25: 1-10 (again!), Psalm 32, Matthew 9:2-13)
I saw a parallel.  And it is this -our God is not only present, healing and forgiving, but also instructing.
"Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way." Psalm 25:8
"I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you." Psalm 32:8
"God and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." Matthew 9:13

And so I read these scriptures and think about learning.  And understand that the walk of faith is life long learning about "the way" of God.  A different way that has to be taught and re taught over and over again.

I have this wonderful book called "Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life" and it reminds me of the blessing of a life of openness and awareness to whatever God is trying to teach us in every moment of our lives.  The book quotes David A Cooper, a rabbi and retreat leader: "In the end, everyone is our teacher, on one lever or another. The child is our teacher, our friends, our family; the stranger on the street.  Every experience is a challenge; a teaching is always hidden in it.  Every thought that bubbles up in our minds can teach us things about ourselves - if we are able to listen."

Yesterday the kids were home from school again because of the cold temperatures.  Reagan spent the day with a friend, so I called Addie and asked her if she wanted to come with me to the movies.  Her choice of movie and it was a tough choice for her between "SpongeBob" and "Paddington."  She chose Paddington and afterwards we walked around the mall a little bit - she bought some nails and lipstick at Claires  and I bought a candle at the Bed, Bath and Body.  As I watched her in Claires move from jewelry to makeup to scarves to purses in wonder and heard her chatter about various things, I keep seeing how she teaches me to slow down and enjoy just the beauty and creativity and wonder of little things I would otherwise ignore.

And then I go home to Chuck who is still not feeling all that well and yet he gets out and goes and comes home with treasures and bargains for our house.  There is a childlike joy to this 79 year old man that I learn from and cherish.

When I was in the Wellstreams program I learned that in spiritual direction we should look at everyone and say - what is the gift of this person for me?  what do they have to teach me?  And I understand - when I am in my healthiest and holiest version of Margot - that I can ask that question about everyone.

Here is another quote from the book: "Teachers are all around you.  Watch for them, remembering the wise counsel of the second-century Jewish sage Ben Assai: "Treat no one lightly and think nothing is useless, for everyone has a moment and everything has its place."

Today I think about the instruction of God that is constant for any of us who are paying attention.  And I also know - and probably most importantly know - that Jesus is wanting me to pay attention and keep learning about this WAY. And live humbly knowing that there is more to learn. As I begin another day of cold and snow in central Ohio, I hope I can remember his words: Go and learn what this means: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."

I will end this with a Blessing from Maxine Shonk

May you be blessed by the God of MERCY who forgives you, beckons you, and gives you courage to know your dependence on the One who possesses you.
May you know God's love in the face of fear and failure, brokenness and pain.  May your readiness to forgive others bring them to trust more deeply in the compassion and mercy of God.
May the blessing of MERCY be on you.

Friday, February 20, 2015

For you I wait all day long

     This morning as I sat with the texts of today (Psalm 25: 1-10.  9: 15-25, 2 Timothy 4: 1-5) I find myself thinking about waiting and the spiritual fruit of patience. 

   I would write that as we endure this cold freeze where kids are home from school for days on end and we find ourselves just waiting for warmth - that NOW we need to be patience.  But the truth is that every day of my life is a call to patience about something.  In this retirement journey I am patiently waiting for the next thing to reveal itself in my life.  At the same time, I know my church is patiently waiting for the next leader to emerge.  In the Daniel text there is a definite timeline given for restoring and rebuilding Jerusalem and that helps in the waiting.  But for most of us in life - it is waiting and not knowing exactly when....

   I learned that the Greek word for patience is "great soul" and I suspect that as I become more comfortable with waiting it does enlarge my soul.  As I have learned over and over again that God's timing is perfect - but only in retrospect.

   The Timothy passage is directed to leaders to proclaim "the message" to people who - in the waiting time - have "itching ears."  I love that phrase.  I looked up this text in Peterson's "The Message" and he said it this way: "People will fill up o spiritual junk food, catchy opinions that tickle their fancy and chase mirages." 

And I think there are three mirages that continue to appeal to people that lead nowhere
1. You can avoid the wilderness
2. perfection is possible
3. you can control your destiny

It isn't just the culture that encourages us to run away from times of struggle and confusion.  That is what addiction is all about, isn't it?  I also think we want to believe that if we are good and faithful people, God will lead us into comfort. Over and over again the story of faith about the journey in and out of the wilderness.  The wilderness is so often the place where we meet God in a new way and find ourselves changed.

The demon of perfectionism is so real and until we live into accepting our limitations and receiving grace we end up unhappy, in denial, judging etc etc

It seems to me that there is a "both and" to every life.  We have free will and make choices that will lead us into certain experiences, however there is much we cannot control - whether it is a job market, or racism, or health issues, or other people. So much we cannot control.  It is easy to want to give up or become cynical.  But God is at work in the midst of everything and we can be lead into a deeper and mature faith.

But through all of this the message of God's presence, power, love and call.  That leads me (eventually) into trusting   Waiting patiently.  Enduring. Being "persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable."

So I begin this cold day with the word PATIENCE as I continue to remember that I can trust God in the wilderness, in the cold, in the reality of my weakness  and strength, my darkness and light.

Here is a quote from Joan Chittister
"The spiritual life is a process of growing into maturity one mistake, one unsuccessful effort at a time, until we finally realize that there is no such thing as a spiritual mistake.  All we need to do to turn them all into gain is to learn from them.....Prepare, prepare, prepare.  And then wait.  In God's good time, God's will will come."  (The Breath of the Soul)

Make me to know your ways O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.  (Psalm 25: 4,5)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul....

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.....that is the beginning of one of the readings for today - Psalm 25: 1-10.  What a wonderful description of what I need to happen every morning - lifting up my soul to God.

I read the three readings and realize how easy it is to live with our souls downcast or flat.  As I begin this day with three readings (Psalm 25, Daniel 9 and 1 John 1: 3-10) I recognize that it is my faith - my relationship with God - that elevates my life into something greater than just ME.

The Daniel reading is Daniels's prayer for his people who have turned away from God's way. His appeal to God is not based on what we do or deserve - but it is an appeal to God's steadfast love and light.  God's character.  Similarly the John reading proclaims "God is light in him there is no darkness at all."

The invitation always is that we "walk in the light" or "lift our soul to God."  In other words, the invitation is to living in awareness of our own dark places and give them to God.  The word "shame" is used in the first two readings and I found myself thinking about shame.  What occurred to me this morning is that maybe shame is not sin - (that which separates us from God, others and our best self) - maybe shame is unacknowledged sin.  The sin that is denied, hidden perhaps.  Or the sin that is reveled in and flaunted and accepted by us.

The Psalmist writes - "lead me in your truth, and teach me."  I wonder if the greatest teaching is that grace is ours when we ask for it.  And we ask for it when we acknowledge our need of it.  And then we are able to live in light and freedom and love.

All of this is - of course - the gospel.  the Good news of a God who loves us no matter what and is inviting us into a life of soul elevation and compassion.  As we accept the grace and mercy of God we then give it to others.  And my goodness - how the air changes in the room when we know we are loved and accepted no matter what.

There is a word that I hear all the time lately - "authentic" - living our authentic lives.   I suspect that we can become authentic and real only when we can face all parts of ourselves.  And that is a life long journey. 

In her book The Breath of the Soul Joan Chittister writes:
"Prayer that emerges out of attitudes of authenticity and honesty however, takes us beyond all subterfuge, all hiding from God - even behind holy things.  It requires us to unmask ourselves to ourselves so that God can come into our lives through the weaknesses, because of which we need God most."

Here's a great quote from CS Lewis: The prayer preceding all prayers is, "May it be the real I who speaks.  May it be the real Thou that I speak to"

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  amen

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Reflections on Ash Wednesday

         As I realized Ash Wednesday was approaching, I wondered what sort of spiritual discipline I wanted to take on during this season.  I always like Lent because it is a distinct 6 weeks set apart for deeper reflection and relationship with God.  At church we would have devotionals that people could use daily, sometimes we would pray n the sanctuary together every day, and then there is the fasting to remind us of the season and the sacrifice of Christ.  It all begins today and I was always leading worship and offering the imposition of ashes for any who wanted. 

   But this year, I am not a pastor of a church and because of a long planned dinner with friends, I may not even receive the smudge of ashes today. And on the other hand, because of retirement I have this gift of time to enter into the season of Lent with more time for prayer, meditation, reading and even writing like this.  I thought about trying something online - an e course or daily reflection, but it was not speaking to me.  So, instead I think I will go back to the basics during this season and start the day with the daily lectionary and the scriptures that are offered.

  And so, this morning I read through and even looked at some commentaries on the Ash Wednesday passages from Joel 2, Psalm 51, 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:6; and Mathew 6.  And trust that intentional  time spent with God's word during these weeks ahead will make help me in my spiritual growth during this season.

What struck me this morning was the "both and" of this walk of faith.  It started with reading Joel and his description of God - the day of the Lord is coming, darkness and gloom, let the inhabitants tremble. There is sense of danger and repent or else.  But it is also a sense of God's eminence, power, authority, strength. And then  what seems to be the other part of who God is: "gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love."  Similarly in Psalm 51 - we ask for mercy from our God of "steadfast love."  At the same time in that text - the plea - "Do not cast me away from your presence..."  And I wonder - does God do that?  Does the Psalmist believe that?  Do I believe that?

All of these descriptors of God remind me that God is always more than we can say or know.  And my wondering is whether we emphasize certain attributes of God and not others.

And so that leads to the "both and" of our response to God.  I love so much in these texts.  I love when it is written in Joel: "Return to me with ALL your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning."  I love when the Psalmist writes: "You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart."  And I love the word of Paul in 2Corinthians : Reconcile - "Be reconciled to God."  And what speaks to me is the awareness of how easy it is to be half hearted in my relationship with God, to take on the superficial values of this culture and to drift into times of feeling separated from God, from people, from myself.

The Psalmist writes that the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. And the truth is, that in those moments when I realize that (usually) my ego has led me away and astray, I do experience a "broken spirit" that leads to humility and a desire to come back and receive God's grace.  One of the commentaries I read reinforced the "power and poignancy" of the life of Paul as a representative of the gospel.  Paul was so far down the wrong road of certitude and judgment and God turned him around.  Well. I too - and most of us know that road of certitude and judgment and (it may sound dramatic but...) it does lead to loneliness, anger, and death.  Paul's writings about grace come from a place of having really experienced God's unconditional mercy and steadfast love.  That is where this call to reconciliation comes from.

When we look at the text from Matthew there is a  reminder that we to have a personal relationship with God in our own "private prayer closets" - not to receive praise from people but to become more Christlike.  Public prayer can be a sham (take it from one whose life in ministry routinely involved praying outloud to God in front of others.  Very challenging ) - The truth is that while public prayer can be authentic and even life changing I suspect God can work better with us from the inside out  in our "secret heart" because we have spent time with God by ourselves.

The other side of this, however, (the both and) is that we are called to be ambassadors.  It is a private relationship that changes us so that we become agents of reconciliation and bearers of the spiritual fruits of God.  We are the ones who give God's grace and mercy and steadfast love to others.  That is what it means to be co creating the kingdom of God on earth.

I contend that all of this can be tricky business.  And it leads me as I begin this holy season to my knees. Wanting to be open to God in all of God's power and glory and love and grace.  And knowing that a personal prayer life is essential to God's work within my inward being and my secret heart.  And at the same time, I feel called to share this journey in my writing here. Not a sermon - but really my reactions to these texts. For what it's worth.

And so the season begins and my prayer is always for openness to God and awareness of grace and call.  I believe that this is a journey in which we can continue to be shaped, molded, and used by God in ways we cannot even imagine.  May it be so.
"See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!"

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Fun may be a very important spiritual discipline. I sit in the lobby at the Great Wolf Lodge and marvel at the way this place encourages fun for all ages.

Kacey invited me join her and Alyse and Jackson for an overnight last night and I was happy to go along, not knowing what I was getting into. And it really has been 24 hours of fun.

First of all, we have a wonderful room with separate bedrooms forme and the kids and a little living room. But most helpful is that everyone gets a wristband that works as an electronic key to get into the room and for Kacey it is a credit card! In addition we can go swimming wearing it!  This is amazing technology!

There is a water park that is the heart of the lodge and it has something for everyone.  I enjoyed the wave pool, the hot tub and floating on a tube down the lazy river. Jackson has been playing basketball and running under fountains and doing some water slides with his sister. Alyse said she was going to do  all the water slides 5 times. So much fun!

But there is more there are games on every floor. It is hard to describe: the kids buy a wand and go around and solve puzzles. 

And so last evening after swimming, they roamed around the lodge while kacey and I sat and enjoyed a glass of wine at the bar. Truly something for everyone!

And so, I get to be with them and have my kind of fun which includes water, wine and just hanging out.
I do believe that an important part of family life and life itself involved intentionally planning fun times.

And true confession, sometimes I forget how necessary FUN is to the life GOD desires for all of us. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Reflections on Valentine's Day

We have never done much with Valentine's Day - not even cards or candy for the most part.  And this year was no exception.

Chuck went to Krogers and came home with what was our valentines dinner - a roast chicken and macaroni and potato salad and a slice of chocolate cake.  We played upwards as we always do at the dinner table and ate this food that was pretty blah - but really, who cares?

It turned out that something in that meal was tainted - I think it was the potato or macaroni salads and he thinks it was the chicken - but we got food poisoning.  It started for me Sunday at 5 Am and for him around noon on Sunday.  And so yesterday was not pleasant for either of us.  We each like to be by ourselves when we are not feeling well and still keep checking in.  Bringing each other water or soup and crackers.

As I was laying on the couch on Sunday wiped out I found myself thinking about my sister.  She would have been 60 on Valentine's day.  I wrote on Facebook Saturday that I missed her and wished we could share a bottle of wine together. She died of lung cancer 5 years ago. That time between her diagnosis and her passing was filled with days like I was experiencing - nausea, pain and exhaustion.   But mine was short lived and today I sit here and type this. And hers was ongoing until she finally left this earth.

Valentine's Day is a day about romantic love and it is all well and good.  But as I checked in on my still tired husband this morning and think about the journeys we go on with those we love during times of illness, you know that the love that we all need is the caring companion through sickness and health.  Not romantic - but real.

This is a text that I often read at weddings and it expresses what real love is:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 
 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
 it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 
 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 
 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I am grateful for those who have loved me and pray that I can love others like this.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

It is enough

Most weekdays I go to Marne's house to be with Reagan and Addie during that time between getting off the bus and Mom and Erik coming home.  Last year it was a break during the busy days of daily ministry and now it may be the only "work" I do all day.

And, of course, it is not work at all.  Sometimes it is just sitting and reading by myself as the girls do their own thing, sometimes we play games and talk, sometimes I help with homework.  It is about my presence with them.  And in some ways, it really is a microcosm of the blessing of any relationship that is loving. Not about doing for - but being with.

I wrote this yesterday:

It is enough
to sit in my daughter's living room
and read a book in silence
while my granddaughter sits at the table
playing a game on her tablet.
We are together
in silence
and she is unwinding from a day of being a 5th grader.
I am in my place of joy as I look at her.,
sitting on her knees in a chair
wearing a pink sweatshirt,
talking to herself,
whistling and
suddenly she speaks to me
"I just got the lovely bunny"
This must be from the game, I think
I smile and nod
and know
it is enough.

Later I showed this to Addie and the silence was definitely broken. Reagan joined us, Addie   took my tablet to edit my writing and then wrote her own message:

My grandma is crazy
she is asking if Reagan is tired
And now she is telling Reagan to stop kicking me
And now Ogram is telling Reagan to stop saying that I have sagging leggings
(even though I don't)
And now they are talking about babies and Cuba, Canada, ISIS and other stuff.
Now she is taking a picture of me while I am writing this.
She's a stalker.

Yes, Ogram is crazy and a stalker of grandchildren and a very blessed woman during these sometimes confusing days of discernment.  After years of doing, it is challenging to stop and wait to see what is next for me.

But when I take the time to just  be present to this moment  I realize that what I have at this time of my life ....
is enough.