Thursday, November 26, 2015

Gratitude for Life - all of it

Today is Thanksgiving and for me and my family every year is different.  We do not have a tradition of going to the same person's home and eating the traditional fare.  But it is always memorable.

I am grateful always for my marriage and especially this year as we celebrate 20 years together.  There was a moment yesterday when Chuck and I just looked at each other as if to say - how fast it has gone and how good it has been.  We are kind of an unlikely couple but truly he has helped me to grow spiritually as I have tried to give him what he has always given me - the freedom to be himself.
And of course, it has been 20 years of a lot of laughs as he never stops surprising me.

We looked at our pictures from our wedding yesterday and I could not help but notice those who are no longer with us on earth - my Mom, my friend Vonnie who married us, and my sister Ellen.  Yesterday my niece Sarah, Ellen's daughter,  gave birth to her first child and that just gives me so much joy as I cherish the reality that life truly does go on and we get new people and opportunities to love.  Grateful.

I will not be with any of my daughters around the table today.  Kacey and Marnie and their families are going to Hocking Hills together.  They thought that this vacation would not happen this year because Marnie and Erik lost their jobs this summer.  But both found new jobs and more challenges and opportunities and they get to go after all!  Grateful.

Audrey will be by herself in Tuscon because Miranda flew to be by her grandma, Mama Sallie's side, as she left this earth.  And she made it in time and was able to be present at what is always a holy experience.  Their family will be together to share stories and tears and laughter and I imagine, turkey. And Audrey - will not be totally alone - as she spends time with new friends and my oldest friend Susan this weekend.  Grateful.

And so my gratitude is not just for the goodness of life - the new jobs, the marriage, the baby - but it is for the  all the life.  The experiences of loss and grieving and loneliness that  remind us that we need each other and we need God.  And God is always there in all of it.  Not just getting us through, but strengthening and growing  us in the midst of all of it.

Grateful, Grateful, Grateful.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tuesday is Movie Day

      For the past month, Tuesday has been movie day for me.  Melanie and I, recent retirees, are going to the movies weekly on Tuesday where the tickets are $5 and include free popcorn!  And then we go out to lunch for a discussion of what we have seen.

My criteria is that it needs to be a movie about people and a movie that will make me think.  So far, our movies have been: Our Brand is Crisis (politics), Burnt (about a perfectionist chef), Suffragette (feminism) and today - Spotlight - about the reporting of the Boston Globe on the systemic cover up of the molestation of children by priests.

This was a powerful and - yes - thought provoking movie.  I have been part of book groups for over 30 years and I love discussing a book that everyone has read.  The only problem is that if it has been a while since we read it, we don't always remember details and our reaction to it is in the past.  But watching a movie with others and then talking about it is about our immediate responses.  I love it.

Spotlight had some of my favorite actors in it - like Stanley Tucci, John Slattery and Michael Keaton.  And it was a complicated story that was told well and was very satisfying.  This is what it made me think about
1. How we can try to put the needs of the institution over the needs of people - whether it is a church, a  newspaper, a school, a company. And soon there will be a movies about the reality of concussions in football and  corruption on wall street.  We can read the paper about the lies of VW that put lives at risk.  It happens all the time.
2. How easy it is to turn a blind eye to what is happening.  And there were good people - priests, lawyers and newspaper people who chose not to see or to connect the dots to the systemic evil.
3. How sometimes only the outsider can come in and open our eyes.  In this case it was an editor who was Jewish and not from Boston who started to ask the questions.

And always, when I see movies like this I hope that   - in the future - I can be a person who sees what is really going on.  And has the courage to tell the truth and face the consequences.  I know that has not always been the case.

Tuesday at the movies is more than entertainment - it stretches my mind and hopefully enlarges my spirit. 

Email me if you want to join us! (

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Last night Brian and I went to a "Tellebration" :  an evening of Storytelling and it was really wonderful.

I had read about it in the newspaper and found out that it was at the Ohio Historical Center, 90 minutes long and cost $5.  Sounded like a perfect way to spend a Saturday night -( especially after the Buckeyes lost!)

Not knowing what to expect, I was surprised to find how small the gathered group was - less than 50 people in a space that could hold 4 times the number.  It was - then - intimate and kind of quirky.  The evening began and had an intermission by "The Patchwork Parlor Band" a couple about my age who played guitars and sang a variety of music - the Beatles, standards and some country.  Not surprisingly I knew most of their songs and found myself singing along.  At the intermission, they were joined by a friend (who looked like he was in his 70's) who played "the bones" and did a sort of percussive dance on a box to rocky top.  Truly, you had to be there. It was unique.

We heard 6 story tellers plus a group of students who were members of the Village Watato Storytellers.  They did some original writings and spoken word.

Storytelling is truly an art and these people were  very creative and skilled  in the use of their words, their voices, their gestures and their bodies.   I felt like we went around the world and through the years as we  heard  stories about grandchildren, hairy monsters, boys frightened in the night and the disembodied voices. One woman spoke with an Irish accent, another sang throughout her story and another told a "spooky Affrilachian Tale."

It all made me think about how rarely we sit and tell and listen to stories.  Much of communication now  is texting and not talking.  And the talking that we do is so often practical and far from  poetic.  We give information but don't really spend time telling the stories of our lives or sharing the stories of others.

Good storytelling means that we need to reflect enough on our lives and our experiences to recognize the stories that we have to tell.  Good storytelling needs people who are willing to listen for more than just the "point" but to enjoy the ride of the wonderfully descriptive language.

 And I will tell you this  - like an evening of good conversation - good storytelling is better than time in front of any screen as we continue to explore what it means to be alive. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Changing Hearts and Minds

       Yesterday I watched the movie Suffragette and I find myself thinking about it this morning.  It is the story of the movement in England to give the women the right to vote.  It is seen through the eyes of Maud Watts, a young mother who works in the laundry.  We watch her change as she becomes more aware of and a part of the suffragettes. She eventually loses her job, marriage and child as she joins other heroic women to act together to bring the need for women to vote to the attention of the country.

   There was a lot in this.  It was the changing of a life that led to the gradual changes to the country.  It is easy in the year 2015 to take the right to vote for granted.  These women had a leader who reminded them that "Deeds not words" would make the difference.  And when you think about every social justice movement words are not enough.  At some point people have to risk their own lives in getting the attention of those who are in power.

   It takes years and perhaps generations to change people's minds - whether it is about the equality of men and women or different races.  At the end of the movie they listed when different countries gave women in the right to vote.  In England, certain women voted in 1918 and all women were allowed to vote in 1938. In the USA it was 1923.  And in Saudi Arabia, it might be this year that women are granted the right to vote.

    Now, in our country we have "come a long way, baby" and women vote, have credit cards, own homes, and have equal rights.  But still in 2015 there are churches which do not allow women in leadership - Christian, Catholic, Jewish and of course Islamic.  It can take a long time for minds to change.

   And now our world is at war against people whose worldview would bring us back to where women have no rights.  Unfortunately, our words will not be enough to  change the minds of the radical jihadists.  I am grateful for the women and men who had the courage and have the courage to put themselves in harm's way in order to bring or keep  freedom for others.

   If nothing else, movies like this open my mind to the ways that we are called to see injustice and act.  And certainly we need to take advantage of the freedom to vote that was hard won for women and minorities and do at least that part of changing the world.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Facing the Horror

Ever since Friday I have felt consumed by the horrific events of Paris.  CNN has been on frequently and last night I watched Sixty Minutes where several victims witnessed their experience.  It is frightening to consider the power that the ISIS has to inflict terror and fear around the world.

I remember after 9/11 I spent from Tuesday to Sunday thinking about my sermon on Sunday.  And I ended up preaching about how Jesus responded to evil.  He saw it, he stood up to it, he transformed it.

What I keep hearing is that now we have a "new normal" - in that we are more at risk.  And I wonder whether that is true or whether we are just more aware of the reality of evil that always is present.  In the Genesis story of Adam and Eve in the garden there is a snake present with no explanation.  It is always there - the presence of the choice of yes or no to the way of God. 

This morning as I woke I thought about the Advent retreat that I am planning right now.  It is called "Do you hear what I hear?" And I am using the Christmas Son - I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.
It is based on a  1863 poem "Christmas Bells" by American poetHenry Wadsworth Longfellow.
The song tells of the narrator's despair, upon hearing Christmas bells, that "hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men". The carol concludes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among all people.

Despite our beautiful Christmas cards, we need to always remember that Jesus was born at a time of oppression and repression for the Jewish people under the reign of the murderous Herod.  The reality of evil is not new.

Today I think about our response to evil and I do not have any idea what our country or any country should be doing.  Except this - we need to work together to discern the most effective response to these killings.  And find a way to stand up to the evil in solidarity with each other.

And for me, I am in prayer for the victims, the leaders, and the enemy.  I sit at the cross of Christ and trust in the mystery of God's suffering and transforming love.

In Wishful Thinking Frederick Buechner writes this and it helps me as much as anything else as I face the horror and the reality of evil in this world.

God is all-powerful.
God is all-good.
Terrible things happen.

You can reconcile any two of these propositions with each other, but you can't reconcile all three. The problem of evil is perhaps the greatest single problem for religious faith

    There have been numerous theological and philosophical attempts to solve it, but when it comes down to the reality of evil itself, they are none of them worth much.  When a child is raped and murdered, the parents are not apt to take much comfort from the explanation (better than most) that since God wants us to love him,  we must be free to love or not to love and thus free to rape and murder a child if we take a notion to.
     Christian Science solves the problem of evil by saying that it does not exist except as an illusion
of modern mind.  Buddhism solves it in terms of reincarnation and an inexorable law of cause and effect whereby the raped child is merely reaping the consequences of evil deeds it it committed in another life.

Christianity...ultimately offers no theoretical solution at all. It merely points to the cross and says that, practically speaking, there is no evil so dark and so obscene - not even this - but that God can turn it to good.

In Ireland, where the memory of terrorist attacks remains strong, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Michael Jackson issued the following prayer in solidarity “with all those who have died and those who are bereaved and terrified as a result of the atrocities of Friday evening”.

“Almighty God we lay before you today the people of France and in particular the citizens of Paris.
We pray for those who have been killed in the atrocities of Friday evening November 13 and we ask for your mercy towards those who mourn the lost and tend the sick and injured.
We pray for the security and support services and for all who exercise political and civic leadership.
Most of all we pray for peace in a world of violence.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Red Cup

There has been quite a bit of conversation about the red cups for Christmas at Starbucks.

I don't really get it.  Because why would anyone expect a secular corporation to espouse Christianity in a pluralistic nation.  Makes no sense to me at all.

But some in our denomination have called for us to write about the red cup that is central to our faith - and that is our chalice. And that is the red cup that matters to me.

It is  our denominational identity because we are people of the table - and communion is central to our worship.  As a pastor and preacher, I  appreciated that fact on a  very personal way. When we came to worship on Sunday - even if the sermon was not speaking to a person - communion was always present and gives us an occasion of spiritual sustenance.  Because it is more than just the material eating a piece of bread or cracker and a taste of wine or juice. Communion - the cup - represents a life of self giving love embodied in Jesus Christ and a living presence in that moment.

And whatever I write about "The Red Cup" is going to be inadequate because it is always more.
The question of our lives is "Can we drink the cup?"  Or are we willing to continue on this journey of following the way of Jesus and allowing God to change us from the inside out?

As I continue on my retreat in Daily Life I keep learning that God is never done with us.  I have spent time with Psalm 51 this morning and found myself stuck on this verse:

"Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation
And make me willing to obey you"

Here I am - 66 years old - and I am learning again that to be a "Disciple" means that I am willing have discipline in making choices about time and money so that what I do truly reflects God's desires for my life and for this world.  Drinking from this Red Cup does lead to joy, salvation, peace and fulfillment.  But it requires times of confession and forgiveness, commitment and love.

Can we  drink this cup?  It is life changing.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Call to Serve

I have just returned from Sunday worship at the Free Store at Camp Christian.  Wendy Taylor is the pastor and she is calling this experience "The Open Table."

As I have no church right now, I am supporting her in her ministry in every way that I can.  She has a vision of a church which is based in mission which will then lead into a worshipping community.  The primary mission is the "Free Store" which she has been supervising for 5 years and now we are starting this experience. 

There were 10 of us that gathered today at the table at 11:30 am.  Our time began with breakfast and then a prayer, a story, a project, communion and a closing prayer exercise.  It was everything that we had talked about wanting it to be - active, communal,  casual and  inspiring.  Wendy first told us the story of Martha and Mary and then her own experience yesterday of being caught up in "service activities" of the free store and missing a relationship experience with a talkative and needy man.  It really spoke to me as I reflected on how easy it is for us to think of service as what we do instead of being present to another person.  It is in our presence with others - often "just" listening - that we are most vulnerable and probably most effective in sharing the love of God.

Our project was that we put together jars of  bean soup starter to be handed out at the Free Store.  It was fun and led to conversation among us and more ideas for the future being shared.  At the end, after communion (bagels and cider) we walked to each get a piece of wood for the fire as we reflected on the "Prayer of Saint Francis."  And I could only think that this was a different kind of church - and I like it - I really liked it.

The past 10 months have been a time of reflection for me about what worship is and what service is and how God is always inviting us to engage and grow in our faith.  For the last two weeks, I worshipped at First Christian Church in Ada with a similarly small group.  It is a church that is either going to transform or die.  But in the meantime, those who attended were inspired and inspiring.  And they continue to serve in the ways that have given their church identity and meaning and purpose for over 125 years.  Now today, it is a church that may be just beginning and we will see what happens.

Either way, I was blessed by being with saints who seek to serve and are open to the movement of the spirit.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Looking into the Abyss

This is the follow up to a post on sin.  At some point you really do have to go there - to the abyss.
I have a feeling that there is no way that you can take your own sin seriously and not spend time looking in darkness and confusion.

That is the way I felt this morning as I came to prayer.  When I eventually came to prayer.  Part of what has happened to me this week is a whole lot of resistance and avoidance because - really - who wants to think about your own personal sin?  Not me. 

There is a prayer by Evelyn Underhill:
"Jesus show me what the attachments and cravings are which hold me down below your level of self surrender, real love.  Show me the things that lumber up in my hearts so that it cannot be filled with your life and power."   When God shows those things to you it is not easy.  Sometimes it can lead us to the Abyss.

Anyway, I finally got there and found myself looking in.  And this is how I would describe it - it is looking into the darkest place and facing the uncertain future.  It is looking within and seeing that great divide between who I want to be (and sometimes pretend to be) and who I am.

When I concluded the Wellstreams program I "wrote a book" called Becoming a Contemplative Pastor and in it I wrote about the Abyss.  I quoted one of my favorite writings that starts like this

I have decided for life
I have decided to grow
to do more than survive
to grow through the fog to the sun
that attractive star.

One of the stanzas is
"I have decided to take my chances with the abyss
to weather the painful in-betweens
to wake in my own blood
to mourn my lost innocence in the process of growth 
because all growth has as its heartflower
pain in its endless variations
and its petals are the many colors of suffering."

This morning I looked down into the fog and into the darkness of myself and there was - for me -
a light.  It was Jesus.  And  it was as if he was patting the ground beside him and inviting me down, smiling and saying: I am here to be with you.

And so, this journey inward is not always easy.  But I keep learning to hang in there, to pay attention and trust that I can sit with Him - in his light - safe, loved, forgiven, blessed.

May I remember this day.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dealing with Sin

That's what I have been doing for the last two weeks in my "Retreat in Daily Life"
And of course, that's what I have been doing for my whole life.  We all do.

Last week the topic was "The Disorder of Sin - Appalling Rebellion." The retreat guide says:
 Why do we go here this week? We want to see, to taste, what sin is — an appalling rebellion against God. This is not to look at some vague sense of social evil, without any responsible villains. Our intention is to spend this week more consciously aware of the sheer arrogance and outrageous opposition to God’s grace that exists in our world. 

And so as I spent time  reflecting on the way in which we hurt each other and the earth, I found myself reading the newspaper and watching TV news in a different way.  One image that struck me - and many, many people - was the school officer who forcibly dragged a student out of the classroom. And my thought was that this was "sin" in response to "sin." The student's disrespect touched something in him that led to this overreaction.  And then surely this young woman's behavior probably reflected the "sin" of her life.  I know it is not a new idea that our thoughts and actions are often in reaction to events in our lives.  And it all can go back generations.

What I found myself recognizing was that looking back in history or in this day and age we see violence, inhumanity, injustice, abuse, greed and lust for power.  That is almost the backdrop to our lives that "is what it is." We get so used to it.  And that was last week.

This week, we are looking at our own lives and our own personal sin.  Here are some of the questions I have spent time with

What have I done? What have I failed to do? Habitually? Almost instinctively? At each stage of my life? When, through­out my life, to this very day, have I acted independently of God? When did I make up my own rules? How have I been dishonest — to others, to myself? When was I cruel or abusive? Lustful and greedy in my desires for power, control, consump­tion, self-gratification? To what degree have I rationalized and made excuses? How have I let my heart become cool to God and to others? 

This is really heavy stuff and it has been daunting to look back through my own life and see choices I have made that have led me away from God, away from others and from my best self. You cannot start a retreat with these questions - it is only in the context of knowing and resting in our loving God that we have the courage to really look back.  And explore God's presence in every moment of our lives.

It has been illuminating and ultimately life giving.  Because of my faith and my experience of God's love through it all. There is a famous sermon  by Jonathon Edwards called "Sinners in the hands of an angry God."  And I reject that entirely.  What I keep learning in a more real and deeper way is that I am - and we are - sinners in the hands of a loving and gracious God.  That is what I see every time I go back to the cross and the eyes of Jesus who said, "Father Forgive them, they know not what they do."  

When you are a pastor, people want to put you up on a pedestal as if you have "conquered" sin and now are able to live this perfect and peaceful life.  The truth is that our "conquering" sin is really about seeing it, confessing it and trusting in God's grace and mercy.   I come as I am broken, wounded, wounding, unconscious, hypocritical, rebellious, faithful, caring, critical, gifted and loved and continue to marvel at our God who offers grace and mercy to me and to all.

Here is a prayer that has been prayed by the faithful for centuries.  It speaks to me today.

Father of mercy,
like the prodigal son
I return to you and say:
"I have sinned against you
and am no longer worthy to be called your son."
Christ Jesus, Savior of the world,
I pray with the repentant thief
to whom you promised Paradise:
"Lord, remember me in your kingdom."
Holy Spirit, fountain of love,
I call on you with trust:
"Purify my heart,
and help me to walk as a child of light."
 Lord Jesus,
you opened the eyes of the blind,
healed the sick,
forgave the sinful woman,
and after Peter's denial confirmed him in your love.
Listen to my prayer:
forgive all my sins,
renew your love in my heart,
help me to live in perfect unity with my fellow Christians
that I may proclaim your saving power to all the world.
 Lord Jesus, Son of God,
have mercy on me, a sinner.
 Prayer of the Penitent, The Rite of the Sacrament of Reconciliation