Blessings…

I am usually cautious when we begin talking about our blessings.
The home in which we live.
The food we have to eat.
The opportunities we have for work and travel and recreation.
The good health we enjoy.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for gratitude.
I am all for pausing long enough not to take any of these things, or a hundred other things I could list, for granted. But I think there is a shadow side to the way we think and talk aboutblessings.
If we do not have a place to live…
If we struggle to have enough food to eat…
If we are out of work…
If our health is not good…
Are we then not blessed?
Less than good?
Something wrong with us?
But yesterday, in a passing remark about blessings, I heard a turn of a phrase which caught my attention. “Do we count our blessings or count the ways we can be a blessing?”
I like that.
Count the ways we can be a blessing.
That feels a whole lot better to me.
A whole lot more human.
A whole lot more holy.

Daily Reminders

Most days are filled with the ordinary details of our lives.
Grocery shopping.
Washing clothes.
Going to work.
Helping children with homework.
Running errands.
Responding to emails.
The trick it seems to me…
And the challenge…
Is to allow the wonder hidden in the ordinary to break through the routine
And to catch our attention.
The smile of a child.
The taste of food.
The opportunity to work.
The day-in, day-out support and love of those who care about us.
Because it is the ordinary days that add up to our lifetime.

It Takes A Village

The saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
I believe that it does.
Our children need all of the strong, caring, compassionate adults we can stack around their lives, but if we stop there we have stopped well short of the mark.
Not only does it take a village to raise a child…
It takes a village to care for those who grow old in our midst.
It takes a village to welcome and to include the newcomers.
It takes a village to care for the fragile and vulnerable among us.
It takes a village to help couples find their way through the challenges of life.
It takes a village to dance in our moments of joy.
It takes a village to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in times of need holding us up when we can not stand up on our own.
By and large, I think we have forgotten this and we are paying the price.
Our sense of community…
Our sense of responsibility towards one another…
Our sense of caring for one another…
Has been pushed it aside in favor of the myth of rugged individualism.
That I can do it all on my own.
That I am responsible for myself and for no one else.
That my own strength and willpower and hard work is enough.
But none of that is true.
It just is not.

Pointing the Way

Stratton PondI came across this observation in a journal I was reading today:
“People still crave connection to the holy and always will.
The church too often simply fails to show up at the intersection of the holy and our lives.”
 (Reflections, Spring 2014, p.13)

I think the observation is true.
I also think this is true.
For too long the Church has falsely marketed itself as THE locus and keeper of the Holy.
Come to church to find God.
Attend church to be religious.
What you need is here.
We dispense God like a pharmacist dispenses a prescription.
And, people aren’t buying it any more.
I am not buying it any more.

Are their holy moments that happen in church (or synagogue or mosque)?
Absolutely.
Sometimes when the sanctuary is full.
And, sometimes when I am the only one there.
But God is not locked up in any four walls.
Holy moments can and do happen anywhere at any time.
And, the truth we experience holy moments more out there than in here.
Watching your children.
Watching the sun set.
Holding hands with one whom you love.
Dancing like there will never be another dance.
Sitting still and allowing the silence around you to fill you.
What the church can do…
What we need to do…
Rather than thinking it is our job to dispense the Holy realize our job is to point the way.
What we can do and need to do is to be that reminder that we – all of us – are to pay attention.
For when we do each moment has the potential of being holy.

Counter-Cultural Christianity

When I was growing up it was no big deal to say you were Christian.
Everyone I knew said that.
Everyone.
And, Christianity was easy.
It meant showing up for worship at 11:00 on a Sunday morning.
And, maybe showing up or helping out your church in some other way.
Everyone I knew did that.
Everyone.
It is not like that now.
Far from it.
Now there are more people not here than are here.
Maybe even more people who say they are not Christian than readily and openly admit they are.

More and more, it seems…
To show up on a Sunday morning for worship;
To be a part of an intentional community which gathers;
To invest time and energy and something of self to feed those who are hungry or to shelter those who have no place be or to speak up on behalf of those who have no little or no voice;
To make a conscience decision to set aside some portion of your income for something more than household bills or personal use;
All because of what you believe or the values that grow out of your faith tradition is an intentional decision; a counter-cultural decision in a way it has not been for a VERY long time.

In many ways this shift from then to now is hard for us for whom church has been an important part of our lives for nearly everything about who we are and how we do what we do is based on a way of being that is no longer the norm and no longer understood or valued or accepted by the larger community.
But, if we can begin to let go of what was
(which, if we are honest, was often more cultural than Christian);
If we can to begin to find a new way…
And, if we can do it well…
What emerges might be a powerful and important witness for the deepest and best values to which we, as human beings, can aspire.
Compassion.
Kindness.
Community.
Justice.
Equality.
Peace.
Values which are desperately needed if we are ever going to find a way to live together.

If You Don’t Like It Leave The Room

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that praying at government meetings was permissible. In my experience prayers in public settings are complicated. Either they are so ceremonial they are empty of meaning and power or they become subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) attempts to cover political positions with quasi-religious authority.  Justice Kennedy’s advice for atheists and others who object to such prayers is “just leave the room.” My initial response is that anyone who takes their faith seriously and takes prayer seriously should also consider leaving the room.

At its best, prayer is either a deep listening for the promptings of God which we discern when we are quiet long enough and listen carefully enough or it is the collective concerns of a gathered community yearning to be faithful which means that our prayers move from words to actions, and from concern to compassion and kindness and caring. Using public prayer as a cover or a club only erodes our religious voice in a culture where that voice is barely being heard as it is.

If we decide to stay and to not leave the room maybe what those of us who are asked to pray are to do is to use that moment to thank elected officials for their service and remind them of their responsibility to be leaders and to care for all in the community, especially those who are too easily overlooked and too often without a voice.

The Right Question (and who gets to ask it)

Some notes I keep the old fashioned way.
File folder.
Scraps of papers.
Articles torn from newspapers (remember those!).
Scribbled notes copied and recopied as file folders wear out.
One of those scribbled notes on a file folder which is often on my desk rather than in my desk is a line from Genesis 3. God walking through the Garden of Eden looking for Adam and Eve who are now hiding from God. “Where are you?” God calls out as God walks through the Garden. You would think that from the way we usually talk and think about God that God would already know without having to ask.

But, anyway.
What a reversal from the way that question usually gets asked.
In thinking about God, aren’t we the ones usually in charge of the questions?
Challenging God by asking, “Where are you?”
Where were you when the storm hit?
Where were you when the illness struck?
Where are you when I don’t get what I want or what I think I need?
But, maybe we have it all wrong.
An ancient story would say that we do.
Maybe our asking the question this way is just one more way we hide from God.
What if God is the one to whom the question belongs.
Where are you?
Implying God is present and we are the ones who are absent or hiding or not paying attention.
If that is true, then what about this.
Walking into work tomorrow what if you imagined God calling out, “Where are you?”
Or, if not work, what about walking into school?
Or, standing in line at the grocery store?
Or, scrolling through the headlines in the news?
Where are you?

If you are not into using or thinking about the word God, insert whatever frame of reference is meaningful for you – compassion, kindness, your best self. Whatever word(s) you chose to use, the question remains and maybe it THE question we should consider each day.

Let’s Do Easter

practice resurrection
I love the closing line in Wendell Berry’s poem Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.
Practice resurrection.
I love it for two reasons.
First, it makes resurrection more than about Jesus which, I think, is the Biblical witness. It reminds us that, in the end, it is about you and me and who we are and how we live.
The second is the word practice.
Somewhere I read that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill.
Others researchers say 10,000 hours is way too small a number.
Either way the point is this.
If we take all this seriously, the question is can we practice resurrection with the same dedication and commitment we would bring to any other task or skill we were trying to master? At the very least, practicing resurrection means paying close attention to the world around us and being intentional about what we do and why we do it.

Many of us did Easter last Sunday.
Now is the time for us to do Easter today.

Sometimes All I Can Do Is Pray

refugee
Earthquakes are rattling Nicaragua. I have friends there. Many of them. I have helped to build homes there. I hope those homes are still standing. The people I know and more that I don’t are being told to sleep outside tonight so if another quake hits they won’t be asleep in their beds  and risk having their house collapse on them and their families. I will be sleeping safe and sound in my bed tonight. Sometimes all I can do is pray.

The mother of someone I know and care about is battling cancer…again.
Sometimes all I can do is pray.

A picture of a little girl curled up in a ball makes me want to turn away. What can I do for refugees, wherever they are, who have fled bombs and bullets or who have lost parents or children in endless often senseless fighting.  Today I am particularly mindful of those who have fled the civil war in Syria. Sometimes all I can do is pray.

I have known them for nearly twenty five years. They were about my age now when we first met.  Now they are older and they and their children struggle against and struggle with the reality and the concerns and the needed lifestyle changes that come with growing old. Sometimes all I can do is pray.

And, there is more.
My list goes on.
Sometimes all I can do is pray.
I understand that prayer is not magic.
It is not hocus pocus that suddenly makes bad things good or wrong things right, and it does not miraculously do or undo what I should have done or should not have done.
At its core, my prayer is my remembering.
My remembering there is a concern and a connectedness that links us all together.
My remembering that love and strength and encouragement and care and concern and joy while expressed here does, indeed, stretch to there.
My remembering my desire and my responsibility to wrap some part of who I am and some part of what I know and name as God around the you I hold in my heart and mind in this moment. Sometimes all I can do is pray.

Does it matter?
Yes.
Because the moment I pray is the moment I remember that the world is bigger and my life is bigger than the particular concerns I have in this moment and the shrink wrapped life I, too easily, live.
Does it make a difference?
Yes.
To you?
I hope so.
But I know it makes a difference because, at the very least, it makes me different.

Holy Week

cross
Christmas is easy.
Away in the Manger.
Silent Night. Holy night.
Holy Week is hard.
My head understands the events of that take place.
Triumphant entry.
Confrontation in the Temple.
Crowds gathered to hear Jesus speak.
Celebrating the Passover.
God-awful crucifixion.
But while my head understands, my heart rebels.
I tiptoe towards the edge of the story, but then turn away.
I dare not get too close to the anguish and the betrayal and absolute brutality.
And, that only gets me to Friday.
Who really understands resurrection?
(Even though they have made a TV show about it.)
How do you put words around mystery?
Or, words around an experience which takes your breath away?