Archive for November, 2012









It can be easy to ignore Advent.

Sure, the liturgical color in church changes to blue; we may have an Advent calendar for the kids; the shopping and social scene heats up for some of us; but the spirituality of the season can be elusive.

This coming Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent.  The “alpha” of the year, next to last week’s omega.  Christian New Year’s.  All of which we notice if we make it to church; otherwise not so much.

Advent is one of those times when we think we should be “more spiritual,” than we are..  We may experience, as the poet George Wither puts it:

Thoughts too deep to be expressed,

                  and too strong to be suppressed.”

Then there is the fact that we’ve heard the story so many times before that it becomes nearly impossible to hear it in a fresh way.

The writer Phillip Yancy says that Lent should have more to do with practice than penance.  He suggests a simple practice, or discipline, that each of us could implement each day. I was drawn to its simplicity and also its do-ability and potential to change how one might experience this season.  It’s far from a new thing but it is a core practice that can bring your attention to a different area than usual and it is intentional.

What he suggests is that you make a pact with yourself (or someone else if you want the accountability) to find someone each day to serve, being unconcerned if you get credit for the good deed or not.

Think of the possibilities: all the way from a kind, unexpected email to a good word to the person bagging your purchase at Target.  Taking a few minutes more with someone you might ordinarily cut off.  A poem, a prayer, a plate or cookies.  A gesture towards a coworker, a neighbor, an annoying aunt, or someone you don’t know.

Then record it on your paper or electronic calendar at the end of each day to help you assess the practice after Christmas.  I’ll be glad to meet with any of you and talk about how it went. I’m doing it myself.

One thing each day for next the four weeks.  Spirituality for Real.

In that spirit, I’ll be using this dismissal in church for the next four weeks –which some of you have requested:

“Let us go into the word and know

         that there are deeds of compassion and courage

         that will never be done unless you do them

         and words of hope and healing

         that will never be spoken unless you speak them.”

See you in church for Christian New Year’s – a good time for a new beginning, and who doesn’t need that?



Read Full Post »

“Hey, Babe…”

There are many lines of Scripture where the language is amazingly contemporary.

In John’s story of the Wedding at Cana, we find Mary bustling about and coming to Jesus fretting, “They have no wine!”  Jesus responds, “What concern is that to me?”  In other words, back off –-I’m not ready to do my first miracle yet.  Yet Mary, confident that she will prevail,  tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus steps up and changes the water into wine.  The Jewish mother prevails.

In the lesson for this coming Sunday, we hear about Hannah, deeply upset that she cannot have a child (she prefers a male child, of course).  Her husband Elkannah, attempting to comfort her, responds, “Am I not more to you than ten male children?”

Don’t you love this?  Sounding like something right off a sitcom such as “Two and a Half Men,” Elkannah’s response is the equivalent of “Hey, Babe, you’ve got me – what more could you want?” You can almost hear the swagger.  Of course, Elkannah has another wife and kids, so he’s got his bases covered.

The Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”) and the Christian Scriptures (“New Testament”) are full of stories about life the way it really is, as well as words of great comfort and tenderness: “And God will wipe away all tears from our eyes.”

It is a great stew of a book, written by many people over 3,000 years, and it is a book about God and about us, and how one finds the other.  It is our text and what a text it is.

See you in church – where you will hear more about Hannah and the clueless Elkannah.


Read Full Post »

What Jon Stewart dubbed the “perpetual panic conflictinator”, that is the pundit class, would have us believe that today’s election is perhaps the biggest decision any of us will make, ever.  The 24-hour “news” cycle, the constant barrage of political ads, the complete and total hullaballoo of it all seems geared at one thing and one thing only – division.   Everywhere one turns one hears the narrative of “two visions”, of distinct and separate outlooks.  We are, the story goes, two Americas.

When one of the proprietors of this narrative, a talking head on a cable news station, asked Governor Chris Christie, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, whether or not he’d be touring, as he had with President Obama, the devastation in his home state of New Jersey with presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Christie’s response was as dismissive of the question as it was of the question’s underlying narrative of division:

“If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me.”  As Christie elaborated, he had a job to do, people to help, needs to respond to – and these far outweighed the needs of feeding the “conflictinator”.

In his outburst, for a moment, the story that we are a people divided was eclipsed by the urgent call of a people united by tragedy and a need far more compelling than any election.  That was a good moment, a healthy moment.  That is because we all tacitly, if not explicitly, acknowledge that the narrative of division, though based in reality, is a story that only becomes true in the telling.  It is a story that relies on our basest selves, on fear and loathing and ignorance.

And, all of this is not to say that the issues are not important, that elections are to be belittled, or our differences trivialized.  It is to say that we can be better.  It is to say that we are more, much more in fact, than the narrative of division would lead us to believe.  There is a story that we in the church have been told, and which we attempt to retell, that helps me know that we are more.  This past Sunday we told one of my favorite parts of that story when we affirmed that three more children were “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever” and when we affirmed again, each of us, our intent to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Did you catch that?  All persons.  Just as we were claimed and marked and loved and served by God, so too we have been called to offer our own love and service to <fill in the blank here with anyone you think is undeserving or beyond your abilities or patience to love and serve>.

This is the faith we proclaim, that the God who called us and made us and the same God that claims us in our life and holds us in our death desires above all else that we all may be one, that our divisions may cease, and our lives bound together in love.  No matter how the election goes today, I hope we will all remember that part of our story, that we will embrace it, and that we will proclaim it in all that we do.


See you in church!


Read Full Post »