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Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Reflection on Palm Sunday

As I intentionally reflect on the last week of Jesus' life, I am in awe of the sacrifice he made.  I re-read Philippians 2:4-8 and am immensely grateful. "Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,  he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross".

Can you imagine giving up heaven knowing that you would be crucified for your trouble? The very same people that you came to free from their self-inflicted prison, would be the ones that signed your death warrant? What kind of love moves you to come anyway? I'm pretty sure I don't love like that yet.

I'm just not there...I am a LONG way from getting there.   But the prayer of humility that we read in service today gives me hope.  Not hope that I can become what Christ was but hope because the transformation doesn't depend on me but the Spirit of Christ that lives in me. The same Christ that thought I was worth dying for. The same grace that He was given is available if we ask, not once, but over and over again.  For every crucifixion, there is ALWAYS a resurrection. But we have to ask. Again and again.


THE LITANY of HUMILITY (paraprased, Author Unknown)

From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being preferred,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the desire of comfort and ease,
From the desire of being humiliated,
From the fear of being criticized,
From the fear of being passed over,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being lonely,
From the fear of being hurt,
From the fear of suffering,
Deliver me, Lord.

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Jesus,meek and humble of heart,

Jesus grant me the grace to desire it.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Be Blessed Today

The Beatitudes is one of the most beautiful pieces of the gospel.  And yet it lends it self to endless re-imagining.  I hope the following is a blessing to you.

Blessings and peace...


Blessed are those who are uncomfortably discontent with the injustice of this world for they can see the will of God for all of creation.

Blessed are those who seek to reconcile all of humanity with each other and with God, for they will hear God say, "My child!"

Blessed are those who sense their own need for reconciliation with God, for they will be privileged to walk through the gates of Heaven.

Blessed are those who suffer indignity and harm because of their relationship to God, for they will one day have the opportunity to laugh and be glad.

Blessed are the ones who grieve over personal and societal wrongs and the destruction it brings, for they will know the abiding presence of God's Spirit.

Blessed are those who forsake spitefulness and cruelty to adopt grace and love, for they will be shown the full extent of God's mercy.

Blessed are those who show strength of self-control in all things, for they will know the full joys of physical life now and eternal life forever.

Blessed are those whose core values are untainted by guile and self-centeredness, for they will one day stand face to face with their Creator.

Blessed are those who follow Christ and are rebuked and attacked for it, for they will one day enter a place where that is all there is, and it will be blessed.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I See You-A commentary on 9/11

I once read a story about the last days of the Comanche nation.  It was a sweeping narrative about their lives as free people and their fight to stay free in spite of the atrocities committed by the United States military.  Needless to say, they lost their land and their way of life. It was also a story about their cultural norms and how they built and maintained their community.

One of their cultural norms that I admired was the way they greeted one another. When they passed by another person, they looked each other in the eye and said "I see you".  When I read this, I thought it was a wonderful acknowledgement of another's humanity.  To note someone else's existence not because they have something to offer you or you want something from them.  To simply see and greet someone in a spirit of mutuality.

Some say the opposite of love is not hate, it's apathy.  The total dismissal of another human being is the worst kind of apathy, I think.

As the world reflects on the 10th anniversay of events of 9/11, I hope that we can commit to a world where we can truly work to see one another as equally made in God's image. I pray that I will never pass by another human being without seeing them and letting them know they are not invisible, not to me.  They are worthy to be greeted simply because they exist.

Some say it's time to move on from that day. For others, there is still a need to grieve and be seen. If you ever get a chance to go to New York City, please go by St. Paul's Chapel at Ground Zero To look at the notes that people posted as they searched for their loved ones, to see the total exhaustion of the people looking for survivors, to see the shock in their faces as they are still 

Even ten years later, this is a fresh wound for many.  Added to it is the fear that Muslims experience who had nothing to do with the those who committed this crime. Yet they are still seen as one of the criminals.

Learning to see God in another's face is a small step in righting the wrongs in this world.  But it is a step.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Prayer for Today

Don't have anything to really post today but I ran across a prayer that reminded me of how much it can take to take care of others whether you are an officially recognized caregiver or life has unexpectedly required it of you.  I pray this prayer for myself and for all of you who are instruments of healing for other people. Much thanks to St. Francis of Assisi for the original and the anonymous author for the prayer below.

Lord God,
make me an instrument of Your healing:
when I am weak and in pain, help me to rest:
when I am anxious, help me to wait:
when I am fearful, help me to trust:
when I am lonely, help me to love:
when I place You apart from me,
help me to know You are near.

Healing God, grant me not so much to demand everything from myself as to let others help me:
nor to expect others to cure me as to do my own part toward getting better.
Grant me not so much to seek escape as to face myself and learn the depths of Your love.

For it is in being uncertain and not in control that we find true faith.
In knowing the limits of mind and body that we find wholeness of spirit,
And in passing through death that we find life that lasts forever.

Namaste, and Amen

Monday, May 23, 2011

There is a thin line between grace and enabling

I realize that few have not heard of the Eddie Long business in Atlanta. For those of you who haven't hear is a link to the latest:

Apparently, the case is headed to trial after failing to reach a resolution in mediation. 

I'm following this case for several reasons.  A friend of mine is a long-time member of this congregation and to say that his faith is shaken is an understatement.  My heart hurts for him and everyone who is experiencing a crisis of faith at New Birth.  Yet this isn't the first accusation of abuse of pastoral position and I doubt it will be the last, regardless of the outcome of this particular chapter in this too-often repeated story.

I'm also following this because I have witnessed abuse of power in my own faith journey, either towards me or someone else.  Yes, I know that Eddie Long is innocent until proved guilty. Unfortunately, the accusations are entirely plausible and sadly possible. If he is guilty, I doubt that his accusers were the only ones that knew about it. Like so many others, he would have been surrounded by enablers who thought they were showing grace by being silent. If he is innocent, then the  personal toll on him and his family are unimaginable. And the community is trying to continue to do its work in the midst of all this madness.

What is it that prevents us from holding our spiritual leaders accountable? What stops us from questioning their judgement and actions as if we are unworthy to do so? Why is silence valued over speaking the truth?   I've always said that the Catholic Church scandal might have been the first to hit the news, but it wouldn't be the last.  They certainly are not alone in allowing known predators to stay in leadership positions even when their predatory behavior has been verified.

What message are we sending to victims of this behavior when we rally around the clergyperson and show no compassion for the accuser?  I am well aware that there are persons who are perfectly capable of lying about their accusation.  But doesn't a faith community owe it to itself to investigate claims of abuse instead of crucifying those who dare to voice them?

What do you do when extending grace and mercy enables a person's destructive behavior to continue?

I think the people of God are going to be held accountable by God for the leaders they choose. I hear many clergy lament the loss of respect that clergypersons experience.  However, I hear very few willing to name the excesses in their own community. It's always a shame in someone else's backyard.

I'm not naive.I know the risk that truthspeakers face. The usual consequence is being ostracized by the faith community that sustains you. That can be a painful experience.  I'm willing to pay the price for that.  What I can't do is be silent.  As a universal community of faith, we are going to have to reclaim the integrity of spiritual leadership. Starting with our own. Part of that reclaiming is showing compassion for the accuser as well as the accused.  Another part is to relieve persons of responsibility that they cannot handle even as you provide help for their issues.  Yet another is being honest about what pressures you can handle and which ones you cannot.

Silence is not always golden.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day Grief and Osama Bin Laden

It's been an interesting couple of weeks.  Today is Mother's Day and I feel beyond blessed to still have my mother.  She is probably the strongest example of unconditional love that I have ever seen.  She definitely has more patience than I do!   It still amazes me how much she really sees people.  I'd like to think that I've inherited some of that.

Of course, I have friends who have lost their mothers. Mother's Day is not a good day for everyone. I always remind myself that I need to make room for those who are grieving without judging or rushing them through it.  How can you tell someone how to react to something like that or how long it should take without sounding self-righteous and insensitive?

Mother's Day can be more complicated than we give it credit for.

Which brings me to the death of Osama Bin Laden. Strange segue, I know. Could he have been taken alive?  Possibly.  Or maybe some SEALS would have died and he would have been killed anyway.  But I am uncomfortable with the idea of shooting an unarmed man. I struggle to see so many rejoicing at his death.  Is a fair trial a right we only give to those we think deserve it? As much as some don't want to think about it, there are people grieving the loss of Bin Laden not due to political reasons but because he is part of their family. Not all of his children were grown. His 12-year old daughter has to live with seeing her father shot dead in front of her. Just like the 12-year old victims of the terrorist attacks have to live with their own grief for parents that were taken away from them. None of these children  had anything to do with the quarrel between Al-Qaeda and the United States.

As a Christian, how do I respect the grief of the family members killed in the terrorist attacks and the grief of those who think the attacks were justified?  How can I be compassionate towards the 9/11 scars to the American psyche and use that same compassion to listen to the grievances of Al-Qaeda, the same group we supported with money and weapons when the Russians were in Afghanistan? The command to love God, myself and my neighbor as myself doesn't quite seem to cover this.

I don't have an answer to these question but I do know this: The death of Osama Bin Laden is going to have more consequences than what we give it credit for.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

While It is Dark (A reflection on John 20)

This Easter , as always, was full of celebration and gratitude.  As a Christian community of faith we recognize God's grace in the invitation to reconciliation.  For those of us who have accepted, it was a day of joy.  However, the text today was focused on Mary Magdalene.  Specifically, it focused on her first Easter experience.  It was dark and she went to anoint her teacher as he lay dead.  She had traveled with him and witnessed his last breath.  She had stayed close to him while the others had deserted him. I would dare to say what hope she had lay dead with him.  Yet she still went. It was the least she could do after all she had received from him. Apparently, she went alone. 

While it was still dark.

I can only imagine her feelings of shock, panic, anger, and whatever else as she came to the tomb and found it empty.  Even then she didn't understand.  What could anyone possibly want with his body after everything else that had been done to it?  Her faithfulness would not let her rest until the anointing with oil and herbs was finished to her satisfaction.  Apparently, she didn't know that Joseph of Arimathea had already cared for the body. Maybe she did and it didn't matter.  She had her own obligations to fulfill. Yet her faith could not comprehend that his promise to rise again had been accomplished.

Have you ever had faith to move forward yet not expecting anything but the script you had already written in your head?  Perhaps what you envision may not have value to anyone but you but you are determined to see it through. No matter the cost to yourself. I admire Mary's courage.  I'm sure it was not the safest, most intellegent thing to to a tomb before daybreak by herself. I can relate to her wanting to show Jesus a little dignity after the painful, suffocating death she had witnessed. It wasn't much but it was all she had.  I'd like to think she had heard Jesus speak about the woman who had only given a little yet was commended because she had given all she had. Maybe that gave her the courage to come. We'll never know all of what prompted her to come to the tomb while it was dark.

And Jesus wasn't there.

Turning in a panic she runs back to the disciples to let them know that the body has disappeared. Peter, another disciple and Mary rush back to tomb.  While Peter and company examine the burial clothes, Mary is outside.  Perhaps she's waiting for her worst fears to be confirmed.  Maybe they would have an explanation because she was all out of them.  Yet Peter and this friend leave not knowing anymore than she does.  What else is there to do but to go back to the house until they decide what to do next?

But Mary stays and she is alone again...weeping.  Too much courage to leave, too devastated to remember.  Maybe it is no longer dark, but it doesn't matter. She can't appreciate the coming dawn. She can't see.

Not yet.

She takes one final look and much to her surprise there are two persons in the tomb.  Didn't Peter and the other just leave?  It doesn't matter, she has to find out where Jesus has been taken. So instead of asking who they are, when they ask why she is weeping, she explains.  Grief can make you blind and deaf. Too blind to see the hint of a new beginning and too deaf to comprehend what is being said to you. The text tells us that angels were addressing her.  She clearly didn't recognize them as such.  She just wanted to know how to complete the script she had come with.  She owed him that.  We don't know the angels' reply but she turns to leave and runs into Somebody Else.

"Where have you taken him?  If you would just let me know, I'll take him away from here."  She responds differently to his question about her weeping.    She's already decided that she will handle this herself this time. It doesn't seem that anyone else is willing to help.  And all these questions are not helping her complete her task. Maybe being more direct will get her point across. I'm sure she was in the midst of making her plans when she hears her name...She didn't recognize the angels but she recognized THIS voice.

Hearing Jesus call your name is the most beautiful sound in the world.  I'm sure it wasn't the first time she had heard it. And that voice had been silenced.She really didn't think she was going to hear it again. Knowing that time in her life was over was part of her grief, I'm sure. But moving on almost always starts with letting go.

Is it really him? He's not dead?...How?...  When?...Where?...and she reaches for him and the answers to her questions but isn't permitted to hold on to him.  THAT time is over. As beautiful as it was. Before she has a chance to realize that her mourning has turned to joy, she has a new assignment. So much more joyful than the one she had given herself yet with more responsibility, too.  Jesus asks this first ordained preacher to go and spread the Good News:  He has risen.

And so she goes.

To give the same hope that she has received.  To shed light on someone else's darkness by simply telling what she knows. She was not looking for it and didn't expect it.  Jesus could have chastised her for that.  But he didn't. He recognized her, gave her just enough time to let go of her script and embrace his. The time would come when she could rejoice for eternity but not now. Perhaps his response was not the one she wanted. Maybe he was moving a little too quickly. I know I would have preferred to talk before I left. A change that quick is always disorienting. But sharing the good news for our hope in Jesus Christ is not always convenient for us. And the seed for it is often planted in our most painful experiences.

But hope beyond hope can be found. Joy, light, direction can be found. Courage to speak the truth boldly can be found. Even if we can only start with steps that are overshadowed with grief, unfulfilled dreams, and low expectations.  If we have to courage to keep going, even while it is dark.