Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sabbath #1

July 30 is the beginning of a four part sermon series entitled Rest and Renewal: A Sabbath Way of Life. It is based upon an excellent book by Marva J. Dawn entitled "Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting." As you can see from the subtitle, the book lends itself to....a four part series! This entire blog entry is based on her book.

In the July 30 sermon, I am inviting our church family to seriously practice Sabbath keeping, for at least four weeks. Then, on Wed. Aug. 23 at 6:30, folks are invited to meet for dinner at Bakers and share experiences.

To support this process, I am posting some Sabbath practice suggestions. This post will be the first of at least four, possibly more.

Since Sabbath practices are rooted deeply in our tradition, all the way back to the decalogue (ten commandments), it is appropriate to pay attention to Jewish practices. After all, they are much more historically practiced and the Sabbath is more central to Jewish practice (although it should be just as central for Christians).

The image you see above are Sabbath candles. There are two, representing the two passages of Scripture that command the Sabbath. Both are accounts of the Decalogue, one in Exodus 20, and one in Deuteronomy 5. The Exodus 20 passages begins with the word "remember" and the Deut. 5 passage with "observe." Thus the two candles are for "remember" and "observe."

(A word on rules and legalism: the point of all of is this to receive God's grace. So read these and find something that looks like a blessing. Do not be oppressed by the suggestions, just take what looks useful, and go with that.)

In Jewish tradition, Sabbath begins at sundown. You could begin your Sabbath then, at dinner time, bedtime, or when you awake in the morning. The two candles are lit, and this prayer, the Kiddush, is recited.
Blessed are Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast hallowed us by His Commandments and commanded us to kindle the Sabbath light!

After this prayer, you may...
- give thanks for all of the creation this past week and for the Joy of God's creating now an opportunity to cease from labor.
- pray about ways to spend the day and ask that these activities draw you closer to God and fill you more fully with a sense of God's presence in your life.
- pray for the Church, pastors, musicians, and others who contribute to worship around the world on Sundays. (Gives global perspective)p.12

You could then continue with an order of worship including
- Blessing of the children (laying hands on your children's heads and praying for them)
- Singing
- Blessing of the meal
- Eating and enjoying meal together
- Prayer at end of meal based on Deut 8:10
- Evening talking with family and friends, and studying Bible
A "God Hunt" to develop children's capacity to recognize God's work in every day lives.
1. Any obvious answer to prayer
2. Any unexpected evidence of God's care
3. Any unusual linkage or timing
4. Any help to do God's work in the world
Then a "God Hunt" for the adults at adult level conversation after children "hunt"

Another set of suggestions for family worship to welcome the Sabbath:
1. Keep it short and simple
2. Find a way for as many as possible to take part
3. Do not rely only on words; find simple symbolic gestures to represent the important parts of family life
4. Come to recognize the power of repetition
5. Invite others to join you
6. Have fun

Other Sabbath practice ideas:
-Put away anything that is related to work, so that it is out of sight.
-Take a Sabbath walk. If you live with other family members, you might all walk in silence and focus on God and God's creation, and then share reflections afterward.
-Don't run any errands, or shop, or do anything that qualifies as work, around the house or otherwise. To cease is to let God be God and simply stop, and enjoy God's presence, and all of the blessings of life.
- Remember the Sabbath is about letting go of control, of trying to secure our own future, and to trust in God's presence. There is no need to accomplish anything on this day. Let the dishes pile up- they will wait until tomorrow.

God certainly did not choose Israel because of their accomplishments or their productivity. They were the least among the people of the ancient Near East. They were rebellious and self-centered. They constantly failed to keep their end of the covenant relationship with Yahweh. So God's love for them is related not to what they do, but to his character as the eternal "I AM."
This is what we celebrate on the Sabbath day. We join with the generations of believers- going al the way back to God'’s people, the Jews- who set aside a day to remember that we are precious and honored in God's sight and loved, profoundly loved, not because of what we produce.
To celebrate God's love on our Sabbath also transforms us that we can more deeply value others in the same way.


I love to snuggle my children. I find it sacred time. My daughter Shannon has always been a snuggle bug. Even at age four she is always up for a good snuggle. Although it has been more than two years since we rocked her to sleep, she still occasionally asks to be rocked for a few minutes.

My son Jacob is another story. He did not come out of the womb snuggly. He has always been too busy. He prefers a ride on my hip, pointing the way to our next destination. If I ask, he might give me a "hug." This consists of his resting his little head on my shoulder for about two seconds. He is still being converted to snugglebuggness. Although he is almost two, I remain resolute in my attempts to show him the value of a good snuggle.

It's a different story at bedtime. At bedtime, he happily climbs in my lap for his snuggle. I say to him "snuggle Mommy to go night night" and he nods his head as he snuggles in. Within fewer than five minutes, he is usually asleep. I often snuggle him well past this time, just because I can.

Why is snuggling sacred? I think because it is about being entirely present to my child. There is nothing to accomplish other than being close together. There is no doing, just being. I often pray for my children as we snuggle. And I reflect upon how God wants to just cradle us in divine arms, if only we sit still to just BE.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Just War

The doctrine of "just war" is something that regularly comes to mind. Every time I hear a news broadcast about the war in Iraq, and now the war between Israel and Lebanon, always it is in the back of my mind.

I was driving to Town Point church last night for the final evening worship service of the summer, and heard a report of hand to hand combat among Israeli and Hezbollah soldiers. All I could think of were men, each of them the beloved son of a mother and father, fighting for their lives. It brought tears. It brings tears again. A flash of fear strikes my heart- what if my two year old son is some day fighting in a war? I try not to envision my children's future for them- I want them to discover it for themselves on an adventure with God. But having my child fight a war would be heart breaking beyond words.

I think of the FDR memorial in DC with the great quotes by this president. "I have seen war....I hate war." I can scarcely imagine how damaging it is to the fabric of each human being fighting- both to the person who is injured or killed, and the person physically unscathed who will always carry memories of their actions that injured and killed. This is why there is a syndrome called post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that has been identified since at least the Vietnam war. One of my seminary professors who fought in Vietnam to this day cannot watch war movies.

People have known how horrible war is for a VERY long time. Long enough that the Christian church developed a doctrine about what constitutes a just war all the way back in the fourth century. For the first three centuries, Christians were by definition pacifist, strictly interpreting Jesus' Sermon on the Mount about loving enemies. Then the Roman empire was sacked, and Saint Augustine wrote about just war theory. It became so widely accepted in western culture, that up until the war in Iraq, it was considered the baseline. Bush's doctrine of preemptive war is, ironically, unorthodox from a Christian perspective.

The Just War Theory asks these three questions, and all of these conditions must be satisfied in order for a war to be called just.
1. What are acceptable reasons for going to war?
To protect human rights and ensure basic decencies for human life (basically, defensive responses to inhumane actions)
2. When is war acceptable if human rights are in danger? All five of these criteria must be met:
a. If the good outweighs the evil of war
b. If there is a legitimate ruler in leadership
c. If the purpose of getting involved is to restore peace/fight for justice.
d. If all other options have been exhausted
e. If there is a reasonable chance of winning
3. How is war to be conducted? With proportional tactical goals, and discrimination in avoiding harm for non combatants.

The Bush doctrine of preemptive war is rooted not in the defensive mode of just war theory but in the offensive idea of addressing a serious issue by using war as the primary instrument.

Why do I write such things on my blog? I guess because I take seriously the value of life. I truly believe life is a sacred gift from God, and that this is true for all life regardless of what country or even faith a person is born into. And I also suspect that many of us who hold such values have never been taught just war theory. I did not learn it (or at least remember learning it) until I went to Seminary. Perhaps if more people were well versed in such things, we could find a way forward that honors these values.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Right after I posted mystery and meaning, I read an email with this quote:

In times of great change [which is always] learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.

--Eric Hoffer and Richard Rohr

I think it captures something of the essence of living life in mystery and meaning.

Mystery and Meaning...worth giving my life for

On Sunday, I concluded my sermon by asking folks what they are giving their lives for. Economists have a term for this: opportunity cost. Time spent one way costs the opportunity of all of the other ways that time could have been spent.

The gospel of Mark chapter 6 was the focus. God's mission for us was the question at hand. It is tremendously freeing and empowering to become clear about what I am giving my life for. Every person is giving their life to something(s). That is just another way of saying how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Being clear that God's mission for me in the world is the lens through which everything else is evaluated gives me my sense of meaning and purpose.

This also means I must be comfortable with mystery, and even embrace it. This is part of the essence of faith. I do not have all of the answers, or even understand all of the questions. I am not in control of most of life.

Yesterday, I had a great lunch conversation with a clergy friend. He and I are both comfortable with mystery. I find it enormously comforting that God is so big, it is impossible for human beings to understand God and life completely. It's almost like reading a mystery novel. Life is much less interesting if we know everything about the plot to come. I love the fact that I could talk and think endlessly about God, and the life God has for me and all others, and still never reach the end of interesting conversation. Even more, I love the fact that this God who loves me completely has a purpose for my life. All I have to do is give myself over to it.

This is true for everyone, not just pastors. It is part of the essence of the good news. I see my role as pastor as helping people see with eyes of faith to understand this mysterious truth in particular: that God has a purpose for each life God has created.

(I use the word purpose, not plan, intentionally. I do not believe God has laid out every jot and tittle of my life to come. That would eliminate free will. But God has a purpose for me to fulfill, and there are a myriad of avenues that lead in this direction. I also hasten to add that I am very uncomfortable with Christians who claim to understand everything about God's plan for the world, and say things like 9/11 happened because of "abortionists and homosexuals" as Jerry Falwell did.)

When every decision, from what type of employment to seek, to what type of stuff to buy or not buy... what type of service is done in the church and community... whether to spend money on a vacation or tithe to God's church... what is most important to teach children (is kindness more valued than competition? Is prayer more important than TV? Is snuggle time worth stopping everything for? Is worshipping God more important than sports?)...Every decision can either bind me closer to God's will for my life, or take me farther away from it.

The more I live my life seeking God's purposes, the more infused with meaning every aspect of my life becomes. I limit eating in restaurants, and drive a 7 year old car for a good reason: I am choosing to give 10% of my income for God's mission in the world. I spend time in prayer, and in a covenant group, and practice spiritual disciplines because I want to grow in the Spirit. I don't spank my children because I want them to embrace peaceful conversation over violence as a way of settling disputes. I do not support the war in Iraq because it does not meet the Christian doctrine for a just war. I exercise because I want to honor God and take good care of the body God has given me. The list goes on....

Hopefully, the more time I spend on this journey, the more beautiful the mystery will become for me.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Perspectives on Children

My husband Ray and I had experienced a rite of passage on Sunday. We were able to sit down at a family birthday party...for almost the entire party. As any one experienced with toddlers knows, this is a long awaited event. For the past four years, all holidays, parties, and families gatherings of all kinds have been a tag team event. One parent sits, while the others plays defense, guarding the kids more closely than a star basketball player. No conversation ever reaches a natural conclusion, because the parent playing defense needs a break, and the parent on the bench has to get on the court mid conversation. Our four year old daughter Shannon has been fine for a while, but for our almost two year old son Jacob, this was our first time.

Guess what? Our extended family are interesting and fun to sit and talk with! I knew this of course, but it had been so long since I had actually experienced it, is was something of a distant memory.

I had a great conversation with Ray's cousin Jill. We were talking about kids in our world today, and the pressures put on them by our school system. I bemoaned all of the teaching to the test that is dominating our school systems. Too often this crowds out real learning and keeps kids from finding their own niche and interests for learning. Educators who understand this is a problem are fighting against a system currently deaf to these concerns. She shared about how difficult it is for one of her children, who has a learning disability. It is challenging To function in a world that values only academic excellence, and not God given differences.

I reflected upon one of the great Protestant reformers, John Calvin. He is a theologian who literally changed the world with his ideas. When he was writing, teaching, and preaching in the 16th century, he taught that God has given each person unique gifts and abilities, and that our vocation in life is to live these out. This sounds tame today, but in Calvin's time, the feudal system was still entrenched. His teaching led to riots, even sending him in exile in fear for his life. The dominant world view was that a person's vocation was determined by the circumstances of their birth. If you were born to a carpenter, you became a carpenter. If you were born a farm hand on the land of a wealthy land owner, you spent your days tending the farm. Calvin's teaching challenged the entire economy and world view of the day. And it won. It is a fundamental notion in our own society in the United States.

But we have perverted this understanding. His teaching is that each person should use their gifts and talents to the best of their ability to glorify God in all they do. Capitalism changed it to the idea that each person should compete with all of that they have in order to the top of the materialistic heap. Thus the competition begins early in at least middle school, often in elementary school, sometimes all the way down to preschool. Regardless of how academically gifted a child may be, they are taught in subtle or not so subtle ways that the only thing of value is to get good grades. Good grades will lead to good college choices. Good college education will lead to a high paying job. And a high paying job is what everyone wants and needs. Kids who cannot compete in this way for a variety of reasons, ranging from the way God created them to the socioeconomic and/or family sytstems they live in, are considered "problem kids."

The vast majority of kids will grow up to be average ordinary citizens. If the only thing our society values are the small percentage who "make it," then we have stopped equipping the majority of our kids for the world. And we have certainly not taught them that God has created them special and unique, with inherent value by virtue of being God's.

What if each child was raised to value their own abilities, whatever they might be? What if each child were taught that glorifying God with their lives, in whatever ways God has given them abilities, is what life is all about? For truly, it is.

When I pray for my kids at night, and whenever I have the privilege of blessing a new born baby in our church family, I pray that God will give me/us the grace and wisdom to help to raise them into the person that God intends for them to be. I know children are a gift from God, and my role is to take good care of the precious lives God has entrusted me with caring for. Christians have a word for taking care of what belongs to God: Stewardship. Stewardship is what we actually spend our lives doing- caring for and using the abilities God has given, the resources of time and money and possessions we are entrusted with. Everything is a gift from God on loan for a while.

How far the world has come from John Calvin's teaching.

(An interesting footnote: when I spell checked this, using the webhost blogspot service, the computer did not know the word Stewardship. How far indeed.)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ministry Among the Poor

I just read an outstanding blog entry by a United Methodist Pastor named Mike Mather. He serves in Indianapolis, Indiana. To read the post, click here.

I agree with him on several points. First, our heritage as a movement is rooted in ministry among the poor. This does not mean handouts from middle class folks to poor folks. It means that when Wesley was preaching, if you called yourself Methodist, you were very likely a poor person. These are our roots.

Second, we are commanded by Christ to be in ministry among the poor because this is where we are most likely to experience God. It is not a one way street. Materially wealthier folks need materially poorer folks- it helps the wealthier to see God.

Matthew 25 says that when we serve the poor, we are serving Christ himself. Simply put, if you want to see the face of God, spend time with materially poor folks. Spiritual riches lie here, on a number of levels.

Finally, what would it look like if our ministry was shaped by commitment to the poor? I think the church would look like the kind of family Jesus intends for Christians to be in.

The War, Continued

I just read a statement about the war that comes from the UMC that I also share. It is written by the General Board of Church Society, our Church's representatives in Washington DC. Click here to read it.

A New War in the Middle East

Today I met with two folks in our church family. We were discussing the Kanal Kitchen, one of our feeding ministries. It is always revealing to hear what comes in up conversation. Today, it was the war in the middle east. They had questions. They had a story about his 14 year old becoming fearful after seeing a tag line on the TV news about World War 3.

So I share this article from Sojourners. They are a Christian group whom I respect, and Jim Rice has written a good article.

I linked it, and I also copied it below.

The new war in the Middle East
by Jim Rice

What is the proper, appropriate response of a nation to violent attacks by terrorists or other radical extremists? We have seen one model illustrated in the response of the British government to last year's attacks on London's public transportation system, in which 52 people were killed and 700 injured. The British rightly understood the attacks as terrorist acts, but responded in a measured manner, dealing both with the investigation of the terrible crime and the need for enhanced security in its wake. Pointedly, the British did not opt for a military response to these acts of terror.

We have also, of course, seen an altogether different model of response, perhaps most clearly exemplified by the U.S. invasion of two countries - one of which was an actual source of the terror - following the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001.

Unfortunately, it seems to be in the latter spirit that Israel responded to terror attacks in the past fortnight. Provoked by the Hamas kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, Israel not only invaded the northern Gaza Strip but also destroyed a significant portion of Gaza's infrastructure, including airstrikes against Gaza's power grid.

Likewise, days later, when the Syrian-backed terror group Hezbollah seized the opportunity to raid northern Israel and capture two Israeli soldiers, Israel responded with a massive attack on Lebanon's civilian structures, from the Beirut airport to a dairy factory, civilian buses, bridges, power stations, and medical facilities, according to reports. Hezbollah responded by firing hundreds of rockets a day - more-modern, longer-range rockets than in the past - aimed intentionally at neighborhoods in Haifa and other Israeli cities. The result, not surprisingly, has been the death of many civilians on all sides.

The situation is clearly complicated by the role of Hezbollah as a part of the coalition government of Lebanon, which seems unable or unwilling (probably both) to disarm Hezbollah, which effectively controls the southern part of the country. The new warfare in the Middle East is also made worse by the sinister political manipulations of both Syria and Iran, who seek to increase their own power in the region no matter the human cost.

But Israel's use of military attacks in response to acts of terror raises many questions. The most important, perhaps, revolves around the issue of legitimate self defense vs. collective punishment. Israel is indeed surrounded by sworn enemies, including many who are demonstrably willing to violently destroy Israel. But does the real need for security justify the massively disproportionate response to an act of terror? Is the collective punishment of an entire population ever morally and ethically justified? As Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, put it in statement July 14, "The Holy See condemns both the terrorist attacks on the one side and the military reprisals on the other," stating that Israel's right to self-defense "does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations." The statement said further, "In particular, the Holy See deplores the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation."

Even apart from the ethical questions raised by Israel's massive retaliation, there are significant issues of efficacy: Does it work? Is Israel made more secure by a militarized approach? Israel has destroyed 42 bridges in Lebanon this week, along with 38 roads, communications equipment, factories, runways and fuel depots at the Beirut airport, and the main ports of Beirut and Tripoli. And along with the material devastation, the attacks constitute a terrible, possibly even fatal, threat to Lebanon's fragile and fledgling democracy.

Does the destruction of much of Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, so painstakingly rebuilt after years of civil war and occupation by both Israeli and Syrian forces, bode well for future peace between the neighboring states? In sum, will the Israeli attacks bring long-term security for Israel, or will they further ensure that the next generation of Lebanese and Palestinians - across the theological and political spectrum - grow up with an undying hatred in their hearts?

The violence of Hezbollah and Hamas should be unequivocally condemned and opposed. It cannot be ignored or underestimated that the two terrorist organizations have as their goal the eradication of Israel. However, much U.S. media coverage of this new Middle East war paints a misleading picture of a tit-for-tat equivalency between the two sides: Hezbollah explodes a bomb in Israel, Israel responds in kind. While their intentions are indeed malevolent, the two terrorist groups have nowhere near the military capability of Israel, which wields one of the most powerful military forces in the world (with the aid, of course, of more than $3 billion per year from the United States). The death toll in Lebanon in the first six days of the war has been tenfold that in Israel - according to The New York Times, 310 people, most of them civilians, have died in Lebanon while Israel has suffered 27 casualties, 15 of them civilians, since Israel began its attacks. (Similarly, 4,064 Palestinians and 1,084 Israelis have been killed since Sept. 29, 2000, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Israel Defense Forces, respectively.)

One of the most difficult aspects of trying to be a peacemaker in the Middle East context is the "separation wall" of understanding between the two peoples. The very definition of what is happening is understood in vastly different ways by the two sides. Supporters of Israel see the country attacked by its sworn enemies, and see in its response a necessary and justified act of national self-defense. Others see the region's most powerful military force (supported by the world's most powerful military force) illegally occupying Palestinian land and engaging in massive, disproportionate attacks on innocent civilians.

As Christians committed to the cause of peace, our role is not to "take sides" in the struggle, in the traditional sense, but rather to constantly stand for the "side" of a just and secure peace. We can ignore neither the horror of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians (including direct attacks on school children) nor the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories (with all its "collateral damage" to Palestinian children). We must have the vision and courage to stand against the acts of violence by terrorist organizations, as well as the massive state violence by the region's military superpower, while avoiding the trap of positing a false "equivalency" between actions that are not equal.

We cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the political, strategic, and moral complexity of the situation to stand back and do nothing. A first step toward a more comprehensive resolution is an immediate operational cease-fire. But that must be followed by a new way of thinking because, as a U.N. official put it yesterday, "The Middle East is littered with the results of people believing there are military solutions to political problems in the region."

Jim Rice is editor of Sojourners magazine.

A few things that can be done:

Be consistent in denouncing the violence of both sides - especially when it is deliberately aimed at civilians (or targets where great civilian "collateral damage" will be the result).

Pray for the emergence of new political leadership on both sides - both of which seem bereft of creative, courageous, moral, or even pragmatic leadership.

Challenge any religious voices that seem utterly one-sided, completely neglecting the suffering and legitimate grievances of both sides.

Pray for new ways for Christians and our churches to join our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters in finding real and practical solutions for a just peace in the Middle East where two states can live with security and democracy.

And pray for better solutions than endless war to solve the real threats of terrorism in our world, because if we fail, all of our children will be at risk.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Binky Update

Good news on the binky front. If you read my post several weeks ago about my daughter Shannon and her first extemporaneous prayer, you know she prayed not to be so upset about her binky being gone. God answered that prayer! She has not cried for them since.

After being away for last week, our kids were of course clingy when we arrived home. On Sunday night, Shannon had a really hard time settling down to sleep and letting me leave the room. I do not like leaving the room with her in tears, but leaving her without firm boundaries is worse, so I left the room, tears and all. I told her as I was leaving that she could talk to God.

The next day, as we were driving, she said to me, "Mommy, I talked to God last night. It did help a little."

Nothing brings me laughter and awe all at once like my children. Truly God is with them.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Law of Flat Space

My father taught me about the law of flat space. It is this: if there is a flat space, something will be placed on it. My dining room table and the desk in my office are testimony to the truth of this law. I am truly blessed with a husband who has accepted me, clutter and all.

It is not that I don't want to be organized and clutter free. It's just that...something more important always gets in line ahead of such things as cleaning my desk. Like today- covenant group meeting, lunch with a church leader, and then time spent with a grieving family preparing for a funeral. You have to admit, these are pretty good excuses.

But the last straw came today, when I found in my in bin the book I had asked Sandy to order for me. And I found it again, on my desk, where it had been buried for several months. I am now the proud owner of two copies. Woops! I now have a home and an office copy. Fortunately, it is a reference book of which I could actually use two. This discovery led me to actually uncover an entire 8.5 x 11 inch flat space on my desk. I thought of taking a picture, but I didn't want you to see the surrounding clutter. You understand...

There is always something better to do than organize, file, straighten, and sort. But these next five weeks are going to be different! I am going to tackle this problem....and hopefully find a way to get better organized, and prevent such clutter from ....making me order two copies of the same book!

Christians, especially Methodists, talk about something called going onto perfection. It actually refers to being made perfect in love. I am truly grateful that clutter is not anywhere a part of the doctrine. The idea of "Christian perfection", also called "entire sanctification," is that it is possible for God to make someone perfect in their ability to love God and neighbor. It is an admittedly rare occurrence.

I like to say that this doctrine is one of the reasons I look forward to being a Christian all of my days. I want to see if and how God is going to pull this off. Who knows...if God can make human beings perfect in our ability to love, perhaps God can find a way to enable me to get rid of my clutter. I am certain that would answer one of my husband's prayers.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


First, a note about this week. Ray and I leave for Boston in the morning, and will be gone until Saturday evening. The Lewis Fellowship in which I participate is meeting there and Ray and I are combining continuing education with some time away. So, I may or may not get to blog again this week.

Now, onto the topic of this entry. If it's Sunday night, it must be.....Sermon reflection time.

I really enjoyed preaching today. We had our women's retreat on Saturday, and I was reflecting then about how much I feel balanced again. I have finally gotten back to my sense of God's rhythm and grace. Thanks be to God.

This is part of the reason I so enjoyed today's lectionary texts. And I stressed/worked less on this sermon than any other in recent memory. This was partly because I felt so in tune, and partly because the lectionary involved one of my favorite verses of Scripture: My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. (2Cor.12:9)

The gospel lesson was the first two pericopes in Mark 6. It's the story of Jesus being rejected in his own hometown, followed by Jesus sending out the disciples two by two with instructions to travel light. Very light. With, well, nothing. My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.

It strikes me that Jesus must have been through a heart wrenching time...preaching to the folks you grew up with, only to have them reject you? I would have been crushed. Scripture does not tell us Jesus' emotions, except that he makes a comment that a prophet is only without honor is his own hometown. I can hear a hint of bitterness there.

So what does Jesus do when he is rejected? He turns around and sends the disciples out to preach, teach, and heal. He invites them to depend entirely upon God, to the point of shaking the dust from their feet if they come to a place that is not receptive to the message. It is up to God whether the folks they meet are receptive or not. It's not about their own abilities to preach/teach/heal. Jesus reacted to his rejection by witnessing to the truth that when we feel most ineffective, that is precisely when God is most able to use us. My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.

When I am feeling discouraged, rejected, isolated, useless, powerless, vulnerable, weak...whatever it is, God's grace holds me up. In fact, it is when I am most vulnerable that God is most powerful. Amazing. Awesome. And that is of course the message of the cross.

I remember the first time I was asked to go visit someone in the hospital. It was my first year of Seminary, and the senior pastor where I served on staff just walked in and said, "you need to go to the hospital and visit them." I gulped and said "ok." I was terrified. I said very little. Mostly I sat there, and then prayed.

I could not believe how grateful they were when I next saw them. They told me how much of a blessing my time spent with them had been. It was God working through me, not me, that did anything useful. Of that I am certain. My grace is sufficient for you, for power if made perfect in weakness.

I think this is one of those truths that don't make sense until it is experienced first hand. Really, I find that is true about much of the life of faith.

My favorite image of God's grace is that of a river. We have the choice to either jog beside the river, in which case we are close to God but working hard at it. Or, we can get in the river and float with the current of grace. My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.

Right now, the water is feeling good. Hopefully, I'll be able to stay off the jogging path a while longer.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


I am reading a new book by Marva Dawn. It is The Sense of the Call: A Sabbath Way of Life for Those Who Serve God, the Church, and the World . I really like this author.

She is one of two authors with whom I have shared the experience of buying a book of hers, only to get home and discover I have more of her writing already on my bookshelf. The other author this has happened with is James Howell. Neither author is especially well known, and apparently their names were not so memorable to me! But their subject matter is so compelling, that I end up buying multiple pieces of their work without even realizing I am buying the same author.

Marva has written extensively on Sabbath. This current book is leading me to seriously consider a sermon series on Sabbath.

She writes about the importance of Sabbath in maintaining a sense of call to ministry. Without Sabbath, it is possible to believe it is all up to me. Sabbath reminds me that ultimately kingdom work is God's work, and I am just an instrument. Ceasing from work reminds me who is truly leading and working. Without Sabbath, it is also possible to get a savior complex and believe the world cannot survive without me.

God created people with a need for this Sabbath rhythm. Without at least day to lie fallow, and rest in God, I lose all of my creative energy. Today, I feel like I am just recovering my spiritual energy and rhythm. I have been out of rhythm for several weeks, and I am grateful for the renewed sense of balance and trust.

Thinking about Sabbath makes me think about busyness. Marva makes the case that pastors should not be overcome with busyness. That is a worldly rhythm, not a kingdom rhythm. I think she is right. Busyness communicates that not having enough time for people. And it's really about relationship. Relationship is nourished in the soil of time and presence.

I hope to grow in my ability to eschew the world's perspective that busyness is a sign of success and importance. I'd like to hear myself saying much more often that I am doing absolutely nothing- that would certainly be counter cultural!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Citizenship in What Kingdom

For obvious reasons, I have been thinking about citizenship. This was the first Fourth of July that Shannon, our four year old daughter, was old enough to grasp something of the holiday. We explained that it is the birthday of our nation. She understands birthdays.

I hope that she grows into a woman who understands that her primary citizenship rests in the Kingdom of God, and that everything else is secondary. It seems to me that many citizens of the United States, including people of faith, have a tendency to consider citizenship in a country as important, or even more important, than the Kingdom of God.

We listened to Jason Alexander on the radio, hosting the Capital Fourth, as we drove to the fire works display in Newark. He thanked our service men and women for "keeping us safe" while our country was "again at war." I was reminded again how much respect I have for people willing to risk their lives for what they believe.

But I also found myself thinking: Is that really where safety comes from? Armed people, fighting others? That is not what Scripture says. Scripture is filled with references to peace, referring to the absence of war, not just some warm fuzzy feeling. Isaiah talks about beating our swords into plowshares. Jesus preached about loving our enemies and turning the other cheek. Jesus' disciples hoped he was going to lead Israel to a military victory over the Roman occupiers. Instead, he died on a criminal's cross, so that ALL could be saved, not just one generation of Israelites. An unlikely path, to be sure.

What if we had armies of people devoted to laying down their lives for the gospel? Willing to "keep us safe," by risking love rather than responding in fear and hatred? (War cannot happen without some fear and hatred- people are just not created to kill people without the ability to dehumanize them in some form.) What if these soldiers fought, not by bearing arms, but through loving, non-violent action? This is the kingdom in which I want to claim citizenship.

Howard Thurman, a theologian and pastor who influenced Martin Luther King Jr., wrote eloquently in his book Jesus and the Disinherited
He was writing in the 1940s, and included a story about a white man who shared with Thurman that he was not teaching his children to hate black people. Thurman concurred that this white man understood something that is vital for the disinherited to know- once you allow yourself to hate someone, it's not too much further down the road to hate others. And hate has a way of getting out of control.

There are many Kingdom values embedded within our nation's values. But there are also many contradictions to kingdom values. War and lack of care and compassion for the poor come immediately to mind. And when push comes to shove, I am God's citizen first.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Faith and Ambiguity

I was at Camp Pecometh this week. From Sunday night through Friday afternoon, I was the "Spiritual Life Coordinator," leading Bible Study and worship for Middle School aged youth. I was grateful to have a relatively light schedule of only three studies per day and one worship service per evening. I also had some time for retreat, reading, and reflection.

I had a chance to spend some time with Jack Shitama, the Camp Director, who is also a part of our community of faith in Chesapeake City. (He is preaching again at Jacob's Well on July 9.) We got to talking about the nature of faith, and he reminded me of something Dr. Laurence Hull Stookey said. One cannot have strong faith without being able to handle ambiguity.

This has certainly been my experience. Black and white are hard to come by. But the Great Mystery that is our God is amazing to experience. I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes. It is by the poet Ranier Marie Rilke. He writes in letters To A Young Poet:
I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer

It is ironic that I would be having these thoughts as I was teaching Bible study to Middle schoolers. Life is still black and white at this age. That is part of the reason I enjoyed being at Camp. And I hope God used some of what I said and did to plant seeds that will bear fruit for the Kingdom, now and in the future.

I think that once a person of faith gets to really trying to put faith into action, praying, serving the poor, living a life of reconciliation and forgiveness, reflecting on God's will for the world and one's individual life, things become muddy. The church throughout the ages, literally almost since its inception, has wrestled with the balance between purity and unity, sin and grace. As soon as we begin reaching into the world in love, we find that the world is a messy place.

Another of my favorite quotes, this one by GK Chesterton:
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried