Friday, August 25, 2006

Grieving God's Heart

On the front page of our local newspaper yesterday, there was an article in the Cecil Whig about the department of Public Works confiscating the belongnings of at least eight homeless people in Elkton. These are people with NOTHING who now literally have absolutely nothing. I am still angry. These people, our most vulnerable citizens, were sleeping in an area behind a strip center of businesses in Elkton. One of the men managed to put some food and personal hygiene items in a back pack and hide it in a near by bush. But when he went to try to retrieve it, the police threatened to charge him with littering, carrying up to two years in jail and a $2,000 fine. He didn't get his stuff.

So my husband went to the Community Kitchen a week earlier than scheduled, to deliver kits with tolietries. They will be given to folks who need them. I expect that when we have the Kanal Kitchen meal tomorrow here at Trinity, there will many stories.

I called Carl Mazza, the leader of Meeting Ground. This ministry provides shelters for the homeless community in our County. He said he was blessed and encouraged by my call; I was glad to have someone understand and agree with my sorrow and anger. He said that he is so jaded after so many years in this ministry, that he cannot even get angry about it. He can only react. That made me hold even more tightly to my anger and passion, even as I was amazed at the simultaneous depth of his response and lack of anger.

Carl shared that on Sept. 6, there will be a county commissioner meeting in Elkton at 7p.m. I am encouraging folks to attend. (Unfortunately, I have a commitment to be in Washington D.C. that day/night.) He also said that Meeting Ground will be looking to partner with at least a dozen local churches to house a rotating shelter for folks on cold winter nights. Cecil County simply lacks the capacity to accomodate the homeless population that is now present. I hope and pray that our church family will be one of the first to say that we will welcome these folks into temporary shelter for at least one week this winter.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say "God helps those who help themselves" or "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps." And it certainly does not say "it is not our responsibility to give them a place to live" to quote Mr. Storke in the article.

But Scripture is filled with references to care for the poor, the stranger, and the alien among us. In the Hebrew Bible, God teaches us to remember that God delivered the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt. To honor God for all God has done, and to remember that God's people were once slaves, aliens, foreigners, and generally unwelcome people, God commands his people to care for folks who are in similar circumstances.

Translation: to show your love for God, and to remember your true indentity, show love and compassion for poor and oppressed folks.

Jesus continues this teaching in the New Testament when he says in Matthew 25 when we serve someone who is hungry, naked, sick, or in prison, we are serving Christ himself. The blessing of this flows two ways: the person in need has their material needs met, as well as experiences God's grace in action. The person providing for someone's material needs is given the blessing of seeing the face of Christ right here, right now.

I know that anger, when well directed, is a God given emotion to motivate change. I hope that God uses me and our community of faith to respond to this injustice. This is a matter of life and death; literally so for homeless folks. And for people of faith, it is a matter of spiritual life and death. To ignore this would to be ignore Christ.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Explaining Evil to a Four Year Old

Question: How do I answer my daughter, age four, when she asks me what evil is?

We pray the Lord's prayer every night. We also rotate among the Apostle's Creed and a prayer adapted from the Book of Common Prayer (Watch, O Lord, with those who wait, or watch, or weep tonight. Give your angels and saints charge over those who sleep. Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ. Rest your weary ones. Bless your dying ones. Soothe your suffering. Shield your joyous ones, all for your love's sake.)

So far, we have variously discussed the meanings of the words tend, weary, soothe, suffering, shield from the BCP prayer, and from the Apostles creed several words which have now escaped my memory.

But when she hears and says "deliver us from evil" and asks me to explain evil, I know my explanation is insufficient because she keeps asking. I am interested to hear your ideas.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More Sabbath Suggestions for Practice

I have been reading Wayne Muller's book Sabbath again, and he ends each chapter with suggested Sabbath practices. So here are some more ideas:

Silence: take time for silence. It is in the silence that God is found. For the constantly busy, silence can seem intimidating, even frightening. It may be that by allowing silence, all sorts of emotions and thoughts we want to avoid come to the surface. To begin to allow them to come is to allow spiritual depth to take root. It is to experienc life more deeply.

Silent Meditation: One form is to simply follow the breath. "Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Let yourself become aware of the physical sensation of the breath, feeling the shape, texture, and duration of the inhale and the exhale. Do not change your breathing, do not strain or push in any way. Simply watch the breath breathe itself. Feel the rhythm of the breath, feel its timing, the end of the exhale, the readiness to inhale. When the mind wanders, as it will, do not worry. Simply return to the awareness of your breath. Start with five minutes." Then think about what you have noticed about the rhythm of rest in your breathing and in your body.

Sabbath walk: this is a good way to spend silent time. Eugene Peterson and his wife take a Sabbath walk every Monday morning. They walk leisurely with out speaking, and break their silence with prayer over a picnic lunch. Then they share their reflections and observations.
A Sabbath walk does not have a destination. It is more of a stroll, an ambling. If you see something that looks interesting, stop and look at it. Move on when you feel ready. After 30 minutes, stop and reflect upon what has happened to your body, mind, and sense of time.

Sabbath box: Create a box to hold all of the things you won't need: palm pilot, wallet, computer disc to represent the computer, etc. You could write down worries, concerns, tasks still to be done, and put the scraps of paper in the box as a way of symbolically giving them over to God's care.

Prayer: these are Sabbath moments throughout the week. Choose a time, or a cue, for prayer. Does a bell ring at a particular time(s) in your daily routine? Use it as a cue for prayer. It can be a simple moment to connect with the divine rhythm.
(If you are interested in a book that offers written prayers five times per day, check out Phyllis Tickle's book trilogy The Divine Hours. I use these off and on and when I am on, I am blessed by them. Click here for a link to The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime. Click here for a link to The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime. Click here for Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime)

Lectio Devina: This is Spiritual Reading of Scripture. Choose a short passage of Scripture (or other inspirational/spiritual literature)and then quietly reflect on it. "Do not analyze or try to figure out its meaning. Allow it to quietly work on you, as leaven in bread, or water over a stone. The key is to read slowly, chew over the words, and allow them to quietly nourish and heal you."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Thank you notes

One of the foundational verses for the entire Protestant Reformation is Ephesians 2:8-10: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God- not the result of works so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

When I read this verse, I always think of Martin Luther, the Catholic priest/monk/Greet New Testament Scholar who founded the Protestant Reformation and ultimately the Lutheran Church. He was, by any one else's standards, a good and holy guy. But he lived in continuing fear that no matter how much good he did, it was never enough to ensure he would go to heaven. He was even told by his priest in his monestary not to come back to confession until he actually had some sin to confess. Luther was known to go to confession multiple times in one day, so great was his fear that he was not doing enough good to go to heaven.

Ephesians changed his life. Literally, it was the watershed that freed him from his fear that he was not good enough. It has been important in my journey too. It is a verse which proclaims that salvation is not my own doing- it is a gift of God's grace given to me through faith. For me, even faith was difficult. Ultimately, I discovered that faith and grace have much in common: they are both given as gifts by God. Often, they are inexplicably given, wrapped up in mystery that must simply be accepted, for it cannot be reasoned with.

The correct order of things is not 1. do all the good you can do and 2. hope that is enough to earn yourself a spot in heaven. According to Ephesians it is 1. Accept the gift of God's grace and 2. spend your life writing thank you notes.

The order of things really makes a difference. In the first scenario, I am left with nagging doubts about whether I am is "good enough." The real answer is actually, no, I'm not good enough. But God loves me just the way I am! And out of gratitude for that awesome truth, I spend my life writing God thank you notes. They look like good works. Ephesians 2 goes onto to talk about these in the verses 9-10.

I think it's really really important to be clear about the order of things. It is the difference between bondage and freedom, fear and love, worry and joy. I come across SO MANY folks who really are plugging along, trying to work their way into heaven. And I believe that God honors folks who do good. But there is little joy in this way of living. Thank you note living is a different story. Thank you note living is living each day gratefully, thankful for the Joy that is Jesus. It provides purpose, and a desire to serve God in the ways God has equipped me to serve. I don't have to do things I am not particularly gifted for becuase it's not about doing anything and everything I can find to do to ensure myself a spot. It's about discovering how to travel with God on this journey in ways that bless others and ultimately myself. It's about using my God given gifts not for earning points but for the sheer joy of serving and loving.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Fasting and Feasting

As I was reading yesterday to continue preparing for the sermon series on Sabbath that continues Aug. 13 and Aug. 20, I was struck by Marva Dawn's contention: we don't know how to feast because we don't know how to fast.

I have been trying to fast on Fridays (the day Jesus was crucified) for about the past month, and I was fasting when I read this. I guess my fast accomplished one its purposes: I paid more attention to something God wanted to communicate.

I have been trying to do a traditional fast from dinner to dinner. Basically, it is fasting through breakfast and lunch and then eating dinner. The past two weeks I have had to modify this because of an antibiotic I am taking that requires food in the morning. I have to admit that I have been ridiculously grateful for the excuse! God definitely has more work to do in me.

Food tastes SO GOOD on Friday nights. I cannot get over how much I enjoy eating on Friday nights. That is the point that Marva is making. If we live with simplicity through the week, and then feast on the Sabbath with special foods, we discover a new depth and meaning to feasting. She makes the point that Americans eat special food all of the time. As a result, the only thing we can think of for feasts like Christmas is to eat more. But when we live more simply, and even fast during the week, the Sabbath feast is truly a feast, a celebration of God's creation and abundance. It is a time to celebrate God providing for our needs and to honor God by making the day special with a feast. Also, it puts us in touch with those who are truly hungry and starving, because through fasting and feasting, we are able to identify with their experiences.

Feasting is also one of the dominant images for the Kingdom of God in Scripture. Jesus describes the Kingdom using feasting language, rooted in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) understanding of feasting. To have a deeper understanding of feasting is to experience a foretaste of what is to come. As Marva points out, it is a way of allowing the mystery of God to seep more deeply into our souls.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Sabbath brings us in touch with the world

I like this excerpt from Marva Dawn's book Keeping the Sabbath Wholly It speaks to me about why I am so drawn to Sabbath- for truly it is a part of participating in what God is doing to change the world.

"A Sabbath focus...does not remove us from the world; it simply gives us a larger perspective for plunging into its needs and sufferings more deeply. For example, our Sabbath feasting challenges us to become more involved in providing food for the hungry and economic possibilities for the oppressed. Our experience of the peace of God's presence in our Sabbath worship and our listening to Scripture texts that proclaim God's purposes of peace motivate us to become more active in working for peace in the world- serving as agents for reconciliation in our offices and neighborhoods, voting for local and national candidates who will work for global peace, contributing to agencies that build peace by establishing justice. Our celebration of the Sabbath festival gives us hope and strength and power for dealing with all the work and events of the week to come in worshipful ways. Most of all, Sabbath celebration gives us a deep sense of the Joy that is ours because of the resurrection of Christ, and that festival Joy equips us to glorify God in whatever tasks we might undertake in the following six days"

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


I have been thinking about encouragement the past two weeks. Last week I met with a clergy friend for whom I am acting as a mentor. Today, I had lunch with a clergy friend just to swap stories, share resources, and generally enjoy some time together.

I shared with my friend last week that I think discouragement is part of the nature of ministry. To serve as the pastor of a church is to experience discouragement- on a fairly regular basis. Perhaps this is because pastors, by definition, want to change the world. World changing experiences don't happen every day. The best thing to do is acknowledge it and pray through it.

I also think that this is has something to do with the nature of being alive. It seems to be a common human trait to focus on problems more than good things. It is really a spiritual discipline to practice reflecting on reasons to be grateful. I always remember one sermon I heard at my home church in the mid90s. The pastor talked about a modern day parable, in which the devil was asked if he had ever found a heart he could not tempt or penetrate in some way. His reply was that the only impenetrable heart he had come up against was a grateful heart. That was a word from the Lord for me. I still remember where I was sitting...Like some sort of shining aha moment in a movie.

So, on my way to lunch today, I thanked God for his love poured out for me on the cross and in the resurrection. God used that time of eating together to bless and encourage me even more. And now, as I sit here this afternoon with PILES of stuff to do, I think about all I have to be grateful for. I have a roof over my head, food on my table, a wonderful husband and children and extended family (my sister and her family are coming stay a few days as they move- yahoo!). I serve a church that I love, filled with loving, beautiful people, who do the Lord's work in so many ways... truly, I have reason to be encouraged.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

War and Sabbath

I continue to be blessed by this sermon series on Sabbath. As is often the case, I am one who needs to hear this.

As I have turned over in my mind the sermon from Sunday, I have reflected upon what it is to really rest- it goes far deeper than physical rest. As Marva Dawn so aptly points out, real rest is resting spiritually in God's grace and taking a break from trying to be God. It is resting emotionally, allowing God to heal us through relationship both with God (in solitude) and others (in community).

But it is the ideas of intellectual rest and social rest that have captured my imagination. Both Marva Dawn and Wayne Muller point out that we must rest from thinking and trying to solve problems, especially when the problems are big, life threatening ones like poverty, war. It is in the act of resting in God that one reaffirms God's presence and activity. It is in resting, too, that creativity and fresh perspective is given space to breath and exist. It is in this type of intellectual rest that social rest takes root: a person learns to trust in God's love that calls us precious just because we are created, and also learns to see others in this light. It's much harder to kill or oppress someone you love.

FDR Memorial:

Busyness, always rushing from one problem, challenge, crises, or issue headlong into the next one, seldom produces the results we long for. I read a heart rending reflection on the war in Lebananon. The writer, Linda Bales of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, talked of seeing a four year old Lebanese child dead in the street. How do we allow such things to happen?

At least part of the answer is that we are not intimately connected with the source of Love. Sabbath is a way of connecting with Love, of putting God at the head of all that we do, and for Christians, being formed into the image of Jesus Christ. If we were so connected, we would no sooner believe war is legitimate path to peace than we would believe that jumping off a cliff would solve all of our personal problems. Sabbath practice can bring a gentleness of spirit and a creative heart to whatever we are facing.

Speaking of war not being a path forward to peace, and war not honoring God's love for all humanity, I am reminded of my favorite placard at the last anti-war protest I attended on the D.C. mall. If you are sensitive to profane language, stop reading now. The placard said "Bombing for peace is like f@#%ing for virginity."
Generally, I am not big into using profanity to express myself, but I have yet to think of a better way to say that one.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sabbath Quote that hits home

Our Sabbath observance will not give us genuine rest if we use it merely as an excuse to be workaholics the rest of the week. Only in the sure knowledge that we don’t have to manufacture our success in life by our own efforts can we have the freedom not to be continuously working to make our own way.
Marva J. Dawn
Keeping the Sabbath Wholly

Wow- that really speaks to me about an attitude of faith. This is what I especially need to hold onto as a pastor.

Sabbath #2

First, some more reflections from Sunday, the first in the series. Isn't it fascinating that we have a hierarchy in our understanding of the ten commandments? Killing and Stealing are at the top of the no-no list. Then comes adultery... and the list varies slightly in order for everyone from there, with having no other gods (like materialism),lying, honoring father and mother in some vague order. Most who claim faith in any fashion would feel at least a twinge of guilt for taking the Lord's name in vain and coveting. But for many of us, Sabbath does not even make the list! Yet, only the commandment to have no other gods/avoiding idolatry has more verbiage than Sabbath. It is nearly the longest passage in the ten commandments, and in Scripture length and repetition communicate importance. If an average person were stopped on the street, would Sabbath even make the list of commandments mentioned?

Now, onto some more Sabbath practice suggestions....

Wayne Muller has written an outstanding book called Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives. As I am preparing for week 2 of a sermon series on Sabbath, I offer you some of his ideas for Sabbath practices. He closes every chapter with suggestions.

His suggestion for using Sabbath candles: "Find a candle that holds beauty or meaning for you. When you have set aside some time- before a meal, or during prayer, meditation, or simply quiet reading- set the candle before you, say a simple prayer or blessing for yourself or someone you love, and light the candle. Take a few mindful breaths....let the hurry of the world fall away."

For Creating time and space: "Sabbath can only being if we close the factory, turn out the lights, turn off the computer, and withdraw from the concerns of the marketplace. Choose at least one heavily using appliance or device- the telephone, television, computer, washer and dryer- and let them rest for a Sabbath period. Whether it is a morning, afternoon, or entire day, surrender to a quality of time when you will not be disturbed, seduced, or responsive to what our technologies have to offer. Notice how you respond to its absence."

Sabbath Meal: "Prepare a Sabbath meal, alone or with friends or family. Shop for the ingredients, choosing those that bring you the most pleasure. This food is not so much for survival as for sheer, savory delight. Put on some music, turn off the phone. Take as much time as you like to feel, taste, smell each ingredient, every spice, bread, and vegetable. Decorate the table with flowers, colorful placemats, and candles. Say a prayer. Give thanks, remembering all the people who grew, harvested, packed, shipped, and sold them for you. Give thanks for the bounty of the Earth. Enjoy."

To experience Sabbath moments of God's presence throughout the week: "In the Buddhist community of Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, periodically rings a Mindfulness Bell. Upon hearing the bell, everyone stops, and takes three silent, mindful breaths. They are free to continue their work, awakened ever so slightly to the Sabbath pause of mindfulness. We can choose anything to stop us like this- the telephone ringing, a stoplight when we are driving, whenever our hand touches a doorknob, before we eat or drink. Choose one common act during the day to serve as a Sabbath pause. Whenever it arises- whenever you touch a doorknob or hear a phone ring- simply stop, take three silent, mindful breaths, and then go through the door or answer the phone. See how it changes you to take these tiny moments every day."

If you are taking Sabbath days during this sermon series, please do let me know. Comment on your first experiences and/or send me an email.