Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Larry Died Today

Larry died today
and I found myself
these past days
and weeks – looking –
without realizing – 
for signs – not wonders –
just signs – just a little hint,
Lord, that all is well with Larry,
that all would be well with
Larry, that even as we’re here,
and he was here and not here,
that You are here with us and
more, there, wherever there is,
with him – and who knows about
such things – do I see what I’m 
looking for?  Or did you really 
send some signs to a little ole’
country preacher – was it you
when I saw Larry’s profile, hugged
by a mother, in last evening’s clouds?
Was it you?  Or even Larry?  In the 
swirling dervish of autumn leaves
swirling and swirling round me and
running, like a teasing child, across
the road, taking the leaves with you,
like when Larry used to mulch and
mow and rake and gather and cart
away the many leaves of fall – 
a tender by nature, Larry tended
these grounds I inhabit so very well – 
the leaves did dance around and then
away from me – but leaving a few 
behind in my rocking chair – 
in the hours after – 
when he has gone and we are left
and wondering what to do with
ourselves now in the aftermath, in 
the gone-ness of this thing that was
a life?  I do not know which of you it was
– but I was looking for signs without
even knowing I was looking and 
somehow, I got my answer, didn’t I?
And that is enough and good enough
and more than enough and Larry is
fine and more than fine and it is another
day and the leaves are dancing and 
signs and wonders are abounding
and I?  Well, I suppose I am grateful.
Thanks for the leaves – always the 
perfect leaving – how do you do it?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Ether of Unkept Things

That place where the things
we should have let go of a very
long time ago – but didn’t – 
yeah, where those things go –
the ether of unkept things –
there is where I hope – or
hope never – to find, for these,
after all, are the things un-kept –
regrets – a whole sea of them – 
guilts and shames and memories
unbidden or bidden that stoop
the shoulders and bend the back
with the sheer weight of them
losses that were for the better
had I but known at the time
chances not taken, fears claimed
that should have been left behind
in unclaimed baggage long ago

there, in the ether of unkept things
do I imagine floating about – it is,
I think, the nature of unkept things
to float – angry letters written and
sent or not, their harm no more – 
friendships severed by time and
distance and change of circumstance –
tangible things – the baubles of 
existence – that necklace, this old
chair – all the things that seemed so
essential in their time – now floating
free form in the ether of the unkept

it’s not sad there – it is just –

Friday, September 26, 2014

She Caught Me Two Years Early

It’s one of those mother-daughter conversations, “have you had your mammogram?” she asks.  “I got the schedule,” I answer, parrying.

“Well, you’re the age I was, you know.”

“No.  You were – well, how old was dad?”

We both know we’re talking about how old my father was when he died – 61, mom says.  I am surprised – I was sure he was 63.  But no.  61.  Which means my mother was 59 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  


Same as me.


I take her point.

I just thought I had a couple more years is all.

Hoist on the petard of faulty math.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

What is Love?

A young man, still a boy, describes listening to the favorite music of his girl-friend and thinking to himself, this is love - not the music, but the awareness of her, as a separate other from him and I think how wonderfully wise this gift he has been given truly is – this gift of knowing another for themselves, separate from ‘me’.

What is love?  It is so many things, eh?

Love is the quiet sitting together on the porch talking quietly into the night about inconsequential things with consequential people.

Love is holding your own father in your arms like a baby as he stands dying.

Love is Auden’s quick-gasp recognition of all of the other-ness of each of us, sitting outside on a sunny day.

Love is caring for another even when you don’t feel like it – especially when you don’t feel like it.

Love is traversing uncharted territory with the heart of an explorer, the spirit of a monastic, the enthusiasm of a child.

Love is the purview of poets and the landscape of farmers.

Love is riding a tide of change like a pro.

Love is having your heart take up residence somewhere outside your own body.

Love is dangerous that way.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bonhoeffer for Breakfast

Bonhoeffer for breakfast
the dying dance of life
for lunch
a mother distraught for
mid-day almost tea
a trip over the mountains
and to another state (of being)
and drugs for the dying
for a snack
tea and sympathy for supper
standing on the porch 
smoking cigarettes and talking
in that passing-the-time way
of neighbors and friends now
comrades in arms as he lay
dying for a late-night repast

the table was laden today
and of it all I did eat

Sunday, September 21, 2014

An Ungrateful Scoffing of Rain

It’s unseemly to be ungrateful.
There’s lots worse places weather wise on this planet.


yesterday was one of those days 
that catapults me in alternating hate and hope – 
hate of the heat and humidity, 
hope when the rain comes of a cleansing, 
only to look at the sky with a practiced eye 
declaring to no one but myself, 
yeah, you won’t last long – 
and be right, more’s the pity.


Summer segues to fall, autumn
this first day of the officialdom
of change – as if the leaves falling
stop to notice when it’s time –
or not – as if rain is more forthcoming
when summer segues to fall –
as if the false promise becomes more
real in the clean air of the autumnal promise

and so again the rain comes
and still, and yet,
yeah, you won’t last long –
and I am still right.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

10 Tips on Intercessory Prayer in the Moment

As people of faith, we are called to pray with and for each other.  The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know.  1 Timothy 2.1 (The Message).

As Protestants, some of us have forgotten that prayer is the work of all God’s people, relegating the ‘job’ to professional pray-ers (think pastor here).  But we are a priesthood of believers, understanding since the great Reformation, as well as before, that praying for others is the work of all believers, not merely the few.

Some of us are pretty good about praying for other people, but not so good about praying with them, hence these suggestions to consider about praying out loud with another person:

1. Everybody stumbles over their words and so will you.  Take comfort that even the Billy Grahams of this world stumble over their words too.

2. Remember when someone prayed with and for you right on the spot - wasn’t that so much better and more comforting for you than a promise to pray for you later?  If it was that way for you, it’s that way for others too.

3. Practice praying out loud when you are alone - practice really does make things easier.

4. Memorize scriptures that can be prayed.

5. Memorize set prayers or quotes that have been helpful to you in the past.

6. Don’t be afraid of silence in prayer with others.  Just sitting and lifting your hearts to God, whether with words or in moments of silence is a blessed space.

7. Never underestimate the power of physical contact during prayer - holding hands, hugging and whispering a prayer into someone’s ear, an arm around a shoulder - think of what your body is doing not as something to or for the other person, but as a part of the prayer and praying - your hands are praying comfort as they hold the other person’s hands, your arm is praying protection as it hugs the other person close, etc.

8. Don’t be afraid to take a moment before beginning - to still your own thoughts and fears, to seek a word from God about what should be prayed for.

9. Ask the other person to name what they would like you to pray for - their answer might surprise you.  It might not be about them at all.

10. Don’t overlook the power of a prayer offered in writing - whether in a note or letter, by e-mail or on Facebook, it is so much more to receive the actual prayer than simply the news that I prayed for you today.

I have a prayer buddy back home who will often simply whisper a prayer in your ear when she hugs you.  It is an incredible gift.  Her giving spirit, open to God’s call to pray without ceasing, gave me the courage to pray for others as I have been prayed for – aloud, on the spot, like a dance, following God’s leading.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Blood-Dripping Tears: A Florida Lament

blood-dripping tears
quench the ground’s
lust for such things
as all is silence - for
death is silent and
only the dead waited
those with eyes to see - 
their dying already
a done thing - waiting
only for living tears to
begin their commencing
turning into salt and light
in the cosmic way of things
even as earth-bound critters
solidify into something
hard and angry, for who
cannot be angry beholding
such horror? 


Written in response to the news of a grandfather killing his daughter and all her children – his grand-children, in Florida, wondering and worrying about those who found their bodies – their reactions, their internalizations, for how can they not carry hard places with such images residing alongside the memories of favorite meals, Christmas with family, and all that is good?  Only, I think, with, through, alongside, God.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Brownie Points

Being served the extra brownies just for asking, Rosalee shouts out to our erstwhile leader and bringer of goodies, Jimmy, “you just earned yourself some brownie points!”

We laughed and laughed and contemplated in convivial silence there at table how good it is just to be together – enjoying good company, sharing memories in the making, fussing at kids like they were our own.

I don’t know if God gives out brownie points or not, but if so, I’m betting there were some floating around the table last night.

*Brownie points:  social currency earned by doing good deeds or gaining favor in the eyes of another.  Guesses as to its origin include brown stamps (forerunner of the green stamps I remember licking with incredible patience as a child, hopeful that some of the stamps’ largesse might come my way); merits and demerits given to railroad employees by superintendent George R. Brown; and my own favorite (having been one myself and having found the outfit – I know, it was a uniform – but I eschew uniforms, so to me it was always an outfit – far superior to the ones that came after) Brownie Scouts’ merit badges.  Wikipedia

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I Learned Something Today

I learned something today

listening to Bill speak about comfort as the gospel
that God’s consoling, comforting, relational presence
actually is not what the gospel is about but rather
is the gospel – the good news – the thing hoped for
the evidence of that unseen – the elusive ‘it’ of Jesus –
comfort . . . consolation . . . love . . . mother love . . . 
clasping to the breast in fierce . . . challenging . . . 
account demanding . . . calming . . . consoling . . . 

How about that?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On Baptisms, Babies & Such

Scripture Reading   Luke 18.16-17:  People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disicples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it.  But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me; and do not stop them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you: whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

On Baptisms, Babies and Such

Think back to the births you remember . . . babies don’t remember, but mammas and pappas do . . . the waiting time, the getting ready time, the he’s coming now time . . . they remember it all . . . sorrow and joy and laughter and pain all mix in together and they remember . . . so remember now, won’t you . . . a happy birth . . .

Babies being born are holy ground places . . . And no matter what station they are born into, no matter who their parents are, no matter, even whether they live to ripe old age or leave us far too soon, God greets them all . . .

The older I get, the more God’s voice, at least in my head, sounds like Dr. Seuss . . . Can’t you just picture it . . . you are born . . . people are gathered . . . and God whispers in your ear . . . and even as a baby, you’re surprised that God is reciting Dr. Seuss’s Oh! the Places You’ll Go . . .

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.    
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know. 
And YOU are the guy [or gal] who’ll decide where to go.

This journey, this child, began literally as an idea . . . his parents may be tempted to believe that he began as their idea, but we know better – every child begins as God’s idea . . . a grand thing, really . . .he’ll do, oh yes, he’ll do very nicely indeed . . .

God knows even better than we parents . . . you’ll always be happy . . . except when you’re not . . . you’ll always be perfect . . . except when you aren’t . . .

And thus the mothering God of Isaiah and Hosea bends down to embrace . . . and to comfort . . . and to raise this new child of creation to the divine cheek and whisper . . . hush . . . of course you failed . . . I always knew you would . . . you’re all right now . .. Shh . . . shhh

And then there are the waiting times . . . waiting for the magic day to come is a waste of time . . . and waiting for things to ‘get better’ is magical thinking . . . and waiting for Godot is but an amusing interlude to a life that’s meant to be lived, not waited for . . .

But . . . but . . . not all waiting is a bad thing . . .

Within the circle of God’s embrace, there is the waiting for the Lord . . . and like all of us, this child will have plenty of that . . .

It’s hard, this waiting on God thing . . . and we’re not very good at reading the signposts . . .

. . . but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. . . The Isaiah promise is for us all . . .

Waiting for fish or kites is silly . . . waiting for God is holy . . . and renewing . . . and joy-filled . . . Waiting for people or the ship to come is wish-filled nonsense . . . waiting for God is holy . . . and beautiful . . . and frustrating . . . and spirit-filling . . . Waiting for God is not the staying-stuck kind of waiting at all . . .

And sometimes other people, other Christians especially, will try to convince you that your baptism was all about repentance . . . about being sorry . . . about piling ashes on your head . . . about being a bad boy . . . a lucky bad boy, but a bad boy, nevertheless . . .

Don’t you believe them. . . not for an instant . . . The God who created you called you not just good, but very good . . . God smiled when you were born . . .

And it doesn’t matter one little bit to God whether you’re famous or infamous . . . or just plain old you to the world . . . you will always be a rock star in God’s eyes . . . and a very loved rock star at that . . .

A long time ago, there was a man baptizing folks in ‘John’s baptism’ . . . the baptism of repentance . . . and another fellow named Paul came along and said, ‘what are you doing?

This won’t do at all . . . don’t settle for John’s repentance baptism, a sorry thing indeed, when you can have Jesus’ baptism . . . the baptism that brings fire to your belly and purpose to your life . . . the baptism that brings God’s very own Holy Spirit to live in your house all the days of your life . . . that’s the baptism for you, Owen, my boy! . . . and for us all . . .

But it won’t all be a bed of roses . . . not in this life . . .

But even when when your feet get tangled up and you find yourself lying flat on the ground . . . we will be there . . . and even when we aren’t there . . . even when we let you down . . . because we won’t . . . except when we do . . . even then, child of God, even then, God will always be with you . . .

Today you come to God as a little child . . .

And all of us come with you, the little children that we still are . . .

We come and lift up our faces to feel the wind of God’s Spirit blowing upon us . . .

We come at the invitation of the Most High God, as “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”  And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”  And let everyone who is thirsty come.  Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

Looking back and looking forward . . . we come . . .

In joyous expectation . . . we come . . .

In proclamation of God’s own gospel good news in our lives and yours, we come . . .

God’s promise is for this baby . . . and for us all.

Won’t you reclaim it today?

Let’s stop being sorry, shall we?  And start being happy!  Joyous!  Free!

For we are all God’s own good news.  And that is good news indeed.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Fall Lifts Up Her Skirt

Fall lifts her skirt
just a wee glimpse
sweet coquette
she shakes her hair
and golden leaves
fall from walnut trees
always the first to 
the party
a sunlit wash of love
and promise
it is time 

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Fierce Tenderness of a Mother's Love

“Darkness cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  I believe that.

The best way I know how to describe that kind of love is as a mother. What we need in the public square right now, in our places of worship and places of learning, in our Tweets, blogs and Facebook posts and in our supermarket parking lots, is a kind of love that looks something like a mother's love.

  The kind of love I'm talking about is tender, and it's fierce:      

  It means paying attention, knowing what time it is and what the weather's like out there.  It means naming danger when it threatens, and meeting it with savvy and with courage.  It means teaching the difference between right and wrong.  It means being responsible for our words and our actions, and calling on others – like those public figures with their violent images – to take responsibility for their actions.

  It means showing up, being present, caring, not expecting somebody else to handle it.

It means compassion, knowing that we are all in this together.

  And of course it means getting your heart broken, which opens you to hold the pain as well as the beauty of being fully human.

  So with our hearts broken open right now, I hope we can meet the challenge of these violent times with the power of love, fierce, tender love. . .

Thursday, September 11, 2014

It is No Accident 2.0

It is no accident that President Obama’s speech calling for war
          by another name was given on September 10 – the eve 
          of an anniversary of horror in the United States.

Last September 10, President Obama gave his address about Syria and its chemical weapons.  This year, the President again addressed a crisis of the Middle East on September 10, at the same time that he was saying, “ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim.”

At the same time that he decried, by implication, any broad-brush condemnation of Islam, President Obama engaged in appealing to the tendency to broad-brush condemnation of all things Muslim by the very date of his speech, timed so thoughtfully to coincide with but not usurp the commemoration of, September 11, 2001.

It was and is manipulative in the extreme.  And it is a calculated effort to stir the American people to again see unknown and unnamed forces from the Middle East as terrifying hordes about to descend upon our borders.

If the cause be just, there is no need or requirement for propaganda or manipulation.  Thus does the very use of such techniques in order to ‘convince’ us of the President’s ‘case’ suggest that it is a weak case at best.

It is no accident that President Obama mentioned Russia 
          in his speech.

“ It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny,” the President asserted as part of a laundry list of examples of supposed American moral superiority and claimed unique positioning in history as justification for his plan against ISIS (a.k.a. ISIL).

It is no accident that the President mentioned Russia, ally to Syria and global actor in its own right.  Russia perceives itself as having vested interests in the Middle East as well as we do.  Turkey, a NATO member, lies uncomfortably close geographically to Russia from its point of view.

Russia and the United States remain all too willing in the present global climate to continue to fire shots across each other’s proverbial bow and this was yet another from our side of the imaginary trench.

This, I read, as President Obama telling Russia to stay out of it.  Why Russia would listen to us any more than we listen to them I cannot think.

It is no accident that President Obama referred to “Kurdish” in
          addition to “Iraqi” forces – as something separate 
          and distinct.

All due respect to my many Kurdish friends, there is, at least technically, no such thing as “Kurdish forces”.  The President presumably refers to the Peshmerga, the fighting forces originating in the north of Iraq where the Kurds historically reside.

The Peshmerga have remained intact and visible since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, but in more recent years, have largely been absorbed into the Iraqi army in its various permutations, although they do see themselves largely as a separate entity from the rest of the Iraqi army.

But since August, various countries around the world have been arming the Peshmerga.

President Obama said these things last evening:  “These strikes (air strikes against ISIS to date) have . . . given space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim key territory.”  and “[These American forces] are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces . . .”

President Obama recognized Kurdish fighting forces as something separate and apart from Iraqi fighting forces, in effect recognizing the Kurdish semi-autonomous region of Iraq as its own separate country.

This gels nicely with the desires of the Kurds themselves.  But it will not end well for them.  Turkey has a substantial Kurdish population that desires to form a Kurdish nation.  The PKK, the Turkish-Kurdish resistance, has been labeled a terrorist organization by Turkey and by the United States.

Iran’s sister organization, PJAK, with similar intentions and tactics to PKK, is actually supplied arms by the United States in order to disrupt that regime.

President Obama glibly names the Kurds as a separate entity in a speech televised around the world, giving hope and quarter to the aims and desires of the Kurdish peoples who have long desired to have their own nation-state.  But he doesn’t mean it.  When Turkey complains, as it has in the past and surely will again, about the impact on its own internal politics with its Kurdish population, Washington will, as it has before, capitulate, for the simple reason that to not capitulate will unite Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey in common cause against the Kurds, which Washington will perceive that it can ill afford (remember Turkey’s strategic importance relative to Russia).

But the Kurds aren’t fools.  They’ve been down this road many times with the West.  Only time will tell what will become of their resolve, but make no mistake, this current violence is an opportunity for the Kurds.  Maybe it’s one they deserve.  I am in no position to judge; but I do know that it will be costly for all involved.

It always is when so many motives with so little power are on the table.

It is no accident that President Obama asserted his ‘authority’ to 
          act as he already has and clearly plans to continue to do, 
          congressional imprimatur or no.

In a December 20, 2007 interview with the Boston Globe, then Senator Obama said, “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

The only thing that has changed between then and now is that Mr. Obama himself is the one wielding the power.

The President’s assertion last night that he has the authority to act as he already has and plans to continue to do, with the expanded and ominous threat to invade another sovereign nation (Syria) to achieve his stated goals, with or without congressional approval, merely continues the actions of presidents in the aftermath of World War II (the last declared war under the provisions of the constitution that the United States has engaged in).

There is no virtue in announcing ones intention to violate the laws of one’s own nation.  But there is clarity.

And it might be good political strategy for the president to throw down on Congress in this manner, but it isn’t good governance.

It is no accident that President Obama referenced no direct 
          threat to the United States, but raised all of our 
          collective bogey men to stir our fear of what might come.
So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East – including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region – including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners – including Europeans and some Americans – have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.  -- President Obama's speech of last night

The language the President used was careful but revealing: the only Americans threatened are those living and working in those areas where ISIS/ISIL are located.

But they “could” threaten us.  And although there is no knowledge of any specific plots of attack, there could be.  And those of ISIS/ISIL who are from Europe or the United States “could” come home and attack us.  Just like on September 11.  Except not.

President Bush specifically abandoned any pretense at just war theory in his invasion of Iraq in 2003 and President Obama has never looked back from that dramatic shift in policy.

Everyone who doesn’t like us is a threat to us.  And we to them.  But every threat is not a justification for war or invasion.  And the distinction between ground and air attack is a distinction without a difference in terms of whether it is constitutional or proper.

The distinction between ground and air is simply to assure the American people that its children will not die in the numbers that the children of our enemies will.  In others words, it’s a tactical point rather than a legal or procedural one.  And I, for one, am not particularly interested in debating tactics.

I am interested in a national debate on whether to do this at all.  By simply doing it and then asking permission, our President has taken that privilege and responsibility of citizenship away from us.

And we are the poorer for it.

The shame, however, is ours as much as his, for we have let him do it.

President Obama's Speech: It is No Accident

It is no accident that President Obama’s speech calling for war by another name was
          given on September 10 – the eve of an anniversary of horror in the United

It is no accident that President Obama mentioned Russia in his speech.

It is no accident that President Obama referred to “Kurdish” rather than “Iraqi”
          intelligence – as something separate and distinct.

It is no accident that President Obama asserted his ‘authority’ to act as he already has
          and clearly plans to continue to do, congressional imprimatur or no.

It is no accident that President Obama referenced no direct threat to the United
          States, but raised all of our collective bogey men to stir our fear of what might

"The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."  Interview with then-Senator Obama, Boston Globe, December 20, 2007.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Down to the Hard Work of Reconciliation – Part 4

There is great responsibility to being a follower of Jesus Christ – the responsibility of binding
and loosing, the responsibility of heaven itself.  Yet this responsibility comes with an accompanying promise: the very presence of Christ himself.

In one of the most evocative verses on what it means to be church, Jesus tells his followers that when even a very few – as few as two or three – are gathered in his name, there he is among us.

Jesus has just been speaking of gathering in the cause of restoration where there has been sin and now he speaks of being there with ‘them’ – even with the one doing the breaking . . . as in my body broken – for you . . .

Now we are come full circle to the beginning – at the start of Matthew 18, the disciples are quibbling about who will be the greatest in the coming kingdom of heaven.

Jesus replies that the change that must happen is to become as children and admonishes his followers not to put a stumbling block before another – and perhaps this has been his point all along – after all, Jesus is speaking to his disciples – to the ones he entrusts to carry his gospel message to all the world.

It’s a big job, being a disciple.  It is crucial that they, that we, get it right.  Jesus makes clear what it is not about:

It is not about getting the first prize blue ribbon in some sort of race and if they/we insist on thinking of it that way, they/we would do better to try for last place rather than first.

It is not about being recognized for one’s power and dignity of office – it’s more like being a little kid with nothing to offer.

It is not about setting up gates and entrance exams and tests and setting bars higher and higher to get in.

It is not about setting ourselves as the example unless we are prepared to be the perfect example.  It is about pointing always and only to Jesus, who actually is – the perfect example.  

It is not about valuing station, position, or wealth.  It is about seeking the lost.  Always.

Maybe Jesus was speaking about as well as to the weak ones standing right in front of him, full-blown sinners themselves.  Maybe he was reminding them that their squabbles about who gets in first are just nonsense – harmful nonsense.  Maybe he was telling them that they had to first work this out among themselves before they had anything of value to bring to the world.

Maybe he was reminding them that their journey – our journey – is one of humility, where they, where we, must always be prepared, no matter how old, how advanced, how knowledgeable in bible studies, how closely aligned to Jesus himself, they, we must always be more prepared to be corrected than to correct . . . to be chastised as to chastise . . . to be put right as to put right.

Maybe he was teaching them that correction is a gentle thing that takes great care of the one being offered the correction.

Maybe he was suggesting that when sin and sinners and sinning come up, the one in the room I must first be concerned with is myself.

Maybe he was suggesting that if a sinner be ejected, we’d better leave too. 

Maybe he was suggesting that if a penalty needs to be paid, I should be willing to pay it for you, because we are family and brothers and sisters always take up for each other.

Maybe Jesus was suggesting that unity looks like family – sloppy, messy, mistake-making, feeling-hurting, wrestling-til-we-get-it-right family.

Maybe Jesus wants us to come to those who have done wrong as Christ comes to us – in humility rather than in judgment . . . in great desire for their good rather than for our right . . . in the willingness to take on the burden of their sins as our own that they might be reclaimed.  


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Down to the Hard Work of Reconciliation – Part 3

Regardless of the precise meaning of Jesus’ instructions on how to progressively confront the unrepentant sinner in the body of believers, we are still left with the tax-collector-gentile conundrum: what on earth does Jesus mean when he says to treat the unrepentant one as a tax collector or Gentile?
The traditional interpretation over the centuries is that Jesus is instructing his followers to shun, to have nothing to do with, the one who will not repent.  

Is this what Jesus means?

Consider earlier in Matthew, as in Matthew 11.19, where Jesus is reproached, accused of being a drunk and a glutton who was a “friend to tax collectors and sinners” and in Matthew 9.10, where it is noted that “many tax collectors and sinners” came and ate with Jesus and his followers.  The Pharisees objected and Jesus replied, “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

Maybe treating the unrepentant has nothing to do with shunning. 

It seems to have to do with expecting more rather than less from fellow believers (as we do with family).

But to treat the unrepentant as ‘tax collectors and Gentiles’ might well mean to treat them more gently rather than less. . . especially if we consider Jesus’ earlier statement that they are to be viewed as the ‘sick’ – as those with additional need for care, as those who require the help of a physician rather than the condemnation of a judge.

In practical terms, it might mean that you don’t put that person in a leadership position simply because they’re not up to the job.  But at the same time, you do continue to care for them. . . for as long as it takes – just like we do with the one who suffers a serious illness.

In 12-step programs, members learn a helpful slogan: I’m not a bad person trying to get good; I’m a sick person trying to get well.  Maybe Jesus is talking about going the distance with someone in great need of him – someone whose need is so great they cannot see it for themselves.

And maybe there does come a time when someone must be ejected from the fellowship with the hope that such an extreme measure will bring them to their senses, turn them around.

But I keep coming back to the witness of the desert fathers and mothers – early Christians who went into the desert and away from the cities in order to pursue more closely the life Jesus had called them to live.  Their stories are stories of extreme living, extreme sacrifice, extreme love – extreme Jesus.

Consider the time when a brother who had sinned was turned out of the church by the priest.  Abba Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying, "I, too, am a sinner."

In one monastery, if any committed a fault, many of the other brothers would seek the offending brother’s permission to take the matter to the abbot and to accept both the responsibility and the punishment.  When the abbot found out that his disciples did this, he inflicted easier punishments, in the knowledge that the one punished was actually innocent.  And he made no effort to discover the real culprit.

One brother leaves with the sinner, knowing himself to be a sinner too.  Others take on the punishment for the offender – like brothers and sisters do for each other all the time.

Maybe the tax collector-Gentiles among us are not the ones kicked out, but rather the ones held all the more tightly to, the ones we walk with because we recognize ourselves in them.

Maybe they’re the ones we make room for at the table for we are them.

Maybe as Jesus sees us, so we are to see them.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Down to the Hard Work of Reconciliation - Part 2

In his sermon, Resentment and Forgiveness, Orthodox Priest Hieromonk Damascene says, “The Holy Fathers tell us that, in order to be reconciled to someone with whom we are at odds, the first thing we are to do is to accuse ourselves, not the other person. If we do not accuse ourselves, we will never find rest, and we will never make true and lasting peace with our neighbor. We will always be holding onto our pride.”

This is Jesus’ ‘step 1’ to reconciliation within the church body: if someone commits a wrong – against you or another*, go to them.  Speak privately.  Try to work it out between the two of you – and here’s the twist – beginning not with their wrong, but with your own.  In 12-step programs, that’s called looking at my part.

This is humility.  This is integrity.  And this is crucial to true reconciliation.

Only if that doesn’t work do you invoke the 1-2 other witnesses ‘clause’.  What do you suppose the point of the ‘witnesses’ is?  It certainly ups the ante to involve other people.

But it does something else as well that often gets overlooked: other people may have more objectivity.  They may actually see the other person’s point of view.  If there’s more to the story, the witnesses can bring that out.

Maybe both of you need to do some repenting.  Maybe not.  But having others present means this is no longer simply between the two of you and that has consequence for both parties.

What if even that does not work?  Well, then, you take it to the church – to the body as a whole.  Most interpret this to mean some sort of judicial process is initiated to excommunicate the offender – to kick them out of the body.

But is it?  Why else might we bring a matter to the attention of the entire body?

John Wesley sees Jesus’ method here as the means to avoid committing an offense in the first place: Wesley reasons that if we know this is the process and that it will occur regardless of our station in life, it operates as a disincentive for us to do wrong – much as knowing the fine for speeding and knowing that our local cop (yes, Duane, I mean you) always sits in that one certain place will prevent us from doing the speeding in the first place.

And maybe the invitation to take it to the body as a whole is driven by the body’s work of prayer – that is the very next thing Jesus mentions – recognizing that when the body prays, minds and hearts and lives are changed, truly changed.

Regardless of Jesus’ original intention, what both Wesley and the Genevan Reformers grasped that we seem to have forgotten is that the kingdom of heaven is not a courtroom drama.  Rather, it is a herculean effort by the God of All to reconcile humanity with God’s self – by avoiding human vengeance, by seeking to prevent sin before it has the chance to gain root.

And this God of loving restoration invites us to do likewise.

*Some mss. say ‘against you’ while others simply say if a brother/sister ‘sins’

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Down to the Hard Work of Reconciliation - Part 1

Matthew 18.15-20 (NRSV)   If a brother (or sister) sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the brother (or sister) listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If the brother (or sister) refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.  Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

Down to the Hard Work of Reconciliation – Part 1

Throughout scripture, it is recognized that sin, the breaking with or turning away from God, is a harming, real, lasting, living thing that brings with it . . . broken relationships, broken people, hurt within and hurt without . . .

In this passage from Matthew, Jesus is recognizing the impact of that broken being on the body of believers as a whole.  In a very real sense, this is about unity.

The Genevan fathers read this text as a command from Jesus that within the body, we strive for agreement rather than seek for revenge.  It is the recognition that wrongs will happen even within the body and that we must address them.

We are not to simply do nothing, to pretend as if nothing happened, allowing our wounds to fester.  We are not to plot out our own course of getting even.  We are not to withdraw our affection and support from another within the body because they wounded us.

We are to make the effort to restore right relationship between us. And the responsibility rests as much with the one wronged as it does with the one doing the wrong.

This, then, is the Jesus twist: the one wronged has as much responsibility for dealing with the wrong as the one having done the wrong.

The reason is obvious: if it’s about unity rather than about staying even (what we think of as justice) – if it’s about unity, it does not matter who makes the first move.  

What matters is that the move – the move towards restoring relationship – be made.

In Leviticus 19.17-18, God instructs as to what the unity of family – the kind of unity Jesus speaks of – looks like:  You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.  You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

When it comes to family, I don’t know about yours, but in mine, we are seldom, if ever, all in the same place at the same time.  In fact, most of the time we’re so out of step with each other that we couldn’t even walk in a parade together.

But that’s all right, because family isn’t about that.  It’s about the quicker ones waiting for the slower ones because we were made to walk together . . . it’s about knowing ourselves to be linked across time and space . . . it’s about welcoming each other home . . . every time . . . it’s about simply being – in family, you don’t have to prove who you are or that you belong – you simply are.  Some families are better at it than others, some are worse.  But no family looks at you standing at the door and asks who you are.

In Matthew 18, Jesus’ use of kinship language of brother (and sister) is important – it matters to these ‘rules’ and how they work.  This is a family affair.  

When it comes to family, we approach each other with an intimacy seldom found anywhere else.  Jesus’ point is that this level of intimacy – the closeness of what we call family – is to be found in the gathering, in what we call church.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

What Did You Think Your Life Would Be?

Did you think it would be taking care of your ageing parents?

Did you think it would be raising your grandkids and great-grandkids?

Or did you think it would be your own imagined version of a Broadway stage with you as the star and all the people in your life your adoring fans?

Did you think it would be just what it is – ordinary – useful – filled with the challenges and disappointments and small joys that life on planet earth is inevitably filled with?

Did you think you would be a refugee?

Did you think you would be a soldier and did you ever imagine that what it is like is so much different than what you thought?

Or did you think that whatever came your way, that would be okay and somehow, you would get through it?

I know a man who is dying of cancer who simply looks forward to a good night’s rest and the chance to spend just a little more time with his grandson – the light of his life.

I know a woman who had a heart attack today and I can just imagine her telling the doctors that she is far too busy for this because she has work to do and many people to take care of.

I know families tonight who are praying, desperately seeking, hoping, pleading, for just a little more time, grateful for whatever graces came their way today.

I know people tonight who aren’t world leaders or generals or people who end up in history books who are doing the work of making it through another day the best they can and they are my heroes.

I know mothers and fathers, brothers and cousins, parents and friends, nieces and grandchildren, gathered and gathering, drawing strength from each other and from their God, to do the next thing that needs doing and in knowing them, I am so very, very blessed.

This is faith. 

This is love.

This is the big stuff.

This is life.

It may not be what they thought it would be.

But it is what it is.

And in their dignity, in their acceptance, it may not be what they thought it would be.

But it is exactly what it should be.

Friday, September 5, 2014

To Be Confronted

To be confronted 
to have my failures named
to be blamed and shamed

it is a thing noble, perhaps,
in intent, but nonetheless is felt the sting

and hope and love and kindness, just
a cup, just a sip, the confrontation
does not bring in any way that
can be seen, measured, grabbed hold of

yet in the aftermath
an ash-like arisen thing
comes forth – not brave
it is small, this thing
that looks like it just
might become

and somewhere amidst
the afterbirth of this
new rising, there does
reside a tiny mustard-seed
of a kernel of something
that just might be
the dawning of
the new day possibility of
the resplendent chance of

full thanks

A lectio reading of Matthew 18.15-20, taking the position of the one confronted, the sinner in need of making recompense, all I could feel was the sting, the wounding, of the confrontation, which prompted this reflection on what just might come after, if I am very open, very willing and very lucky.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rachels Mourning

Posted by the Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group,
a Syrian opposition group, broadcast by AP
I see the picture this morning of a young masked man wielding a knife in the air over the heads of   captives and I am moved by his bare arm, his wrist, at his evident youth and ponder his own mother, somewhere and wonder if she recognizes that wrist and imagine what she might want to say to him, this beloved flesh of her own flesh and recall the mourning of Rachel, who will not be comforted, for the loss of all her sons and daughters, a horror wrapped in a tragedy that seems to know no end.


Your wrist is so small,
so clear
so young
so blemish free –
in your hand
the knife looks
like a toy
the kind you might
have gotten in a
Cracker Jack box
if Cracker Jacks
still had prizes
of any size to them

and that black stocking cap?
it’s too early for Halloween
don’t you know that?
and I know it’s got to be hot
under there – it’s 100 degrees outside

so wee man, why don’t you
put down your toys – you know
I don’t like it when you play
and I don’t care if the whole
neighborhood is in on the game
I am your mother and I do not
like it and if all your friends
would jump off a bridge, would
you jump too?  Well?  Would you?

and then my true worry begins
as I look to this imaginary child
of mine and realize he probably
would – jump too – and then
where will we be?

So, no, you cannot go back
outside after lunch – there will
be no jumping off bridges for
you today little boy - do you
hear me?  I am your mother!
Get back in this house right now!
It’s not safe out there for you.
And now I must fear it’s not
safe out there for them either.

Don’t you dare look at me like
that with that stupid mask on –
I am not afraid of you –
you look ridiculous
and I am not having it –
do you hear me?
Don’t you dare pretend
you don’t.  Look at me!

When did you become this machine
of rage?  When did doing unto others
before they even get the chance of
thinking of doing unto you become
our family’s creed?  When did this
happen?  While I wasn’t looking?
Well, I am your mother and I
do not like it one bit.  This is
most definitely not how I
raised you, so you get back in this
house right now!  I mean it!

Don’t you understand?
They will kill you.
Maybe not today.
Maybe not even tomorrow.
But they will kill you for this.
And I will become the mother
of a terrorist and the neighbors
will look on me with horror,
spawner of Satan that they will
believe me to be – that, or pity
and I cannot tell you which
is worse – you bring me shame
and I cannot endure it, so if
you’re going to kill them, you’d
better begin with me, for it is
me you are killing – the one who
gave you birth, gave you life

Where is my little boy?
The one I tucked in to bed
with laughter and stories
and one more glass of mai
and ‘oommee, I’m scared  – 
there’s a monster under
my bed’ and I wonder when
you went from being scared
of monsters to becoming one

and I cry out to the God that
you are not a monster, you are
my boy and I beg the God to
spare you your foolishness
and even as I mutter my
desperate prayer with its
obligatory  inshallah, I do
not mean it – in my heart
of hearts, for I cannot conceive
that any of this would be the God’s
will – for you, for me, for them,
for any of us – you must end this
for it is not yet too late – it will
be soon, but not yet, so please,

[I know the world has hurt
you and I have not kept you
safe from it and they see you
as a monster which tempts
you to become what they see
and it is not right and I know
you think you have no hope
and this is the only way and
it is just, so you’ve been told
by the men who know better
as they keep their own safe
distance from the bombs and
guns while they send you –
a child – and I know you feel
inside yourself you are a man
and yearn to do something for
your people, yourself and I
know the hurt and the shame
you carry within you, but son,
I also know this is not you –
who so tenderly loves the fresh
shoots of the garden in spring-
time and the baby lambs as
they nuzzle your cheek and
your little sister who needs
you to protect her and show
her our ways and this is not
you – their words not yours
– their lies given as dreams
not for you – I know you are
hurt and think the pain and
the injustice will never leave
your heart unless you do this
thing but I am your mother and
I carry the wisdom of ages inside
me and I know too that when you
kill their children, it will not
bring ours back and you will
sorrow but then it will be too
late and you will be one of them
the thing you never meant to
be – the thing that killed your own
for the wisdom of ages knows that
when you kill them, you kill
your self, you kill us, and your
hurt will not go away – it will
explode into the stars and it will
never go away because you will
become the hurt]

I beg you, my son, put down
the toys of war you have picked
up and come back in the house
and I will fix you an iftar worthy
of a king – or a little boy come
home for good – please, my
precious prodigal, do not do
this thing – I, your mother, am
begging you with my tears –
Do.  Not.  Do.  This.  Thing.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Reconciliation: The Fruit of Forgiveness

2 Corinthians 5.17-21: . . . anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. . . All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. . . God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.  (The Message)

Reconciliation: The Fruit of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is

1. A gift – it is not deserved or earned.  It is given.

2. A sacrifice – forgiveness costs the giver.

3. A humbling – to receive forgiveness is to be humble.  So too giving forgiveness can be humbling.  Hubris will not do it.  Pride cannot receive it.

4. A work – something we do rather than something we think.

Knowing what forgiveness is – a sacrificial gift humbling to receive, costly to give, the work and the will together, the question remains, what is the fruit, the result, of forgiveness?

We forgive and receive forgiveness, is because God has so commanded.  This is obedience.  Have no doubt about it: if you are refusing to forgive, you are disobeying God.

Next, we forgive because it is in our own best interests to do so.  In his Yom Kippur sermon, a rabbi spoke about the importance of forgiveness – of seeking it and granting it: “Jewish law requires a person to ask for forgiveness three times—it must be genuine, heartfelt and inspired by true remorse. If the wronged individual does not forgive after three sincere attempts, then the person who did the wrong is forgiven and the one not forgiving becomes guilty and now needs to ask for forgiveness for not forgiving.”  Forgiveness is so important, so crucial, to the community of humanity, that to refuse to extend it when asked for is to take on the sin of the one seeking the forgiveness.

We forgive and are forgiven because it is in the interests of the one doing the harm to be forgiven.  It is an act of freeing from bondage and captivity – theirs as well as ours.

Ultimately – the very reason God commands forgiveness, is that we may be reconciled – to God, to ourselves, to the world.

Forgiveness is the agency of reconciliation –  cosmic rather than individual or even collective –  the work of heaven and all creation.

We are creatures made to live with others.  God has created all of this in such a way that what we do affects heaven as much as what heaven does affects us.

We are all in this universal boat together.  Reconciliation, the fruit of forgiveness, is the essential grease to the machinery of our lives together.  Without reconciliation, someone’s going to get kicked out of the boat.  Equilibrium is lost.  And the boat sinks.

Sometimes reconciliation looks like two estranged people coming back together into a relationship better than ever before.  Sometimes it means mom and dad stay divorced, but they quit fighting and start caring about the feelings, needs and desires of the other parent as much as their own.

Sometimes reconciliation means visiting the one who murdered your loved one in prison.  Or loaning your most bitter enemies money in order to rebuild their countries, as in the Marshall Plan following World War II.

Sometimes reconciliation means sharing your very best secret deer stand with the brother who never shared a single toy with you.  And being glad to do it.

It isn’t easy.  But it’s necessary.  Our world is crumbling in on itself for the want of some reconciling hands reached out in the hope, the dream, that things might be otherwise.

Beginning with ourselves, recall basic commonalities to all the possibilities of reconciliation:

1. Reconciliation means seeing the other person as a human being who is as loved and cherished by God as are you and treating them – broken, hurt and hurting them – accordingly.

2. It means being open to the possibilities of a new relationship beyond your wildest imaginings – which also means being open to the possibility of being hurt again.

3. Reconciliation means understanding, accepting and even embracing as good that we are all in this boat together and that we are all essential to the boat’s not sinking – none are expendable, not even those who have done me the most harm.

4. Reconciliation means living in to the reality that redemption is the way – the only way – for humanity to survive and thrive on this planet.  As Abraham Lincoln once famously said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand”.  To be unreconciled is to live in a permanently divided house, which is to say, no house at all.

As Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians, we are made new . . . we have been given a fresh start . . . that start comes with a challenge: don’t bring the old hurts, the old wounds, the old grievances with you into this new life. . .

God has entrusted God’s message of reconciliation to us!  It is an extraordinary gift.

Isn’t it time and past time to drop our  differences . . . roll up our sleeves and get busy doing the work – the work of making things right between us?

That, after all, is why we are here.