Monday, December 30, 2002

Tuesday, 31 December, 2002

Again, from the second lesson on the First Sunday after Christmas. Also, please note that there will be no devotion sent out on New Year's Day.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoptions as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)

Today I read a story about a father who was explaining to his adopted son what it means to be adopted. The father talked about how his parents really wanted to make him their own and bring him into the family. The father went on to say that different from their biological son, this adopted son had been "specifically singled out, chosen, waited for, and welcomed by his parents into the family." The story goes on to say how the adopted son had to chew on this news and then with a smile spreading across his face enthused: "Well, can't we adopt him too!" The image of God taking us and claiming us is powerful. God picks us up before we have done anything and says, "You are mine." That's the beginning and the end of the story. That is how it will always be. The image of God acting over and against all things and always for a parent whose love claims and never is a dynamic power for all of us as we go about our day.

Connection: Claim the adoption...and see what it can and will do to life as we enter it today.

Loving Parent, you have grasped us in your gracious arms and remind us that we are forever within your tender care and love. Nurture in us a life that is can dance and sing because of the great gift you see in us and the great gift you give to us as you call us Sons and Daughters. Amen.

Monday, 30 December, 2002

From the second lesson on the First Sunday after Christmas

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoptions as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)

The "fullness of time" is an odd description. At first, I want to hear in it that point that there was at one time in history a time that was the best time...the time when it was most possible for the Christ of God to come. But then, the fullness of time is the time in which the Son is born of a woman and God becomes incarnate among us. That is what makes it full - God stands with us. From that point, we have an identity that is given to us from our God. No longer can a bully call me by a name that sticks. No longer can a racist control another person by calling them a name. No longer can one person label another person too sinful to be within the family of God for God has surprised everyone by introducing all of us as God's children...and appropriate heirs of the life of the one who would be children of God. We still live within the pregnant moment of the fullness of time for unto us is born each day the gift of new life that cannot be hushed up by any law.

Connection: Stand tall and live as though you are the daughters and sons of God. Stand with others as though that is the way you see them also. What a day that can make for all of us.

Eternal Lord, you change the face of all of life. You turn enemy into friend, stranger into neighbor, and the whole community of humanity into a beloved family. Guide us as we walk among others. Guide us and remind us of our status in your eyes and inspire us to treat one another as sister and brother. Amen.

Friday, December 27, 2002

Friday, 27 December, 2002

Due to the Christmas week celebrations, the devotions for Thursday and Friday of this week will be from our July, 2000 archives. The live devotions will return on Monday.

Text: Matthew 6:24

No one can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

This is not reserved as a word for "them". It is for all of us. Even the poor can suffer from misplaced values. At the same time, most of us are living within situation in which wealth & material things are expected. It can be the piece of our lives that keeps us from coming in contact with others. We must keep ourselves involved in the discipline of watching for what master is attempting to lead us. What is informing my decisions...what is the lord of my life? In a society that suffers from "affluenza" it may be very difficult to see that we are often possessed, controlled, by something that is so basic to our culture...things! In the DooDah parade, there was an SUV being pulled by ten or fifteen bikes and a few people pushing it. It was now labeled an energy-saver. As that float went by, people - including me - applauded. And yet, we all fit into that boat of wanting the biggest, the best, more of whatever we can have, and then look to justify our own allegiance to the "stuff of our lives" and the systems that help us get what we want. Remember, God still gives us all things as a gift. Gifts are given for the welfare of the whole community. We follow the vision of the reign of God not the vision of what we can have. Even in the Church we have to watch out for the times when mission and ministry to and with people is placed into a secondary position to pleasing the sources of financial support. Two masters?

Connection: In the twinkling of an eye, we make decisions to follow one master or the other. It would be a good exercise to evaluate our decisions as to what is the core value that leads us to make those decisions. It is there at that very basic level of our lives that we will begin to see the face of the power that drives us. That again, is why we continue to pray, They kingdom come, thy will be done.

O Rock of our Lives, be our foundation. Help us to be wise as we move through this day. Strengthen us that we will make the decisions of our day under the guiding light of your Reign. Amen

Thursday, December 26, 2002

Thursday, 26 December, 2002

Due to the Christmas week celebrations, the devotions for Thursday and Friday of this week will be from our July, 2000 archives. The live devotions will return on Monday.

Text: Matthew 6:22-23

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.

Clarity of vision. When the vision of the Reign of God, the will of God is so much a part of our lives, we will see in a whole new way. When our vision is not made cloudy by the various things that Matthew is calling "treasures" or "allegiances" or "concerns" of the world, we will live within the brightness of the Reign of God. How we see our world is a matter of life and death for we will often let our lives be led by that which takes from us all of our life. Years ago when I was a part of an anti-nuclear weapons group in Detroit I remember hearing a speaker talk about idols being those things or powers in our lives that demand that we sacrifice our lives for their existence. In many ways, most everything we let cloud our vision of the life in God's Reign, demands our full attention...and even our lives. Try it: How do the things and people in your life restrict the vision of God's call for justice for all in our can family and/jobs restrict us from giving time to others and being proactive in our care of can what we want (because so often "having" is something that must be constantly maintained so that we always "have" that which is the stuff we are supposed to have) steal our attention away from that which we could be giving to others in love? is how we begin each day and how we carry on through the day. We read scripture and talk with other followers of Jesus, and worship our God in order that the vision of God's Reign will stay fresh in our lives and will be the lense through which we see our world and the lense that helps us walk into this day.

Connection: Take an inventory. What are the things (material, people, organizations, philosophical stances, etc) that cloud your vision so that we lose the light of the ways of life God invites us to share? How can we re-view all those things and make them into opportunities to open up the life of the Reign of God more fully. Ex: how can my love of family be an opportunity to share time with others rather than sacrifice time with others. How can I make family or close relationships an instrument by which I come to grasp a bit more of the life vision of the Reign of God?

O God of all things, make us insightful people. Guide our days so that we may enjoy the many gifts of your creation as we follow along the way of our Lord, Jesus. Amen.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Tuesday, 24 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner.

Today's devotion continues the section from yesterday. Therefore the text from yesterday is included.

"Once you acknowledge that bad things happen and that people do evil things, there are only two options," said Hanna Rachel, "Satan and God." She took a handful of pebbles and dropped them in two small piles before him. "Alternate worlds. In every way except one, these worlds of strewn pebbles are identical. In both worlds the sun shines, people make love, children play and people do astonishingly terrible things.

"In one universe, people maintain their 'selves,' their sanity, and God by giving evil its independence. Such wickedness, they reason, could not possibly have anything to do with God. There must be some other non-God power that makes it real and gives it vitality, and with whom God is in eternal conflict. In such a universe, where the source of evil is other than God, sooner or later, one way or another, you wind up with some kind of demonic force, sitra achra, Other Side, devil, or Satan.

"In the second world, God is somehow part of the evil, present even in its depths. This is the meaning of our assertion that 'God is One' (Deut.6:4). A Oneness at the core of all being in whom everything - yes, even evil- ultimately converges. The source of all reality. If God is the source of all being and human evil is real, then God therefore must be in it also. The evil does not derive its being from some extra-Divine source. This is certainly what Job learns when God speaks to him from out of the whirlwind. God does not cause, tolerate, or even forebear the evil, but God, as with everything else in creations, is in it."

Evil is. God is in all things...all things. That may not be the easiest thing to hear. And yet, I find that for some people it is an encouraging word for it is a reminder that no life is left alone without God standing alongside. For Christians, that is what we see in the incarnation. God is with us...from the holiest places to the those considered utterly unholy...God is with us when grace abounds and when threat abounds and attempts to claim the day. The story of the birth of the Christ child is for us a story that will bring God right into the very depths of all that is human and fallible and...evil...always, with us.

Connection: So now what do we do in the presence of one another knowing that our God is in the midst of us without exception. Maybe we will not blame others as much as we might ask, "What must we do to see God among us in what is going on around us?"

Be with us, Gracious Lord, and as you walk with us, help us to see you and to hear your promise for new life even when we find it so hard to see anything new. Amen

Monday, 23 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner.

Today's devotion will be a longer piece extended over two days.

"Once you acknowledge that bad things happen and that people do evil things, there are only two options," said Hanna Rachel, "Satan and God." She took a handful of pebbles and dropped them in two small piles before him. "Alternate worlds. In every way except one, these worlds of strewn pebbles are identical. In both worlds the sun shines, people make love, children play and people do astonishingly terrible things.

"In one universe, people maintain their 'selves,' their sanity, and God by giving evil its independence. Such wickedness, they reason, could not possibly have anything to do with God. There must be some other non-God power that makes it real and gives it vitality, and with whom God is in eternal conflict. In such a universe, where the source of evil is other than God, sooner or later, one way or another, you wind up with some kind of demonic force, sitra achra, Other Side, devil, or Satan.

I would have to say that this may be the "universe" with which most people are familiar. "The devil made me do it," may be one example. This is also a problem that crops up all the time. We must in some way become apologists for God whenever there is terror and brutality and terrible things that take place all around us...for we cannot let God be a part of them or in them. Unfortunately, do we then say that God is not over and in all things? I find that this is the way people usually act when dealing with the good and bad things that take place everyday in our lives. There must be a bad or evil out there because "I'm a good person." Rather than admit that we are like two sides of a coin - that is - we have the potential for good and evil, we point fingers and blame someone or something else for the evil and brokenness around us.

Connection: Is it difficult for you to see your part in the "dark side" whenever you take a look at our world and attempt to point a finger at "them"? Even in a day when many want to blame an "evil axis" for all the bad in the world, I cannot help but wonder if we see the evil we perpetrate...or are we all "good."

Lord of all things, make us a people of reconciliation so that we may be a part of the healing of our world when it become filled with hatred and run by fear. Remind us that you are the Creator of all and will be with us in all things. Amen

Friday, December 20, 2002

Friday, 20 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner.

Continuing a look at good and evil and God's presence in both.

If we rule out "accidental" tragedies that could have been prevented had the victim not taken some voluntary risk, we are left with only freak, hopelessly unforeseeable accidents like a tornado or a rare illness. And if we hold our society similarly responsible, for example, for not creating adequate safety measures or directing its energy to the prevention of disease, then the list is diminished even further. How much misery might be prevented, for example, if humanity chose to allocate its resources toward healing rather than war?

Another way to ask the question at the end of this piece would put it like this: How many wars would we enter if we used our resources toward healing and ending the misery of others? Someday we may actually begin to thing about others and adjust all of our lives as part of a way to live together peacefully. The other day I read an editorial or letter to the editor about SUVs. The person wrote about how safe they were and that their miles-per-gallon were as good as one of the old cars the writer used to drive. The line that caught me was the line about safety. The writer didn't worry about his wife in the vehicle as she drove around town or drove the kids to the events of the day. Very true...I guess. But how safe are these vehicles for the other vehicles and other passengers all around them. Without even going into the global impact of these vehicles that have weak regulation on emissions, it is so easy to sit elevated from the road and other drivers that the only thing that "counts" is...once and myself. Isn't that the beginning of that cycle that leads to so much division in an already divided and warring world?

Connection: We can begin within our own lives to look beyond our own lives and see what part we play or do not play in the well being of God's people everywhere. I like to think it is as easy as keeping our eyes and ears open to see how connected we really are to one another.

Lord God, you call us to be one people within our diversity. We need you to inspire our vision so that we may see the potential for new life that is wrapped up in the well being of others as we live together both now and in the time to come. Amen

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Thursday, 19 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner.

God does not intervene in the affairs of people, at least not in the way a parent might step in to settle a fight between children, take one of them to a physician, judge between children the righteous and wicked, punish the guilty, reward the innocent. These things can and do occur, but only through human agency. Therefore the question "Why is there evil in the world?" means "Why are human beings evil?" or "What is the origin of human cruelty?" Sometimes people suffer because of some evil they themselves or others do or did not do, and sometimes they suffer through no one's fault, although the range of accidents tends to diminish sharply with maturity and responsibility.

I know that some folks will not like the beginning statement of the first sentence in this quote. Then again, many people really do affirm this kind of world view. It does not mean that God is not active and moving within our lives. On the contrary, Kushner seems to really place the action of God's will within the lives of God's people. From yesterday, when we heard about evil having to do with "intentions," it makes sense that the question about how God works in the world would be directed back into a question about you and I...and why we act the way we do. We are called to be a people who prayerfully turn to the will of God that it may be a part of our lives...that justice, peace, mercy, loving kindness and forgiveness may indeed be the present face of God's people within our world. What would such a face offer to the world in the face of evil as it presents itself among us? Hopefully, as we continue to remind each other of the story of our God who is eternally for us and with us, we may be a part of compassionate life that will not tolerate the forces of evil and how evil tears at the human community.

Connection: How does maturity and responsibility within the reign of God look in everyday matters? I suppose we must practice such disciplines and see how it takes shape.

O God Most High, linger with us and guide us into the paths of your will so we may begin to move through this day as agents of your gracious reign. Amen.

Wednesday, 18 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner.

First of all many things are bad that are not evil. This is a very important but often overlooked distinction. "Bad" means "unfortunate," "painful," and even "horrible," but it does not mean that someone is necessarily responsible for what has happened. A freak accident, for which no one is to blame, for instance, is "bad," but it is not "evil." Other times "bad" means "unethical," "wicked," and "evil." We cry out that things should have been otherwise and that someone is to blame. And if the one who is to blame acted intentionally, the the "bad" is also "evil." So "bad" can mean either "unfortunate," as in "no one is to blame," or it can also mean "evil" as in "someone has caused this bad thing to happen.

The word that sticks out in my mind is "intentionally." If the one who is to blame for something bad happening acted intentionally, then we look at the action as evil and not only bad. Even as I am typing, I'm beginning to wonder about all the actions of our day that may be difficult to connect to someone's or a groups intentional actions. We hear word like "axis of evil" and "evil empire" to refer to countries and coalitions of countries and this includes the a view point from one side toward another. In fact, the best way to gain support for going off to war is to paint another side as acting in an evil way intentionally. But this is a odd nut to crack. Fighting against evil is why we may go to war in Iraq. Fighting against evil is also the reason given for the bombing of the world trade center. It may be much easier to find out whether an act was bad or evil when we are talking about the actions of individuals, but as it comes in the form of systemic actions and reactions, finding a specific actor and the intention behind the act is very difficult. Maybe we need to keep asking if the harm done...if the "bad" event...was something that could be prevented...could we do something as people/nations/human beings that would stop the spiral of evil that so quickly takes root among us.

Connection: We begin our work against evil by taking responsibilities for our actions. Yes, we do things in our lives that are individuals and as groups. And yet, we are able to turn to one another and admit our intentional acts and ask for forgiveness and seek to rebuild relationships and repair done within our lives. Confession and forgiveness always has a place within the confrontation of evil and the facing of bad stuff that goes on among us.

Lord of All Things, let you Spirit of Wholeness abide with us and empower us to be truthful and seek the welfare of others. Continue to forgive us for our participation in all that goes against your loving reign and turn us into the ways of your peace and reconciliation. Amen

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Tuesday, 17 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner.

We continue to take a look at God in the midst of evil. This is particularly important as we live after the devastation of the Holocaust. Evil is a difficult reality to deal with especially as we hear some of the stories from the scripture.

Biblical accounts of earth swallowing villains, seas splitting to save innocents, or wicked nations being blotted out seem now, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, clearly to be metaphors - never meant to be taken literally. If the world of the Bible were so ontologically different from our world today as to permit such divine intervention, then truths from such a time would be irrelevant. For us, the snowflakes and rays of sunlight fall without discrimination on righteous and wicked alike. This is simply how the world works. And all theology after the Holocaust must begin with this acknowledgment... What then is evil and where does it come from?

"Like in the Bible..." How many times have you heard that kind of a statement when referring to miraculous events and great interventions into our world? Some people will actually say that our God doesn't act like that anymore. Others will claim that if these things don't happen, God is not active in your life and therefore your faith must not be strong enough. Well, first of all, there is never a time when God is not active in our lives. Second, if God is only active when something "grand and out of the ordinary" take place, then what do we do with the majority of people whose illness never goes away...whose lives are not spared...etc. Why are we so afraid to talk about metaphors. I suppose people begin to think that an event or story is not true if it is a metaphor. I don't buy it. The only way we can talk about the way God can make for new life and bring life into a community that is facing hopelessness it through stories that help to ignite a Spirit of life that cannot be quenched. In the face of a reality where the rain and the sun falls on the righteous and the wicked alike...or say it any way you like...our God is with us in the midst of it all...all...for all time and in all places. What stories help us to bring the life our God calls forth from us no matter what the situation?

Connection: Can we walk through today praising God for God's mighty acts within this day even as we have a mundane and ordinary day? I think there is much to see within God's compassionate and powerful grasp even as we face whatever evil or good enters our lives.

Lord God you preside over all things. You remain with us even as we become blind and lose our hearing and will not turn to you any more. Praise be to you for keeping your promises and being eternally for us in all the days of our lives. Amen.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Monday, 16 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner.

This section of Kusher's book is drawn from the stories and images from Hannah Rachel. She was a famous rebbe, the Ludomirer Moid. Men came from miles around to learn from her. The chapter carries this theme into the discussion of Jacob and the dream of the ladder: God is present, even in the midst of evil.

Kushner writes about the wall-sized photograph in Yad VaShem, Israel's memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust. It is the site of a mass grave and the executions taking place at its edge.

If there is a God, where was that God when this photograph was taken? God was there. See, we have a photograph. There is God, over there in the ditch, in the mother's terrified eyes, even in the psychosis of the Nazi soldier. There is God, an ashen reality, now almost two generations later, more mysterious and holy than ever. The question is not Where was God? but Why do human beings do such things? Blaming God not only absolves us but increases the likelihood that we will allow such horrors to happen again.

In this season of Advent, there is no other time so available to the concept of God within the most horrible brutalities of our day as to call out the name Immanuel - God With Us. This is not to be a sentimental a cozy God who pats our head and keeps us safe and secure. Our God is with us - right in that which is good ...and right with us in that which is too horrible to imagine. Our God who comes in Christ, Jesus, and who rules until the end of time is not Lord of All if God is not wrapped up in the evil that can crash into our day. Kushner's last line is very important to keep in front of us: Blaming God not only absolves us but increases the likelihood that we will allow such horrors to happen again.

Connection: Do not be afraid to say God is With Us. God is standing and crying in the midst of our pain whenever it occurs.

Lord of All, we count on you to be our foundation and our rock. Help us to stand upon your presence even as there is evidence of evil all around us. Help us to see in the ashes of our lives the never-failing love that is you always in all things. Amen.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Friday, 13 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner.

The precious uniqueness of each creature makes them all equally beloved. You want to be like God? Start by trying to love all creatures with equal love! Get your self out of the way.

The first time I read this it really hit me how different we are from our God. To love all creatures with equal love!...can that be? I think we have all the necessary rhetoric, but I think their is still quite some distance between rhetoric and my case at least. As much as we may try, it is not easy to see the presence of God in others. I think we can do it in a "general" fashion, but when it comes to that individual in the room with me right now...loving all people equally is a pipe dream. And yet, we are invited into such a reality. We are invited to reach out and encounter and come to some understanding of the worth of another person so that we may find what love really can be. Love of neighbor is very specific and pushes us to be very general. Love of neighbor is ignited by the power of the Holy Spirit for we tend not to have such passion for the love of others. In that sense, we cannot be like God...for we are in constant need of God, the Holy Spirit, to bring us into relationships that can be expressions of love and compassion.

Connection: Is it possible to "get your self out of the way" and begin to love the neighbors you encounter today. Even at play!

Wind of Life, send us into this day refreshed by your Holy Breath and gifted with eyes that can see the precious gift you bring into our day in the shape of those around us. May we find ways to love one another and reflect your glory. Amen

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Thursday, 12 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner.

In Judaism, the most elegant and commonly practiced method for subduing the ego is a loose catalog of acts called gemilut hasidim,usually translated as deeds of loving kindness. (leaving unharvested produce in the corners of the field for the poor & the stranger, extending hospitality to wayfarers, visiting the sick, ransoming those held captive, providing clothing for the naked, feeding the hungry, dowering the impoverished bride, attending the dead to the grave, comforting mourners, showing deference to the aged)

These deeds do not say, "You are more important," but "You are every bit as important as I am." In most cases repayment is unlikely. In one way or another, they all involve some form of selflessness in the service of someone else.

Such an outlook toward others builds character in people. Such an outlook toward those in need is that way we begin to shape the story of a people. When we are able to have our lives surrounded with such stories of loving kindness, they begin to shape how we live. Such story telling gives direction for us when it would be so easy to simply direct ourselves in the ways we want to go. Such a reminder that we are a people who are grasped by the loving kindness of our God that then comes to life within our lives has the power to change us and bring new life into our old self-centered ways. Entering into the service of others...others who are just as important as I one of the most powerful building blocks of a community that we can ever expect to see take hold.

Connection: Imagine. Walking through your day looking out at those around you and living with them as though you know and believe that they are just as important as you are. Imagine that.

Compassionate God you hold us and you show us the ways of your loving kindness as a parent teaches a child how to sow or to ride a bike. Ever present and ever touching us as we learn the ways of your blessed reign and make them a part of this time. Praise and thanks be to you. Amen.

Wednesday, 11 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner.

In discussing the call of Abraham, Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Ger goes on to asks how Abraham's leaving home was a difficult test to endure if God promised Abraham great reward. He continues:

Actually this was an enormously difficult test for Abraham. For the biblical text says a few verses later that ultimately Abraham did not set out on the journey for his own reward but simply, "And Abraham went as God had told him." He went, in other words only because of the command of God, without any other motive. The real test was whether, after all these assurances of reward, Abraham would be able to preserve the purity of simply doing as God wanted without contaminating the act with his own motives or confusing it with his own benefits.

This first test of the first Jew was not whether or not he would do what God said but whether or not he could do it only because God said it. Would he be able to put his self out of the way?

Kushner writes that in Judaism, doing something entirely because of God's request, without any thought of personal pleasure or reward, is said to be "lishma," for its own sake. That is...we don't get anything out of doing it. It is done, you could say, because it needs to be done. This may be an odd example but yesterday, I left the house early and noticed that all the garbage bins were out and many of the red plastic containers for recycling were on the curbs. I know for me, it is one of those things that simply needs to be done and therefore, if I remember, the trash is put out. But trash is not usually the case. It can be so easy to get sucked into taking part in something for more than the act of doing something. "Just like that"...the self-interest in something taking place escalates and we quickly "contaminate the act with our own motives or confuse it with our own benefits." I remember sitting in a car with a group of teens and we talked about doing something when no one is watching. How do we act? How does that show the shape of someone's character? How do we act when seen and how do we act when no one is around? Can we follow the ways of God's reign simply because we have been invited to share in the journey?

Connection: I can remember a person saying to me that once you start thinking about why you do things, you will be caught in an endless cycle of self-evaluation and introspection. That can be a real mess. We are not called to deliberate the motives of every action. But we are called to act faithfully...I think there can be quite a bit of freedom in that calling.

Lead us Lord and lift us up into the life of your blessed reign so that we may begin each day as though we face the opportunity of a lifetime...for it is simply there before us. Amen.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Tuesday, 10 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner.

The prohibition against idolatry, in effect, also prohibits egotism, self-centeredness at the expense of someone else. Self-centeredness at the expense of someone else is the root of being a mean person. Therefore the prohibition against worshiping idols is just a fancy theological way of saying, don't be self-centered. And the first two utterances at Sinai now mean: "If you let Me be God, then you won't be a louse," or conversely, "When you are a louse, there is no God!" The barrier between us and God is our ego, and the focus of the tension is the personal pronoun, I.

Often I see a bumper sticker that reads "Mean People Suck." From what Kushner writes, it may be more fitting to have a bumper sticker that says "Mean People are Idolaters." Do we become mean when we are so consumed by ourselves that we cannot stand others? For at that point, the only perspective of life is the one I hold and any other suggestion for how life is to be lived is simply out of the question. Such idolatry will always put us at odds with others. It is how we fashion wars. Self-centeredness seeks the destruction of others...or at least their humiliation so that I may make more of myself at their expense. To counter act the temptation to be swept up into idolatrous lives we must be willing to keep listening to others and begin to see and hear things other than the way we want life to be. It is not always easy to do that. Once we are centered on our selves, it is not a simple task to turn around and be open to the wonderful fullness of God's gracious and loving reign. The bible is filled with such stories of stubborn people who resist every call to repentance.

Connection: What's going on when we are down right "mean?" do we live alongside "mean" people? How can this day be shaken from self-centeredness and become centered around God's invitation to be God's beloved...all of us?

Lord lift up our eyes from our own little worlds so that we may see the richness of your reign in which all your people come together as one. Encourage us to let go of our need to control this day and then enter into conversation with others so that we may see the world with new eyes every day. Amen

Monday, December 9, 2002

Monday, 9 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner

Menachem Mendl writes:

Normally not even an iron barrier can separate Israel from God, but self-love, egotism will drive them apart.

Kushner then comments about idolatry.

Idolatry believes there is a divine Ego that is accessible to human manipulation - not just cajoling, persuasion, or bargaining but actual control. Idolaters infiltrate heaven and remake God into their own images. They become their own gods. Jews tried it once at the very foot of Sinai.

There is such a strong temptation to have life and the things of life go "my way." We even sing about it...base fast food images on it...and base our economy on it. But then there is the temptation to "remake God" so that we now have some divine power behind and at least divine blessing for who we are and what we do. It doesn't take much for us to make ourselves the center of the universe. We can do it in either ways that make us bigger that others...or we can go the other way and become the center of all things by making less of ourselves. In the end, the focus of all things and mine. This is where it is so important to hang around people who will say "baloney" to us. Imagine what would have happened if as they were beginning to spread the word that the people of Israel were going to build a calf out of gold, someone stood up and said, "This is baloney! What will a golden calf bring us out here in the wilderness?" When you think about it. Once the golden calf is built, it now needs people who will be in charge of carrying it...setting it up...enforcing rules about who can touch it...whatever. Idolatry cannot stand waiting for our God for we want our life way.

Connection: So, do you have someone or a group of people who help you keep your ego in perspective? We could all use a community like that.

Lord of all that is and all that will be, we count on the power of the Holy Spirit to keep us faithful and to make our days into a living witness to your gracious reign. When we are tempted to walk away from you and seek out other objects of trust, stir up our hearts to hear your never failing promise to be for us. Amen.

Friday, December 6, 2002

Friday, 6 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner

In the first devotion using this book, I referred to Menachem Mendl of Kotzk - also known simply as Kotzker. He would say Jacob could see that God was with him only when he was able to subdue his ego. Here is a little story to make just such a point.

The Talmud says: "When Nebuchadnezzar, the might King of Babylonia, wanted to sing praises to God, an angel came and slapped him in the face." Asked the Kotzker, "Why did he deserve to be slapped if his intention was to sing God's praises?" He answered himself: "You want to sing praises while you are wearing your crown? Let me hear how you praise me after having been slapped in the face."

For the Kotzker, each day "the truth had to be found anew as it had never been found." As followers of Jesus, we claim that the way, the truth, & the life is in Christ, Jesus. The reminder we may need to carry with us each day is one that presses for that truth no matte what might be the situation of the day. Do we trust in God's word of love for us...God's promise to be our foundation...God's never failing presence among us, even when the things in our lives do not treat us as though we are kings and queens who rule our own little world? Trusting in our God - being faithful - is a constant calling. And yet, there can be so many thing we let get in the way of trusting that word of life that is offered to us. A good slap in the face is not a "put down," it helps put things into perspective so that our lives may be seen within the eternal grasp of our God...the God who Create all for us. But often, we will let everything in the world rule us but that. Whack! Thanks I needed that.

Connection: Our journey is not one in which we are to belittle ourselves. Rather we are given the freedom to find our worth in something other than what sells in the marketplace or what I am able to do as compared with others. Beginning from our place before God...the promise of new life, the day can be viewed from a position of new strength and humility.

Praise to you O God! Let our lives be filled with the creative power of your love so that we may face all things with a sense of confidence that comes as we see ourselves as your beloved. Amen.

Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Thursday, 5 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner

Universal consciousness is too much to handle and would burn out the circuitry (of our being - I suppose). In Thoreau's words, "I have never met a (person) who was quite awake. How could I have looked (that person) in the face? We must therefore create an elaborate system of filters, lenses, and blinders to screen out the extraneous images, leaving us with a very small field of vision. What we call consciousness is all that remains visible in this tiny patch of the light of our attention. We can aim it at anything we like, but only a very few things at a time. How we will focus and direct the bean is up to us.

We each miss so much of what is going on around us. The words, the images, the smells, the feel, and then...the various combinations of all these as they play off one another. One way to be aware of the world around us is to come into our world with a story that helps guide us...a lens that gives us the ability to see in a specific way. No matter what we do, we enter into this day with some sort of filter or lens that attempts to provide us with a way of dealing with all that is going on around us. Fill a room with people and ask them to make some comments about an object in the room or an activity that they have just experienced, and watch how the filters work to interpret and to screen. What if our default filter...our lens, was the grace of God. How would the world look to us and what would our vision do to how we then lived our lives? One thing to remember. No matter what our lens may be and no matter how we then live our lives, others may have a lens that does not let them see us as we would like to be seen.

Connection: With the lens of our lives being the grace of God, we cannot be in control of everything. Our God will inspire our living and we may then live by grace alone, but that may not be greeted well by others. By grace, we then continue.

Lord of Love, in all times keep us firm on the foundation of your graceful reign so that whatever this day may bring we will persistently put on the gracious lens of your reign and be steadfast in our love of others. Amen.

Wednesday, 4 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner

In a section labeled "Oblivious to Miracles" it is noted that the greatest miracle ever performed...more than all the miracles beheld by the prophets...was the splitting of the Red Sea as Israel fled Egypt. One Midrash (story explaining stories) mentions the experience of two Israelites, Reuven & Shimon:

Apparently the bottom of the sea, though safe to walk on, was not completely dry but a little muddy, like a beach at low tide. Reuven stepped into it and curled his lip. "What is this muck?"

Shimon scowled, "There's mud all over the place!"

"This is just like the slime pits of Egypt!" replied Reuven.

"What's the difference?" Complained Shimon. "Mud here, mud there: it's all the same."

And so it went for the two of them, grumbling all the way across the bottom of the sea. And, because they never once looked up, they never understood why on the distant shore everyone else was singing songs of praise. For Reuven and Shimon the miracle never happened.

I may share this story at our Wednesday Advent worship because there is so much here about awareness...seeing what is there and yet, at times, missing the full story that is much more than what we often choose to see. What we choose to see often makes the whole picture quite unrecognizable. Advent is a time of the Church Year that directs us to look into the promise of God to be with us and that presence is the beginning and end of the Good News. But there are many times and many, many moments when we cannot see anything but the muck in which we have stepped. Too often, that means we forget our place...we forget the whole story...we forget that we are not alone nor abandoned.

Connection: Do the people within your day often seem to be just that...people within your day? What if we were able to see them through the eyes of promise? See them as though they play a part in a cosmic drama in which we too are placed. We don't need to dwell on what "part" everyone plays - that can become a horrible religious game. Instead, maybe asking the questions simply will help us lift up our heads and become more aware of the many possibilities for life that are placed all around us.

Lord of the Exodus, you promise to deliver your people and we long to be grabbed up and brought within your gracious reign where justice and peace kiss. Let this time be one in which our eyes begin to see more of your reign breaking in all around us. With such vision, inspire our praise of you. Amen.

Monday, December 2, 2002

Tuesday, 3 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner

The Great Rabbi known as Rashi sees in the story of Jacob and the Angels & the ladder with an eye toward awareness..."had I known God was here, I would not have fallen asleep." Kushner goes on to speak of Moses' encounter with the burning bush that was not consumed. And that you would have had to stay there a look at it for a while before you would notice it was not being consumed.

The "burning bush" was not a miracle. It was a test. God wanted to find out whether or not Moses could pay attention to something for more than a few minutes. When Moses did, God Spoke. The trick is to pay attention to what is going on around you long enough to behold the miracle without falling asleep. There is another world, right here within this one , whenever we pay attention.

I know, it sounds like something Yoda would say in the "Star Wars" movies. I am not one who sits and waits and observe as much as I know is necessary. Too often, I am willing to jump forward at the first piece of information or insight that rips through the day. One of the ways this comes to most profoundly is when I am preparing for the Children's lesson for worship on Sunday. Rather than run around looking for what to do, I was told by a teacher many years ago that it is best to simply sit...or...simply take the time to observe what is already all around us. There will be a lesson. There will be an opportunity to see something new about life and the way I am engaging in life. Becoming aware of the world around us may simply mean we take the time to look at our world and be a child who knows nothing and yet wants to see the new toy or the object before her...more deeply. The smallest details may expose the greatest wealth of insight about many things - even life as it is before our God.

Connection: Within the movement of this day we are able to stop and look and become aware of the many facets of our day that make for the wonderful fullness of life that we too often shuffle past. The training sign for students who are learning to cross a set of train tracks is a simply one to remember as a sign for all the engagements of our lives: Stop, Look, Listen.

Surprise us Lord God with the wonderful gifts of your creation that remind us of your glory and the many ways you are present among us to shape us into the people you call beloved and promise to be with in all time. Calm our hearts that we may become aware of your burning desire to be with us. Amen.

Monday, 2 December, 2002

This is a part of a series of devotions based on: God Was In This Place & I , i Did Not Know - by Lawrence Kushner

Like the One who has no mouth, who spoke the first letter that has no sound, the biblical word conceals an infinity of meanings. "She open a little window in her hidden palace and reveals her face to her lover, then swiftly withdraws, concealing herself." We read the Bible, fix our attention on a phrase, and suddenly find ourselves in a conversation with centuries of teachers who also have come hoping to penetrate the meaning of the same text, convinced that holy words are intimately related not only to what God means but even to who God is and who we are.

This entire book is focused around one verse in scripture: Genesis 28:16. Here Jacob wakes from his dream in which angels are ascending and descending a ladder going from earth to heaven. The verse is the name of the book. Each chapter demonstrates how different rabbis of old and present have interpreted the passage. In many ways, it shows how profoundly inadequate are the "literal" translations of scripture...and how the same can be said for those who say a passage can and must be read in one way. Our journey into scripture is a journey in which we may meet ourselves and find out just who we are as we are looking to see and gain a glimpse of the God who calls all things into being. Sometime we forget to carry on a conversation with scripture as we read it. And then, we do not give ourselves the time to carry on a conversation with other in regard to the text we are reading. More and more, I find it is so important to actually read the scriptures and begin to hear what takes place as we sit together and share the visions and insights that may come from any and all directions - each a window that gives us a glance at our another...and ourselves.

Connection: Listening is a skill we must all take time to develop more fully. It takes time to listen. Especially if we want to hear more than our own side of the story trying to filter what someone is trying to say to us. When we meet and work with others today, it may do us well to see them as a text that is engaging us and demanding our complete attention...a text that will add to the fullness of our lives.

Lord God, you speak the first word of creation and there is life. You engage us in conversation and we become a people whose lives are shaped by you word and the words of those around us. Inspire us to look again and again at the image for life that is presented to us as we converse with one another in the presence of your word of life. Amen.

Friday, November 29, 2002

Friday, 29 November, 2002

Note that the regular devotions were not sent today due to the U.S. Thanksgiving Day. This devotion is from June of 2000.

Text: Matthew 6:19-21

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where theives break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consummes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

What are we to treasure? What about the Reign of God, the Will of God. That is the treasure for which we pray in the Lord's Prayer. What about acts of kindness and mercy. You can take those one can steal those from us. Our focus is what gives purpose and form to the day at hand. Remember, our treasures can be any number of things. People, things, abilities all become treasures that can grow old and fade and give out. This does not mean that we are not to have or nurture these things in our lives. We are told not to put those things before or in place of the treasure offered within God's Reign and promises for life. Which will never lose their power and life. Everything else will have its place when our priority in life is focused on God's Reign available to us now.

Connection: How can treasuring the things of the Reign of God ( justice, peace, the welfare of all, forgiveness, etc.) shape the way we engage and treat the other "treasures" of our lives today. Sometimes, letting go of the other things we treasure is the most powerful way of honoring those things and staying focused on what God requires of us. Every time I think about my daughter being away from home and living on her own, I think about the possibility of losing her - somehow. It is frightening. And yet, it is what reminds me to thank God for what I have been given. And as usual, God gives us enough....always.

O Treasure of our lives, thanks be to you for the very life we breathe each moment and for the vast spectrum of gifts you bring into our lives. Remind us to treasure the gift of your Son and the life within your blessed Reign. Amen

Thursday, November 28, 2002

Thursday, 28 November, 2002

Note that the regular devotions were not sent today due to the U.S. Thanksgiving Day. This devotion is from June of 2000.

Text: Matthew 6:16-18

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil onyour head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

This is the last comment from Matthew's gospel that is about the three disciplines of religious piety mentioned last week: Fasting. It is probably the least practiced of the three (almsgiving, prayer, fasting). Today, fasting has more of a connection to dieting than it does to an exercise that helps us focus on our relationship with God and our place in the world as God's children. The cover of this week's Newsweek reads, Fat for Life written across the waist of a "typical" US youth. The discipline of fasting cannot help that boy or any of us with our weight. It can be for us a focus...a way to make an intentional prayer-like move within our everyday order that would help us prayerfully think about what it means to be God's beloved. Fasting takes us out of our usual pattern of life. Therefore, we will be jarred enough by the change to our daily order that we have the opportunity to intentionally consider our status as connected to God. The note in today's lesson has to do with how we fast. Fasting is a personal discipline - no need for anyone to hear or see that we are involved in fasting. Another note. We can fast even as we restrict our diet. For example, when I was at Holden Village, we had a weekly potato day. That was dinner. The village then took the money that it would have spent to prepare a regular meal and we sent it to something like the ELCA Hunger Appeal. So as a community even our eating was a prayerful fast of sorts. It also allowed those who cannot go without food to fast in a particular manner.

Connection: Households can fast in a variety of ways. If you do choose to fast, do something with your regular eating time that allows you freedom to do something you would not usually let yourself do...walk, write a letter, give someone a call who would really enjoy hearing from someone. Maybe a good way to break a fast is to invite someone over for dinner - they don't need to know you were will know...and so will your Father in secret.

Gracious God, keep us focused on the wealth of life within your Reign. Keep us steadfast in journey within your loving embrace. Amen

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Wednesday, 27 November, 2002

The focus of today's devotion is on a portion of the second Lesson for the Day of Thanksgiving: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God love a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (vs..6-8)

I like to hear this as an invitation to be conduits of God's many gifts bestowed upon God's people. In that way, we are all conduits...we all have something to share with others. We are not the end of the line where things and gifts pile up for our own use or mere storage. We are given much and invited to share much. I do not need to hear reward and punishment in this lesson. There is no "payback" system so that we will give in order to get what we want or to be given more and more. It is vital for us to consider what is enough. The amount of our material possessions and the gold we can wrap around our necks or the cars we are able to drive say little about the wealth we have in this God of ours who loves us and will abide with us no matter what we "have." It would be good for us to be prayerful about what is enough and what can be released from our control and possession and handed on to others so that they too might have the opportunity to gift others. The gifting and the sharing never stops. All of any of our situations can be "cheerful givers" even as our gifts may vary greatly. We have been blessed and we stand within the blessed position of being a blessing to others.

Connection: It is not easy to consider what is enough for our lives. The temptation is always to have more...biggy size up good things...hold off with sharing until we are absolutely sure we have enough (which is often never). Today is another day to share abundantly of the enough that is given to us.

Lord of All Good Things, you hand over to us the world and all of its resources. Though we each hold so little, you inspire us to make much of the little we have by blessing us with the opportunity to share with others and thus, create a community of loving compassion and care. Praise be to you. Amen

Tuesday, 26 November, 2002

Again from the second lesson from Christ the King Sunday.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. Ephesians 1:15-19

The prayer is for the community to be gifted by the Spirit. These are not merely gifts that will bring into our lives "stuff" or what we want. These are gifts that enable us to see the reign of God in all its glory breaking in to this day. This is to be a "spirit of wisdom and revelation" sufficient to change the way we see all things for we will see all things through the lens of promise. Today, the horizon is exposed and the end is handed to us as an inheritance and we are invited to leap into today trusting in that view from the very horizon of the end of time. We are ordinary folk. And yet, to ordinary folk there comes a power for life that makes the ordinary into the extraordinary - which is simply revealed in our freedom to serve one another for there is nothing to prove within our lives. The greatest gift is already ours - that's a promise. Therefore, we are able to engage this day with new vision and great hope.

Connection: Sometimes the most powerful gift we bring into our day as we are among others is the ability to see opportunities in which we are held up by God's love and we become instruments of that love in all we do.

Precious Lord, you make us a people whose lives are filled with many changes and new beginnings and a rich history. Remind us that it is in this day that we begin again to give you thanks for the gift of vision that enables us to see the ways of your glorious reign unfold before us. Amen.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Monday, 25 November, 2002

A brief switch from our look at The Hauerwas Reader. This is part of the second lesson from Christ the King Sunday.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

First of all, if we were still teaching the art of diagramming sentences, this second sentence would be a great one to give as homework. Then, it is simply wonderful to hear such a word of commendation to the church at Ephesus. It first shows how connected this early church was - one part to another. There is a feeling as though the life of one congregation was tied to another and the various parts - though far from one another - were of utmost importance to the whole. My initial reaction to the open words of this passage was that these words could be the word of a bishop as s/he visits with a congregation in what we would call a Synod in our church. It shows interest...loving connection...the focus is completely on the life of the congregation...and the congregational life is called a gift to all because of the very core of their life together - their faith.

Connection: It would do us all well to commend one another and offer words of encouragement as we live as disciple of Christ in this day. It takes more than me to build up my life in the Lord. The me...always needs you.

Lord of all faithfulness, inspire us to be bold in showing our appreciation for one another in the faith. It is by your Spirit that you work to bring us together as one people and by your Spirit that we begin that journey of intimacy. Amen.

Friday, November 22, 2002

Friday, 22 November, 2002

From "A Story-Formed Community:Reflections on Watership Down in The Hauerwas Reader.

The rabbits of Watership Down were staying with Cowslip's warren. There was not chief Rabbit need for cunning or fear...a large den with plenty to eat and a farmer near by to make sure there was always food for them. There was "one strict rule: No one must ever ask where another rabbit was and anyone who asked: 'Where' - except in song or a poem - must be silenced."

Because they could not ask where anyone was, they also lost the most precious skills rabbits needed to survive: cooperation and friendship. One could not risk getting to close to another rabbit, for that one might be the next to die. Friendship implies mutual giving of aid, but these rabbits had accepted a social system that required them to look after themselves first.

The Church must be a gathering of friends -at least. This would mean that each of us would be concerned and connected to others. Our prayers would be on behalf of those around us and therefore, our lives would be eternally connected no matter what might come upon us this day. The temptation to be self-concerned to the point of withdrawal from others can become so great because it is easy to think that our own preservation and meeting our own needs will provide us with a life that is whole and complete. Well, it may be complete -in that we become all there is in our lives - but it is not whole. The others in our lives who become our friends not only draw us into new life with new perspectives, we are also drawn up into a give & take that brings each of our gifts to the table to share with one another. Christians are often called "friends of the Lord" because our ties...our friendships...are born out of the water of our baptism and in the shape of the one whose love would not let us go. That is a story of a friendship that creates bonds of loving compassion for one another: A community of Christ.

Connection: I can be in the middle of a bad day and be instantly renewed when I enter the presence of friends. Maybe it is the freedom to speak and laugh and share all that is good and bad about life. Maybe it is the opportunity I am given to sort through life's many problems and predicaments. Will we have the opportunity today to engage in conversation with those who we call friends...and to simply know that we can be silent among them and still be a part of a group of people connected to one another?

Spirit of God you bind us together with a love that forms a community and nurtures friendships and pulls us into relationship so that each of us may have the many gifts and resources for life. Let you Spirit whip around us and create friendships that make us a body of saints being reshaped each day by one another presence. Amen

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Thursday, 21 November, 2002

From "A Story-Formed Community:Reflections on Watership Down in The Hauerwas Reader.

Along the journey of Watership Down, there are rabbits that are added to this warren from another warren they visit. There was Fiver who had many skills to offer to the group but then we hear of others:

Pipkin, like Fiver, was small; unlike Fiver, he had no gift or skill. Though weak and constantly in need of help, in some ways he is the most crucial rabbit for the determination of the character of Watership Down warren. By endangering themselves in order to care for Pipkin, they develop an openness to the stranger.

Years ago I remember reading a comment that went something like this: The Character of a society is noted by how they treat the elderly and infirmed. It can be so easy to leave off those who do not meet a certain grade. Too often we judge a person's worth by what they can produce or what they can bring to the "table" in the form of skills and wealth. In the gospel lesson for this Sunday, it is the story of the sheep and the goats and how they do not know what they have done right or wrong. In both of their cases, the ones who would usually be overlooked become the center of attention. One group of animals attends to the needs of the those who were most left out and in need during their lives. The other group did not pay them any attention. The community of the beloved of God have such a character about them that no one is left out and without the care of the others. That is the vision. That is life that is eternally creative and blessed and saving. It is the kind of life that considers the whole and seeks after the well being of all. Just as our God sees in each and everyone of us - even when we are strangers - a beloved child for who God will give up all things, so are we invited to have such eyes and such action in regard to those around us. The stranger is not a stranger among us.

Connection: Pipkin did not have to be the center of attention in the community. Pipkin was simply included. Room was made. Pipkin, was brought on board and in that action we are given a view of the backbone - the character of others. Pipkins mere being...being within the whole is a gift to the whole. The church would do well to prayerfully consider our ability to "endanger themselves" for the welfare of the least among us.

God of infinite love and mercy,

Wednesday, 20 November, 2002

From "A Story-Formed Community:Reflections on Watership Down in The Hauerwas Reader.

...a key purpose of most societies is to provide a sense of security...

Absorption into most societies is training in self-deception as we conspire with one another to keep death at bay. Ironically, the more our societies confirm this self-deception, the more dangerous our life becomes. We lose the skill of recognizing what danger is and where it lies. Deception become the breeding ground for injustice, since the necessity to hide the dangers of our world make it impossible to confront those aspects of our social order that impose unequal burdens on others. Our conspiracy for safety forces us to see our neighbor as a stranger.

And...we all know how we tend to treat strangers. They are different. They are not like us. If they are not like us, we must beware that they may be a danger to our group or society. In the movie "Bowling for Columbine" Michael Moore throws in a cartoon on the development of western civilization and it is a sad/funny commentary on fear and our ability to tell self-deceptive stories in order to maintain an order or a direction within a group of people. As Hauerwas rightly notes, "deception become the breeding ground for injustice." To maintain a dominant story or simply the story of a group of people, means that we must be very watchful of anyone who does not fit a certain profile or, at least, fit in so well within the dominant self-deception that a portion of their profile may be overlooked...for now. But the stranger among us is always a stranger...someone is always placed into that role...the outsider...the one who causes us to have to put up our walls of security. Even if those walls are manufactured by self-serving rules and pictures. I am always overwhelmed by the stories of Jesus as he does not go along with notion of "outsider" as it is defined within the security of the community. He makes the stranger a sister or brother. That is utterly foolish within the societies and groups who want to control by painting those outside the norm as a threat.

Connection: We must be a people willing to hear another version of the story. Therefore, an exercise that would be good for all of us is to ask how it can be seen differently and what might a different view do to help us have a wholesome and creative picture of the society or group in which we find ourselves.

Lord of All, your creative powers have been used to bring into existence the many people of your world. We differ so much and yet you call us out as one - a people beloved and inspired by your Holy Spirit. Where there is the possibility of division and warfare among us, grant us the wisdom to look again and see how we may set our fears aside and listen and speak as people drenched by your gracious reign. Amen

Monday, November 18, 2002

Tuesday, 19 November, 2002

From "A Story-Formed Community:Reflections on Watership Down in The Hauerwas Reader.

Author Richard Adams suggests that society can best be understood as an extended argument, since living traditions presuppose rival interpretations. Good societies enable the argument to continue so that the possibilities and limits of the tradition can be exposed. The great danger, however, is that the success of a tradition will stop its growth and in reaction some may deny the necessity of tradition for their lives. The truthfulness of a tradition is tested in its ability to form people who are ready to put the tradition into question, or at least to recognize when it is being put into question by a rival tradition.

It is not easy to live through having anything in our lives "exposed." We quickly draw a towel around our body if a stranger was to walk into the bathroom just as we were stepping out of the shower. It is a reactive behavior about which we may not even have time to is done. Imagine then how difficult it is to live through someone or some group exposing something in our lives or our tradition or in our family...the list can go on and on for us. And yet, the holes...the lies...the mistakes...the misjudgments...etc., to which attention may be drawn often becomes a moment ready for reactivity and defense. I find that we all need to be graceful with one another in those moments of "exposure." We do not need to stop being critical or asking questions or insisting on some account of our actions. Rather, we need to continue to engage one another and our traditions but we allow for that initial need to "react" before we go on with what will become a constructive and creative time together. Putting our lives and our traditions into question helps us to define that which we call foundational to our lives. As people continue to be formed by tradition, it makes great sense to keep those traditions sharp through review and redefinition and at times, rejection.

Connection: Why do we do what we do...act the way we act...go about the routines of the day this way and not that way...react to the world around us in a pattern that disturbs us or is so "given" we can't see it in ourselves? Hmmmm.

Lord of Life, you bring us into a community and call us to share our lives with those around us. Empower us to speak words of truth and to listen to the questions of the day that call for clarification for the many ways we act in community. Inspire us to view change as an opportunity to view life in new ways and to grow more deeply into those traditions that keep our lives alive and creative. Amen

Monday, 18 November, 2002

This week we will begin with selections from "A Story-Formed Community:Reflections on Watership Down in The Hauerwas Reader.

For several years, I have been throwing out onto the floor the notion that we are followers of Jesus in the reign of God...and this following is "an adventure for life." The word "adventure" is a very deliberate choice for our life as followers of Jesus. This is one small piece of Hauerwas' work that has a similar feel to it to me.

...Watership Down is primarily a novel about the various forms of courage and hope necessary for the formation of a good community. Adventure requires courage to keep us faithful to the struggle, since by its very nature adventure means that the future is always in doubt. And just to the extent that the future is in doubt, hope is required, as there can be no adventure if we despair of our goal. Such hope does no necessarily take the form of excessive confidence; rather, it involves the simple willingness to take the next step.

Gandhi once wrote about the courage that was necessary to be someone whose life was nonviolent. The discipline of nonviolence is not a way of disengagement. Rather it is shaped by engagement. We must be brave and have a story that we use to help define our actions and pull us into an engagement with all the powers of the day...even when we are not sure of what the outcome may be of such engagements. Hauerwas seems to use the word adventure when we are pulled into such engagement in the world. His comment "by its very nature adventure means that the future is always in doubt" leaves us in a place that may demand our complete trust in a story that is willing to face the possibility of non-being...death...harm...loss of all things. When we engage the day unsure of how the day will come to completion we can only engage it one step at a time. Each step become the adventure of new life and I would hope...a step within the domain of God's reign. Yes, as Douglas John Hall may write, God reigns: all contrary evidence not withstanding, but we must step out into the contrary evidence holding onto a story of promise from the Lord of all Hopefulness.

Connection: Take the next step.

Lord of all Hopefulness, grasp us and breathe into us this breath of new life that is available to all of your beloved. Grant us courage to step into our lives trusting in the vision of your promised eternal reign as it comes among us even now. Amen

Friday, November 15, 2002

Friday, 15 November, 2002

From " Self Deception and Autobiography" by Stanley Hauerwas - in The Hauerwas Reader.

The irony of self-deception is that a cynic is less vulnerable to self-deception than a conscientious person. "The less integrity, the less there is motive to enter into self-deception. The greater the integrity of the person the more powerful the contrary inclination, the greater the temptation to self-deception (the nearer to saintliness, the more a powerful personality suffers). It is because the movement into self-deception is rooted in a concern for the integrity of spirit that we temper our condemnation of the self-deceiver.

Just as he speaks of the great temptation to self-deception as one is nearer saintliness, it is all the more important to point out that the ones we have traditionally called saints are saints precisely because they had that marvelous gift of a story to guide them and help to face the reality of the day and of their own situation. In the face of the pressures of time and the world, the saint will often be the one who stands contrary to the world even when s/he is rejected by or dishonored by the world. Those we would call saints (both the living and the dead) are held up because their following in the way of Jesus is a way of truthfulness. This "way" though it demand much and demands that one be utterly conscientious, demands truth telling that is in line with the story of Jesus' way of truth.

Connection: Remember, self-deception is an important part of our coping mechanism....that is we all use it and use it well and use it every day. So, how will this day be gifted by the truth telling of people who follow Jesus? How will truth telling that is in line with the story of Jesus help to shape this day?

Lord of all Truthfulness, lead us into the many facets of our day. There are too many times that we do not risk being your beloved and living as though your love for us is the only power that needs to shape us and move us along this day. Keep us honest and bold and willing to risk within our lives for the sake of the truthfulness of your blessed reign. Amen

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Thursday, 14 November, 2002

From " Self Deception and Autobiography" by Stanley Hauerwas

Our protective deceits become destructive when they begin to serve our need to shape a world consistent with our illusions. The power of fabrication makes it that much harder to uncover our deceptions by masking them with sufficient plausibility to render them acceptable. Occasionally we are fortunate enough to be forced to face our deceptions, but ironically the very same imaginative and intellectual skills that lead us to discriminate falsity from truth also empower us to create those webs of illusion that lend plausibility to our original deceptive policy.

You may be wondering why I am spending this time on self-deception. Well, as I am working my way through the book of the prophet Jeremiah with our Tuesday Bible study, self-deception (individually and corporately) is one of the dynamics at work at the center of the break between Judah and Israel and their God. I often call on us to be connected to others to stay honest and to be nurtured in our call to be followers of Jesus, and yet, I know that even a group of people can lead one another into a pit of self-deception. The Nazi regime in Germany is at least one case from the last century...and we can, if we are honest with ourselves, point to the way we as a people deceive ourselves as to the place and power and direction of our own country...and others nations of our day. This is all the more reason for us to not merely be a community of people. We are a community of the followers of Jesus. We are to define ourselves from the story we know in him and the story from all of scripture that points to a trust in our God who from the beginning declares that God is for us...on our side...ready to make us a light...a new people...a holy people where justice, mercy, loving kindness, reconciliation and forgiveness are at the very core of our engagements in the world.

Connection: Scripture is not about a story far away. It is about a story that is very close to us...a commentary on how people turn from the power of new life in order to stay with the stories we choose for ourselves. One way the Spirit of God keeps us honest with ourselves and one another is to encourage the conversations that keep asking questions and seeking the character of the reign of God among us.

Lord of all the colors of this season, you bring together images of life and death and you invite us to live boldly no matter what we see before us. Guide us in the way of your beloved, Jesus, so that we may enter this day with a sense of anticipation and hope and joy in your presence. Amen.

Wednesday, 13 2002, 2002

From " Self Deception and Autobiography" by Stanley Hauerwas

To battle self deception we must be very conscious of what we are doing. Taking a look again and again at our actions and lives. Hauerwas quotes Herbert Fingarette:

"...I propose, then that we do not characterize consciousness as a kind of mental mirror, but as the exercise of the (learned) skill of 'spelling out' some feature of the world we are engaged in."

To become explicitly conscious of one's situation, then, demands that one rehearse what one is doing.

Hauerwas goes on to say that there are many things within our day that do not need to be spelled out or rehearsed. We just do them...dressing, eating, playing with our children...etc. But there must those things we do in which we do indeed take the time to go over what is happening and what we are doing. By "rehearsing" we are forced to take a look at what puts together our actions. I was flipping through stations on television on Saturday and came upon a golf station and a teaching pro was giving some advice. He placed two clubs on the ground as a "runway" of sorts with the ball in the middle between the clubs. This exercise is to be used to make a golfer look at how one lines up toward the green and to be very conscious of where feet are planted so that at least the "line up" at the ball will be proper. He said it is hard to do this over and over again at a driving range but on the golf course, there needs to be a "ritual" we go through before each shot in order to keep us honest with how we approach the ball and take the shot. If we stop doing it, we may slowly fall out of line. To combat our tendency toward self deception, there is a need to "exercise" and spell out how we engage the day and the activities around us. Again, this is most helpful when we have others who will help us see what we are doing and reacting and living so that we have extra eyes giving us input for change and encouragement for truthfulness.

Connection: What goes into the "swings" of your day? How are you able to stay conscious and honest about how you are facing and moving through the events of this day? Rehearsal often uncovers the minor pieces of a play that move it from being the same-old, same-old performance and make it a noted performance. How do we rehearse the things of our lives - the roles in which we find ourselves?

Lord of All Truthfulness, it is by your grace that we are free to take another look at our lives and find space for renewal and change and honesty. By your Holy Spirit, we are given the ability to nurture the vision of your blessed reign within our lives. Amen.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Tuesday, 12 November, 2002

Again, from " Self Deception and Autobiography" by Stanley Hauerwas

On self-deception, Hauerwas quotes David Harned:

Seeing is never simply a reaction to what passes before our eyes; it is a matter of how well the eye is trained and provisioned to discern the richness and the terror, beauty and banality of the worlds outside and within the self. Decisions are shaped by vision, and the ways that we see are a function of our "character," of the history and habits of the self, and ultimately of the stories that we have heard and with which we identify ourselves.

He seems to go on to talk about how faith is central to the stories we have heard. If faith is, as Paul Tillich, would write, "our ultimate concern," then we must ask what is the object of our faith. For that object -that agenda -that story - will shape our seeing. When our faith is family centered, our vision will be shaped around our family or our children. If our faith is centered around our finances, our vision will be seen through that lens. That in which we place our trust will be the influence that trains our eyes to see the world in this way or that way. We claim to have the story of God revealed in the life, death and resurrection as our focus...our story above all other stories...the story in which we have faith for life. We say that this will shape our decisions in all we do. But as we all know, the other things in our live, in which we place our trust/faith are constantly working to win our allegiance and shape our vision so that we will see thing in ways that will be favorable to them.

Connection: Stay focused on the gracious reign of God and the promise that comes to us in the way of the cross. It would be a simply yet valuable exercise to simply ask: What is shaping my decision right now? It is a hard thing to ask and yet it is the way we face our self deception. It is ask this question with other followers of Jesus helping us to ask and then discuss it.

Lord of All Truthfulness, we are pulled by many powers within our day. Some of them seem innocent and down right good...and yet, all the powers that pull us, no matter how they might appear, must be measured by the story of your gracious reign. Inspire us to see this day through the eyes of your promises for life. Amen.

Monday, November 11, 2002

Monday, 11 November, 2002

From " Self Deception and Autobiography" by Stanley Hauerwas

This is a longer selection but an important word.

Some of our self-deceptions...have more destructive results than others. Auschwitz stands as a symbol of one extreme to which our self-deception can lead. For the complicity of Christians with Auschwitz did not begin with their failure to object to the first slightly anti-Semitic laws and actions. It rather began when Christians assumed that they could be the heirs and carriers of the symbols of the faith without sacrifice and suffering. It began when the very language of revelation became an expression of status rather than an instrument for bringing our lives gradually under the sway of "the love that moves the sun and the other stars." ...So Christians allowed their language to idle without turning the engines of the soul, and in recompense, their lives were seized by powers that they no longer had the ability to know, much less to combat.

I'm caught by the phrase: "So Christians allowed their language to idle without turning the engines of the soul..." In other words, some other language...the language of another story, seized the lives of those who claimed "in words alone" to be followers of Jesus. I would contend that this is what happens every time the language of the state is intermingled with the words of the faith. "Christian nation" is a good example. In reality, the two words never belong together. The word Christian is about a reign of servants who love one another even unto death. The word nation represents a people whose self interest is a priority over and against others. What happens when we blend the words is that the "nation" part of this word couplet wins the day...and always will. The "Christian" part becomes nothing more than a agent of blessing that which the "nation" want to do. Remember, the churches of Germany went along with the ways of the Nazi regime for it was the "fatherland" and it needed "living space" and it was a blessed "race" of people... We are aliens in all lands. We honor the governing powers but resist them when they live by a standard contrary to the way of the cross.

Connection: Watch out for the many ways the words of the faith and the name of the followers of Jesus (Christian) are tied into the themes and actions of the country. It is often used with guise that we are building morality. In reality we are letting the powers take their language and push it as ours.

Lord God, you alone are God. You make us a people and you promise to bring us new life. Keep us forever within your word of promise that we may be shaped by it and live within the power of your word and life therein. Amen.

Friday, November 8, 2002

Friday, 8 November, 2002

From " Self Deception and Autobiography" by Stanley Hauerwas

Hauerwas notes that the argument within this how our ability to know what we are up to and live authentically depends on our capacity to avoid self-deception. We cannot hope to avoid an inveterate tendency to self-deception, however, unless we work at developing the skills required to articulate the shape of our individual social engagements, or forms of life. At the heart of such skills lies a practiced eye and ear for the basic images and stories that provide our actions with direction and our lives with a sense.

As Christians, we have stories that guide us and lead us. It is necessary, though, that we have an eye and an ear for such stories as we hear them and as they are brought to life within the lives of the people around us. Everything about the story of the cross and death and resurrection of Jesus resists self-deception. But it is a story we must be able to carry with us within the very heart of our being. Otherwise, we will do all we can to fit in and do whatever we must do...even the small things of the shape our character in one way or another. The story of our faith, gives us a way to shape our own stories and be authentic people as we engage our world. Then again, the story means nothing to the shaping of our lives if we cannot keep that story before us as we move through the day. That is, as Hauerwas might say, a skill that must be used and brought into play so that we can resist that powerful temptation to deceive ourselves. Maybe that is why the church is always a community and not merely an individual. We need more people who know the story to help us hear and see it for our own living.

Connection: We all linger in the world of self-deception too long and too often. That is why in everything we do we must seek out others who will be for us a mirror and a storyteller for us. One helps us see ourselves. The other reminds us of the way of authentic life that is available to us. Find some people who will help you on the journey of faithfulness.

Almighty God, you pull us forward with the vision of your risen Son, Jesus. As your body of Christ in the world, keep us united to one another that we may all walk into the light of that vision as a beloved community of saints. Amen.

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Thursday, 7 November, 2002

The editors of The Hauerwas Reader introduce the chapter "Self-Deception and Autobiography" using these images about the stories we tell about ourselves and the stories that inform our own life story.

Inadequate stories cannot help but foster self-deception, whereas true stories are those with power adequate to check the endemic tendency toward self-deception. The saving narrative of the Christian gospel trains us to accept the limits of our own abilities to be truthful, and thus it must be a story that is continually discomforting. It is a hard and painful discipline, but it cannot be avoided if Christians wish to live lives free of self-deception.

Within the Good News is also the "bad news" about who we think we are. It is "discomforting" to come to the realization that we all have limits to our ability to be truthful. No matter how well we think we pursue truthfulness, we will shelter ourselves with images of life that are quite self-deceptive so that we can protect our egos and the lives we try so hard to build for ourselves. When we are hearing stories that divide the world, our lives, or the issues of the day, into nothing more than "us verses them," we need to help one another raise up red flags and wave them with gusto. Too often we all are caught up into "inadequate stories" in which there is little truth but much opinion. The story, the narrative, of the gospel never lets us stay at ease and comfortable within our own stories. We are constantly being drawn out. This is especially the case as we continue to be within a community in which we talk and differ and prayerfully stand alongside one another to listen to the presence of the Spirit of Truth among us.

Connection: We all cut corners and alter the image of ourselves and become masters of rationalization even when it is only concerning the minor things of our lives. Today continues to give us the opportunity to seek truthfulness as individuals and as people in community.

Precious Lord, your word of life calls us to be bearers of your love who seek to make for a world in which truth and justice and mercy become the characteristics of our lives. Inspire us and hold us up so that we will see your way of unbounded love. Amen

Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Wednesday, 6 November, 2002

In Pulpit Resource by William Willimon, he reflects on the parable of the ten maidens in Matthew.

Question: Have we stopped journeying, ceased searching? Are we so content with present arrangements in our lives that we...have no expectation of conversion, of meeting, of being swept up in the great purposes of God? Perhaps those five maidens who neglected to acquire oil for their lamps simply stopped imaging that the promised party would ever begin.

Don't stop imaging the party! Yes, it is an absurd vision onto which we are called to hold in our hearts, but it is the beginning of possibilities for the life the we never would give ourselves when we count only on what we can see and touch. Being convince...trusting that the party will begin at any moment...even now...shapes us for the living of the day at hand. Some do not want to trust in the party...and therefore they endlessly look for something else to trust and give them life. But, alas, everything else fades and cannot sustain the winds of time. Don't stop imaging the party and your presence at the party with a reserved seat!

Connection: There are many voices in our day that do not want to acknowledge that life can come into this day as we trust in what is not yet. Too often, we live and learn to live by what we have in hand and how we conform to what is around us. Don't conform. Be ready for the party!

Lord of the Feast, inspire us with the vision of your gracious reign that is and will be the truth of our days. Praise be to you. Amen.

Monday, November 4, 2002

Tuesday, 5 November, 2002

On All Saints Sunday, the gospel lesson for the day is Matthew 5:1-12. We know it as the Beatitudes.

In each of the "blessings," a particular group of people is designated. In the final blessing it is directed to "you."

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

When we trust what God has said about us and for us in Christ, Jesus, we will be living according to a Word that others may not have about us. In addition, if we trust that this Word of love is for us...the "us" cannot be contained by an "us" that is limited to who it is we may want to be a part of the "us." The "for us" is for all God's beloved. God's beloved is defined by God. Last week I quoted 1 John where the author writes, "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are." That is the "us." It is the Word we trust as our foundation and the very breath we breathe for life. Blessed are you...who trust that defining Word. For when we live according to that Word...when we define our world according to that Word...when we are shaped according to the Word, that is a radical departure from the ways of the world and the ways of many "religious" folks who want nothing to do with the grace of God and what life it brings. Therefore, we may not be talked about with the most kind words and treated with the best intentions.

Connection: Blessed are you. Blessed are you. Blessed are you. It is and it always will be enough. Blessed are you, O children of the Most High God.

Most High God, you come to us as a word for life that is as filling and life giving as fresh bread broken and shared among hungry people. We long for this living bread so that we may be sustained by your grace alone. Amen.

P.S. It is election day. Vote!