Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Thursday, 1 August, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.

There will be no devotion sent out on Friday, August 2, 2002.


The best commentary on the word "unchurched" that I know of came from a grocer in a small town in Iowa, apparently one of the suspect heathen. One day the pastor of the Lutheran church approached him about providing food for a district meeting of church evangelization committees. These are people, the pastor explained, who have a special ministry - here he paused, significantly - a special outreach to the "unchurched." The grocer took the order for cold cuts, sliced cheeses, rolls, cookies, and fruit. When the pastor unveiled the large platter in the church basement, he was startled to find that the centerpiece was a cross constructed out of slices of bologna.

Now, was the cross a sign to the pastor that the grocer knew the story already and he need not treat the grocer as ignorant...Or...was the cross a commentary about what the grocer thought of the church? Either way, we can be so singled minded that we do not know how to treat people during our days with a sense of respect and holiness that is not filled with religious language. I have found that some of the so-called "unchurched" know more about the basics of the faith than the "churched." Where does that leave us? Those who are not inside the church cannot be viewed as a commodity that we are looking to obtain. Instead, people inside and outside the church need to be involved in the life conversations that bring people together rather than separate into more and more categories.

Connection: It is always appropriate to invite people into the community called the church. That may be for worship, study, social activities, etc. When we have people over to our home, I never refer to some of our friends as "unchurched"...they are our friends and they know I participate in a church and hang around with other who are very committed to a church.

Lord God, stretch us so that we may find in everyone around us a piece of your creative energy that brings to life something new and fresh to our day. Remind us of the value of the stories and lives of the people we will meet this day. Amen

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Wednesday, 31 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.


I once read a book, a conservative and rather hysterical response to Christian feminism, that argued that the language of the Bible was not at all human - the writer positively scorned the idea that an image such as "God the Father," or any other biblical image for the matter, could be the least bit metaphorical. He insisted that it was an entirely literal language, having come direct from God... How much saner, healthier, and how much more incarnational, are the words of a document from Vatican II, "On Divine Revelation": "...the words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men."

Here is a bold sanctification of the human imagination, and of language itself, the flawed, conditional language of the Bible's inspired but wholly human authors. Here, too is the justification of the mystic's certainty, as in Shaw's St. Joan, when she responds calmly to an inquisitor's pouncing on the word imagination, as if to spring a trap. "I hear voices telling me what to do," Joan says. "They come from God." "They come from your imagination?" her interrogator asks, and she replies, "Of course. That is how the messages of God come to us."

This was a long excerpt. I find it to be quite important. I often speak of "faithful imagination." It is imagination informed by the vision of God's reign as it would come to life within the everyday world in which we live. I think the prophets were ones of great imagination! So great was their faithful imagination, they were able to see through the corruption and injustice that was the "way things were" in their day and they were able to speak of another vision for life...not yet seen...imagined. I would think that the literalists of our day would have quite a hard time with the voice of the prophets of old. I would imagine that literalist would also have a tough time hearing how and why the gospel writers put down on paper what they did. I have been considering an old phrase over and over again. "Make believe" is something we do as kids. WE...pretend that such and such is true ( we may be older...we may be soldiers...we may be artists...we may be...). For me, a faithful imagination is the beginning of taking seriously the vision of God's eternal reign...I, you could say, make believe, that Jesus is the saving Lord of all...already. I believe it...even if there is not a lot of evidence that Jesus rules....I make it my day...I prayerfully call on God to make it some among us.

Connection: What will your faithful imagination let you see and hear today!?! Go ahead...make believe...and then step into the promises of God that are not yet in full view. That, takes imagination.

Lord, God, you invite us into the vision of your glorious reign. Encourage us so that we will not be afraid to hear the voices of life that keep coming into our lives from your blessed reign. Call us forward into the life you would have us live. Amen

Tuesday, 30 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.


Once I could recognize evangelism not as a matter of talking about the faith but living it, I could happily connect it with Ezra Pound's great admonishment to poets: "do not describe, present," which in writing workshops is often translated as "show, don't tell."... The best evangelism - the show, don't tell kind - presumes an understanding of relationship that precludes forcing your faith, and the language of that faith, on another person.

I'm particularly aware of Norris' comments as we continue along with our Wednesday night study of Mark's Gospel. Mark gives us a Jesus who acts...he heals...he feeds...he acts contrary to the "rule keepers"...he pushes evil spirits out the door. Yes, there is teaching, but the action brings reaction...the action brings questions...the action lays out some issues in a very flesh and blood kind of way. Words and actions give us a complete witness. I remember hearing about how important body language and inflection was to the delivery of a message. We do not communicate by words alone. The life that carries the words covers most of the communication. I can say "I love you" but it is best for you to see me say "I love you." On the other hand, I can act as though my life is saying, "I love you" but I know that it is vital to hear those words with the actions.

Connection: How would God's love find its way through you today? What would be a way to present that love...offer that love, in a way that would take the least amount of translation? I think we often throw out a bunch of religious language and images before we offer our lives as the translation tool for the vision of the reign of God.

Praise to you this day, O God of Us All. Empower us to be the word of love and grace and healing and forgiveness and reconciliation that is the Good News of your blessed Reign. For within such a life, your word of life is given to others and becomes our foundation for life. Amen.

Monday, July 29, 2002

Monday, 29 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.


Over time, I have learned two things about my religious quest: First of all, that it is God who is seeking me, and who has myriad ways of finding me. Second, that my most substantial changes, in terms of religious conversion, come through other people. Even when I become convinced that God is absent from my life, others have a way of suddenly revealing God's presence. When I think of how the process works, I recall the scene at Calvary, as depicted in John's Gospel, when Jesus sees his mother standing near a disciple. "Woman," he says to her, "here is your son. [And he says] to his disciple, 'Here is your mother'" (John 19:26-27) It is through Jesus Christ, and the suffering Christ at that, that God seeks us out and gives us to each other.

I find great encouragement when I think of our God seeking us. That encouragement grows as I trust that God is not far off...but right here. As fast as I let my life run away and attempt to find or seek something I think will be good for me...God seeks and pursues and abides with me. Whether I ask for it or not. With this God who is seeking us, there is no time when I must do something or get somewhere or go through a ritual in order to be in the presence of the one who creates all things. Already God is here...already I can rest...already God makes for this day to be new. I'm not good at seeking out answers. In fact I often fall quite short. I can only say thanks to God for seeking me out and grabbing hold of me and making sure that new life is always available by God's power and love.

Connection: There are many people who are seeking...looking...unsure of what life will bring. Part of what we are called to do as followers of Jesus is to invite those who are lost and come and hear about our God who is eternally "for us" and making our day full of elements of the reign of God.

Lord of Life, you bring to us many ways to enliven our day and see the depth of life that you present to all your children. Within the fast pace action of this day, remind us to rest in you and experience the peace that passes all understanding along a journey in life that is within your grasp. Amen.

Friday, July 26, 2002

Friday, 26 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.


For Christians, the Trinity is the primary symbol of a community that holds together by containing diversity within itself. Another symbol of a unity that is not uniform might be the Bible itself, with its two creations accounts in the Book of Genesis, and the four gospels, each with a strikingly different approach to telling the story of Jesus and his ministry. Church historians such as Margaret Miles point out that "Christianity is, and historically has been, pluralistic in beliefs, creeds, and liturgical and devotional practices in different geographical settings as well as over the 2,000 years of its existence." The wonder is that this flexibility and diversity has often been considered more of an embarrassment than celebrated as one of the religion's strengths.

Norris spends much of this chapter talking about metaphors and sharing how the children in her classroom once "took off" on a project that dealt with using poetic imagery to look at the world with new eyes. We must not be afraid to speak in metaphors and to realize the power and truthfulness that is present when metaphors are used to tell us the most about that we tend to know so little. This week while reading about the councils in the early church, one author wrote about how the creeds - dealing with Father - Son -Holy Spirit - don't say it all. But it is a beginning. For their time, the creeds dealt with some of the very divisive parts of the church and yet, there is so much that is not much room to bow and bend...and be one church within the tension of our diversity.

Connection: Hear any great metaphors today? Have any mysteries begin to take on some clarity and yet not be completely contained and answered? The followers of Jesus are a cadre of people living within such a truthfulness each day we often don't have the language to spell it's like...

Praise be to you O God for you are more than what we can see and yet you invited us into the grandest visions of our life. Let your Spirit give us the vision to see your blessed reign in many ways as it breaks in within this day. Amen

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Thursday, 25 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.


I find that I appreciate mysticism best in its most ordinary manifestation, as a means for tapping into the capacity for holiness that exists in us all. A first-time mother or father, for example, engaged in giving their baby a bath, will suddenly realize that this is about more than getting an infant clean. Time may feel suspended; the light in the room, the splashing water, the infant's cooing with delight, the skin-on-skin feel of loving touch - all of it might come together so powerfully that the parent inhabits in a more complete way this new and scary identity as "parent." And, at this moment it is pure joy. In traditionally contemplation, which always leads away from the self and back toward God, this realization would lead to a heightened empathy for all parents and children, a fuller understanding of the fact that - to quote a line of Meridel Le Sueur - "No woman gives birth to an enemy face." Ultimately the experience would confirm a sense of the wonder and mystery of the human body, and of all human life.

This has always been an interesting concept to me. I remember listening to Herb Brokering when he was teaching an education class back when I was in seminary. He is an odd and gifted person. He writes poetry, music and comments on life. He sees what is in front of him and he sees more than is what in front of him. Because he seems to be able to see more than what is appears to be present, he has a way of highlighting the eternal present in moment...the extraordinary in the ordinary. Mystics don't take us away from life...they help us look again and again at what is utterly common. In that way, there need not be any time in our day in which we are not given the blessed opportunity to see God's Reign breaking in all around us.

Connection: Sometimes, a simple conversation with an ordinary day like today can become for us a mystical experience in which we come to a greater appreciation of life. I suppose we could say the only preparation for such an experience is letting ourselves enter it - fully.

Lord God, you bless us in so many ways throughout this day. You bring into our lives many people and moments and situations in which we are given the opportunity to take a look at your cosmic rule. Be with us in the smallest moments of this day and those that seems to be bigger than we can ever imagine. Amen

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Wednesday, 24 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.

CHURCH (once again)

At the risk of exposing myself as a terminal optimist, I'd say that things are as they should be. As contentious as we seem to be as a church, we are no less so than the fractious congregations of Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians, and Galatians addressed by St. Paul. Can I consider it a good sign - a sign of life - that Christians have continued to fuss and fume and struggle, right down to the present day? It may look awful from the outside, and can feel awful on the inside, but it is simply the cost of Christian discipleship... The church is like the Incarnation, a shaky proposition. It is a human institution, full of ordinary people, sinners like me, who say and do cruel, stupid things. But it is also a divinely inspired institution, full of good purpose, which partakes of a unity far greater than the sum of its parts. That is why it is called the body of Christ.

I would have to say that Norris is more than a terminal optimist. Optimism cannot hold people within the church - the Holy Spirit does. In the middle of all the "junk" that comes up and is thrown around the room - for many and various reason (bright and dull) - the Holy Spirit is the promised gift to this band of people who follow Jesus. More and more it appears as though we have a tough time bringing things forward and laying them on the table so that we can admit to our differences and disagreement and then...continue to function as the body of Christ. I know that is always a tough one for me. It takes more courage or grace than I can muster. Then again, that is what we are called to be...a body of beloved people whose life is to love one another...even as we differ and pick and gripe. There is not end to the need of prayer among us. Prayer - even in the car going to or coming from a church event - is the way we can be encouraged to be the "little Christ's" as Luther puts it. Oh sure, we'll blow it...sometimes in a big way...but we will again and again call on the Power of our God to make a people despite our own actions or inactivity.

Connection: Give it another The promise of the life in the Holy Spirit is not an empty promise....but sometimes we may really wonder about how the life is doing...right now.

Lord of Every Age, within all the divisions and egos that rise up among us, it is no wonder that communication comes slowly among us. We come to you asking for this new day to be another opportunity to experience the promise of the life you bring to your people. Amen.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Tuesday, 23 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.

CHURCH (this may take several days)

From the outside, church congregations can look like remarkably contentious places, full of hypocrites who talk about love while fighting each other tooth and nail. This is the reason many people give for avoiding them. On the inside, however, it is a different matter, a matter of struggling to maintain unity as "the body of Christ" given the fact that we have precious little uniformity. I have only to look at the congregation I know best, the one I belong to. We are not individuals who have come together because we are like-minded. That is not a church, but a political party. We are like most healthy churches, I think, in that we can do pretty well when it comes to loving and serving God, each other, and the world; but God help us if we have to agree about things. I could test our "uniformity" by suggesting a major remodeling of the sanctuary, or worse, that Holy of Holies - the church kitchen. But I value my life too much.

To enter into the life of a congregation is to encounter the face of humanity. Why? The church is the people. Bring a bunch of people together - no matter what the cause may be - and people will be people. But in the Church we are taught that the Holy Spirit is forever and ever shaping us into the body of Christ and calling us to come to life. That may not make for the nicest looking package...especially as it is being unwrapped. We are assured though, that the Church will be sustained, changed, challenged, and called out of it "self" into the whole body of Christ. Honest and prayerful deliberation makes for times of flare ups. Flares send out a warning sign, they alert people to the need for help, and they bring into sight the fact that there is life still there...still wanting to continue through a crisis into a new day. The Church.

Connection: Sometimes our personal "wicks" can be so short that we are not able to enter into discussions in a peaceable manner. I have had that happen a number of times. Then again, if we are willing to put that up front, we are merely asking for others to give us time to think and stew...but the discussion must continue and we are never going to be sure what will take place. That happens in more than the church. Stay in there today!

O Lord, Most High, we thank you for this day and how you continue to inspire us so that the loving presence of your beloved, Jesus, may abide with us and be the light that shines and leads us to your gracious reign. Amen

Monday, 22 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.


Norris turns to the Benedictine community to discuss hospitality and how these monks differ from the "monks" of the "Heaven's Gate" cult who attempted to catch a space ship and escape from Earth following a comet.

(The Heaven's Gate monks) did not seem much like the celibate men and women of the Benedictine communities I know. And I decided that the main difference is hospitality. I have been told by monks and nuns that hospitality is the fruit of their celibacy; they do not mean to scorn the flesh but live in such a way as to remain unencumbered by exclusive, sexual relationships. The goal is being free to love others, non-exclusively and non-possessively, both within their monastic community and without. St. Benedict says, "A monastery is never without guest,"... What Benedict says might be seen as a way to define a monastery - if it regularly exercises enough hospitality so as to attract guests, it is a monastery. If it doesn't, it is not.... In my experience, it is extremely rare for a be made to feel unwelcome, let alone like someone who is contaminating the monastic purity of the place. Benedict knew that this tension would be there, I believe this is why he so emphatically states in his Rule that "all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ."

Hospitality insists that we stay connected. When I think of the incarnation - I think of hospitality. The cross and the story of the Good News of the Reign of God are not concepts around which we talk. They are ways of being in the middle of life. To "Welcome as Christ" is a daily call to life that will lead us out of our self-centeredness and right into the middle of the life of the community because that is where the life is. Benedicts words - if it regularly exercises enough hospitality so as to attract guests, it is a monastery - made a point with me. What are we to do if someone says our congregation or our home is like a monastery?! I guess that is a good thing...for people are always arriving and sharing in the life of the place. On the other hand, in today's world, the notion of becoming a monastery has the look of seclusion and in retreating away from people. What a gift it would be if the hospitality of such a strange world - the monastery - would become a living part of our life together.

Connection: How often is you life open to guests...those invited...those who simply come in needed a space or some time to refresh? I think this can happen in the cubicle's of our offices...if Dilbert is ready for this kind of community.

Lord God, teach us to extend ourselves to those who come within our reach this day. There are so many ways to offer a cup of cold water to those in need and yet we often turn away. Open our hearts and our lives and our homes Amen

Friday, July 19, 2002

Friday, 19 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.


I remained a sophomore" for many years, feeling superior to people who still needed religion, especially "organized" religion. But now that I have been a member of an ordinary church congregation for some time, a group that gathers for worship on Sunday morning but is far less "organized" than the average cult, I have begun to wonder what people mean, exactly, when they say they have not use for "organized" religion. They may mean to reject Christianity in an intellectual sense, or to resist what they perceive as the power structures of Christendom. But as it is the ordinary church congregation that most Christians dwell in, and that has defined Christian experience from the beginning, I have come to suspect that when people complain about "organized" religion what they are really saying is that they can't stand other people. At least not enough to trust them to help work our a "personal" spirituality. How can they possibly trust these unknown others, people with whom they may have little in common, to help them along on their religious journey.

I was going to skip this section of Norris' book but then I read through the chapter and found that it went in a very different direction than I assumed it would. I was particularly caught by her comment that the ordinary church congregation is "far less 'organized' than the average cult." A congregation may be a part of a larger expression of a particular denomination or church structure but in many ways, we are quite unorganized and congregations go off on their own way despite the fact that another congregation goes another way. Just recently I have been wearing a t-shirt on which their is a small picture of Martin Luther and the wording simply says, "Old Lutheran" with the date from the sixteenth century. I find it funny. In fact the whole website is a stitch. "Organized" can have as many faces to it as does, "independent" or "non-denominational." In fact, have you ever gone to a church that claims to not be a part of the "organized" church. I usually find that they are hyper organized and very restrictive of what you can do or can believe.

Connection: A simple question to ask someone who is a member or a church may be to ask them what they like most about being in that group. Our stereotypes might then be changed or dismantled.

Lord of All, by your grace you hold on to all your saints no matter where they are or how they choose to praise you as the Lord God Most High. We give you thanks for the many ways people are grasped by your Holy Spirit in this day. Amen

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Thursday, 18 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.


In my grandmother Totten's Presbyterian hymnal from the 1950's, the great eighteenth-century hymn "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" has a word in it that would confuse most people nowadays... The second verse begins: "Here I raise my Ebenezer; Hither by they help I'm come."...

The word "Ebenezer" is found in a passage in First Samuel...It describes an event, that celebration of Israel's victory over the Philistine army, a victory that came against the odds, when the thundering voice of God threw the troops into confusion, and they fled. The passage reads: "Then Samuel took the stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us" (1 Sam. 7:12 KJV).

Norris says that from her study, a number of references inform her that "Ebenezer" means "Stone of Help." Imagine using the word in a conversation today. To people outside the church and to many inside the church, the word would be meaningless. Too often, there are any number of ways that there is a lack of translation going within the church...this is especially the case when outsiders begin to make a transition into the body of Christ. Insider language can become a barrier...and yet, insider language has a history to it that is full of powerful stories of the faith. Do we ditch the language or do we make sure that the wealth of meaning is passed on. There is really no reason why "Ebenezer" could not be a word to a hymn that is projected on a music screen (talk about blended images!). I agree with Norris that the story behind the word is what is not getting communicated. If we are people of the book and look to the book for the vision that is revealed within it - like the Christ child in the cradle - then storytelling is our responsibility. We cannot afford to leave a generation of people out of the loop.

Connection: One of the greatest gifts we can bring into this day is to ask that old question that pops up Luther's catechism over and over again: What does this mean? That is not a question about something set in place. It is about past, present and is keeps the faith fresh even as we use old images. Try going through the day simply asking "What does this Mean?" as much as you desire.

Lord of All Hopefulness, you have carried your people through the wilderness and your promise of deliverance is renewed with the passing of every generation. As we walk into this day, remind us of all the saints who walk with us and the many different ways people have walked through their days with you as their rock & foundation. Amen

Wednesday, 17 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.


Worship is primary theology. It is also home, which, as the saying goes, is the place where they have to take you in. There is no one who is not welcome in God's house, and no amount of human pettiness or pompous religiosity can alter that fact. "I work," God says in Isaiah 43, "and who can hinder it?" When people come together to worship, them come as God knows them, with their differences, their wildly various experiences and perspectives. And by some miracle, they sing, and listen, and pray as one.

The worshipping body is not a gathering of like-minded people, or those with high degree of faith or knowledge concerning spiritual matters; I like to think that it resembles Christ's ragged band of disciples in this manner, a diverse group with remarkable variance in personalities and attitudes toward Jesus. They were by no means considered respectable by the religious establishment of their day, and they demonstrate many doubts and questions about this Jesus who has come into their lives. In worship, disparate people seek a unity far greater than the sum of themselves but don't have much control over how, or if this happens.

One of the great advantages of sitting up front and serving as the presiding minister is that I am able to look out over the people gathered for worship and I can see the great variety of people. In our renewed sanctuary the chancel is one step higher than it used to be and therefore the view of the congregation is even better than it was. The diversity of the people is greater than what the eye can catch. Yes, there are people of different skin colors and different sizes and shapes...but there are also the places from which the people come. The human stories as they are articulated within the lives of the individuals present in the sanctuary multiplies the sense of diversity. And yet, worship is, as Norris notes, "the place where they have to take you in"...home. Worship may, at times, be stranger than I anticipate or have a few hymns that don't fit me on any one morning...but in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, the movement of the people in the room, the singing, the children coming forward for their lesson, the odd collection of people I can see sitting within feet of one another and yet in other places would not come close to one another,...and more and more...there is a place - a people - a home...made in the image of our God who takes us all the way through life and beyond...into the very heart of a love that never lets go.

Connection: Get lost in worship this week. So lost that it becomes for you a home. And yes, some homes are not "perfect"...but worship is to be the home that does not hinder the gracefulness of our God among us.

Praise to you Most High God for you are an ever-present power that brings us into the community of saints so that we are not left alone and abandoned for any reason. Anoint our worship of you that we may be encouraged and strengthened and shaped as your beloved. Amen

Monday, July 15, 2002

Tuesday, 16 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.

CHRISTIANIn writing about "commonplace Christians" she knows and can name, Norris writes:

These people are not seeking to "do good" in a way that might be replicated by a compassionate social worker. They're not even trying to "be good." They do what they do because Jesus has asked it of them, and they count their service as the cost of Christian discipleship. I've never heard any of them describe themselves as "enlightened," but they sometimes speak about having been redeemed by Christ... To believe in a spiritual elite is to flirt with the danger of a judgmental mentality, one that history shows us can lead to the worst sort of religious intolerance. If there is any difference between the self-righteous of the narrow-minded Christians who believe that being saved by Christ means that they are morally superior to everyone else, the New Age types who consider themselves more spiritually evolved than the common folk, or the devout free-thinkers who take pride in being beyond any need for God, I haven't been able to detect it.

We are not people who "do a certain thing" or "act a certain way" - we are people who trust in our God whose love for us is revealed in Jesus, the Christ. We are Christians because of where we place our trust. We trust...what God says about God stands with us and is eternally for us...and the place we have been given at the banquet feast within God's reign. what I would call the Gift of the Christian life. That gift...fuels life. That gift...cause things to blossom and grow in our lives. But what make us the Gift...freely given and always empowering for life. We are not robots who must act this way or that...or people who claim that God is doing this or that with our lives. We trust God's promise to be for us and with us and then...the Spirit shapes us and moves us and calls us and in many and various ways Christians are a bunch of people as diverse as the field of wild flowers.

Connection: Much of what I do in my day I do because the Holy Spirit encourages me to trust that God's love for me is the truth. Much of what I do in my day has nothing to do with that word of fact I act contrary to that Word. What does God's unconditional word of love for you whip up in your life on any given today?

Life Giving Lord, you are the one who rules over all things. You place us within this day with the reminder that we are your beloved and nothing can prevent that word of life from finding its way to us. Your love shines out to us from the cross for on that "tree" you let no power turn your unbounded love from us. Praise be to you. Amen

Monday, 15 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.


The mentality of this age seems so rigid, and hat of the medieval era so elastic by comparison, that I find it faintly annoying when people use the word "medieval" in a pejorative sense, to mean hopelessly old-fashioned or narrow minded. The contemporary passion for polarizing, for placing all manner of people and things in tight categories of our own devising, would no doubt strike the thirteenth-century person as pathetic... It is inconceivable today that a Roman Catholic nun might receive papal permission to go on preaching journeys through Germany, and use the opportunity to lambast the clergy for negligence in their pastoral duties. But when Hildegard of Bingen preached in 1163 in Cologne Cathedral, she used gender-bending metaphors that would have been understood by her listeners as rooted in the Bible and in the Christology of the early church. Lamenting that the great, flowing milk of divine beneficence had all but dried up in the hands of the church, Hildegard said, "Woe to those who are given a voice and will not shout, woe to those who have breasts and will not nurse God's children. If Jesus wept over Jerusalem, Hildegard castigated Cologne.

Norris goes on to wonder how our generation - our century - will be looked upon in six hundred years. Will our obsession with race and gender seems odd to them...even backwards? Will we be known as the century that turned warfare from the battlefield of warriors to the streets of civilian populations? Sometimes it seems to be so ingrained in us that we point fingers at the "other" as a good example of the way things should not be. We're right...they're wrong. This is the way...that is not. Sometimes I see this thinking even in the liturgy of the church in our society. On more and more sign boards in front of churches, there is the clear distinction between traditional and contemporary styles of worship - blend the two...never! People within the same church are not allowed to hold opposing views on issues of the day, interpretation of scripture, or liturgical style. Living together with differences is not tolerated let alone nurtured and honored. It is so "us and them" will be interesting to see if we come to a point in the church where we allow and tell people that it is alright not to "love those neighbors."

Connection: We will not destroy ourselves by reaching out beyond our closed minds. The Jesus of the gospels seemed to have quite a habit of doing that again and again. Sure, he is killed for doing it...but he still calls us to follow him in that way of open love and discourse.

Lord of All Time, teach us to look beyond ourselves and our time that we may be able to see how your eternal reign embraces all times and all people and you continue to call us to trust in you alone. Amen.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

Friday, 12 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.


The root meaning of ecstasy is to put out of place, to lose one's stand. It is scary because it takes us out of a place we are certain of, into one that commands our full attention, but without offering the comforts of everyday distraction. It an ecstatic moment - making love is a vivid example - we are most ourselves, and yet not our ordinary self. Ecstasy is both resoundingly physical, and deeply spiritual.

At times, people say that they are surprised by someone when that person acts "out of character." I wonder of ecstasy is a bit like that. It may not have to be the "religious" ecstasy that some people associate with some churches or certain periods of time in church history. Whenever we take the risk to be "out of place", we are walking in an arena that may provide us new insights and new expectations. Ecstasy may be those moments when the smallest part of our world grabs all of our attention and we are completely swallowed up in the sheer wonder of a moment or an action. I remember seeing a flower blooming this spring. I did not have any recollection of planting it in the perennial garden...but there it was...delicate deep purple/blue flowers. I was pulled out of my routine and drawn into another dimension of experience...lost and yet in the middle of finding something new. Ecstatic gardening.

Connection: Who knows what will pull us out of place may be good to let it happen and take in another side of the life we don't ever let ourselves enter.

Lord of New Life, you bring so many gifts into this day that we often do not take the time to glance at them and let our lives be filled with the wonder of your power and creativity. Pull us into the blessed peace and joy of your eternal reign. Amen

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Thursday, 11 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.

OPPRESSION (part 3 of 3)

Political power seems to corrupt religions, corroding them from within... A new book, Southern Cross: The Beginning of the Bible Belt, provides a glimpse into the history of the Baptist and Methodist churches at a critical time when a choice was made between marginalization and acceptance into the mainstream. The rabble-rousing...preachers who roamed the American South in the eighteenth century were radical not only in their desire to save "Worldlings" from the evils of dancing, drinking, and gambling. They also had a vision of the church as a place where the distinctions of race, gender, and class were all but obliterated by the Holy Spirit... By the early nineteenth century, however, these socially unpopular positions had provoked considerable tension and even scandal within Southern culture, and the churches faced a drop in membership.... "they would not rest content with a religion that was the faith of women, children, and slaves.

It is unfortunate that as the Church, in many of its forms across the world, grows within a specific culture there is a movement to "fit in" - whatever that means. In one of my first years serving a congregation in Detroit, a friend took a call to a growing area up north in the state. One of the first things he was told to do was join the "Rotary" or "Kiwanis" clubs as a way to get know and make contacts. He was also told to use the standard Lutheran Book of Worship so as to "attract" people. Twenty years later, we are told to use anything but the LBW to "attract" the population that does not want the standard. "Fitting in" to what is known or liked or accepted is a pattern of life within the Church that has kept the institution (even small institutions that claim to be "free" of "denominational" stuff) afloat. But in what are we floating!?! From worship forms to the faces in the pews, the church can become corrupt very easily when we are seduced into going along with what is. That is why money becomes such a powerful instrument in shaping the churches within our culture. We have a tendency to listen to the "power of the pocketbook" ...we tend to want to be oppressed rather than live within the amazing grace of what is still called the "Good News."

Connection: You are a gift in the name of our God. You are sent out this day to thrive within the life that is handed to us as God's beloved. You are invited to live as though the only power worth anything at all is God's love for you and your neighbor and the life that comes when we jump into the clear baptismal water of that promise where all the saints of God thrive together.

You along Lord God are the bright morning star that lifts us up to new life and opens our hearts that our lives may become brimful with your love. Praise be to you. Amen.

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Wednesday, 10 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.

OPPRESSION (part 2 of 3)

There is no denying that Christian history can look irredeemably grim when it comes to the church's treatment of women, minorities, homosexuals, and anyone professing another religion. Like most religions, Christianity is at its worst when it becomes defensive. Often enshrining orthodoxy into words has caused more trouble, more pain, more evil in the world than it was worth. But when Christianity has gone on the offensive against rank, systemic evil, it has done much good. The abolition of slavery in the United States, and the advances of the civil rights movement in the twentieth century could not have occurred without Christian believers throwing themselves, heart and soul, into the fray. The theologians who gathered in the 1930s and composed the Barmen Declaration in opposition to the Nazi attempts at co-opting the German churches would be pleased, I think, to find the redoubtable Montana Association of Churches using Barmen to model its recent Declaration on Distortions of the Gospel as part of its active resistance to the misuse of Christian theology by white supremacists and anti-Semitic hate groups.

What does the Good News bring to life? It brings into our lives a word of unconditional love. That love causes all sorts of character traits to come to life among us. Those traits have a way of keeping our eyes open and our hearts open to the condition of life all around us. Therefore, under conditions of fear and hatred that often lead us to oppress people who are different from us (looks, life style, opinions, education, wealth), God's love for us inspires us to see more than what has the potential to divide us. Among us will flourish lives of resistance to divisiveness. Among us will flourish lives of mercy that keeps our arms open to receive and welcome those we would most often want to exclude. Oppression will always be a great temptation...but it will never be the final victor as the Spirit inspires us to follow our Lord, Jesus.

Connection: It is amazing how quickly we can turn our opinions and actions into forms of oppression. How important it is to see that happening to us and to have friends we can trust who will point out when it is surfacing in our lives. Today may be a good time to find out who those people are who will say something to us and to whom we may offer the same gift.

Ruler of All That Is, we praise you for within your gracious rule you call us into the community of saints who are called beloved. When the power of separation attempts to divide us, be the power that binds us together and remind us of what it means to be "in Christ" as we encounter our world. Amen.

Tuesday, 9 July 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.

OPPRESSION (part 1 of 3)

In all too many appalling situations, the religion has even become an accomplice to genocide. But oppression is a slippery thing, and labeling a tricky business: the twentieth century has given us plenty of evidence to suggest that the quicker we are to accuses others of oppression, the more we risk becoming oppressors ourselves. The past hundred years have forced us to look straight into the murderous heart of oppression, alerting us to it presence in our most cherished ideals. Over and over, we have seen patriotism turn into fascism, liberation movements solidify into totalitarian regimes, struggles for religious freedom translate into intolerance of the faith of others.

Pointing a finger at another person leaves us pointing the rest of our fingers at ourselves. In the face of powers that oppress we must never give up the ability to speak and question and listen. It is in the middle of the ongoing dialogues of our lives that the forces that become oppressive are confronted...even if the emerging oppressive force is me. There are no greater gifts to bring to the tables of our lives than to be able to be self-reflective and to also be able to confront those around us. To enter a dialogue with such gifts is the fertile ground for change and compromise and transformation. The power to oppress becomes less when such gifts are continuously shared among us.

Connection: What looks like the best way...may indeed be just that. But beware of how things can change as we move down the roads of our lives....for we all change and look at things differently depending on where we are on the road. What may seem helpful can become oppressive...and...vice versa.

Lord of all the days of our lives, we praise you for you give us a vision of your reign of peace and healing, justice and mercy. We are a blessed people who are send out as your children to be a part of the unfolding vision of your rule among us. Blessed are you, O God. Amen

Monday, July 8, 2002

Monday, 8 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.

INQUISITION (part 3 of 3)

The best response to the spirit of inquisition that I know of comes from the fourteenth-century Flemish mystic Jan Von Ruysbroeck. Near the end of his life he was confronted with a theologian, Gerard Groote, who condemned him for being soft, arguing that it was far better to fear a vengeful God than to live with the false understanding that God loves you. This came at a time in church history even more querulous than our own, when a condemnation could easily lead to the the inquisitor's rack. Von Ruysbroeck's response was to say that he had not the slightest fear of accepting whatever God had in mind for him; in fact he could think of nothing better or more joyful. In essence he had lived too long in love with God to change.

How is it that when a person hangs on the vision of God's love it is so easily dismissed by others? It is as though we are to use the notion of God's love simply as the way to get in the door and then...we slam the door shut with any number of reasons not to love. Personally, I find that living with God's love for us and our love for God is considered repulsive by many. It goes too seems unreal...we can find ourselves out of control. And yet, when I look at the options to trusting this love, they are so hollow - like those hollow, chocolate, Easter bunnies. From the moment you pick it up, you know you have nothing solid even though it gave off the appearance of having some substance to it. When we are afraid to trust the power of God's love and what that love does to our loving, we will turn to anything that appear to give us some substance in our lives. Nothing...nothing can come close to following the invitation of the first commandment and the God whose love set us out into the world as God's beloved.

Connection: Keep you eye out for the times during the day you can notice people operating from the den of a vengeful God. It may take many forms but when compared to our All-loving God, you will be able to smell it even if you can't see it.

Lord of New LIfe, by the power of your Spirit keep us in love with you and the way you call us to live in the face of our world as witnesses to this love that will not let us go. Amen.

Wednesday, July 3, 2002

Wednesday, 3 July, 2002

The Weekday Devotions will not be published on Thursday or Friday of this week due to the U.S. holiday weekend.

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.

INQUISITION (part 2 of 3)

...inquisition is more than social inequality. It is an attitude of mind, a type of questioning that resists true conversation, which like the word "conversion," at its root means to turn, or to turn around. The inquisitor has the answers in hand and does not wish to change them. It is good to determine, when someone asks you a question, whether they are asking in a good spirit, or conducting an inquisition... Inquisition begins, then, in the human heart... Rev. John Buchanan, a Presbyterian pastor, commenting on the current divisions within the largest of the denominations, said recently in the "The Christian Century" that "it is painful to maintain unity with people you know are wrong and obnoxious on top of it." He added, "it is...a lot more difficult to maintain the unity than to walk away and destroy it." His remark stands in direct opposition to the inquisitorial imperative, which always wants to separate "us" from "them," basing one's own security and sanctity on the fact that others may be adjudged to be deficient or impure.

Unity...keeping the body of Christ together...seems to be a tough task. When we then lay on the fear-based actions that can be so abundant among us, warfare and brutality that lead to separation and alienation become easier ways to live. It is easier to go to war than to speak and act with love and pursue truthfulness. Norris' comment about the root meaning of conversation/conversion is one way to remember the activity of the Holy Spirit. In conversation, we have the opportunity to be pulled into the whirlwind of power that is the Holy Spirit. Dialogue means that both sides enter into a position of vulnerability. Too often we can be so consumed by what we may lose that we are not willing to actually give anything. When we are not willing to give - to be vulnerable - it is quite difficult to break down walls of separation and begin to bridge the separation that happens so quickly among us. When we are constantly put on alert because we work or live in an atmosphere that is filled with that we must watch our every word, there is no room for trust or truthfulness...and community will always break down.

Connection: What is in your heart as you question those around you ( You see, it is not always the "other" who is the times...we are the "other" and we don't see it. In conversation - honest conversation - we build in mirrors that allow us to see ourselves.

Lord God your word is the foundation upon which we enter the relationships of our lives. By your love, we learn to love. By your truthfulness, we learn to speak the truth. By your faithfulness, we learn to trust in you alone. Praise be to you for inviting us to share in the life you give to us each and every day. Amen

Monday, July 1, 2002

Tuesday, 2 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.

INQUISITION one terse phrase, as "the juridical persecution of heresy by special ecclesiastical courts."

Norris goes into a brief history of inquisitions...from Tyndale -for translating the bible into English and making it available to common folk, to women accused of being witches.

But it does not end there. Inquisition is not something that people used to do. The scariest thing to me about the word is the way that it can haunt ordinary conversation, and not just talk between people of vastly differing status. A hotel manager and a maid, for example. A salaried manager and a laborer earning an hourly wage, a bishop and a seminary student seeking ordination, a tenured professor and an associate desperate for tenure. When power is so heavily weighted between two people, fear all too easily enters into the equation, and even ordinary questions can seem like a minefield.

To be continued tomorrow.

Inquisition is not simply about "getting it right." That would be enough to scare people and leave people hopeless. Inquisition is primarily about "getting it right according to those who hold some form of power" in the games of matter what they may be. Norris does a good job of pointing this out. Inquisition is like magnifying "political correctness" and yet it includes "political correctness" and any other form of "code" language and ideas. As was noted on a previous day, it is quite important to talk about "straight praise" (orthodoxy) and attempt to keep people talking about what how we hold each other accountable to praising our God rather than other gods in our lives. But Inquisition demands that we limit conversation and adapt to what is being handed down from "on high" even if the ones "on high" are out of the bounds of what may be the boundlessness of God's grace. To be "out of bounds" within the the realm of God's grace is to demand the personal limits that one in power would like to see for all others. Inquisitions - even those that take place in an office or an elevator - too often serve to destroy community and conversation for the sake of control that is fueled by fear and anxiety.

Connection: It is important to know when you are being threatened by inquisitors within your day. Creative and constructive conversation can help us all see the many different sides of an issue or a concern. Some attempts at conversation are really ways of trying to control others. Listen and speak and seek the truth.

Lord God, you invite us to share in the abundance of your graceful reign. You encourage us to blossom and let our gifts shine for the welfare of all. Keep us safe within the day of our lives when we are able to be vulnerable and offer up our gifts to one another. Amen

Monday, 1 July, 2002

The lead piece is from "Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. In this book she takes many of the words and images of the faith and attempts to put some reality and life to them.


When God-talk is speech that is not of this world, it is a false language. In a religion that celebrates the Incarnation - the joining together of the human and the divine - a spiritualized jargon that does not ground itself in the five senses should be anathema. But the human tendency to dis-incarnate language is a strong one. I used to wonder if Jesus Christ, with all of the early metaphors he customarily employed, would marvel at the letters my beloved grandmother Norris would send me when I was in college... I was both fascinated and repelled by language that, while it insisted that it was telling a personal story, had almost nothing of the personal, or even the human it it. It seemed as if my grandmother's considerable geo had been subsumed, imperfectly, into "Jesus" this and "Jesus" that. The heavyweight theological words were a code I could not crack; evidently they spoke only to the "saved."

Every group of religious folk carry around such language. It can and it does become a barrier especially if the words are not connected to life. The book from which these quotes have been taken is Norris' attempt to bring theological and biblical language to life. Sometimes that take quite a bit of work because the words are so tied up with "another world or place." I find that an unfortunate result of using God-Talk that doesn't keep being redefined and made incarnate, is that we begin to sound like a secret society...a people who are in the "know." You may have heard people who seem to speak in patterns. I know that I use the image of the "reign of God" quite a bit. Some people are taught a pattern in prayer in which they "just want to ask..." There will always be a degree of God-talk that will permeate the lives of the faithful. We must be diligent in our translation so that the Lord of all can truly be that.

Connection: It is a good practice to ask people to explain what they mean by certain words in the God-Talk vocabulary. The same words very often don't mean the same thing to different people. They can be quite like code words. This questioning will help even outside the realm of God-Talk. Work vocabulary can be quite the same.

Lord God bind us together that the life you bring to us may be a light for all people. Remind us to bring to life the words we speak that all may come to see your love. Amen.