Friday, August 30, 2002

Friday, 30 August, 2002

Friday, 30 August, 2002

From Between Cross & Resurrection by Alan E. Lewis

In writing about the cross, the Saturday in the tomb, and the event of the resurrection and the life of Jesus Lewis notes:

Unheard-of things are begin said in this story, of which the most we can understand is how little we could ever understand. And that is why from the first moment that the events occurred, they have been told in the form of narrative... The danger is, however, that in our attempt to conceive and understand it we in fact suppress the very revolution that the story embodies, naturalize the alienness of its ideas, tame the violence it does to our logic, and anesthetize its wounding of our pride. For all its power as story - and as a story of powerful resurrection - this is, after all, the vulnerable of stories , a story of suffering and absence, of negation and of death.

In an analytical world that tends to trust only what can be proven and displayed like a science project at a fair, we do miss that certain power that goes along with the telling of a story. It is a power that sweeps people off their feet. It is a power that produces a history of changing people's lives. It is a power that is able to pull people in a new direction even when we think that we "know" everything about the story. We may know the story line but we are always being introduced to more of the story as it is retold to us. I find this comforting in a time when there is a growing number of people who are attempting to lock a story into the trap of literalism. "The book says it, this is what the book says, this is it." The story of the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection is story that continues to unfold and dig up more and more ways that the power of our God is available within the present and setting us up for whatever may come before us. The story is is not canned, it is alive and it engages us more and more and in new ways because it is a story that touches the very depth of what it is to be, as Lewis notes, vulnerable. Vulnerable to a point beyond our imagination and yet very much a part of our imagination...and that imagination longs for a story that will continue to have something to say again and again about life.

Connection: Sometimes it would be a good exercise in our day to simply ask people what they heard when someone tells a "story of something that took place during the day." This would be especially good if there were a number of people to whom you could ask the same question. In the middle of all the storytelling may appear the wonderful diversity of hearing and meaning that takes place when we may have only thought one way about the shared story.

God of all history and the many stories of our lives, refresh us again and again with the word of life that you offer to us through the lives of your faithful people. Inspire us to hear a new word of hope and peace and love as we retell and re-hear of your grace. Amen

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Thursday, 29 August, 2002

From Between Cross & Resurrection by Alan E. Lewis

Because the truth of the kingdom is indeed a truth to be done, the imperative addenda to the story of the new things that God alone is doing must eventuate in human action. Those who become disciples because they have heard the liberating word that they cannot and are not expected to do what God alone can do, are then commanded, with the perfectly foolish logic of the new kingdom, to "go and do likewise"; and their going and doing is the test of whether they have really heard the promise that they can do nothing.

The loving reign of God - traditionally called a "kingdom" - is not a thought. It is not a "spiritual" idea that is meant to float among us as something other than what is. It is, as Lewis puts it, "a truth to be done." It is is the pulse of the vision that pours in, with and under every aspect of our being when we claim to be followers of Jesus. Here is one of the instances when it is so important to hear the power of what is called the "living word." It brings life and it urges promises life and it brings life to its fullest. Liberation begins with a liberating word being spoken or read or enacted. Peace begins as we are overwhelmed by words of peace and words of peace that find their way into lives of peace. I find that it is so important to be graceful when it comes to putting the word to life. Too often, religious folks want to demand what "real life" is to be. This way or the highway. Fit in this definition of what is considered God's reign or you're out. Most of the time, when that kind of language is used, I want to be considered "out." And yet, we are drawn...always drawn, to be...a part of that gospel truth in which the reign of God spills all over us.

Connection: Be the people God has said we are. Being is a simple moment to moment adventure. Being means breathe...relax...engage...act foolishly...act intentionally....slip and fall and get back God's beloved today.

Precious Lord, you blessed reign beckons us to be filled up with your life-giving presence. Be with us, as you have promised, as we move through the steps of this day that you have handed to us. Amen.

Thursday, 29 August, 2002

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Wednesday, 28 August, 2002

From Between Cross & Resurrection by Alan E. Lewis

What frightens and frees us simultaneously about this new and alien kingdom of God which Jesus preached and told of is the simple fact that it is God's and not our own. That is a dark menace to the complacency and contentment of those who flourish under the kingdoms of this world; a shining vision of release and new beginnings to the victims of the present order; and perhaps also a mocking rebuke to the programs, projects, and pride of those who hope to create a new order by themselves.... Piously, or politically, we cripple ourselves with the need to bring about God's righteousness on earth, failing to hear what Jesus so vividly declares: that we need not shoulder that burden because the goal itself does not need to be accomplished. The goal is in fact, God's fact, the fact of grace and promise. No gap divides what God says from what God does;

I know that I want things to go the way I want things to go. But isn't that the way the world works...again and again. We want economy...the go our way. That's one of the primary reasons why we go to protect our interests...interests special to our way...the way we want things to be. That, of course, is the "right" way. We will even declare that our way is God's way and we have the right to implement God's reign as we would see it. Unfortunately, our translation of the vision and truth of God's reign is often deficient at best. We are called to keep in mind what God says within the words of God's promise. That promise will be fulfilled even as we resist it or long for it. In our day we may not see it completely...but we may indeed be surprised by how it interrupts the way we want things and how it turns our heads to a new way of living. I find that we need to be able to laugh and cry and find ourselves completely off guard when God's promises do unfold within our day. To enter the day like this is to begin the walk in which we let go of our need to see our way followed as we would like to call the shots.

Connection: The fact of grace and promise...that, truly gives us something to consider throughout this day as we attempt to adjust our lives to "other" facts that claim to rule over us. How would such consideration of God's truthfulness lead us today?

Lord God you promise to be with us and to bring life for all. That is how this day begins and it is how it ends - wrapped in your promise. We give you thanks for the power of life that is available to us as your Spirit of life grasps us and makes us whole. Amen.

Monday, August 26, 2002

Tuesday, 27 August, 2002

From Isaiah 51:1

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.

Yesterday the images from the devotions focused on the subversive vision of parables. That vision is a call to life...a reminder of what it is to be followers of the one we call Lord, Jesus. Now from Isaiah, a part of the first lesson from this past Sunday, comes a word of encouragement to any and all who consider themselves to be among those who seek the Lord. Our God has a history of calling people forward into the life of promise. It is not some flimsy promise. It is as solid as the rock that becomes the foundation and building blocks of the great buildings throughout civilization. This image of the rock that is used by the prophet Isaiah is to be for all of us who are wooed by the Spirit of God - a resting place and a base from which we jump out into the day as children of the Most High God. Please note, that we are called by the prophet, "you that pursue righteousness." We do not simply go out into the day doing as we please. We live within that promise of new life. Righteousness encompasses the bountiful images of a community of people who will serve others so as to see to the welfare of all. That is a bold path to follow. It is incredibly important that we step onto that pathway with our God under girding our every step - a solid rock.

Connection: You are the righteous of God. That is how God looks at us and that is the truth about us from beginning to end. Therefore today we can live as though that is true...even with all our faults we are called into a life in which we are "right with God" because God says so! That makes today an opportunity for new life rather than another chore.

Lord of New Life, may the history of your loving kindness surround us and nurture us as we become a living presence of such loving kindness in this day. Amen.

Monday, 26 August, 2002

Today's lead piece is from "Between Cross and Resurrection" by Alan E. Lewis.

In speaking about parables:

...the parable becomes such subversive, "dangerous Stories." Guilt gives way to exhilaration, and shame to tears of relief, when we hear it being said that God's ways are different from the ways of the world and are a threat to every status quo, since the rule of the world by these new and different ways has already begun before our very eyes. In God's kingdom there is justice which sets free and makes joyful all who stand before it: the guilty are not condemned, the fallen are picked up; nobodies are promoted; the hungry are sated; and the lost are not permitted to remain abandoned. And all of this through a love which knows no sensible bounds and breaks every principle of decorum, prudence, and tradition.

Could it be that parables have such strong messages for it is to difficult to speak these words directly? Therefore, the story cuts to the heart or opens up a reality that we would usually not approach with such truthfulness. Subversive language usually has a veil around protect the move the word out to as many as possible before some power tries to put an end to such words. The Good News becomes a collection of "dangerous stories" for we are each valued for who we are before God as God's beloved and not as how we are before one another - rated, graded, scored. Our prayer is that we would act and live with one another within the openness and love that God extends to each of us. To live like that is to take part in a vision.

Connection: It is okay to go beyond the sensible bounds of our day and engage others with a love that brings to the world a bit of blessed exhilaration.

Lord God, you continue to invite us to walk within your blessed reign. It is not always the way we choose to walk and yet you continue to call us out to play within the creative life you have offered to us since the beginning of time. Encourage us that we might trust in your promise of new life. Amen.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Friday, 23 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. This will be the last day we use this resource. Monday will begin another series.


After engaging in a open conversation about truth by looking at the difference in her husband and herself and how they perceive truth Norris notes.

Truth, for small children, seems to exist only in the literal. Any parent of a four-year-old learns to recognize the whine that starts up when plans change: "But you said we would leave before lunch, not after." "You said I could have cotton candy, I don't want an ice cream cone." For grown-ups, truth is considerably more complex. It is known, for example, that some saints never existed, but that does not make their stories any less true. Even it if could be proven that the Mary and Martha who appeared in the last verse of Luke 10 were a fiction, the truth of the story would remain. The two women prepare to greet their friend Jesus, but each in her own way.... No amount of literalism with regard to the text or its history can take away the truth of what these women represent, or diminish what Christian tradition has made of the story.

How many times have you heard someone ask, "Is it true?" in regard to a story from scripture. Sometimes we can be lured into a faith that is made up of things we are able to say are "true" and we put them in a box to prove our faith. The more things we can claim as "true" the stronger is our faith. But then, remember, we do not trust in the Lord God as the "Most High God" because we have things we can prove. I would rather say that I trust our God because there is a truth that is so profound it is the power for new life. In some ways it brings me into stories asking a different question than "Is it true" or "Did it really happen?" Instead, I am free to ask how is it true....what does it reveal...what truth is handed over to us about God's will and the life that is now available to us? Norris offers two quotes at the beginning of this chapter on Truth. It is worth using them here.

The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the source of all true science... To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists... this knowledge, this feeling, is the center of true religion. - Albert Einstein

Wherever there is truth, it is the Lord's. - Justin Martyr.

Connection: There is something profoundly truth-full about the love of God for us and what it does to us. Consider this a lovely day...a love filled day...and be aware of the truth that is revealed along the way.

O Lord of Peace and Justice, keep us mindful of the many ways we are drawn into this day and experience situations and people and attitudes that are quite outside of our usual experience. In that journey, keep our minds open to the way your love is the power that transforms and shapes our interactions with others. Amen

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Thursday, 22 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.


A foolish concept, to be sure, and apparently irresistible to the human spirit. My favorite definition of heaven comes from a Benedictine sister, who told me that as her mother lay dying in a hospital bed she had ventured to reassure her by saying, "In heaven, everyone we love is there." The older woman had replied, "No, in heaven I will love everyone who's there."

The utter democracy of the heavenly feast, the banquet to which anyone may come and be fed, has long appealed to me. I have often had dreams of being lost, without identification or money, and suddenly entering the strange, delicious world invoked by Isaiah 55: "Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." (Isa. 55:1)

Some of you have heard me go on and on about the banquet...the feast of victory...that is the end and the beginning. I must admit that Norris' story of the old woman in the hospital bed will stay with me as a new way to speak about the promise and the life that is eternally ours. "In heaven I will love everyone who's there." That makes the end an open adventure. It is not a closed and restricted setting that is operated around who I love. It is a vision of all that our God would invite to be among the beloved Notice the very strong and emphatic way she corrects her daughter. "I will love everyone..." No, "I hope I will," or I will have an opportunity to love those who love me forever and ever." Simply, "I will love everyone who's there." Honestly, that is beyond my comprehension. And yet, it is within the realm of the promise. Beyond me and you...beyond what we want and what we think should that great and glorious great. It is no wonder the only response to such a vision is: Alleluia.

Connection: Imagine walking through your day as though the understanding behind all we do is that we will love everyone who's there. Wow.

Lord of the beginning and the end of all things, how wonderful is the promise you have made to us. Such promises carry us through the day and carry us into the day longing for your word to be made into life among us. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Wednesday, 21 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.


In the American Heritage Dictionary theology is defined as "the study of the nature of God...rational inquiry into religious questions." But the best definition of theology that I know of comes from Evagrius of Pontus, who said, "If you are a theologian, pray truly; and if your pray truly, you are a theologian." ...

The problem of theology is always to keep it within its bounds as an adjunct and response to a lived faith. In the early Christian church, we can see how quickly the creeds , which began as simple statements of faith made at baptism, and were local in character until the early fourth century, became tests of orthodoxy as the church established itself as an institution. And as such, they could be, and were, used to include and exclude people from the Christian fold....

Putting to life that which we say is so important in regard to our faith is a true example of theology for it shows just how much life is in the words and thoughts we like to string together to form our theological thoughts. I remember a pastor speaking to a group of people from a coalition of churches. When someone in the audience said he didn't know anything about theology, the pastor asked, "Do you ever think about God?" "Of Course!" was the replied." To which the pastor simply said, "Then you are a theologian." Theology is not some abstract study. When it is good theology it is full of life and it engages us. Theology is that talk that takes place between everyday life and our attempt to make sense of it. I find that when I am reading good theology, it excites and moves me to engage the day and make the most of places the hand of God in all the moments of my "normal, everyday life."

Connection: What would your thoughts about God look like if they were a part of your life today? How does grace does the incarnation make is the notion of creation or the resurrection bring meaning and purpose into what you are all about today?

Lord of New Life, you bring us life and you invite us to jump in and be a part of the greatest gift of all time - life within your loving embrace. Help us to make sense of the faith as we make the faith a part of the adventures we enter today. Amen

Monday, August 19, 2002

Tuesday, 20 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.


I recently read in a friend's sermon a story of a Croatian of Serbian descent, a Christian who was in charge of managing refugee resettlement for a part of Croatia. Working on plans to rebuild a Muslim village that had been totally destroyed in the war, the man found, to his surprise, that no mosque had been included. When he inquired about it, the mayor told him he had assumed that Christian organizations would not be willing to help fund the rebuilding of a mosque. The relief worker replied that it was because they were followers of Jesus Christ that they would help rebuild it. "Jesus told a story about a good Samaritan," he said, "who helped his neighbor without asking him about his theology.

Neighbor turns into a wonderful and powerful word for change and transformation. This is all the more the case for people who profess to be followers of Jesus. Offering and giving and receiving help in time of need is vital to the building of a community. When we consider the "other" as neighbor, it is more difficult to write them off for Jesus spoke about neighbor in such an expansive manner. Neighbor is a part of the vision of the reign of God that constantly pulls us into relationship with others...even if they do not quite fit our idea of a neighbor. We want neighbors like us...who think like us...who accept us. And yet, neighbors are...well, you name it...the reign of God is quite wide and eternally connected.

Connection: Go ahead and greet one of your neighbors today and in the middle of the day take note of the surprising face present around you as "neighbor." Blessed are you neighbor!

Lord, you knit together a grace-filled tapestry of people who are connected to one another by your creative majesty. Empower us to see the beautiful way you intend to bring the fabric of your eternal reign together into one great community of loving kindness and neighborly support. Amen.

Monday, 19 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.


Prayer does not "want." It is ordinary experience lived with gratitude and wonder, a wonder that makes us know the smallness of oneself in an enormous and various universe.

What could make a day in the life of any of us extraordinary than to enter "ordinary experience lived with gratitude and wonder." To be so aware of the place in which I operate and move and breathe and yet to be able to sense the vastness of life in time and space. To have the sense of the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and to be able to contemplate the multitude of people who are wandering the globe at this very moment is a holy time. And yet, it is exactly what takes place in that time we have traditionally called prayer. The shopping list usually associated with prayer must be set aside as we let ourselves take on the great wonder of God's creation and that brilliance of life that is all around us. This kind of wonder may be the beginning of peacemaking and justice that will make it easier to bow and to bend and welcome and embrace more than my own, my own kind, and all my wishes and wants. Prayerful amazement.

Connection: Let yourself wonder today. Within the many "in between" times that enter our day, feel free to "take off" and enter that eternity of hopefulness and joy...Prayer.

Lord God we are taken up into the wide and glorious view of your blessed reign when you invite us to lift up our lives in prayer. Let the simple prayers of our day teach us about the way we are connected and surrounded by your beloved people. Amen.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Friday, 16 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.


Prayer is not doing, but being. It is not words but the beyond-words experience of coming into the presence of something much greater than oneself. It is an invitation to recognize holiness and to utter simple words - "Holy, Holy, Holy" - in response. Attentiveness is all; I sometimes think of prayer as a certain quality of attention that comes upon me when I'm busy doing something else... Prayer is often stereotyped in our culture as a form of pietism, a lamentable privatization of religion. Even many Christians seem to regard prayer as a grocery list we hand to God, and when we don't get what we want, we assume that the prayers didn't "work." This is privatization at its worst, and a cosmic selfishness.

There are many times that seem very appropriate for prayer. We share prayers at meal time. Some share prayers at the beginning of the day or at the end of the day. There are those formal prayers in worship and those prayers that take place when we gather as Christians in meetings and social events. But...then there's life. Life as prayer. Life that keeps connecting the dots...from here to there...from me to you....from this actions and that action. Sure there are obvious signs that people are praying - there are traditional stances and "looks." Personally, it drives me nuts when a group of people is told to "Bow our Heads for prayer." That may be one way to pray but there are so many other ways to focus and connect and "pray"...we need not set in stone what it is to look like to pray. At the remembrance of a name, there can be prayer. In the fleeting thoughts that race through our minds as we are driving to work, there can be prayer. Prayer is, as Norris puts it so well, the "experience of coming into the presence of something much greater than oneself." That can happen in every moment of our may not even "look" as though you are praying.

Connection: That's it...connection...stay connected today. The conversation that takes place within the great cosmos of time and space that is as close as you within yourself.

O Lord, continue to be present with us in all tha parts of our day. Continue to inspire us to sense your presence and be free enough to invite you to listen to our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Thursday, 15 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.

PENTECOSTAL (part 2 of 2)

Religious prejudice does so much damage in the world, and is so pervasive, that I find it instructive when my own prejudices get knocked about...

It was an unexpected friendship with an Assembly of God pastor that finally caused my stereotype of Pentecostal Christians to crumble. Like most prejudices, they were based on shallow assumptions and incomplete information. I had always equated Pentecostalism with fundamentalism, and this pastor's biblical scholarship was not that of a fundamentalist. I had expected him to be moralistic and judgmental, but he did not reject me or my husband. The fact that we were poets had attracted him, and also that we considered poetry to be primarily oral. He saw connections between poetry and the orality and spontaneity of Pentecostal worship, connections I found fascinating. To value experience over credentials, the sound of words (or tongues) over what is written on paper, to attune oneself to, as he put it, "the good, the grace that comes by way of the unexpected, the 'not qualified,'" made sense to me. The way he spoke of grace reminded me of what William Stafford once said about inspiration. He compared it to fishing, to being receptive (and humble) enough to accept whatever nibble comes along.

This piece has taken me to where I do not want to go. I'm not a very gracious participant when it comes to taking part in conversations with Pentecostals. Maybe it is because I let those "shallow assumptions" swell into my own notion of truth. But somewhere in those conversations, there are those moments in which the Spirit does push me into seeing and hearing in a new way. Those moments are not enough for me to give up the faith tradition that is a source of inspiration and guidance for me in my own life, but it does point to the one I call Creator and Lord...and therefore, I am pressed to listen to what may surprise me with a word of grace. That word of grace may be the qualifier onto which I hold...the bottom line...the anchor. For if the amazing, life renewing, open wide the doors of the Reign of God...grace is present, I'll listen to more of what I usually would simply turn off.

Connection: Some days, we must simply be willing to be upended and see our life experiences from a new perspective...and not simply trust what has been the lens through which we have been looking at the world for all these years.

Grant us this day, O God, a full measure of patience and ears to hear your grace expressed in many ways by your saints - all of them. Encourage us to dwell within your graceful reign as people who actually live with other with just such grace and attention. Amen.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Wednesday, 14 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.

PENTECOSTAL (part 1 of 2)

The miracle of (Pentecost) is that it drew people from all parts of the known world - Egypt, Galilee, Cappadocia, Asia - and while each person spoke in their native tongue, they understood each other. In medieval iconography the Tower of Babel is often depicted alongside the event of Pentecost; the latter was thought to have reversed the ill effects of the former.

The word "Pentecostal" is commonly used today to refer to specific Christian denominations formed in the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries (notably the Assemblies of God, and the Church of God in Christ), or by movements such as the Charismatic Renewal within the Roman Catholic church. Unfortunately, the marvelous understanding celebrated at the original Pentecost has faded into the background, and now the word "Pentecost" often signifies not Christian unity but sectarian differences. Many Pentecostals are conservative Christians who disdain those of a more liberal persuasion. And the mainstream Christians often dismiss Pentecostals as looney tunes; anti-intellectual in their theology, overemotional in their worship.

I wanted to give two days to this word/concept because Norris deals with the negative and the positive images of the word Pentecostal. So often we cast our faith within the molds of "right" or "wrong"....good or bad. And yet, even though the traditions of the Pentecostal church may be quite different from, let's say, liturgical churches like Lutherans, Episcopalians, or Roman Catholics....or many Mainline Protestant churches, they claim Jesus as Lord of their lives. Styles of worship may differ greatly. Many times, it is more the style of the worship than the theology of the church that attracts or repulses people. Therefore, it takes getting to know someone and how they view their faith...looking for the rock upon which they stand...that is most important. In the past days, Norris has spelled out the meaning of some words that had to do with how we view scripture and how we view the Good News as it is to be announced within our lives. In many ways, we may all need to be very clear about the faith we call our rock and foundation. The surprise may be that more and more of us are on a common ground that needs to abide with a few graceful edges so that we can at least talk together. That...can be tough.

Connection: Sometime we can hear another view of faith as a claim to be the "right way...the "only way." That is always alarming. Then again, we are free to speak up and disagree or say I don't look at it that way...or...I don't need that...I need this...or...accept pieces of other traditions that will nurture a well-rounded faith life.

Lord of us All, there are so many ways that you touch us and then send us into this day. Keep us mindful of the many ways people march out into this day within the hopefulness of your blessed Reign. Amen.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Tuesday, 13 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.


Once a little boy came up to me and said, "I saw the ladder that goes up to God." I closed the book that I was reading, which happened to be "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," by a fierce sixth-century monk, John Climacus, and I listened... This boy had recently experienced that most fierce of childhood experiences, the death of a beloved dog... As the boy told me of his dream, I thought about Jacob, who during a crisis in his life had also seen a ladder going up to heaven. Jacob's response has always appealed to me; when he wakes, he says, "God is in this place, and I did not know it.

Revelation is not explanation, and it is not acquired through reading John Climacus, or anyone else. It is the revealing of the presence of a God who cares for all creatures, even a little boy who lives on a ranch in a part of America that has often been called "Godforsaken." A boy whose dog has died, and who needs, and receives, divine consolation.

This hits the mark with me. People try to take a book like Revelation or segments of the Book of Daniel and turn them into pieces of literature that predict future things. They often hold these books up as answer books that can mysteriously reveal a plan for how the world will end and who will "make it." What a limited and unfortunate way to see these beautiful books and their strange stories. Revelation is meant to be, as Norris puts it, divine consolation. It is consolation for it brings into the lives of ordinary people who may be going through the worst of times - a word of unbending and eternal peace and joy and comfort. Rather than trying to "decode" the revelatory literature and predict what will happen, the message tends to be much more simple and immediate. God Reigns and is victorious and will prevail. Duh!! But as you can imagine, such a simple and eternal message will never sell well for it is not mysterious enough. All we need to know is simply as much as that grieving boy: God is in this place. No need to be spooked or in this word alone.

Connection: Instead of thinking of revelation as something that happens in extraordinary circumstances, it is a wonderful addition to the day to be surprised by an encounter with the presence of God...even in a fleeting moment...or the voice and presence of another...or the flip-side of a moment that is tragic and painful.

Lord God, open our eyes that we may see how you are present with us to keep our hearts assured of your love that will not let us go. Enable us to find in the ordinary your extraordinary and life-giving Spirit. Amen.

Monday, 12 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.


Much of the punch has gone out of the "wicked," which now seems to convey not something truly evil, but merely mischievous. The English word may be traced all the way back to an Indo-European root meaning to bend, change, or weaken. A witch, or a wise-woman, might cast a "wicked" spell in order to bend a lover's heart to fall in love, to change another's mind, or to weaken an enemy. I believe that there is such a thing as holy wickedness, as in a healthy mischief, undertaken wholly for the good. It has little to do with casting spells, and everything to do with the way our minds are cast.

Holy wickedness may be what we traditionally call "loving one's enemy" and praying for them. When you think about it, to love one's enemy is to begin the transformation of the world from one side...even if the other side resists. That sounds like holy wickedness to me. This has nothing to do with folding up shop and letting an enemy walk all over you, it has to do with being persistent, patient, tough as nails, as tender as a mother with a new born babe, and willing to resist things staying the way they are...even if it mean I am the only one carrying forth with an agenda of enemy love. Often we talk about changing a person's heart. I like what Norris shares when she writes that a "wicked" spell is cast in order to bend a lover's heart to fall in love. Too often our hearts are hard and cast in stone or broken...wounded and we cannot see beyond our own little world that is self-centered and self-absorbed. have our hearts the direction of a love that heals and reunites the separated and helps enemies see ground on which they can the same a down right holy a wicked kind of way.

Connection: Holy wickedness is filled with laughter. It sees the vision of the peaceable reign of God and can chuckle at our inability to be there and our great need to enjoy the journey into its gracious rule... I hope there is a bit of wicked laughter within your day.

Lord God of Every Age, throughout history, you have demonstrated your willingness to bring together enemies, to turn warfare into a farce, and to surprise your people with new ways of being in community. Keep us laughing and willing to bend the rules so that your love may reign among us. Amen

Friday, August 9, 2002

Friday, 9 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.


I am indebted to the writer and sculptor Edward Robinson for pointing out to me that the word "dogmatic" as used today means, ironically, to have abandoned the original spirit of dogma. In the early church, he says, dogma simply meant acceptance, or consensus, what people could agree on. The Greek root from which "dogma" comes means "what seems good, fitting, becoming." Thus, the word "beauty" might be a more fitting synonym for dogma than what has become it synonym in contemporary English: "doctrine," or a teaching... Friends...sometime ask how it is that I ca live with dogma. It's not that difficult. I tell them, because dogma is not dogmatism, which in the words of Gregory Wolfe, results when "theological systems...become calcified and unreal." ... If I do get caught up in fretting over one of the mysteries of the faith that is expressed as a dogma, it's usually a sign that something else is wrong, something I need to sit with for a while and pray over so that I can see the problem clearly.

It is not bad to have some things within our faith life that are "what seems good, fitting, becoming." It is much like having a foundation - a place to stand...from which we can enter the many "take off" points within our lives and contemplate the fullness of our lives. Norris spends several pages writing about the "assumption of Mary into heaven." As a Presbyterian she did not find such dogma from the Roman Catholic church very important. Then again as she heard people speak of it, she noted that in this obscure teaching, she said it "reminds us not to despise this world, even ordinary human flesh, because God has called it good, and found it worthy of heaven. It is a story about potentialities, specifically the human potential for goodness and even holiness, that we so carelessly and consistently obscure." Her recovery of this "religious" word is another example of how important it can be for our "living" faith to not simply throw away words that have somehow become uncomfortable for us.

Connection: What is for you "beautiful" about a piece of the Christian faith? Maybe it is something you have know for a long time. But, also, what have you been able to see in something old that has brought new life within your life and vision? New meanings for old ideas enter our lives each day.

Lord God, you bring into our lives many gifts. Before we seek out that which is considered new, grant us the wisdom to take a second look at the many gifts you have handed down to our ancestors and now offer to us today. Give us minds to search for that which is the true beauty of the faith. Amen

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Thursday, 8 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.


The literature of apocalypse is scary stuff, the kind of thing that can give religion a bad name, because people so often use it as a means of controlling others, instilling dread by invoking a boogeyman God... It is not a detailed prediction of the future, or an invitation to withdraw from the concerns of this world. It is a wake-up call, one that uses intensely poetic language and imagery to sharpen our awareness of God's presence in and promise for the world... The word "apocalypse" comes from the Greek word for "uncovering" or "revealing," which makes it a word about possibilities. And while uncovering something we'd just as soon keep hidden is a frightening prospect, the point of apocalypse is not to frighten us into submission... Maybe we're meant to use apocalyptic literature...not as an allowance to indulge in an otherworldly fixation but as an injunction to pay closer attention to the world around us. When I am disturbed by the images of apocalypse, I find it helpful to remember the words of the fourth-century monk about the task of reading scripture as "working the earth of the heart," for it is only in a disturbed, ploughed-up ground that the seeds we plant for grain can grow.

Apocalyptic literature in the bible has been the source of so much fear within Christianity that some people don't want to open a book like the Revelation to John. I hate domestic violence and I hate spouse or child abuse...I am also greatly disturbed by Bible abuse. This takes place particularly in those passages and books that some want to call "prophesy" referred to as literature of apocalypse. It is abuse because people try to us these pieces of scripture as a secret map that will predict the future. As Norris writes, we end up with a boogeyman God...that tries to scare the hell out of people. In our lifetime, we run into people like the Watchtower (JWs), the writers of the "Left Behind" series, Hal Lindsey from the "Late Great Planet Earth" of the 1970, and I would say many literalist preachers who are afraid to let poetry be poetry and apocalyptic writing be apocalyptic writing. I told someone the other day that I love to read the book of Revelations because it is such a simple story...Jesus is Lord. That is the beginning and the end...alpha & omega. God's reign is about a love that holds on to us even when the world is acting like a horrible beast and we are being seduced to follow its beastly ways. That's encouraging not frightening.

Connection: The next time you hear people talking about "the end times" and it is filled with "scare the hell out of you" language, you have my permission to use this highly technical and theological word I teach to the children in our worship during the children's lesson. Simply say, "Bologna!" In other words, literalistic talk like that is like shredding up a bunch of bits and pieces that aren't worth anything and selling it as good food. Demand the Gospel instead!!!

Lord of this day and all of time, we give you thanks for you promise to be with us and never abandon us. Send your promised Holy Spirit to keep our eyes fixed on your gracious and loving reign and our hearts open to the power of your love. Amen.

Tuesday, August 6, 2002

Wednesday, 7 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.

JUDGMENT In commenting about the parable of the Weeds and the Wheat we hear:

I began to find the parable absurdly freeing not from responsibility but from the disease of perfectionism. Even the image of fire, which had troubled me so as a child, was transformed into a symbol of hope. Another of the texts (on the Sunday this parable was read in worship)...was from Exodus, the story of Moses and the burning bush. I began to see God's fire, like a good parent's righteous anger, as something that can flare up, challenge, and even change us, but that does not destroy the essence of who we are. The thought of all my weeds burning off so that only the wheat remains came to seem a good thing.

Norris goes on to quote one of my favorite hymns, "How Firm a Foundation" and offers this verse.

When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie

My grace all sufficient shall be your supply.

The flame shall not hurt you, my only design

Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

My life is a mixture of wheat and weeds. Isn't it the most gracious of acts that God will take care of the that what is left is the wheat...the gold. And there, each of us will stand...wheat...golden...ripe. Do not fear. I like to remember that in Christ, the "judgment" is eternally FOR US! Within that vision, there is no need for any of us to judge others or try to serve as the gatekeepers trying to maintain status quo in the reign of God.

Connection: It is difficult to resist the temptation to live our lives under the "threat" of a judgment that will come "if we don't get it right." Truth is no one will ever get it right. Therefore, today may be the perfect time to step onto the freedom train headed straight for the glory of bold and travel ahead by grace alone.

O Holy Foundation of all that is, it is by your love and mercy that we are embraced and taught and sent as your beloved children out into our day. Give us the ears to hear your promise of new life and eyes to see how that love unfolds around us and in us. Amen.

Monday, August 5, 2002

Tuesday, 6 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.

HELL (revisited)...for the Lutherans among us...and all of us

Years ago...I interviewed a local undertaker who had grown up in the business... This man was about to retire after more than fifty years, and he told me that the worst experience he had had in all that time was with a Lutheran pastor - for any reader who keeps track of Lutheran schisms, I should add that he was a pastor in a branch of the church that had broken off from the Wisconsin Synod because it was far to liberal. An infant, the first child of a young couple, had died, but when the minister came to help plan the funeral and learned that the child had died without being baptized, he said, "There's nothing for me to do. That baby's in hell," and walked out. The outraged undertaker was left to counsel the parents, and he quickly called the pastor of a mainstream Lutheran church who provided the family with funeral services.

Yes, though it happens less and less, there are many people who still view baptism as "fire insurance." This is quite odd. For within this view of baptism, we are more focused on death than life. Baptism is for life!!! What kind of a God was the first pastor trying to hold up...prop up? Obviously it was a small god of his own making. For the God of the scriptures is the "God Most High" whose love for us will not be based on our willingness to love back or our adherence to rituals of any kind. In another section on "hell" Norris makes a note about some Christians that I think is wild and, unfortunately, dead on. She writes: "that people become convinced that the Bible is loaded with little trap doors to hell. Sometimes they pull bit and pieces of scripture together to prove their point, constructing an elaborate, almost talismanic conviction that is intended to leave them secure, among the saved, but that will allow them to condemn other people." Wouldn't be refreshing to know that people looked at Christians not as people who tried to "scare the hell out of folks" but rather were some of the most compassionate and loving people in their lives!?!

Connection: When you hear someone trying to scare the Hell out of someone, go ahead and rescue them with a word of unbounded love and unconditional promise of abundant life.

Lord God, it is by your promise that we are able to turn this day into an opportunity to flourish and grow and anticipate the many surprises that come our way within the many dynamics of this day. Keep us mindful of the vastness of your blessed reign that beckons us to come and dance for joy. Amen.

Monday, 5 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.


I have long been intrigued by the fact that the concept of a particular section of hell as reserved for the punishment of sinners did not enter the Hebrew scriptures until after Israel had experienced the trauma of exile in Babylon. Before that time, the word "sheol" had conveyed the general abode of the dead , as did images of the abyss or the pit. This tells me that how human beings treat one another has everything to do with our concept of hell. People who have endured the pain of exile and enslavement are likely to take refuge in the thought that there is punishment for their tormentors, if not in this world then in the next... In my experience, the stereotypical view of Christianity as a religion of "hellfire and damnation" is mostly false. Seldom do I encounter someone who firmly believes that God's desire to judge us (and find us wanting) is far greater than God's capacity for love, forgiveness, and mercy. If that is the sort of preaching you want to hear, of course, you can seek out churches that will provide it.

I find that too many people spend too much time considering hell or damnation than we spend entering into the gift of life that is ours through the promises of our God in Christ, Jesus. The tactics of threat may work for little children - though I strongly doubt that they work better than the presence of deliberate love - but most folks learn to take the power of threat and make that the way they live each day. That is eternally sad. To do or not do something because we fear what punishment may be in store for us may prevent a child from whacking his/her sibling...but not always. To love and risk our lives standing firmly within the domain of love and forgiveness, takes a great risk...for we so often have seen the power of evil destroy the works of love. Therefore, it is an easy jump from loving to simply saying "Damn them!" And as that happens, we have brought ourselves, like the Israelites in Babylon, within the vast destructive creation....of the domain of "hell." I recall on teacher being asked if he believed in hell. After a pause, he said, "Yes. (pause) But I don't believe anyone will be there." Hell does indeed exist...within every ounce of us that wants revenge, retribution, and -you could say - things to go our way and in our favor. To hell with the rest.

Connection: It is not easy to be swayed from the establishment of hell into the gracious reign of God. Take note of how often your mind lets you wish for hell to be real because of "them." Damn them.

O Lord, what love you have for us. It is beyond our comprehension and yet it is readily available to us for each of the days of our lives. Stir up in us the wonderful vision for life that comes from your promise to be eternally for us and with us. Amen