Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Vivacious Presence of God in the Air

Gil Bailie handed me a line that deals with the coming into being of the eschatological imagination. I will use I often - I think.  He says that this imagination 'is nothing other than Jesus' mind-fixed on the utterly effervescent goodness and vivaciousness of God.' Nothing else. Stop looking back. Forget about the pay-backs. Ignore the insults. Drop the guns. Put out of the vocabulary the words that blame and abuse and destroy others.

As Jesus moves toward Jerusalem  - actually as he moves in and through all the tales of his life - he resides in and invites in the fullness of God's Reign. Nothing else is on his plate and it is always a plate he offers to others without price. Within the imagery of Bailie's statement I imagine the Creator of all things dancing - singing - and completely involved in the life that is unfolding as each bit of creation springs forth out of the fullness of this creative genius.

It is not easy to have our minds fixed on that utterly effervescent goodness and vivaciousness of God - at least not for me. There are just so many ways to fall all over the stuff that has a way of turning one person against another. When that takes place, we tend not to keep note of God's goodness and vivaciousness - which is essentially ours also. Instead of living within the God's peaceable Reign that is meant to be the promise of the future busting into the present, we go to war - we make sure the war we fought is greater than the one you fought - we detest those who did not fight in the war - we cannot see the beauty of service not linked to warfare. Most of all, acts of reconciliation are too often simply excluded from our lives because we have come to fool ourselves into believing that word and actions of reconciliation - in regard to any and all enemies - is a show of weakness. So, we fight and are left with the dullness and mean-spiritedness that helps to build the hell we say we hate but cannot continue on without it.

I work as a part-time Uber driver and I have been finding that I like driving and I like the people in the car when I am able to honor them and attempt to listen to them. I also find my first task is to make their trip in time one that is pleasant - engaging - simply restful. I have picked up a wide variety of folks. Some have pulled me out of my boxed-up world and helped me see how wide open a life well-lived can be even if it is not my own. I have come to think that it would be wonderful for everyone in the car when those times come in which I am able to be a witness the God Bailie describes. No preaching - no attempt to convert, simply that creative presence that whips through the day - any day within the garden of God's vivaciousness.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Uncovering Joy: A House of Joy (Part 4 of 25)

Please feel free to comment - I'm looking for some feedback on these tales of urban spirituality. Thanks. TRRR

Uncovering Joy - A House of Joy 
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, „Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.‟ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10) 

In Luke‟s gospel, the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling. Jesus was being the attentive person he always was. He was commenting about the order of seating at dinner and offered some words about hospitality within the Reign of God. For some, that kind of open welcome is offensive and disruptive. Jesus tells a parable about a banquet in order to press the point of the vision that calls forth all and not just some. This gospel story-telling is a journey through what is present and at hand. We learn about the Reign of God as we hear the stories of Jesus in the middle of what we have always seen as an ordinary day – no great event – no special preparation – no deliberate exercise. 
When I think about urban spirituality as a journey and exercise of uncovering joy, I am drawn to a very short parable that comes soon after the parable of the banquet in Luke. It is the second parable told to those who were questioning the kind of folks that Jesus welcomes and the people with whom he eats. In this parable a woman is looking for a coin she may have lost. She still has nine of the ten coins – but one is missing. First of all, she notices that one of ten is missing. Then she takes the time to move around everything in her house in order to find that coin. She does a thorough house cleaning. That means moving furniture, going into all the dark corners, going through the piles of things all of us “save,” shuffling around the things in the kitchen, up- ending the bed, shaking out carpets, and then sweeping - sweeping the dirt floor, in hope of finding that coin. She re-views what is so very well known to her. She finds the coin but she really encounters something much more – joy. Right there in the space of her life that is so ordinary - she finds joy by looking again at what is known so well to her. 
In the parable, the joy is something that is shared. Who knows, some of the neighbors may have been saying, “What‟s the big deal, she would have found it sooner or later?” But for that woman, joy is something that we share. Joy becomes contagious. When we are filled with joy over nothing more than that which is uncovered from the life very close to us and very available, the eyes of others are renewed. In her excitement, we may wonder about how something so small can bring about such grand rejoicing, but in that moment each of us may begin to think about how rich the everyday moments of our lives really are. We are invited to share in such joy. That becomes a model for us all. In the middle of our lives of plenty or our lives of want, joy has a place and it is the power to transform the rest of the day and even the rest of the journeys of our lives. 
Too often, days can become overwhelming. We can slip into a vision of life that is based on what we do not have and what we have not been able to do. This is a very quick journey that can shape how we see ourselves and the world in which we move each day. It often is one that precludes joy. 
Very early in the gospel stories, Jesus hangs out with the insignificant and undesirable locals. Jesus does this in full view of the people who thought that they were the ones who mattered most in their community - the acceptable ones. Inside the homes of those “locals” and when Jesus is taking time to simply be with them in the most ordinary acts of the day, joy is being uncovered in that home - at that dinner - in those conversations. 
Unfortunately, the religious leaders never allowed themselves to see and hear and touch the joy that comes into a room when the lost are found. I want to be very clear that this does not mean that the lost have somehow changed and become a part of the acceptable locals. Rather, there is joy that comes forth whenever we make room for those who have been told they do not fit in or are lost or are not worth being found. 
For a moment let’s look again at what I just wrote. What if we looked at this from another perspective? When Jesus goes into the homes of those rejected locals, he is not forced upon them. The sinners and tax-collectors and prostitutes and dirty ones seem to make room for Jesus. Joy comes to Jesus. The meals they shared – the conversations into which they let themselves wander – the touching and greeting – the embarrassing moments that seem to always be a part of the beginning of any new relationship, brings this “Prince of Peace” and the “Lord of Lords” into the joy that comes within the embrace of the totality of our humanity. What would Jesus’ life have been like had he not stepped into the hospitality of the least and lost and lowest? In those encounters -as common and ordinary as any of us have experienced - I would say that our God learns about us – in person. There is no distance between our God and the smells and aromas, the feeling and breath, and the laughter, tears and glances of humanity‟s most basic arenas of joy. In those homes and in those moments, the lost are found and our God tastes joy bumping elbows with – you and me. 
Jesus finds life. He finds life right there in all that which usually is overlooked. It is a life that happens even as people turn their backs in order to look at other people and things that have been given a grade of acceptable. Like the woman who finds a lost coin – joy explodes. It explodes with invitation. The coin was right in her home – under her nose – that close. Keeping that moment to herself would have been fine. And yet, we are looking at the Reign of God – a Reign that is at its fullest when it is unfolded within a community of complexities and stories that long to be found within one ever-expanding household. This joy is meant for all. The joy of the Reign of God is not to be taken in and put in a safe place. It is the foundation for a party – a celebration – a re-visioning of what is considered rich and full and worth a bundle of joy. She gathers in her neighbors and says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” 
Within the Reign of God we are in the midst of the party – an endless party – an endless appreciation of those who are so often considered to be lost. This Reign-of-God party is like a band of locals who walk out of the house in which they have been held prisoner by the mores and rules and laws of the day and they are now free. Jesus brings them out into the open and brings them along into further joy. This is joy that accompanies them in and through all places. It is not something held off for a special time. This is joy that will be embodied as they enter Jerusalem. Talk about a party! Imagine that gathering of the lost and the found and the party that broke out as Jesus was coming into Jerusalem. Sure people were waving palms and hollering and reaching out and touching, but they were also waving their hearts and their new lives. This joy over the common and ordinary is a joy that once experienced – changes the world of our hearts and minds and spirits. 
When I walk the streets of urban areas or press into the subways or sit alongside strangers in coffee houses I find that there are so many opportunities to experience the fullness of joy of God’s Reign. Our God sets us up. It is like God saying, “Come and see your brother and sister” or “Come and remember my promises to all people” or “Come and rest and find a joy so full and so simple and so available that angels throw a party.” The party is where Jesus can be found – just like the lost – taking in the rich and bountiful presence of God already at hand and as close as those once considered lost. There can be so many things to fear in our world. There can be so many things around us that cause our anxieties to well up and define us. But here within moments filled with anxiety and fear comes the Jesus who sits with us until joy may be found in what was once seen as so strange and threatening and is always so common and at hand.

When our house is the world and we are not afraid to search into the corners of the room and light a lamp to see more and more of what we thought we knew so well, the joy of the Reign of God awaits us. For here – right here – we will be amazed at how expansive is this grace of our God that promises to introduce us again - to a joyous homecoming that is already available and present. Open our hearts and eyes, O God, to such a home.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Flag lapel pins and Crosses - we can do be better than that

Some mornings within my path of retirement I wake up early, make breakfast, and watch Morning Joe. Today, right before I was about to leave the room to head out to the garden and do a little yard work, journalist Sebastian Junger was at the table to discuss the trauma of coming back to the U.S. after being in the wars. In brief, he said they come back from a 'tribal' atmosphere in which people take care of one another - without question. If one is hurt - everyone pitches in to help. When soldiers return to the U.S. there is no community that does that. Soldiers are left alone - or left in the hands of a massive  bureaucracy. That is a simplification of his comments - go to his new book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.

I needed to write today once I heard him make a powerful statement about what our politician (and the rest of us) could do to help soldiers coming home. He said something like: Get the flag pins off suits - then you have to do something substantive rather than relying on a symbol to show your support. I sank back in my chair. I remember all the grief politicians receive if they don't wear a flag pin. During  political races, if you forgot your pin or simply didn't wear one - you will be ridiculed and called un-American. And yet, wearing pins or waving flags does little to help a neighbor or care for the poor or protect the country or support those who have been through traumatic events. A pin is a symbol and like all symbols, they mean nothing if they do not have life behind them. I'm not talking about life a long time ago. I'm talking about that life now - that patriotic life - now - in each member of the tribe.

I needed to write not so much to comment about flags on lapels, but to write about crosses - on necklaces - on long chains - dangling from clergy necks - being carried along public streets on Good Friday - on windshields or bumpers. In the spirit of Junger,tim I might suggest we start saying things like: Get the crosses off our clothes - cars - necks. Then we would have to do something substantive rather than relying on a symbol to show our faithfulness. The decoration does nothing. The life that embodies the way of the cross all that is needed. In fact, it may be then that the followers of Jesus may be more of a light in the world. I know that this is when many will say: Just wait a second. Look at all the good we do through LSS or LWF or this or that church organization or foundation.  

So let me say this. Junger and the others were talking about the Veterans Administration. Yes, it is a good part of the government - but that cannot allow us a a whole people to simply forget about the task we each have to bring our soldiers back into the society with hopefulness and honor. And so it is with we who call ourselves followers of Jesus and yet always point to something beyond ourselves  - some agency - some specialized ministry - to  be how we are followers. Someone out there is doing it  - another group in another place is doing it - we can go over there and do it. What about the simple notion that we be the followers of Jesus in the places in which we find ourselves. How about extending ourselves without the religious t-shirt or being a part of a larger 'show' of solidarity? That may all be good and fine, but too often we have a history of letting the day-to-day nurture and care of neighbors get put onto others.

Could it be that when we take off the flag pins - the crosses - the bumper stickers - t-shirts we may find that we are left with the simple notion of having our lives become the substance behind the symbols so that the world really gets to see what those symbols mean in real life? More and more I have come to see spirituality as those moments within ordinary time that gives a real life face and body to the image of God that empowers such life. Quite like a Jesus who acted in the moment to create the character of God's Reign that so many simply wanted to talk about or worship through rites and rituals and lapel pins.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Heaven strikes the same place twice - nice

In the last blog I  noted that we needed to stop maintaining hell and heaven. That was meant to stop us from using them as places separate from here - places used as threat or reward for actions done or left undone. I would call that anti-Reign of God preaching and talk that really has nothing to do with the unbounded love of God that is to be embodied in time - our time. Well, last night a bit of heaven broke in and I almost missed it. We were sitting in a bar listening to one of our favorite artists in NOLA - Washboard Chaz - and another regular - St. Louis Slim on guitar. Chaz was moving baby - wow.

During a set an older man with crutches slowly moved by the bar and a noisy bunch of patrons. From my perspective he moved through the place like he was a regular. My only thought was it was neat that someone in his condition would be walking along Frenchmen Street and then into a bar to listen to music. Nice.

We continued to listen and watch the band and a group of women who were on the dance floor doing  what Chaz would later call - some kind of interpretive dance. Occasionally my eyes would return to the bar because of the noise by a small group of patrons. It always bugs me when the musicians have to play over the noise of folks who really don't need to be in a music venue to carry on their conversations - but that is not the issue at hand here. The man with the crutches started to move his way closer to the bar area. He stopped and rested on his crutches and continued to listen to the band. Within a few moments, a young woman approach the tall table in front of us and asked if one of the stools was available to be taken. They said yes and then she took it. She carried the stool across half of the room to provide a seat for the man to sit on or at least rest against. Before she had finished that task, a young man did the same - not seeing what the woman had done. After taking a few steps toward the man he realized what had been done and simply returned the stool to the table in front of us.

Heaven broke in and then it broke in again - right in the same place. There is the saying that lightening doesn't strike the same place twice. Yet in that bar with the hot washboard playing of Washboard Chaz, heaven struck twice without anyone pressuring anyone else about what should or should not be done. There was a possible need - an opportunity to see to the well-being of another, and people acted. The chair could have been refused - no one ever needs to accept a gift if they don't need it. The chair was accepted and the world kept spinning to the blues and the dancers kept twirling  lost in their own world of fun.

This would be some sort of place if we who are called religious people would become a part of the heaven that is at hand - breaking in - turning the world upside down - loving one another without qualification - moving the chairs of the room to make sure everyone has a place to rest while the blues of the world roll on. That is really how things are to be in the midst of the blues. Heaven breaks in without invitation to change the room in order to make everyone feel at home.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Stop Maintaining Hell and even Heaven

Too many religious folks - especially Christians - have a great need to maintain hell. It is the eternal need for - us and them. It is the way folks can go about justifying the terrible things that happen to some folks and then turning around and justifying the good things that happen to others. It is the old, old story that often is allowed to take away the power of the old, old story of God's creative love that has never ceased to make things new even when we want hell to prevail. When we have a hell to which we can cast folks and a heaven into which we can commend others, we are maintaining hell everywhere.

We just exited a car in which the Uber driver told us about the weather. Weather is quite important down here in NOLA when you consider it can make a mess of everything - a damn mess. If you remember Katrina, you may remember that some TV Christians tried to tie the devastation of this city to the loose living, the gays, and just that damn sinful stuff they say we should all stop doing. It would be easy to name the ones who gave us their religious critique of the shape of the world as it unfolded in NOLA, but it is a religious critique the simply lines their pockets with the money they earn maintaining heaven and hell. What an embarrassment religious folks can be to a world that knows better.

Here's one thing I mean when I say a world that knows better. We were talking about the heat at a festival we just attended. We said it was much hotter last year. He then made a comment about his garden. He said things didn't die off this winter. Everything is simply coming back to life. That - is not good. That, he said, means the gulf is likely to warm up this year and that will mean a greater possibility of hurricanes of some size. It is called science - not hellish reason for a hurricane coming through - not damnation of the people hit by it - no moral cause for a deadly storm. He never once said anything about hopefully God will protect us from another Katrina or maybe it will be a big one because NOLA persists in its 'sinful' ways.

He simply told us the story of his experience, Three times he had to leave NOLA under the threat of a hurricane that year. He stayed as long as he could and then left. His friends who worked for the city told him he did not want to go back and see his place after Katrina hit. The water had completely submerged his home - it was not even visible by satellite pictures. His good friend died in an attic because he was not able to bust through to move to the roof. His parents sat on a freeway for days. He made it to another state and lived there for six months with his family. No mention of God - good or bad. It was the weather. When it is hotter all year round, watch out - common folk know what may well happen. Folks like this also know that it is corrupt systems of cities and local governments that add to the devastation - not any god.

As I listened to him tell his story I realized that I may dislike and not trust 'climate-change-deniers'
 more than I do good old 'God-deniers.' Climate change deniers need and want a god onto which they can hold so as to make the world better - safer - drier - wetter - whatever. Pray to God for good weather. Pray to God for more rain. Pray to God to rescue those who will be lost in the storms around us. God-deniers seem to be quick to look at that which may be causing the events around us to get out of hand. That may be the weather or it may even be the politics and the warring madness around us. If anyone is blamed, it is the whole of us - not treating the globe or one another with utmost respect and honor so that we will be open to the need for changes among us. Climate-change-deniers turn to their brand of god that will handle all things for the benefit of those who think their god is on their side and operates by their system of belief.

Maybe the God-deniers have a better feel and understanding of the God of all creation then those who claim to have a special tie to a god who operates as they think and feel the world should be. Religious folks - even good Christian religious folks - work so hard to keep up the story of their own liking, that they may have lost touch with the God who has invited all of us to be care takers of creation - an honor and duty bestowed on all of humanity. In the meantime, we may need to think about getting rid of the hell and heaven of our storytelling and go back to the promises of creation - a shalom - a peaceable Reign in which humanity owns up to our call to live in the the image of the one many of us call Creator - no blame - simply creative responsibility for all.

Monday, May 16, 2016

An Act of Contrition

Growing up in the Roman Catholic Church part of the ritual surrounding the obligation to make a 'good confession' was reciting the Act of Contrition while in the confessional. In those days, I would go into the confessional booth. The priest would then slide a small window open so that both sides could just barely make out the face on the other side of the screen separating the one making the confession and the one listening to it. After the greeting and the listing and the enumeration of sins  committed since the last confession - also admitted at that time - there would come the part in which the confessing person - me - would be asked to say a good Act of Contrition 

This was something well-burned into one's memory. During my years as a pastor, I would often show people how fast I could whip through that prayer. Of course, I would have never done it as fast as my classroom antics in the parish because I knew the priest would not have appreciated the speed - though I think he would have found it precise even to how I would position pauses.  Well, here it is:
O my God I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee
and I detest all of my sins 
because of Thy just punishment.
But most of all, because they offend Thee, my God,
who art all-good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace, 
to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.

I now see Thy just punishment not as something God will do to me to - get me. It is a punishment of eternal love. Say what? It is the understanding that despite my leaning into the depths of sin in its many forms, there is the God who runs to me like the Father of the prodigal child - endlessly forgiving - eternally embracing - wonderfully present. It is therefore a reality that heals and welcomes one home and never turns a back and it is the power that pulls me into the way of peace that is the life within the Reign of God. O yes, it would be wonderful to never fall under the power of sin - no more. But we all know the reality of how we are always open to ways to control our own life - live on our own terms - sacrifice others for our own well-being. 

So today I find myself with a great need to go into the confessional (kneel - stand - sit -whatever) and admit to how offensive I have become to the Reign of God's love. I am not able to blow off my offensiveness or ignore it or make excuses to soften its blow. Though I never fall back into the grasp of having to enumerate the 'sins' I have committed - as though it is just about doing or not doing things. In my case, very deep within how I go about life in the world is that deadly sin called envy. It is not simply an act - it sneaks up on me even as I am playfully and joyfully moving through the day. It is able to ruin everything. I become someone I do not want to be. It is like a hound biting at me and never letting go.  It pounces upon the day and I begin to act as though I am more a resident of hellishness than holiness.  My envy cries over what I do not have and what I want but have not been given. I let myself consider stopping all that I do. I have been tempted to believe that nothing I do is of any good - so screw being a part of anything good because no one will recognized my actions like they will that of others. This is a wicked and painful spiral into death - especially when I have become aware of it like a cloud hanging over my head. 

So how do I do battle with envy? How do I face that beast in me and put it to rest - no - to death. When I simply try to ignore it as its ugly head takes over my head, it comes back around in another day - but always with the same power to turn my heart that longs to be loving into a heart that has turned stone cold. I try breathing - deep breathing. I try imagining being free from envy. I prayerfully consider life not held hostage by my envious heart. And yet, it come back around in another day and in another way - always deadly,

Most interesting is that no one knows of this envy. It doesn't show - at least that is what folks have said when I try to say what is possessing my heart and simply overwhelming me. Envy - like other characteristics of life contrary to life in God's Reign can go unnoticed by others. It buries itself deep in our lives. So deep, we do not even see it as it controls us. I know that was how it was for me. Then one day the word envy came up and it cut me to the heart - still does. There was a mirror that gave me the opportunity to see myself. It was not the self I wanted to see. Maybe one way to face it and defeat it is to learn to see it in the mirror every morning and renounce it - like daily remembering my baptism. Ha - more easily said than done. Yet, it is necessary - it allows me to see the wound that somehow has hardened my heart. But the reflection is not pleasant to see - it can be repulsive - it has a way of throwing me into a mood of melancholy - a lost space - an empty space - a lonely space - a space I work to banish from my life, but it never seems to work - it remains deadly.

Envy makes me want to rage against the machine -whatever face it wears - but that is not healing for anyone - especially me. Therefore, I ramble on. I wait. I try to paint a picture of the me that avoids the reality that is always trying to own me and shape me. It does not last. So maybe even now it is good to go back to an old prayer - one I have come to understand in a new light - the light of a never failing love that is the God who judges me as beloved even as I struggle against the demons that want to take me far from the Peaceable Reign of God. 
O my God I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee
and I detest all of my sins 
because of Thy just punishment.
But most of all, because they offend Thee, my God,
who art all-good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace, 
to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Holy Places? And then what? (part 2 of 2)

As I was giving thought to those places we call Holy - like the Holy Land or Religious shrines - I also thought about the places that are considered holy by so many of us. Most of us know them as our own church buildings. There are fewer items within the church that are causes of disfunction and warfare as our own congregation's building. Years ago there was the grand revelation that the people who hold the keys and the control of the kitchen are the folks who hold quite a bit of power within the life of the congregation. Like any dysfunctional system controlling agents can also be agents of dis-ease. Don't screw with them! Don't get on their bad side. Within the building - outside of the sanctuary - the kitchen scores quite high in regard to holy places.

But let's step out of the kitchen and take a look at the Holy place that is the church building itself. There are quite a few instance in which people are less followers of Jesus than they are followers of our building. This may be the case because a family has been a part of a congregation for generations - all the babies have been baptized there - confirmation pictures display memories - a parent or grandparent help build the place or lead the building renewal back in the day. Soon and very soon in this very common scenario the building that was to house the followers of Jesus in that place soon becomes a god that must be sustained and protected and locked in time - the time we remember. False gods by the way, always need to be sustained and protected even if it means becoming violent in some form or another.  Just listen to some of the violent images thrown around during times of  building changes or when a congregation must face the end of ministry and mission in that place.

So if the church's building has become a Holy place, what are we to do with it. Unfortunately, it is quite common for some folks to tie their whole identity into the sustaining of the building - it becomes something of a memorial. In urban areas that has often meant that a family or a few families intend to ride the place to the grave. If not the death of the church building - the death of those holding on to the building. We forget that we do not have to be buried out of a certain place - we can have a family member baptized in the middle of another community of the followers of Jesus - we need not control the workings of the liturgy and the council and the grounds. Holy is the place in which God's people take on the shape of Jesus in any and every place. There may come a time when a place once considered Holy is one that can be left and other people can begin a new life in the place we once considered Holy. The new community may be of our own church heritage or another. But when we make the building a Holy place - our Holy place - the days at hand become ugly - full of warfare - a whirlwind of trivial pursuits - a pious observance of self-preservation at any cost. It is never a creative place to be.

It is important for every congregation to always ask questions about how our Holy places become the focus of our lives. As we were renovating and updating our  building to be a part of a ELCA theme 'in the city for good' we were blessed to have a few people who did not let our building become a Holy place. If it was a Holy place it was Holy because it was a place for everyone to use. Sure we still were the custodians of the property but we did that in a way that let others take ownership and control of the building. Many folks saw the building as a gift - a place in which mission and ministry would come to life. We made the building a focal point of the community around us. Someone even said we must not make the renewed building turn us into over-protective landowners who are quick to push people out. Rather, this place was to be Holy because of the welcome - the doors open - the honoring of neighbors who did not build the place.

Unfortunately, the people of a congregation are the last ones to realize that their Holy place has become a memorial - a shrine to another day. It is hard to admit that self-preservation - maintaining a building like a god in our lives - is like a disease that sneaks in over years - unseen until it is too late. In urban congregations we must admit that racism, economic disparities, and the attractiveness of central city renewal and suburban sprawl must be faced so that we can realistically look at how the future will unfold - how we will continue being a Holy people alive in a Holy alive place. Too often congregations will not face those bits of truth and therefore we lean back into the past and refuse to enter into a vitality of life - either by staying or by leaving.

So if a congregation's building has lost the holiness of life that displays the creativity of God's Reign in that place - then what? Sometimes we cannot  ask that question adequately without hearing from voices outside of the walls of the place we built for ourselves. Rebirth happens in the midst of honest questions and hopefulness that does not fear what may come next.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Holy Places? And then what? (part 1 of 2)

Once we call a place a holy place, watch out. That is where divisions begin. That is where wars are kindled. That is how people once so close become so distant - enemies. That is how we justify acting contrary to the holy life that seems to have been the reason we started calling a place holy. We too quickly forget that holy is not a word that brings status. It is not a word that is meant to distinguish one person from the likes of those others. It is not a word showing an earned designation given to a place or a person or a people so that others may kneel to them or honor them or give them protection from others.

I would submit that a holy place is the whole of creation. Therefore, there is no need to visit a place that has somehow been given the designation of being holy - for we are already in the midst of a holy place. It is here - in the place in which we find ourselves - that the fullness of God's Reign is at hand. I suppose we could thus say we are invited to take part in all that is holy - to reflect the creative image of God who blesses all places and all time. Imagine life within the holy presence of God's creativity. That is the invitation we have been handed. Enter the holiness of this time and place and be a part of the reason someone may look upon this place and time as holy. This is not to then be a place and time for which we create a shrine or altar or special marking so that we can return and make much to do about a moment in time that has already passed. We are invited to live as though we are present in a holy time and a holy place. Imagine how that kind of imagination may help everyone appreciate and be able to touch and hear that life that is forever holy and eternally breaking in to this time and place.

I have had opportunity to visit the 'holy land' and I have always felt guilty that I did not take up the opportunity with friends and colleagues. But, I could not. From a very early time in my life, I have come to see that places we call holy - usually are not. They are not a reflection of God's ongoing creativity. They are not places in which the peaceable Reign of God is at hand. The are not places that  hold up the ordinary - the common - the left out and thrown out - the repulsive and disturbed. Instead, they have been made into places that are quite 'untouchable' and distinctive from the everyday availability of God's creative holiness.

The 'holy land' is a land of warfare - brutality - divisiveness - exclusion - possessive desire. In some ways, holy land is hell in the midst of us. Holy land becomes the place in which we can see - first hand - that which is not a part of the holy Reign of God. It is usually the place of brewing bitterness and hatred and bias and bigotry. So maybe it is good to visit such places simply to see how we have turned holy events from another time into the antithesis of that which they revealed once upon a time. A trip like that would be bittersweet and full of tears and may be so disturbing we would find ourselves entering lives of ongoing resistance to all such hellish places.

Who cares if we have the spot where Jesus was born? What does it matter to how I live my life if I have seen the way Jesus walked to the cross? Do remnants of a temple wall deserve our devotion? Is a spot claimed to be holy by various religions bring to life the peace that we all imagine comes from the God who is the author of such peace and life? I've been to shrines in Europe and found them to be sad places. They reflect the worst of holiness. That is, they reflect a bit of the hellishness we tend to make our of events once honored and admires for a living faith. They are part of a money-making enterprise - a magical mystery tour - a reason to fight with others in order that these places might be sustained.

Yet, enough about holy places out there - in another land - a place to visit. What about the holy places we hold so dear to us right were we are - our church buildings we have come to adore - and over which we are willing to fight to the death to keep. Maybe something in the next blog.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Uncovering Joy: Urban Spirituality (3 of 25)

Once again it is a Wednesday so another part of Uncovering Joy: Tales of Everyday Urban Spirituality.

Uncovering Joy - Urban Spirituality 
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o‟clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his eyes on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk. And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. (Acts 3:1-7) 

One day after a session with my massage therapist we were talking about healing and wholeness. She said that she was planning a series of eight lectures and discussions around various aspects of healing. She asked if I would be willing to do one afternoon session on spirituality. I was a bit befuddled by the request. I really think I may have been the only clergy person she knew and through our conversations I must have communicated an interest and a grounding that would at least bring a lively discussion into this eight-week series. To my surprise, I said “Yes.” 
Driving home I realized that I was not sure how I would go at this project. I also wondered what I could offer to a group of people that was bound to be quite eclectic. I tossed the idea into the back of my mind and continued on within the routine of my life. 
One of the parts of the routine of my life is the simple interaction with those around me. I’m an introvert so you will never find me “working the room.” Rather, I do quite a bit of watching and thinking and wondering. The ordinary of the day – no matter where it may be – has been the source of much joy and certainly many surprises. Joy for me is when the adventures within the ordinary and every day paths of life reveal the depths of our humanity as we are created in the image of God. This, I realize, is the way I stay grounded – the way I take note of God‟s presence and power that is available for life that is constantly at hand. It is much like the simple reminder that the Reign of God is at hand and not off in another place or time. 
Throughout the scriptures we hear that God is revealed within the community. From the wilderness wandering following the sojourn in Egypt to the Spirit pushing the early church into the life that was beyond the boundaries they knew so well, God is not beyond us and waiting for us to come and plug into God’s domain. The engaging love of God brings the Reign of God out into the open as we are invited to see this Reign in the life of Jesus. Could it be that we are daily pulled into this Reign by simply being present within the context of our lives – the place where even God abides? To be present is to be involved and watchful and alert like someone who is in prayer – with senses alert to the fabric of God’s Reign that is moving around us and stirring within us. Prayer like this is prayer with eyes wide open so that we are never lost within ourselves and forget about the vitality that is the community at hand. 
Unsure of when the series on healing and wholeness would take place, I continued to read and reflect and write and watch the life going on all around me. As you might expect, I returned to those people who have nurtured me through their writing and teaching. Most of these people are the theologians – observers of God‟s Reign - who help me with the ongoing reformation of the thinking of the faith. For me, this even means reading the daily comics and laughing at the ways we can make fun of ourselves. During this time I noticed that I was missing something that has been at the very core of what I would call my “spirituality.” Year after year, I have found great peace and inspiration and enlightenment simply as I pass through the day. For me, that “passing through the day” has taken place in various urban settings during my life. 
Many people see the life within an urban setting as being intense and busy and fast paced. I agree. Then again, I also see it as a fast moving stream that carries along the life of the world. 
The ordinary moments of urban life move by and change as quickly as they come upon us. Just as people enjoy sitting by the side of a river or stream and find that they are able to contemplate and pray and ponder the meaning of life within the grasp of God‟s Reign, I find the sidewalk along a busy street filled with such an abundance of vision. It provides moments ripe for contemplation and engaging prayer. When I go on vacation I have come to realize that I experience in places like New York City or Washington D. C. or Columbus, Ohio, a rich oasis of refreshment about which so many people write when they point out traditional characteristics of being on retreat. It may be that our God offers us a life full of opportunities to look again at the foundation of our lives within the very context we have come to know so well. 
The more I thought about this workshop I was asked to lead, I continued to fold myself in on myself. I must admit that I am confused by the explosion of the word spirituality in today‟s religious and popular culture. I was finding that I was at a loss as to how I would address myself to “spirituality” as it is so often sold in the marketplace. But then, as I looked at how I approach being a follower of Jesus, I realized that I am a follower of Jesus within the context of the ordinary, daily journeys of my life. Spirituality for me would take the shape of reflections and contemplation on nothing more than that which is all around me and how I engage this world. 
During this time I started to play with an odd concept. I wondered if I it would be helpful to play with the notion of what it would mean to be an urban mystic. I found that this simply meant that my eye would be caught up in seeing and my ears would be caught up in hearing the presence of the holy within the ordinary spaces and times of the day. Some may speak of visions of the holy. Too often this vision of the holy is meant to mean that something “Other” breaks into our space and time. I find that my experiences with the Sacred are so close by and so much a part of the ordinary moments of the day, that my notion of being on a spiritual “retreat” is most often no farther away than the space in which I live – the city. Here in the mix of the currents of urban life, the Divine the Other - becomes visible and brilliant and my life becomes - joy filled. 
What was most important for my own understanding of myself was that I put into words something that has long been right under my skin. Within the hustle and bustle of urban living comes the wonderful acknowledgment of the fullness of life that is constantly moving like a stream that is changing shape from moment to moment. Within each moment we are invited to enter into the presence of the Reign of God and let ourselves experience the expansiveness of life in the image of God. Urban life is filled with images to contemplate and actions to take – both are necessary for a wholesome spirituality. There are so many people in the church who live in urban areas but too often we do not encourage one another to look toward our own streets and sidewalks and neighborhoods to experience the presence of God longing for us to see what God sees in the midst of what is so often overlooked. Too often we are taught that we must go away in order to be grounded to this ground of life that is our God – the God of all time and all places - the eternal Other always with us.
The foundational story of this new understanding of my spirituality came in a news story in the New York Times that made its way across the country. It has become the way I now define urban spirituality and the spiritual journey that awaits all of us - just as we are and just where we are. Here‟s the story that has deepened my sense of God available within a life that is so ordinary and present I often forget to pause and be a part of its fullness. 
A fifty year old construction worker, Wesley Autrey, was standing on the platform of one of New York City’s subway stations. He had his four and six year old daughters with him. In the twinkling of a moment a young man, Cameron Hollopeter, fell to the subway platform during a seizure. Autrey and another woman went to his aid. Once Hollopeter seemed to be stabilized, he stood up but stumbled and fell off the platform, down onto the tracks. As the lights of an approaching train entered the far end of the station, Autrey jumped from the platform, pulled Hollipeter between the train tracks, and laid his body on top of Hollopeter’s. The train was not able to stop before it reached the two men. Several cars passed over them before the train finally came to a stop. Those two men were in such tight quarters beneath the train that Autrey later showed people his wool hat that was stained with grease from the bottom side of the train. 
This in itself is an amazing story – it was news. And yet, the stream of life that was moving through that subway station in those intense moments was much deeper and overflowing than Autrey’s leap onto the tracks. The joy of God’s Reign was brilliantly shining through those moments of intense action and profound silence amid the cacophony of urban subway sounds. 
You see, in the moments of Hollopeter’s seizure and then the men wrestling down on the tracks and being pinned beneath the moving train, those two young girls were left up on the subway platform in the care of others - strangers. When the train finally came to a stop, Autrey yelled, “We’re okay. I’ve got two daughters up there. Let them know their father’s okay.” Not only did Autrey leap into the moment at hand in order to uphold and honor the life of another person, he expected that others would honor his children and would keep them safe. For that moment, the universe and all that is and will be - was blessed with the presence of the image of God alive in the flesh. The Reign of God breaks in and becomes incarnate among us no matter where we might be. Those who enter into the life of the Reign of God enter with the expectation that there will be others leaping into its life – the city of God was present in all its promise and saving power. 
The story in the Times goes on to say that Autrey took his girls home and then he continued on to work. Another newspaper made note of a “subway angel.” Autrey was no angel. Autrey was what we all are called to be – fully human - the image of God among us. It is a leap that takes place whenever we become vulnerable within the life at hand and are willing to become utterly available to those around us. It is then that we see and experience and catch a glimpse of the wonderful mastery of God‟s Reign among us. This reminds me of Dr. Leland Elhard writing and speaking about the fullness of God – the Trinity – made known as vulnerability, availability, and mastery. There on that platform and on that subway track, we were given the opportunity to see the in-breaking of this fullness of our God that is quite like those moments of the grand epiphanies we witness in Scripture. In our time, in real time, in the streams of life that flow by us, around us, and wash over us, there is no separation between the fullness of the Reign of God and the paths we take through the ordinary events of this day. 
Wesley Autrey probably would never consider himself an urban mystic. He said, “I tried to do the right thing.” He acted. The engaging love of God is once again observed and experienced in the life that goes on around us – not an experience that is separate and distant from the life in which we find ourselves. When we consider the invitation to enter the Reign of God that is already at hand among us, urban spirituality is simple code language for “stop, look, listen.” For right here and now there are so many ways we can connect and become available to others and thus encounter the domain of God‟s Reign. There are so many moments in which simple acts of vulnerability will transform us and those around us. And then, in the meantime, we “get it” or “see it” or “hear it” or “feel it” by dancing within the pulse of the life we experience as we wait for the train to come. No need to retreat from the availability of God all around us. 
Urban spirituality is all about opportunity. At the center of urban spirituality is the graciousness of our God who invites us to leap into the flow of life and engage one another - now. If we do not leap now, another moment will present us with a time to act - and then another - and another. The opportunities to enter in the life of the Reign of God are never-ending for they are eternally present. There is no room for guilt in this journey for we walk within the domain of grace that brings to life God‟s Reign among us – joy. 
One of the most important aspects of urban spirituality is the simple acknowledgement of how blessed we are with opportunities in which we can honor God and one another through the ways we share our lives with one another. At the same time, this is not about having to do something. It is more about becoming aware of how close the Reign of God comes even when we simply stay right where we are. It is then that the sky opens - the Spirit whips in grabs us.
The story of Wesley Autrey is a reminder of how holy this moment is. We each are present within the unveiling of the image of God. It is not distant. It is truly among us. Urban spirituality may simply be the recognition that we are indeed on holy ground and are invited to honor this place and time with our attentiveness and our own capacities to engage the moment as part of the image of God. 
It would have been interesting to have come upon that holy scene in the subway station. i always pray that I will take note of God’s presence. What an honor it would have been to observe the crowd and take note of how the presence of God within that place made a mark on those who were on the platform. I’m certain that there were cheers of from those who heard that the two men were safe. There is always a uniting spirit in those kinds of moments. Lives are changed and enriched and serve to shape us for the days to come. 
Even though the attention of this subway hero was drawn to the actions of Autrey Wesley, back up on that subway platform it is important too remember there were those people who noticed the two daughters and came to their side in what must have been a moment of trauma. It must have been a time and space of amazing grace upon grace. 
There had to be many people who were rushing along the platform in order to make the next train or the next part of their day. Some of the people in that stream stopped and stayed and helped to make things whole and well and filled with peace. Others may have only caught a glimpse of the courage and community created in that moment. We must remember that along the ways of our day, even when we are simply passing by, we are characters within holy moments even when we do not catch them and become a part of their action. As we go along our way, we carry images of humanity that teach us how vital it is to honor what is here and now – and experience the sheer joy of it all. 
Leaping onto the track seeking the welfare of another happens in many and various ways. By that I simple mean that the day is full of opportunities to boldly act and move within the image of our God. Could it be that urban spirituality is simply coming to the understanding of how available the life within the Reign of God is as we move along to the next appointment or destination of the day. 

Between here and there, we find ourselves in the company of people like the John and Peter who saw a man lame from birth lying at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. As far as anyone could remember, he was there all of his life - day in and day out. But on that day the presence of God-in-the-flesh transformed a sidewalk in an urban setting into a place of joy - and we still talk about God’s Reign coming to life in all its glory. It truly was a Beautiful Gate within God’s Reign. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Pursuit of Happiness - Hmmm

The pursuit of happiness is an odd concept. Usually it is in the context of 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness'- all of which are to be rights we have as citizens of this country. I simply think that as we tell people they have the right to go about their pursuit of happiness we are headed for trouble. My most recent Uber passenger brought this to mind this morning. When I invited him to take part in my YacketyYak Poll on this upcoming presidential election he made a number of comments. All of his comments had to do with what would bring him stuff - good stuff - financial stuff. He does not vote. He said they are all puppets. He then said he voted for Obama the first time because in the middle of a financial crisis he said we needed an 'out of the box' thinker who was able to energize the country. He said it worked - especially for him.

The whole notion of a country that is dedicated to taking care of the least among us and attempting to bring everyone up into a life that will encourage and sustain them was like a foreign language he could not utter. The government was in place to help those who have - have more - prosper. I'm sure he would even have said it would be good for the poor to prosper also. The feel of the conversation (actually he spoke continually after I asked the polling question) was one in which he was looking out for his own interests. The more he could make - the sooner he would not have to work. He then went on to say we needed someone in the White House who is willing to kill. Right away he said that is why Bernie will never be elected - even though he likes him. Are you willing to kill in order to have a bit more happiness!?

So, the 'pursuit of happiness' is like a child in a candy store. Better yet, it is like me in a candy store. I become hypnotized and almost obsessed with the kind of candy I will take out the door with me. It is all about me - what will make me happy. Oh, I may consider how much candy I will share or the kind if candy I will be willing to share, but it is really all about me - my happiness. But as as a 63 year old person I know that all that delicious happiness could be the death of me - or at least a good bit of disease that could make my life a living hell.

The 'pursuit of happiness' from the perspective of a follower of Jesus is life that follows another way. So when I hear some Christians say that our country was founded on Christian values, this is one 'right' I always go to in order to demonstrate that we - the followers of Jesus - are a people invited to live contrary to such a 'right' as this. We are invited - to serve - to seek the well-being of others - to be a word and presence of joy, hopefulness, compassion, justice and peace. The individual serves the well-being of the whole. For when I only pursue happiness for me or my own kind or my family even my nation - someone else will be left out - abandoned - sacrificed - division will reign and demons are manufactured to suit our cause.

So if we see ourselves set on pursuing happiness, we must always ask at what cost. Who will be left out? How will we go about securing our notion of happiness and what will be the method by which we become secure? I might even ask: can happiness ever be secured? Or is such a pursuit an endless spiral leading to warfare, blame, hatred, bigotry, and fear that creates a happiness that is - an illusion.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

When we see those "idiots over there" as the beloved

It just happens to be an election year in the U.S. Therefore, the language - the images - the bitterness - the jealousy - the envy - the rivalry - the fear - the anger - the distain - the downright unwillingness to seek the well-being of the other - is simply missing. It is as though we have lost touch with the fact that nothing of real substance separates me from you. Therefore, we create and sustain a bit more of hell within our daily lives. We even do that with religious words and names that are meant to show people how holy we are. For those religious words and names are masterfully used as weapons to help our side demonize the other side. And yet, as we cast onto the scene our religious words that we claim are gracious and loving, those words are used to create division and hatred and discord. Odd.

I don't think I am alone when all I need to bring out the worst in me - even under the guise of being better - right - more loving - is to see someone I cannot stand to see or hear. In the twinkling of an eye, the demonization is set and it is so very hard to undo that image of my making. Once I have created an idol that I worship (meaning a god I control and create and sustain with my all my life) it is almost impossible to destroy that idol in order to experience the other person or side within some degree of honor and respect and hopefulness. In other words, I operate in the midst of the power of hell. I no longer need to be concerned with going to hell - I'm in it - I'm an operative - I stoke the flames of division and death. 

Then I wondered. Would it start to look a bit more like heaven if I saw in others the beloved that Gods sees? I might be quick to ask how could they be beloved - right? And yet, I trust that such a description is one that is called into being as God embraces the whole creation. It is not a badge that is earned - an award that is won - a right that is gained - a right, religious, rule unbendingly followed. It is quite simply the power that makes us human. It is the power that is able to bridge the gap between me and you - even when everything I have worked to create for myself seems to be drawn into question or threatened by you. It is the power of being made in the image of God. Yes, it means that even that one over there is beloved - even when it is almost impossible to imagine.

This never means we simply throw out that which makes us different. Rather, we are given the opportunity to be at peace with others - listen to what is other than me - speak up expecting that others also will listen. That is how heaven comes down around us. It takes place when we let go of all the powers we seek to gain or claim as our own and then lean in to experience the likes of the other. I always like to say we become available to all and we become vulnerable to all. 

The differences may persist but we can be a part of the power that does not add to the separation that is so visible in our time. The hope - a reality not yet but pressing into each moment - is that death and all of its power will lose its control of us. Remember, that within the moments this all takes place - even short, infrequent moments - heaven opens up and we are taken up into the beloved wonder of God's creativity among us. For the fun of it, imagine how we could be a part of the reframing of a world full of ugly words and demonizing antics. Then, let heaven reign among us.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Looking up - Looking down - a Waste of Life

Why do you stand there looking up to heaven? What a great line. The Ascension is a story about eternal presence - not eternal distance. I love the notion of the Ascension being a story of the unfailing availability of the Reign of God made known in the life of Jesus. He is going no place except right into the middle of every place. What a wonder-filled story we are handed especially because it appears as though the first gathering of the followers of Jesus did not take the story literally. They didn't keep looking up. They looked around. They ate with one another. They noticed the poor and the widows and the left out. They took on the character of Jesus when the character of those around them were just like that of the ones who were around Jesus as he was nailed and thrown away by the powers of the day. Those first followers expected to get nailed - yet they saw themselves alive alongside the Jesus who was in every scene of their lives.

Jesus was not rising up to a disembodied, cloud-like domain that was to serve as the holding ground for all the good folks through time. Jesus was becoming embodied in the life of the people who were being inspired to walk through the everyday stuff of life as a witness to how everyday life is the staging of God's Reign. Maybe for the final time the storytelling of Acts is pressing the point about the foolishness of a Heaven and a Hell and an Earth all being separate. For when we see them as such, they remain in place and they easily rule us and we forget about the unfolding of God's Reign even now. The story of the Ascension may be a simple invitation to stop wasting time on what has taken place or what might take place. For when those two dimensions of time rule us, we continue to forget about the opportunity to live as ones who are fed to live in peace - seek justice - love expansively - forgive like a door that opens up the day - make whole that which is broken.

And if we cannot accept the availability of God's Reign in Jesus - even when he is out of sight - our storytelling then presses the point by stirring up a pentecostal fire to show how real God's power for new life really comes together. Today, too many are still caught up in a Heaven and a Hell out there somewhere. It becomes the preoccupying conversation of churches. In other words, the church becomes lost in images it thinks it can control and therefore the church lives with the illusion that we are to be people living within a community of control that is ruled by rules that find ways to have exclusive rights to that which is God's domain.

From the wholesale availability of the Reign of God in Jesus at the Ascension to the explosive brushfire of Pentecost that leaves Heaven and Hell in ashes as the followers of Jesus take on life without boundaries or closed doors, there is an invitation to give our lives away. We give our lives aways as we share the gift of life that is already ours - eternally ours - and forever a gift we are free to hand off - even top the enemies around us. Wow. Jesus eternally available to our enemies - that could be a life changer.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

He is Risen - and that means?

He is risen!
I notice it more and more - maybe even more now that I am retired and taking six months away from church life. Yesterday I drove by a small church that has been sliding downhill for years. Over the years I noticed that they had their parking lot driveway closed off by a gate. I'm sure it was because of traffic that may have been using their parking lot as a passage way from one road to another. From my outsider perspective - which is not always good - that passage way from one street to the other appears to have been the only community outreach done by that congregation in years. Slap me - I know.

Yet, there was that small church sign with the words: He is risen! What does that mean? What does it mean to the life of that congregation? It may mean much to them. It simply may be the required banner to put forth in the season of Easter. It may be an attempt to have people who are driving by give a head nod or a heart nod. But to what? The same message is placed on and around even big congregations that seem to be thriving with programs and good attendance. To hang out a sign that says He is Risen!  is an internal statement - a congregational proclamation - a word with a context - a witness meant to inspire life. To folks who are driving by, it means nothing. It is nothing more than the language that is so often tied to churches - language as strange as many of the terms that are thrown around as though everyone knows what they mean. Yet, most folks don't know the meanings.

I always appreciated the Lutheran question: What does this mean? We are not to be users of insider language outside the doors of our buildings - for it means nothing to an outsider. And yet I would also say that much of the language used within the gathered community needs to be questioned. Without language that carries life-meaning - life-connection - life-power - we do not have much to offer the world or much to share within the congregation. Rather we have passwords - insider buzzwords - magical words. I could be that a better sign to hang out for the community to see is one that draws into question our language. How about: He is Risen! So?, He is Risen! Now What?, He is Risen! What's changed? Who is He and why does it matter to us?

Banner theology - Signboard theology adds up to nothing more than an empty sound - a mystery no one is really wanting to solve. We even toss up to the world around us words like, Jesus Saves - Come! Holy Spirit! Come! - God is so Good - Have a blessed day. Each one needs to be unpacked. Each one would probably be unpacked differently by different insider groups. From the outside, it sounds like a code language that has no outside evidence of changing life - entertaining peace and justice. That, by the way, is a critique of our life together that the world makes all the time.

Dare we ask ourselves - the church insiders - to unwrap He is Risen! Dare we listen to what it means to some - its lack of meaning to others - the conflicting ways we hear it and want to use it. In the closing days of the season of Easter, I imagine the first followers of Jesus could not contain their questioning - there confusion - their embarrassment - their frustration - their disappointment and anger - in regard to that simple proclamation: He is Risen. And then, in all that wondering and acts of imagination and remembering the life of Jesus that was raised up out of the tomb - He is Risen, had flesh put on it. I wonder if they came to a point when they said in one voice - We have Risen - and then dealt from day to day with what it means for each of them to be risen from the power of death every day. To come to that statement, we need to talk about how 'He is Risen' is a comment about how the life of this day will unfold before each of us and draws us into its death-defying display of life. Now, that is a sign that will come to mean something to the world around us as it sees and hears and feels and may even be repulsed by the sign of life we bring into the days at hand.

Uncovering Joy: A Holy Mess (2 of 25)

This is the Wednesday post of a series of pieces from 
Uncovering Joy - tales of urban spirituality.

Uncovering Joy – A Holy Mess 
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pasture; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name‟s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” Psalm 23 

It seems as though one of the things we often do in the Church is try to encourage people to search for a relationship with our God. This is said in many different ways. Most of the time, I think it is in reference to how we can become closer to the life of God‟s Reign. In such cases as this, there is encouragement to spend time in prayer. We are also prompted to make time for meditation or another variation on walking out into the wilderness and taking time to reflect on the graciousness of our God. 
Earlier I tried to make reference to the joy of God‟s Reign that is around us throughout the day. We are given the gift of being a people who are able to uncover the joy of God‟s Reign as we go about the day. We can engage the day with the vision of the God‟s Reign that is already a part of the way we see, feel, touch, taste, and breathe that which is right in the pathways of the journeys within our faithful lives. 
Then again, there is also a spilling-over - an unexpected tickle – that stirs up our hearts like an Advent prayer as we wait for the coming of the Christ of God. I’m not quite sure it is something we plan to enter. Rather, we fall into it or stumble upon it or have it dumped on us until we are awakened to see the Reign that is already coming down around us. Sometimes it involves a complete turn-around. Yes, it is like repentance - a new direction - a new way to consider the day - a hand that reaches in and pulls us - a tap on the shoulder that draws our 
attention to something remarkable and breathtaking – the Reign of God in the middle of the meantime of ordinary life. 
This spilling-over of God‟s Reign is not something that happens when life is merely good. In many ways, we become soaked by this spilling over no matter what we are facing or how we are feeling. We become a soaking mess in as many different ways as there are differences among us and around us. There is no appropriate way to see it coming. There is no way to bring it about. You may be doused by something that passes right by me though I am in great need of a good soaking. And then, on the other hand, wham! I am overwhelmed by the spilling forth of God‟s Reign and you may not feel or see or hear a thing. 
One of the essential aspects of this spilling over of God‟s Reign upon each and every one of us is that we take the time to share the experiences with one another. It may be something we throw into our daily conversations. It may be in the way we act with others. Letting people know why it is that we do something is usually called a witness. That is often a difficult word to spit out for many of us. Then again, it simply may mean that we are tying the vision of God‟s Reign together with the concrete realities into which we travel each day. A simple retelling of an episode of the day that made us look up and look differently at the world can be inspiring for others. That sharing may become a reminder to enjoy the day no matter what the condition of the day may be. 
When I use the word enjoy here, it is not that I mean that I am having fun – although it might mean that. More so it has to do with having my life opened up to the glory of God raining down upon us – the good and the evil – every moment of every day. Joy is all about being healed or whole or grounded right when we are wounded or broken or off balance. So when we enjoy the day, we are willing to see things as they are and also willing to be caressed by promises and hopefulness. God‟s gracious Reign has a way of simply being poured out upon us so that we are shaken into another experience of the abundance of God‟s domain. 
One of the experiences of life that I just hate is when I am out to dinner with others and I knock over my drink or the drink of someone near me. It changes everything. My pants may be wet for the remainder of the evening – a reminder of what was spilled. The table cloth may be stained – a visual warning to anyone who walks by us. There is no taking back that spilling-over. It happened. It interrupted everything - for a moment or for the rest of the evening. I notice that when I am at a restaurant I make sure I arrange things around me so that I will not cause anything to spill over onto any of us around the table. My strategy for controlling the situation doesn’t always work. 
A spill is a spill. Sometimes I can control the damage and at other times, the water or wine or beer just flies and all y’all just better watch out because there is going to be a mess. When the Reign of God spills over into our lives just as we are attempting to have everything in place and in order and under control, it is the power to awaken us and shake us and move us in a direction we cannot control. The Reign of God breaking into our lives makes a holy mess of everything. That is not a bad thing. A mess that comes about by God‟s never-ending (eternal is another way to say it) outpouring of the character of God‟s Reign begins to make us aware of how much we have allowed the ordinary things of the day to control us and leave the vision of the Reign of God sectioned off in another part of our lives. 
There is always something more to do and somewhere we must be and someone with whom we have to meet. All of this can leave us bound up with what is or what we think must be. When the Reign of God spills over into our patterns and expectations, it is a time of refreshment - joy bursting forth. We are given a moment to look with fresh eyes at what is driving us and moving us. Those kinds of moments are not special – they are quite common. Some of them might come in moments of hilarity. Some may come in times of utter distress. Some may come within a glance while we are attending to something else. But - they come. God’s Reign spills over again and again – even as we turn to look elsewhere. 
I’m known for my love of throwing water from the baptismal font. It doesn’t need to be a baptismal Sunday or another rite in which the font is central to the action at hand. It may be a “field trip” with the children during their lesson time when the adult are busy with the collection of the offering. We are invited to be a people able to see ourselves as a people who get wet and stay wet. Our baptismal date with water never ends. The water that drowns us and brings us to new life in Christ is a sign of what will come - all along the journey of the followers of Jesus. There is never a time when this baptismal covenant comes to an end or becomes dried out. Our worship spaces and our living spaces must carry the thrill of getting soaked by water that reminds us of whose we are and what we become when we have had the Reign of God spilled out over us. What a holy mess we are called to make in the world. What a holy mess will be made of us each time we are surprised by God’s touch and God’s invitation to live wet with the experiences of the gift of eternal life. 
Now, can we become wet with planning? – Of course! We can plan on devotionally dipping our hands into the font or showering under the spray of meditative prayer or retreating to an ocean of contemplation. We can also take those disciplines and let them remind us how available and refreshing it is to have our lives awakened – no matter how it happens for us. 
Another way to plan to get wet is as simple as taking advantage of the flow of things that come to us and move around us and spill over us as we, the followers of Jesus, are drenched by the promise of life that is whole and full of joy. This too is a discipline because we are invited to ask ourselves when we have gotten wet today. That is a reflective process. Then again, we are invited to become familiar with the moments in the day when we are getting dumped on by a holy mess of baptismal water that brings the Reign of God right into our laps. This is joy in the present mess of things. This is the valley of death beginning to be a place where refreshment is possible and new life can emerge and begin to reshape us. This is taking a moment to rest in the abundant beauty that our God has already set up for us so that we may experience life and all its bounty. 

Psalm 23 notes that “goodness and mercy” will follow us all the days of our lives. I like the image of God’s goodness and mercy following us like that of a prankster who is setting up moments within the day when we will get drenched with a surprising presence of God‟s Reign. As we come to another bend in the road that may cause us some anxiety, here comes a squirt in the face or maybe even a full bucket of water poured over us – God following us with a hearty reminder of that love that will not let us go. We can expect that kind of an adventure. We can expect to have God‟s Reign spilling over into all the highs and lows of this day. Remember though, a simple flick of water may have the impact of a waterfall or being hit by a stream of water from a broken fountain that leaves us completely drenched - embarrassingly drenched - and utterly refreshed. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

We are made known from day to day

We are made known from day to day
Along the way
Available and accessible
Within the infinitesimal
Forgotten as soon as we pass by
Searching for another day
That never arrives.

We are made known from day to day
As we pause
As others see our flaws
As we are caught
In the act of life
Before being taught
To dress it up - nice.

We are made known from day to day
Moving through fears
Trying to capture our hearts
So that we never start
Giving away our lives
Like a gift
We dare
To open up and share.

We are made known from day to day
Within gestures
Where holiness matures
Through sounds and touch
Not much - Yet enough
For eyes - catching a glance
Of life full of intention
Not merely life entered by chance.

We are made known from day to day
Giving ourselves over
For the taking
Privilege and status
No matter what comes at us
Frustrating all bias
Letting love define us

We are made known from day to day
In the least action
The simple attraction
That is nothing more
Than standing for
Love that reunites
The separated
An act wholly consecrated.

We are made known - from day to day