Weekly Devotional: This Christmas, Let Our Love Be Genuine—Even In The Face of Ugly

Subtle_Advent_Love_Still_CNM-HDLet love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor        -Romans 12. 9-10 (NRSV)

The Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Rome, pens some of the most direct instructions of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ when he writes, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good . . ..” I love these words that invite us to genuinely love each other. What strikes me as interesting is how these words that include, “hate what is evil,” can be construed to direct hate at others simply because who that are, or what they do is seen as an abomination.

If you are active on Facebook you have probably listened to the simply beautiful new arrangement of the song, “Mary, Did You Know” by singing group, Pentatonix.

What you may not have seen is an article by Todd Anderson, of Todd Anderson Ministries entitled “Christians Did You Know . . . You’re Being Played.” In the article Anderson calls his readers to question the performers and performance of the song because two of the singers, Scott Hoying and Mitch Grassi, are (yes, you guessed it) GAY! Anderson writes, “Now that you’ve seen the demonic (yes, homosexuality is demonic) side to the group, Pentatonix, it’s time to make a choice . . . Will you reject this demonic group, or will you allow Satan and his demons to find a place in our heart through their music?”

Really? So, tell me, how does this kind of ugliness follow the instructions of Paul? How does this kind of name calling and cursing others, who by-the-way are singing about the birth of the Christ Child, square with what it means to follow Jesus? Of course, Paul continues writing in Romans 12: 14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Which means, of course, that however angry Todd Anderson makes you and me, if we are going to truly follow in the way of Jesus it is incumbent upon us to pray for Anderson and in that way, bless him.

Of course, there is nothing easy about that, but no one ever said that following Jesus was easy. Our responsibility to truly live into our name “Christian,” is to be faithful in our following. That does not mean we stay silent and do not call this out, but it does me that in our “calling out” that we do not do what was done to us, we do not make Anderson a demon. After all, Anderson is also a Child of God.

And as we come to the end of this Advent season marked by the celebration of the birth of Jesus, whom we call our Christ, perhaps it would be better to turn our hearts and our actions toward the true work of love in the world instead of getting caught up in a debate about who is good and who is evil. Paul pointed the way, instructing us by writing, “No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink, . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12. 19 – 21)

Yes, this Christmas let our love be genuine.

Holy One, help me as I see to truly follow in the way of Jesus. Bless those who curse me and help me to be a blessing to those in need. This is my prayer as I await the birth of Christ in this holy season. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Papa Hut and the Presence of God at Christmas

Eternal-LoveYou have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.                             – Psalm 30:11

This will be the second Christmas that my family will spend without my mother’s physical presence. Her death has certainly changed the dynamics for my family since she was the matriarch of our small clan. I am sure that after 65 years of marriage that Papa Hut has experienced Mama Jo’s absence in ways that I never will. Still, I find myself continually surprise by his ability to be joyful and joy-filled.

I often find myself wondering why it is that some people are able to rejoice and others only weep, or be angry or depressed. I wonder about this particularly during this season that is filled with light and laughter, parties and celebrations, gift giving and receiving and songs, oh, so many songs. I read the prayer requests of people in our faith community and in my online ministry, and I realize that amidst all the lights and celebrations, for many people, there are undercurrents of great sorrow and deep loneliness. So, I wonder.

All this is to say that along with personal sorrows, community concerns and global issues, there are many reasons to be sad and lonely, angry and afraid during this season of light. Yet these feelings are part of life and faith. In fact, I believe the challenges of our life experience that cause us to wonder and question life and faith can actually lead us to a place of joy. In his book, The Absence of God, writer Sam Keen explains:

Wonder is the alpha and the omega of the human mind. It stands at the beginning and end of our quest to understand ourselves and the world . . .. It is the most primal of emotions, at once ordinary and disturbing. As the sixth sense, the natural religious sense, wonder is the royal road that leads us to the other elemental emotions,     and thus to a renewed sense of the sacred. (p. 85)

So, it seem to me that our ability to wonder and question that leads us back to the sacred, is the path that leads us back to joy, a deep and abiding joy that does not deny our heartaches and sorrows but transforms them. This Sunday, many people will go to church and light a candle named “joy.” It is our way of saying, while we wonder why certain things happen, we can still live in the joy of the mystery that is God, our God of many names and expressions.

I am convinced that Papa Hut is a person of joy, despite his life’s losses, because he continues to seek this One who breathed life into us, the One who is present with us. Papa Hut lives with the awe and wonder and questions of what it means to belong eternally to that Holy One. And, of course, that is why we remember the birth of Jesus in this holy season, because Jesus, who has become for us the transcendent Christ, showed us what God’s presence and love looks like in human form. It makes sense then that when trying to describe his birth that the angel was said to have proclaimed, “Do not be afraid, for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people,” (Luke 2.10)

Wherever you are in your journey of life this Christmas, I pray that, like the Psalmist you will through your heartaches and sorrows, your questions and wonder allow our God to remove your sackcloth and turn your mourning into dancing and be clothed with great joy.

Holy One, I have no words only wonder. I humbly ask that you would turn my sorrow into joy. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Now is the Time to Reach Out, Speak Up and Give More

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the God has sent me, so I send you.”                            -John 20:21 (NRSV)

This Sunday in the Christian calendar makjkprks the 2nd Sunday of Advent, a day when many churches will focus their worship service around the theme of “Peace.” As I prepare for this Peace Sunday I keep thinking about the slogan that I first heard following the beating of Rodney King in 1991.

King was an American construction worker who became nationally known after being beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers following a high-speed car chase. The acquittals of the police officers who were videotaped beating King are generally considered to have triggered the 1992 Los Angeles riots. It was during that time I first heard the slogan “No Justice, No Peace.” The slogan actually predates that event and in fact has been heard since the 1980’s following violence against people of color at the hands of white mobs and/or white law enforcement officers.

I write about all of this in the wake of the grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City, in the violent deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the subsequent protests. It feels to me as if we are in a never-ending cycle of violence against people of color, particularly black men, and that we are living into the reality of “No Justice, No Peace.” I write about this because I believe there must be a word from the church about all of this. I am grateful for my clergy colleagues and others who have spoken and written so eloquently and passionately out about the injustices of police violence against unarmed black Americans. They have held up for us the cry of “#BlackLives Matter” and have called us to recognize the epidemic of violence, mistrust and fear that exists in their lives. And I believe it is essential that white Americans do more than “like” posts on Facebook and Twitter. I believe we have to commit to action. So, I propose three steps that white-privileged Americans can take:

First, “Reach Out.” Call on your friends and colleagues who are people of color, of all races, but particularly those who are black and remind them that they are people who have value to you, that their life matters to you and that you want to hear from them about the injustices they have experienced and to talk about solutions to this on-going crisis in our country and our culture.

Second, “Speak Up.” Make a commitment to speak out about injustices that you witness, read about, or hear as it relates to injustices against people of color and particularly black men. Whites need to educate ourselves about white-privilege and recognize the subtle and overt injustices that our sisters and brothers of color endure. Whether it is an issue that is personal or one impacting our communities, country and culture, white voices need to be heard and more importantly people of color need to hear white voices alongside theirs.

Third, “Give More.” It is important that whites step up alongside our black neighbors, friends and colleagues. We need to join the non-violet protests against injustice, attend meetings where discussions about systemic racism in our communities exists, and support programs that ensure that all people, especially those marginalized by race, economics or other injustices, have quality education and health care. We need to put our presence, our time and our money into quality programs and ministries that will turn the tide of injustice.

I say that “we need to do all this,” but the truth is, “we must do it” if we want to move from a “No Justice, No Peace” existence to a “Know Justice, Know Peace” world.

Jesus, the Rabbi of Nazareth, whose birth the Christian Church remembers and celebrates in this Season of Advent and Christmas was born into the world so that the world might have peace. Still, it is clear that when the Resurrected Christ offered his followers “Peace,” the Christ reminded them that the peace that was offered was also a command to be part of creating that peace in the world saying, “As God sent me, so I send you.” You and I, black and white and of all colors, old and young, poor and rich, differently abled and abled, gay and straight, of every nationality and culture are children of God and as God’s children are sent into the world to be peace and create peace. Let us begin now. “No Justice, No Peace” or “Know Justice, Know Peace,” what’s it going to be?

Holy One, in these troubled times, let me hear again your words, “Do not be afraid.” Let me hear you say again, “So I send you.” Grant me courage and strength to speak up, speak out and stand up so that all may know your peace. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Growing in Gratitude even as Despair Confronts

HopeTherefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.                                                            –2 Corinthians 4. 1, 8-10 (NRSV)

It is a few days after, and I, like many of you, watched with a broken heart as the scene in Ferguson, Missouri erupted in violence, despite pleas for nonviolence. The issues are deeply complex and point to the fact that race remains a flash point in American society today. Add to that all that is troubling in our world, wars, poverty, illness, climate change, . . . and there are many reasons to despair. This can cause us to believe the myth that there is nothing we can do to change things. So we check out, sign off, quit participating, stop going to church because we have come to believe that if we can’t change the world, neither can our God. But perhaps there is a way through our despair.

On Thursday, many of us gathered with our families and/or families of choice and spent a brief moment giving thanks. An article in Huffington Post Morning Email, by Kate Bratskeir explains that, “the physical action of jotting down a couple of things you’re happy to have in your life — has been shown to reinforce happy thoughts.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/24/gratitude-practice-easy-nice_n_6188504.html?utm_hp_ref=healthy-living

So, why not begin there? Why not give each of your Thanksgiving holiday guests a pen and a card and invite them to write down those things for which they are thankful and then carry it around with them through the end of the year? After all, it is gratitude that is the panacea for criticizing and complaining.

And then do one more thing. After all the food, and after all the football games and after all the shopping, go to church this Sunday. Why? Well, it is the First Sunday of Advent, the day when we begin the journey of remembering the birth of the Christ, the One who has shown us what love looks like in human flesh.

But if that isn’t enough for you, consider this . . .

Where else are you invited each week to offer prayers for something greater than yourself?

Where else are you gathered with others who, even if you disagree with them, seek wholeness?

Where else will you hear ancient and new words reminding you that for centuries people facing great despair have found hope?

Where else will you be challenged to be a person who works for justice?

Where else will you be invited to awaken to all that is good in creation?

Where else will you be reminded each week that since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart?

So think about going to church this Sunday, won’t you? It will be good for your soul.

And now, O God, call us forth into your hope, that we may live fully, love wastefully and be all that you have created us to be. Amen.  

 

Weekly Devotional: The Power of Poetry

liliesConsider the lilies of the field, . . .             Matthew 6. 28 (NRSV)

Years ago, when I was in college, I read poetry all the time. And, then I got busy with life and forgot all about poetry. Oh, every now and then I run across a poem or a story that I liked, but for the most part I read to prepare for sermons or listened to books on Audible.com for escape.

Recently, though, I have taken to reading poetry again and have rediscovered the power of words rightly placed to awaken us, challenge us, help us dream. I have even been reading short poems to my Introduction to Preaching class at Perkins School of Theology. I don’t know if they appreciate it or not, but I am enjoying it tremendously.

John F. Kennedy once said, “When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.” So, I’ve been reading poetry and finding that it does just what Kennedy said.

I, along with the rest of the world, have discovered the poetry of Mary Oliver. It is amazing to me how she puts so much meaning into so few words. She writes in her poem, “A Thousand Mornings,” the title poem of her book by the same name,

All night my heart makes its way

however it can over the rough ground

of uncertainties, but only until night

meets and then is overwhelmed by

morning, the light deepening, the

wind easing and just waiting, as I

too wait (and when have I ever been

disappointed?) for the redbird to sing.

Jesus once told those who followed him to, “consider the lilies of the field . . .” He knew so well, what he wanted us to know, that awakening to God’s creation is to encounter God. As we draw near to the busiest season of the year, I invite you to take a moment and sit down and read some poetry. If you do, you may well find that you notice things more: the smile on a child’s face, the new pansies planted in your neighbors yard, the song of the redbird. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he invited us to consider the lilies of the field. Perhaps this is the path to peace, both the peace of our hearts and peace for our world.

Holy One, awaken me today to see you present in all of creation, and then open my mouth to sing forth your praise. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Stop, Wait, Rest, Wonder, Be

restandrelaxationAnd on the seventh day God finished the work that was done, and rested on the seventh day from all the work that had been done.                  -Genesis 2.2 (NRSV – Adapted)

Just last night I was meeting with a group of people from our faith community, and we were bemoaning how busy we are. We are so busy that sometimes it is hard to make time for God. We are so busy that sometimes it is hard to make time for our faith. We are so busy that sometimes it is hard to make time for worship, prayer, study, community and so on, and so on and so on. When did that happen? When did our lives get so busy? When did our lives become so very frantic?

We are getting ready to enter into one of the busiest seasons of the year, the holiday season. I don’t have to tell you that this time from All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween) up through New Year’s Day is the busiest of our year. It is so busy that we will pass each other at events and parties and speak of how busy and how tired we are and how we are longing for the end of it all.

It is funny, isn’t it? We think we are so important that we cannot make time to rest. Yet our God, the Holy One who gives life and breath to all creation made time to rest and invited us to do the same.

On denomination teaches its pastors to divide the day into three periods; morning, afternoon and evening. Then it invites those pastors to work two of those three periods each day and rest for one. So, a pastor might work morning and afternoon and rest in the evening. Or that pastor might work and afternoon and evening and rest in the morning. This follows the understanding from Genesis that we are to have a balance of work and rest.

So, even if you don’t feel like you can follow that pattern, why not try something? Why not try coming home and turning off the television set, shutting off the computer, silencing the phone? I’m pretty sure that all the problems and challenges of our lives will be there tomorrow. Why not try making Sabbath? If we don’t we may well miss Christmas and we’re sure to miss the presence of God in the midst of it. It just seems to me that even if we don’t succeed at finding ways to make space in our lives and make time for resting this Christmas, it is still well worth the trying.

Holy One, speak to me again. Call me away from my life of much-ness and busyness that keeps me from meeting you and fully encountering those I love. Remind me to stop, to wait, to rest, to wonder, to simply be in your presence. Amen.

 

Weekly Devotional: Don’t Believe the Bad Stuff

godyouregood“It’s just easier to believe the bad stuff.”         – Vivian Ward, Pretty Woman

 So God created humankind in God’s own image, in the image of God they were created; male and female God created them.               – Genesis 1:27

I love the movie Pretty Woman, and I particularly love the insight that Vivian Ward shares with her client, Edward Lewis, when he inquires as to how she got into the “oldest profession.” Her transparently honest answer is one that I think many of us could echo, “It’s just easier to believe the bad stuff.” And it doesn’t matter if you believe the “bad stuff” about yourself or if you believe the “bad stuff” about others. Yes, it would seem that many of us believe the bad stuff.

Internalizing bad thoughts about ourselves and others causes us to live our lives in broken places. When we indulge in self-hatred we risk falling into depression and self-destructive behaviors and separate from our own best selves. When we project hatred onto others we cause the destruction of relationships—sometimes our closest relationships with family and friends. It is also why we find ourselves, at this time in history, at vitriolic odds with people in our communities, states and nation and is ultimately the cause of destructive ideas, such as racism, homophobia, and thoughts and actions that lead to violence and war.

The interesting thing about all of this is that it runs counter to what we have heard across the centuries from our wise women and men. It runs counter to what all the benevolent faith traditions teach us. It is certainly the case of my own faith tradition, the Judeo-Christian tradition. Our ancient story of creation tells us that we are created in the “image of God.” That story reminds us that God looks upon creation and blesses all of creation, including all of us, you and me, our friends and our enemies, and calls us “good.”

I wonder, then, why it is that we gravitate to the place of believing the “bad stuff.” Perhaps it is because seeing the good in others actually takes work and requires risk. It requires first believing that one’s own essence is essentially good and that the essence of others is essentially good, even when behavior is bad. It also requires risking feelings and sometimes one’s life in order to see the goodness in someone, particularly if that someone has harmed you or someone you love. In short, it is easier to believe the bad stuff.

But what if we didn’t?

What if we believed the good stuff instead, that we are created in the image of God, that we are good? What a difference it might make, in you, in me and in our world.

Holy One, help me to hear again that you look upon all of your creation and call us good. Amen.