Weekly Devotional: In Love, We Are All The Same

Howard“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”                                                               -Matthew 22. 36-40

Much has been said and written about the shooting of Michael Brown, and hopefully, as the news cycle begins to pick up other stories, we will not turn away and forget this. The issue of racism has been raised, yet again, as has the militarization of our local police forces. The problem is that we do not delve deeply enough into the rampant racism still holding our culture and our country hostage. We protest, we post on Facebook, we write blogs and preach sermons, but rooting out racism will require a major shift in the thinking of white America.

White Americans are going to have to look carefully at ourselves and ask the questions we don’t want to ask. What are the privileges that I have simply because I am Euro-American and my skin is fair?   What are the benefits that I have as a white/Euro-American that are not afforded my sisters and brothers who are people of color and who are ethnic, national and religious minorities? What am I going to do to shift this unspoken privilege so that all can be treated with respect and honored as children of God?

In short, this work of shifting our culture to one of radical inclusion is going to require effort on the part of all of us: personal reflection, personal commitment, personal courage.

Richard Rohr offers what I think is an important insight from his book, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer. He writes, “The soul defines itself by expansion and inclusion—not by saying ‘no,’ but by offering a kind of courageous, risky ‘yes’: ‘Yes, I am like everybody else, capable of the same good and the same bad. They are all my brothers and sisters.’ The soul knows that we are all equally naked underneath our clothes. Can you feel the scariness in that? When you allow the face of the other, the opinion of the other, the worldview of the other, to break through your barriers and boundaries, there is always a bit of fear, as in the first moments of nakedness or intimacy.” (pp. 23-24)

We are going to have to face our fears of encountering the “other,” and seeing them as children of God, for their sakes and for ours.

So, I invite you to take seriously the instruction of Jesus that the first and most important things we do are love God and love neighbor. How are you going to do that today? Where will you stand? I offer for your first step this picture of the student body of Howard University. Look closely at the faces of those students and remember that they are our neighbors, not a statistic, not just a picture. They are our neighbors.

Now, take moment and listen to this interview that was aired yesterday on National Public Radio: file:///Users/johudson/Desktop/ferguson-pastor-this-is-not-a-race-issue-this-is-a-human-issue.html

Let us begin today. Let us not forget. Let us say the courageous, risky “yes, yes I am like everybody else.”

Holy One, receive our brother, Michael Brown, into your heavenly realm, into the saints of light, and receive our feeble efforts to live as people who love you and seek to love our neighbors. Help us not to sit by complacently, watching the news, posting on Facebook, writing blogs. Instead, give us courage to look at ourselves and ask important questions. Give us courage to stand with those who are marginalized and oppressed. Give us courage to act. Remind us that all of us are your children. Amen.

 

Weekly Devotional: Minding the Gaps in the World of Facebook

Facebook_like_thumbIf it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

–(Romans 12.18 NRSV)

Recently, a friend of mine took her Facebook page down. When we asked her why, she just said that she was taking a break. Then, a few weeks later there she was on Facebook again. The post that announced her return stated something to the effect that she had gotten sucked into all the politicking and positioning about everything. She found herself being opinionated and didn’t like it. She expressed a desire to reclaim Facebook as a fun place where she could connect with friends and share stories and hopes and dreams.

Her post hit home with me and I realized that I, too, have been part of the social media opinion machine. I realized that too often we slip into blame-placing, name-calling and the judgment game and then “click,” that one’s gone.

I have always conveniently blamed the television and a 24-hour news cycle for the cause of the deep polarization of our society. However, after reading my friend’s post and examining my own social media behavior, I realized that each of us, you and I, have some responsibility in this growing chasm. So, taking a page from my friend, I am going to challenge myself, and hopefully you will as well, to be more intentional about how we use this miracle called the Internet. Let’s ask ourselves about what we are saying and how we are saying it. Can we develop the discipline of being thoughtful about the issues we weigh in on and consider those who may hold differing opinions before we hit “post?”

Lastly, I invite us to take breaks from our social media lives. What about taking some time to refocus our lives on family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, people we can see and touch and speak to, those we can offer healing and hope through our words and actions?

I ran across the video below several months ago. Every time I watch it I find myself smiling. I know it’s an advertisement for a life insurance company, but it’s also filled with the truth about life and how we live it. Watch it and see if you feel the same. Then won’t you join me in committing to relationships and civil discourse, whether they are face-to-face or via social media? Let us make the world more beautiful through our actions and our words, and so far as it depends on you and me, live peaceably with all. Then perhaps our God, who loves us, will be smiling as well.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/uaWA2GbcnJU

Holy One, on this day remind me that all your children, even those with whom I disagree, are yours, made in your image. Let me live today in ways that honor them. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: On the Island of Earth, We’re All Children of God

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.                                                                                                13-earth-from-space-artwork-detlev-van-ravenswaayPsalm 24.1

Let me point out the obvious. No doubt we are living in a time in which violence around our globe is escalating. In addition, it seems that our political and religious leaders are determined to stand on opposite sides of any issue simply to “win” the day. They see no value in learning to listen to each other or finding other ways, other solutions, or as some suggest, “a third way” that recognizes and honors the positions of each.

Every now and then you get to see something that really makes you stop and think. That’s what happened to me this morning as I stopped for a moment in going through my inbox and watched this video someone sent me. I invite you to watch it and see if it doesn’t impact you in the same way, causing you to stop and think about this island earth on which we live.

https://www.youtube.com/v/923jxZY2NPI

Perhaps one of the ways we can see through all the violence, fighting, and political and religious posturing would be to consider that this earth, the only place where all people for all time have ever lived, belongs to God. Moreover, perhaps it would equally benefit us to consider that all people who have ever lived, are living, and will live on this island earth are children of God.

Maybe if we pondered these two thoughts for a while we might discover a passage through to a new way of living, one in which people love their neighbors as themselves. What a concept. We ought to try it, don’t you think?

Holy One, as I look at the stars help me to remember that we live on a small blue dot, and it is the only home we and all who have come before and all who will come after will ever have. Help me to honor this miracle of your creation and live peacefully with all. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: In the Stillness, Find Time to Know…

be_still_and_know_wall_decal_single“Be still, and know that I am God!”

-Psalm 46.10

I don’t know about you, but I for one am discouraged with the state of affairs across our globe. Israel continues to bomb Gaza, causing the death toll to rise, including the death of children. Russia is amassing troops along its boarder with Ukraine after Malaysian Airlines MH-17, carrying civilians from many different countries, was blown out of the air. Civil wars continue in Syria and Iraq, and a new group that is seemingly more violent than Al Qaeda, ISIS, is continuing its threats and destruction. We still haven’t learned the fate of the girls of Nigeria, and that is just a list of global issues.

Our country has its own set of problems: unaccompanied children crossing the southern borders of our country and a split opinion on how to address their needs, gun violence continuing unabated as each week it seems that we hear of another shooting rampage, violence against women for being women and gays for being gays. When you add to all of this personal and family challenges, well, it’s enough to keep you up at night.

It is here that you might expect me to launch into an appeal to “do something, anything that will advance love and peace in the world.” That’s not a bad idea, but I have another. I believe it is essential for us to connect to God and each other in order to stem the fear that the circumstances of our world, our country and our personal lives can give rise to. One of the ways I think we do that is to make room in our lives to be still. It is in the “still place” that we can have time to think, to reflect, to notice the miracle of the world around us and to notice each other. It is in the “still place” that we are able to encounter God, what is holy, what is mystery.

Years ago I had a wonderful yoga teacher use Psalm 46 about stillness and encountering God as a meditation. Here is how she taught me to pray the verse:

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.

I wonder what would happen in our world if we would all take some time from our hectic lives and be still, even for a moment. I believe it is in that stillness that we find the strength to “do something” about the challenges we face, because it is in that stillness that we encounter God. So take a moment, won’t you, and listen to this beautiful song, “Still,” a prayer and a reminder about the Holy Presence and Mystery that is God.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4n01-5SQFa8

Amen.

 

 

Weekly Devotional: “Here I Am. Here We Are. Here We Are Together”

Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren

 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”                                                                          Exodus 3. 4 (NRSV)

Over the last year, I have become a fan and follower of author Brian McLaren. It started last year when I learned that this Evangelical Christian had presided at the wedding of his gay son. Then, I had the opportunity to be part of a workshop last May at which he offered an amazing interpretation of the Book of Acts. Since that time, I have had the opportunity to read several of his works, and most recently I have been reading his book, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words, which is the subject of a weekly study with others in which I am participating.

Now, let me just say, I have been a pastor for nearly 20 years, and before that I was a very active layperson. Like many of you, my life with God has been an on and off affair, and by that I mean that I have struggled to maintain a faithful prayer life in the midst of a busy life! Now, I’m discovering that, even though I have more control over my schedule, it is still difficult to maintain a faithful prayer and devotional life. That is, until I started reading this book about naked spirituality.

In the book, McLaren invites us to set aside all of the trappings of faith that we have added. He invites us to enter into a simpler way of engaging God, or as he takes from our Jewish sisters and brothers, “G-d”, as a way of honoring the name of G-d.

Our group has just started the book, but I am already deeply touched by McLaren’s invitation to begin your day, and practice throughout your day the simple prayer of “Here.” The prayer, “Here I am. Here You are. Here we are together,” is means of being present to G-d, wherever you are.

I practiced this prayer, intended to serve as a means to awaken us to the presence of G-d, yesterday morning as I was taking a morning walk and, once again, in the silence of the night when I couldn’t sleep. Even now as I type the word “here,” I feel something moving with in me that is an awareness of the presence of G-d.

Of course, as is his practice, McLaren comes to this prayer by way of scripture. While there are many instances of people in the Bible responding to G-d with “Here I am,” perhaps the most famous is that of Moses who encounters G-d in a shrub that was burning but not consumed. When Moses hears G-d call to him from within the bush, Moses answers, “Here I am.”

It just makes me wonder. If you and I were to regularly awaken to the presence of God in all our living, perhaps we, too, would hear G-d call to us from unexpected places. It’s worth a try, don’t you think?

Here I am. Here You are. Here we are together. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Why A Cold Cup of Water Truly Matters

cupofwater“. . . and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”                                           Matthew 10:42 (NRSV)

I continue to be touched by the idea that the simple act of offering a cup of cold water to someone in need can be something that makes a difference for that person.  I believe Jesus was trying to teach his disciples and followers that a simple act of love by the faithful could change the world. This had to be a hard concept for those early disciples to understand.  They lived in a culture oppressed by an occupying army where violence was the order of the day and children were the least of the least.  How could the small act of giving a cup of cold water to a child make a difference?

I believe this concept is hard for us to grasp, as well.  We live in a fast pace world where power, wealth and violence seem to be the order of the day, where multi-national corporations rule the day and where the 24-hour news cycle reminds us of how powerless we are.  It is easy to become cynical and certain that our small acts of love couldn’t possibly make a difference.

And then I remember a young woman I knew years ago.  I got to know her because she asked me to preside at her wedding.  During the visits with her and her future husband, I learned that she had chosen to quit eating tuna fish because she learned that the nets the fishers used were trapping dolphins and killing them.  Just prior to her wedding day, laws were changed that made it illegal to trap and kill dolphins.  She was elated that her personal act of conscience had made a difference.

I felt the same way this week when I learned that the efforts of Every Town for Gun Safety successfully petitioned Target stores to issues a policy requesting that guns not be carried in their stores.  I signed that petition and decided not to shop at Target unless the store made a decision like this.  I am not someone who believes that we should pass laws that keep law abiding gun owners from owning and carrying guns, but I do believe that we can pass laws that make our communities, states and our nation a safer place for all of us by passing reasonable gun safety laws.  I believe this because I believe that God wants us to live in peace and safety with each other.  So, my voice counted in this decision by the Target Corporation.

Regardless of your passion, I hope you share the passion of God that we live peaceably with our neighbors and all creation and that you will do one thing to partner with our God to bringing that reality into being in our time:  Your “cup of cold water” matters.

Holy One, call me to a deeper place of communion with you and then let me emerge from that place into your world making a difference one act of love at a time.  Amen.

 

Weekly Devotional: God Is For Us, Always and Forever!

god-is-loveListen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 1 Corinthians 15. 50-52

It was last week, and I had come straight from vacation and gone into a four-day workshop with Brian McLaren, Evangelical Christian author and teacher.  The workshop was an opportunity to explore McLaren’s newest book, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation.  It was a dynamic four days as we explored the Bible from the opening story of the Creation to the closing story of a New Heaven and a New Earth.

During our time together, we, the fifteen participants, prayed together, worshipped together, shared insights about scripture, and conversed about our own journeys of faith.  Vulnerable, in a word, would be the way to describe our time together as we shared our sorrows and disappointments, our hopes and our dreams.

When we got to Sunday afternoon, I was worn out.  I was physically tired as well as emotionally and spiritually spent, but Brian kept us on task, working through the book to the end.  His enthusiasm and hopes for this book were contagious.  He makes no apologies for his dogged focus of trying to find a way to engage people with scripture, to bring people with disparate theologies and ideologies to the table for conversation, and to help those alienated from the church find a new way of being the church together.  I was and remain excited about all of these possibilities.

Though I was tired, I could not help but perk up and lean in, for in the last 45 minutes of the workshop Brian began talking about how the Bible, with all its seeming violence and cultural oddities, is ultimately a book about love and hope.  It is true, isn’t it, that the Bible is the story of God’s love for us and for all of creation and about how ultimately God meets us in the mystery of life and death.  I wish and pray that all of God’s children could understand:  God is for us, not against us, and chooses to be in a relationship with us in life and in death, loving us all the way home.  This is good news for us, I think, no matter who we are or what our life’s circumstances may be.

So join me, won’t you?  Let’s make the road by walking it and see if we discover in this journey of life and faith our lovesick God, who is with us as we go.

Holy One, as I make my journey in this life, remind me that I am on a road to you, and that ultimately I will find my way home, surely changed.  Amen.