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.

Weekly Devotional: Fear and Trust In Violent Times

fearnotOne night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you.”            Acts 18: 9, 10a

If you’re like me, some of the events taking place in the world and in our own country, our own neighborhoods, are likely producing a rising sense of fear within you. The list seems to grow each day: floods/storms/earthquakes/volcanoes, ISIS, Russia/Ukraine, Israel/Hamas, racism, poverty, hunger, gun violence and the list goes on and on. Sometimes, I just want to turn off the television, radio and Internet and pretend none of this exists. But these things do exist. The question is, “How are we going to live in the face of such violence and destruction?”

The Apostle Paul came face to face with the violence of his day as he sought to spread the good news of his faith in God through the revelation and resurrection of Jesus. Soon to be faced with violence and threats of death Paul received a vision of Jesus who said, “Do not be afraid.”

Did you know that the words, “Do not be afraid” appear more than 70 times in the Bible? I think there is a reason for that and I believe it has to do with a couple of things. I believe that God wants us to always and in ever circumstance place our trust in God. So the instruction to “not be afraid” is actually a call to faith. The second is that the emotion of fear can do strange things to us. It can cause us to imagine things that are not real or true. It can cause us to lose sight of what is really important. And it can cause us to act out towards others in words or actions thus perpetuating a culture of fear.

The other thing that is important to notice is that Paul’s vision of Jesus included the words, “speak and do not be silent, for I am with you.” This is so very important. It is important to speak about injustice and peace and to speak about our faith that tells us that God loves all of God’s creation and all of God’s children. Perhaps if we do that, we will find the courage to live faithfully in these fear-filled times. Neill Q. Hamilton, writing about being a witness said this, “In our times, in contrast to the classic periods of persecution, it will be the manner of our lives rather than the manner of our deaths that counts for witness.” (Recovery of the Protestant Adventure - Hamilton)

As we turn to face the fears of this present age, may our lives speak.

Holy One, may we live our lives unafraid, ever trusting in you. Amen.

 

Weekly Devotional: Keeping Faith

brotherThen the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” -Genesis 4.9

Perhaps one of the most poignant passages of scripture is that moment when, having killed his brother, Cain is confronted by God who inquires about his murdered brother, Able. Cain has just killed his brother out of jealousy because he perceived that God loved Able more than him.

While Cain’s question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is specific to this circumstance of his murder of Able, it is a question that we all need to ponder. It is so easy for us to read or listen to the news about things happening in the Middle East, on the continent of Africa, in Ferguson, Missouri, or the U.S./Mexico border and then just turn back to our affairs. We, after all, have busy lives full of work, family, church, and social gatherings. So, are we? Are we our brother’s keepers?

I began teaching this week at Perkins School of Theology. One of my students is from Nigeria, and suddenly the Ebola crisis comes very close. During our introductions he shared that he learned this week that two of his family members have died. It is heartbreaking. I realize that there are only a few things that we as individuals can do to address these crises, but shouldn’t we try? Shouldn’t we say, “Yes, I am my brother’s keeper. Yes, I am my sister’s keeper?”

I wonder what would happen if we all spent a few minutes each morning in silence lifting up all of these crises to God. I wonder what would happen if we all tried to do one thing that would care for someone or a group of some ones in the midst of one of these crises. A few of our dollars, a click on a website, a letter to a political leader, a decision to invite others to join us might well change the future for these who suffer. The work of easing suffering is hard work, just ask Jesus, but it is essential work for those who receive as well as those who give.

Loving God, turn your face to this island Earth, your creation. Turn your face to us and especially to our sisters and brothers who are suffering. Show us the way and give us the courage to do something to make a difference. Amen.

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.