Weekly Devotional: “Be Impeccable With Your Word”

our-words-matterA word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! Think about this: A small flame can set a whole forest on fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.                     –James 3. 5-6, The Message

If you’re like me, you are probably weary of all the words being spoken in this election season. There are just so many words spoken by our candidates, their surrogates, and the ads that run constantly. The words are too often laced with violence and vitriol. That word “vitriol” means, “something highly caustic or severe in effect.”

So is it any wonder that we have a collective sense of foreboding in our world? I had a friend who works in the medical profession tell me that they have seen an upswing in people coming in with medical concerns all related to stress. It would seem that our words and the words of others not only have a stinging emotional effect, they also impact our health. And the Letter of James goes a step further and tells us that our words can “ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke.”

Of course, the remedy is not an easy one. It seems to me that since we cannot change the words of others, our first step might be to start with our own words. So, let’s covenant to follow the advice of Don Miguel Ruiz in his book, The Four Agreements, to practice the first agreement, to “be impeccable with your word.” What would it cost us to think before we speak and consider the impact our word or words might have on others? It wouldn’t cost a dime. Secondly, why not try turning off the noise, the television, the radio, social media? Okay, if unable to do that then perhaps just limit the time spent listening to all the words of this election season. Third, why don’t we fill our minds and hearts with words that fill us with hope, love, joy and peace? After all, the Apostle Paul urged us to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” (Romans. 12.2) Perhaps we could repeat a phrase or a sentence silently or out loud. One of my favorites is from the great mystic Julian of Norwich. In a vision she saw the earth as a whole and heard the words, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, every manner of thing shall be well.” Or, if that doesn’t work, try reading a poem or devotional aloud and see if hearing those words doesn’t change your heart, mind and soul, and give you strength for the day.

I believe that if we even try to do those things or even one of those things we will find ourselves filled with more hope and joy, we will discover that we have more peace, and we will be able to offer love to others. And that, my friends, can change our world.

Holy One, remind me today that my words matter and help me use them for good and not for evil. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: This Election Season, Who Wins?

love_winsJesus continued saying, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”

–Mark 12: 30-31

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to turn on the news or read the headlines. The 24-hour news cycle is filled with people sitting on panels spewing hatred and vitriol at people who have opposing political views. Diatribes are posted on Facebook by people who seem to actually hate people who support one candidate or another. It is, at times, downright depressing.

I got a brief reprieve from the election season last weekend when I attended New Church – Chiesa Nuova, United Church of Christ, North Texas Journey #12. And my wife, Stephanie, got an even longer reprieve when her mom took her to one of our favorite cities, New Orleans, to celebrate her birthday. Stephanie has been going to New Orleans since she was 18 years old, and the two of us go there frequently. I often say that we like to go to New Orleans once a year. Then, if we’re lucky, we get to go twice a year, and if we’re blessed, three times a year. (We’ll only get to go together once this year, but I’m pretty sure we’re still quite blessed.)

New Orleans, in my opinion, is a city like no other. The people who live there are some of the friendliest I’ve ever encountered. And the resiliency of the people became known to the entire world in the years following Hurricane Katrina.

One of the many, many traditions of New Orleans is that on your birthday you pin a dollar bill to your shirt to let others know that it is your birthday. Some people will hand you a dollar bill when they see the bills pinned to your shirt. Others will wish you a happy birthday as you walk by. So, Stephanie got to experience that on Thursday as she and her mom walked around the city. Being wished a happy birthday by a hundred or so locals made her day so much fun. She told me that each time she walked into a restaurant or got on a bus, total strangers acknowledged her birthday.

Then she told me this. “At one point, as we were walking through Jackson Square, a man who appeared to be homeless greeted me and wished me a happy birthday. He then reached into his pocket and handed me a dollar bill. His gesture reminded me that there is so much good in the world, that the news cycle and headlines are merely a distraction from what matters – that we love each other. It was, perhaps, one of the best gifts I received. I pray that I will be able to carry with me throughout the year.”

What really matters is that we love one another. Right? As we grow closer to this election and all that seems to abound is hate, maybe we can remember what the truth is, that love wins, and then try to live it throughout the year.

Holy One, help me, . . . help me, . . . help me to love others as I want to be loved. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Slow Down, Breath Deeply, and Remember Who Loves You!

love-of-god-tree-heartWe know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

                                                                        —Romans 8:28

The Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Rome, offers us an amazing truth, that in all things in this life, God actually works for good in us. Can you imagine that? I don’t know about you, but so often I find that I easily succumb to the stresses and fears of life, rather than trusting in the promise of God’s good work in my life, the lives of those I love, my church, my community and our world. If you’re like me your life can go from peace to anxiety in 90 seconds or less. I find that I am easily angered at the way people drive and “get in my way,” as I rush from this to that. I am often stressed by the state of this year’s presidential election as I listen to the “talking heads” and their analysis of this poll or that. I fear that I won’t be able to finish a project that is before me. I wonder if I’ve failed at being the person or pastor that is needed in a given situation. I could go on, but I think you know what I mean.

Then, just this week, as I was driving Sydney to school—and it was yet another day when we were running a bit late—I had this peace wash over me. I realized that if I would just relax and drive carefully, that if I just took my time, we would arrive at school at about the same time we always do. We would arrive in plenty of time and the peace inside our car would be better for both of us.

As I reflected on that experience, I realized how often we stir ourselves into a frenzy focusing on bad outcomes rather than trusting that God is at work in our lives for good. In fact, as I thought about it, I realized that even in the most stressful and fear-ridden times in my life, the peace and presence of God, in Christ and through the Holy Spirit is available to me, if I am open to it. I have some friends who once said to me, “If no one has died, anything can be fixed.” I would go so far as to say, even when we experience death—our own or someone we love—God is still at work for good in our lives bringing us to a place of peace and profound hope.

Now I’ll confess, I’m not exactly sure how we can effectively and consistently access the promise of God’s constant presence and good work in our lives. Something tells me it will require us to slow down, breathe deeply and remember, remember that we are called according to God’s purposes, that God loves us and wants good for us, even in our most difficult and challenging moments. I wonder if you and I might focus on that promise this week. Surely it’s worth a try and better than the alternative. Join me, won’t you?

Holy One, slow me down, help me to breathe deeply, remind me once again that I am Yours and You are mine. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: In Our Wired World, Where Are Our Hearts?

treasure1And Jesus continued, saying, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”           –Matthew 6:19-20

At New Church – Chiesa Nuova United Church of Christ in Dallas, I am in the midst of a sermon series entitled, Defying Gravity: Breaking Free from the Culture of More. The series is based on a book of a similar title by Tom Berlin. As I have prepared my sermons, I confess that I have focused primarily on the idea that the “more” in the title has to do with money and possessions. After all, Biblical scholars tell us that just about every third time Jesus speaks in the Gospels, he talks about money and possessions, so it must be important. Right? Still, Jesus ends that passage saying, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So, Jesus’ teaching on storing things up on earth clearly has something to do with our hearts.

As I pondered that passage of scripture, I began to wonder if the understanding of storing up treasures might also apply to our hoarding of information and our deep need to be connected to what is happening in our world 24/7. Don’t get me wrong. I’m clear that Jesus is asking us to examine what we consider our treasure, the money we have and how we use it, the possessions that we consider so important. And yet, as I examine my own life I know that I am often overwhelmed by the amount of information I try to process in one day. Applications on my phone and computer allow me, with a click, to store information, articles, websites, shopping ideas, and so on, and so on, and so on. And I just have to wonder how the storing of all that information eats away at our hearts like rust, and steals the joy of life from us like thieves.

This week, the weather finally broke in Dallas, and we had the first, fresh taste of Fall. The air was crisp and the sky was blue with wisps of white clouds. And, I wonder how much of the beauty of life and creation we miss because we have an article to read, or a post to respond to, our eyes fixed on screens small and large. So, did you see the sun as she danced across the horizon in a field of red and orange? Did you miss the white heron rising from the pond and gracefully touching down on the limb of the tree? Did you see the North Star hovering above the buildings as a single guiding light for all who seek?

Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Perhaps today, just for today we might ask ourselves where our hearts are.

Holy One, awaken us from the slumber of stuff and noise. Help us to seek Your face, to set aside, even for a brief moment, our screens. May our hearts be where You are. Amen.


Why I Won’t Be Watching Tonight’s Presidential Debate

prayerI won’t be watching tonight’s Presidential Debate.  Oh, it’s not because I don’t care deeply about the election. Nor, is it because I don’t care about what the candidates have to say. I won’t be watching tonight’s Presidential Debate precisely because I do care. I care deeply about this election and what it will mean for the future of the country. I care so much that my anxiety about tonight’s debate is at an all time high.

So, I got to thinking about the debate and my anxiety and how I need to respond. The truth is, I already know the candidate for whom I will be voting. I also know that nothing that happens in tonight’s debate is going to change my vote. Now, for those who haven’t made up their minds I encourage them, by all means, to watch and listen openly and carefully. It’s just that I know that watching tonight’s debate, while it won’t change my mind, will raise my anxiety even further. And, I just don’t need that for my health and emotional well-being, or for my family’s peace of mind, and I certainly don’t need to add any more negative energy to the cosmos.

Instead, I’m going to spend my evening in silence, in peace, and in prayer. I’m going to be praying for tonight’s debate, that it will be free from vitriol and ugliness, that the Holy Spirit will fill the space where the debate is taking place so that the candidates and the moderator will be able to do their best. I am going to pray that those who are present at the debate and the countless people in our country who will be watching will be moved to register and to vote in the coming election. I’m going to pray that everyone will be open minded as they listen to the candidates respond to questions and that they will carefully discern who it is they will support and vote for President of the United States on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

Robert Benson, in his book, Between the Dreaming and the Coming True, tells of a Hebrew tradition, “a story told of the thirty-six who are faithful—so faithful, in fact, that God refuses to have the world come to an end as long as they are alive. It is their devotion that holds the world together. No one but God knows who they are; even they themselves do not know.” (p. 128)

Tonight, I am going to try and join the thirty-six and pray and discern and seek to be faithful, so that our world can continue to be held together. Oh, and by-the-way, I will also ask God to help me to continue to find ways to lower my anxiety about the coming election and yet keep me committed to action, and that the Holy Spirit will work in me to keep me from becoming complacent. I will ask God to help me to be open to those with whom I disagree, to listen carefully and thoughtfully to their views. And then, it is my hope, starting tonight, that between now and election day I will faithfully put peace out into the cosmos instead of unnecessary anxiety. May it be so.

-Jo Hudson



Weekly Devotional: You, Me – “Thou” Together

celebratediversityA legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?” He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”     –  Luke 10. 25-27, Common English Bible

I have struggled, as I’m sure you have, with how to address the violence that has taken place in our country over the last few days – homemade bombs in New York and New Jersey, police shootings of black men, peaceful protests turned to riots. No doubt the issues of religious extremism and indoctrination, as well as systemic racism are a part of why some of this is happening. I have heard local, state and even our presidential candidates offer little in the way of solutions. I’m not sure any of us have real answers, and it is easy to feel helpless, but we aren’t helpless. Far from it!

For those of us who take the name Christian, for all who profess a benevolent faith and even for those who profess no faith, but believe in the goodness of humanity, there are things we can do. In our own City of Dallas, well-known musical artist and actress, Denise Lee, has started a series of gatherings called, Community Conversation, to bring people together to talk about race.

And if you want to know about other conversations you can go to Dallas Faces Race and sign up for their e-newsletter to find out about all kinds of events and opportunities in which you can participate in order to make a difference in our community and world. And if you want to know more about how you can help bridge the gap in the conversation on religion, check out Dallas Area Interfaith.

Of course, underlying all the conversations and events we must have within us a desire to understand those who are different than us, those who we see as “the other.” At New Church UCC we are in the midst of a book study and this week I was re-introduced to the work of Martin Buber in his book, I and Thou. Buber, an Austrian Israeli Jewish philosopher suggested that human life is structured around two different word-pairs, “I-It” and “I-Thou,” meaning that we have two ways of being in the world. First, we experience and encounter objects, things, and the world in a one-way relationship in which the individual “I” uses “things.” The second is that we experience relationships in which there are two subjects, two people. Buber also suggested that God is the “Eternal Thou,” that God is not an object, but a living God.

Jesus in conversation with a legal expert affirmed that we are to love God, in relationship as the “Eternal Thou,” with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and also love our neighbor, in relationship as “thou” as we love ourselves. We are to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, which also implies a love of self.

It seems to me that we can go to all the meetings, conversations and events offered to help heal our nation, but unless we begin to see “the other,” those who are different than us, as “thou,” a relationship to engage, a living, moving, changing relationship, we will never truly find our way to peace. Our engagement with one another in true relationship, and our commitment to action, are both needed if we are going to stop the violence and hate in our corner of the world and across the world. May it be so, for you and for me.

Holy One, surely you know we are lost. Turn your face to us once again so that we can find our way back to you, we can better see, understand and love our neighbor and we love ourselves. And grant us your peace. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: The Soul-Reviving Sound of Spirit

muteBy contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.                                                 – Galatians 5. 22-23

If you’re like me, you have grown weary of all the political news and advertising about the presidential election. The name-calling, hate mongering, vilifying and lies are more than most of us can take. It is not only bad for our minds, it is also bad for our hearts and souls. I truly believe that the work of evil in our world works this way. It eats away at our souls, so that we grow so weary we are unable to do the things that can make a difference in our world for good, like vote!

So, I’ve taken to muting the television sound when the political reports begin. Even so, that doesn’t seem to help much. If you watch closely, you will see that the spirit of the politico who is talking is evident in facial expressions and gestures and for the most part, it isn’t pretty.

In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul talks quite a bit about the things that can separate us from God, things that he says will cause us to miss out on the kingdom of heaven. Then he writes, “By contrast.” Do you hear that? Paul is contrasting the spirit of hate with the spirit of love. He lists those things that are indicators of a spirit of one who has committed to loving God, loving neighbor and loving self: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We haven’t see much of that in this election, have we?

I wonder how we would vote if we turned off the sound on all the political programs and just watch those who are running for office and their representatives. I wonder if we could discern the true spirit of those running for office by watching their facial expressions and actions. I don’t know, but it might be a way to see more clearly, a way to discern more carefully. Oh, it’s not that words and policies don’t matter—of course, they do—but hearts and spirits also matter, don’t they?

We still have weeks before the election. In that time, I hope you will do a few things. Pray for our country, its people and leaders. Listen carefully to what those running for office are saying and ask yourself if what they are saying, and how they are living, is truly representative of what following in the way of Jesus is all about. Watch the facial expressions, gestures and mannerism of those who are running in order to discern the true spirit of the candidate. Then, commit to vote.

In her devotional today, a colleague of mine quoted a line from a song she heard while on a trip to the Holy Lands. Young people of Jewish and Arab heritage sang, “God is not responsible for everything. If we don’t accept each other, even the One above won’t save us from ourselves. God is not responsible for everything.” In the end, maybe that is all that really matters, that we accept each other. Would that it were so.

Holy One, help us accept each other as You have accepted us. Amen.