Weekly Devotional: Grace-filled Language

words_matterLet no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

-Ephesians 4. 29 (NRSV)

I don’t know about you, but lately it seems to me that the public discourse has spun out of control, that there are no boundaries on words and their use to bully, belittle and blame. Or, maybe, this isn’t a contemporary problem since both ancient Hebrew Scriptures and even the words of Jesus have cautions about how we use our words.

For example, the writer of the wisdom book of Ecclesiastes warns us, “Do not let your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake; why should God be angry at your words, and destroy the work of your hands?” (5:6)

And the writer of the Gospel According to Matthew tell us that Jesus instructed, “I tell you, on the Day of Judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (12.36-37)

Evidently the ancients had just as big a problem with the use of words to harm and hurt, as we do today. I suppose it feels like a greater problem today because we hear it so readily through our 24/7-news cycle and through the phenomenon of the Internet and social media.

I just can’t help but think of the words of Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks in the movie Saving Private Ryan, who said, “I just know every time I kill someone, I feel further away from home.” And I can’t help but think that we are killing each other with our words, sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally, in the case of bullying that has played a hand in our children killing themselves out of despair. And every time we do that we move further and further from our home in God.

I think it is time that we hold our politicians, business leaders, professional athletes, movie stars, and music moguls and even ourselves accountable for the words we use that do harm to others. Let’s call for a boycott on words that bully, belittle and blame. Instead, let us heed the call of the Apostle Paul to build each other up with our words so that we may give grace to those who hear them.

I’m in, what about you?

Holy One, You brought our world into being with a word. I pray now that you would help me to use my words to build up your people and your creation on this good earth. Amen.    

Weekly Devotional: Children of Abba Love Their Enemies

imgresJesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Abba, who is God in heaven.”                                                                                                          -Matthew 5:43-45 (NRSV)

This week the long awaited announcement came that the United States and other countries have reached an agreement with Iran that will curb their nuclear development in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Since that moment, the airwaves have been lit up by reports on the reaction of American politicians. We have heard little of what other countries that are part of the agreement are saying with the only exception being the leadership of Israel. We have only seen briefly that the people of Iran are celebrating the decision. Not so in America.

Politician after politician has been featured on the morning, afternoon, evening and late night new deriding the President and the Secretary of State for their part in bringing about an agreement that has been in process for 10 years and that is designed to ease tensions in the region and stop Iran’s progress in the development of nuclear weapons.

Now, I will confess that this is a very complicated issue, and that I am no more qualified to discuss the intricacies of the diplomacy that brought about the agreement any more than I am qualified to talk about the agreement itself, particularly since I haven’t read it. Still, it is interesting to me how many of our American politicians, particularly those running for public office, have shouted to the housetops that if they are elected they will immediately undo the work that has been done, not just by the United States, but with our global partners as well. And I’ll wager that they haven’t read the agreement either. In one interview Secretary of State, John Kerry said, “What is the alternative? Bomb Iran? Some people want us to do that.”

As I said, I’m not qualified to speak about this complicated topic, but I like everyone, can have an opinion. So, I am someone who seeks to faithfully follow the teachings of Jesus, and it occurs to me that Jesus did everything he could, including sacrificing his own life, to bring about God’s realm on the face of the earth. To state the obvious, violence, war, and bombing were not a part of his agenda. Jesus made it clear in more than one of his teachings that we are to love others, and not only others, but even our enemies, even the people and the country of Iran.

I, for one, am glad for the agreement, and I pray and will pray each day that this will mark a shift in the regime in Iran, that a greater peace will be achieved and that over the next few years wise leaders will emerge in Iran and in our country and in all the countries of our world who will value peace over war and destruction. That may not happen, but shouldn’t we at least try? For those of us who follow Jesus, it would seem that we must try, no matter how hard it is. It will always be easier to make war than it is to create peace, but woe to us and to our children and to our children’s children if we don’t try to find our way toward loving our enemies and doing good to those who persecute us.

Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Let’s Celebrate the Remarkable Milestones for Our Country, and Get Right Back to Work

BidenThe last few days have been remarkable on a couple counts. The State of South Carolina has removed the Confederate Battle Flag from the state capitol flagpole and Vice-President Joe Biden has spoken out in support of full human rights protections for LGBTQ people. Yes, these last few days have been great for our country.

Yes, we all know that while the decision by the South Carolina Legislature and the Governor to have the Stars and Bars removed from flying in front of the state capital is an important decision, it is really only symbolic action. The real work now begins. Our country is still riddled with racism, not just for African Americans, but also for Latino and Latina Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans.

It is time for our governments—local, state and national—to do the hard work of passing laws and funding actions that will bring people and resources to the table to end flagrant and passive-aggressive racism.

And while I am profoundly pleased that our Vice-President has chosen to speak out about the need for comprehensive protections for LGBTQ people from housing discrimination, job discrimination, LGBTQ violence and more, those are only words if our various branches of government do not do the hard work of passing legislation that will provide necessary protections for LGBTQ people who are full and equal, tax-paying citizens of this country.

Of course, the churches, synagogues, mosques and temples and their worshipping communities will have to do hard work as well. There is an ever-growing divide among people of faith regarding not just differences of faith, but issues such as racism, immigration, marriage equality and more.

Yet the truth is that we have so much more in common that we have differences. Most faith communities whether they are Progressive, Evangelical or Catholic Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist have a common commitment to care for the poor, feed the hungry, welcome the outcast and visit those in prison. Most faith communities share a common commitment to caring for the environment and the creatures of this creation. There is so much we have in common. It is time we set aside our differences and work for justice and peace for all God’s people.

Pastors, Rabbis, Priests and Imams are going to have to stand up and speak out about the injustices of racism and the injustices of human rights in our country and our world if we are going to end violence and injustices against African-Americans, LGBTQ people and so many more. We are also going to have to have the courage to sit down across the table from each other and find ways and discover the things that we hold in common. By what ever name you use, all of us are God’s children and deserve the right to full human dignity, safety, health, well-being, meaningful work and the ability to achieve one’s dreams.

The teacher and God-presence of my Christian tradition, Jesus, the man and Rabbi of Nazareth whom I and others of my tradition call the Christ, taught us that the greatest commandment is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12. 29 – 31)

Some times I think we forget the second part of that commandment, to our own detriment. So, it seems to me that it is time—time to stand up and speak out, time to send emails and sign-petitions, time to attend meetings that discuss racism and equal rights, time to volunteer with helping agencies and schools. It is time. If not now, when? If not us, who?

Weekly Devotional: Stark Reminders that the Quest for Equality Demands Our All

Guercino_-_Jesus_and_the_Samaritan_Woman_at_the_Well_-_WGA10946Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”            -John 4.10 (NRSV)

In all my excitement about the Supreme Court decision on Marriage Equality, it is easy for me—like so many—to get caught up in the positive momentum of that moment and forget that there is still much work to do for justice for all people in our country and in the world. Two events this week have given me great pause.

The first is that the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team won the World Cup in an exciting victory over Japan. It was touching to see Abby Wambach kiss her wife following the game, and no less touching to see Carli Lloyd met and kissed by her fiancé at the airport upon her homecoming. It is also interesting to note that the World Champion U.S. Women’s Soccer team was paid only $2 million for their incredible win, which most people would consider good. And it is good until you consider that the men’s soccer team was paid $8 million for losing in the first round. All of this because the FIFA leadership considers equal pay for women’s teams to be “nonsense.”

The second troubling event this week was the transcript from the deposition of Bill Cosby in which he stated that he bought quaaludes in order to give them to women so that he could have sex with them.

These are just two of the events involving inequality for women and sexual violence against women this week. If you pay attention to the news at all, you begin to realize that countless acts of inequality for women and violence against women happen everyday. And of course, insult is heaped onto injury when you consider the damage that some of our legislatures, particularly mine in Texas, are doing by tearing away at the rights of women to have quality health care, make decisions for their own bodies, have access to birth control, support for their children, and yes, if necessary, make the hard decision to end a pregnancy.

I believe it is time that the church of Jesus Christ rise up and re-claim the true understanding of our faith that all people, including women, are created in the image of God and should be honored as such. Jesus, breaking with the tradition of his time and culture that believed that women were property and that men were not to speak to women in public, reached out to the woman at the well. Of course we don’t actually know her name because of the partriarcal culture that originally told her story. Still, Jesus not only engaged her in conversation, but spoke to her of faith and that he was willing to offer her life-giving water. Clearly, Jesus had value around women for who they were created to be. And it was women in scriptures, like the woman at the well, who were among the first to proclaim the Gospel to others and to proclaim the resurrection.

It is time that women of all countries, and all cultures, and all ages, races, nationalities, abilities, and sexualities be given full and equal rights, paid equal wages for equal work, experience an end to sexual, physical, emotional, and intellectual abuse.

Jesus made a choice to die for the truth that God is a God of love and created this world, including women, and called it good. Paul echoed that understanding by writing, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3. 28)

The question is, “If we are truly committed to following Jesus and being a Gospel presence in the world, what are we going to do about it?”

Holy One, give me the courage to stand up and speak out about the rights and safety of women. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: “Love Is As Strong As Death”

Emanuel-AME-ChurchSet me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion  fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.

-Song of Solomon 8:6-7

If you’re like me you continue to struggle with the events of a week ago, last Wednesday evening, June 17, when the blessed nine were killed. While there have been news reports about the event, the hatred, the racism, the violence, as well as questions about the future of our nation’s moral base, I have found it hard to find words to express what I continue to feel about this tragedy.

I am clear that God did not cause this. I am equally clear that the young man who perpetrated this awful violence did so from a blend of nature and nurture. It seems to me that there was something deeply wrong within his psyche and something deeply wrong somewhere in his upbringing and our culture that led him to believe that the killing of African Americans was, in some distorted way, a necessity. None of this makes sense to me. What I am sure about is that God is at work in this violence just as God was at work in the violence when Jesus, our Christ, was executed more than two thousand years ago.

As I have watched all of the reporting on the event and the aftermath, I am clear that “love is strong as death,” that “many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” In the week following this horror I have seen more people praying than ever before. I have witnessed countess gestures of goodwill. I have listened in silent awe to the words of the families of those who were killed offering forgiveness for the young man who destroyed those who were loved most and best. And today, one week after the violence and death of last week, members of Mother Emmanuel A.M.E. Church gathered in the same room where those who were slain had welcomed the shooter into a time of Bible study and prayer to take up the mantle and continue with their Bible study.

Evil would have not only killed those saints last week; it would have also hoped for race war. Evil would have sought to silence the hopes and dreams of a church. Evil would have desperately tried to distract us from the hope of the realm of God being made manifest on earth as it is in heaven. But evil did not win this week, not the evil of hate, not the evil of prejudice, not the evil of racism, not the evil of violence. And death did not win. Love wins. God wins. Hope wins.

Now let us commit to being part of the changes that must take place in our country and the world for God’s realm to come upon the face of the earth. Amen? Amen!

P.S. If you want to see the groundswell of hope, check out this link.

Weekly Devotional: Embracing Mystery, Living the Questions

MysteryofFaithWithout any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: Jesus was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.

1 Timothy 3:16 (NRSV – Adapted)

Just this week I started reading a book by Robert Farrar Capon entitled, The Mystery of Christ and Why We Don’t Get It. This book intrigues me for several reasons. I like that six of the twelve chapters are taken from his pastoral counseling sessions, through which he shares some important ideas about our faith. For example, while the first chapter deals with a woman who comes to him seeking direction for her adulterous affair, he spends that session helping her to better understand the idea of “salvation through grace.”

Now, mind you, when I talk about salvation I am not speaking about being saved from an “afterlife burning hell.” Nor is Capon. Instead, “salvation” is about being saved from separation from God brought on by our personal actions and choices. Chapters that further discuss the theological and Biblical understandings of the issue follow each of those chapters.

The reason I like this approach so much is that I believe that all of us come to God with our questions about life and faith. And it is clear to me that we use one of two ways of thinking about faith. Some people approach faith as something set in stone (think the Ten Commandments). In other words, there is right and wrong, good and bad, etc. There is no room for questions or wonder, awe and mystery. Of course most of us, even those of us who think of ourselves as open-minded, use some measure of this kind of thinking in our living. The other approach to life and faith is to understand that we are in the midst of a mystery, and we can engage that mystery through questions and doubt, wonder and awe, listening and discovering.

In his book, Capon is trying to get us to think about our day-to-day living and to ask ourselves how our faith fits into our lives and how our ways of thinking of faith as either black and white, or filled with mystery, might help us engage our relationship with God.

The earliest followers of Jesus were clear that they were dealing with a mystery that would be revealed to them through the Holy Spirit, much like the writer of the Letter of James expresses in the scripture cited above.

I wonder what the world would be like if all of us were a bit less certain about our “facts of faith” and more willing to engage the mystery. Might the Holy Spirit speak? Would we be listening if she did?

I wonder.

Holy One, you are the creator of this mystery called life. Help me to not be afraid, but to live into the mystery of it all, revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, our Christ. Amen.


Weekly Devotional: “Yes, yes, yes” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you”

The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.                                                                                        –  Job 33:4 (NRSV)

Courtney Pinkerton

Courtney Pinkerton

Following my devotional time this morning I checked in on Facebook and ran across a blog by a friend and colleague. Courtney Pinkerton is a holistic life and leadership coach and this morning reminded me of something that is essential to our health and well-being. During the summer she is offering suggestions for what she calls, “The Summer of Meditation Challenge.” You can sign up at courtneypinkerton.com.

Courtney explains her Surprising Practice #1, writing, “First, this: Meditation is not something you do. It is something you enjoy. To avoid the most common frustration I hear in my meditation class and force your mind to be empty, instead, walk. And try out this delightful, simple, easy practice from Thích Nhất Hạnh, master of mindfulness and all things good. Listen here. We say yes to life. And thank you.”

If you listen to Courtney’s instructions you will hear her tell you that as you walk, take in a breath saying, “Yes, yes, yes.” And then as you breathe out say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” How very simple and yet how important. I believe this practice of paying attention to your breathing is important because as the passage from Job reminds us, The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. By being aware of our breath and including thoughts of affirmation and thanks, we are acknowledging our relationship with God and giving thanks for our life and all the gifts of God.

I believe this kind of practice can change us from the inside out. It reminds us of the very breath that God has given us, and by spending time in paying attention to our breath we are able to be present in this moment. All the heartaches of the past take a backseat to the present moment. All the fears of the future take a backseat to the present moment. We suddenly realize that in the present moment we are with God and God is with us, and that is all that is necessary for our complete peace and profound joy.

I invite you to consider a simple mindfulness meditation whether walking or sitting. It doesn’t have to be long. Start, as Courtney suggested, with five minutes. I think you will be amazed at how it will transform your moment-by-moment, day-to-day living.

Breathe on me breath of God. Fill me with life anew, that I may love the way you love and do what you would do. Amen.