Piece of the Puzzle

random musings on whatever…

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Who Are You?

How would you answer if a stranger (or a friend) came up and asked “Who are you?” Would you talk about your job or your career? Would you mention your family or maybe say something about your personality? Would you mention religious beliefs or political stances? It’s an important question because it speaks to our self-identity and how we, or if we, find meaning in our lives and that seems especially important in a world where we can wake up every morning thinking, “this is not the world I thought I knew yesterday.” It’s also a question that we sometimes have to confront, whether we want to or not, when we experience major life changes such as losing a job or a divorce. These are experiences that make us question who we are.

Many characters in the Bible are confronted with this question of identity. One such story is when the resurrected Jesus appears to Peter and other disciples over breakfast on the lakeshore (John 21). After all that had happened with Jesus’ arrest, murder, and then resurrection, it would be shocking if Peter wasn’t confused and feeling lost, like he didn’t know who he was or what he was supposed to be doing. It shouldn’t surprise us then that he has returned to what he knew best, fishing. Now, after breakfast is done, Jesus starts asking Peter this one question: “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” After Jesus’ arrest, Peter had denied three times that he was his follower and now Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” In other words, who are you? Are you my follower or not? If you are then feed my sheep, take care of my sheep… (sheep, of course, referring to the poor and oppressed to and with whom Jesus ministered).

Jesus needs Peter not to be a fisherman but to accept who God needs him to be: the shepherd that Jesus was, God’s hands and voice in the world caring for all of God’s beloved children. Jesus needs Peter to accept his own identity as God’s beloved child, a person of God’s Way of Love. This is who we are also created to be: God’s beloved and divine children, people of God’s Way, people of love. And this is, in fact, an identity which can never be taken away from us. Nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. Can we accept, like Peter, that this is who we are? We sometimes resist, thinking we aren’t good enough. We judge ourselves as unworthy even though God does not. We fail to forgive ourselves for mistakes even though God forgives freely.

Peter was challenged in his encounter with the risen Christ to accept who he was. Encounters with the risen Christ will always challenge us, too: Who are you? Are you not a person of love? Encounters with the Divine are an invitation to be God’s love for this world in which we live, a world desperately in need of more love. “Do you love me? Then feed my sheep,” Jesus says. Feed God’s people, both with actual food to feed the hungry, as well as figuratively to feed God’s people with the message that they too are God’s beloved children, and if we can accept that then no one and no thing can take the love of God from us.

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This reflection is inspired by the sermon, “Do You Love Me?” from May 5, 2019 and originally published in the church newsletter on May 17, 2019. Recordings of most sermons can be found on the Phoenix website: http://www.phoenixchurch.org.

Shouting Stones

If you see an interesting stone on a beach, what would you do with it? Would you put it in your pocket? Or leave it alone? Would you take it home and put it on your dresser or maybe tuck it away in a drawer? Everything and everybody has a story to tell, even that small rock we find on the beach. Where and how was it first created? Does it speak of earthquakes and volcanoes? Or perhaps it tells a story of life, such as a fossilized Petoskey Stone.

When Jesus paraded into Jerusalem to the shouted praise of the crowds on what we now call Palm Sunday, certain leaders asked him to tell his followers to be quiet lest they attract the unwanted attention of their Roman occupiers. Jesus responded that if his disciples were quiet, the very stones of the road would shout out instead! Some stories just have to be told. Indeed, the stones of the earth shout out to us even today. The earth shouts for healing and liberation through forest fires, earthquakes due to fracking, extreme flooding and drought, animal species dying and threatened with extinction, etc. The earth shouts for help, for justice. But I think creation also shouts out of the glory of God in the sunset, in the beauty of mountains, in the peace we feel when we walk barefoot in grass or on the beach, when we touch a tree or smell a flower…

To me, the stones of Palm Sunday shout of Jesus’ entrance to the halls of power, telling us that God is the real power at the foundation of life, not human empire. The stones shout of healing, love, and the sacredness of life and ask us to take notice and join the chorus, to join the procession and lift our voices in speaking truth to power.

We too have our stories, important stories. What do we do with them? Do we hold them up for others to hear? Or do we tuck them away someplace private? What story do you have to tell? What are the truths within you demanding to be told? As the stones might have sung out, let us also sing out and tell the story of God’s glory, the story of the power of God’s healing love in our lives, that in the darkness of the world, we might be God’s light.

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This reflection was inspired by the sermon, “Shouting Stones,” from April 14, 2019, and originally published in my church’s newsletter on May 3, 2019. Recordings of most sermons can be found on the church website: http://www.phoenixchurch.org.

Borders are in Season

My poem titled “Borders are in Season” won second prize at the 2019 Westminster Art Festival in Portage, MI. Read it here: https://www.westminsterartfestival.org/2019-poetry.

Each of us is a miracle

The story of Jesus turning water into wine is known as his first miracle. But what is a miracle? Sometimes we dismiss miracles by equating them with magic but we might think of a miracle as simply a welcomed event that is unexpected, improbable and not easy to explain. Perhaps we’ve experienced a miracle in our lives. We might know someone that was unexpectedly healed of an illness or maybe something surprising occurred at a time in our lives when we had lost hope and it turned life around for us. There is another way we might define a miracle: a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. I think a miracle is Spirit revealing itself in an unexpected, improbable, unexplainable, or amazing way that results in something good and desirable. It’s God showing up to renew our hope when we’ve lost our way. It’s God taking what we were expecting and turning it upside down.

Of course, miracles don’t always happen when we want them to. Not everyone is healed, for example, and I have no satisfactory answer for why. Sometimes people are tempted to blame the person who is sick by saying “they didn’t have enough faith” or “they just didn’t pray hard enough,” which is, of course, ridiculous. When we hope for a miracle and don’t see one, it can be disappointing. It might try our faith, our trust in God. We might find ourselves wondering where the Spirit was when we were asking for Divine intervention. But, at the same time, I wonder if miracles happen more than we realize. Maybe we just don’t see them or recognize them as miracles. If a miracle is an unexpected manifestation of the Spirit and the Spirit is with us all the time, it just seems like the odds are that more miracles are happening than we think. Maybe when we lose a job the miracle that we might want – finding a new, better job the very next day – isn’t what happens. Maybe the miracle is that we grow from the experience and eventually end up being led in some completely unexpected direction that uses our gifts and talents in new, surprising ways.

We too, as human beings, are manifestations of Spirit. Spirit dwells within us and that is a miracle in my book – unexpected, improbable, unexplainable, and amazing. But we need to open our selves to this miracle that it might act in and through us. Jesus trusted that God would work through him to perform miracles. To open ourselves to the work of the Spirit, we need to trust God. Even when things don’t seem to go as expected, we’re asked to put our trust in the working of the Spirit.

Opening up to the Spirit also means opening up in relationship to each other as the Spirit within us interacts with the Spirit within others. We are meant to act together. We are meant to be in loving, supporting community. The gifts of the Spirit that act in and through us aren’t meant for our personal glory. They are meant to be used in conjunction with the gifts of others for the common good of the community and for the common good of all of God’s creation. The miracle of wine into water required both Mary and Jesus. Jesus seemingly had no intention of saving the party (a communal event) until his mother egged him on. He even objected, “It’s not yet my time.” An objection which his mother simply ignored, instead inventing the phrase made famous by Nike: “Just do it.” Without Jesus, nothing happens. But without Mary, nothing happens either.

But here’s the caution: if we open to the Spirit, our lives are going to change. That’s both good news and a little scary. When Jesus objected he didn’t seem sure about what his mother was asking him to do. He knew it would change his life. It would set his mission and ministry in motion. Never again would he get to be the wallflower at a wedding reception.

Each of us, our bodies, our souls, our gifts and talents, is a manifestation of the Spirit. Each of us is a miracle. Let us not be afraid of taking risks and even failing. Let us look for the miracles in our lives, whether they be big miracles or little miracles. God is always turning our expectations upside down and showing up in amazing and improbable ways. Let us trust and reside in the Holy Spirit, following where the Spirit leads.


This reflection first appeared in my church’s newsletter on February 1, 2019. You can visit the church web site here.

Circle Poems

In the poetry workshop I often go to, one writing prompt was to create our own poetry form. I was inspired by the image of a group of people holding hands in a circle. And so, the circle poem was born:

Circle Poems

This poem forms a circle
within which it will reveal
its madness, like a gerbil
running in a fancy wheel

without an end. Every line
continues onto the next
line and alternate ones rhyme
but that may be too complex

for some. Before we are done
let’s also make each the same
length. Whether or not it’s fun
the final line should reclaim

the first. So our words let fly
and quickly jump this hurdle
if we can, because that’s why
this poem forms a circle.

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