Piece of the Puzzle

random musings on whatever…

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Out of the Ashes Reading

Here’s a reading I did for my book “Out of the Ashes.” Enjoy!

Note that toward the end of the reading I read a poem which contains some adult language.

Moving Into the Future

We are always moving into the future, dealing with challenges, and not quite sure of what might happen next. For many of us, this point in history is a particularly scary time. As we move into the future we do so not only with all of our gifts and with great hope, but we go with our fears and insecurities as well. When Jacob spent the night alone before being reunited with his brother Esau, a brother who had threatened to kill him the last time they were together, he too must have been full of fear and anxiety, wondering what the morning would hold for him and his family. But, by spending that night alone, he opened the way for a holy encounter.

When we spend time in prayer, meditation, and reflection with both our hopes and our fears, as Jacob was doing, we open ourselves to a life changing encounter with the Holy Spirit. Of course Jacob’s holy encounter was not a nice, polite business meeting. Instead, it took the form of a physical wrestling match. Jacob wrestled all night with a stranger in the wilderness, probably at first not knowing whether this was a robber who was trying to kill him or what was happening. But he didn’t give up. He persevered and he resisted even after he was injured. By daybreak he somehow knew that this was no simple robbery but something holy. He resisted until he found a blessing in his struggle. In our struggles, in the scars and injuries we suffer, we often find we have been changed and even blessed. We often find that those struggles can be holy and sacred events when we learn about God, ourselves, and the world around us and grow more into our authentic selves. This is what happened to Jacob that night.

Jacob’s story is about how we deal with our struggles, aspirations and moving into God’s intended future. The story of Jesus feeding five thousand families with just a little bit of bread and a few fish is also about how we meet challenges. The disciples noticed the large crowd was getting tired and hungry, and looking at what food they had, said “It’s not enough.” So they went to Jesus and told him to send the crowds home so they can eat. But then Jesus looked at the food on hand and said “Oh yeah, that’s all we need, it’s plenty.” Jesus thought that whatever we have is enough and began to share it generously – and it was enough! I’m not really concerned with the logistics of the miracle or the veracity of this story, but I’m very intrigued by the question it raises for me: what can we accomplish if we trust that what we have is enough?

What would happen if we didn’t worry about if there was enough but just shared what we had? What if, when we find ourselves struggling, whether in our personal lives, or in our churches, or in our city, state or nation… what if, in our fears and anxieties, we open ourselves to encounters with the Holy? What if we grab hold of God, grab hold of love, and, like Jacob, don’t let go? What if we persevere and persist until the blessing of the struggle becomes clear? What if we trust that what we have is enough? Maybe, just maybe, everyone gets fed and we find ourselves transformed into the loving children of God, a people who never give up, a people assured of God’s love, who give that love freely to the world. As we move together into the future, know that we are enough and that we have enough because we are God’s beloved children.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, August 6, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

“Out of the Ashes” is Here!

I’m excited to announce that my book, “Out of the Ashes: Constructive Theology for Those Burned Out on Christianity,” is finally at the printers. Please check it out! It can be pre-ordered at a discounted price through Monday, August 14, at the publisher’s website (see below).

Who might be interested, you ask?

* Progressive Christians
* Anyone who is interested in their spirituality but who is put off or disillusioned by traditional Christian doctrine
* Anyone who was raised as a Christian but isn’t sure what they believe any more
* Anyone who thinks fundamentalism represents all Christians (it doesn’t – despite the impression the media gives us)

By looking at Christian beliefs and the Christian way of life in new ways, the book seeks to help readers open themselves to some of the alternatives to the fundamentalist and often oppressive Christianity that is too often assumed to represent all followers of Christ.

I’ve set up a web page with more information about the book as well as ordering links at http://www.pieceofthepuzzle.net/outoftheashes/. I’ll add additional links and ways to order as they are available.

What does it mean to be a Christian?

What does it mean to call yourself a Christian? A month or so ago this question came up in a couple of different conversations in the span of a few days. In one of those conversations I was a little surprised when a person who has been around progressive Christianity circles for many years answered the question in a very traditional way. For them, to be a Christian meant to believe the right doctrines – to believe in and accept Jesus as a personal savior who died for our sins to save us from hell and to believe in teachings such as the virgin birth and bodily resurrection. Unfortunately, this definition of Christian that they were taught as a child was so deeply ingrained in their psyche that they couldn’t see past it nor live up to it. I believe that this is a common experience in our world today and, as a Christian minister for whom this path has been incredibly meaningful, it saddens me.

This and other conversations got me to thinking once again about what does it mean to be a Christian.

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Road to Jerusalem

In Luke 18: 31-19:10 Jesus is traveling the road to Jerusalem and he knows things are going to get real when he gets there. He tries to warn his disciples but they don’t understand. Maybe they have plans and desires of their own. Like many of their day maybe they foresee themselves as a movement to liberate Israel from Roman oppression and they can’t see past their own hopes. Perhaps they are having a hard time understanding that our hopes and plans aren’t necessarily in line with where the Divine would lead us. Whatever the reason, Jesus tries to interrupt their lack of understanding and wake them up.

Often, we get so focused on one thing that everything else gets blocked out until something happens to interrupt us, to wake us up to what is happening around us. How much of life seems like an accident? We make plans and then the plans go in unexpected directions. Some of the most important things that happen in our lives are not planned but are unexpected. These are often life-changing, unexpected interruptions in our lives. Sometimes they’re difficult and sometimes they’re joyous, but they wake us up in some way. In other words, being interrupted or woken up from the hum drum routine of our lives often leaves us stopped in our tracks and not knowing what comes next. These times, and perhaps this is the really sacred part, ask us to be mindful of the opportunities we might have at that point in our lives.

Jesus on the road to Jerusalem could be seen as a metaphor for our own spiritual journey to realize God’s Kin-dom, where in the end God’s ability to create life and love wins over the worst that human tyrants can come up with. But on that journey, Jesus is constantly providing interruptions for people and being interrupted himself. For example, the blind beggar interrupts Jesus with his shouting and Jesus interrupts the beggar’s life by healing him. This was a momentous event and completely unexpected. And just imagine what new opportunities then awaited. Likewise, Zacchaeus, who as a tax collector and therefore a colluder with Rome is despised by his neighbors in Jericho, climbs the tree to see what’s happening and when Jesus notices this guy up in a tree, he’s interrupted. He in turn stops to talk and eat with Zacchaeus and his family, interrupting his life and reminding him that he too is loved by God and thereby opens him to new opportunities, to new and better ways of living.

Jesus is still trying to interrupt us today, to wake us up, asking us to be mindful of the opportunities that life gives us in unexpected events and encounters. Perhaps when something stops us in our tracks we should imagine ourselves as Zacchaeus in that tree and Jesus has just stopped to say “come down, I have a surprise for you.” The Divine wants to wake us up, interrupt us, but we have to open ourselves to those interruptions. We have to do some interrupting of our own. The sick man has to go outside, the beggar has to shout, and Zacchaeus has to climb a tree. We too need to open ourselves to sacred moments that ask us to slow down, listen, and remember the holy in our lives, to stop and ask what new life, what new opportunities we might find as we journey together on our own spiritual roads toward the kin-dom just as Jesus walked the road to Jerusalem with his disciples.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, April 2, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

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