random musings...

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Books have arrived!

Physical proof my book really exists 🙂

“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.

The End of Sabbatical

With a week left to my sabbatical, I’ve obviously not reflected here on my blog like I originally wanted. The first month of my sabbatical was spent relaxing, finishing up some book details, going to the Festival of Homiletics (a preaching conference), along with some traveling and visiting friends. The second month was taken up with moving and the third month has been settling into my new apartment and attending the Wild Goose Festival. Both of the “festivals” I attended have been inspiring. I’ve already talked a little about the Festival of Homiletics. I certainly think that experience can make me a better preacher and Christian, more focused on what’s important not only to our spiritual life but our future as a human community. Perhaps I better say that by better Christian, I should say I mean more focused on loving relationships and helping build a more just world (i.e. following Jesus’ teachings rather than church dogmas).

Wild Goose was also inspiring with lots of focus on justice issues. I’m not sure I learned “things” but I did come away motivated. Some of the speakers there included William Barber, Otis Moss III, Nadia Bolz Weber, Diana Butler Bass, and Frank Schaeffer. All of them passionate speakers who made me want to be more passionate. Of course the trick is to turn that into something substantive. There was also lots of good music. I was especially taken with Tret Fure. Here are some links to explore:

Repairers of the Breach (William Barber): http://www.breachrepairers.org
Frank Schaeffer: http://frankschaefferblog.com
Tret Fure: http://www.tretfure.com

When I started my sabbatical my main goal was to spend time with the question of who I am and where I’m called at this point in my life. While I haven’t addressed that question in conscious reflection like I hoped to, I do feel confident I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’m feeling affirmed in my pastoral identity and look forward to continuing this journey of personal spiritual growth while accompanying others on their life journeys. So, with a week left in sabbatical my conclusion for this time off is kind of boring: to keep on moving forward, putting my trust in the Divine Presence to lead me where I need to go.

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.

The Story That Must Be Told

When the religious leaders ask Jesus to tell his followers to quiet down (Luke 19:29-44), he responds that “if they were to keep silent, the very stones would cry out!” What is so important that nature itself demands it be said? The disciples are shouting a message of peace. What’s so bad about that? Well, the real problem is that they are referring to Jesus as “king.” Not a good idea in an occupied city overloaded with religious pilgrims and political tension. Jesus and his followers were challenging the injustices of their time by declaring that our loyalty should belong to God’s way of Love (as revealed to us in the life and teachings of Jesus) and not Caesar.

This is the story that must be told: God’s way is better than Caesar’s way – love wins over hate; compassion wins over oppression. This is still true today. This is a story we must still tell. We don’t have a Caesar today but patriarchy still looms large and sexism is still the rule in our culture of power and greed. The would-be kings of our modern world must not go unchallenged. When the world tries to force their kings upon us we have a choice to make. Do we go along with their corruption, their lying and false promises, their scapegoating of other religions and immigrants or do we choose love and compassion? Do we choose justice?

Today, we are still called to declare that our Caesars are false leaders and that God’s love is our only true guide, our only true hope. This is the story that must be told. The disciples shouted their hosannas and they were cautioned to be silent. Where and why are the oppressed being told to be quiet today – or else? We should always remember the hosannas, the calls to love and action. They, I believe, will keep us from turning to shouts of “crucify him” and call us to justice and compassion in response to the world’s cruelties. With the stories of despair that need to be told, there is one story that must also be told or even the earth will shout it out: the light that Jesus brought into this world cannot be extinguished. God’s love cannot be defeated.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, April 9, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Widening Rings of Being

The early church used the 40 days of Lent, which we have now begun, to prepare new converts for baptism, to prepare them for their new lives as followers of Christ. Today, we often use this sacred time to work on our spiritual lives, to prepare ourselves for the new and renewed life in Christ that we celebrate at Easter, which marks the end of Lent. There is a Rumi poem that invites us to “be empty of worrying” and “move outside the tangle of fear-thinking” as we “flow down and down in always widening rings of being.” I think this idea of ever-widening rings of being makes a lovely image for Lent as we take time for spiritual preparation and turning to God.

The common Lenten act of giving something up is one way we practice emptying ourselves of things that get in the way of a full life so we can make room for Christ’s new life. Once we’ve quit letting little things like chocolate and coffee rule our lives, perhaps we’ll have the confidence to put our complete trust in God and move on to bigger things such as giving up the the chronic worrying that Rumi talks about. Or instead of, or in addition to, giving something up maybe we’ll try this Lenten season to go beyond fearful thinking and begin a new spiritual practice or maybe volunteer in some way that benefits the marginalized of the world.

Both of these ideas, emptying ourselves and moving past fear-thinking, are ways of opening our hearts to let the love within us continually encompass more and more until we come to understand how interwoven we are with each other and with the wider world. This is so important right now when the predominant messages of our current governmental leaders tell us to close ranks and think only of ourselves. Policies being talked about and implemented regarding health care, immigration, etc. are all about being self-centered and not worrying about anyone but yourself. They’re about treating everyone else as an enemy when Jesus tells us that God’s way is about creating a Kin-dom where loving our neighbor is the foundational rule of law.

The transfiguration of Jesus, where he is seen on a mountain top with Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:27-36), tells us that the glory of God is found in the ministry of Jesus, the work of healing and justice. When God’s voice is heard on that mountain, it is to tell us to “listen to him.” Coming in the middle of the gospel story, the transfiguration represents the bridge between Jesus’ birth as the incarnation of God’s love and the promise of new life found in his resurrection. That bridge is the Kin-dom of God, it’s the glue that holds the Good News of God together. God’s love born into this world and the promise of new life only matter if they affect this world here and now through the building of the Kin-dom, which requires us not only to realize our inter-connectedness but build relationships of hope, peace, and justice in ever-widening rings of being. In this season, how can we practice opening our hearts so that our love will continue to expand into a world that desperately needs healing?

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, February 26, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Seen and Heard

In Luke 7, when John the Baptist starts to have doubts about Jesus, he must have had all kinds of questions: Am I following the right path? Am I putting my trust in the right person? Is Jesus really the one I should be following? What does it even mean to call him the chosen one? Are my expectations of him really what he’s all about? Part of the problem for John seems to be that Jesus’ ministry wasn’t exactly what John expected. John, like many of his day, may have been hoping for direct confrontation with their oppressors but Jesus was instead resisting through messages of healing and love.

These questions of who we should follow and why are questions we still ask ourselves today, not only in our spiritual lives but we see them reflected in our modern day myths such as the Harry Potter movies or the Matrix movies. To get some of these questions answered, John sends his followers to ask Jesus if he’s really God’s Chosen One. Jesus doesn’t answer right away but spends time healing the people that had gathered before responding. When he does respond, he doesn’t refer to scripture or suggest some contest to prove his power. He tells John’s followers: report what you’ve seen and heard. He simply says this is my ministry, this is what I’m doing. See, hear, and experience what it means to challenge the powers of the world with love and healing instead of weapons and then report your experience to John. That will have to be enough.

We aren’t told what John thought of this answer, but we might reflect on our own reaction. What have we seen and heard on our spiritual journey? How have we experienced God’s presence in our life? Through healing, acts of love, community? When life isn’t going as expected, can we put our trust in this way of God, this way of love? And are we willing and able to report what we’ve seen and heard? The world desperately needs more love, more deep connection, more compassion. The world needs to find healing and wholeness that we may live together in peace and mutual support. Are we willing to try this way of love and then share it with others, even invite them to walk with us?

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, February 12, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Back in the Water

In the story of Simon’s call in Luke 5:1-11, Jesus sees a hidden potential in the fisherman Simon, an unlikely candidate for the role of disciple. Jesus sees past the clutter of stereotypes, past any gruff exterior, past Simon’s protests of being a sinner, of not being worthy and sees the potential that lies beneath. He believes Simon can unlock that potential in his service for God. Perhaps that’s what discipleship is. Yes, it is an invitation to follow God through Jesus, but maybe being a disciple also means unlocking our own potential and becoming who God has designed us to be.

Simon moves from his familiar life into an unknown future because of this Jesus guy who sees something in him and tells him not to be afraid, not to fear letting his potential out. Of course, call stories always beg the question: is Jesus calling us too? Does Jesus see some potential in us that we’re too afraid to let out, that we keep cluttered and covered with the activities of everyday life?

We all have potential, but one thing that stands out for me about Simon is that he seemed willing to trust. After Jesus is done teaching, he asks Simon to pull his boat into deeper water and cast his nets to catch some fish, despite the fact that Simon had been fishing all day and caught nothing. Simon doubts and complains but does it anyway. He’s willing to do what Jesus asks even if he doesn’t think it’s going to work. Simon’s journey to unlock his potential, to become a follower of Jesus, begins with a simple act of trust, that act of getting back in the water even though it didn’t make a lot of sense to him.

That small act of trust is rewarded with an over-abundance of fish in which Simon gets a glimpse of the Divine breaking into the world. Simon’s reaction, however, is to become scared and overwhelmed and he tries to send Jesus away. We often get scared when something good happens to us because we wonder “what’s next?” and aren’t sure if we’ll be able to handle it, whatever it is. In a way, Simon was right to be scared because Jesus was about to ask Simon for an even bigger act of trust: to let go of his fishing business and follow him in his ministry to help the poor and the oppressed.

Although it was Simon’s story, to be called by God doesn’t necessarily mean we have to drop everything and become an itinerant preacher. So what does it mean to be called, to become a disciple? I think it at least in part means, like Simon, being willing to:

* unlock our potential, even in the face of our fears of what might happen next
* step out in trust, even when we have doubts about whether its going to work
* try again if we fail; to get back in the water and cast our nets again
* un-clutter and let go of what is hiding our potential, like Simon did with his fishing career

We might begin with small acts of trust to start unlocking our potential, getting our feet wet before moving to the deep water. We might begin by asking God and ourselves some questions through prayer, meditation, and discussion with others: What are our talents? What are our passions? What gets us excited and feeling full of life? And, then: How does God call us to use those talents and passions? How can we use them to follow Jesus? How can we use our talents and passions to make the world a better and more loving place?

With Simon, God took an unlikely person and started doing unexpected things because Simon was willing, despite his doubts and fears, to trust what Jesus was asking him to do. Despite having already failed at catching fish that day, Simon was asked to get back in the water, to trust and try again. May God give us the courage to get up and follow as well, that we may clear the clutter away and realize the talents and passions God has given us, that we may unlock the potential of the love that God has filled us with, that we may weave that love into a world of hope, peace and justice.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, January 22, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Nothing is Impossible

The baby Jesus arrived in this world with high expectations. Not many babies have their births announced by an angel. Mary must have been scared and overwhelmed when the angel visited her and told her she was going to give birth to such a special child. In the story as told in the gospel of Luke, Mary runs off to visit her relative Elizabeth shortly after the angel’s visit. I wonder if she sought out Elizabeth, an elder of her family, for reassurance. The angel after all had said that Elizabeth’s own pregnancy was proof that with God nothing was impossible. Elizabeth seemed to provide a port in the storm for Mary, a place of comfort and welcome, when Mary probably wasn’t sure how her own family and future husband were going to react to the news that a baby was on its way.

Where do we turn to when life gets overwhelming? Of course, we can turn to God, but do we also have an Elizabeth in our lives? Someone we can turn to when we need unconditional love, when we are uncertain and scared? Do we have someone like that in our lives? Can we be that for someone else? How can we provide a warm welcome, reassurance and hope, to someone who is overwhelmed by life? Christmas is about the birth of God’s love in human form – the promise that with God nothing is impossible – but it’s about reminding us that that love is born within us too.

Imagine for a moment that you are pregnant with God’s love… that you are about to give birth to the embodiment of sacred love… a love that is needed to heal the world…

That might be just a little bit scary. It might make us want to run and hide, to find refuge where we will be welcomed and reassured. Can we be that refuge for each other? Maybe beginning as Elizabeth did, with a warm greeting, maybe a hug, and a listening ear. God doesn’t call us to save the world a la James Bond, by killing the bad guys. God calls us to love our enemies, to embody love, to treat the world justly with compassion – and then challenge others to do the same.

When Mary hurried off to visit Elizabeth, she went seeking something. She went seeking reassurance that with God all things are indeed possible. Elizabeth welcomed her with love and hope, for where there is love there is hope. When we trust in the limitless possibilities of God, there is hope. This Christmas may the love of God be birthed anew in each of us.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, December 18, 2016. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

A Christmas Reflection – 2016

On this day is born a child, the savior. On this day, the light and love of God takes our form that we might be healed and made whole. That is reason to rejoice! This Christmas morning I woke filled with happiness at just being alive. For a few seconds anyway. Then I remembered what’s happening in our country, in our world, and immediately felt my chest tighten, that happiness dissipate. Anxiety was back. Persistent anxiety seems to be the new reality as 2016 comes to a close. As I lay in bed I wondered what it means for Christ to be born into a world that is becoming ever darker.

Donald Trump is our president-elect, the future leader of my country and soon to be one of the most powerful people on this planet. This is a man whose rhetoric is filled with anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-muslim vitriol. This is a man who behaves like a prepubescent child, where any criticism isn’t met with reason or discussion but with insults and twitter tantrums. This is a man who seems too busy to be bothered with facts and evidence. Instead, whatever comes out of his mouth is expected to be taken as truth – and many do so without question. This is a man whose advisors and future cabinet include white supremacists, homophobes, corporate shills, climate change deniers, an education secretary nominee who is an enemy of public education, and on and on. This is a man who, while his team plans the future of his administration, goes on a victory tour so he can continue to enjoy the cheers of adoring fans. This is a man who lambasts US intelligence agencies while praising a Russian dictator. This narcissistic, treasonous, emotionally stunted demagogue, who cares not a whit for you or me or our country but only that his pocketbook is full and his ego has been properly stroked, is our president-elect.

I find a little hope in the knowledge that the majority of voters did not vote for this man but that his electoral victory was an artifact of our particular and peculiar process of electing a President. And I’ve pretty much given up trying to figure out why anyone voted for this man. Every justification I’ve heard rings hollow. Clinton was in bed with the banks and corporations, you say? So the solution was to elect the banks and corporations directly, I ask? Take a look at Trump’s proposed cabinet. It’s filled with billionaires, people who care about nothing but maximizing their quarterly profits. Why we have done this to ourselves makes no sense to me but it is the reality we are faced with and it fills me with anxiety. Frankly, everyone who isn’t a wealthy, straight, white, “Christian” male should be a little afraid.

Frankly, one of the most discouraging and depressing aspects of the 2016 presidential election is how many of Trump’s supporters claim to be followers of Christ. We cannot proclaim to be Jesus’ followers, to be Christians, and not follow what he taught: to love one another. To love our neighbor as we love ourselves is the foundation of everything Jesus stood for. It is simply not possible to support Donald Trump and his actions, both real and promised, and truthfully call yourself a follower of Christ. Simply not possible.

So what does it mean to me to say that into this world is born the light and love of God? What does it mean to affirm the spiritual reality of this Christmas Day? It means there is hope for the future, that there will always be hope. If there is still love in the world, and there is, then there is hope. It means I can put my trust in God because, although it may sometimes feel like it, God has not forsaken this world but God is born into this world. And like Jesus was born as God’s love incarnate 2000 years ago, today God’s love is being born into each of us should we choose to make room for it in the stable of our hearts. Each of us is being asked to give birth to love this Christmas. That we will say, as Mary did, “Here am I, the servant of God; let it be with me according to your word,” is where my hope lies for we are the voices and hands of God, the servants and prophets of the Divine. We are the hope for the world.

Yes, that scares me a lot too. It’s a daunting responsibility. I’m still living into the idea, still trying to figure out what exactly I’m called to do and be in this new reality. I’ve never claimed to be an activist of any kind. I confess I don’t want to be an activist. But this Christmas, I pray that God’s light and love be born anew in my heart. I pray that light not only brightens the darkness, but that it reveal what lies hidden in the darkness, that it reveal how I may serve my loving God.

Merry Christmas! May God’s love abound in all of our lives this Christmas Day that there may be hope and healing in the world, that the evils of our world, the misogyny, the homophobia, the racism, the xenophobia, may whither and die in the light of our love. Amen.

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