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Saturday, December 08, 2012


Dear Lord,
You are life and the foundation of life
            Now we test your design; to draw upon your strength.
You are Jesus, bridging and crossing the bridge to us.
            Now we set our feet upon your bridge.
You accompany us and keep us company.
            Now we lean on you.
This is all your creation,
            yet we call upon you to create again and again.
You said  you would be with us to the end,
            yet we search for you in every face we see.
Your whirlwind and your silence speak out
            yet we wish you would interrupt us, shake us awake, and be plain.
(Take a deep breath.  Take three.)
Thy will be done.
Your will be done.
Not mine but thy will be done.

Friday, November 02, 2012


Consider the story of Jesus' healing of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who called out from the roadside.  You can find it in Mark 10.  In the story the disciples are impatient and dismiss the man.  But Jesus calls him over and utters one of his signature healing pronouncements, "Your faith has made you well."
If we were in the crowd of disciples, trying to follow Jesus that day, we would either have been the ones who tried to shut Bartimaeus up or the ones who didn't say anything while that exclusion was happening.
In our own lives, who are we impatient with?  We are impatient with people:
· for being tiresome
· for not being logical
· for trying to sneak in the side instead of waiting in line
· for asking yet again for what they've asked for before
· for not changing their tune after all these years
· for not waiting quietly
· for being indiscreet
· for having a problem that can't be solved
· for refusing to be overlooked
· for not doing "what any normal person would do"
· for not showing up on time
· for not dressing correctly
· for not filling out the right forms
· for having done something in the past that means they can't get a job now
· for having done or said something in the past that was offensive to us
· for forgetting something
· for not hearing us the first time
· for it being their own fault       
What would you add to the list?  Go ahead.  It is easy to come up with reasons to be impatient with someone who is driving in front of you, driving up behind you, or sitting on the seat next to you.  It is easy to make the list, right?
Okay, so we know that we are impatient sometimes, but surely that's not a great big deal.  I mean, we attend to those in need as we can, right?  And those annoying people are annoying, right?  We are, many of us, busy and tightly scheduled, right?  It's not really got anything to do with religion, with Jesus, or with spirituality, right?
I find it significant that Jesus in this part of the Gospel of Mark, is on his last journey.  The next chapter begins the great drama of Jesus' final week with what we call Palm Sunday.  Because the end is near, it should sharpen our attention to what is important enough to still be included in the story and how this is God still speaking to us. 
I suggest that there is a lesson Jesus' behavior imparts in this story that matters to your life this very day.  Jesus demonstrates patience instead of impatience.  This alternative has two important purposes to offer you. 
The first is that the practice of showing others, however annoying, the face of kindness and attention makes the world more like the kingdom that Jesus is always teaching us to live in.  This story calls you to follow Jesus' lead in being kind and focused on those who we and the world tend to push aside.  How will that change your next encounter with your neighbors?
The second purpose is that the practice of turning toward those who are irritating and problematic is frequently the path to spiritual growth, to unexpected experience, and to emotional maturity.   What Jesus chooses to do is to drive home the message that there is something deep, something profound in our interactions with each other.  Jesus chose to demonstrate and repeat how our salvation, the path to your salvation in this world, leads straight to those people with whom you are most impatient.  That is the place where your growth is stunted now and your growth will flourish if you stop sending them to the back of the line.
It's tough medicine for you to take, I know.  Jesus invites you to give it a chance anyway.  Try to notice the next time you are impatient.  In that moment, practice finding a way to move to patience.  Draw your focus more directly to the object of your impatience and try to see him or her as deserving of your attention.  Breathe.  This is an opportunity for you to bring the kingdom of God a little more into being, today, this very day.  Keep trying too, because you'll get better at it.  I promise.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Poised Between

Just at the end of Genesis 3, the story reads, "After Noah was five hundred years old…"  Five hundred years old!  This is the beginning of the story of Noah and the Ark and The Great Flood. History begins again at the moment the ark, laden with animals, begins to float through the driving rain, and everything else that had come before matters no longer. 
            Is it a story of creation?  Is it a story of destruction?
            There is the strong element of God's disgust with the sorry state of the world, an emotion we and all readers are expected to share.  There is the idea to wipe everything out and start with a clean slate, which we are expected to go along with since it's God's idea (and maybe you've felt so frustrated with some situation in your life or in the world that you've had the idea yourself.)  And then there's the sheer power of flooding the whole world.  Here the power of nature and the power of God are one; irresistible force and an immovable, deaf-eared, embodiment of judgment.
            In the midst of destruction is a creation.  All the animals, enough of all kinds of food, and a whole family of human animals to help out, are held safe in that ark.  The ark is like a basket of groceries with all the ingredients for a feast inside.  God takes a mulligan on the whole Adam and Eve thing and starts a new world with suitable provision.
            God expresses deep regret, once the waters had settled, and promises not to wipe us all out ever again.  Still, there was no going back to the way things were before.  Had everything changed?  Well, yes and no.  Certainly a lot was just gone.  Yet Noah and his family lived on and they had memories.  The animals represented some substantial evolutionary adaptations and those are embedded in their continuing lives.  And the earth was restored to the wonderful, habitable place it had been.  So there was some carryover from the earlier times.
            We are, each of us, asked to live in history.  We have a past in which we were formed and in which we formed ourselves.  Our challenges include dealing with that trail of stories, of learning, of accumulated wisdom and regret, and all the ways in which we've started over again; again and again.
            We are also asked to look to the future.  We will face new challenges.  Our challenges include adapting, changing ourselves to deal the parade of joys and difficulties that tomorrow and the rest of our lives will bring.
            We encounter a deep spiritual truth when we see that each moment we live, this moment right now for instance, is a moment in which we choose how much from the past we rely on and how much to change.  It is a recurring dance between what we know, or believe, has worked before (write a letter and mail it) and what we choose to do afresh (video-chat with relatives far away.)
            This may feel uncomfortable to you and you may feel anxious.  How are you supposed to dance this dance?  Perhaps another deep spiritual truth will open a way for you. 
            Each of these moments, poised between destruction and creation, poised between past and future, poised between repetition of the known or entering the new, each of these moments is its own "now."  We only really live in this moment.  So look at your hands.  Look up at the space around you right now.  Then clasp your hands together and look at them, at the choice you have made to hold your own hands.  And offer up a prayer of thanksgiving; for all that has been, for the day or days that lie before you, and for this moment, this precious now.  Here's a prayer you could use, if you like.
Dear God, you have been there always and you choose to be in the future to which I'm going right now.  Thank you for each of these moments of choice.  Thank you for my capacity to observe "the now" of now.  Let me rest in your regard, in your everlasting arms for a little while.  Then I will take up my life, our life that you and I are building together out of the past, and move forward with you into our future together.  I lift you up as you lift me.  Amen.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Spirituality 102 - on the path

I walk on woodsy paths more frequently than some of you, I suspect.  Walking in the woods comes with the territory of living with a Labrador retriever who is ready at any moment to head out and find the next adventure.  

Briar's experience on the walk in the woods is like mine in some ways.  We cover some of the same ground and we start and end the walk at the same time.  Yet anyone watching Briar, or knowing even a little about dogs, knows that Briar experiences something quite different from what I experience.  
To authentically follow the inner, spiritual path, one must practice observing what one sees on the journey.  This is problematic because we already have a way of seeing ourselves and what is inside us.  If we consider moments in our lives, decisions we have made, principles on which we have settled, etc., we may find a well-defined series of monuments to our own righteousness, our woundedness, our shame, our pride, our accomplishments, our thought processes, our taste, etc.  I use the word "monuments" to convey that they are frequently unchanging, "cast in stone."  We see them in the way we've come to see them.  Yet that fixed nature of what we expect and have prepared for will often prevent us from learning and growing.  That fixed view of our lives makes our inner journey the same each time through.  It can prevent what might have been a spiritually deepening experience from being anything more than a stroll down our memory lane of what we see as the facts.  In other words, it is not much of a spiritual journey.
Most of us take these inner journeys alone.  We think.  We ponder.  We decide.  We walk the same paths again and again.  This does build our character a certain way.  This solitary journey can strengthen our opinions and cement our principles.  Also, there is something appealing about doing it ourselves, independently.  I confess that my mode of introspection has mostly been of this solitary sort.
Well, except for my example of walking with the dog.  When Briar and I walk a path together, what she sees changes what I end up seeing.  The path is a different experience when we walk it together.
So one way to improve the depth and breadth and ultimately the spirituality of your introspection is, at least some of the time, to take someone else along. One use of therapeutic counseling is to reconsider how we have come to regard the elements of our inner life.  Note that I am naming how we can revisit our way of looking at people, moments, accomplishments, losses, loves, etc.   The purpose of such conversations is not so much to excavate hidden facts as it is to push past the meaning we settled upon long ago into a new meaning, freshly meaningful to who we are now.  This is also the domain of the spiritual director or guide.  Those, then, are two kinds of people who will go with you along such journeys.
Which brings us to our religious tradition.  Particularly at Grace Church, we invite people to walk the journey of life with us ("No matter who you are …")  Our part of that is to invite one or more other people to walk the spiritual path with us.  Our part of that is to allow our experience in worship to enter into our consideration of the path we're on right now.  Also, our tradition is full of Bible study, book study, conversations, special services, prayer groups, pilgrimages, retreats, shared chores, cooking together, work in the Stearns Farm field, and shared stewardship for our church, our property, and the world beyond our parking lot.  All of these are places of journey, places of spiritual encounter, and places where we share the path.  I conclude that being part of a church can be a way to find companionship for your spiritual journey.
Which leaves you and me with the question of the day, "When is your next chance to share with someone else with the idea that you are, together, on the spiritual journey?"

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Spirituality 101

I don't frequently look up definitions, do you?  I seem to hold the belief that the last time I needed to look at a dictionary was in school, that whatever I think a word means is good enough. 

Perhaps you recognize the reference to Humpty Dumpty's pronouncement in Alice In Wonderland?  "'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'It means just what I choose it to mean - neither more or less.'"  Of course, the author, Lewis Carroll, wants to show that Humpty Dumpty is an arrogant egg.  With good British wit, however, Carroll's H.D. is also speaking the truth.  For even though we acknowledge that words have meanings, the layers of meanings in what we say modify generally accepted meanings thoroughly.  

Consider the word "green.'" 

Or how about the word "Christian?" 

From our conversations about "spirituality," we've discovered a variety of meanings and an uncertainty, for some of us, about any meaning.  Perhaps some definitions will help.

-- Spirituality: having to do with the human spirit.  That's a good start, although it kind of postpones an answer. 

-- Spirituality: having to do with the soul, incorporeal, not pertaining to material things but to intangibles.  That helps a little more, I think.  We are in the domain of the 'intangible.'  For those of us who like concrete information, this suggests, we're likely to be unsatisfied.  Spirituality is not something concrete, not something you can touch. 

-- Spirituality: to be distinguished from our physical experience, our material body.  This is helpful.  It is a very old idea, embedded in much of the Bible, that the material body and the spirit, or spirituality, are separate domains.  Do you agree?  Separating spirituality or spirit from the physical experience of being a human is helpful, up to a point.  It helps us to see clearly.  However, it also makes a false distinction between mind and body.  For we are mind and body – one entity.  There is no mind separate from the physical and chemical activity of heart, lungs, brain, etc. 

-- Spirituality: belief in an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality.  Do you believe that there is a reality beyond what we can perceive?  Do you assert that there is  "more?" 

-- Spirituality: an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being.  That's an interesting one, isn't it?  Now the definition is leading us to consider not so much how the cosmos is arranged or the nature of reality but how we experience and use this thing we name spirituality.  
I think we can stop there for this posting.

Would you consider these aspects of spirituality and let me know your thoughts?  I'm not asking you to go find more definitions, although you certainly may do so.  Rather, I invite you to consider the questions posed so far in this survey of meaning.  Spirituality's intangibleness, the idea of a separation between you as a physical body that is alive and you as something spiritual, the idea that there is something, some reality that is "more" than our concrete experience of reality, and especially, that there is an inner path which, by taking it, you can discover the essence of your being.
And pray with me too.  

Dear God, Dearest God, reveal to us sufficient insight into the mystery of  ourselves and our relationship to this wonderful creation.  We attribute our creation and all creation to you and so we give you our attention, our love, our praise, and all the glory.  Amen.

Thursday, June 07, 2012



There is a lot of despair in the Bible, in the history of our faith, in the way churches often fail to grow healthier, in the lives of those who find their way to church as well as the lives of those who don't.  It is here, in this space of despair that the church and our faith has the greatest potential.  It is in the context of despair that so much of our worship and our sacred texts can speak so clearly and usefully.

The core assertion of our faith is that we are not alone, that God is with us.  

We gather as a congregation because when we sit shoulder to shoulder and face to face we restore ourselves to the family of God.  It is here, being church, that we restore ourselves in the face of despair.  That's why our gathering together is so essential to the possibilities of life.  Together, we can face that which causes despair and that which is unknown.  Bound together as a congregation, we can find the faith and the courage that we're going to need when we leave and head out to tackle the issues of our lives and our world.

God is with us, beloved!  God has always been with us!  You and I, we can draw strength from God through the process of drawing strength from each other.  Consider these words, written by Shirley Erena Murray, sung so recently by all of us together:

Find the room for hope to enter,
Find the place where we are freed:
Clear the chaos and the clutter,
Clear our eyes, that we can see
All the things that really matter, ...

Peace and Blessing,

Monday, March 12, 2012

What do we do with the Bible?

For some, the Bible speaks with authority.  The text reveals truths established through a conversation and an inspiration that finds its source in the deep truth of God.  It is our task, in this formation, to understand and respond with obedience to the Word of God.

For some, the Bible speaks with authenticity.  The text reveals truths embodied in the stories and poetry and history of humankind.  It is our task to understand, to listen closely for the way that God speaks through the text, and to respond with lives congruent to the Word of God revealed in this way.

For others of us, the Bible speaks in response to our authenticity, our purposeful inquiry, our authority.  The text awaits our coming to it with curiosity and with a willingness to imagine that the lives we live already are lives of integrity.  We choose to deal seriously with serious matters and we expect to encounter these serious things in the stories, the poetry, and the historical record in the Bible.  

It is this third perspective I'm thinking about today.  How do we come to the text with authenticity?

It becomes our task to speak to the Bible, with the trust that all which is good in us will be affirmed and all that we should confess will be acknowledged.  We strive to approach the Bible without fakery and with open minds.  We expect the Bible to challenge us to deeper living and to transform us through this back-and-forth between our lives and the Biblical witness, the story.  And our hope is that through this deep honesty, we practice the openness that allows for God to speak as well, speaking freshly into the lives we live today.

Exodus 20: 1-17

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, ...

from Psalm 19

The law of God is perfect,
 reviving the soul;
the decrees of God are sure,
 making wise the simple;

From 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.

Peace and Blessing,

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Winter Trees

Prompted by a comment by my old friend Ed Burnet:

I stood in a forest yesterday as a slanting, winter afternoon sun cut through the air. The dogs were sniffing around and all the chaotic calligraphy of bare branches surrounded us. It felt like God was unashamed of the barrenness, the deathlike off-switch of winter. It felt like God invited me, reminded me to look unafraid at what there is to stop and see, whether that be a happy lab, a crimson sunset, an empty cross, or sunlit trees.

photo from jdpilgrim on Flickr

Monday, January 02, 2012

Home for the Holidays

Dear Ones,

When we travel "home for the holidays," we do so for lots of reasons.  When we choose not to go home or there is no longer a home to go to at the holidays, that has great meaning in our lives too.

Do you remember your Genesis stories?  In Genesis chapter 3, "therefore the Lord God sent [Adam and Eve] forth from the garden of Eden."  We, represented in the story by Adam and Eve, are sent away from home at the beginning of the Bible epic.  It is a stunning scene.  Yet, when I read this text, God doesn't seem all that angry.  I think God is disappointed – even heart-broken – that the acts of these people have the consequence that they must leave the home God prepared for them.  They have to leave because of what they did.

Later in Genesis, chapter 12, God speaks to Abram.  God promises that Abram is going to be the start of something wonderful, in "the land that I will show you."  God's promise is that Abram (Abraham) will come home.  This is God's idea!  Nothing that Abraham has done so far in the story triggers this promise.  Abraham and Sarah move on in their grand adventure because God initiated the adventure.

God understands that coming home is not a return.  Coming home is more than the fulfillment of a nostalgic hope for a lost time when things were simpler, warmer, more welcoming.  God's idea of coming home is that we answer a call to a new place, a changed reality, in which we will be surprised to discover that we fit in ways we had not fully imagined.  Beloved, here is what we discover when we have come home: that our spiritual and other gifts are newly valued, that giving up our former trajectory through life is the most liberating thing we've ever done.  And in our God is Still Speaking theology, we understand that we can turn toward God's invitation to come home again and again.

That is what change is about.  That is what our inventive God is up to in our lives, yours and mine.  That is how you can calm down in the face of new family combinations, new friendships, and new rituals.  That is how you can be the person you are right now, in 2012, not merely a shadow of who you were back in the day.

How might you claim this understanding at Christmastime?

In the Christmas story, what happens?  A baby is born, that's all.  

Oh wait.  That's not all.

In this story, God takes an action.  God comes to us "in the flesh," in the presence of a baby.  God demonstrates that God is with us.

God is saying to us, "Where you are at home, there I am at home with you."

May you find your moments of home in closeness to God who longs to be so close to you that you feel right at home.

Peace and Blessing and Merry Christmas!
Pastor Brad