Saturday, February 28, 2009

Where We Come From

"Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?" John 1:46

The Kid from Nazareth

I didn't come from the good side of town
or the right side of the family tree, scorned
for my clothing, color accent I come
among you to give life.

You turn away, your eyes averted
I am not your kind and you flinch with
pity and disdain, disregarding the golden
flower, the blossoming possibilities, fruit
that you could bear through me.

I sat with the nerdy kids, walked by you
every day to laughter and lacking invitations
I danced alone for you anyway.

I come from bad stock, dark suspicious beginnings
a teenage mother, shotgun wedding, raised in camps
and trailer parks, where misery is honest raw
pain is evident, food is shared.

You raised your fist when I smiled at your children
locked the door when I came to play turning
away with eyes that didn't see me, I am
not like you, you broadcast wide.

Prison was my destiny you said and there
I landed for loving the world and speaking
truth and love in the temple and on the streets shaming
you and the learned ones with bow ties and legacies
death row was my reward.

And suffering, crimson drops of life poured out bleeding
love spent for others, denied and desired pouring
across a barren landscapes of agony turning
envy and cruelty into lush green fields of plenty
branches stretched out but not from your vines.

I have come that you have life and abundantly you
found ways to break my spirit but she flies all the more gracefully
she lifts on the wind and dances on unseen updrafts singing
songs of freedom to all, surrounding the broken with fresh limbs giving
poor their plenty, bread and wine, I am the bread of life.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Staying with Jesus

"So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent the day with him...Andrew, Simon Peter's brother was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. It was the tenth hour.The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and to tell him, 'We have found the Messiah!'" John 1:39-40

I have a magnet on my refrigerator that always makes my mother laugh when she sees it. It says, "I found Jesus. He was behind the sofa all this time." It's a silly thing really, but it points me to a deeper reality in my own life and the life of faithful people. It is relatively easy to find Jesus. To have a moment of wonder and transformation within a worship service or a retreat is fairly common. On the other hand, it is challenging for most of us to remain faithful. It is far too easy to be swayed by politics, to walk away from faithfulness when there is reward for us. It is hard to remain humble and forgiving. It is hard to put others first and love selflessly. It is hard to stay with Jesus, in those humble digs, in the places where we don't shine but give ourselves away for others. Staying with Jesus requires no rent but a hefty cost. We have to let go of our pride and self righteousness and our desire to control. With Jesus, we have to serve others, dwell in humble places and take no credit for hard work.

John's gospel tells the story of the calling of the first disciples. Andrew and another, who had been following John, wanted to see where Jesus was staying and to get to know him. Andrew saw for himself and then immediately went and got his brother. We know that they stayed with Jesus. We also know that it wasn't easy for them, and Peter even denied Jesus publicly. Fear overtook his constancy, the need for survival wiped away his faithfulness. They stayed with Jesus from these early moments to Gethsemane, to the cross and then resurrection. They wavered, were tempted and failed to be faithful regularly. And they stayed with Jesus.

Today, I want to make my work to stay with Jesus. It has been very tempting to walk away from being faithful in the face of betrayal and hardship. Living with the consequences of staying with Jesus, I ask for a new measure of forgiveness, a new measure of patience and forbearance. Staying with Jesus right now calls me to love those who have hurt me, tolet go of anger or the desire for retribution and instead enter deeper into prayer with Jesus.

I invite you this Lent to stay with Jesus. To abide in the ambiguity of the world and places where we serve. I invite us all to stay with Jesus, knowing there is more to the story than the suffering we might now be experiencing. I pray that we can all stay with Jesus for resurrection is surely coming to us all.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Know You

" This is the one I meant when I said, 'a man who comes after me will surpass me because he was before me.' " John 1:30

Yesterday several things happened that made me a bit anxious. My spirit was restless despite participating in a simple and moving Ash Wednesday service first thing in the morning. My hope was that beginning Lent in this familiar and supportive community would be a grounding and affirming experience. All morning long I was restless and unfocused. Rather than calm my soul, the service and the community only added to my agitation. My mind and body could not sit still. I decided to take a drive to a familiar location that I enjoy. The sun was shining, and although the temperature outside was no more than forty degrees, there was a hint of spring in the air. New England winters can tease and taunt, so I was wary about even considering spring as I drove north. I packed my camera hoping to take some pictures. Looking through the lens, concentrating on the beauty of the world, often settles my heart and breathing. When I got to Cape Ann and the drove along the coastal road, I found several beaches and coves and got out of the car to contemplate and take photos. I happened upon one beach I had never been to before and there were people everywhere, walking dogs, quietly walking and opening themselves to the possibilities of spring. I saw the ocean, and knew that despite my own restlessness, I was known, known to the heart of God. God knowing me in my completely brokenness in my success and flailing, my lack of confidence and my strength on crisis. The wind and waves, doing their normal best in the brilliant sunlight reminded me that I am completely known.

John, Jesus' cousin comes to Jesus and proclaims his identity. He has known him before, as a relative, but now, he is proclaiming to others the insight he has about Jesus. He could not have known growing up that Jesus was the 'Lamb of God', but the water and the descending dove identified Jesus in a new way. John's experience of Jesus became more than familiar, it became complex and complete in his understanding of his cousin as the Savior of the world. What an astounding and challenging insight it must have been for him.

Today, I want to live into the gift it is to be known by God, to be loved and embedded in the heart of God. So often, I run to fix things and flail around when challenges arise. Today, I want to walk this journey remembering I am never alone and that God is with me in the midst of daily turmoil. I pray that my restlessness calms as I accept this incredible gift, this incredible insight.
May we all live today with the knowledge of God's presence in the center of our struggles. God says to us today, 'I know you and love you'. May we embrace the love we have been given this day.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


"But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:20-21

On this Ash Wednesday, I cannot help but reflect on what it means to have treasures and at the same time, to be away from home and family. I am living off and on at seminary as the Procter Fellow this semester, and am completely grateful for this time of study and renewal. We lived here as a family for three years, and those years made a profound and lasting impact on my life. We came as a family with two young daughters and headed back to Baltimore with three. Mark and the girls made it possible for me to get through all of the challenges that seminary life presents with tenderness, laughter and a sense of humor. They are my treasure, simple as that. To be here without them, only points out to me more clearly their status as treasure. Life here without them is simple not as full and tender as it might be. I can only assume that heaven understands that and God knows my heart well enough to strengthen our bonds when we are apart. God has given these precious people to me as gifts and I pray that in this season, my work away honors, builds and strengthens them for the days ahead.

In the readings for this Ash Wednesday, Jesus teaches about prayer and fasting, and about how to conduct a faithful life. It is not in showy words or actions but in a quiet, loving, and humble practice. It is about inviting God into our lives at every moment trusting God for all our needs rather than investing in the honor of other human beings. Jesus teaches that it is our daily walk of love and concern for others that demonstrates God in our life and not the acknowledgments we get from the church or society.

Today, as I begin this Lenten walk, I want to learn what it means to store up treasures in heaven. I want to walk the walk of love, so that my life is an offering to God in the service of others. And I know that is a very hard thing to do. It is much easier to do the showy talk than to walk humbly in the midst of the church and the academy. I want to honor, with my life, the gifts and treasures God has given me. I invite you this Lent to walk the love road, where ego is left aside and God is invited in. It is a challenging journey, but I believe that walking love and acting for God's compassion in this world will change my life and transform the world to which we have been called. Let us, in this season, give love away so that others might know God is real in their midst.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fat Tuesday

"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which Christ bought with his blood." Acts 20:28

The last day of Epiphany, this Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, is that border moment between plenty and scarcity, between rich and lean times, between light and darkness- all important for our faith development. We live in lean and challenging times when the abundance we once knew as a nation has gone away. We live in times when more and more folks live on the edge, having lost jobs and livelihoods because of others foolishness and greed. Some pay too hefty a price for others' carelessness. This Fat Tuesday, the coming lean times of Lent are only too real. The extras we once took for granted, are now beyond our means. The basics we once thought of as necessities have been whisked out of the budget.

Paul understood that the times when we can revel as people together are short lived. In times when people can gather together we must celebrate, and in all other times we are called to keep watch, to care tenderly for one another and to guard the weak and vulnerable in our midst. When we can rejoice together, we must and when we can no longer rejoice, we must not isolate ourselves but increase our care and interdependence.

This Fat Tuesday, I want to rejoice in the abundance of community that God has provided me with, and to ask for the strength to be a care taker and care giver in the coming days. A shepherds job is not glamorous but rather tedious in its constancy and watchfulness. I ask to be faithful this season in watchfulness, so that the tender, the weak and the vulnerable in my care are guarded from the dangers of the coming days. May we all offer our strength and skills for the care of the least among us. And may God give us the strength to care for each other in these challenging times.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Humble in Triumph

"Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields." Mark 11:8

This past summer we attended a county fair and had a chance to look at all the blue ribbon winners, the superstars of the county fair, most of them penned up after the show was over.
And more recently I was watching the Westminster Dog show on television. I have been thinking about what it means to be a winner. Last night I did not watch the Academy Awards, but it also made me think about what it means to be a winner. The animals that win at the county fair will soon be slaughtered or used for breeding.The dogs that win Westminster are thoroughbreds, raised carefully and trained for that day. For all the beauty and characteristics of bred that they display, the dog themselves may be made a champion, but their importance afterward is in the offspring they produce. The Oscars, much talked about and much heralded, focus on the talent of the individuals, but the reward comes for the studio and producers in increased financial income. Triumphant moments can be a dangerous thing. Fame is short lived. Some folks judge their whole lives on one triumphal moment which they try desperately to replicate. And yet, our triumph is really in what we are able to give away to others.

Jesus entered Jerusalem in a triumphal moment. People ran in front and back of him, laying branches and cloaks on the ground. In that brief moment, folks understood the importance of Jesus, his great gift to the world. Some of these very same people would be those in the crowd shouting, "crucify him, crucify him." Crowds turn quickly and those who were once welcomed can become those who are turned away.

Today, I want to focus on living humbly in all circumstances. There will be moments of celebration and victory, but there will also be moments of great distress and challenge. I want to remember that God is in the midst of all of these, not just in the triumphal moments and that my most triumphal moments may be in what I leave behind for others, for what I am able to give away. I pray that we can all know God's living presence in failure and rejection, for the one who was with Jesus through the best and the worst, promises to be with us through all our times.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Going up the Mountain

"He led them up to a high mountain by themselves. Jesus was changed as he looked at them." Mark 9:2

Today is the last Sunday of Epiphany, the last Sunday before Lent begins on Wednesday. We hear the story of the mountain top experience that Peter, James and John had with Jesus before his final journey into Jerusalem. A high, thrilling and frightening moment, before everything collapsed around them and the world they knew darkened and turned. They were speechless as a voice from the clouds said, 'this is my beloved, listen to him.' They heard God's voice with clarity and simplicity and even then did not understand.

Today, I feel called to ponder the extraordinary moments of my life, those high, mountaintop experiences, that at the time, I did not understand. Now as we draw close to Lent, I want to think and pray about those moments and ask God to help me understand. All too often we breeze through our lives unexamined, and we miss the insight and joy that God has embedded in the obvious and the hidden. I want to take time this season, to ponder anew the gifts and skills that God has given me, the extraordinary moments and people in my life, and ask, 'how do I use these to serve God and my neighbor?' I hope you will join me in this time of asking God for new insight into the mundane and extraordinary that makes up all of our lives. I want to grow into God's beloved child this season and I invite you to do the same.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Out of Poverty

"Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’" Mark 12:43-44

The sun comes up some days
and there is hope on the skyline
the horizon promises a new possibility
a new twinkle of light and warmth
a new capacity, regained strength.

The clouds surround, bending low some mornings
with their grim hollow pronouncements
all the aches and pains of this old body
scream for attention like gulls at low tide,
my poverty before me, my emptiness in evidence.

The cold wind makes the door hard to open
and I push against the bitterness and tears
formed by blinding cold and rattling teeth
trying to remember summer and lush green gardens
seemingly buried beneath the snow and cold.

The Creator fashioned these seasons
for my learning for our trusting and yet we
want to dissolve discomfort, shame our poverty
salting the ice and snow which feeds our summer
oceans, our precious streams and tender gardens.

God bends down in the cold daylight as well
as in summer's moonlight touching our ache
charging our loneliness with neighbors yet unknown
we would reject the bounty we have and God
will use our little for the feeding of the whole world.

God leans in with our poverty, taking our hands
the widowed, the lost, the broken and frozen,
God walks against the wind with us, along the dirty
streets and shattered expectations and lights
a fire of hope and trust and we give ourselves away.

God is in the giving away
the smallest act of kindness
the briefest glimmer of a smile
the thoughtless act of sharing
the tender hand reaching out
to help another, we find God.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What We Love

"You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. This is the first law. The second law is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. No other law is greater than these." Mark 12:30-31

This morning, when we came down stairs, we faced a great tragedy. Our coffee maker, which we set up and program every evening to come on every morning, had come on but made a huge mess. Something had gone haywire and there were coffee grounds everywhere. Grounds in the coffee, on the counter, throughout the workings of the machine. Worse even, the coffee was undrinkable. For some, this might seem like a small matter but for us, it felt like a matter of life and death. Mark had to meet a train and I had to deliver him there and neither of us was functioning well enough to face the day. I sprang into action, brought the car around and immediately drove us to Dunkin Doughnuts. I was never more grateful for the people behind the counter there. I was never more in love with any service personnel, despite their lack of warmth and welcome. Our morning was saved. How could I not be grateful?

Jesus was being tested by the best and the brightest. They had been trying to trap him into breaking the law or misstating the truth about God. Jesus shared with them the greatest laws - love of God and love of neighbor. Love as the greatest of laws. Love as the means to being in relationship with God. Love as that which everything else in the universe hangs on.

My love of coffee, and my need for a cup every morning could obscure for me the love of God and neighbor. It can also open a window for me into the critical nature of my relationship with God and others. Just as I cannot function without coffee, I cannot function without God and my neighbors. No matter how isolated, frustrated or disconnected I feel, my love of God and neighbor is the ground of my being. That love, given by God, is the source of all the other strength and resiliency in my life. Today I want to love God and my neighbor with the determination of an addict, with the conviction of a zealot and with the heart of a child. And in the same way I want to love my neighbors. May we all have the courage this day to love God and others with a passionate and committed determination. As if our lives depended on it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Death and Taxes

"God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living." Mark 12:26

I remember a story told to me by an undertaker friend. He was about to get married and all of his friends, also undertakers, took him out for a night of fun. As many young men do at these gatherings, he had a bit too much to drink, but also had been wise and arranged for a designated driver. Since he was the groom to be, his friends made sure he was exceptionally un-sober. They were successful and he quickly fell asleep, or passed out (depending on the story teller) on the ride home. His friends made a detour to the mortuary, picked up a hearse and proceeded to strap the groom to be on a body board and zipped him into a body bag, leaving the top of the zipper undone so he would have air. Then they put him in the back of the hearse, drove it to his house and left him there. When he finally awoke the next morning, early light filtering through the drivers window, dazed and confused, he thought he had passed on, the surroundings being all too familiar to an undertaker. He knew where he was and what had happened - he knew all the signs. Fortunately his friends had kept watch nearby, and when he was finally awake, they freed him from the bag and the binding, reassuring him that he was indeed still among the living. They had a good laugh and tremendous hangovers.

Jesus is confronted by folks who intellectually know about the law and the resurrection, but they fail to understand the difference between knowing the signs and living relationship. They wanted to trap Jesus in right and wrong, while Jesus knew God intimately and knew that God thrived among the living and that death cannot hold back the love that God has for us all. The testers of Jesus wanted to know about taxes and death, and Jesus wanted them to know about God's love. God's love which is more constant and reliable than even death and taxes.

Many folks are anxious in this season of taxes and financial down turn. Today, I want to take care of the inevitable, but focus on God's love for me and for others. We are not alone nor abandoned, even when we are doing our dreaded taxes. Even when life ends for us, God continues, and we continue in God's love. May today, no matter how dreaded the task we have ahead, may we rejoice that God is indeed among us, loving us beyond our brokenness, loving us among the pain and toil ahead, loving us at all times into new life. May we rejoice in a God who comes among us, bearing our burdens and wiping away our tears.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rejected Stones

"The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone; this is the Lord's doing and it is amazing in our eyes." Mark 12:11

Wicked Tenants - A Poem for this Wednesday

They wake to the scent of ripe fruit, abundance carried on the wind
they wake aching to be full, desire clinging like dense morning fog
their ache to be satisfied, to own and to control.
They didn't intend to be violent, it came bursting forth,
as they woke to abundance, the beast panted and turned within
wanting more, twitching with the hunt, cringing from need, forgetting
all this was a gift, theirs to be tended, their not to own.

We are builders and tenants, laborers in the field
hands crusted with dirt, rough with the work and service
we dream of the touch of God.

We are leaders and musicians, dancers and pastors and we pray
for the presence of the master gardener, the composer, the architect,
the designer who trusts us with the building of the temple.

We don't expect to be violent but we can in acting as if we own
the trademark, the design, the spirit, the label.
The ripe fruit is fruit is not ours, nor the ground we are given.
Our feet touch the warm abundant earth and we would curse it
for we cannot own her, we cannot enslave her for she is not our own.

We wake to the scent of ripe fruit carried on the wind
and we ache to be full, to be welcomed, to be the prized
possession, to be set free by graceful touch of a truly loving God.
We fail to see that the master builder continues to chose the rejected
the weary and the tossed aside.

God has chosen us to be the precious children,
reached down and took broken shattered stones,
and turned us to living flesh, heirs of abundance
running full in the garden.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Welcoming Prayer

"My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations." Mark 11:17

I arrived in Louisville yesterday afternoon and had the opportunity to ride from the airport with a Marist brother who is here from New Jersey. We had never met before but we had a lively conversation and I felt encouraged and welcomed in this place. I had been anxious about this gathering, this group of strangers, folks from across the US and Canada, representing many denominations, and just how this gathering would go. That chance encounter, that brief conversation made me feel welcomed and prayerful, where before I had been cautious and concerned. I felt a renewed sense of God's presence, a touch of grace, an invitation to be open to God working in this time away.

Jesus overturns the tables in the temple and causes quite a stir, upsetting the normal pattern of behavior. The sale of items for sacrifices had become so regular, that prayer was no longer a welcomed norm, but rather commerce took center stage. There was no space for a quiet conversation with God, no invitation to be open to God, no welcome quiet place for God to stir hearts. Instead there was only the busy exchange of strangers, who were not taking the time to talk with God and listen with their hearts. There wasn't the space for it in this place or their lives.

Today, I feel challenged to make room for prayer in a new way. To make space for the welcome of God. To clear the decks of all that has cluttered my sense of sanctuary. To open my ears again and listen to the still small voice of the Creator. In this place, in this gathering, among strangers, in all ways I feel a renewed invitation to pray. I invite you to welcome prayer today, however you pray, so that we might be able to listen to God in a new way today. Not for ourselves alone, but so that others might be invited to places which are houses of prayer for all people -no matter the setting. We can pray together, despite barriers of language, traditions, practices, etc, and we can open our hearts to the working of God, welcoming God's love into withering hearts, withering places.

Monday, February 16, 2009

This One Trip

"The Lord needs it. He will send it back again soon." Mark 11:3

A month or so ago, a plane crashed landed into the Hudson but everyone on board survived. This past week, a plane crashed into a home outside Buffalo and everyone on board and one person on the ground perished. I heard a comment from a politician who indicated that he believed that God was not with the people on the second flight, or not as much so. I actually believe that God was with both groups of people. God in the midst of our survivals and God in the midst of our horrors. And there is pain and anguish enough in this world. None of those people nor their families) began their day as if it were their last. It isn't ours to control and know. But we can know that God is with us in all circumstances, even the most curious, complicated and difficult of circumstances.

Jesus arranged for a donkey and made an historic trip into Jerusalem. The story is often described as the last time Jesus goes to Jerusalem, or the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The people with Jesus did not know this. They heard what he said but rarely understood it. They followed him and occasionally did as he instructed, but they didn't put the pieces together. They couldn't, they were human, as you and I are human. They had to stand by and watch the events unfold, offering their help when possible. But they could not have imagined what God had in mind and they didn't know God's timing. They could only tell the story afterward, with all the miracles, insights, pain and spectacular moments as best they could remember them.

Today, I want to ask God to help me live this story, not worried about firsts and lasts, but with full awareness of God's presence in the midst of everything today. I want to remember that I don't control the story but that I am embedded in the loving arms of God who will hold me through it all. I want to take today as it is offered, with its full beauty and challenges, accepting it as a gift from God. I pray that we can all live this day fully. Not anticipating or worrying about tomorrow, the end of the story, the end of the money, the impending crash, but can live just today with God. Tomorrow will have its own challenges and God will be in the midst of those too.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

That Touch

"A man came to Jesus with a bad skin disease. This man got down on his knees and begged Jesus saying, 'If you want to, you can heal me.' Jesus put his hand on him with loving pity. He said, 'I want to. Be healed.' At once the disease was gone and the man was healed." Mark 1:40-41

Yesterday we took a drive and went for a walk on the beach. The wind was fierce and the air was cold. Despite the seasonal discomfort, there is something about walking in the sand, watching the waves break and the sun dance on the water that is very restorative for me. Very healing. Somehow, there is God's touch in that place for me, a hand reaching out and wiping away the most recent scars of life's battles. The seagulls scream and the surf pounds and I am given real peace. We could only walk for a little distance because neither of us dressed properly for the day. But no matter. God found me.

The Gospel for today tells the story of a man with a horrible skin disease who kneels and begs Jesus to heal him. His disease was obvious and people avoided him, kept their distance - isolated him for every aspect of life. No one touched this guy. And yet Jesus touched this man and told the man that his desire was to heal him. The Savior of the world wanted to touch the most despised untouchable and make him whole, no questions asked.

Today, I want to remember that God aches to touch the most despised untouchables, including me. God want to touch and heal the places in me that even I am afraid of. God's activity is loving kindness, loving pity and an ache to make us whole. Whether we feel we have been discarded and isolated, or whether we are those at the center of everything, God's desire is to find us and wipe away the scars of our battles and bring us peace. May we all have the courage to fall at the feet of Jesus, seeking out that touch and that restoration. The loving hand of God is reaching out for us. May we remember to offer up our own needs and offer that loving touch to others in need.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day

"Go! Your faith has made you whole." Mark 10:52

My Valentines

They tossed my world, upended my sensibilities,
noise, costumes and loud music everywhere
anguish always out shadowed by laughter and forgiveness
pain eased by smudged endless kisses.

They are my valentines, my heart my compass
my globe, the world through which I travel and the stars
that guide my voyage.

They are alabaster and gold, diamonds and daylight
they are sunsets and sand in my pockets
discovered in midwinter, loved all the more.

They ask nothing more than a gentle touch
a listening ear yet they take my whole heart
and they steal my breath away.

I am not poor in their presence, nor needing of anything.
I am not broken but whole for their faith and love.
I ache only to be near them, hold them, and listen
to their laughter rolling across my world.

There is nothing that I can give them
nothing that can I can be nothing
which can match the love and faith
they so freely give.

So here's to you, Mark, Emily, Ariel and Phoebe.
No wife and mother was ever more blessed
ever more grateful, ever more filled with love
for the true blessings that you are.

Happy Valentine's Day

Friday, February 13, 2009

Caring for All

portrait of Absalom Jones

"Important leaders use their power over the people. It must not be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great among you, let them care for others. Whoever wants to be first among you must be the one who is owned and cares for all." Mark 10:42-43

Today we celebrate the feast day of Absalom Jones and also Richard Allen, two faithful Christians who were worshiping in a racially mixed congregation, until during a prayer, an usher told them they had to sit in the balcony. They walked out and many followed. They both went on to be ordained, both went on to be firsts in their denominations. Jones was the first African American to be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church and Allen in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Both knew what it meant to step out and be a leader, and the consequences of that action. They both lived their lives in the service of others, for the freedom of others, for the safety and happiness of others - and today we have their example to follow. They did not agree on everything and after a time went their separate ways, but they stood up for people, braved the anger and rejection of polite society, and became leaders, not for one group alone, but for the whole of the Church in the world.

Jesus stepped in between James and John who both wanted to be first in God's kingdom. Jesus explained that being first asked a very high price. It asked that they put their own needs, their own goals, their own lives even, second to the needs and lives of other people. Their authority would come out of their willingness to love and care for others. Their firsts would come not from their power but from their level of care and concern. They would be asked to give themselves away in order to be first.

Absalom Jones and Richard Allen lived this kind of leadership. They could have stayed in place and kept quiet, moving to the balcony, making society more comfortable. But instead, they took on the pain of standing up and saying no to prejudice and yes to Christ's reconciling love.They were courageously willing to love others enough to step out in faith. May we all today remember Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, who took Jesus seriously. They led by putting others first, by putting their lives at risk so that true freedom and love might be found in Jesus Christ. May we honor their memories today, by offering ourselves as leaders who are willing to care for others. May our real leadership, our true power and authority, be made visible in the way we care for others.

Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear: that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servants Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Break in the Weather

"This cannot be done by humans but God can do anything!" Mark 10:27

A Glimpse of Possible

The snow piled up like dirty hard frosting
on an old ignored cupcake and the wind turned
our heads downwards and away from each other, away from
the possible, we could only look at our aching feet and listen
to our chattering teeth.

A long siege of darkness, a long season of shrill silence and long
absences of the damp dirt and her latent possibilities.
The pavement ached for us all, shattered by bolts of ice and salt pounded
by angry feet heading for loneliness, silent in her vigil, her part of the path.

And yet it broke, like a fever, like the warm sun finally
rising over the terrified sand, lifting up over tossed vessels clinging
to the shore, holding out for hope in the darkest night.

We have a brief glimmer of hope, a silent witness to possible
coming seasons, a taste in our mouths of rescue and basketfuls
of steaming ripe food with the music of laughter and squealing delight
every moment opening up to another gift, another good dream,
another moment of the touch of God.

God stoops today to touch my eyelids with the sensation of love
renewed, heaven and earth rejoicing in good weather, fertile soil
and warm home voices singing welcome on the wind.

God is rising up to take our hands and to reclaim our horror.
God is turning back the tide of pain and calming the crash of our hearts.

God is reaching wide open arms this morning to weary broken children
welcoming rest and promising vision and a place to rest our heads.

There will be another snow, another violent downturn and we will run
for cover, for each other, for the hills, for shelter
of God's possibility in our broken reality.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Do Not Hinder Them

"Let the little children come to me. Do not stop them. The holy nation of God is made up of ones like these. I tell you, whoever does not receive the holy nation of God as a little child does not go into it." Mark 10:14-15

At the end of every summer for many years we have volunteered at a music festival. We provide arts and crafts for the kids that come along with their parents, many of whom are there for the whole weekend. We make God's eyes, butterflies, bead work necklaces, noise makers, fuzzy caterpillars and other simple objects that small children can take with them. Year after year, we sit in the grove, handing out yarn and teaching techniques. The kids, for the most part, are enthralled and polite while their parents can be downright obnoxious. The kids take turns and take delight in watching some small project take shape. The parents are always suggesting better ways to do things and are often bossing the staff around. The kids just want to learn and have fun. The adults only seem to want to get the most free stuff possible for the admission ticket. They rarely even look on and enjoy their own child's joy.

Jesus has been tested by the proud religious law-keepers of his day who want to test him about divorce, among other things. He answers their questions but moves towards the children that have been brought to him. The disciples were trying to keep them away, but Jesus wanted them near him. He understood that the children wanted to learn and be blessed while the adults were jockeying for control. The children came to him just as they were, arms outstretched, delighted with the nearness of Jesus. The adults were baffled as he told them that they would not get an admission ticket without having a heart like a little child -soft, pliable, vulnerable, honest and willing to learn. The adults wanted to control God's kingdom and admission to God's presence. The children just wanted to be with Jesus.

Today, I pray that I can come to God as a child rather than the know-it-all I sometimes become. I want to come to God with an open heart, and run to Jesus' open, outstretched arms. I want to let go of control and authority so that I may be touched by the living presence of the loving God. May we all let go of our adult restrictions, and once again come running with love to God. God never abandons us, never despises us, never seeks to control or harm us. May God help us all today to be so child like that God's genuine love and acceptance might shine right through us.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


" ‘For everyone will be salted with fire.
Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’ " Mark 9:49-50

In this part of the country, we have had a lot more snow and cold than usual. I was talking with a doctor recently who said he had five visits from the snow removal guys in January 2009 alone. That was as many as he had all of 2008. We have had a thawing in the past few days and folks have run to the car washes to remove the overwhelming amount of dried salt off of their vehicles. As the snow disappears, there is still evidence of salt and its effects everywhere. Our own steps and sidewalks are still littered with salt although the snow and ice is long gone. Salt is a necessary element in our lives, not only for flavor and preservation, but for surviving snow and ice. And although it is not necessarily charming or without mess, salt is elemental to our very existence.

Jesus is talking to his disciples about what is necessary for life. He instructs them that one could do without a certain body part rather than sin. Well, that's pretty drastic in my book, but the point is made. We often nurture grudges, anger, and attitude - none of which is elemental to our existence. In contrast, Jesus does say we need salt, but just enough for survival and not enough to threatened the peace in our community. Jesus is all about relationship and the care we take with ourselves and our belongings. Jesus wants his disciples to be full of life (salt) but not so that the weak, vulnerable and undefended are threatened. How relevant a teaching this is in our time?

Today, I want to take care that everything I do is life giving to others as well as to myself. I pray that I can be aware of my own needs while not depriving another of what they need to survive. God has provided us with abundance, if we are but willing to use what we need and share with others. May we have the courage today, in every corner of our world, to make space for others, bring peace in our communities and protect the innocent by sharing the abundance of resources we have been given. I pray that in these hard economic times, we might all be agents for God's change and God's abundance.

Monday, February 9, 2009

We were all children

"Jesus took a child and stood among them. Then he took the child up in his arms and said to his followers, 'Whoever receives one of these little children in my name, receives me.' " Mark 9:36-37

Before the holidays, my aunt Joy lent me several albums of old family photos so that I could scan them, clean them up and make copies for family members. It was painstaking work since many of the old photos had been bent, torn, water damaged and faded. It was also exhilarating and quite frightening some of the time. I saw images of my aunts and uncles, my grandparents and great grandparents as babies and children. I could recognize familiar characteristics in these photos - characteristics I see in my children and myself. I also saw all of the adult posturing of my mom and her siblings in their childish postures. All of their characters were completely present when they were very small, including the peculiar quirks and fetching mannerisms, all there from the very beginning. And I also saw emerging the child that they still are - the one that needs a special kind of attention and welcome.

Jesus takes a little child in his arms and tells those who will listen that in welcoming and receiving a child, we welcome Jesus. I used to think this meant welcoming innocence, playfulness and tenderness. Now I realize it means much, much more. For the children my parents and their siblings were, these are the ones who still need to be welcomed by faith communities and by God. The bravado, the polish and the skills aside, it is the quirky, uncoordinated, goofy, slightly spastic children that present themselves before God, no matter what we see present at the time.

Today, I ask God to help me see behind all the defensive barriers that adults construct. Help me to see the children as they are, as they present themselves to God - open, vulnerable and slightly afraid. May I be brave enough this day to offer my real self, the little child that I am to God. May we all have the courage to see others as God see them, as little smudged up, awkward children, arms reaching up, aching to be held by Jesus.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Getting Back Up

"He went and took her by the hand and raised her up. At once her sickness was gone. She got up and cared for them." Mark 1:31

In the fall of 2006, I attended a gathering of Native Women in Hawaii. We were staying at the diocesan camp, right by the ocean. A simple setting and an incredibly beautiful one. The women gathered were from all over, and my husband had tagged along with me since he had never been to Hawaii before. They made room for him, welcomed him and gave him space as he needed. The group shared every thing together, praying and laughing, and telling stories of our families, communities and ministries. We had so much in common despite the fact there we were from very different culture and many distant lands. The care of our children, grandchildren and our communities were always first on our minds and in our stories. Early Sunday morning, we all awoke to a fearsome noise - a deep growling rumbling like an approaching train - and then everything shook for a time. We were without power and water at first, but everyone bravely decided we should travel in to Honolulu as planned, despite the earthquake. Very few of us had ever experienced an earthquake. The cathedral was dark and warm, no one having power, but we were welcomed and happy to be there. Later in the day, a group of Native Hawaiian women came to share with us their stories, music and culture. They came, even though their whole world had been tossed about, even though we had told them it was ok not to come, and even though most of us were strangers. The care of others, even in this extended community again became most important.

Jesus hears that Simon's mother in law was in bed, very sick and near death. The whole world around them was tossed about because a pillar of the family and community was deathly ill. Jesus comes and takes her by the hand, healing her and restoring her capacity to do what she did best - care for others. She, who was so recently ill, leaped at the chance to do what she knew best which was to care for the people around her.

This Sunday, the fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, I want to give thanks for all of those who dedicate their lives to the care and feeding of others. And I pray that Jesus is reaching out to those who silently labor for the good of others, taking by the hand and raising them up. May we all remember that none of us could continue to do what we do without those pillars of our lives and communities -the ones who come out in the midst of illness, who reach out to strangers during earthquakes and who give their lives so that others might thrive - we would be lost without them. And may we know today that Jesus's touch of healing and restoring is available at every moment. May we have the courage to get back up and serve others, putting the needs of families and community first so that God's love might be broadcast this day far and wide.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Parent's Faith

"At once the father cried out. He said with tears in his eyes, 'Lord, I have faith. Help my weak faith to be stronger!'"Mark 9:24

Today is my mother's 86th birthday. She is a remarkable woman, having raised five unruly children as PK's, living the life of a Pastor wife, and now 15 years a widow with 8 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. She lives alone in her own home, and though her body is deteriorating and her mind is slowing, she still cares for herself and us with great vigor and constancy. She is feisty, artistic, strict and tender. She can still cook up a storm, feed needy kids on a weekly basis, lead bible studies and Al Anon meetings - she really is a lively and amazing person. What I know about her today, which I put little credence in when I was young, is that my mother is a prayer warrior. Daily her phone will ring with requests that she prays for some situation, some illness, some broken family. She has lists of people she prays for by her bed , by the phone, in the kitchen and even in the bathroom. Not a perfect mother but a wonderful one because of her faith. When her faith was weak she prayed, and continues to pray. Even when I was embarrassed by her as a teen, she still prayed for me. Now as a mother of grown daughters and a bishop, I am daily grateful for her prayers. I know her prayers sustained me, held me up and saw me through in times when my body was broken or my spirit was weak. she had faith in me and God when I was unsure of everything.

A father comes to Jesus, tormented by his love for child who he cannot find healing for. The man is distraught. Jesus, asks about his faith and the father lays his heart in front of Jesus. No better icon for parental love and parental faithfulness than this weary and troubled parent. Might we all model our lives after him, praying constantly and asking for strength when our faith gets weak.

Today, I want to give thanks for my mother, and for all the people who pray faithfully despite all the challenges and weakness that befalls them. None of us can possibly know the people that pray for us daily, but we can pray for others with the faith and strength we receive. May we all follow this father, and my mother Betty, who are not afraid to pray and offer their inadequacy to Jesus. We are never alone when we pray. God's heart overflows with love and healing in every prayer that is offered. May we have the strength and courage to be prayer warriors in a world where there is too much violence and not enough faith. Too much bravado and not enough authentic faith - the joy of being weak and needy before God.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Appropriate Silence

"Peter did not know what to say. They were very much afraid." Mark 9:6

I am a photographer, and I love nothing more than to go walking with my camera, looking for the way light moves and reflects, watching for odd juxtapositions and other freaks of nature. And sometimes I look for nothing and the images find me and overwhelm me. I can do nothing but record them with my camera, breathless by beauty, silenced by awe. Sometimes it just happens that the only response to the magnificence or terror is silence. Not some made-up controlled or contorted silence, but the silence of listening to the music of the Creator's universe, the infinitesimally small and grand expressions of God's love for all creation. I have been known to accidentally "shush" my shutter as I click away in the pregnant charged air caught in the midst of raw beauty. It is a song in itself, this silence.

Peter, James and John go up the mountain with Jesus. He has dragged them along to some impossible and challenging places. He has challenged them by telling them of impending death. Their worlds are completely unsettled, and they chatter to one another as they go about the state of things and about their own anxiety. Into the middle of their anxiety comes this remarkable, transforming moment - the transfiguration. Jesus was changed in their sight and Moses and Elijah appeared in his presence. They had a brief glimpse of the profound beauty and magnificence of God's order and creation - the universe centered and revolving in love. They were finally and appropriately speechless. They took in the Creator's expression of love and nothing more need be said.

Today, I want to linger in appropriate silence in response to the magnificence of God's love in my life. I know I can do nothing to earn this love and this magnificent creation. God has placed me here, and God will guide me through the darkness, the shadows and into the light. Around every corner there will be visions in creation of the presence of the loving Creator. In the grind of daily life and the busy-ness of the world this is easy for me to forget. And so I pray today for a quiet appreciation of all the beauty that surrounds us. May we all rejoice as we take in the love that spares no cost. Love that is next to us and around us, even on the meanest, coldest days of the year. Love that wanders with us in our darkness, waiting to give us new vision of life renewed. May we rejoice in God who is love, alive with us, right here with us, today.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Remarkable Journeys

"For what does a person have if they get the whole world and lose their soul? What can you do to buy back your soul?" Mark 8:36-37

I've been thinking a great deal about the Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz lately. For a kid growing up in the fifties and sixties, this was a BIG deal. We watched this movie on TV with great excitement and anticipation. When we still had a black and white set and a friend had color, we would all run together to their house and park ourselves in front of their set. Their parents indulged us, knowing that they couldn't possibly get rid of us until that final scene had come and gone. The return home, the sorting out of an adventure turned disaster, a terrifying journey melted into a dream. I was raised on the scriptures, we read them daily around the table and I was raised with my native traditions too. But this one epic adventure knit me together with my friends. And now with my own children. We are all Dorothy, bored, frustrated and ignored with more power than she knew. We are all the tin woodsman, rusting in the elements; the scarecrow scattered and dependent on others; and the lion, scared to death of life but full of bravado. Each dependent on the others, each afraid to face their private weaknesses and nightmares. This story, every so often, comes back in mind to tell me something about the power that I have to chose home, and love's power to move from despair to redemption.

Jesus begins at this point to share with his disciples about the end of the road, the end of this part of their journey together. Peter doesn't want to hear about it, he doesn't want to face the challenges that are coming. Jesus challenges them all to follow him, to enter into the depth of dependency and trust and to walk a road littered with pitfalls and obstacles. Jesus promises them power, power in weakness, power in their ability to love God and follow Christ.

Today, as I remember the profound images I still carry with me from the Wizard of Oz, I want to give thanks for my complete dependency on God, and my complete need of the companions I have along the way - no matter how much care and assurance I need, or they need from me. I want to have the courage in Christ's name to gather up others along this journey, help them move again, re-stuff them if necessary, knowing that together we find our way home - we find our way to God. May we all rejoice in the journeys we have been given and may we all rejoice in the power we have been given in Jesus Christ - that all of us are children of a living and loving God who goes on this journey with us.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Like Trees Walking

"I see some men. They look like trees walking." Mark 8:24

Yesterday, I drove home from Cambridge to New Jersey in a snow storm. It wasn't particularly heavy snow, and the road conditions remained very passable, but it slowed my progress some. It made me slow down, on a day when I really just wanted to get the driving over with. It also made me pay very close attention, to be constantly vigilant while covering familiar territory. I noticed things on this trip that I had never before. I also noticed how the snow changed everything including depth perception and a sense of distance. White covered everything, and even the dirty, craggy cliffs on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge took on a mystical beauty in the snow. Our sight and vision is often limited by what we are willing to see. Often times, people with limited sight can perceive great depth and insight. When slowed down, beauty caught up to me.

In the Gospel story, Jesus heals a blind man, but the first time he touches him, his sight is fuzzy and people look like trees walking. I often wondered, if years later, when the man told this story, whether he longed for that time when his vision was blurry but he was close to Jesus. Often, when our timing, our vision, our way of doing things is disrupted or set aside, then can we see Jesus and feel his touch in our lives.When things go as planned, when we are clear and precise - it is often then when we are furthest away from the touch of God.

Today, I want to be aware of my complete need for Jesus. I want, like the blind man, to be vocal and clear about my limitations. I want to stay in Christ's presence and not rely on myself for completion of my healing. I want to have the strength today to be completely reliant on the completely reliable savior. May we all recognize our complete need today and trust in the complete healing of Jesus. May we be honest with our need so that others may be invited to honesty and healing in the near presence of the living God.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mercy Road

"If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way because some of them have come a long distance." Mark 8:3

In 1997, I helped with a service in Jamestown, Virginia. We were anticipating the 400th anniversary of the official arrival of the Anglican Church on these shores and planning a decade of preparation to reflect on the relationship between our church and native peoples. It was a powerful day, and a long day with many speakers from near and far. We had started early on a cold November morning and as midday passed and we continued on, folks were getting restless and hungry, but no one said a word. Finally, one of the elders, Virginia Snow said her few words and then added, "I'm keeping this short, I'm getting hungry!" The service ended right quick after that. And we all went on to feasting and conversation. There was tremendous power in the service and in her honesty.

Jesus had been teaching the people and they were getting ready to go when he asked his disciples to find them something to eat. We know this setting as the beginning of a great miracle - the feeding of the 5000. Jesus, in his great compassion and mercy, did not send people away to fend for themselves, but invited the small amount to become food for all. Power derived from mercy and compassion. Honest need met a compassionate, loving Savior, who did not downplay the need, but found a way to satisfy each and everyone of them. God's road is a mercy road, a way that finds food and fulfillment for all those who have come so far.

Today, I want to travel with Jesus and live a life of compassion and mercy. I want to be about putting the very human needs of others as a central part of my daily walk. I want to be aware that too often, folks are sent home empty and collapse along the way. May we all take mercy and compassion as central to our lives as followers of Christ, knowing that in the sharing of a simple glass of water, a loaf of bread, a small bit of fish, miracles await.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Feast of the Presentation

"The child's mother and father marveled at what was being said about him." Luke 2:33

One of the things I struggled with as a parent of young children was attending school functions and talking to teachers about my child. All three of my daughters were very different, all with bright minds and lively intellects. They were also very imaginative and playful which sometimes meant that they were misunderstood by teachers. I don't blame any of my girls' teachers, but there were very few who really got them, really understood their capacities and remarkable natures. Adding to that, they were clergy kids, PKs, and so the expectations from teachers and others in the community was often based on some old model rather than the reality of my daughters. I tried not to be antagonistic towards teachers, but often felt misunderstood myself - maybe a carry over from my own childhood as a PK. Trying to do right by your children in the sight of God and the community has profound and often confusing consequences.

May and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple at the appointed time as was customary. They didn't expect to be confronted by Simeon and Anna, both ancient faithful people who shocked the new parents with their profound and frightening words. Although both Mary and Joseph would continue to be confronted with angels and warnings, this day, when they were just trying to do the right thing in the temple, the normal thing parents do, this day must have lodged in their minds as awe inspiring and profoundly confusing. They were trying to cope with being new parents, out of season, away from home, and Anna and Simeon added to the complexity of their lives.

Today, I want to remember all those people who are trying to live faithful lives and do right by their families. Life is often confusing and sometimes downright agonizing when hard choices have to be made. May we all have the courage today of Mary and Joseph, who despite all of the overwhelming challenges they had to face, still offered their lives to God and still acted as faithful loving parents, who were responsible and caring despite the barrage of threats and expectations coming at them from all around. May we be joyful in the nurture and care we have been given and generous today with our nurture and tender loving care of others. For with our lives we can model the loving parental kindness of the author of love.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


"The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law." Mark 1:22

Since coming to Cambridge, I have had the opportunity to walk the streets, sit in the dining hall, stop in cafes and wander into several libraries. Since I am very familiar to this world and yet unfamiliar to the present occupants, I can be overlooked and free to listen and observe. I overhear many conversations about classes and about teachers. Some students brag about how they have figured a particular professor out, others whine about the load of reading and work they have, and yet another group (the smallest yet) are aware of the profound transformation that is going on within them. They have listened, taken notes and done the dutiful student things but the outcome is not what they expected. They are inspired, electrified about a whole area and about their own life. They have encountered the authentic teacher, the environment of possibility and witnessed a new way of understanding for themselves. They have encounter authority and life will never be the same.

The people in the synagogue at Capernaum were startled by the presence of the authentic teacher in Jesus, the one whose life was the embodiment of the lessons he was teaching. Not like the teachers they had known whose skill and knowledge were complete, here was a rabbi who electrified and inspired them and challenged them to change their whole lives. He embodied the story - he was the story. At this very beginning of his ministry, folks saw a depth of truth and possibility in him and in their own lives. This was even before Jesus freed the man of demons, performing miracles in the temple and healing many in very public places. Something moved in them that responded to the genuine, living article of God's love present in the world.

On this Sunday, may we live like students of Jesus, who are inviting God's transformation in our lives. So many times we act like dutiful students in church communities, finding ways to manage our assignments, figuring out what we need to do to get by. It's all so familiar. Today, I want to live as one of those who in undone by what I read and hear. I want to be inspired and electrified in new ways by the teaching of the authoritative teacher, the one whose life was ransom for us all. I pray that we can all listen to Jesus this day, knowing that his authority and power is grounded in love, love vast and eternal - enough to power and recharge a cold and weakened world.