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The Thing about Friendship

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But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”  (Ruth 1:16-17)

I have only transcribed one book from Hebrew into English, and it was the Book of Ruth.  If you are going to sit with the ancient language of Hebrew, I recommend sitting with it in the book of Ruth.  It’s a beautiful story of family and friendship, of heartache and perseverance, of sacrifice and my favorite Hebrew word, Hesed,  which means, “steadfast faithfulness.”

The thing I love most about the summer, is that it provides a season for family and old friends to re-unite.  This summer I spent a week with my cousin, whom I haven’t seen in three years and my oldest friend, whom I hadn’t seen in over five.  Being with them, it was like not an hour had past, since we had last been together.  There is something so enriching and humbling about the people who have known you forever and still love you today!  They love you just the way you are. They are like plants with deep roots.  They are planted deep in your soul and cannot be easily pulled.  They provide steadfast faithfulness.

Today is the first day of school for many of our kids and I know that the biggest concern isn’t what they will be learning in science class, but rather, who they will sit with at the lunch table, Who will be their friend?  True friends are hard to find.   Some of our children will start the year reading E.B. White’s, Charlotte’s Web, where they will read the conversation between Wilbur and Charlotte:  “Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
There is an old hymn called, “What a friend we have in Jesus.”   When I think about Jesus and his friends I remember his vulnerability and grief when Lazarus died.  I remember that he did the most human thing: he wept.  My parents are starting to lose their friends. Yesterday we learned that one of my mom’s oldest friends, and my first piano teacher passed away.  She was in a word: a gem.  It seems like every time I call home, there is another friend with a diagnosis, or has passed away.  As I watch my parents accept this stage of life, I see how deep and meaningful these friendships were.  I see that there was steadfast faithfulness in these friends who came to the hospital, kept a T-time, walked every Tuesday, met for Bible study, sent a card.  These friends are the ones who gave life to life.  True friends are hard to find.

Henri Nouwen wrote on friendship:

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

The gift of friendship is a gift from God.  It’s rare and real.  It’s steadfast faithfulness.

One final quote to sum it up:

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”
― A.A. MilneWinnie-the-Pooh

Peace,

Shelly

 

 

 

Turmoil

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”  The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Matthew 21:10-11

Tur·moil

ˈtərˌmoil/
noun
  1. a state of great disturbance, confusion, or uncertainty.

I have read the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week for almost 20 years and this was the first time that I noticed that word:  Turmoil.

Matthew says, after Jesus came into the city, fulfilling the prophecies foretold in Isaiah and Jeremiah, that the city was in turmoil.

When my dad was growing up in Danville, Illinois, he and his neighborhood frienimagesds would play in the back allies of their neighborhood.  They would play baseball, basketball, kick ball, and run the neighborhood with freedom and curiosity.  One day, the boys were playing along a back fence overgrown with tall grass and weeds, the boys came along a suspicious looking piece of nature and instead of leaving it alone, they, like most boys, decided to poke at it, take it down and hit it.  That suspicious looking piece of nature was a beehive.  The bees were not happy to have their home plummeted so they took off toward the boys, and the boys ran screaming down the ally, and into their homes, where the bees chased them into their house, where there happened to be company, and tea and cake, and a card game, and women jumped on the chairs and screeched as they shook their dresses and the boys dove under tables trying to escape the enraged bees.

Turmoil. ” A state of great disturbance, confusion or uncertainty.”

I was speaking to a parishioner the other day about church and worship and what people need and why they are coming to church, or should be, and she remarked that people are really scared.  She did not specify what people are scared of, only that they are scared.  Maybe what they are afraid of is obvious and goes without saying, or maybe naming the fear is important.

Here are some the fears I have heard expressed in the past three months in meetings, or over a meal, or in emails, or conversations.

  1. There is going to a Third World War, a nuclear war, or another civil war.
  2.  The economy is going to get so bad that the United States will become a third world country.
  3. The National Parks, the air, the water, the earth, natural resources, and animals are in great peril.
  4. Our education system is on the edge of collapse.
  5. Our health care system is in ruins.
  6. Our freedoms are being taken away. Our rights are being denied.
  7. “They” are going to take over.
  8. What fears have you heard? 
  9. Whose fears do you think are unfounded?

When people are afraid, they only see their fear and they really can’t see much else. Their fear defines them and the choices they make are driven by those fears.

I remember people were afraid the world would come to an end in the year 2000.  They started storing up canned goods and boarding up windows just in case.  Those of us who did not share that fear thought they were a little crazy.    They feared turmoil to the point that they created turmoil.

Is turmoil the same as fear?  Or is it more like anxiety?

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that the people were turmoil.  Why?  Were they more afraid or anxious? Maybe both.  Either way, they knew that something was going to happen and that after whatever it was, everything would be different.  The NIV says, that the people were stirred,  which sounds less intense than turmoil doesn’t it?

When the Prince of Peace arrived in Jerusalem, there was turmoil in the city.  There was chaos.  The city felt like a provoked beehive.  Things were stirred up.

I wonder, is that the state we are in?  Are we in turmoil?  Are we stirred up?  Do we feel disturbed, confused and uncertain?  Do we have good reason?

Maybe Jesus is in the city.  Maybe Jesus has kicked the beehive of humanity and stirred us up.  Maybe there is a disturbance,  a greater sense of uncertainty, and maybe there should be – because Jesus is over turning the money changers in the temple.  He is speaking truth to power.  He is advocating for the poor.  He is praying in the garden.   He is breaking bread.  He is pouring the cup. He is washing feet.   He is sweating drops of blood. He is suffering.  He is forgiving.  He is dying.

Turmoil reminds us that Jesus is in the city.   It’s the paradox of peace.  You cannot know peace if you don’t know unrest.  Order comes out chaos.  Chaos comes first.  So where ever there is unrest in our lives, personally or globally, where ever we find ourselves running away from, whatever is inflamed, Jesus is there. – We best pay attention.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. –  (Matthew 10:34-38)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moments of Clarity

creating sacred communities

There are moments when I wonder why I am a pastor. I get frustrated with denominational dilly-dallying, Presbytery pandering and session snarkiness. Sometimes I wonder if ministry matters. The world tells us that the church matters less today, or it matters in a different way today than it has in the past. Sometimes I get tired of the process, the budget, the need to over communicate, and the politics. Sometimes I can worry if my profession will become obsolete.

And then God gives me moments of clarity.

When I talk to children about Jesus dying on the cross and we draw pictures of heaven, and one little boy’s depiction looks like the set from “Dance Fever” and he tells me that heaven has a dance floor.

When an elderly woman walks out of the sanctuary, clutching her cane, with tears down her face because she is in such pain, and…

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The Way of Wisdom

13 Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding,

Proverbs 3:13

wayofwisdom

ˈwizdəm/

noun

  • the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.
  • the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.
  • the body of knowledge and principles that develops within a specified society or period.

 

We are living in a time of high volatility.  Every click on the computer and swipe on the phone, causes a reaction, a feeling of threat, or defense, anger, or fear, frustration, or confusion.  People are on high alert and they take their reactivity with them into every day life,  at checkout counters, the doctor’s office, parent-teacher conferences, and on the highway. Events that would have been looked over, now cause a reaction.  People feel free to say unfair, unkind, and untrue statements that create a toxic fume that permeates the atmosphere.  All someone needs to do is a light a match.

This season of unpredictability makes us jumpy and we often find ourselves in a state of reactivity.  It would behoove the world, to move away from being right and into a place of being wise.

Think for a second:  When was the last time you sought wisdom?

Wisdom is different from knowledge. One can be intelligent and not wise.  Wisdom is not seeking answers, it is seeking understanding.  Wisdom comes from experience. It comes from suffering.  It comes from observing. It comes from a place of humility. Wisdom begins by being more connected to God and less connected to the world. – Not that we forget about the world, but rather, we spend less time being driven by it.

We seek wisdom, by finding solitude.  Henri Nouwen wrote:

 “Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self. Jesus himself entered into this furnace. There he was tempted with the three compulsions of the world: to be relevant (‘turn stones into loaves’), to be spectacular (‘throw yourself down’), and to be powerful (‘I will give you all these kingdoms’). There he affirmed God as the only source of his identity (‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone’). Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter – the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.”

― Henri J.M. NouwenThe Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

The season of Lent is here. The wild month of February has ended, and the liturgical calendar beckons us to come into the wilderness, into a season of solitude.

Solitude is not found at the spa or on the beach,  it’s found within yourself.  It’s found when you quiet your mind, go deeper into yourself, so that you may come out wiser, more self-aware, less reactive, more compassionate. Solitude is found when we fast from that which keeps us from God, and when we feast on that which draws us to Him.

Fast from judgment, Feast on compassion
Fast from greed, Feast on sharing
Fast from scarcity, Feast on abundance
Fast from fear, Feast on peace
Fast from lies, Feast on truth
Fast from gossip, Feast on praise
Fast from anxiety, Feast on patience
Fast from evil, Feast on kindness
Fast from apathy, Feast on engagement
Fast from discontent, Feast on gratitude
Fast from noise, Feast on silence
Fast from discouragement, Feast on hope
Fast from hatred, Feast on love

What does solitude look like?

“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” 

― Albert CamusThe Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

If you want to understand the world, step away from it.

  • Turn off Facebook for 40 Days.
  • Limit your access towhatever your news choice is and allow yourself only the headlines. If you watch one news station that is more to your ilk, read another news choice that is not of your liking. Read enough to understand, but not so much as to be consumed.
  • Take a screen Sabbath.
  • Spend more time creating, get a bird feeder,  bake,  give, read, and be kind to strangers.
  • Take all of the time that you spend worrying, annoyed, frustrated, angry, or sad and turn your energy to your soul and connecting with God and thinking about God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s forgiveness.
  • Be in a more intimate relationship with God than you are with your phone.
  • Every time your mind is triggered with worry or frustration, stop, say a word, and reconnect with the God of all human history.
  • Spend more time thinking about what you for, than what you are against. Spend more energy on love than on hate.  Think on these things.

Once we have spent time in solitude, finding ourselves closer to God, then we are to the world – then and only then, can  we respond to the world.

Take that time in solitude to pray.  Pray for your enemies.  Pray for the liberal. Pray for the conservative. Pray for the immigrant.  Pray for the teacher. Pray for the leader. Pray for your neighbor. Pray for the employer. Pray for the picker. Pray for the reporter. Pray for the parent. Pray for the child. Pray for the water. Pray for the air. Pray for the trees. Pray for the wealthy. Pray for the poor.  Pray for the greedy.  Pray for the generous.  Pray for the church. Pray for the mosque. Pray for the temple.  Pray for the Native American. Pray for the Latino. Pray for the African-American. Pray for the Asian. Pray for the White. Pray for the Gay. Pray for the Straight.  Pray for the married. Pray for the single.  Pray for the lonely. Pray for the homeless. Pray for the hungry. Pray for your enemies.  Pray for those you love.  Pray for people you do not understand. Pray to be understood.

“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”
― C.S. LewisThe Weight of Glory

If we can find a way to solitude, we will gain wisdom. If we can gain wisdom, we will know God. If we know God, we will speak the truth not be afraid.  There is a time to be brave. Bravery will come when wisdom is discerned.

You are wiser than you give yourself credit.  After all, God abides in you and you in him.  Seek God and you will know peace.

Next week I will write about finding wisdom in the hardest moments.

3176145-spiritual-quotes-about-life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do I explain this to my children?

In a couple of hours I have to wake my children for the day and tell them that the world changed over night.  I have to tell them who our next President is going to be.  He’s the type of individual whose values are not personally shared by our family.  He is not the kind of person I would want my children to grow up to be.  When they hear the outcome of the election, I know they will be afraid.

I wonder, is it I who am afraid?  Am I projecting my fears for them, and their future and the ideals of democracy on to them?  Is it easier for me to be address their fears than to face my own?   – Maybe so.

How do we respond when we feel the earth move beneath us and we find ourselves in uncertain territory?  As I thought about my children, sleeping peacefully upstairs, I thought about how the values  and ideals that we talk about and believe, have not changed, and are more important now than ever before.  These are the values that we need to hold on to. These are the values that we have to see lived out.

We now have to practice more than ever what it is we believe.

Hold to the good
Stand for justice
Love your neighbor
Pray for your enemy
Consider the lilies
Defend liberty
Persevere
Be not afraid

This is what I will tell my children when they wake up in the morning.

 

A Love Story

I have been thinking about my Grandparents a lot lately, more than usual.  They are both gone now, and with them an era, that I wonder will soon be forgotten.  An era of saving bread bags, napkins from Dairy Queen and fat from skillets.  An era of tools in the shed and strawberries in the garden, and fresh, ironed sheets and vinegar and water cleaned, windows.  An era of fresh-squeezed lemonade on the patio and plastic on the davenport.

My grandparents were characters.  Visiting them was like stepping into a book, where it was normal behavior to go dumpster diving for things that could be brought home and made  “good as new,” and meals were as sacred and as approachable as the Communion Table.  Where neighbors were known, and people came to visit through the back door.  Where hard work was valued above anything else.

I miss them.  I wish they were here to provide a historical perspective on things.  I wish I could ask them one more time about what they endured and what they overcame.

In my grandmother’s house, among her  Swedish horses and Hummel figurines, between the two chairs always sat a little, velvet dog with shaggy ears and shaggy feet.  He was really the only thing I was allowed to touch in the living room, and so I did.  He was soft and real looking, with a black nose and inquisitive eyes.  Grandma always said that he was her dog.  For some reason, they could never bring themselves to get an inside dog.  Maybe because it would be too expensive, or bring about too great of a mess, or be too much trouble, or chew up the couch, for whatever reason, an inside dog was replaced with the pretend dog that always behaved and never moved.

My grandmother died suddenly one day, leaving my grandpa with a house full of memories and tools and baking dishes.   Gradually, they sold everything, including the house, and eventually his car.  He moved into an assisted living facility.

The thing you need to understand about my Grandpa is that he never met a stranger.  To a point of irritation, you could not take him anywhere without him talking to the the waiter, the cook,  the mechanic, the teller and if there was a child in the room – forget it.  He could not pass by a child without a smile, or a game, or a gesture of compassion. The other thing you need to know is that he was completely deaf.

What do you with a deaf, widower, who loves people but cannot engage in conversations?   You get him a dog.

My mom found a little, white, shih tzu and brought him to his new home.  He named her Mitzi, for that’s what Grandma would have wanted.  From that day on, Mitzi and Grandpa were inseparable, and suddenly Grandpa became the most popular person  in the senior living center.   They would go for long walks, or she would ride proudly on  the seat of his walker.  She would crawl up on his lap and take long naps, and she was always willing to greet a stranger or engage with a child.  She was his greatest gift.

Years passed, grandpa aged, and aged, and aged until he looked like Old Man Time.  Eventually he slept more than he was awake, and Mitzi moved in with my parents and would come and pay him visits.  Mitzi would jump on the quilt, right next to him and they would sleep from lunch until dinner, as the warm sun streamed in and the trees watched over.

Grandpa died at 99.

Mitzi died yesterday.  She was 107.

I don’t know if two beings could have loved each other more than my Grandpa and Mitzi.  Love stories that are real, are the stories that sometimes occur between humans, and sometimes occur between animals and sometime  occur in communities.  They are stories that always have an arc of trial and persistence. They are the stories that aren’t very exciting, but are rather, mundane, constant, and sustaining.

Alan de Bottom wrote on Love: “Perhaps it is true that we do not really exist until there is someone there to see us existing, we cannot properly speak until there is someone who can understand what we are saying in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved.”

While I cannot go back to those days of pies cooling on the counter and turns in the hammock,  there is a presence that stays with me.  It’s not sexy or particularly earth shattering.  It’s there, like a little dog who will  never leave your side.  It’s a gift that says while the world may be different, and life will surely change again and again and again, one thing  remains constant.

It can only be love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Making Sense of it All

I’m trying to make sense of all of this.  I’m trying to understand what is going on.  The more I try, the more concerned I become.  Every day I read articles from a variety of news columns to try to understand how people are seeing the world, and more importantly to try to identify with how readers who only read one perspective may be seeing the world.

This morning I read these four articles, each providing very different perspectives.  While their individual opinions are worthy of discussion, what I care more about is how we as citizens, who have different opinions can have civil conversations on these different opinions.  I want a real conversation without name calling, eye rolling, or sensationalizing.

We need to understand each other.

Here are the four articles I read today. Notice how  they are written.  Notice the audience they believe is reading the article.  Think critically about each article.  What do we learn about the writer, the reader and the world, by reading these four articles?  What do we learn about ourselves?

Could we pull these opposing articles out and have a mature conversation about what is going on in the world?   Can we read these articles and not getting angry, emotional, or defensive?  Could we work together to try to make sense of it all?

The first article I read was by Keith Ablow from Fox News:

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/01/27/dr-keith-ablow-whats-really-going-on-in-trumps-mind-hint-its-not-what-think.html

And then I read this article by David Brooks from the New York Times:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/27/opinion/the-politics-of-cowardice.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fdavid-brooks&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collectionolit

 

 

Then I read this article by Newt Gingrich from Fox News:

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/01/27/newt-gingrich-left-should-be-scared-to-death-after-trumps-first-week.html

I finished my Saturday morning circuit with this article by Jim Wallis:

https://sojo.net/articles/christians-call-speak-truth-alternative-facts

If you have read all four of the articles by now, you are probably not interested in reading further.  So I will end here and say that I think we need to force ourselves to read and engage in conversations with opposing points of view.  We have to try to understand each other.  If we don’t, we are just screaming into the wind.

We must seek first to understand than to be understood.

We the People: The Greatest Gift in 2017

“It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union…. Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less”
Susan B. Anthony

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The most surprising thing has happened.  The most unexpected little gift has occurred. The most quiet, spark of light has come through.  In the midst of the most controversial and unsettling political era of my lifetime, I have received a gentle gift.

It’s a gift that easily slips away, if I’m not careful.

The gift is, I have fallen in love.

I have fallen in love with the country  in which I live.

I confess that  I have taken her for granted.

It’s the gift of heart-swelling patriotism for its history, its ideals and its beauty.  Who would have thought that such a tenacious and brutal election season, would stir up such deep patriotism?

Webster Dictionary defines patriotism as simply “love or devotion to one’s country.”  Notice that  it is not defined as having pride in one’s country, or believing that one country is better than another’s.  Patriotism is not elitism. Patriotism is not nationalism. Patriotism is more about serving than being served, just like falling in love.  Because when you fall in love, you would do anything for the one you love. – Remember?  Remember falling in love with your sweetheart? How you would do anything to help your beloved – bring him cookies when he was studying, bring her flowers when she was sad? – You were their love-sick servant.

Patriotism is that deep devotion that is not interested in arguing. You can’t argue about how much you love someone, you just take care of them, support them, honor them and make sure they are o.k. Putting it simply, Theodore Roosevelt said,  “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

This does not mean that we are perfect.  The people we love, are not perfect and neither is our country. We fail, let it each other down, sin, and forget. We mess up.  And when that happens, leaders show up who set us on the right path.  They remind us that “the greatest thing we have to fear is fear itself”  (FDR).

They remind us to come together.  Perhaps the bravest speech of all time,  were these words given to us when we were the most fragile: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” – Abraham Lincoln.

Patriotism is not love of party or a particular person.  It cannot be bottled into one particular point of view.  It is more patriotic to honor another person’s point of view than to dishonor it by discounting it. In other words, if we all come to the table with the same love and devotion for our country, we can start healing.  But we must see the other person’s patriotism equal to our own.  Nobody owns the corner market on patriotism.

I have decided that worry does not serve me, and more importantly it does serve my country.  Fear does not honor the people who fought for the values upon which we stand.  Anger does nothing for the ideals of this land.

But love and devotion, love and devotion, deep gratitude and a willingness to serve and rise up – this is patriotism and it matters.

For the next 100 days, and the next 100 days after that, I’m going to focus on what I love about this country.  I am going to focus on all of things that I have taken for granted and be grateful for them. I am  going to make sure I am part of protecting them and ensuring that they are not dismantled.  Instead of feeling anger or fear or arguing about numbers or pictures or who is right and who is wrong, I’m going to look for the good and try to make it better – for as long as I have breath, this is my promise and my pledge.

THE BILL OF RIGHTS

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

 

WRITER’S BLOCK

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Matthew 4:12-23

12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Something happened this week,  something that has never happened to me before.  I had a serious case of writer’s block.  I take great pride in my discipline and efficiency in making sure I have a first draft sermon written no later than Thursday afternoon.  This week, I did what I always do.  I studied scripture, read articles, read the news, read commentaries, all the things I normally do, and  yet I could not begin to write –

 I cast my net into the sea of language and  pulled up no words. – Nothing.  Part of the reason is that it’s the end of January and I’ve preached one, too many weeks in a row and we have been working pretty much nonstop since October – but that’s normal, par for the course life in the church.   It’s normal to getting to the annual meeting after a month of starting up the calendar year after all of the work of Advent and Christmas, and stewardship campaigns, and fall programming, to feel like your gas tank is running on empty.

There was something more.  I kept throwing my net over, asking God to help me, give me a word, and again, nothing.  Thank God for the great gift of procrastination.  – There is always laundry to run, or a room to pick up, or an email to respond to,  or the news to read, and best one of all… Facebook.….  I would find myself distracted in the deep waters of the unknown.  There’s always another article to read, or another post to see, or a video to watch.  There is always another person writing an offensive thing about another person to make another person feel good, another person feel bad, and then with that one little post, the world becomes more broken than it already is.  There is always one article, or editorial saying we are right and they are wrong to be followed by another article saying, no we are right and they are wrong.  Which leads me to think there are too many words out there already, and nobody is listening. So what’s the point of writing?  I think the only point, the only reason to keep writing, is knowing that our kids are watching – and if they see that it works to be obnoxious and make illogical statements and that being shocking works, and that’s not acceptable. –And so I don’t give up and I think maybe God has a word for us in all of this mess and  so I take out my net and I throw it over to catch some words, and again my nets come up empty.

There was something more. And this is probably the biggest, most honest reason of all that no words came to me this week.  If you want to be a faithful preacher and write effective sermons you have to do two things well – you have to exegete -that means study scripture and you have to exegete the congregation. – A good preacher knows their congregation and what I know, or deduce is that our mainline congregation is just like most church’s in this country – except for those congregations that are on the extreme left and extreme right and that is that is this:

Some of us really, really hate Donald Trump and some of us really, really hate Barack Obama and some of us really, really hate those who hate the other, and some of us really, really hate those loser liberals and some of us really, really hate those close mind conservatives, and nothing, nothing, nothing will convince us that we are wrong and they are right, and why can’t they just see how clearly wrong they are, and what’s the point?

And the preacher is left thinking, “Good Lord.”  ” I can’t say the words  ‘live into hope’ or ‘this is going to be huge’ without sounding political.” Everything sounds political.

We are a microcosm of our society and our society is bleeding internally and as a long we blame each other for the bleeding and not all take responsibility for it, the bleeding will not stop.  So, I go again, and cast my net into the sea to look for a word that can heal and unite and not sound biased, but rather sound hopeful and I throw it over, to catch some words, and again my nets come up empty.

There is something more.  Disciples of Jesus Christ have long gone fishing and found their nets coming up empty.  All three synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story of the soon to be disciples out on the water, casting their nets into the sea and discovering that they come up lacking.  You remember this story – Jesus comes to the seaside looks out and calls to Peter and Andrew and says, “follow me and I will make you fish for people” and then an amazing thing happens, they drop their nets and follow him.   They surrender.  They stop trying to have control over their lives and their understanding of the world and their way of life, they put down their nets and they follow him- and they follow him with a new thing to catch and that is people.

I think if we are going to heal as a society, that is what we all have to do.  We have to drop our nets, let go of our own words and rhetoric, and start catching people- not just the people we like and agree with, but all people – because people are people and Jesus does care one iota who you voted for.  Jesus cares, who you catch.  If we follow Jesus, we have to put down our nets, meaning our agendas, our power and follow him  in order to catch people.

Now Matthew explains what he means by catching people, he says, they went into the communities and cured the sick and proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God.

Now, what in the world does that mean in 2017?  It means that God is bigger than politics.  It means that while presidents come and go, along with elections and inaugurations, God remains: the inauguration of God’s Kingdom irreversibly changed the world. As Matthew introduces the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he quotes Isaiah: “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” The light of God dawned on all God’s children when God’s Kingdom was inaugurated, back there at the Sea of Galilee.

I was reminded of Samuel Johnson’s couplet: “How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure.” Columnist David Brooks makes the comment that, most of the things that make our lives worthwhile and meaningful do not have to do with politics. They have to do with relationships or beliefs or virtues.  They have to do with our life stories, our kids, our grandparents, our grandchildren.  They have to do with meals around the table, and days at the beach, and books that we read, and stories that we share, and people that we love.  They have to do with  ways in which we come together as a community after a tornado hits, or an accident happens, or a child gets sick, or our neighbor gets cancer and suddenly who cares about politics, because people are people.

So I put my net down again and ask God to give me a word to say to you today, and after prayer and angst and impressive procrastination and even tears, it is  simply this:  love people more than politics.  Care more about people than politics.  That’s it.  Love people more than your own opinions.  See people before you see party.   Put down your nets and follow him.  Be brave enough to tell people the Good news – what’s that you ask?

The Good News is this: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

The Good News is this: “Jesus said, come to my all who weary and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest.”  (Matt 11:28)

The Good News is this:  “My Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The Good News is this: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and God is love.  He that loveth not, loveth not God, for God is love. Beloved, let us love one another.” (1 John 4:7-8),

These words have nothing to do with a political party, and they have everything to do putting down your nets and following Him.   These are the words that I have caught for you today.  What you choose to do with them, is up to you.

May the peace of Christ flow through you today.

May the peace of Christ sustain you tomorrow.

May the peace of Christ carry you always.

Amen.

The Wolves We Feed: A Reflection for Inaugeration Day

creating sacred communities

wolf-2Do you remember this Cherokee parable?

A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other. 

One of them is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear.

The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?”

The grandfather quietly replies, the one you feed.

January 20 has become a date that many of us are excited about and many of us dread.

It’s a day that all Americans take pride in, as we celebrate the mark of a peaceful transition from one leader to another. It’s democracy in all of its splendor.

It’s a day of parades and music and poetry.  It’s a day…

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