Tuesday, April 30, 2013


I've spent more time on long flights than some, and I am well familiar with that sensation of anxiousness towards the end of the flight--anxious to be done with it, ready to see familiar faces on the other end, wondering how you'll get home from the airport and then...the longgggeesstt part of the flight, the taxi-ing of the airplane down the tarmac headed for the gate.

We are officially at the point in my wife's pregnancy that I think of as "circling the airport".

This is the point when it "could be any day now" or, it could be three weeks.

And, so we do the only thing that can be done at this point--wait and wonder when this flight will be over.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Easter 5C, Moving Over to Make Room

As always, the propers can be found here...

Moving Over to Make Room

As a newly sprung college graduate I moved to Cleveland--I’d like to say that it was some greater calling that drew me there, but at the time I was broke and I had good friends who were happy to have me live with them (in their two bedroom apartment that already had three people in it) until I found a job and a place of my own.  

Thankfully, the job came...and I found myself serving as the youth outreach worker for four struggling inner city parishes in Cleveland.  

And, it was in one of those parishes that I found myself transformed.  

St. Luke’s..., the door was open, no security, we knew and were known.  At the hot meal program we started, everyone got a name tag, everyone was invited to make an offering, everyone was asked if they had a prayer request.  Meals were tasty, and volunteers, along with the cooking and the serving, were tasked the job of sitting and eating.  So they did, the same food, the same plates, the same chairs.  Relationships were built and lives were transformed.  The congregation gave over their front yard for an urban garden, and the sweat equity came from everyone--lawyer, college kids, the homeless, the children--all of them equally committed to the life and ministry of the church.  Not only has St. Luke’s survived it has thrived...      

And, five years or so after I had last served St. Luke’s as their youth outreach worker, I had the privilege to join them as a priest.  As was the custom at St. Luke’s, the entire congregation gathered around the altar for the Eucharistic prayer and the distribution of communion.  As I moved from person to person, I placed a single, thin, wafer in each palm.  Eventually, I noticed a small boy--perhaps three years old--following me about, “more chips, please.”  “More chips please”...I knelt down in front of him and kindly said, “no one gets seconds until everyone gets firsts”.  This was one of the cardinal rules of our hot meal, and the boy smiled as he understood--everyone would get the same, and if there was more, everyone would get the same again according to their need.  

My experience at St. Luke’s is what I have come to think of as “Radical Hospitality”...the kind of hospitality in which the folks offering it are willing to be transformed by it.  St. Luke’s today looks very little like it did 13 years ago...it has quadrupled in size.  It hasn’t been easy, by any stretch of the imagination, and there were times when it was painful (and I am sure folks continue to be challenged to make room for others at the table) but it has happened and continues to happen as room is made and outcast, sinners, saints and prophets gather together, sharing the same prayers,  eating the same bread and drinking the same wine.  Where else in the world can this happen, but the church?

Another way of talking about this kind of hospitality is the concept of holistic ministry--ministry in which our love for God fuels our service to others which in turn fuels our love for God.

In the great commandment we are first told to love God and then to love our neighbors.  In the new commandment we are told to love each other just as Jesus has loved us.  Jesus loves, so we love, we love God, so we love our neighbors, in serving our neighbors we encounter Christ and in loving Christ we serve our neighbors.

And so it is and in loving God, truly and heartily we move beyond a passive welcome into a new place of radical hospitality.  Radical in the tearing down of walls, radical in the risk taking of building relationship with those who seem so utterly unlike us, radical in giving everyone the same, radical in that there are no favorites, and radical in the willingness to change and grow because when we encounter Christ we cannot help but be transformed by the experience.  

Now, there is a silly joke I’ve heard several times, one which probably has its origin in a Reader’s Digest somewhere...

Peter and Paul are arguing at the gates of heaven.
Peter insists Paul is letting too many people through, and Paul insists he is only letting in the folks Peter had on the list.

Eventually, Paul approaches Peter with a wry smile and says, "I figured it out. Jesus was in the back, boosting people in over the wall."

Just in case you are wondering, jokes are not necessarily the best conduit for scriptural or theological knowledge...Peter’s role in the joke is quite divergent from what we hear in scripture.  However, the core sentiment is key--Jesus lets everyone in.

Now, back to actual scripture...in the account from Acts we hear today, Peter explains that in this new way of being, this following of Christ, all are welcome regardless of where they come from or who they are.  That within the love of God there are no unclean people--all are invited to gather at the table and it becomes our job to move over and make room.  We are called to metaphorically boost people over the walls until the point when there are no walls because everyone is inside and the only wall that remains is the entirety of creation.  

Jesus tears down walls, Jesus goes amongst the outcast, Jesus draws near even those who would betray him.  

The portion of the Gospel we read today is the close of the last supper and foot washing narrative and immediately follows the moment in which Jesus washes the feet of all of the disciples--even Judas.  Judas leaves, but following his leave taking, comes the enjoinder to love one another.  

Yes, even him.

By washing Judas' feet, Jesus includes him in the circle of love.  And, in his commandment asks his disciples to learn to love in this way--this way that includes even the most broken...

The folk who repulse us, the folk who have betrayed us, the folks we have lost...the table is set and they are all invited and in that invitation God sees no us and them.  In the invitation to the table, all are welcome and all are equal.  The cry of “more chips please” serves as a reminder that we all get the same.  That the portion for one is the same as for another.  The same portion of love, the same portion of grace, the same portion of forgiveness...all the same, each to each.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

My Favorite Children's Books About Death

Several people have asked me lately about books I would recommend for children who are asking questions about death...so, I thought it may be useful to list my top picks here

When Dinosaurs Die is a good intro to the whole topic--approachable and tailorable as a "read aloud" for discussion of specifics that may apply to a particular family or situation.  The illustrator has several other familiar books (he's the author and illustrator of the Arthur series) which makes this book feel familiar and approachable.  http://www.amazon.com/When-Dinosaurs-Die-Understanding-Families/dp/0316119555

I have other recommendations for kids who are dealing with losing someone in the immediate family--ones that are less nuts and bolts (altho' both are necessary) and deal more with the abstract "feeling" stuff 

Butterflies Under Our Hats by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, is a favorite of mine to gift folks who have lost an immediate family member or friend.  In the book a mysterious woman arrives and brings hope to a town that had no "luck".   When she (and the butterflies she has brought) leaves they fear that they have lost hope, but then it's realized that even without her presence, hope remains.  http://www.amazon.com/Butterflies-Under-Paraclete-Books-Children/dp/1557254745/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1366636560&sr=1-1&keywords=butterflies+under+our+hats  

The Purple Balloon  http://www.amazon.com/Purple-Balloon-Chris-Raschka/dp/B00342VE38/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1366636656&sr=1-1&keywords=the+purple+balloon+chris+raschka  is a good one for kids who know someone in hospice care or terminally ill.  Based on pictures drawn by terminally ill children, and using a motif of softly drawn balloons, it depicts the helpers who assist in freeing the purple balloon. 

Other books I've seen people use include The Next Place  (I have an aversion to this one, largely because I think it's not open ended enough for families to apply their own theology or understanding of what may happen after death--and I think it can be a bit scary.  That said, the people who love it, LOVE it).  I've gifted Tear Soup: A Recipe For Healing After Loss   but, I think it works better for grown ups than for kids (pet peeve of mine, "children's books" that are really aimed at grown ups).  And...finally, one I've heard of but not read personally, The Invisible String.  While I haven't read it, I think the concept as it's described (an invisible string connecting us to all those we love that can NEVER be severed) is a wonderful one.  

Friday, April 19, 2013

Light Bringers

I have a dear friend and colleague whose sermon writing advice can be summed up in a simple question, “where is the grace?”  Indeed, where is the grace.  This is the challenge that so often confronts us, not just in reading scripture, but in living in this world, at this time, in this place.  Where is the grace?

I am no stranger to death or despair, or hopelessness.  Working as a pediatric chaplain, made me a close companion to dying gasps and primal screams.  I often said, in my time there, that I wished I could go back, to that time when children seemingly never died (or at least not ones I knew) and I could blithely assume that I, and those I loved, would be safe.  

My time as a pediatric chaplain was a loss of a kind of innocence...but it was not my first loss of innocence.  As school children clustered around the television, we saw the Challenger explosion live--from wonder to horror in seconds.  The death of my father when I was a senior in high school changed everything I thought I knew.  And, as a young youth minister, I drove to the church I served and heard the first tower fall and arrived in time to watch the second go after.   The violation of spaces and places we trusted to be safe--schools and shopping centers and now this, a marathon where a vibrant celebration of life and potential became a scene of tragedy.  Death again, sudden and unexpected, like a bolt of lightening striking seemingly at random.  

Where is the grace?  

Where is the grace?

Where is the grace?

In the Gospel of John this coming Sunday, we hear Jesus state clearly that merely hearing and telling the truth of God’s love in the world will not be sufficient.  So, instead, Jesus uses works of power in order to make manifest a truth that cannot be conveyed by mere words.  And so, moving beyond words, I look for the grace.

The family gathered at the bed, the organs taken from one broken body in order to restore another.  The gentle care of nurses doing one last thing, one last act of ministering to those they fought so hard to keep.  The doors opened, the lights left on, the meals warmed and cups of coffee poured.  Children comforted, death and life explained, the words of the saints calling us to remember the helpers.  The strangers who rushed in where angels fear to tread and where the blood poured knowing no friend.  Grace in la pieta, the famous sculpture of Mary holding the body of her dead son.  Grace in the midst of pain, grace made manifest because of the power of love conquering the forces of evil in the world.  

Conquering these forces not with violence but with love...not with imagery of destruction, but with that of care.  The messiah has not come with weapons, the messiah does not come as a conquering king, the messiah does not destroy everything in favor of one thing.  Instead we are given a shepherd, a voice calling for us, acts of healing and a final and complete act of defiance--no one can snatch the love and life of God from any of us.  Grace walks, God walks, beside us, through these valleys in which the shadow of death would attempt to rob us of light.  

One of my favorite children’s books is “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’engle.  Early in the book the protagonists are taken to observe a planet that is being overcome by the forces of evil, and as they watch they see bright flares of light.  These flares spark and then fade.  They ask what they are seeing and they are told that the lights are the moments in which stars sacrifice themselves in the ongoing battle against the darkness.  And, in their sacrifice, the shadows and fear go away--leaving behind the clear, gentle wholeness of creation as it was intended.  

Yes, evil all too often destroys those who bring light into the world...peace makers, innocents, prophets and saints.  But, still the light bringers sally forth into the darkness...a pin prick of light visible even in the deepest of nights.  

Light bringers, there is a litany of them is there not?  In A Wrinkle in Time their names are called out

“Jesus, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Bach, Pasteaur, Madame Curie, Einstein, Schweitzer, Gandhi, Buddha, Beethoven, Rembrandt, St. Francis, Euclid, Copernicus”

Light bringers, companions in the darkness bringing us into the light...who are your light bringers?  Who has brought light into the world this day, this week, this month, this year?  Who has brought light into your life?  Who brought love when there was loss? Who brought peace when there was fear?  Who carried you when you could not go on?

Please, take a moment, and think of some names.  Names of those whose lives have brought light into the world.  I invite you (if you feel so called) to share those names in the comments.  

Because, in these names, I think we have the answer to the question, “Where is the grace?”  The grace is here, it has brought us here and will carry us home, the grace surrounds us and is in us, the grace imbues our every step with light and with promise.  Light bringers, life bearers, grace resounds even as fear abounds.  

Two of my light bringers (there are more, but these are the two I want to remember today)--Mr. Olson and Karen Anna--may they rest in peace and light perpetual shine upon them.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Soap Box and Boston

Devastated...again.  Praying for all those physically present in the midst of the chaos and aftermath.  Praying for all first responders.  Praying for everyone whose world's been shaken.

That said.

If you have small children at home, or even not so small ones,


And...radio if children are present.  Listening as it happens will not prevent, change or affect the eventual outcome. Catch up with the news (if you feel the need) after the kids go to sleep!

Young children cannot differentiate from a bombing thousands of miles away and next door.  Young children cannot tell the difference between what happens "there" and what happens "here".  This is not about sheltering or hiding children from the "real world".  This is about being real about what children understand and don't understand.  This is about recognizing that secondary trauma with real psychological implications for the short and long term, can occur when people (especially children) witness traumatic events--even if it's "merely" televised.

If by chance your child does witness events beyond their ability to comprehend...the PBS website for talking about news with children is helpful.

As are the words of the Reverend Fred Rogers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

And, if you are curious about what my formal prayers look/sound like...head on back here.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"Do You Love Me?"

I’ve spent much of my adulthood thus far wrestling with the question, “am I an admirer of Jesus or a follower?”  Given the relative luxury many of us live in, given our power and privilege in the world, given...

are we following Christ or merely admiring Christ?  

I imagine, in many ways, that this is the question being posed to Peter.

Will you admire me?  Or will you follow me?

Because, it is in the following that you will lose all sense of control.  It is in the following that you will expose yourself to all the suffering that the world can bring.  It is in the following that you will take the risk of letting the world into the upper room.  And, it is in the following, that the upper room will become the world ENTIRE.  

Because, letting the world in is not enough.  We must enter the world and embrace all that we see.  This is not a sedentary or isolated faith experience to which we are called.  It is not an experience that’s meant for our entertainment or our delight.  It is not an experience of hedonistic pleasure nor of quiet relaxation.

In our scripture today we hear that this faith experience is one of being blinded, realizing everything you thought you stood for was wrong, of being sent to those who frighten you and being shaken to the core.

It is leaping into the water impulsively and faithfully pulling in the nets.  It is one of offering chances and meeting people where they are (no matter where).  It is one of baptism and repentance and encounter and transformation.

It is one that demands the question...do you love me?

Following or Admiring?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

More of the Same, Easter 2C, Reconciliation and Resurrection

Easter 2, Reconciliation and Resurrection

Throughout Lent, the word “journey” came up frequently.  Taking the metaphor of the desert wilderness...we discussed the reality that in the midst of our suffering and as broken people in a broken world we may at times (or even frequently) find ourselves struggling through a metaphorical desert landscape.  As we heard the scriptures throughout Lent we saw in them a reflection of our own journeys and we were invited to see that we are not alone in our journey--that the company of the saints, and of each other, brings into our presence the companionship and grace of God.  

The message that we are not alone in our struggles rang out again and again.  

When I was going through my first BIG heart break in college I remember listening to music that really spoke to the brokenness and despair I was feeling.  Singing along at the top of my lungs, I felt as if I was alone in the world and in my despair.  That’s when I realized...I was singing along.  That the music that I felt spoke to my heartache alone was sung by SOMEONE else!  In that moment, I rejoiced--someone understands me!!!  Then, I went further and realized that surely, for this music to be commercially viable, scores of people must find it relevant.  

I felt a bit silly, but also relieved...

Relieved to realize that I was not alone, and in fact, many other people had been in that place and had gone through to the other side.  

So, to continue with this metaphor, what would it be like to recognize that much of scripture holds an invitation to sing along as it were to the bad break up songs of a people, of our people.  To cry out along with Christ, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”  

Lent and Holy Week are a time in which we are invited to truly feel that brokenness, to proclaim it as it were...to name it and see it and touch it.  To sing along with the pain of our communities and recognize that none of us are whole.

Broken people, in broken communities in a broken world.  We are not unique...every community is broken...everyone is broken...the world indeed is broken.  When we watch Christ die on the cross we see what comes of our brokenness, the destruction of all that is good and is holy and is love.  And, we may find ourselves fleeing from that brokenness, trying to hide from it.  The pain may seem too great, the cost to self too high.  I imagine that running from the pain is some of what the disciples did after that moment on the cross.  They hid, uncertain about their future and what the world would come to, the world that had seemingly destroyed everything that they hoped to bring into fruition.

But, the journey does not end in the desert.  The disciple’s story does not conclude in that upper room or at the cross.  In stepping into the empty tomb, they step through the empty tomb and into a new light.  An Easter light and they look around in wonderment...from fear and anger to peace, from accusation and isolation to forgiveness and gathering.  

In the Easter light they are reconciled...Peter’s betrayal, the disciple’s doubt, their inability to stay awake to watch with Christ, and Thomas’ absence in the moment when peace is declared.  These all cease to matter, because as Jesus stands before them, something bigger than them, then their differences and pains is being offered.  

As Jesus allows Thomas to touch his wounds we wonder at the boldness.  But, in that moment of physical contact and wonderment I think the disciples began to realize that despite their brokenness, despite all that had happened, that perhaps even because of all that had happened, that the powerful work of Christ in the world would survive.  That they, that all they held dear, that we and all that is precious to us, can continue.  When we touch the broken God, we become whole.  

Reconciliation happened in that upper room.  They came together, they shared their stories...and when the story became too hard to believe, they witnessed a greater love together.

But, reconciliation did not end there.  Just as the story does not end on the cross, or even in the tomb.  Reconciliation does not end with the proclamation of peace.  Reconciliation is a continuous journey...we break and are healed, break and are healed, break and are healed.  Again and again.  

And, the healing happens in time, and with work...which is why I think so many of us gather each week in this place, in these places, in our faith communities.  Because, each week the invitation to healing is issued again and again.  Peace, peace I bring to you.  Confess your sins, forgive each other.  Reconciliation is not a done and gone process...it IS a process.  

The invitation to the disciples in that upper room and beyond is one of sticking around through the brokenness.  And, the only solution to brokenness in the light of the resurrection is healing and when they stay together they find healing together.  To return to our break up song metaphor...they are making a mix tape for their new love, each contributing a different song, all of it proclaiming, “this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”.  From one broken song to new songs, sung with the realization that we continue to live in hope, and love and in the midst of the powerful testimony of a new creation.  

So where does this new creation happen?  In the upper room it happens in community.  They witness together, they break bread together, they live in brokenness together and they are healed together.  And, for us we find ourselves in our own upper room, as each Sunday’s liturgy gives us the opportunity to break bread together, to live in brokenness together and be healed, together.  What happens in the upper room is happening RIGHT NOW. 

We are a broken people in a broken community.

Just as the disciples wrestled with the places where it seemed they had failed:
When they fell asleep,
When they denied Christ
When they lost one of their member in an act of betrayal
When one of their members dared to question the truth he saw before them

So too, do we wrestle.

We are them, and they are we.  

But, in our gathering we become a new community, a community once broken made whole.  We are made whole by something that surpasses any of them and all of us

We are made whole by the witness we bare to the new creation in Christ

We are made whole because we are called to see beyond ourselves and into something greater

We are made whole when we see that the resurrection carries with it consequences for our daily living.  

The resurrection demands a new way of seeing, a new way of being, a new creation.  When we are made new, we are called to make the whole world new.  When we see Christ, we are called to see Christ in all human beings.  When we hear Christ’s gift of peace, we are called to carry that gift into the world.  When we are forgiven by God we are called to forgive others.  

When we are given the power to forgive it is because the message of reconciliation has been entrusted to us--and resurrection is reconciliation and reconciliation brings new life and wholeness to a broken and shattered body.  So, if we are to be a resurrected people, so too must we be a reconciled people.  

This does not mean that we must ignore that which causes us hurt, nor is it that we are to turn a blind eye...it is that we are to keep working towards the truth of what we have witnessed.  We are asked to stay in relationship and enter into the journey of brokenness made whole.   As Paul so often attests in his letters, it is not that the early Christian’s differences, or conflicts, or debates are gone--but, it is that they all can see that beyond the interests of their community to a greater interest that draws them together.

Part of what lies ahead for Gethsemane is your community’s discernment of what that greater interest is for all of you--what will draw you beyond yourselves and closer to the truth of God’s love in the world.  What will the resurrection look like as you all discern how and where God is calling you in mission?  Will it be the feeding of the hungry?  Will it be warmth for those who are cold?  Will it be providing a place of safety and liberation for the marginalized of our communities?  How will you be called to carry the message of reconciliation and of healing into the world?  What song will we sing in this new love affair with the Christ who is risen?