A Bit of Poetry

I’m on vacation this week so I am sharing a poem based on the Song of Solomon reading from my book, Barefoot Theology.

Marriage

we held hands, my beloved and I47932_426554064163_542639163_4923622_1271989_n
made promises to care for one another
to share laughter and tears
forgiveness and grace
strengths and weaknesses
to bring all of ourselves to this
sacred moment
standing before friends and family
asking God to bless and bind our relationship
then we stepped into our wedded life

we hold hands now, my beloved and I
whispering, “Come away with me”
in moments of quiet celebration
offering comfort in grief
encouragement when hope slides away
never forgetting the blessing we received
the day God joined us together
for a lifetime of never letting go

one day the beauty of springsnow-259974_1920
will be a shadowy memory
after adventures through seasons
stormy and gentle
all with my beloved saying,
“Arise my love, my fair one,
come away with me”
always hand and hand
blessed with Grace

RCL – Year B – Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 30, 2015

Song of Solomon 2:8-13 with Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9  or
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9 with Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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Do You Know That I Have a Vlog?

Just to let you all know that I have started a Video Blog (Vlog). It won’t often have anything to do with the RCL, but you might want to check it out anyway. Here’s the link to the promo for the series and here’s the link for Monday’s Muse Playlist.

I wanted to invite my blog readers to check it out!

Feel free to comment on any of the videos with your thoughts or ideas for future episodes.

Thank you!

P.S. Write Out of Left Field will continue as usual.

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Way More Than Bread

2015-08-14 16.08.19A few days after my mother died, I went to church. I wasn’t preaching so I thought I would be okay being there for worship. Many people said, “Why are you here?” or “You shouldn’t be here.” They meant well. But where else would I go in the early days of grief? Yes, church is where I work and this one is still new to me. However, church is more than a job for me; it’s a place of healing, hope, and hospitality among other thing.

After Jesus fed the 5000, he talked about the “bread of life” and how the eating of it leads to eternal life. The disciples were confused by all of this. Jesus spoke words that didn’t make sense. Those who heard seemed to have sensed that Jesus meant something beyond his actual words. They began to understand that Jesus was inviting them into, calling them to participate in a mystery beyond their knowing. Some walked away unable to hear more than the words which sounded cannibalistic. Some remained skeptics and maybe hung back in the shadows for a bit. Others, like Peter, responded to Jesus’ question of, “Do you also wish to go?” with “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

There’s a lot going around the internet these days about church and what church goers say they want and how to get new (and younger) folks to come in. The truth is that this odd little passage in John’s gospel holds the answer. It’s what made me feel compelled to be in church just days after my mother died. It’s that mystery that we are called to be a part of.

Jesus didn’t just talk to people. Jesus responded to their needs in very real ways. He fed people. He healed people. He offered hope. Out of a crowd of strangers he created what would become the early church, the body of Christ that lives on eternally. Church isn’t about entertainment, incorporating technology, or other splashy touches. Church happens when a group of strangers become community. How, exactly, community forms is a bit of a mystery. But I do know that it is based on authenticity that is grounded in Truth, the same Truth that Jesus embodied and spoke out loud and created such a deep longing in the disciples that they could not imagine going anywhere else. Yes, the same Truth that transformed that hungry, needy, anxious, confused crowd into the body of Christ. The same Truth that is still at work in the world today transforming us, the hungry, anxious, needy confused crowds of today.

I went to church four days after my mother’s death not out of any professional obligation, but out of a deep need for those words of eternal life. I needed to immerse myself in that Mystery, to be reminded that there is healing, hope, and hospitality. I find these things in a community that knows it is somewhere between the needy crowd and the eternal body of Christ.

Now all we have to do is authentically invite people into the Mystery that is our God and accept the fact that some will walk away, some will hang in the shadows, and some will respond with their whole lives.

2015-07-25 14.34.21

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O God of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of God;
my heart and my flesh
sing for joy to the living God.

RCL – Year B- Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 23, 2015
1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43 with Psalm 84 or
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 with Psalm 34:15-22
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

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Wait! Jesus Said What?

This week John’s gospel gets weird. As one colleague pointed out, Jesus says something that will make the adolescents in and among us giggle. Beyond that, though, is the question of just what exactly is happening here. Surely, Jesus didn’t just say that!

bread-821503_1920Taking a closer look means asking what Jesus really meant when he said “eat my flesh and drink my blood.” Early Jewish hearers wouldn’t be pleased by this. Blood was the part of the animal offered to God; it was not to be consumed by humans. Yet, here is Jesus inviting people to eat flesh and drink blood. There’s an invitation here that ought not go overlooked no matter how weird it sounds.

Metaphorically speaking, to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood is to remove the barrier between God and humanity, the barrier that required animal sacrifice. Through Jesus people come to God, experience God’s forgiveness, love, grace directly. When the breaking of bread and drinking of wine becomes ritualized, it symbolizes (among other things) God’s willingness to be with us around our tables, to break bread with us. There is a mysterious beauty here that we would do well to pay attention to even if we do not quite understand it.

picnic-787117_1920

On another level, Jesus is offering his whole self to the people – body, mind, and spirit.
There’s something powerful in this simple offering. What does it mean for us to be consumers of Christ? If we accept the idea that Christ lives in us as we live in Christ, then we are the body, mind, and spirit of Christ. That’s quite a transformation when you think about it. We go from being the hungry, clamoring, clueless crowd to being holy, sacred, beloved. Bread of life, indeed! And if the world needs anything right now, it needs life-giving bread.

Think of how understanding ourselves to be the embodiment of Christ can change the way we think about social justice. If God breaks bread at our tables, then God breaks bread at everyone’s tables. I am no more or less the embodiment of Christ than you are. This understanding takes all the foolish things we use to separate from one another and reveals instead divine equality. In other words, if we ignore those who suffer injustice, then we are ignoring Christ.

As the news is filled with the 70th Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, the one year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death, and the marking of one year in the war in Ukraine, I have to ask when we will take seriously these strange words Jesus spoke? When will we break bread with our neighbors and not care what country they have come from? When will we welcome the stranger and not care about their gender identity? When will we offer hospitality to the traveler and not care that their skin color is not our skin color? When will we care for those who suffer and not make judgements about their economic status? In other words, when will we become the Bread of Life that Christ offered freely and completely?

people-730790_1280“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

 RCL – Year B – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 16, 2015
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 with Psalm 111 or
Proverbs 9:1-6 with Psalm 34:9-14
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

Photos from Pixabay. Used with permission.

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Confessing the Need for More Bread

2015-07-25 21.36.29

Litany of Confession

One:  Holy One, you call us to a life of loving-kindness. Yet, very often, we resort to violence with our words or actions forgetting our responsibility to love our neighbors and ourselves.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we are self-absorbed.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  Gracious God who comes to us in the sound of sheer silence, we admit that we don’t seek you very often. We get caught up in busyness and storms, choosing to ignore how much we need stillness.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we are so easily distracted from what really matters.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  Ever-living God, you have shown us how to live a life of peace. Somehow, though, we lose our way and fail to offer your grace and forgiveness to those whom we meet.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we create more discord than peace.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One: Steadfast God who claims all of us as Beloved, turn our hearts from hateful, ignorant ways. Open us to a life that excludes all hatred and racism.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us for failing to notice you in our midst.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  God of all nations, you created us all in your image and called us to live in community with our neighbors. We seem to forget that your kindom doesn’t have borders, developed countries, language barriers, or economic preferences.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us for drawing arbitrary lines to determine the value of nations and peoples.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  Patient God who came to us and lived among us, you spoke peace that challenged the powerful and love that healed the hurting. We often desire to be powerful and to dismiss those who hurt.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we neither hear nor listen to your Word.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One: Loving God, you offer us a life of abundance, a life filled with forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love. How often do we overlook your blessings and fail to express our gratitude.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us for the many times when we have dismissed the joy of life in the Spirit.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

RCL – Year B – Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 with Psalm 130 or
1 Kings 19:4-8 with Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

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Stumbling Toward a Worthy Life

How many of these names do you recognize?jail-395304_1280

Sandra Bland
Rexdale Henry
Kindra Chapman
Samuel Dubose
Joyce Curnell
Ralkina Jones
Raynette Turner
Sarah Lee Circle Bear

If you live in the United States you should know these names as well as you know that the lion killed in Zimbabwe by a Minnesotan dentist was named Cecil. I’m betting that most of us only know one or two names on this list. I admit that I didn’t know all of them until I did a little research. Seven of them died in holding cells and the eighth was shot by a university police officer. Five of them are Black, one is Choctaw, and one is Lakota. They all died between July 13th and July 28th. These are the names I found with a cursory internet search. I’m betting there are more.

Why is it that when one fool kills a lion for fun, people are vocally outraged and petitions and Kick-starters pop up all over the place? But when People of Color are dying in police custody or are shot by a police officer, the names slip by with little fanfare?

I used to tell myself that it was easier to feel compassion for animals who were killed, abused, or neglected because they are dependent on human beings for so much, especially domesticated animals. However, I’ve come to see the flaw in that thinking. This kind of thinking is born out of a “blame the victim” mentality that I really cannot stand. So I’ve stopped doing it and hope that others will, too. While I do believe that life is sacred, all of it, I cannot grieve more for a lion than I do for the people I have named. These were people who had friends and family who loved them and they did not deserve to die. They all would likely have gone on living if they had not come into contact with the police. Is this not more horrifying than the idea that Cecil would have gone on living if he had not come into contact with a hunter?

In this week’s Gospel reading Jesus clearly states, “I am the bread of life.” This is a message that many have failed to hear or take to heart. We have a tendency to hoard this bread for those who look, sound, and live like us. We have yet to learn how to live it and give it away. I know several clergy who are grumbling about the lectionary spending so much time on “bread.” Clearly, given the state of the world, we need these several weeks of readings and, probably, a few more as well because we have not been living out the truth of these passages.

Jesus fed the crowds and the disciples. He did this not just because they were hungry but also to show them how to feed themselves and others. Jesus knew that his followers would be the ones who would continue his work. I’m not sure how well we’ve done that.  People are starving to death – literally and figuratively – while we do everything in our power to make it someone else’s problem, particularly blaming those who are so very hungry for justice.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians implores us to “live a life worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called.” Paul wrote these words while imprisoned for living out his faith. Even then, he implored people to live a life of love, a life in which all gifts were used and no one person was more valued than another. In other words, we are called to live lives that build one another up and value each person as a wonderful gift from God. We are not called to sit back and watch violence and hatred destroy and injustice destroy our neighbors.

Whether we agree with all of Paul’s views or not, it is clear that he followed Jesus and in so doing risked everything to proclaim a transformative way of love. What are we willing to risk? At what point do we take an active stand against the racism that makes the murder of People of Color acceptable? At what point do we stop ignoring the deplorable living conditions on the reservations of First Nation Peoples? When do we stop accepting that education and medical care are based on economics and skin color? How many have to die before we decide that Black lives really do matter? Are you and I willing to risk everything (or anything) to live out a life of transforming love?

Jesus is the bread of life. We are the body of Christ. Therefore, we are the bread of life and that means we have tremendous responsibility. As much as we are part of the hungry, needy crowd, we are also those who must respond to the need. If we do not offer the bread of life, a way of peace, in the face of hatred, then who will?

Have mercy on me, O God,breads-387544_1920
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

RCL – Year B – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2015
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a with Psalm 51:1-12 or
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 with Psalm 78:23-29
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

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Real Bread

2015-07-22 21.18.39Deep within me there is a pot of anger on slow boil. Sometimes it boils up and threatens to overflow. There are a lot of injustices in this pot, some personal and others not. I know that what heats this pot is pain. I’ve accumulated this pain over my lifetime. Again, some of it is personal and some of it is not. At the core, this pain is about being devalued, dismissed, judged, and shamed. Like many, I’ve lived through these experiences and they are part of my story. The kind of pain left behind is easily triggered when I see someone being devalued, dismissed, judged, or shamed. This is where my anger comes from.

This week I’ve had a hard time keeping the proverbial lid on it. Just today I was listening to Minnesota Public Radio and the story was all about suicide in jails. Yes, it is a tragedy that suicide is the number one cause of death in jails and certainly the story needs to be told. But I wanted to scream at the radio host. He connected this story to the death of Sandra Bland. How dare he? Even if her death was caused by suicide (and I do not believe for a second that it was), this should not be the focus of her story. She should never have been in a jail cell to begin with. Her cause of death was racism and that wouldn’t change whether her cause of death was murder or suicide. Systemic, horrific racism should be the center of the story. The issue of safety and mental health crises in jails and prison is another story.

This is where my head is at when I read the texts for this week. I also can’t help but think of the person who recently said to me, “Why do we bother reading the Bible? It’s not like there is anything relevant in it.”

So I take a deep breath and I read. I am struck by two of the readings in particular. There’s the prayer in Ephesians that couldn’t be more relevant if it were penned today:

I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

If all Christians prayed this for and with one another, the world would be a different place. People like Sandra Bland would not be imprisoned because the racism of the officer that arrested her would not be tolerated. When will we learn that every person on earth is a beloved child of God and deserves to be treated as such? Perhaps this prayer is a good place to start.

From this beautiful prayer I move to John’s Gospel and the feeding of the five thousand. This is a familiar story that is has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Today I am less concerned with whether the miracle was one of multiplying bread and fish or softening of human hearts than I am with the overall message of the story.

bread-587597_1920Jesus asked the disciples to feed the crowd. They were tired, frustrated, and overwhelmed. They had no idea how to go about such a task. Jesus likely had some idea of what he would do and what would happen once he put his plan into motion. After all, there’s biblical precedence for this kind of thing (2 Kings 4:42-44). Everyone ate and leftovers were collected.

There’s a reason Jesus asked the disciples to feed the gathered crowd. In a few short verses Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” He has every reason to proclaim this. He is the embodiment of the Great I Am. If I Am is the bread of life, then Jesus also is the bread of life. The disciples would become the early church, the body of Christ. They needed to know how to be the bread of life, they needed to learn to meet the needs of the broken, the dismissed, the hungry, the hurting, the unseen, and shamed of the world.

This is our legacy. We are the body of Christ, the embodiment of I AM, the bread of life. We need to know how to bring love, nurture, grace into the world. We need to offer an alternative to the hatred, racism, and violence of the world. Jesus did not devalue, dismiss, judge, or shame anyone. He did not send away a crowd seeking healing, mercy, and sustenance. It is time for us to be Church, to be the Bread of Life.

I am taking another deep breath and getting the lid to settle back on the pot. Sandra Bland’s story is not about suicide; it’s about racism. The Christian story is not about apathy and hatred; it’s about love and nurture. Christians can no longer afford to remain silent. Feeding, nurturing, the hungry crowds means taking a stand and speaking out when anyone is devalued, dismissed, judged, or shamed no matter who they are, what they have done, the color of their skin, their country of origin, the God they worship, their economic status, their age, their gender identity, their sexual orientation, their physical health, their mental health, or their intellectual ability. It’s time for us to embody Christ and be the Bread of Life that will feed the hungry crowds before more innocent people die.

RCL – Year B – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 26, 2015
2 Samuel 11:1-15 with Psalm 14 or
2 Kings 4:42-44 with Psalm 145:10-18
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

Altar photo by Rachael Keefe.
Bread photo from Pixabay. Used with permission.

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