Saturday, April 30, 2016

Easter 35 Bright

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
   mortals  that you care for them? [Psalm 8:3-4]

I grew up on a farm, about 10 miles from Giddings, Texas. Our address said Paige. Austin was the nearest city to us, just under 60 miles away. We had porch lights but not much else in the way of outdoor lighting.

The nights could be very dark.

On clear nights, it could be glorious.

As a teenager and into my twenties, when I'd come home late from work, dancing, theater, whatever, I'd sometimes park my car in our gravel driveway and lay down on the hood of my car and look at the stars. It was, again, glorious. 

I was aware of other light around us. On cloudy nights, you could see the light of Giddings reflected on low clouds. There were times we could see lights from the Alcoa plant in Rockdale, about 40 miles away, but not always. (I don't know why, maybe there were times they had more lights on?) Our house was a half-mile from the highway and we could see cars, hear them too (particularly the large semis), passing.

I often wondered what the night looked like for Native Americans, before the Europeans (we) came. I was aware that even the little light pollution we had on that farm was still affecting the sight above me.

I was also aware that on nights of thick cloud cover, how very, very dark a night could get.

Our Scriptures were written in a desert land, without electricity. I wondered, too, how many more stars those people saw. Living in a modern city, as I do now, I am aware of the convenience of having lighted sidewalks nearly everywhere I want to walk at night----and I'm aware of the cost of them.

We pay in awe.

These ancient writers looked at the lights in the sky and praised God. They looked to the east and were relieved when the dark night was over and the sky began to turn light.

Knowing my face is illuminated by the computer screen on which I write, knowing that even in the day, I have lights on in my apartment, knowing that I will likely never experience the darkness of the ancients, I am thankful for the light we are given, both the literal light and the Light of Christ (thanks be to God).

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. [John 1:1-5]

Friday, April 29, 2016

Easter 34 Spark

"It only takes a spark . . . "

If you are of a certain age and grew up in the church, I probably just gave you an earworm for the day. For the rest of you, it's a youth group golden oldie, laced with just enough treacle to make you wish it weren't so memorable.

This week of my discipline of celebration has found me thinking about light images and in free-associating words, "spark" came to mind and immediately this song ("Pass It On," by the way, is it's title) started playing. Such is the power of the music of our youth.

Whatever one thinks of the merits of this song, I am fascinated by how Christianity caught on and grew and still catches people's attention, converting them to some version of discipleship. Something caught fire.

Then I think about how, about 15 years ago, I made my feeble attempt to leave the church. I was a complete failure as an apostate. I'd find myself in a theological argument and step back and say, well, I guess I still believe that. I didn't even really miss more than a few Sundays at a church. As I made my way back towards a more solid commitment to the church, I recall lamenting, "my baptism just really took hold!"

So, over a few decades of church-going and study, the fire can vary in intensity, but the spark remains. It's a life full of things seen, heard, experienced that can't be unseen, unheard, unexperienced.

Yeah, I'm afraid I have to end this post this way:

" . . . That's how it is with God's love. Once you've experienced it . . . "

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Easter 33 Burn

I'm not going to pretend I get every line or word of this poem from St John of the Cross. I'm only going to say that when I found it three years ago (also used in the performance of Wringing Out Light), I felt it. Darkness, light, grace, savor, burn away . . .

Without a place and with a place
to rest -- living darkly with no ray
of light -- I burn my self away.

My soul -- no longer bound -- is free
from the creations of the world;
above itself it rises hurled
into a life of ecstasy,
leaning only on God. The world
will therefore clarify at last
what I esteem of highest grace:
my soul revealing it can rest
without a place and with a place.

Although I suffer a dark night
in mortal life, I also know
my agony is slight, for though
I am in darkness without light,
a clear heavenly life I know;
for love gives power to my life,
however black and blind my day,
to yield my soul, and free of strife
to rest -- living darkly with no ray.

Love can perform a wondrous labor
which I have learned internally,
and all the good or bad in me
takes on a penetrating savor,
changing my soul so it can be
consumed in a delicious flame.
I feel it in me as a ray;
and quickly killing every trace
of light -- I burn my self away.

[John of the Cross]

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Easter 32 Luminous

"Wring Out My Clothes"

Such love does
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field, 

 I have to wring out the light
when I get

[Francis of Assisi]

Three years ago, when I was cut open from the bottom of my sternum to just below my navel to remove a large cyst on my pancreas, it was one of those dividing lines in life. That event will always be the fixed point with a before and (quite luckily) an after to it. Though about the size of a baseball, the cyst was completely free of cancer.

There were also a few months after it that I felt such relief that everything was luminous. Grace and gratitude met in those few months and I think I can say I felt the the lightest I maybe ever have. In response, I made a short performance called Wringing Out Light: Poems and Prayers, which drew on writings of various Christian mystics and visionaries. The above brief verse from Francis became the thread that embroidered the whole performance.

I don't always feel it. I think I've made that clear. But having felt it, I know it's possible and I keep this short verse tacked to my work cubicle wall as a reminder.

Such love! Such love! Such love!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Easter 31 Shine

"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." [Matthew 5:14-16]

This particular teaching of Jesus appears to be a little at odds with some of his other teachings, for example the first verse of the next chapter. ("Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.")

Of course, Jesus talking about slightly different things in each passage. In the first I quoted, I believe Jesus is making sure that we are in the world, shining so as to give light to others. The previous verses are the "you are the salt of the earth" portion of the sermon, which I've always understood to be about giving savor to the wider world. In short, it's a warning to not hole up with people just like us, but to mix it up, spreading our light and savor to a world that can sometimes lack illumination and flavor.

To be the light of the world is not to show people how pious we are.

We who claim to follow Jesus are the lamp he has put on the lamp stand. Living in the resurrection, we may hope to illuminate without showing off. We might bring light without being obnoxious about it. I believe practicing a piety has merit, but it's for us to practice, not to project or force upon other people.

Living in the light of Christ, we can quietly illuminate some dark places. How much better to remember with much humility that if we do this, it the light of Christ and not our own holiness.

The light of Christ!
Thanks be to God!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Easter 30 Buoy

As I said at the beginning of this 50 Day Discipline of Celebration, joy is not always easy for me.

Sunday afternoon, after a good morning liturgy with some great hymns to sing (I still contend singing---breathing----together is one of my greatest joys), I got home and took a nap.

For whatever reason, I woke up with the familiar feeling of uselessness. Overwhelm. It's the familiar demon, acedia. Perhaps because I'd talked about it the night before it came for a visit.

Acedia does not facilitate keeping a discipline of celebration.

But here, reader, is the reason one reads and studies. I know from my my ancient guides, the abbas and ammas of the desert, that the way you deal with acedia is with scripture, particularly psalms.

I found online recordings of old albums that, 30 years ago, made a difference to me. Musical settings of scripture----psalms, Isaiah, some other sources---that spoke of the steadfastness of God's love, redemption, presence. While the demon tried to remind me how the composer and singer of these settings probably disagreed with me on any number of theological issues, some quite personal, I also remembered, as with the sacraments, the one who distributes the sacrament is less important than the sacrament itself. The words and the music were the important thing in this moment, and so I continued to listen, sing along in the places I remembered.

In this way, I found my buoy, my flotation device as well as my navigation marker. I felt better by bedtime.

It's not always so easy. I'm thankful, for this instance, that it was relatively so.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Easter 29 Light

At the Easter Vigil, after we light the new fire and carry it into the church building, we chant:

Leader: The Light of Christ.
Congregation: Thanks be to God.

And this morning, I'm thinking of "light," it's various meanings.

Noun: The light of a new day.
Verb: Light the fire.
Adjective: Light as a feather.

I like how the adjective form does not immediately refer to being able to see or this mysterious thing that travels in particles and waves---and still we can say that dark days are heavy days, so not completely divorced from the idea.

I've had a weekend of thought provoking performances. Friday night was at The Alley Theatre and Lucas Hnath's The Christians. Saturday night was the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Both shed light on dark subjects, both had fire, both had lightness in the middle of heavy subjects. This morning, as I get ready to head to church, I'm feeling light with these reminders of the way live performance will lift me, illuminate my way, carry me forward on particles and waves.

The light of Christ!
Thanks be to God!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Easter 28 Brilliance

The brilliance of light
The light of a morning
The morning of creation
The creation of life
The life of a people
The people of God
The God of all knowledge
The knowledge of love
The love of dancing
The dancing of ecstasy
The ecstasy of touch
The touch of the Spirit
The Spirit of flame
The flame of learning
The learning of a student
The student of the Teacher
The Teacher of grace
The grace of a moment
The moment of brilliance
Of the light
Of the flame
Of the movement . . .

Friday, April 22, 2016

Easter 27 Art

In my theology, art and resurrection go together.

Creation, recreation. Incarnation, resurrection.

Parallels. At least in my theology.

And look at creation, the variety of beauty to be found there, from the multi-sensory richness of a rain forest to the spare and severe simplicity of a desert.

Artists also embody that diversity, from a renaissance oil painting or lavish opera production to a color field canvas or a stark modernist sculpture.

Time and place and experience shape an artist. The American Southwest shaped Georgia O'Keeffe. The American south permeated Flannery O'Connor. Louisiana made Tennessee Williams.

Our spirituality is similar. The harshness of the Egyptian desert created the Desert Fathers and Mothers. The green of Assisi shaped the slightly different monasticism of Francis and Clare. Having grown up rural and spending my adulthood in the city, I'm repeatedly reflecting on who I am in God in relation to environment.

And so art. People create in response to the creation around them. We create out of an understanding of creation, within a relationship with environment.

The artistry of the Creator flows through the creation like light through a prism. Modern dance and baroque music and experimental theater and minimalist sculpture and . . .

New life. Resurrection. Art. Creativity. These are all signs of one another.

At least in my theology.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Easter 26 Attraction

We don't know much about the physical presence of Jesus. The gospel writers didn't give us a description. We don't know if people found him physically attractive or if he had a particularly beautiful voice or if people were attracted to him in spite of lacking same.

I think of Abraham Lincoln. He wasn't a particularly handsome man and his voice has been described as high pitched and unpleasant to listen to. Still we remember him for his speeches and he attracted enough followers to become president.

In our current era, physical attractiveness is almost demanded for any shot at public notice. And that's not to say anything against physical attraction, which can be quite fun and thrilling.

But it is not the only thing that attracts us, is it?

For many of us, the gospel stories of Jesus attract us and hold us. Despite the gore of the cross and some really rather difficult teachings, Jesus continues to attract people. Some of us even find that being so attracted saves our lives.

This nobody from Galilee, who was so much a nobody that only his followers kept any record of him, still had followers who remembered and told stories and attracted more to this nobody that wound up crucified, an undignified but common means of state execution.

More than one of us has tried to walk away. More than one of us has been drawn back to this man of sorrows---and hope and promise and Good News.

A lot of us have given Jesus a bad reputation, admittedly. His attractiveness has suffered thanks to some of us. In another forum and context, I've brought this up and have been thinking about this problem.

But for today's purposes, I'm thinking about what draws me to this man and his story. My life is definitely shaped by him, despite my being unable to always adequately name what the attraction is.

I celebrate this even as I can't explain it. It has, absolutely, been a saving grace.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Easter 25 Grace

“My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him all good things-trout as well as eternal salvation-come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”
― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories 

A prayer before a meal. 

The way a dancer moves. 

The unmerited favor of God. 

Art---creation---may not come easy (sometimes it does and that's another grace) but that art exists at all is a grace. 

I have a friend who is always amazed---and a little bit disillusioned----when I talk about how much work goes into a performance or a text. She wants to believe that these things are the product of talent, an easy flow of a gift. 

I always say that whatever grace we receive costs. It doesn't cost the one who receives the grace, but it costs someone else, somewhere else. Perhaps its fair to say that when she sees a graceful performance, reads a text full of grace, she is the recipient of a grace that cost someone else much work. 

Here in the middle of Easter, I think of the grace of the gospels, of the stories we've received of Jesus, of the resurrection and the promise of abundant life. I think about what these may have cost others along the way. 

Then there is the way we may be in the depths of suffering and the least romantic sort of despair and some glimmer of hope arrives, graceful and sustaining. 

I also think about the times when I'm deeply engaged in writing or performing and the grace that comes from the work itself.

I think about grace and the ways that it surprises and makes questionable sense and is free and costly and there.

 Alleluia, grace is here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Easter 24 Imagination

Your everyday life is basically a product of imagination. Someone imagined the clothes you put on before you could buy them. Someone imagined the home you walked out of before you ever walked into it. The stop signs that regulate your travels were imagined before the first one ever appeared at an intersection. The work you do required some imagination, whether by you or someone before you, to set up the policies and procedures.

Imagination is the basis of everything we do, how we order our lives. There is nothing that is absolutely fixed if we can imagine it were otherwise.

In Easter, we're confronted with imagining that death is not the finality it appears to be. We are asked to imagine that the powers that wants to crush love, humility, and compassion won't have the final say.

Let us, we Images of God, begin anew to imagine a world with love, humility, and compassion. If we can't imagine it, it can't happen, just as your shirt, stop sign, or work procedure couldn't exist without having been imagined first.

Imagination is powerful. It is the very center of creation. Had God never imagined something called "light," there never would have been a sun.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Easter 23 Creativity

We are a species that puts things together.

We create by adding this and that together until we have a new thing. I don't know if any other species does this. If they do, it does not take away from what I'm trying to say.

We put items together until we have a sandwich or salad or quilt or shelter or sculpture or painting or performance or . . .

(The most my cat accomplishes is the opposite---he's adept at separating out the kibble he likes best.)

To some extent we are all creative. Some nurture it, some take it for granted. Some are more apt to innovate, others are content to copy the template.

In my Easter celebration, I think about this not only as the Image of God, but also as the Risen Christ. Creating is a sign of the Creator's likeness in us but then the Risen Christ comes along and tells us we are neither finite nor fixed.

The disciples did not recognize their resurrected lord. Jesus rose from the dead and he bore the scars of crucifixion, but something had changed.

Jesus died on the cross, gave up his breath/spirit, but when God put them back together again, there was a new creation, unrecognizable and knowable.

What a mystery this creation is.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Easter 22 Beauty

. . . he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. [Isaiah 53:2b]

Christianity has a broader aesthetic than might initially be assumed. Indeed, Christians often overlook this.

We like to focus on the conventionally beautiful, the lily, the sunrise (or sunset), the eagle or dove (depending upon the verse to be illustrated) in flight.

And to be sure, the Bible is full of the traditionally beautiful. David is described as particularly handsome. Bathsheba, Delilah, and Esther (to name a few) are said to have been very attractive. The lovers in the Song of Songs are each described in idealistic ways.

Note, however, in Genesis, how creation isn't described as beautiful, but as good.We often look to the natural world for examples of beauty (I know I do) and can forget that it wasn't created beautiful, but was created good.

And then we have things like Isaiah's description of the "suffering servant." This servant is not seen as beautiful, not as a handsome hero coming in to save the day and, probably, a beautiful princess. This servant of God is described as bruised, unattractive, undesirable.

Of course, when the first Christians read this passage, they thought of their crucified teacher and lord. Crucifixion being the ugly business that it is, early became a central image for the newly emerging religion. There have been recent historical critiques that the cross didn't become the central image until Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and was used as a sign of power (i.e. threat) to people (a worthy idea to consider, I think), but there's plenty of references in the first Christian writings and early Christian art to balance that view. Jesus did not come out of the grave like a freshly scrubbed Brad Pitt, but instead presented himself to the disciples bearing the marks of the crucifixion.

And so, we come to a tension in theological aesthetics of whether beauty is good or if good is beauty and to what extent and how and what to do with it. In the Renaissance, we got beautiful paintings of ugly events. In the Modern era, we got ugly paintings of inspirational events. The age old symbolism of the ugly witch being bad became questioned and the hero was not always handsome and virtuous.

In resurrection, the beauty before us isn't always pleasing to the eye but it is good. It is surprising. It is unexpected despite all the ways we've been told about it.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Easter 21 Comfort

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in the book Life Together, written in the days leading up to World War II, asserted that Christian community, the ability to live and worship with other Christians, was a privilege, not a given. He taught that a Christian is experiencing a special grace to be able to gather with other Christians, noting that not all Christians are able to do so.

As I've been reflecting upon community this past week in my "discipline of celebration," I realized that I'm not always grateful for the privilege I have to gather regularly with other Christians, even Christians who hold similar values as I hold. To resort to wordplay, I admit I'm often less than grateful as the community will often grate on my nerves.

But Bonhoeffer speaks to that, too. That we shouldn't let our ideal of a Christian community, our fantasy about it, lead us away from the community that God has given us. I take this with some  caution, as I would not tell a lesbian to stay in a church that preached violence against her, or a trans man to stay in a hostile environment or a person of color to stay where church members were KKK.

But that's not my case. I belong to a congregation that welcomes me as a gay man, I worship with a beautiful mix of LGBT and straight families, and if I would like to see a bit more melanin in the pews, we're still the most racially diverse congregation I've ever been a member of. The ways they may grate on my nerves are really superficial considering the ways these things can go terribly wrong.

Also, I'm in a major metropolitan area with options. I belong to more than one LGBT Christian Facebook group and the most common lament is from people in smaller towns or rural areas, where they may not feel safe being known as gay much less find a church where they are welcomed into full membership.

And so, in this modern age, I'm thankful for the community I've found, and I'm even thankful for the cyber-community I see the more isolated Christians have found online. It's a comfort to have such community, wherever you may find it. In Bonhoeffer's time, letters may have been the only hope for that comfort for an isolated person (as he was in prison, even though he still found people to hold services with there). Today, the internet provides other avenues.

For me and my circumstances, I am thankful and celebrate the community I am able to have, across congregations and through the internet, but particularly for the physical, weekly gathering of the saints in my particular congregation. For people in other circumstances, I offer words of encouragement that it is possible. It won't be perfect or live up to your ideals, but Christian community is possible.

Let us pray and work for this true, real, but not ideal community to rise with our Risen Lord into a Body that receives each of us and our gifts.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Easter 20 Witnesses

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. [Hebrews 12:1-2]

One of the things that humbles me and keeps me grounded, at least somewhat, is keeping in mind the people---in history and of the present world---who suffer great hardship without losing faith.

I'm not talking about people who are persecuted for their faith, which is also humbling, but people who experience long term, crushing hardship or violence, just because of where they live, the color of their skin, or social/political machinations of people in power.

Here I have to be careful. Those of use who live relatively comfortable, easy, safe lives have too often made the lives---and more importantly the deaths---of those in terrible circumstances into something "precious" in the worst sense of the word. I do not want to do that. Real suffering and crushing death is not something to be fetishized.

But their faith and their commitment to kindness, forgiveness, and grace should be my model for when I, too, face adversity. Because I do have a life of relative privilege and safety, it's easy for any little adverse event to make me want to shake my fist and cry out, "why me?"

Really? People pray, praise, and give thanks while missing meals and burying their dead, and I want to ask "why me?" when I don't get my way?

So, in another season, I would go on about how we who are privileged must work harder for justice and turn to those with harder lives as our teachers. All true and not to be diminished.

But right now, on this 20th day of Easter, I'm celebrating. I look to the great cloud of witnesses around me, who sustain me and call me into the Reign of God, who teach me in the ways of grace.

Resurrection happens in the worst places. I celebrate resurrection and pray I will pay attention, will see it, when it happens.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Easter 19 Body

Incarnation is not only an individual reality, but also a corporate one.

The Christian community gathers to join in the ritual that we sometimes call Holy Communion, and take a piece of bread that we recognize as the Body of Christ (broken for us).

The Body of Christ is a central metaphor for the church. We who take the Body of Christ (broken for us) become the Body of Christ collectively by sharing in the one bread. The Jesus community, who experience the resurrected Lord, becomes the Body of Christ, resurrected in our collective presence.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. [1 Corinthians 12.27]


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Easter 18 Memory

Throughout scripture, memory is important.

To be remembered is a blessing. To be forgotten a curse. Moses and others reminded God of promises made. God remembered the covenant made with Abraham and saved the people of God.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.


I've been in my current job for five years now. As is common in this world today, there has been some turnover in personnel in this time. One day, I was in a meeting and as I looked around the room, I realized I was the one who had been there the longest. Suddenly, I realized I was the holder of the "institutional memory," at least at that moment, in that room. I knew the stories for why something was done a certain way or why a particular change had been made in a procedure. But I could only go back so far. Five years is not a very deep or rich institutional memory. 


The church is an institution with a long memory, stories handed down from generation to generation. Not only the stories of scripture, but also stories of the "saints who have fallen asleep" and the saints who are still among us. Sometimes, we lose some memory---like who decided on that color for the parish hall walls---but the important things tend to remain.

Today, I'm thinking about this deep and rich memory we, as the Body of Christ, hold. The collective history is full of wisdom, explanations, and not a few cautionary tales. Sometimes, the memory will make us laugh, other times cry, another time still cause us to pause in wonder, awe, and reverence. 

Jesus, remember us. Held in memory we move forward.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Easter 17 Beloved

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not coin the phrase, but he popularized the notion of a "beloved community." I was just looking at a page on the King Center website that outlined some of Dr. King's core beliefs and of course, the beloved community is there. I recommend you click over there to read more.

Dr. King didn't see this community as a place without conflict, but where conflict was worked out and those in conflict found resolution as friends. Key to this "working out" was nonviolence, a commitment to it. This isn't something that Dr. King spoke of as being easy or spiritually lofty or idyllic. He wasn't naive about it.

I don't think it's putting too many words into his mouth to say that working toward the beloved community involved some dying to self. Perhaps the beloved community is the resurrection.

Working through my 50 days with this "discipline of celebration," I rub up against these notions that, on one level, may seem less than joyous. Few in our present culture feels much rapture at the idea of "dying to self."  We all like the idea of Easter glory, and too often regard the cross as a speed bump on the way to resurrection splendor.

And so, today, I'm reminded how much I am a part of this culture, how poorly I handle conflict, how much I'd just as soon skip the whole cross business, while also struggling to live in the joy of Easter.

And so today, I'm grateful for models of the faith, like Dr. King, Bayard Rustin, his teacher, and others before and after them who remind me that real grief and real joy are connected. Real conflict and real peace are intertwined. There is no resurrection community without death.

Today is a more thoughtful alleluia, but the discipline of these 50 days requires I say it anyway.

Alleluia, Christ is risen. Let us rise into the beloved community.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Easter 16 Saints

Somewhere along the way, "saints" came to mean dead people, and in particular especially important or good dead people.

But in the New Testament, we most encounter the word when the writers are talking about living people. The first Christian writers didn't understand sainthood to be something that is attained at death, but that saints were alive now, the people of God.

I suppose there's nothing inherently wrong about thinking of the dead as saints---there is a mention of "the saints who have fallen asleep," sleep being the preferred euphemism for death. We lose something however, when we forget to speak of our fellow church members as saints.

And so as part of this discipline of celebration, I'm renewing my effort to remember that the pew where I sit on Sundays is full of saints. Next week, when I convene a new group in our congregation, I will celebrate their presence and call them "gathered saints."

The holy ones of God are not only in heaven. We are here. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Easter 15 Community

The proclamation of resurrection has never been a solitary endeavor.

The women who went to the tomb of Jesus early that Sunday morning---how many women? Who exactly? The four gospels don't agree, but it was women who first saw the empty tomb---they all immediately went to the other disciples and told them what they had seen.

Today, I would like to highlight that this was because they had a community that had already formed around Jesus. These weren't solitary followers of Jesus, individuals who alone were taking on the disciplines or teachings of Jesus. Had an individual without that community had come upon the empty tomb, who would they have told? For all we know, the women of the Jesus community weren't the first there!

I'm indulging in some whimsy here, but I do want to highlight that Jesus had a community around him. After nearly every appearance of the resurrected Jesus to anyone, they had someone to go tell about it.

I'm not going to pretend that this is all celebration for me. I tend towards being a loner. Community is hard for me. Still, the church has served me well, has given me some of my closest friends, and has been the place I "belonged" when I felt like an outsider everywhere else.

This morning, after posting this blog, I will shower and get dressed to go join my own Jesus community, where we will be witnesses to one another to the Risen Lord. We'll each have our own spin on this. We'll each have our own story about what we've seen, what Jesus has said, what we should do about it afterward, but we'll also have each other.

This is hard and wonderful and worth celebrating.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Let's run and tell someone!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Easter 14 Heat

Life needs heat to continue. Or warmth. I went back and forth between the two words and settled on the harsher of the two.

Searching "warm" and "heat" on the Oremus Bible Browser, you find references to being warmed by a fire and being burned in the heat of the sun. There are references that pair warmth with compassion or refer to greeting someone warmly, and then there are references to the heat of wrath.

As a writer, I love words, particularly related words that have different shades of meaning. Like, incidentally, shade and shadow. One can have connotations of comfort on a summer day, the other a chilling pall over a particular situation.

A quick google tells me that our sun, at it's hottest layer, can get to be about 27 million degrees Fahrenheit, or 15 million degrees Celsius.  At it's coolest layer, it drops to about 3.5 million F, or 2 million C. These are temperatures that don't make sense to me. I can't begin to comprehend that sort of heat---and of course, I couldn't experience it if I wanted to!

Today, as I write this, it's a comfortable mid-70s F. So far across space, the heat of the sun cools enough for me to live, enjoy an open window on a spring day. Other parts of this planet are experiencing much colder and much hotter temperatures. Some places on this planet are scorched dry, to blowing dust and sand. Others are frozen over with ice. The point, however, is that without that 27 million degrees of the sun, I wouldn't me writing this at any temperature.

Heat is necessary for life. At it's best, tempered (!) by distance or shadow, we call it warmth. We grow, bear fruit, make relationships, and create beauty within this warmth.

Today, on my beautiful spring day in Houston, I'm celebrating and thankful for the furious 27 million degrees of the sun. May you, wherever you are, whatever your weather, experience the warmth of compassion and friendly greeting.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Easter 13 Color

I live in a place that stays pretty green all year round, but it's particularly lush right now. As I was
taking my bus to downtown and work down Memorial Drive one morning this week, I was drawn in by the parks and other green  spaces along the way. I was reminded that the color green itself is often used to symbolize life.

In a stream of consciousness way, I mused that while we associate green with life, no humans have naturally green skin or hair (eyes, though!). Then I thought how unusual for us humans to not put ourselves in the center of something. How strange that we don't make the color of life some shade of human skin. But those thoughts were more whimsy than any serious reflection.

But I do enjoy noticing the colors around me, particularly of living things. I saw a robin today, with its red breast. There's an orange cat that I adore in a neighbor's window
(I do my best not to be the creepy neighbor staring at someone's window, but the cat is gorgeous!). There are dogs everywhere, in every shade a dog might manage. And flowers. Year-round flowers in Houston. Right now, there are patches of wildflowers here and there, bluebonnets particularly.

I can begin to feel like my pink and blond self looks mighty dull in comparison.

But you know what? We're all mighty beautiful, too, in all our shades of human.

So today, I'm celebrating the colors of all the living things in the world, the green and the brown and the red and the yellow . . . they all sing to my eye, "alleluia." 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Easter 12 Fecundity

Life begets life.

Every living thing has a means of reproducing its species, and in the multitude of life forms on this planet, how that reproduction takes place varies with remarkable diversity.

And then there are those of us who don't reproduce. Our fecundity lies in other life-giving ways.

I believe our very lives are generative and regenerative. We are a creative species and have produced endless libraries and galleries of literature and art. We make amazing buildings and sing songs that shape lives.

And we build relationships, some deeper than others, and some not as worth celebrating, it's true. But by and large, with the smallest of effort, we build relationships that give life and renew life. It's part of the human condition that is easy to forget or overlook. We are built for this. It's in our basic design.

It's easy to let go of this. All the counter-arguments to this notion are evident in daily news and personal lives.

But you---and I---are fertile in ways that doesn't mean babies. You---and I----are capable of new life.

Arise. Be amazed. Resurrect.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Easter 11 Growing

Another characteristic of life, as I was taught in grade school, was that living things grow.

I've been thinking about that and all the ways we grow, not all of them easy. While we might have "movement" that isn't measurable as "progress," "growth" is, it seems to me, by definition measurable.

And sometimes, there, are immeasurable ways that we still need to grow. How much growing do I need to do until I stop reacting to race or gender? How much more growth do I have left to become the writer I want to be? Will I ever get to a point in my confidence about my abilities so I stop occasionally feeling apologetic about whatever it is I've just done? I can see ways that I've grown in these area and yet I know that there continues to be room for growth.

Yesterday, I noticed sprigs of grass and weeds coming up between the bricks that serve as pavement at the university where I work. I thought about how, with enough seeds and other circumstances, a brick could be displaced.

And then I thought, "a tiny mustard seed faith can roll away a stone."

Growing is part of the ongoing work of resurrection, at least metaphorically. Celebrating any growth in any area of our life is a step toward a more abundant life. A little growth in close quarters can rearrange the landscape.

For all the ways I've grown, I give thanks. Tiny seeds in dark crevices have grown to displace obstacles and change the ground I walk on. That I have room to grow, even the ability to grow is also worthy of thanksgiving.  There are more stones to be rolled away.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Easter 10 Enthusiasm

Here, on the tenth day of my "discipline of celebration," I confess my enthusiasm falters. One-fifth of the way in, I wonder, "what have I set myself up for? How long is it until Pentecost?"

But the word, enthusiasm, is telling here. In its Greek roots, we find en + theos or "in God." For the Greeks, to be enthusiastic meant to be inspired or possessed by a god. It suggested some ecstatic expression for the god or being enraptured by an inspired activity.

At the risk of letting my Eeyore-ness overshadow my celebration, I'm going to confess that today, my discipline of celebration is a quieter joy, a whispered "alleluia" rather than a shout. Sustaining a celebratory attitude is difficult for some of us, but trusting God is in this exercise, that God somehow inspired me to attempt it, I look at myself, my Eeyore-self,  and still proclaim with a crooked smile:

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Easter 9 Movement

When I was in grade school, I remember being taught that one of the characteristics of life is movement. Of course, all of us kids asked about plants, which are rooted in place, but we were reminded of how a plant turns its leaves and flowers toward the sun throughout the day. We were assured that all living things had some small movement to them.

I've had periods of feeling stuck. I may walk around fine, even turn my face to the sun, but there is a lack of movement in my spirit or heart or mind or however you want to name it. It's not life. It is, in fact, deadening.

In the world of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, this is sometimes named acedia. It gets translated into English in the "seven deadly sins" as sloth. Others refer to it as being depression. Perhaps there is overlap in all these experiences, but really acedia is a sense of overwhelm, hopelessness, boredom or anything along those lines that make a task at hand too much to accomplish. There descriptions of it making a day feel like it's lasting forever, that the sun will never go down and give us rest. Others speak of acedia as being a restlessness, a desire to leave whatever the current situation as an escape rather than being called to something new.

I think I've experienced all these aspects of acedia. I've given into the temptation to follow it's lead in leaving, in giving up, in not finishing, of getting stuck.

It is definitely devoid of life.

I've been seeing a spiritual director for maybe two years now. I've written about this relationship before. He speaks of how he doesn't look for "progress," but for "movement." Perhaps it's splitting hairs, but I've come to appreciate this distinction as he tells me he sees movement in me and I feel myself coming to life. It's a slow process, and if I were to measure for some sort of "progress," I don't know that I could give you a distance traveled.

But I do believe there is movement, even if it is only my face turning with the movements of the sun while my feet remain stationary.

A sign of life.

This life of faith is dynamic. It is not static.

This is my testimony of hope and resurrection. I will give thanks and praise to the God of life for movement in times of feeling stuck.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Easter 8 Life

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. [John 1:1-5]

"What has come into being in him was life . . . "

This passage is usually used at Christmas, but it clearly speaks to Easter themes, too. Early Christians, before they were called Christians, were called followers of the Way. Jesus was the way to salvation, to life itself. The experience of those first disciples, as they encountered the resurrected Jesus, upended what the world said of life and death. Death was not the end and would not have the final say.

We who continue, as best we can, to follow after the disciples, after Jesus himself, would say we still find life in this story. Jesus went about the country preaching the Good News that the Reign of God was at hand. In this Reign, captives hear of release and the sick receive health. In many and various ways, we receive the Jesus story as a way to life, new life, abundant life, resurrection life.

Even as I think about all the ways I feel stuck sometimes, all the ways I've felt hopeless in my history, all the ways I saw no way forward, Easter reminds me that there is death, yes, but more importantly resurrection. What is dying is really dying. What is coming to new life is really coming to new life.

I'm reminded how many times this faith has pulled me forward, pulled me up.

Alleluia, Christ is risen. Alleluia, we rise with him to new life.

Easter 7 Ecstasy

Draw me after You!
We will run in the fragrance of Your perfumes,
      O heavenly Spouse!
I will run and not tire,
      until You bring me into the wine-cellar,
      until Your left hand is under my head
      and Your right hand will embrace me happily
      and You will kiss me with the happiest kiss of Your mouth. - See more at:
Draw me after You!
We will run in the fragrance of Your perfumes,
      O heavenly Spouse!
I will run and not tire,
      until You bring me into the wine-cellar,
      until Your left hand is under my head
      and Your right hand will embrace me happily
      and You will kiss me with the happiest kiss of Your mouth. - See more at:
Draw me after You!
We will run in the fragrance of Your perfumes,
      O heavenly Spouse!
I will run and not tire,
      until You bring me into the wine-cellar,
      until Your left hand is under my head
      and Your right hand will embrace me happily
      and You will kiss me with the happiest kiss of Your mouth. - See more at:
Draw me after You!
We will run in the fragrance of Your perfumes,
      O heavenly Spouse!
I will run and not tire,
      until You bring me into the wine-cellar,
      until Your left hand is under my head
      and Your right hand will embrace me happily
      and You will kiss me with the happiest kiss of Your mouth. - See more at:
Ecstasy. There's a word that is difficult to use in churchy settings, but I do believe it is a part of our tradition, a part of our interactions with God. It's not acknowledged in all Christian traditions and, indeed, my own Lutheran tradition tends to be more suspicious than embracing of it. 

Still, I've had my moments. They're hard to explain and I won't try. Luckily, we have some people in the Christian tradition who were more articulate about it. I'll leave three examples below for your edification and contemplation. 

But if Easter joy can't be ecstatic, I don't know what can.


Draw me after You!
We will run in the fragrance of Your perfumes,
     O heavenly Spouse!
I will run and not tire,
     until You bring me into the wine-cellar,
     until Your left hand is under my head
     and Your right hand will embrace me happily
     and You will kiss me with the happiest kiss of Your mouth.

[Clare of Assisi]


I came to love you too late, Oh Beauty,
so ancient and so new. Yes,
I came to love you too late. What did I know?
You were inside me, and I was
out of my body and mind looking
for you.
I drove like an ugly madman against
the beautiful things and beings
you made.
You were inside me, but I was not inside you....
You called to me, you cried to me; you broke the bowl
of my deafness; you uncovered my beams and threw them
at me; you rejected my blindness; you blew a fragrant wind
on me, and
I sucked in my breath and wanted you; I tasted you
and now I want you as I want food and water; you
touched me, and I have been burning even since to
have your peace.[Saint Augustine]


When he touches me, I clutch the sky’s sheets, the way other lovers do the earth’s weave of clay. Any real ecstasy is a sign you are moving in the right direction; don’t let any prude tell you otherwise. [Teresa of Avila]

Friday, April 1, 2016

Easter 6 Humor

Wherein I prove why I don't write comedy.

But humor is part of the spiritual life, I believe. Or can be. Laughter involves the breath (pneuma) so it must be.

There is a tradition in Christianity of laughing at death, that the Resurrection makes it possible to defy death with joviality. We see this in Day of the Dead celebrations, for one example.

For me, personally, I remember Daddy saying, "You have to have a little foolishness to get through the day."

So here's some foolishness, Easter spins on the "walk into a bar," knock-knock, and Tom Swifty. It's okay if you don't laugh. You can leave better jokes in the comments below.

Two Marys and a Joanna walk into a tomb, but there was no body there.

Knock Knock!
Who's there?
Emmaus who?
Emmaus well been on another planet to miss all the hubbub in Jerusalem.

Knock Knock!
Who's there?
Emmaus who?
Emmaus well eat with us.

Knock Knock!
Who's there?
Emmaus who? 
Emmaus well have been wearing a mask!

"I haven't seen Jesus," said Thomas doubtfully.

And, okay, here's a little something with better wit and production values: