Let's see...

...been sick with a cold. I hate being sick, it zaps my energy and turns me into one big whiny mess.

...our house went on the market. No buyers yet, but our fingers are crossed.

...we will be heading to Colorado next week to begin looking for a place to live and become acclimated to the rarified air. So if I get a chance to post I will, but don't count on it.

...finished editing the first draft of a (possibly publishable) project on pastoral counseling. Either way, the project was beneficial to me and others in the counseling center and that is what matters most at this point.

...I am beginning to tell clients that I am leaving. It is tough, for them and me, but it is nice to have some good good-byes.

...softball season began. My legs hurt; my back hurts; my ego really hurts.

...take care of yourselves. I will be back when I am back. Until then,

grace and peace

resource request

I have agreed to teach an adult Vacation Bible School course in the church where I work. I have spent a great deal of time debating whether or not to do this, mainly because I could not come up with a topic. This afternoon in the place where I am convinced all good ideas come from, the bathroom, I decided on a topic for the course.

The title of the course is: Beyond labels and diatribes: The promise of postmodern Christianity (-or- Why can't we all just get along?).

My newest question-- after spending a great deal of my day with books on postmodern theory, philosophy, and art (as well as a great deal of coffee to keep me awake)-- does anyone know of any good resources related to one of the following topics: the use of labels in culture, postmodern thought/religion, public theology, or anything else that might fit within this broad topic.

I believe that I will start with some work out of Max Stackhouse's Public Theology and Political Economy. That will help with some of the label work, but I could use another source here. I downloaded several definitions and essays about postmodern thought (wikipedia, etc.) but need more of a comprehensive work to teach from.

The class is five nights. One night will be an introduction, then three nights of teaching, and one for a wrap-up/questions and answers time. Any ideas out there?

grace and peace

Text: John 10:1-18, Title: tension

I attended my second Annual Recreation Workshop, in Montreat, North Carolina, back in 1998. Before the conference there was a creative writing seminar that I, along with about 8 others, decided to attend. Just out of college and a newly appointed youth director, I was the youngest in this group and also lacked much of the experience of my counterparts.

Throughout the daylong seminar, my particular form of creativity had caused me some undue embarrassment. But towards the end of our time together, we began talking about the use of stories in creative worship.

Excitedly, I told to the group that our youth had created a worship service with another youth group from an African-American Presbyterian Church. Towards the end of my explanation, I mentioned that we had used a poem from the popular children’s writer, Shel Silverstein.

At the mention of his name, the room grew silent and this look of righteous indignation came across the face of a woman twice my age. I can still see her face contort into this twisted mass of flesh as she spit out the words, “Your church let you use the poetry of an atheist in your worship service?” I didn’t know how to respond, so I said nothing, and the words just simmered in my mind every time I encountered her during the week. In fact, I it wasn’t until I was on my way back to Charleston that I finally came up with a worthy response. But it was too little, too late. So instead, you get to hear my response today, one that is seven years in the making…

The scripture we just read has often been interpreted as a “my way or the highway” kind of passage. And for that reason, I believe Christians of all stripes have abused it for a number of years. Conservatives generally pick one part of it and use it exclude others who don’t believe the same thing they do. Liberals pick the other side and seek to include everyone, sometimes watering down the importance of the life of Jesus. Today, I would like for us to pick neither side and both sides at the same time.

Scholars believe that in the context of this passage, the sheep Jesus talks about are Jews and Gentiles. One of the questions I have, and there are many, is who are the modern day Jews and Gentiles?

Secondly, modern interpretations of this passage, for conservatives and liberals alike, have centered on salvation. I think we may be wrong about that.

When we choose that form of interpretation, we open ourselves to another series of questions, such as: are we willing to guess, to put words in God’s mouth, to tell God who is in and who is out? Are we willing to forsake the entirety of the Gospel witness of Jesus Christ for this saying?

When I think about the framework of modern interpretations, the only answer I can find is, yes.

And thus, I believe we have taken these words out of the broader context of the canon and used them to hurt, to malign, and to separate ourselves from one another. In other words, this has become a passage about arrogance and superiority rather than a passage about the witness of Jesus Christ in the world.

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of this type of interpretation; I am tired of the rhetoric that accompanies it; and I am tired of the millennialism that dominates the interpretation of Scripture in public Christianity. I think it time for us to reframe and re-imagine these words, and thus re-interpret them for the modern world.

What would you think if I told you that I believe this has nothing to do with who goes to heaven? What would you think if I said that I believe this passage has nothing to do with salvation? What would you think if I said that I think this passage could be interpreted faithfully without seeming exclusive? It might sound too good to be true, and in the end it may be, but let’s give it a go anyway.

It is an interesting thing, doing research on sheep. Most of the stories I found marvel in their lack of intelligence. They talk about sheep as being merely followers in life, not thinking for themselves but looking at what the crowd is doing and wandering along.

Farmers say that if you take the leader away from a pack of sheep, they won’t move. They could follow the same route to pasture for years, but if the leader is suddenly removed, they forget how to get there. This is especially true for young sheep. Most of the stories I read say that sheep under the age of two have the mental capacity of a brick, those over the age of two have the capacity of an intelligent brick.

But what amazes the farmers is the sheep’s capacity to remember voices. My wife, who spent a great deal of her childhood on a farm, often tells stories of the lamb she raised after its mother died. This lamb would come running when she heard the sound of her voice. That sheep would rarely listen to anything else, but it could hear her and come when called. However, despite that amazing devotion to one voice, being called a sheep isn’t the grandest of compliments from the one we choose to call Savior.

In order to interpret our passage today, we must begin with the sheep. We are sheep who graze within a larger flock, people who live amongst other people. Think about all of the differences we display daily. We are black, red, yellow, brown, and white. We are European, African, South American, Slavic, Middle Eastern, Australian, North American, and so on.

We are, as individual sheep, one amongst many who live and breathe and move in the same pasture. And like the little lamb that my wife raised, we hear the voice of one particular shepherd, and we come when we are called. Now, does the fact that we answer to this particular shepherd, make any of the other sheep less important? Does it make them less than sheep? I don’t really think so.

Even Jesus, later on in this passage states that there are sheep that do not belong to this fold. They are still sheep, they have the same characteristics, same tendencies, they just hear a different voice when they are called out to pasture.

That said, there are two important ideas that we must understand if we are going to re-imagine this passage for the 21st century. The first, I think, can be explained this way.

There have been a lot of fights and fears recently concerning the words “one nation under God” in the pledge of allegiance. People bicker back and forth over four words that really hold little meaning in today’s culture, and that actually were tacked on after the original version was written.

Ironically, we are fighting about the words, one nation under God. And, if we are fighting about them, then are we really “one nation?”

And here is the first concept, if you want to make a real and radical statement about God, then one nation is not enough, instead we should be reading “one world under God.” If we truly believe that God is the God of this world, then we cannot limit God to one nation, one people, one race, one sex, and maybe even one religious dogma. God must be higher than all human constructs in order for God to be worthy of worship.

Additionally, God is the God of all the sheep in the pen, and just because we listen to Jesus as our good shepherd, doesn’t mean that all of the other sheep are forgotten.

This leads us into idea number two: reconciliation with God is Jesus’ business. If we look at the statements in this passage, Jesus states that “I must bring them also, they will listen to my voice.”

Almost every major religion today makes room for the voice of Jesus. For us, Jesus is Lord and Savior, for Jewish people Jesus is a great rabbi and teacher, for Muslims Jesus is a witness and prophet of God, for Hindus Jesus is a Sadhu, a holy man who preached about God’s love and walked in humble non-violent ways in the world. Buddhism makes room for Jesus’ voice through his endurance of suffering and again his non-violent ways.

Now, granted, these are gross over-simplifications of their points of view, but the issue at hand is this, it is Jesus’ responsibility to make his voice known to other sheep outside the fold, and he has done so. Our responsibility, on the other hand, is to treat all other sheep like sheep. To love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

When we interpret this passage through the lenses of these two ideas one message seems to fit. We are called into a community with all of the sheep in the world.

Basically, if God is God of all, then who can escape? We are all called from the same pen, and we all have the same owner.

Does God care more for us because we hear the voice of Jesus and come running?

Do we really want to believe that we are more special than those sheep that do not wander over to the familiar voice of our good shepherd?

Do we really want to stand behind a God that grants special favors to particular sheep, just because they might bleat the loudest or follow more quickly?

I think or I hope that what most people want, is to believe in a God that believes in us. A God who looks down upon the world and sees the joy and pain and hope and sorrow and remembers who we are and is present in all times and places.

I think we want to believe in a God that sees the world in its entirety as well as each individual that inhabits it.

I think we want to believe in a God that is continually working beside, behind, and in front of us to bring about a peaceful world where sheep no longer need to fear and separate themselves, but can instead live knowing that we are all one community under God.

This does not absolve us from listening when our good shepherd calls, because that is how our particular flock gains access to life and life abundantly. We live within the tradition that hears the voice of Jesus the Good Shepherd, therefore, within that history of being called we must answer and answer responsibly. We are not to bemoan our calling, nor are we to be haughty, we are simply called to behave like sheep surrounded by other sheep. We are love one another as we love ourselves.

I began this sermon with a story about a woman who was aghast at the audacity we displayed by reading the poem of an atheist in worship.

First things first, Shel Silverstein was a non-practicing Jewish person as best I can tell. I spent all week researching his life, trying to find out if what she told me was true. As far as I can tell, he was not an atheist.

The second thing, even if he were an atheist, I would use his poetry anyway. Not out of spite, but because it is good and it speaks to the heart of who we are as people. So for the second time, I am going to use a Shel Silverstein poem in worship, and I am going to use the same one I used seven years ago on that Youth Sunday.

As we close with the words of his poem, I cannot help but grin on the inside at the irony of what he has written and how that conversation seven years ago went.

The title of the poem is: No Difference

Small as a peanut
Big as a giant,
We’re all the same size
When we turn off the light.
Red, black or orange,
Yellow or white
We all look the same
When we turn off the light.
So maybe the way
To make everything right
Is for God to just reach out
And turn off the light

Responsive Pastoral Prayer - 4.17.05

Leader: Let us Pray.

People: The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Leader: Gracious God, you call us out of the wilderness, out of wildness and grant us life; in you we find wholeness and sustenance. As the shepherd who lovingly tends their flock, you know each one of us and can call us by name.

People: He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.

Leader: God of Creation, you have given us a world that can sustain all life. From the air we breathe to the deep blue skies, the water we drink to the trees we climb, you have given us a place where we can rest and play and work. All of creation screams of your love for us from the smallest to the greatest of things, all things that surround us are yours, and we have nothing apart from you. Help us to be good stewards of the only earth we have. Help us to understand the importance of honoring your creation and cherishing the earth.

People: Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me.

Leader: There are those among us today who live in these darkest of valleys. They suffer from physical and mental illnesses, pain and grief, loneliness or exhaustion. They are the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned. These are the people who tread sorrowfully through life’s difficulties, their steps labored, darkness extending as far as the eye can see. The valleys they inhabit are rough and inhospitable.

Their basic needs go unmet and often they are forced to beg for mercy from strangers who are all too often indifferent. War and rape and famine are common in many of their worlds; for others, the decay of their bodies and minds produce pain and anguish for themselves and their families. In these troubled valleys, O God, lend your staff and your rod so that they might find comfort from their afflictions and strength through your support. And in the same manner use your staff, O Lord, to afflict those of us who are comfortable so that we might rise from the green pastures of our lives and bring others into a place of rest.

People: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Leader: Bountiful God, you have given us gifts beyond measure, far beyond our comprehension. We give thanks that you have blessed us beyond what we have earned. Help us to share out of the bounty we have received; where our cup overflows, let it flow into another’s; where our table is set for a meal, let it be shared with one who does not have food. O Lord, you seat us in front of those we would call enemy so that we might share a meal at the table of the Lord and once again be made whole and right with one another.

When you bless us, O God, it is not for our benefit, but for the benefit of the world. When you anoint our heads with oil, it is not because we have earned it, but because we are simply loved. What we have been given is not meant to be kept among friends, but meant to be shared with enemies. In a world of fear, give us the strength to step beyond ourselves and love our enemies.

People: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Leader: Grant us, O God, the peace that comes with your promise of mercy and goodness. We will fail; we will succeed; we will hope; we will grieve; we will love, laugh, cry, and scream. Through all these things we know that you are for us, even when we are against you. Give us the desire to see your kingdom furthered on earth. Help us to stand firmly in this world, seeking a better way of life for our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Let our minds not rest on what is to come, but instead give us the courage to live in the moment; knowing that our presence with one another may be enough to change this world.

grace and peace

a bowl full of butterflies

On our dining room table, there sat a bowl full of butterflies. Red ones, green ones, purple ones and yellow, they were layered into the crystal bowl. The glitter on their wings sparkled in the afternoon sun. I can't say that they reminded me of anything, only that I smiled every time I saw them.

"Who puts butterflies in bowls?" I would think to myself, "what a silly thing to do." Of course, I know who did it. I don't think she even knew why, except that the bowl was empty and the butterflies needed a new home...

Well, they are gone now. Our house has been sanitized and "decluttered." There is no space for a bowl full of butterflies when you are trying to sell your home.

Gone also are the bookcases my dad and I built; they reside in another home, a good one, just not my home. They were solid and heavy, too heavy to move across the country. In seminary, I took a permanent marker and wrote the Greek and Hebrew alphabets down the sides of the bookcases, the vowels wandering aimlessly across the shelves. It took me forever to sand them off when it we moved into our home.

Our extra bedroom, the one that sat full of junk for about six months, now looks like a bedroom for the first time in two years. This place where boxes went to procreate and flourish is now home to a bed, a nightstand, a trunk, and a pair of lamps. You can even see the floor in all of our rooms, and actually walk through them without tripping over a box of pictures or papers.

The attic has been organized and filled with all of the things that no longer fit in with our look. Every time I walk up there I wonder if I will come crashing through the ceiling due to the weight of all of our stuff. Actually, just being able to clear a path from one end to the other was no small feat. The best part of the attic is the empty liquor boxes that will soon hold my theology books. As soon as you crest the top of the stairs there is a bookshelf full of them --Jack Daniels, Bacardi, Grey Goose Vodka-- all waiting to hold their precious cargo of Tillich, Niebuhr, and Borg.

It feels like we have sucked in our bellies in order to button our pants. Our open house is next week, and we must hold our breath a little longer or the button might pop off and picture frames will come tumbling down upon the heads of unsuspecting guests. I can't wait until it is over so that I can exhale and bring down all of the things that remind me of the life that is part of our home. I miss the baker's rack that stood guard in our kitchen; I miss the stack of magazines that we were too stubborn to get rid of; I miss the clutter, the things that made our house a home.

I know that it is just a thing, just a sub-divided box of wood and nails. But it is our thing, our first big thing together, and that makes it special. I am forward thinking enough to know that there will be other homes, other things bigger and more important than homes. I am also presently grounded enough to know that I will miss our house. I will miss the Japanese Maples, the random flowering plants that have lived there longer than we have, the wooded backyard.

What I will miss is larger than our home, but I hope that what we gain will be worth it in the end. As I said to my therapist a couple weeks ago, "why do all of the meaningful things and lessons have to be so damn hard!" Her reply escapes me, but I know my statement is true. Good things, meaningful things, deep things are rarely easy.

This is why I don't like "Disneyland Christianity," why I can't stand televangelists, why I get riled up when Christians speak in haughty tones and then back them up with a self-absorbed way of living. If I am honest, being a Christian sucks. It means I no longer have the option of opting out of life; it means that I can no longer sit by and watch people drone on about faith and then return to their million dollar homes while the neighbors across town root through the garbage for dinner; it means that I can no longer sit in the back and ignore our destruction of the world and each other; it means that I have to listen for and listen to God, even when she calls me to leave a place where I am comfortable.

I hope that the next place we live will have a good enough spot for a bowl full of butterflies. I hope that it will be a good place to nurse the wounds of leaving our first home. I hope that there will be new places to hide the clutter and stack the magazines. Mostly, I hope that it can be a meaningful place where we can struggle with the hard things together and still feel safe with one another...

grace and peace

A Special Thank You...

...goes out to McKormick at As Evidence That I Exist for the banner. He wrote a post about the creative process where he offered to create a banner for all bloggers who ask. You can read the post and see some of his wonderful creations here. He has graciously allowed me to tinker a little with his original design (mostly color changes) and the result you see here is the semi-redesigned Theospora. I did some work on the post backgrounds in order to match the new banner more closely. If you have any problems seeing any of this or any comments please let me know. Thanks again, McKormick.

grace and peace

Language, Part II

Language is one of the most important tools we have at our disposal. With it we can start and stop wars, we can love and hate, we can simplify and obfuscate. One important question concerning religious language continues to dog me: why is the language of systematic theologians generally less approachable than that of preachers?

Read the following three interpretive sentences of Luke 24:13-25.

This is a narrative whereby the unknown becomes the known through a proto-eucharistic meal rather than an evangelistic discourse and delineation of the offices of the Messiah.

Now try this sentence on for size.

This is a story concerning the post-resurrection beginnings of evangelistic dialogue contrasted with the efficacy of simply being present with one another through the sharing of a communion meal.

Finally, try this one.

This is a story about two people who knew how to talk about Jesus but had a hard time seeing him until they sat down to share a meal together.

Of these three sentences which is more meaningful to you? I don’t want to be accused of “syntaxism” but there is a great deal of difference between these three sentences that, for the most part, hold the same meaning.

Where would you expect to read each one of these sentences? Which one speaks to the soul, the heart, or the brains of this passage? What does each statement pull from you?

On the eve of my entrance into a doctoral program, questions of language are at the forefront of my thinking. Part of me is consumed with the creative and simple aspects of defining and describing the world I inhabit. The other part is fighting the arbitrary constraints of theological language and the general confusion and, dare I say, arrogance that it perpetuates.

There is a great deal of difference between reading Paul Tillich and Frederick Buechner, yet both are discussing theological aspects of life. How can I write like Buechner in a doctoral program? Tillich is wonderful and rich, but thick and sometimes obtuse and unexciting. How can I maintain the growth that has occurred in my life over the past year or two in the midst of an educational endeavor that desires some form of conformity in its process?

In the end, it comes down to this thought. I do not fear failure at the doctoral level. I fear success. I have worked hard to find, seek, and see the richness and beauty of life. I have toiled in front of my laptop, choosing words that describe my moods, my feelings, and my experiences. I fear that all of my hard work will be lost when I start this “higher education” program. I fear that I will lose these parts of me that have connected genuinely with those around me. The work and study of a doctoral program is daunting but doable. The work and study of life is precious and difficult, and without practice can be lost amidst toil and monotony of day-to-day activity.

grace and peace

Language, Part I

We live in a country where people degrade others for speaking a different language. Our patriotism is gauged by how well one can butcher the English language. We have a President who simply cannot speak in public, no matter how well prompted or coached. He has had over five years to practice the art of public speaking— to learn grammar and proper syntax —and yet he cannot string words together in a coherent sentence unless it either includes an expletive, the phrase 9/11, or the word evil.

What example does this set for the children of his “no child left behind” program? What do we teach younger generations when we cannot speak or write in a fashion that resembles what they are supposed to be learning in school?

I will admit that I make mistakes all the time. When I have to adlib the announcements at church I usually find myself at a loss for words and just fill the empty spaces with a lot of “uhs.” When I look back over past posts or articles, I see grammatical and spelling errors, which I try and fix no matter how far back they go. I am not perfect, but I am okay with that. I just wish that we, as a nation, took more pride in our ability to communicate with one another effectively.

It took me four years of Masters level work to begin to string together coherent thoughts. It took my wife two years to train me in the use of punctuation and nuance in writing. I still struggle with word choice, comma placement, and other grammatical woes. However, I appreciate language and its ability to take readers inside the minds and hearts of those willing to write. I marvel at how a word can spark love or hate, grief or hope, peace or discomfort. When I describe the events of my life, I choose my words carefully. Whether it is mowing the grass, visiting The Citadel, or asking questions, I labor over the words I write.

I guess you could say that I have become a writing snob. I appreciate things that touch the soul and warm the heart. I also appreciate things that are well thought out and edited for errors. That is the blessing and curse of my existence at this particular moment. I can allow things to touch me in the deepest parts of my being; I can laugh with people as they celebrate the uncommon commonalities we all face. However, if I am going to speak in public or put something in writing I practice and I edit. I choose my words as carefully as possible so that people can grasp what I say in a non-defensive way. I have to wonder what kind of world we would live in if we said what we meant, meant what we said, and communicated in a way that showed respect for one another.

grace and peace





sacred space...

Bushes burn brightly.

This is sacred space they scream. Remove your shoes and tread carefully! When the door is shut, the vale closed, we have entered the holy of holies. There is nothing profane in this place, all is worthwhile, all is divine and wholly holy.

White-washed walls wail woefully.

Oh, the stories they would tell. These walls, with ears to hear, weep for the tales of those who enter. They hear anger and hate, guilt and sorrow, love and hope. For each of these stories the walls bleed tears for the lives that bear them. They stare and expect that help will come soon.

Chairs creak comfortably and casually.

Casually or cautiously they enter. Seeking comfort they scan for something that will keep them from crashing to the floor. They shore themselves up, these burden-bearing chairs, for they know the weight that is carried by those who dare enter, they know the strains and toils are great. When chosen the pillows fluff and the cushions melt and mould so that comfort may be found.

Stories of success and sorrow simmer sumptuously.

The words leap around the room like bubbles on a windy day. They swirl and dip and dive seeking to find a home where they can rest and pop. Alone, they are nothing; but together they form narratives and stories, pieces and portions of lives lived. When they dance with one another, they become facts and figures, descriptions and feelings, content and character. They beg to be picked, chosen for examination. Momentary and fleeting, they must be handled with care, held and caressed gently.

Tales taunt the ticklish and terrified.

Legends of laughter and tales of woe spring to life when these words are strung together. They tell of their maker, of what happens when worlds collide, past meets present meets future. They tell of beliefs and dreams and nightmares. Mysteries wander the room hoping to be solved, yet grateful just to be known.

Experiences elicit enumeration.

Sometimes the people accompany their stories. At that moment rich deposits of life open and in them run deep veins of gold and silver and platinum. When the people are a part of the experience, then they become real and can stand with and apart from what swirls in the room.

Somehow this room breathes life into the lifeless, hope into the hopeless. Those who walk out are different from when they arrived. There is magic and mystery hidden deep in the cracked plaster walls. Something seeps into the air that causes growth and healing to occur. For those of us who witness these mysterious events, there is much to tell and yet no words to describe it; but we know that it is sacred and sacramental, and that when these things happen, we are all better for it…

it is...

It is breath; it is blood; it is sinew and flesh and bone. It is waking from a deep slumber and greeting the day, wispy dreams escaping the moment our eyes breathe light. It is rising from the horizontal, standing firm on the firmament, walking tall amongst the world. It is aches and pains, joints creaking, bones cracking. Yawning, stretching, reaching for the sky it is grasping, touching, embracing…

It is the pumping of the heart, the firing of synapses, the coordination of eye and ear and nose and touch and taste. It is the mastication of bread and fruit, vegetable and meat. It is the conversion of food to energy, energy to movement, movement to purpose, purpose to meaning…

What is it? Life…

It is the knowing, the feeling, the sense of that which flows through and about. It is flexibility and malleability. It is hope that springs from deep within; love that grows with each passing moment. It is also breath, but it is breath that senses connection with the world. It is also blood, but it is blood that flows through all veins and arteries carrying with it the commonality of us all…

It is life-giving. It is awe-struck, doe-eyed, child-like wonder. It is social; it is justice. It is blind and yet sees all; it is rich yet not wealthy in the least; it is everything and yet nothing at all. It is hearing the deep rich full symphonies of life that occur in the most basic of times. It is neither here nor there but yet it is everywhere…

It is sensing the image of the Divine as it rumbles in your core. It is allowing the Spirit to move and quicken the soul. It is touching the essence of the self and contacting the fullness of our being. It is taking whatever comes and acting in a manner that belies who you are. It is seeing the tree in front of you, and also its place in the forest. It is feeling centered, balanced, assured, peaceful. It is anger and joy, sorrow and ecstasy, peace and decadence. It is arms wide open, mouth shut, embraceable, connected…

What is it? Well that, my friends, is life and life abundantly…

grace and peace


Back and forth they grew like machine sown fields of wheat, each rut giving away the direction of its maker. The fields of green, hemmed on one side and rough on the other stretched before me. A gentle breeze surrounded my face as the sun shone during its downward trek towards the horizon. Shoes kept my feet from the cool damp earth as a steady hum filled the silence.

“You will never be what you were intended to be. Your growth will be stunted, constricted to that which surrounds you. You should be happy you have made it this far…” came echoing from deep within and screamed into the dark corners of my mind. I almost spoke it aloud, but I was alone, suburban alone, and didn’t want to draw attention to myself. It was a secret thought anyway, so I smiled.

The music began as my mp3 player hummed to life. Liz Phair and I sang at the top of our lungs “I am extraordinary, if you ever get to know me…” The words were lost in the rumble that grew from the ground. I am sure that no one heard it, that no one cared, so I smiled again and even kicked my heels a little bit. I ducked under the branch of a tree and watched the shadows creep along the ground. The sun and I are almost finished. I have mowed the lawn…

grace and peace

Text: I Peter 1:3-9, Title: hope

On Tuesday morning, I awoke to the sound of birds outside my window. It was the first time in days that they had pulled me from my slumber, and I knew what it meant, blue skies. My wife was already up, and I could see the daylight peek through the blinds in our bedroom. In a sleepy flash we were dressed and ready for a walk. It was a beautiful morning; the sky was changing from the pre-dawn blues, pinks, and oranges to that deep rich blue that reminds me of lazy summer days and hiking in the mountains. This was a day where God was easy to see.

Like all people I have a routine, I shower, shave, dress and then eat breakfast in front of the morning news. Usually, I sit in the corner of our living room on the La-z-boy eating my bowl of Cheerios, and this day was no exception. I tuned in to Good Morning America and they were doing an interview with a person from Denver, Colorado. I am not sure what is newsworthy about a woman who saw it fit to bring slips of paper with bible verses written on them into a jury room and pass them out to other jurors. The verses written on the paper were things such as “an eye for an eye…” and other such judgment phrases. The person they were deliberating over got the death penalty. She said it was her Christian duty to do what she did, and she wouldn’t change a thing. As I listened, I could feel a little vein on the side of my head begin to throb rhythmically, but I had it under control.

Then Good Morning America previewed their upcoming stories and the first one they mentioned was an interview with the maker of “His Essence.” Apparently, someone has come up with a candle that, when you burn it, it is supposed to smell like Jesus. I could feel the vein on my head stretch the skin as it expanded, an audible moan escaped from my mouth. Great, I thought, feeling the sarcasm well up in the back of my throat, just what the world needs, a candle that smells like a first century itinerant preacher who walked everywhere he went and whose only recorded bath was his baptism at the age of about thirty.

Exasperated, I began to flip channels, looking for something that could soothe my soul. I landed on another station, hoping for some cartoons or a preview for Seinfeld, just looking for something benign. What I got was a televangelist who proceeded to tell me how I could gain favor with God. Just follow these simple principles and God will bless your life and give you the riches you deserve. That vein my head? It grew to cartoonish proportions before I could turn the television off…

I can only guess what you are thinking right now. Maybe it is: what’s the big deal? Or, why get so worked up about what other people are doing, we’re pretty normal here? Maybe even I’m with ya brother; or, WWJSL, what would Jesus smell like?

So, what is the big deal…? Well for starters this public face of Christianity has turned something that we believe, into a blasphemous carnival of a religion. When I hear preachers on television who tell hurting people that if you just trust Jesus more then you will have a perfect life, because I know how God works and these seven principles from the Bible will tell you how to get God to love you more…

When I hear preachers abuse peoples’ faith, I weep for what we have become…

When I hear someone proof-text the Bible, that is pull one line of scripture out of context to support a particular point of view, when I hear people proof-text the Bible in order to support positions that are contrary to the canon as a whole…

My heart breaks for the faithful people who are hurt by someone else’s blindness…

When I see people use faith as a tool to hock their wares on the Internet or television…

I am reminded of the time Jesus went into the temple and in anger destroyed the tables of the moneychangers.

When I see these things they weigh heavy on my heart, there seems to be nothing real about it, everything is fabricated and fake; the methods and outcomes feel manipulated and hurtful. There is no room for the fact that sometimes life is hard and it has nothing to do with how faithful you are, or what Christian paraphernalia you own.

I would be lying to you, if I told you that being a Christian is a great thing all of the time. I would be lying to you, if I told you that when you are baptized everything from that point forward would be easy. I would be lying to you, if I told you that all you need to do is show up on Sunday, follow along in the bulletin, say your prayers, and God will make sure that your life is a piece of cake. If only being called Christian was as simple as waking up in the morning and smiling at the sunrise.

This is the message that the author of First Peter is sharing with a community that is struggling. In a bold attempt to shore up their faith and give them hope, he writes as plainly as possible, being faithful means life isn’t going to be perfect; being faithful means that others will not understand your motives and your actions; being faithful even means that you will not fit in, you will not conform to society’s standards, and you will not always be liked by those around you.

This is the message that is lost in our era of feel good Christianity.

How much we struggle has nothing to do with how faithful we are. Part of the message of First Peter is that you struggle precisely because you are faithful. There was no promise of an easy lifestyle or wealth or special blessings according to your faith. There are only two promises and the first one is that being faithful means that you will struggle, mostly because you will see the world differently.

This quote from Pheme Perkins, one of the authors of the Interpretation series, re-iterates this message, “… no Christian seeks the ‘testing’ of his or her faith. Nor does God set up such trials as an obstacle course or entrance exam. But Christians have known from the beginning that no genuine faith will exist without them” (Perkins, Interpretation, p.30)

There is a second promise in this message though. That is you have something that others will not, you have hope. Hope that God is greater than your trials; hope that the community of the faithful around you will love and support you; hope that God will remember you and offer you the safety that comes from the peaceful assurance of God’s presence in your life.

When I think about today’s public version of Christianity, hope is not the first thing that comes to mind, but it should be. Hope is what we are about, it is what the resurrection is about, it is why we admit our sins, sing songs of praise, worship God.

When we hope there is compassion, not aggression. When we hope life is authentic and real, not plastic or fake. When we hope life becomes about relationships with one another, not about personal gain or isolation. When we hope we live the lives that God calls us to live.

Today, we will share a meal together, in remembrance of the hope that we have been given. Communion is about a hope that is sufficient to strengthen us when we struggle. It is a reminder to live your life, individually and together, in a sacramental hope that allows you to embrace a hurting world.

I think this is what the author of First Peter calls us to do. He calls us to look at the reality of life around us, see the struggles, the pain, the hurt. He calls us to notice the events of our community and of our neighbors. This author calls us into an understanding that we are to see the world differently, that we are to find the hope in the struggles around us and not tell people about it, but instead be the beacons that can guide people through the darkness that surrounds them. If we can see both the reality and the hope then we begin to live sacramental and whole lives in the midst of whatever surrounds us.

Just as Jesus offers himself in the last supper, we are also called to offer our presence in hope to the world around us. The sacraments are meant to visible signs of an invisible faith and grace. They are meant to mimic the joy and sorrow of living faithfully in a broken world; they are guides that allow us moments of respite so that we can remember who we are and whose we are; they are gifts given to the people of God enabling us to go out into the world be the faithful hopeful people we are called to be.
As we partake in communion with one another, receive the gift that has been offered to you, but know this, it is not a gift that is meant to be kept; it is a gift of hope that is meant to help you live and move and breathe as the people of God in a world that struggles; it is a gift that is meant to be shared with the world.

grace and peace


After long consideration, I have chosen to give up on Christianity. Ever since Tuesday, when Good Morning America did a news feature on candles that are supposed to smell like Jesus, I have decided that being a Christian is tantamount to being a carnie (you know carnival worker). I am not sure what this will do to my blog, I just know that I can no longer write about a faith, a religion, that I do not respect. I will work in my church until July 17th to fulfill my contract, after that who knows...

I thank all of you who have visited here and been with me as I struggled through this portion of my life. You have been good companions on the journey, and now I must bid you adeiu. Take care of yourselves and each other, be at peace...

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