text: Matthew 7:21-29 title: sturm

Some of you might have heard that we are moving.

At the present moment the logistics and lists have been a bit overwhelming for me. In fact there are some moments, hours, days even when the whole thing is a bit depressing.

There are friends and family members to visit, things to fix on the house, work to wrap up and all of our stuff to pack. My wife and I have even begun a master calendar so that we can organize our trips and dinners and parties so that we can maximize our time with the people we have cared about, and those who have cared about us; and, in the midst of all of these things we both continue the work we have been called to do.

When I am able to step back and allow my mind to create pictures of this time in my life, it creates an all too familiar scene from the movies.

In the scene, the hero is standing on solid earth when all of a sudden things start to shake around him. Tree branches fall to the ground and power lines snap. Cars swerve and hit telephone poles and a rumbling sound is heard and felt, coming from deep inside the earth. All of a sudden the ground splits between his legs and he is left straddling the two sides of the road beneath his feet. The audience cringes as the hero must choose a side and make a leap, hoping to find solid ground again.

Actually, when I think about it, what kind of hero finds himself straddling two sides of a splitting road? I mean heroes are supposed to be the grounded ones, prepared for whatever comes along, ready for action, right? What kind of hero finds him or herself doing a split during an earthquake?

Regardless, the point is that it sometimes feels like I live in two places, and solid ground eludes me.

Take a moment and transport yourselves back 2000 years, and imagine that the crowds gathered for you. That you awoke from a decent nights sleep to find thousands upon thousands standing before you, awaiting a word, a sign, a direction.

What would your first inclination be? Mine would probably be to turn over and go back to sleep, hoping that it was all a nightmare, and when I really woke up, everyone would be gone.

Jesus had a different thing in mind. He, instead, chooses to go up on a mountaintop and preach; no notes, no teleprompters, no net, just Jesus and thousands of his interested followers.

When he ascends to those great heights, what he gives us is the Sermon on the Mount, along with numerous other teachings concerning a life of discipleship.

Jesus, off the cuff, describes a way of living sacramentally. That is, living our lives in the presence and care of God as best we can. For three chapters in Matthew, the author records Jesus talking to his followers about who they should be and what they should be doing in response to the world around them.

Our passage today is the conclusion of his sermon and teaching. Much like a benediction in our own worship service, in this passage Jesus calls those who listen to him into action. He calls them not just to do the things he has talked about, but to believe his words and be the people he has described.

And there are two reasons I think Jesus gives this charge…

The first reason is that I believe Jesus desires a form of relationship that is based on an intimate knowledge of one another. This is not a relationship that is hung up on rewards for service, or heavenly coupons redeemable for favors and valuable prizes.

In the first part of this passage Jesus says that it doesn’t matter what you do if I don’t know who you are. We could spend a lifetime prophesying, serving, or healing in Jesus’ name, and still not grasp, not relate to who Jesus is.

Most of you know my penchant for finding questions in scripture, and this passage is no exception. I think there is a question hidden in this first part of our passage, one that drives at the heart of knowing and being known.

Hypothetically speaking, if in a flash and a puff of smoke Jesus suddenly appeared before this congregation, and unequivocally stated that there is no heaven, no eternal place of reward; how many of you would continue to be a Christian?

That is the question at the heart of the Christian endeavor. Is knowing and being known by God good enough, or must we play some cosmic tit-for-tat game with the Almighty; seeking that which we righteously believe we deserve based on our performance here in the corporeal world.

What would your response to that question, or that pronouncement from Jesus be?

Would you be like the people who inhabit the first portion of this text? The ones who say “wait a minute God, I’ve been doing all these good things for you, I go to church, I tithe, I volunteer, I hand out tracts and have personally saved fourteen people over the last month, I even went on a mission trip once to help those poor people down there, I deserve a little credit for that work.”

The harsh word from Jesus is that he doesn’t know the people who are looking to store up heavenly credit, who do and say things only to appear righteous. For those of you who spend time in Christian bookstores, the next time you enter count how many books you find written about storing up treasure in heaven or gaining Godly favor by living the right kind of life. And as you count, think about this verse, about Jesus’ words to those playing games with God.

So then who does he know? Well for that, we need to take a look at the beginning of the fifth chapter: he knows the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, and especially those who are persecuted because of who they know.

Throughout the course of this sermon and the ensuing dialogue, Jesus uses a variety of rhetorical methods, seeking to make a connection with his audience, so that he might know and be known by everyone. Jesus knows when that occurs, rewards are of little consequence, there are no needs for accolades and heavenly or earthly pats on the back; that suddenly, being known is enough…

Additionally, he reframes his dialogue for those who didn’t quite follow what he was saying, adding a story about the building of two houses. Certainly, most of you are familiar with this tale, about the wise man building his house upon the rock and the foolish man building his home on the sand.

One thing that struck me the hardest in this story was that the storms struck both homes with equal veracity. Each man experienced a storm heavy enough to destroy a house, which begs the question for me of where did we ever get the idea that the more faithful we are, the better God will look upon our lives and the easier things will be?

By telling this story, Jesus states without a doubt that life will be a mess sometimes, but that it is the foundation that determines whether or not we will remain standing when the gray clouds part and the sky clears. The upheavals that we will all experience in life are not lessened by our faith, nor do they come because of a lack of faithfulness, they just come; moreover, we don’t suddenly become rich, handsome or pretty just because we believe in God.

The only thing we might have is a leg up when the storms hit, because we love and believe in a God that loves and believes in us; and on that ground it is easy to stand and weather the storms that swirl around us.

Our move in July is but a small storm in our life at this point. We will make the leap over that ever-increasing gap and stand on the solid ground that God will provide us.

It is my hope that when you encounter the storms of your lives, when the earth shakes your homes, and the rain beats upon the windowsills. When the clouds are dark and the night seems to last forever…

I hope that you can stand in the house of faith that you have built…

That you can stand in the knowledge of God’s love for you…

And you can stand with the kind of faith that tells you that God remembers you in both the sunny days and the stormy nights…

Whether the sun shines bright or the rain beats down upon your face, stand tall, stand firm, stand solidly and know and be known…
O God, our help in ages past, we thank you that we can awake and sense your presence around us;

When the sun rises and the storm filled skies part we remember your promises, and stand firm knowing that you have set your bow in the clouds and vowed never to fight against us again.

Sometimes, O Lord, we take your generosity for granted; we push the boundaries and test your love; we destroy what you create in name of faith; we sow seeds of discord rather than seeking peace; we trample the weak and those who cry out for justice in the name of progress.

Forgive our misguided attempts at playing God, and help us to look to you, our rock and foundation, when the storms of life come to pass.

We live, O God, in a world of results. Where our every move is calculated to provide the greatest benefit to us; where people are judged by their production value and contributions to the economy, for those who do not measure up to our standards of success we pray that they might find peace in the knowledge of your love for them.

O great Healer, we pray this day that our world might be renewed and that this renewal begins with our hearts.

For parts of the world that are war torn,
for children that sleep with one eye open out of fear,
for those who do not know where their next meal will come from or do not have shelter or jobs,
for countries that do not care for their poor,
for cities that bicker over how to best use their resources,
for churches that are torn by petty theological differences,

Pour out your Holy Spirit that these places might sense your presence and begin anew. Grant them wisdom and hope that we all might find the grace to live lives that stand firm on the foundations of your love for us.

Into each of our lives storms will fall and the houses we have built will tremble and shake. Grant us the wisdom to build our lives around the words and actions of your son, who taught us to pray, saying…

Toxic Church Syndrome

I heard these words from a colleague today. They are still rumbling around in my head and I can't quite grasp what they mean to me yet.

When you read those words...

Toxic Church Syndrome

What thoughts are conjured up in your head? How would you explain the term to someone you know? How would you apply it to a church you know?

Rather than write a post about this, I would rather converse...

grace and peace

On ministry and Chan...

Chan Chandler is 33 years old, my age. Chan was the minister in North Carolina who told his congregants that if they did not vote for George Bush in the last election, then they need to repent or remove themselves from that particular congregation. As a result, 9 people left or were removed from the rolls after refusing to kowtow to the demands made from a bully in a pulpit. The fallout from this left 40 or so members so uncomfortable in their own church that they could no longer attend.

He is my age, and in his short career he has destroyed a congregation. What a legacy to behold…

When ministers are called into this vocation, they are called into a life of service. This is part of the reason that spending a lifetime in a congregation scares the hell out of me. I barely trust myself as it is, and others want me to be in charge of the spiritual life of a large group of people? Chan Chandler is the reason why I never wanted to go into the church in the first place. He, also, is the reason why I fear for the future of the church.

His actions are a clear violation of the trust that people place in ministers when they enter the pulpit. But what gets me is what this “pastor” said as he left the congregational meeting where he resigned. He stated that he needed to leave for his own and his family’s sake.

No mention of the congregation and what his bullying has done to it. No contrition for the contention that he has caused. No mention about the fact that this congregation is now broken, the body of Christ that he was placed in charge of is now on life support because of his words, this rhetoric cannot be seen as holy or faithful to the word of God. The word of God builds the body it does not tear it apart.

As I think about his words upon leaving, I can understand the desire to protect oneself and one’s family. I can understand not wanting to bring a firestorm down upon one’s personal life and one’s faith. I cannot understand where someone gets the idea that believing in God means excluding and dividing a church over petty ideological differences.

I will admit that I stand left of center on just about every political issue. I will admit that this colors the way I preach and teach and exegete. I will also admit that I do the best I can to respect the difference of opinion that surrounds me. My preaching is about challenging the common perceptions that the way it is, is the way it is intended to be. I hope that my sermons challenge people to dialogue rather than exclude people for what they believe. Since my first sermon here almost two years ago, I have begged people who disagreed or thought differently to come and talk with me.

Ministers are fallible human beings who will no doubt disappoint their congregations, their families, and themselves at one time or another. When ministers set themselves up as the people who know things, or have the answers, then they set themselves and their congregations up for a fall of biblical proportions. Chan Chandler, should he have any awareness into his own life, can attest to that statement. The kicker is that those who hurt congregations rarely have any capacity for self-supervision and are more likely narcissists who will move from place to place devouring all who dare get in their way.

The saddest part of this caper is that he will probably be rewarded for his “defense of Christianity.” Some other whack job will give him a plaque and a job because of his outspoken belligerence to the secular left. Someone will want him to speak or write a book about the ordeal, cementing in his mind the importance and “rightness” of his actions. All of this for destroying a congregation, for supposedly defending God’s truth, which I am not sure needs defense from us at all.

The congregation in North Carolina should pray for him, as one prays for all enemies, but also be glad that he has chosen to move on. However, when have you known a congregation to happily move on?

And thus begins my journey to the dark side. A journey that will take me into the biggest cosmic joke God has ever played on humanity, becoming a minister…

a late night rendezvous

At 2:55 AM today, I witnessed something that I thought was reserved only for sporting events and theme parks. I had gathered with friends, some old some new, in a place full of heavy breathing and men with playing with swords. There amongst the throngs of faithful people was a line to get into the men’s bathroom.

You may be asking yourself: self, where does such an anomaly of occur if not at a sporting event or theme park? My friends, this aberration of nature occurred at the end of the 12:01 AM showing of Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith. Yes, there amongst the black clad Lord Vaders, bathrobe wearing Obi-Wan’s, and two or three Queen Amidalas, stood yours truly.

Our motley crew gathered around ten o’clock outside the theatre. We were late. A Darth Vader in a black dress and heels battled a ten-year old Obi-Wan in the parking lot. Television cameras panned the crowd while radio stations gave away freebies. The lines continued to grow as Stormtroopers, Jedi Knights, and a guy in Gap jeans and a Boba Fett helmet arrived. I have always been a fan of Star Wars, but this night I was awestruck.

I stood there as fan after fan wandered through the crowds, ranking the Star Wars movies, quoting lines, and brandishing light sabers. We were seated in our theatre by 10:30 (it was showing on 8 screens to packed audiences) and proceeded to wait for two hours before the previews began. The crowd erupted in applause as the now infamous fading intro appeared. We let out collective gasps as the light saber duels raced across the screens; and we held our breaths as the evil let loose upon the universe in 1977 was born before our eyes.

I loved feeling young again, lost in the fantasy of another. It was a great experience to gather with some many people who are passionate about a series of films. Many of these people have followed the saga from start to finish. They remember seeing one of early films in the theatres for the first time. They recall being opened to a world of fantasy and fiction that somehow was real enough to be believed. The excitement and energy of the crowd remained steady from start to finish.

I miss being able to stay up late or never sleep. I miss the wide-eyed naivety that comes with seeing the fantasies of others unfold before my eyes. I think what I miss most is believing that I will never grow up, never be like those old fuddy-duddies. Well, never say never. It is not that I am so old; it is that some arbitrary notion of maturity has taken over my perceptions of who I should be. I don’t want to run off and be a kid or some irresponsible lout. I just don’t want to be cast into that societal pattern of adulthood.

Can one be an adult and yet maintain the freedom of youth, the creativity of childhood, and the naivety of our soul? I surely hope so. It is in creativity, freedom, and naivety that we are able to take the journeys that are meaningful. Responsibility should not be abandoned for recklessness, but freedom should not be sacrificed for security as well.

A friend believed this midnight madness of movie watching was the closing of the door to his childhood. I hope that it is not. Instead, I hope that this is a gateway to remembering what it was that drew him into this universe. I hope that the door opened by our midnight trek will remain open as his son grows and stretches and finds his own fantasies and dream worlds.

So don your helmets you Darth Vaders and Boba Fetts. Search your feelings you Jedi Masters and Padawans. Life is meant to be lived creatively in this present world. Do not fear, for fear leads to the dark side. Instead, look to the sky and see your destiny among the stars. For you are not alone in your travels, there are many on the same journey, we only need to look around us to see those who care and support us. When our eyes are open we can look to our neighbor, and in the words of one who is much smarter that I, say, “Cover me Porkins, I’m goin’ in.”

Frankensteins and furniture

We moved into our house approximately three years ago. It was our first huge purchase together, and if I say so myself, a damn good one. When we leave, its halls will resonate with good vibrations for the next family who resides there. That is not the story I wish to tell today though.

One of the benefits of owning a house is taking care of the lawn. At our home, the lawn and flower beds were two things that attracted us to it. Every spring tulips burst forth from the ground under our trees, the phlox spreads a little more, and the grass greens up after a long winter nap. As the landscape comes alive, I know that it is time to break out Frankenstein.

Frankenstein is our lawn mower, and if you ever saw it you would know why. Frank is a mess. His faded red deck is covered with grass stains and oil. The throttle no longer works, and his blade is dull and nicked. Frank’s wheels are a special mix of plastic and prayer. They have long broken away from the axel that holds them, sometimes listing at a forty-five degree angle during sharp turnarounds. Frank has a throaty 6 horsepower engine, and when it gets going it vibrates the entire mower violently. There are various bolts, mismatched and bent, hanging off of Frank, hanging on to dear life.

Like all things in our home, Frankenstein has a story…

When we moved into our home in the spring of 2002, we did so with the help of U-haul, beer, pizza and friends. The home was vacant and the grunts of sweaty men and women echoed off of the hardwood floors as furniture and clothing, knick-knacks and various other items were shuffled from room to room. The grass was an unruly mess. A piece of advice, when you buy a home make sure the seller continues to take care of cutting the grass until the closing date.

One couple, sensing our dilemma about the lawn offered to give us Frank. The husband told me that it was a good mower and that he had done just about everything he could do to kill it, but it just wouldn’t die. Besides that, he was ready for a new mower and he thought this one would give us a couple of months of work before we needed a new one. Well, Frankenstein is still living, and I am too cheap to get a new mower now. Moreover, I am attached to him; well, I am attached to the memories and the people that he reminds me of. Therefore, for all of my griping and complaining, I still smile when I open the shed and pull him out for another go around the yard.

I am the third owner of Frank, the first to probably name him. Frank has run over stumps and bushes. He has cleared out paths of knee high grass and he has not complained one bit. I am proud that he has made it this long given my incompetence with machines. Truth be told, I am quite sentimental about him, especially since I am pretty sure he won’t be making the trek across the country (sorry Chet).

There is no reason to be this attached to a mower, but I am this way with everything I own. Everything is full of stories. My wife and I laugh about the fact that all but three or four things in our home are hand-me-downs. Everything came with a history, a life of its own, and we have added to the legends that live with each piece. However, the time has come to bid farewell to some the things we have enjoyed.

The hardest part is that the physical reminders of the life and times that we shared with others will be gone. The friends who gave us the lawn mower moved to West Virginia a while ago. Yet every time I pull out Frank both of them stand before my eyes. The stories and events that we shared become real again. The smiles and laughter return as if they happened just yesterday. I guess I fear that if I let go of the objects, the stories will fade. Instead of obvious reminders all that will be left are memories, and memories always seem so distant.

It is hard to let go of the things that remind us of our place in reality; the friends and family members that prove our existence and ground our being. Sometimes I feel like I have to ask for forgiveness when we give away the items that have been under our care. I worry and pray about them finding good homes, that the memories they gave us will continue to bless those around them.

What I fear that I must begin to accept is that the people of my life are more real than the items that remind me of them. As long as I can look at a thing, I don’t have to deal with my successes and failures at dealing with the people. I lament that I don’t stay in touch as much as I could, or call as often as I should. I worry that I will wear out my welcome with the few friends I hang on to. I regret, I wail, I weep, but I also have some glimmer of hope that I will get better at this relationship thing…

That someday I will no longer need the Frankensteins and furniture to remember…

grace and peace

texts: acts 2:1-21, 1Cor 12:3b-13 title:breathe

Throughout the course of this sermon, every person will partake in the same exact activity approximately 300 to 500 times without even thinking about it. We can live for several weeks without food; most people can live without water for three to four days; however, without this common activity we could not live more than a few minutes.

This arguably makes it one of the most important automatic functions our bodies perform. In fact, even though we can control this function to some extent, our brains will not allow us to stop it indefinitely. The brain will shut the body down before it will allow us to stop this function.

What are we talking about? Breathing, of course.

But the most important thing about breathing is this: it always happens in the present. We cannot save breaths for the future, nor can we use past breaths if we are running short. Breathing always occurs in the moment; there is nothing else in our life that I know of that is more immediate, more present-oriented than breathing.

So let’s talk biology for a moment, and examine what basically happens (with apologies to all medical personnel in the congregation). First, the diaphragm and muscles between the ribs contract, expanding the chest cavity and creating a low-pressure area that draws oxygen in through the nose or mouth. The oxygen travels through the trachea, past the larynx and into the bronchi. From there it enters the lungs and continues to travel down narrower passages until it reaches the alveoli. Once it reaches the alveoli an exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs. The diaphragm and the muscles between the ribs then relax and expel the carbon dioxide and then the cycle begins again. The oxygen rich blood is returned to the heart and then continues on through the rest of the body. Breathing is an automatic function controlled by our brains and we can usually go for minutes at a time without being conscious of it.

Breathing exercises have been used in different forms of psychotherapy for many years. Most often, deep breathing or belly breathing has been used to help people suffering from: anxiety, panic attacks, unhealthy obsessions, or just too much stress. The psychological benefits of breathing exercises are that it helps us slow down the affects of negative things so that we can manage the emotions or thoughts that stem from coming in contact with something we feel that we cannot control.

These exercises also keep us from hyperventilating, which can cause panic and anxiety to spiral out of control. Additionally, hyperventilation unbalances the oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood and can result in a number of physical difficulties.

Most of us know about breathing and its importance for our lives. How many of us know how important breathing is for the church? How many of us think about the way we inhale and exhale as we enter the church, sing hymns or listen to a prayer?

Ruach is the Hebrew word for spirit, wind, mind, and breath. Pneuma is its Greek counterpart, and a word of similar meanings. When this word is written in relationship to God, it is most often translated as Spirit. However, I want to propose that we begin to think about ruach and pneuma differently.

This is not about displacing the idea of the Spirit of God, but better describing the activity of God through the Holy Spirit. I am thinking about a companion meaning to the traditional language we have always used, that the Spirit of God is also the breath of God.

In ancient times, the spirit or soul was often equated with the breath. When someone stopped breathing, it was believed that their soul had left their body or ceased to exist. Breath, breathing, was synonymous with life and with activity. It was an invisible mystery that signified one’s health and vitality. At that time, humans did not understand all of the biological functions that occurred in the brain to control our breathing, thus one’s breath was a holy and life-affirming mystery.

In just a moment, I am going to be quiet for about 30 seconds, during that time I want you to listen. Listen to the way your body inhales and exhales; listen to the way your neighbor is breathing, is it labored, relaxed, forced? Listen to the collective breath of this church, what do you hear?

Now let’s try a second exercise. In just a second, I want everyone to take a deep breath and on the count of three I want everyone to exhale at the same time. What did you hear?

Let me re-read verse 2 from our Acts passage today: “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”

Sometimes, you can just walk into a church and feel the life that courses through its veins, you can hear the gathered community of faith inhale and exhale; the rhythm of its breathing draws strength from inside and stretching out into the community around it. These lively houses of God are not driven by flashy gimmicks and clever marketing ploys; no instead there is something real and deep, something that flows in and around each member.

These are the communities of faith that drink deeply the breath of God in their midst, much like the disciples did on that first Pentecost. As the rush of wind surrounded them, each one of them inhaled the sweet warm breath of God, and then they began to speak in a language that all could hear.

Paul writes, in our Corinthians passage, that the one gift the Spirit brings to everyone is the ability to use his or her individual gifts for the common good. That is the vitality and life of a Spirit filled church.

It is not a place that has turned inward, hording the spirit and believing they have the answers. Instead it is a place that recognizes the breath of God among them and as they inhale a Spirit-filled breath, they in turn exhale into the communities around them, speaking the languages of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

For all of the talk about this being a Christian nation, for all of the wrangling about Scripture and its interpretation, for all of the wailing and lamenting about the lack of morals and superficiality; there is little talk about the gifts from breath of God being used for the common good. There is little discussion of how to exhale love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control into the lives of those around us.

Therefore, I want to challenge you that next time you hear a minister on television lamenting about the state of the union or protesting a law or talking about how horrible liberals or conservatives are listen between the words. As that person speaks, listen to what they exhale, to how they speak of others who differ from them. The breath of God comes for the common good, and common means the good of all.

While all of that is well and good, I don’t think it is the most remarkable thing about our passages today. For that, we have to go back and read between the lines of our text.

The most remarkable thing I believe our texts tell us is that the Spirit, the breath of God, is present and the disciples are as well. At the beginning of this sermon I stated that the most important thing about breathing is that it always occurs in the present.

Almost every meditative practice from Eastern and Western religions incorporates breathing exercises as a part of its regimen. The reason why is that when you can concentrate on your breathing, when you can feel each breath as it enters and leaves, then you can be truly present to the world around you.

In a day and age where hyperventalative living is commonplace, deep breathing is the exercise that grounds us in a meaningful way to the life that is occurring before our eyes. It is not that we have to sit for hours concentrating on our breathing, nor is it that each breath has to be deep and each exhale loud and forceful. It is about noticing what is occurring right before your eyes through the recognition of the only thing that is always grounded in the present.

When we can breathe well, the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide balances itself and the gifts of life become real and present before our eyes.

It is the same way with the breath of God. A faithful life does not happen by staring longingly into the pictures of our past, lamenting about how active the Spirit was back then. A faithful life does not happen by always gazing into the future anxiously awaiting the next big sign from God. God breathes now in the present and that is what we must do as well.

So awake from your slumbers and daydreams you people of God; fix not your eyes upon the horizon or the heavens. We are impotent when we are caught gazing into the future or wallowing in the past.

Instead stretch your lungs and breathe deep the breath of God. See the world in front of you, the people who laugh and love, who hurt and cry, and with the language and gifts that God grants each one of us. Inhale, exhale, and be present to the world God has shown you this very day.

A game of tag...

In a medium that is non-tactile, I am not surprised that someone has invented a way to play tag over the internet. The needs of human beings to touch—a handshake, hug, a pat on the back—is well documented. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before someone attempted to reach out and touch others in the blogosphere.

I recently found out that I was tagged by Matt. This particular game bears no similarity to television or freeze tag. Instead, it is vocational tag, or what if tag. Below, you will find a list of vocations. For five of these vocations, you are asked to write something brief to complete the sentence.

I am then required to tag three other people who must do the same. You can add more occupations to the list when you pass it on but you must choose your 5 from the list provided by the person who tagged you. You're also asked to trackback to the blogger who tagged you if you know how.

If I could be a scientist...
If I could be a farmer...
If I could be a musician...
If I could be a doctor...
If I could be a painter...
If I could be a gardener...
If I could be a missionary...
If I could be a chef...
If I could be an architect...
If I could be a linguist...
If I could be a psychologist...
If I could be a librarian...
If I could be an athlete...
If I could be a lawyer...
If I could be an innkeeper...
If I could be a professor...
If I could be a writer...
If I could be a llama-rider...
If I could be a bonnie pirate...
If I could be a service member...
If I could be a photographer...
If I could be a philanthropist...
If I could be a rap artist...
If I could be a child actor...
If I could be a secret agent...
If I could be a comedian/comedienne...
If I could be a priest...
If I could be a radio announcer...
If I could be a phlebotomist...
If I could be Paris Hilton's stylist...
If I could be the CEO of Microsoft…
If I could be a movie producer…
If I could be a laser hair removal specialist…
If I could be a dog groomer...
If I could be a bicycle repairman...
If I could be a Lumberjack...
If I could be chauffer for Michael W. Smith...
If I could be a Head Football Coach...

Here are my additions to the list as well

If I could be an insurance adjuster…
If I could be funeral home director…
If I could be a bus driver…
If I could be me…

My five responses…

If I could be a chef, I would invent some way to fuse steak, chocolate, beer, jelly beans and macaroni and cheese into a low-calorie great tasting meal.

If I could be a painter, I would find ways to create brushstrokes for the images that flit through my mind. I would find a way to translate the pictures that are created in my dreams to canvas and paper.

If I could be a philanthropist, I would make all of the “make poverty history” banners unnecessary.

If I could be a photographer, I would want to travel the world taking pictures of people, attempting to capture the soul of humanity in a brief snapshot of time.

If I could be a scientist, I would work on a way to genetically engineer an on/off switch for the mouths of preachers, theologians and others who seem to put their foot in their mouths regularly. This could be activated by remote sensors that gauge language, tone, syntax, and how worked up the offending person is getting.

As for who gets tagged next, let’s try Meg over at Bridget Jones goes to Seminary, McKormick at As Evidence, and Adam at The Pub. If I can do it, so can you….

grace and peace

a Subway story

The following conversation took place between the sneeze guard, amidst the shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and processed meat. It was ten thirty in the morning, early for lunch but primetime for conversation…

He asked me what I did, and I replied, “I am a therapist.” To this, he shook his head and smiled. As an afterthought I added, “I am also a minister as well.”

This comment elicited a response from my inquirer. “Ah, you deal with issues of faith.”

“Sometimes,” was my reply, “but not always in as good a fashion as I wish.”

“I believe that we are all created valuable. I hate this culture of fast food and quick remedies. It is the same with faith, people wanting quick answers.”

“You and I share many of the same thoughts,” I interjected with a quick nod.

“Blood is cheap,” he went on. “People do not value one another. Instead they would rather run off and buy a machine gun and kill ten people.”

“I agree we do place little value on life. I am curious about your view though, since you work in a fast food restaurant.”

“It is a job,” he replied. “I am also a computer technician. I like working with computers more than people. They, at least, will tell you what is wrong and then you can fix it. With people, they are more difficult. They do not say what is wrong and instead would rather kill one another.”

“Yes, computers do seem easier.” I stated as I picked up my sandwich.

Walking towards the door, he asked one last question. “What kind of therapy do you do?”

Ironically, I replied, “I try and help people live meaningful lives.”

To this he laughed, “Good luck with that. It was good to talk with you, have a good day.”

“To you as well,” I replied, “have a wonderful day.”

It is frightening and laborious, but sometimes rewarding. How do you help people create meaning throughout the events of their lives? Most people walk through the doors of my office seeking relief from a variety of symptoms. They wish to find some type of psychotherapeutic panacea to mend their broken hearts and right the ships that sail through their lives. The problem comes when they want these psychological solutions yesterday.

I will be the first to admit that I am ill suited for the quick fix type of therapy; the one-size-fits-all, seven steps to wholeness crap that populates the self help aisles. To be sure, there are some helpful things in this section, but most of it is vacuous garbage that should be deemed unfit for human consumption. Many of these books remind me that blood IS cheap and so are the lives that many choose to live. When did we begin to equate living with owning the newest gadget, measuring our success by the amount we consume? How have we leapt onto this path of hyper-consumption? How do we get off?

Often, I laugh when I tell people that the folks of my generation believe that the microwave is too slow. But my laughter often hides a more sinister truth of the fear I experience each time I, or another, proves this to be true. Many people walk through my door wanting to be fixed in eight sessions or less. To these people I would say (though I don’t often enough), meaning is not a prescribed method of living, but a life-long journey that begins when we believe that every person, including ourselves, has inherent value through the mere fact of their/our createdness.

A life lived attempting to keep up with the Joneses is no better than a life of heroin addiction. It is nothing better than a shallow attempt at self-medication; the acquisition of goods does nothing more than quantify our lives, and the only result of this type of measurement is the cheapening of our blood.

Meaning, value, and growth are intrinsic endeavors cultivated in a safe community whereby one has the opportunity to be challenged and loved for who they are, not what they own or what they produce. Forget salvation, forget atonement and miracles, this was the penultimate act of the incarnation: God sent someone who came into this world and showed each person that they were loved, embraced, and cared for by God, no matter where they found themselves in life. There is no other act of God greater than the fact that we are loved before we do anything, during the things we do, and despite the things we have done. And, no other act of God creates more freedom than realizing the potentiality of our createdness…

grace and peace

Mother's day prayer

Almighty God,
When we awake to deep blue skies and crisp mornings it is easy to call you Lord. When we can remember our mothers with fondness and smiles we know that you are good.

Like a hen gathering her brood you call out to each of us; pulling us ever nearer; gathering us into the safety of your wings; bringing us closer to one another so that we may know you and be known to one another.

We are thankful for the good mothers you bring into our lives, whether aunts or grandmothers, friends, colleagues or cousins. Mothering happens when we are loved by people in the same manner that you have loved us. Help us to remember these mothers of nature and nurture, remind us of these people who have taught us the lessons of love and life, who have given of themselves and asked for little in return.

Help us to remember the mothers who have taught us the lessons of good living. Lessons about sharing the gifts we have with those who have little; lessons about our individuality and our need to be together; lessons about courage and hope, joy and sorrow; lessons about when to say “yes” and when to say “no.”

We know, O God, that our honor of the mothers in our lives should extend beyond one day. Help us to remember those people who have given out of their own wholeness; those who model what it means to be healthy individuals who love one another.

Creator God,
As we look out on the world you have gifted us, remind us of those who have not had the opportunity to be nurtured by good mothers. Our world can feel empty to those who have not been loved in a manner that helps them grow.

Sometimes our attempts at mothering become smothering, we help out of our own need to be affirmed, rather than our desire to see someone grow. At these times, O God, give us the strength to stand firm in our createdness, loving one another because we have been loved by you, not because we need to feel loved.

Help each one of us to be good mothers, female or male, young or old, rich or poor. Through the strength of your Spirit, we all have the opportunity to care, the opportunity to love, and the opportunity to bring your peace to the world and to one another.

Just as your son loved and valued each one of us, we pray that we may be able to do a little of the same with one another. Grant each one of us the wisdom not to be perfect, but to be good enough mothers for one another. For we ask all these things praying the prayer taught to us so many years ago…


Five days, three hotel rooms, three flights, two rental cars and an abundance of Starbucks coffee and we are at the half point of our trip. Traveling to different parts of the American landscape is an interesting and tiring adventure. We both find ourselves a little on edge as we trudge from one city to the next in order to visit friends, professors and potential employers.

Our trip began early Friday with a drive down the interstate from Richmond, Virginia, to Newport News. Richmond does not have a discount airline; therefore the closest cheap flights are about 60 miles from home. Our trip to Galveston, Texas, began easy enough. We were excited to see a part of the country that neither of us had ever seen. The trip began with the usual mix of excitement and anxiety (mostly mine) and besides a close call in the Atlanta airport it was fine. Theologically speaking, God was good to us.

We arrived, after a short drive, to a cool and cloudy Galveston, Texas. We were unimpressed. For those who know the overdone eastern shorelines, Galveston is a lot like Myrtle Beach, a gated community, and any socio-economically downtrodden inner city all rolled into one. Additionally, the zoning laws are lax to non-existent. On one city block you will see a Laundromat, a Pharmacy, several asbestos laden 70’s style homes, and two or three gigantic 100 year old mansions. In the effort to attract business and people in the present, it seems as though they gave little heed to the impact on the future of the community. Of course it didn’t help that we awoke to 25-40 mile an hour winds whipping through the stairwell outside our room, causing a shrill locomotive-like whistle to invade our temporary sanctuary.

Regardless, the wedding was an affair to remember, or for many who partook a little too frequently of the open bar, an affair to forget. The Lutheran service was wonderful, liturgical and beautifully done. From the bowing before the cross, to the kneeling in prayer, to the brevity and timeliness of the homily, everything was wonderfully high church and memorable. The reception was wonderful, even if we were stuck at a table where the majority of people were stuck on themselves. Shooting myself in the foot would have been less painful than listening to the empty rambling of people who, it seems, genuinely care only about where you live, how much you make, and where to fly in the country for the best spa treatments. My wife and I affectionately referred to the table as “the plastics.” You know the type, shiny outsides empty insides, lots of air no breath. Theologically, God was still good, but with a weird torturous sense of humor.

We left on Sunday, in plenty of time to make it to the airport. Unfortunately, it was the wrong airport. We returned our rental car and heading for the airport where we arrived. We did not think to look at our reservations which were for an airline that only offers service at an airport half an hour away. The tension that filled the cab we had to rent to get from one airport to the other was thick and oppressive. My mind wandered as I berated myself for my lack of foresight and general stupidity, the laughter I offered was hollow and unnecessary. My wife was pissed, and appropriately so. We got to the airport thirty minutes before our flight was to take off and thankfully made the flight. All that ire and anxiety was for naught, wasted on a cab ride from one airport to another. God’s sense of humor was beginning to grate on my nerves a bit.

We arrive in Denver, Colorado in good fashion. Only one thing, it is snowing… and 38 degrees… on May 1st. A mixture of laughter and curses form in my mind, on the way to our hotel we can see the remnants of a recent heavy snow on the ground. We asked a Denver native her favorite part about the city; she said that it was the weather. I am beginning to wonder how living at high altitudes affects the brain. Our hotel was much nicer than we could normally afford, thank God for internet specials. After a quick dinner and a little grumbling about the weather to no one in general, we hit the bed and sleep the sleep of the dead. God has become that person in your group of friends that doesn’t know when to stop cracking jokes.

The weather begins to clear a little by Monday afternoon and the temperature rises. My wife gets to go shopping for shoes (always a crowd pleasing stress reducing activity). Of course, now we have to figure out how the heck to get them home since our bags are already packed beyond capacity. We spend the day driving the area. She has an interview Tuesday, so we figure out where it will take place and then we take off on a rambling adventure through neighborhoods and cities, looking for a place to live.

On this day, I learned how expensive it is to have character, no wonder it is in such short supply today. No one can afford to have character in Denver. That is unless one is gainfully employed by an institution that believes you should be able to afford said character. We canvas neighborhoods and make phone calls. My wife and I love the bungalows with hardwood floors, no closets, good neighbors, and lots of character.

We awake on Tuesday, pack and head to a couple of appointments. I meet with a professor at the school I will attend. She and I talk about the first quarter of school. It looks like I will take three courses to begin: a core religious methods course, a doctoral seminar in pastoral theology, and a directed study on formation. Formation is the crux of our conversation. I think that is where my studies will take me, into the realm of wisdom, generations, and how we mature and grow. I am not sure how this will happen yet, but her interest is promising.

We check into our hotel and rest for a brief moment. My wife has an interview on the other side of town, so we freshen up and head out the door. At a gas station we stop to pick up something to drink, with the car running we step and promptly lock the keys inside. This is truly the greatest “Oh shit” moment of our journey. Thankfully, the people of Denver are some of the friendliest I have met. Forty bucks and ten minutes later we are on our way again. Stress has filtered into the moment. God is a jerk. However, we made it on time, early even, and things are fine. Again we have wasted that anxiety and frustration on a car ride.

Now, I sit here in a Starbucks remembering the days as they line themselves up in the fragile landscape of my mind. Our problems have been minimal, but I know a little more about why the Psalmist cried out to God in both pleasure and pain. Our relationship is not so fragile that I believe God does good or bad things to me for a reason. That kind of theology has no place in my life. Sometimes I do wonder though. It is easier to blame God or “the devil” for the misfortunes of our adventures, but that kind of relationship lacks a certain amount of maturity and responsibility. It was our responsibility to read the airline tickets we had, to prepare for the possibility of bad weather, to bring the keys when we step out of the car. God was not rewarding or punishing us for mistakes and missteps. God, I believe, was merely present through it, keeping us in the moment so that we might function together as best we could.

In these words lies the heart of our relationship, being present with one another in whatever comes to pass. If I wonder or become stuck on God’s punishment or reward, then God is not something/one who wants to relate to me. God becomes cosmic taskmaster rather than constant companion. The only way to relate to a companion is to relate in the present during whatever journey one is taking. We cannot listen, react or reflect if we are constantly anxious about being controlled, punished or rewarded. The only relationship that can produce growth is one that functions in the present, unencumbered by the desire for special attention.

Enough for now, the adventures continue, life goes on, we will survive…

grace and peace


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