unload, shuffle, sit, rest, sleep

I am standing in an empty house, soon to be our home. The hardwood floors carry my voice throughout each room as the echoes fade from front to back. This is a naked place, old but not dusty, cramped but not small. Our little Colorado bungalow will be our home for the next year as we seek out our place in this village of two and a half million souls.

Our trailer sits out front, loaded with everything we own. The day is cool and sunny, highs in the upper 80s, I think. I am ready to unload, but the unloaders we hired will not be here for another two hours. I have popped a couple Ibuprofen to ease my joints into the days activities. The ramp is set up, awaiting many busy feet, hand trucks, and the unloading of our stuff.

“How much can I unpack before my back disagrees with my mental age?” I can only wonder and try.

So far so good, our trip was uneventful except for a check engine light in Kansas City, MO. We arrived two days earlier than expected and have been alternating our days between rest and getting lost in the city. The city is set up on a grid; however, sometimes streets will end and then pick up a few blocks later. This phenomenon has frustrated our attempts to get around, and sitting in the car trying to re-orient ourselves is not easy any longer.

Tonight we will rest in our new home, learning of the creaks and groans that occur at odd hours. Our landlords are nice people, so are our neighbors. We are in a good location where we could never afford to buy, but that is beside the point. My time is short on the computer today; my thoughts are one-sided, much like a Labrador playing with a tennis ball. Unload, visualize, place, shuffle, sit, rest, sleep. That is the rest of my day, in a nutshell…

grace and peace

The Journey Begins

Our great adventure across the country began on a humid 96 degree Tuesday. Three men, who I knew very little but would come to have great respect for, loaded all of the possessions of our home into nineteen linear feet of a twenty-eight foot trailer. Tom, Thomas and Lawrence sang, strained, and shifted our furniture from its resting place to its well-packed new home.

They were modern day locomotives, churning along in the heat of the day to help us begin our great new journey to Colorado. The day was fraught with joy and sorrow. The banter between the moving men kept us going as we loaded box and sofa and bed. The house becoming noticeably empty as each piece was removed and our footsteps echoed on the hard wood floor.

The heat wore our bodies down while the emptiness wore on our emotions. It was hard to leave, and I remember finally standing in the doorway fighting the urge to close the door; staring into the now bare house that had bourn our triumphs and defeats for the past three years. I will remember the sound of the back door slamming against the frame for a long time to come, for my heart fell as the latch clicked into the slot and the handle refused to turn for my hand once again.

Numb, tired, grungy we drove in silence to the hotel that would be our home that night. Having sold one of our cars to friends that same day, our woundedness was almost greater than we could bear. We had said good-bye to too much, and now we are homeless shacked up with my parents, grandparents, aunt and uncle in Charleston, South Carolina; the only place that seems hotter than our home.

It is Friday and we fly back to Richmond in a few hours to begin the drive across the country. I look forward to it on one hand, but there is something nagging me that I am not able to process yet. I have wept for friends, for colleagues, for safety and for home. I have yelled and patronized and rationalized to make myself feel better, but for now there is only emptiness. I am as cavernous as the empty home we left behind, a shell waiting to be inhabited or claimed.

The reality that school is frightens me to the core. I am a student once again and it feels horrible. I can sense the old, rational self bubbling to the surface once again. I can feel the disdain for feelings and connection well up in my being. I will not let go of what I have become, that is my hope. I do not want to be the student I was, I need to be the person I am. But for the moment, I am homeless, wandering, frightened, but not alone…
A lot of things hit you when you move. There are bills to pay, arrangements to make, services to cut off and turn on; there are items to pack or give away, cars to tune, maps to create, and routes to print out; but the things that hit hardest though are those that have to do with other people.

We have been here for almost seven years now; the first four years in seminary grounded us in this city, the last three have been years where my wife and I have been able to stretch and grow where we have been planted. When we first arrived we weren’t sure that we wanted to root ourselves in this odd little city.

Thinking back, that first year was difficult as we tried, sometimes succeeding sometimes failing, to connect with people around us. It took a while but we started to warm up to our surroundings and take root in life of the seminary. We met some people at school and work who helped to till the soil where we lived and nurtured us both individually and together. It is hard not to grow when the environment is friendly.

With a little patience and openness, we have made great friends through our experiences here in Richmond. Some of our friends remain in this city; others have already forged ahead in new places.

Regardless we now know people that we will choose to know for the rest of our lives, no matter where we or they live. Above all else, it is these people that made our time here special and extraordinary, and I am thankful for every minute that we spent and will spend with our friends.

As I remembered our years in Richmond, I also thought about my last two years in this congregation, and I realized that if someone were to judge my time here, I could be accused of being biased in a number of ways. However, I also realized that everyone is a bit biased and I quickly forgave myself for my idiosyncrasies.

In the midst of that rumination, there were two accusations that bubbled to the surface. First, I realized that I could be accused of being a dreamer. Second, I can be accused of talking to you about how special each one of you is in the eyes of God.

I have always been a dreamer. Not as much a vivid images while I’m sleeping kind of guy, but more of a thinker about the way things could be.

I thought that I might share a couple of the things that I have dreamt about or thought about over the last two years. The first has to do with worship.

I have heard on a number of occasions that worship is boring or we do the same stuff all the time. The preacher wasn’t uplifting and didn’t make someone feel better. The service was too slow and restrictive.

Now, being a good Presbyterian, I know that our worship can sometimes feel or sound like a funeral service, with all of the ritual and confession and prayer. Sometimes, the preacher can get onto a subject we don’t like, or call up feelings that we don’t want to experience.

My dream is that each of us will wake up one Sunday morning and realize that worship is not about you, nor is it about me or any other person who inhabits this pulpit, it never has been, and a good worship service never will be.

Worship is about God and having a dedicated time to encounter God through our relationships with one another and our relationship with scripture. The only one who is to be pleased by our corporate act of worship is our audience, God.

Ideally, we would take our offense at scripture, our offense at a prayer, a sermon, a song and find out why it affects us. Rather than blame someone for making us feel uncomfortable, find out where the uncomfortable feeling comes from and dig into it, pray about it, wrestle with it.

A second dream I have pertains to the whole church. When my wife and I visited Alaska recently our sea kayak guide told us that the number one natural cause of death for bald eagles is drowning.

You see, eagles can carry their weight in food, but sometimes when they fish they grab a hold of more than they can carry. There is a lot of speculation about why this occurs, and most scientists believe that when an eagle digs its claws into its prey it cannot let go easily.

This reminds me of how we operate as a church sometimes. We bite off more than we can chew, we dig our claws into a meal, and end up drowning ourselves in the process.

My dream is that we let the mystery that God is reign in this world and instead of fighting over issues in which there are no definitive answers, we get about the work that we have been called to in this world. To love God, and love one another as we love ourselves.

This leads me to the second thing I can be accused of, telling you how special each one of you is in the eyes of God.

I don’t have the vocabulary to describe how important this is. To believe this simple thing is to believe God’s gift of your being, apart from anything that you do.

This idea is not just meant for you though; it also means believing every one is a recipient of the same gift of grace and redemption from God. And like the householder, we are to be patient and tend to what ever is growing in the fields around us. We are not to be quick to judge, nor are we to slash and burn everything before us, because a lot of good is lost in that process.

Just about every sermon I preached from this pulpit dealt with the idea that our worth comes from the simple acts of God: love, remembrance, hope, strength, and belief; and, in response we are called to love, remember, hope, be strong, and believe in whoever God has planted in our lives.

When we move we have the opportunity to take stock of our lives and the time we spent in one particular place. We have the opportunity to separate the wheat from the weeds and take what we have learned and plant it somewhere new.

One of the greatest things I learned during my time here in Richmond came out in a conversation with a friend recently. I can’t remember what we talked about, but I remember making this statement, “without art and music and dance and story, I could not believe in God.”

These dreams and parables are meant to awaken our long dulled senses to the presence of the Holy in our midst. Ambiguous stories and fanciful dreams are meant to pique our interest in a God that is an active voice in this world.

But art is not limited to canvas and sheet music, our world, our relationships, each person is a work of art created by a master painter. So, open your eyes and clean out your ears, take what has been given to you, and see the beauty before your eyes.

If I could impart a little wisdom to this congregation before I leave it would be this: live kindly, live gentle lives, love each other— especially those whose voices are different from your own, and give generously and freely of the greatest gift God has ever created, give generously and freely of yourself.

Captain Cardboard

I am now knee deep in packing tape, cardboard, and Sharpie fumes. The packing has begun and our adventure out west will begin on the 23rd with a four day drive to Denver. I do not know how much I will post between now and then. I have one more sermon at my church before I leave this Sunday.

I will check in as I can, but the drive and the move will just about take all of the energy I have for the moment. I will be back, but it may take us a bit to settle in and get the ship righted once more.

Life will be different, of that I am sure. New place, new people, new vocation, same me...

Pastoral Prayer 7.10.05

O Lord,
We cannot hide from your presence
Your reach is far and your grasp is gentle
You are felt deep within the earth
As all of creation groans from the weight of your hands
We can see the marks of your beauty in the landscapes of our lives

O Gracious Host
You stretch your vast arms wide and encompass a universe of seen and unseen things
And yet these same arms welcome home strangers and aliens, widows and orphans, the poor and oppressed
Behind every eye your goodness and mercy dwell,
Behind every heart your compassion and hope reside,

And yet we choose to ignore this out of fear
We are loathe to recognize that you came in peace,
rebelling against the ways this world taught us to live.
We choose to walk our own paths, listening and looking up to those with power and wealth

Where you have blessed the meek,
We have worshipped the wealthy;
Where you have blessed the merciful,
We have screamed an “eye for an eye;”
Where you have blessed the poor in spirit,
We have lifted up the self-righteous and elite

O Merciful Lord,
forgive our blindness
for your kingdom to find its way in this world
we must turn and find you
we must write your words on our hearts
and see your wisdom in the foolishness of the cross.

The road is narrow and the path unsure,
So few have chosen to tread where angels tread
So few have walked this trail that we fear being lost, being alone.
And yet, by taking the first step we know that we will never be alone again.

For those whose lostness seems unreachable
For those who find themselves to ill to take the first step,
For those who live in places where we would dare not go,
For those whose lives are lived far from the comforts of home
We pray that the gentle rain of your love and mercy might fall upon their faces
And grant them peace and strength.

For we ask these things in the name of the one who came and lived among us,
the one who cleared the path so that we might live again
the one who taught us to pray saying…
I often wonder what you are thinking as I read scripture. You should really take the opportunity to read as a liturgist sometime. I love having the opportunity to gaze out from the pulpit see each face as scripture is read.

Your faces tell long stories about your week or even your morning. Some faces fight distraction or embarrassment; some faces hide secrets and intrigue. Every once in a while I will catch someone with a mischievous grin or a thoughtful expression.

But there are times when the faces seem blank and lost. These are faces that have been there or done that; they have heard this scripture lesson before. They remember it from Sunday School or Vacation Bible School and it seems like the minds that realize this begin to take a bit of a vacation.

After all, if the story hasn’t changed, what’s the use in mentally sticking around, right? I mean, if we are just going read the same stuff over and over again, then we can mentally check out and check back in when things get interesting again.

So, sometimes I let my curiosity get the best of me and I wonder where you might go when you have heard the story before. I want to delve into the expressions that your eyes communicate and swim in the experiences that are called up by scripture. Even more fascinating to me is not just the places you go, but how you get there, not the destination but the journey…

The way I see it, there are two ways that we are rooted into this world. The first is being rooted in our personhood, this means that we know who we are. The second way we are rooted is by what we know, this means that we know whose we are.

To be rooted means: being grounded enough to grow where we are planted. It means knowing the person that God created us to be and living a life that is as congruent as possible with that knowledge. Finally, being rooted means living in and amongst good soil that is conducive to growth.

When I was younger, I could always tell when the weekends came around because that was when we would have TV dinners at least one night. Usually, it was when my parents would go out for a date. Kris, my brother, and I would get to pick from the small assortment of “Hungry Man” dinners and then pop them in the oven.

I can’t remember how long it took for them to cook, but a short while later we were eating a meal consisting of a burnt brownie, dried out corn, some sort of pressed meat patty, and mashed potatoes with the consistency of baby food.

As the years progressed, and technology advanced, the time shorted for meal preparation. Microwaves came into fashion, and I remember being amazed at how little time it took to prepare the same meal consisting of a burnt brownie, dried out corn, some sort of processed meat patty, and mashed potatoes with the consistency of baby food.

But that didn’t stop me from eating them. They were quick, easy, and cheap and in my world that was good enough. Until I got a crock-pot.

I still remember my first one, my mother gave it to me when I moved out on my own for the first time. I remember being afraid to plug it in and leave it running all day. I was afraid my house would catch fire or the meal would dry out or be over cooked.

It was a funny thing, that little one person crock-pot. I would fill it with a small roast, a few flavorful things I enjoyed, and plug it in and walk away. When I returned home, I would have a fully cooked meal that fell apart when my fork touched it. The juices would seal and simmer and I would take what was left behind and turn it into gravy. Those nights, I feasted and savored what the crock-pot created.

Being rooted means taking whatever time necessary, however long the journey may be, to know who we are and who God created us to be.

I miss good transparent theological, biblical, or church oriented conversations. You might not think it, but the church is usually not the place where these conversations take place.

I am not talking about business type conversations, but more of the depth-full, open, playful, searching kinds of conversations. The type where you learn as much as you teach; where you dream about the possibilities of God, hope for the things that might be, and deal with the way things are.

I have had a few conversations like this here at Southminster, maybe five in the two years I have been here. And I will dare say that that is far higher than the average for most pastors and their congregations.

Regardless it makes me wonder why so few congregations eschew conversations of great depth and import, not just between pastors and congregations, but between each one of you as well.

I am certain that we all have our reasons for not participating, initiating, or requesting more of these depth-full dialogues. Maybe it’s the time. Maybe it’s being embarrassed about not knowing enough. Maybe we’ve had a bad experience in the past with these kinds of conversations.

Whatever the excuse, I miss having a group in the church to talk with about my struggles, hopes, celebrations, and fears when it comes to God, faith, and this world. The thing is I think the church as a whole misses these kinds of conversations as well.

Because being rooted means that we not only know who we are, but whose we are, we know the stories and experiences of God’s faithfulness, we accept and talk about the mysterious nature of God’s activity in the world.

There was a recent article in the Christian Century that talked about the trends of educational practices in the churches; the only denominations that continually failed to educate their congregation members were mainline denominations, or to put it simply, us.

Southminster has an active Sunday School program, of which about 25% of the total membership participates fairly regularly. The Wednesday night program brings in some great speakers that most people don’t even know about. Maybe 10% of the congregation takes part in that ministry. We have an active Presbyterian Women’s group. A small Presbyterian Men’s group. But for the most part, most people are content with two hours on Sunday morning, no more but a little less is just fine.

What statement to the world, to the community, to our youth and children do we make when education, dialogue, and conversation do not regularly happen on a depth-full level? There seems to be a great fear of committing to rooting ourselves in the communities of faith where we have been planted.

Our parable today is about growing in good soil. But even soil, like plants must be cultivated, must be cared for and tended so that the optimal conditions for growth are present. In good soil, roots grow deep. It is the place where seeds are planted, are nourished, are cared for and painstakingly tended so that growth above and below ground is strong and solid.

The good soil provides nutrients for life, it holds water and air, it is loose enough so that roots can stretch and grow without constraint.

The good soil is good conversation and dialogue. It is concern and care for the growth and well-being of one another.

The good soil is making a meal in a crock-pot, allowing our lives to simmer together as our flavors mingle together and blend into a savory meal.

The good soil is being rooted in the knowledge of God’s love for us and clamoring to find out more.

The good soil allows us live by the desires of the spirit rather than the desires of the flesh.

As I wrote this I could hear my excuses rumbling about in my head already: I’m too busy; faith is a personal thing; I already know enough; I don’t like to share personal stories with strangers; I wouldn’t know what to say; learning about the church is boring. This is my list of excuses for not taking advantage of the good soil around me, what are yours?

I like to look out over the congregation when I read and preach, because I like to see your faces. I wonder what goes on behind your eyes, what stories they would tell me if you would only let them speak.

When I see your faces, anxious, tired, excited, I see a seed searching for good soil. I can feel the yearning for something more from life, from relationships, from the church, from God. The question I have is this: are you willing to tend and prepare the soil for new seeds?

Each of you has been planted in this particular field. How will you care for the soil, how will you choose to grow, how will you choose to help others grow?

Theological Proposition #1

This post comes out of reflection on the most recent bombings in London. Obviously, it will not end there or I would not have numbered it. I can't say when prop #2 might bubble up from within, but this is an adequate beginning for me. I would appreciate comments and questions because this sort of writing is new to me, and I lay no claim to its universality. Usually, theological treatises do not begin with the problem of evil, they start "in the beginning," then again I don't know many classical theologians that write for blogs...

The problem of evil is that evil is a problem, for everyone. There is no country, no church, and no individual exempt from this problem. It affects what and how we believe. It affects our behavior and our words. It affects our worship and our service. The problem of evil is here to stay regardless of how many people we attempt to eradicate in order to appease our conscience and our sense of justice.

My argument for this is simple, evil is easier. It is easier to be selfish, to be self-serving, to be rude, and to be ignorant, spiteful, hateful, or ill-tempered. What may be the greatest evil of all is the belief that one has a lock on goodness. The second greatest, believing that there is a great gulf, divide, whatever between what is evil and what is good. Within each person lies the capability to do and be both evil and good. Therefore, no one person is one or the other. Instead each person simultaneously functions in both capacities, rendering all decisions thought to be black or white more of a gray muddled mess.

Granted, sometimes the gray is lighter and sometimes it is darker, but it is still gray; that is it still has some opacity to it that can be seen through to the opposite pole. The internal capacity for both evil and good is why I do not believe in a third party devil or tempter. I believe we carry enough evil within ourselves that we do not need to project this on to a super-natural being or specter.

Now, I suppose the argument could be made that if there is no devil, or if the devil is a projection of an internal evil then God could be nothing more than a projection of the good side of us? This is something that philosophers and others have debated furiously. While there is some merit to the argument, I think that the capacity for goodness comes through faith in something greater than the individual. When I think of the good, or lighter gray, activities that we are capable of I am drawn to thinking about an Ultimate Projection who aids our abilities to do good in this world.

It takes work, a hell of a lot of work, to do good things for this world and those around us. That, for me, points to something greater than us, something greater than our comprehension, an Ultimate Projection. The ability to act beyond the normal capacity of a human being is the ability to believe and act out of faith in this Ultimate Projection.

The problem with the idea of an Ultimate Projection is that it can be myopic. One person’s recollection of the good within may not match with someone else’s. Therefore, communities of faith are needed so that the collective projection more accurately reflects the image it is intended to reflect. The caveat is that all projections of the community must be included or the view is incomplete. Moreover, no church that chooses to exclude people based on arbitrary characteristics can lay claim to a more complete projection.

The Problem of Evil

I am deeply saddened and angry over what has occurred today. It hurts me to think about the families who are identifying charred remains and body parts. It also hurts to know that that activity is happening all over the world. These types of attacks are frustrating and tiring; the relentless coverage, the speculations, the rumors, and the innuendo are primed to strike both fear and resolve into the hearts of humanity.

There is something great at stake here, I am just not sure what it is yet.

I don’t know what to say about London. I don’t know what to say about Madrid or New York or Auschwitz or Darfur or Iraq. I can’t smile and pretend that they haven’t happened. I don’t want the “hug the terrorists” or “send them to therapy.” I also don’t think sending troops in to “eradicate the evil” works either. There is no theology of terrorists to my knowledge; there is only theodicy – the problem of evil.

All of humanity is abused by these acts of irresponsibility, both the initial acts and the consquential acts. Evil is not just a problem over there, but over here as well. This is what I struggle with, what are we meant to do with these acts theologically? What is the responsible response?

I expressed my frustration concerning my confusion over this event with a minister friend today. He has the same issues. How do we respond to this event faithfully? How do we dare hope in the face of evil acts and intentions? How do we love and turn the other cheek without opening ourselves to a termination of our existence?

Will we get it?

When will we get it? When will we awake and realize that following God has more to do with losing than with gaining? It is no surprise to me that people flock to hear a preacher preach the theology of prosperity, mindless drivel that it is. What is a surprise is that these same people claim to read the same bible I read.

For some reason, there is an entanglement between the culture driven life and the Bible these days. The result is a watered down theology that would make Jesus hide his head in shame. The largest church in America, Joel Osteen’s church, is probably one of the greatest examples of this trend.

There is something about a preacher telling people that if you just smile enough, whatever you want will come your way. Well, what happens when it doesn’t? What happens when she dies? What happens when he cheats? What happens when the bill collector comes? What happens when the smiles fail…

I would imagine that the fall hurts tremendously.

When the fall happens, who picks up the pieces? Does Joel, or does he stand behind the hand-blown glass panes in the windows of his mansion that he smiled his way into and wave at those below him? I know there are some good things about his church; at least I want to believe that all of the 30,000 people are not vacuous mindless drones of the “don’t worry, be happy” theological disaster waiting to happen.

However, I could be missing a verse or two in one of the gospels. The ones where Jesus says: “Blessed are those who get theirs, for they shall have whatever they want.” Maybe I missed the part where Jesus smiled his way out of Pilate’s audience and skipped down the main street throwing out blessing upon blessing to the wealthy middle-class of Jerusalem.

With what happened in London today, I can understand why this empty-headed theology works for some people. In a world inhabited by people who enjoy killing other people, why not run out and get what is coming to you? Why not hoard and smile and live behind gated fences and drive suburban assault vehicles? Why not loathe your neighbor as you loathe yourself?

When you can go to church and not hear about the devastation of sin on this world; when you can enter into this plastic society of “I am just faking this smile so that I can get what is coming to me;” when you can leave a worship service feeling uplifted every single Sunday, why not buy into it (literally and figuratively)?

If you can convince yourself that faith does not have to deal with what is happening in this world, then more power to you, just don’t bring that crap to my front door.

This world is a chaotic mind-blowing mess. Ever since the first soldier entered a concentration camp during World War II, we have realized that as an “enlightened” race we have it within ourselves to destroy each other. From that point on, there is no use denying the role and power of sin in our lives, globally, communally, and individually. To believe and teach otherwise is irresponsible and reckless...

grace and peace

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grace and peace

pastoral prayer 7.3.05

Passionate God,
You ignite the hearts of those who love;
You fan the flames of those who serve;
When your light shines into our lives we cannot help but be afraid.

When you call us to faithful action we are stunned.
We intellectualize and rationalize instead of heed your words.
We make faith another burden rather than an act of love and devotion.
Service becomes slavery
Relating becomes arduous
And then love becomes impossible.

Soften these hearts of ours
so that your love might be seen through the darkest and thickest of clouds.
As a people we have dwelt in valley of death too long,
The suffering of the world is in our hands,
But so is the promise of new life.

O Dweller Within,
Strengthen us with a passion
For justice
For peace
For hope

And as we struggle through this world
Remind us of
the simplicity of your love for everyone,
the ease of your yoke,
the lightness of the burdens of a life of faith.

For those who suffer greatly,
Whether illness or loneliness, hopelessness or powerlessness,
Grant us the strength to gather them in our arms and hold them through the pain.
For those who find themselves far from their families and in harms way,
Be the light that guides them through the darkness so that they might find peace and rest in you

Give us the will to dream and find a creative passion that fills our hearts.
Open us to your call so that we might enter into life and life abundantly.

For it is in the one who fulfilled the dreams of the world that we ask these prayers…
There is no God in the Song of Solomon or Song of Songs, whichever name you prefer. I will probably alternate between both names today, because there is no evidence that this was actually written by Solomon, just attributed to him.

God’s name is not mentioned in our text or in any other verse in this erotic poem. The Song of Solomon and Esther are the only two books, in what we call the Old Testament, that share this distinction. When the Jewish Canon was being created there was some wrangling over the inclusion of these books, and a great deal of interpretation was needed in order for them to make the final cut.

Peter Paulson states, “As far back as the gathering of the Targum, an interpretive paraphrase of the Old Testament in Aramaic, the Song of Solomon was described as a poetic history of God’s redeeming love for his people from the time of the Exodus down through the Exile and restoration. Christian scholars followed in the same vein making Christ the lover and protector of the Church.” (Paulson, Peter. The Covenant Quarterly, Vol. LIV, No. 3 (August 1996), pp. 26-37)

And while the history of interpretations is important, it is important to note that most, if not all, of these interpretations avoided the sexuality and passion of the poetry. In an attempt to make these passionate words more palatable, the men of that day introduced a more complex interpretation of the text, one that felt the need to inject God into a poem that was clearly written about a relationship between a woman and a man.

Certainly, we can use the allegory of the divine-human relationship. However, what of the eroticism and passion? What about the feelings and imagery that leap from this text? What about the fact that this is the only book in our Bible written by a woman?

Yes, you heard correct, not only is the name of God not written in the book, it is the only book with writings from a woman. Esther and Ruth were written about women, but Song of Songs is written by a woman for women.

And now that I have sucked all of the passion out of the text with a technical analysis, let us take a turn to Matthew.

This is a rich passage of one-liners from Jesus, and I want us to look at three of them today.

The first one is this: "But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'”

It is as true for our generation as it was for them, we try and do all of these things to make God dance, we sit around telling God all of the wonderful things we have done in order to gain a response, or a favor down the line. Our collective wisdom throughout the ages has created this idea that just because we are good or do the right things, God will dance when we tell God to dance. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, mostly because the one thing that God wants, is the one thing we usually choose not to do, and that is open our eyes and ears to the pulse of the world.

Let’s look at zinger number two: “At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.’”

I was talking with a friend the other day about postmodern philosophy and its benefits and critiques. After a careful illumination of theory and language constructs, he says simply, “You know, I think we just tend to over-think things sometimes.” There is a lot to that idea. That sometimes we make too big a deal out of small things and sometimes simplicity is the way to go.

Let’s hit the final one-liner, one of my favorites and one of simplistic beauty. "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

There are two things to say about this, and neither are complicated. The first is this, Jesus says that he will offer rest to those who come for it. However, rest doesn’t mean inactivity it means that the burdens we carry will rest easier on our shoulders because of the yoke offered by faith. The second is, to accept this yoke, we must find the creative passion to follow Jesus.

This takes us back to our text from Songs of Songs. Creative passion, rest, and hope are the things we find in a loving living faith in God. It is not just reserved for the human-divine relationship either. Our relationships with one another here deserve the same passion.

Thinking that poverty is a bad thing is not the same as seeing ourselves in the eyes of every living human being.

Thinking that hunger needs to be eradicated is not the same as believing that all of God’s children deserve to begin and end each day with full bellies.

Thinking that justice is a nice idea is not the same as walking a mile with those who are oppressed.

Passion gives legs to our thoughts and our hearts. It takes passion to believe and treat that everyone as one of God’s children. It takes creative passion to believe in and live the kind of love that faith requires. It takes great devotion to want and to change this world.

There is no one here today without creative passion. There is no one here today without passionate hope. There is no one here today without hopeful love. And when we can be these things for one another, then we are these things for God.

And with passion, hope, and love: our burdens will lighten, our troubled minds will ease and rest, and we will sleep peacefully at night, resting with the greatest of lovers, Jesus, the one we call the Christ.

“My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.’”

These are the words that called the soul of the beloved to a new life of passion, to a new life of hope and love shared by this woman and man. And while we peek in on the passion between two who loved one another so much, can we help but peek in on our own relationships, on the places that give rise to passion in our lives.

Just as the new life bursts forth from the ground in the spring, so it is time for new life to burst from within. It is never too late to be passionate, hopeful, and loving…


We are beginning to pack and get ready for our move. I will probably post sermons and prayers over the next few weeks. Other posts will be a little more sporadic as most of my energy needs to go into the moving part of my life at this point.

For the most part life is life. It is getting harder and harder to say good-bye to different people in my life. I have said good-bye to all of my clients, no more counseling for the moment. I have three sermons and services to plan and take part in, then it is good-bye to the church.

Friends, well I don't know where to begin saying good-bye to the friends who have meant so much to me. I know it is not forever and we will keep in touch as best we know how, but no more spur of the moment lunches and golf outings with the people who I feel have witnessed a great deal of my growing up.

These transitions are bound to happen, this won't be our last move. However, learning to actually say good-bye and confront the pain and uncomfortableness is more difficult than expected. It also feels much better than the running away that I am used to doing.

I will miss the people who have meant so much to me; but then again, I am moving Colorado, not dying. We have the best of hiking and skiing and we will just have to visit one another. Why the hell else would we have an extra bed in the house if people weren't going to visit?

There is much to do here before we go. I placed my application for licensure as a Clinical Social Worker on Friday. Hopefully, I will hear something soon so that I can add taking the examination to my list of things to do before we move. Nothing like studying for a life-changing, life-affirming test while you are packing and processing.

We are getting used to the idea that the south/mid atlantic is no longer our home. I think we will like our new digs. Getting there is a pain in the ass, but not much more, so we will survive. I will return comments as I can, this seems to be the only place that is not moving at the moment, so the stability will be nice...

grace and peace

grace and peace

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