Divine Worship - 9:30 A.M.

Forty-five minutes down the interstate and we pull into a town that is one stop sign away from being forgotten. I left the directions at home, but felt that if I drove down both streets in town I would eventually find what I was looking for.

A small red-brick church sat on the corner across from the railroad tracks. The sign above the door read “Byers Community Church – Divine Worship 9:30 A.M. I don’t know about you, but I have never been a part of “divine worship” before, and I am pretty sure that I have never led a “divine worship service.” There is a first time for everything.

We arrived a few minutes early; the person who was supposed to meet us was a few minutes late. The inside of the building was smaller than I expected. White-washed walls were illuminated by cracked stained glass; on one wall hung a picture of “lily-white Jesus” complete with golden halo, herding sheep. People began to arrive shortly after the door opened and I greeted as many as I could.

After robing in the closet-like office, the music started and I returned to my seat. Someone pushed play on a tape player and a drum beat introduced the “contemporary” hymn song of the day. The best thing about contemporary Christian music and songwriting is that 99.9 percent of it will be forgotten.

It is interesting leading worship alone for the first time. You get to do things your way for a change. The placement of the pulpit in this sanctuary was askew, so I decided to step to the center and lead parts of the service, and nobody complained. I almost tripped over my robe at one point and got to laugh about it with the congregation, making sport of my big black polyester gown. It is a good community church, filled with good people. They just happened to hear one of the worst sermons I have ever preached. It started this way…

There was supposed to be a lay reader for the first scripture verse, when no one came forward, it was no big deal. I rose, blindly grabbed a Bible from underneath the pulpit and found the pericope. Unfortunately, I picked up the King James Version. My mind raced as I half translated and hiccupped my way through the garbled passage. I ended saying “This is the Word of the Lord,” expecting to hear a resounding “Thanks be to God.” Instead, I think I could hear crickets chirping in the distance. Apparently, that was not a tradition of this church.

I stumbled through a quick background of the Romans passage and read it without a hitch. Then, I started the sermon during which I stuttered, lost my place at least four times, and skipped ahead a number of times only to repeat myself over again. The sermon content was pretty good and I thought it fit the scripture passage; my delivery was, at best, inept.

When I reflect on what happened, I can pinpoint one difference between this Sunday and all of the rest, the audience. I think I expected to look out and see familiar faces. Instead, everything was new. There were new squirmy children, new scowls to ponder, new eyes in which to find sparks, and new faces to interpret. It felt like I was back at the beginning again. My first sermon was something like this one, only the content was worse. I was telling people whose names I had already forgotten what I thought; and all I wanted was to sit down and blend into the background.

When the service ended, I walked to the back to wish people well on their journeys. A number of comments were made that I’m not sure how to take.

“It’s good to hear the contemporary news make a sermon!” One women exclaimed.

Another women whispered as I passed, “It was nice when you applied the Bible to our lives, I need more of that kind of preaching.”

“I felt like you were talking to me,” said yet another woman.

The men said nothing expect for their desire for a cup of coffee.

My only thought for all of these comments was, “what the hell was the guy before me telling these folks!?”

I am my own worst critic and always will be. I know this. Thankfully, many things happen in worship that are beyond me. That is how it should be. It is not up to me to call upon the holy. I am merely a servant and most of the time not a very good one. God was, is, and will be the one member of all of the services in which I participate. Therefore, wherever I miss a cue, whatever sentence I fumble or whoever sits in front of me God will be the one to reach them. I am just the bumbling messenger.

Today, I awoke to good reviews. Most of the people told Presbytery Executive they enjoyed the service and the sermon. Even my wife liked this one (she thinks I am a buzz-kill when I preach). So, I will return next week and stand and deliver. I will administer communion, but this time I will be among familiar faces and maybe that won’t be so scary. Maybe this time worship will actually feel divine…

texts: Matt 16:21-28, Rom. 12:9-21 title:grace

The following is my sermon for August 28th. This is a rural congregation and my first time preaching before them. The texts are taken from the lectionary (RCL Cycle:A, 15th Sunday after Pentecost). It should be an interesting Sunday ;).

I read in the Denver Post on Tuesday that a nationally known televangelist had called for the assassination of Hugo Chavez, the leader of Venezuela. Now Hugo Chavez may not be the best of political leaders, but when a Christian minister calls for our country to kill someone for their ideological beliefs I have to question what they are emulating and teaching the members of their congregation.

And on a larger scale, I really wonder how this differs from the cries of terrorists around the world? Leaning on religious zealotry and abhorrent theological conclusions that create an atmosphere of unrest and intolerance sounds like a familiar condemnation doesn’t it?

Mostly, I seem to have forgotten which one of Jesus’ teaching moments or sermons this position mirrors. And despite a subsequent apology, histhe words are out there and cannot be retracted and there has been little call for accountability. Anne Lamott a Presbyterian author once said, “You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Let’s turn to Matthew for a moment; we’ll talk about this story a little later. What we have in Matthew is a passage foreshadowing Jesus’ suffering and death in Jerusalem. The expectation of the Messiah in Jewish theology was that he would be a great leader and conqueror, not a suffering servant. Peter’s words are not out of order in this context.

Jesus’ admonishment given is adequate as well. Peter is thinking in earthly tones, just as all theology is an earthly pursuit. Peter merely repeats what he has been taught, and seeks to have Jesus conform to those ideas, not unlike our televangelist.

I can even see Peter waving a finger in front Jesus’ face, “There is to be no suffering for the Messiah. No, the Messiah is to cause suffering to the enemies of the Jewish state.”

Jesus’ response is simple and to the point: don’t limit what I will do by thinking of it in earthly terms. God’s ideas are greater than anything conceived by humans.

Whether you are a televangelist with a penchant for shooting your mouth off, or a disciple with a knack for not getting the message, or even a congregation member just trying to do the right thing and get along in the world, there something to this idea that God has greater plans than we can conceive.

When we lived in Richmond, my wife, worked for the Richmond Ballet for a couple of years. Part of my duty as her husband was to attend the ballet with her occasionally. Whenever a show time would come around, I would begin to behave a bit like a two-year old complaining about not wanting to go, having to go, having to dress up and shower and shave.

Once I got there though, things changed. I can’t say that the ballet was always a great experience, but there were times, moments, when the choreography, the music, the movement of dancers and lights would come together to create something that was greater than the sum of its parts. In these moments, I truly enjoyed the ballet, allowing it to bring tears to my eyes and soothe my soul.

I wonder if this is why we often refer to dancers as graceful, because somewhere between what they do and what we see and experience, a connection greater than expected occurs.

Both Paul and the author of Matthew attend to this phenomenon of greater things in our passages today. The author of Matthew attends to it in the context of the cross, of attempting to get across to finite human beings the grand scope of God’s work in the world. The idea that we are to accept something contrary to common sense, knowledge and teaching is so foreign to Peter, that he cannot fathom the scope of the grandest of plans.

Grace is that way as well. It is the mysterious dance God choreographs with humanity that when our eyes meet we immediately know that something greater has occurred. Grace is fluid and moves in and around all lives to a hidden symphony created through a partnership with the Creator. And while Matthew points us towards the phenomenon, Paul tells us what happens to us when we experience the Lord of the Dance.

Paul attends to this greatest of plans by describing an ethic of life to the Roman Christians. It is how Paul thinks they should respond to the grace they have received in their lives. No single thing that Paul said is intended to be the penultimate act of a Christian, but instead he creates a balance between the different reactions to the grace that happens in our lives.

Love, goodness, honor, passion, service, hope, rejoicing, harmony, humility, peacefulness and forgiveness, it’s not a short list, nor is it an easy list to live up to. And, I could be convinced that one of the greatest curses of humanity is to know the importance of these things and to be impotent in carrying all of them out.

But, that is another of the grandest functions of grace, a gift of God fashioned for a people in need. Grace offers the coverage necessary to allow us to continue to live a life more meaningful and complete. Humanity has a hard time grasping this free gift, and the grand idea behind it, so like the televangelist and Peter we try to limit its scope and who receives it. Never understanding the limitless boundaries of grace, and that what God has created for us, given to us, is so abundant that it is never meant to be kept by us.

One of my favorite hymns has the following refrain:

Dance, then, wherever you may be;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the dance, said he.

The dance of grace is probably the most important one in which we will ever have a part; and that is just it, we only have a part. We are not the keepers, the choreographers, or conductor. We are bit players cast in order to make the prima ballerina look her best.

We can only do our little part of the dance. There isn’t a single prima ballerina in the congregation today. However, every single one of us has a part that is important and the dance could not continue unless we arrive on cue.

Paul knows that times will be difficult, he knows that sometimes people will repay our kindness and our gentleness with animosity or even hatred. But he calls us to focus on our part in the dance, let the prima ballerina do her job. We must, with all of the passion our lives can muster, dance with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. Or else, all of the grace we have received is for naught.

There can be no perfect performances, but there are times when our passion compliments the dance of the prima ballerina so much that the audience is moved to tears and their souls are soothed once again.

Read this on Chavez...

No, seriously. Read this article for an understanding of why the animosity has reached a crescendo. Then, I promise no more about Pat Robertson until he says another really stupid thing. That should be sometime tomorrow.

Pat and Hugo: The Real Story

Heads up to greg at The Parish.

P.S. - Pat's apology was too easy, too free. I am not saying that his speech needs to be limited. However, there needs to be some accountability on the part of his followers for words like these. I would love it if some of them would "grow a set" and voice their displeasure.

Nice no longer...

I don’t get it. Today, I read about Pat Robertson’s thirst for the blood of the Venezuelan leader. His cries for an assassination attempt still reverberate in my chaotic mind. Eventually, he will back pedal; he will blame someone else for his ineptness (probably a vast liberal conspiracy). Whatever words trail from his thin lips, Pat Robertson has to go. I am not talking about my own cry for blood, but more of a forced retirement. There are two things that piss me off about these comments. The first has to do with politics and the second theology.

First, what really gets me is the lack of comment from the current political administration. There is no real attempt to establish distance or discredit this idiot. The administration’s position is that he is allowed to speak his mind. If this is the case, then why is there such an outcry over people who protest the war? Why do administration officials allow themselves the opportunity to call protestors cowards and traitors? Are they not allowed to speak their mind just as freely, without a redressing from administration officials? It is easy to document the close relationship between Robertson and the Administration; does that give him special leeway when it comes to free speech?

I am not trying to get paranoid and militant like many on the far left. I just want parity. Free speech is free speech no matter the message. People who protest should not be sequestered so that they are not heard. They should not be shouted down as cowards and traitors for not supporting a war that has been created against their will.

I know people who watch the crap this man believes is theology. They are good people who want to do the right thing. I think the best thing they can do is withhold their money from him until he apologizes. Pat Robertson and his “ministry” do not deserve a dime until it more adequately reflects the ministry of Christ; one of grace, love, hope, healing, and peace. I know that most of the people who read here don’t watch this drivel, but I will bet that they know someone who does. Challenge that person to hold him accountable for the damage he does in this world.

Second, for the most part, I try to live and let live when it comes to really bad theology. However, Pat Robertson is damaging Christianity. He is wounding its soul and rendering it impotent to make a decent impact in the world. People like Pat Robertson are the reasons why there are quotes about how the world would be a better place without religion.

For someone who claims to take the Bible seriously, his theology and politics certainly don’t belie that claim. You could tell me that he has done great work handing out food and clothing to the world. However, that is of little import given the impetus behind the action. Evangelism, saving the world for God, converting the unsaved hungry dying masses is the ultimate goal of any program this ministry undertakes. Now it is in the business of recommending assassination targets

Did the Good Samaritan require the beaten man to convert in order to receive aid? There should be no ulterior motives to service, no threats, no promises, no if-thens, no requirements. It is God’s duty and God’s alone to save the people of this world. Any claim otherwise is blasphemous at best.

The only thing worse than the theology is that it is broadcast nationally and people listen. I want people to take the ministry of Christ seriously. I want to take the ministry of Christ seriously. I believe it is hard to do so when people like this are given a national stage that is constantly used to mock Christianity. Pat Robertson has perverted the faith more often and more egregiously than almost any other national figure. Why do we let him continue to do so?

The only thing worse is Gordon Robertson, whose theological ineptitude outpaces the old man’s by a long shot. This type of religious abuse will continue until a large enough audience begins to hold these charlatans accountable for what they say.

My guess is that those of us on the left of center lack the necessary fortitude to make a difference. My small part is this post and the dream that a movement begin that topples this regime in favor of one that more closely sits at the heart of Christianity. A movement that is about remembering God and remembering, loving and caring for all of God’s creations regardless of condition, theology or religion.

There is no room in my beliefs for the deliberate call for the death of another, no matter how heinous the crime. There is no precedent for it, there is no teaching concerning it, and I will not tolerate the language or the intent. If we are about nothing else, we are about second, third, fourth, fifth, etc chances. If grace means anything, if love is worthwhile, then those who believe cannot stand by and let this abuse continue…

grace and peace

Tagged again...

I was tagged by G. over at The Wicker Chronicles back in early July, to answer some bookish questions... (This just goes to show how long it has been since I have been bloggingly social)

1. Total number of books I've owned: I really have no earthly idea. When I started seminary I brought 23 liquor boxes of books. During our move to Denver (two weeks ago) I brought 500-600 books. We got rid of several boxes full before we left. So I would put the number owned somewhere over 1000 during my lifetime...

2. Last book I bought: I recently picked up a number of books for classes, but I don't think those really count. My recent personal purchases have been several poetry books by Mary Oliver, Wherever You Go There You Are - by Jon Kabat-Zinn, The Gift of Therapy - by Irvin Yalom, The Soul of Politics - by Jim Wallis , and On Writing Well - by William Zinsser.

3. Last book I completed: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I am not sure that counts because it was on CD. I guess the last one I read was Taking Care by Carrie Doehring, who will be one of my future professors.

4. Five books that mean a lot to me: (Not listed in order of favoritism)

1. Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
2. The Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom
3. Listening to Your Life by Frederich Buechner
4. Writing About Your Life by William Zinsser
5. Dynamics of Faith by Paul Tillich

4b. What are you currently reading: I read several books at a time. I'm reading On Writing Well by William Zinsser, several back issues of The Christian Century, and Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.

5. Which 5 bloggers am I passing this on to? (If they want to and have the time!)
Erin at Surface Ripple
Adam at The Pub
Jim at Brainwaves
Brandon at Badchristian.com
Meg at Bridget Jones Goes to Seminary

on writing...

I always believed that in order to write, something important had to happen. Days will pass without a single major event and I will scratch my head wondering what to say next. I will dive into my past, project into the future, or force the present to succumb to my needs for a good story. Usually, I end up with muddled thoughts and a headache. I am realizing what needs to be said will come in time, without my help.

Since I graduated from college, I have never really had to look for a job they tend to find me. I have made contact with people. I have talked and inquired about positions. However, despite my charms, every job I have held has been one that fell into my lap. In Charleston, I was approached about interviewing for a DCE position, twice. In Richmond, I was transitioned from intern to staff member in the counseling center. My service at Southminster Presbyterian Church was a gift from a friend.

Now, in Denver, I have been approached about preaching in a rural congregation. It is odd that my life has worked this way. I imagine some have had similar luck. I also imagine it rarely happens for others. I can even imagine others struggling to find their place in the world. If I have any faith at all, it is seen in how I view work.

There are areas where I struggle mightily; these areas come naturally to others. I am a social coward at times. I am not unapproachable, nor am I rude. However, the words that come naturally on the keyboard get lost in conversation. I continue to work on that part of my life. I guess there are almost always trade-offs. That is what makes me unique, what makes you unique also.

I wish writing was easier or that I had more faith in what I say. I long for words and events to fall into my lap. I envy the interesting lives of others, sometimes wishing to awaken to the same drama. Easy doesn’t cut it though. I think my best stuff comes out of my struggles. If I don’t wrestle then I gain little except empty words. My life is no more important than any other, just different. My words are my own, my thoughts are my opinions. They are already important to me. If, somehow, they connect with your life then those connections are important for you as well.

Nothing earth shattering or especially revelatory occurred today. I woke up. I went for a walk. I ran some errands. I agreed to preach two Sundays at Byers Community Church. I played a computer game and bought a book and ate Chinese for dinner. It is these days that prepare me for the drama. They are not unimportant because they make up the bulk of my life. If I breathe, think, move, speak then my day is not wasted. It is the same with writing. If it breathes, thinks, moves or speaks to another then no word is ever wasted.

grace and peace

Oh My God...

I seem to get a lot of Google hits for this brief recounting of a drive down "Oh My God Road." The following is a description of what I remember and what I felt as my wife and I slowly made our way down the mountainside. My impressions are that given the switchbacks and relative size of the road it would be better suited for mountain bikes than cars. However, given the blind corners and lack of guard rails, I would caution one to be careful becuase the road is not much wider than a car and half with a slight shoulder on one and a sheer drop on the other...

Twenty-five miles west of Denver we entered the I-70 parking lot eight miles from three rockslides. There were warnings but we had no idea how long the clean-up would take, and besides we were on our way to a resort for an anniversary weekend. Well, three hours and six miles later we found ourselves getting off of the interstate to visit Central City for a much needed bathroom break.

For those who wish to know, I will know Central City for its decrepit casinos and, well, that is about it. The ride into town, eight miles off of the interstate was pleasant because we were practically the only car on a four-lane highway to nowhere. Our only worry was that the people in traffic knew something we did not.

A quick sandwich, a visit to the bathroom, and a new set of directions later and we hit the road again in an attempt to bypass the traffic jam we left behind. It just so happened that our directions took us down Virginia Canyon Road, otherwise known as "Oh My God Road," literally. No really, the signs actually say "Oh My God Road."

You see, "Oh My God Road" is a nine-mile road that connects Central City to Idaho Springs, where supposedly, the traffic ended. Our journey started off like many journeys in Colorado, uphill. It was a nice trek up a two-lane road to the top of the mountain. When we reached the pinnacle, we saw the fallen remains of an old mining set-up left for dead. The water chutes had decayed and fallen in places; towers stood silent against the blue skies awaiting a changing of the guard that would never come. Our solid pavement turned suddenly to hard-packed gravel; a sign told us the road would close due to construction on August 16 (2005). We knew this would be our only chance to drive "Oh My God Road" in its current state of being.

Four hundred yards later, the pavement re-appeared beneath the tires, and collectively we laughed shrugging off the moniker we had come to fear. "Oh My God Road" became "Geez That’s All Road?" Our comfort and laughter was ripped from beneath us all too quickly.

In what seemed like two or three short breathes the road began to narrow and the pavement stopped. The crack and pop of gravel beneath our tires filled our ears as my foot softly rested on the brake pedal. Our car slowed to what seemed like a crawl as we alternated singing a "Slow Down" chorus. Our road was about a car and three quarters wide, graveled, with no guard rails and washed out shoulders. At fifteen miles an hour you can see a lot of the road you travel, especially when you are at the top of a mountain and there is nothing between you and the valley floor.

Even now, I can feel the panic set in as I describe the road to you. My heart begins to pound, much too large for the chest that holds it. My breath shortens into quick staccato bursts offering little relief to my oxygen starved brain. My hands are tense much like the white-knuckled driving that occurred that day. I didn’t need "Oh My God Road" to tell me about my fears, but she whispered them in my ear all the same. The pictures my mind creates about danger and pain and fear were all too real during our descent. Panic was the obvious choice, but panic wasn’t an option. There was no where to turn around, no going back to the safety of pavement and guardrails. There was only down and that meant driving headlong into my fears.

We took it slow, trying to laugh those fears away. My wife, ever the great comfort in my life, praised my feeble attempts at bravery; her words were a welcome salve on the panic that had set in. Switchback after switchback we hugged the mountain side of the road. One time, and one time only, did I dare look down at the side of the road and it was a mistake.

We did look out and ahead. We saw the stand still traffic of I-70 and laughed at the poor souls stuck on the bridge with nowhere to go. At least we were moving! We marveled at people who had built cabins along this road, vowing never to be so silly ourselves. Six or seven miles later the valley floor rose to meet us. Looking up we could no longer see the road we had taken. Like an unmarked grave it left little trace on the mountainside.

About an hour and a half later, when we cleared the traffic, "Oh My God Road" became a source of pride. We had conquered what was bound to be the scariest road we had ever taken without a single scratch or scar.

A thousand things sift through my mind as I think of that brief nine-mile journey. Panic, fear, pride, hope, and joy are all a part of that carnival ride down the mountain. What I will remember most is that I, we, did it. When push came to shove, we started and we finished and that means something.

For me, fear is a powerful motivator and a powerful foe. It has the power to stop me dead in my tracks; it has the power to make me run for my life; it also has the power to draw from within my greatest potential. I think fear is a catalyst that feeds a great amount of potential energy within each of us. Fear forces a choice, a battle that must be fought within each of us. We can give in and give up, we can live to fight another day, or we embrace what is before us, befriending the very thing that threatens us. There are consequences for each action, benefits and drawbacks, risks and rewards, and no choice is inherently good or bad. The choice we make is but one in a million choices we will make in our lives.

I know many of the fears that lurk in the shadows of my soul, fears of failure, fears of inadequacy, fears of losing or not living up to my "potential." They remain real despite my small success on August 14. I suspect that there are very real fears in each of our lives. Ones that we dare not share. The problem is, the more we silence our fears the more irrational and large they loom in our lives. There is little we can do save having the courage to be who we have been called to be. In that thought lies one of the few things that can silence the fears that hold our souls.

I would like to thank the person who built "Oh My God Road." I won’t thank them for their engineering prowess nor for their eye on safety, but I will thank them for striking at the heart of my fears. I would thank them for making me panic and sweat and curse them to no end. I would thank them for making me confront my lack of control, for making me stare long and hard into the face of the things I fear and still go on. I would thank them for helping me make one fear a companion instead of a nuisance, a compadre instead of an enemy...

Theological Proposition #2

I will consider myself forever entangled with the exploration of the vast mysteries of who and what God is, as well as, how God is active in this mortal plain. My sense that God is an Ultimate Projection is just one fruit (or maybe foul) of that exploration. The idea that God’s attributes are created through the language and images and experiences we have on earth is probably not new. We, as finite beings, can only ascribe (or project) things we know to the Creator. As such, all things ascribed to said Creator are flawed from the beginning. The things of finite creatures can reflect images but never comprehend or view the full scope of the infinite.

Therefore, for God to be God, God must be of a substance that at the same time reflects the image placed within and steps beyond our finitude and individual (and communal) projections.

I have no problems with saying that where love or mercy or hope is found, there we will also find God. However, we must also make room for the idea that where hatred, oppression, and injustice is found, we will also find God. God’s attributes suffer in the hands of men and women. We can certainly witness this through the obvious polemic that occurs when we venture to call Mother Theresa and Fred Phelps (of God Hates Fags fame) worshippers of the same God.

Each of these people has projected their internal worldview onto their ministries. God, for each of them, becomes who they are (or were). In the arms of the faithful, God is continually created and re-created. In the case of Mother Theresa, one might look at the witness of her life and view God as compassionate, merciful, giving, and sacrificial. These are also the qualities that she displayed throughout her life on earth. In the case of Fred Phelps, people see the judgmental, fear-inducing, intolerant characteristics of God. Moreover, these are characteristics that Mr. Phelps displays through his constant homiletic and social intrusions. That said all of these characteristics can be supported through various scriptural references and historical claims.

If this is the case, then is all that we know of, or attempt to ascribe to, God flawed? Is each characteristic of God that we endeavor to ascribe fundamentally and inescapably finite, and thus fails in its bid to adequately approach the actuality of God? Certainly we can ascribe our deepest fears or our deepest hopes to God, but is that everything? Can the Ultimate Projection really be more than one mind or even one gathered set of minds projects out into the world?

All of this is a long way of describing why I feel so beholden to the mystery of God. It is why I can honestly answer tough questions with an “I don’t know.” It is why I get so mad when people attempt to create answers and put words into God’s mouth based on either their interpretation of a 2000+ year old writer or their own internal fears and needs. What happens with these situations (and all situations) is that the Ultimate Projection becomes merely another projection.

Being okay with the mystery of God also means being okay with the mystery within me as well. For me, mystery is the most comforting and confounding piece of my faith. It is comforting that I do not need to have or create the answers to life; I can attempt to release the Ultimate Projection from the confines of my mind. It is confounding because of one question. Namely, how do I relate to something that is at its core everything I know and none of it at the same time?

The closest I can come to realizing the potential of God is to be open to various interpretations as they speak through the experiences of my life. As each person projects their internal realities into the Cosmic Stew that is the Ultimate Projection the concoction grows beyond the limits of one person, group or community. The love, mercy and hope mingles with the judgment, intolerance, and fear. That mixture combined with a healthy dose of mystery (mystery meat anyone?) is a recipe for something that is at once a reflection of our internal image of God and a healthy respect for the very “thing” that is our Author.

Therefore, the Ultimate Projection can no longer be a “he” or a “she.” The Ultimate Projection is at once both she and he, child and adult, elderly and young, mother and father, brother and sister. At the same time, the Ultimate Projection is none of these as well. Such is the mystery, that what we choose to believe in is at the same time everything and nothing…

Denver days

It is hard to remember when I last wrote. Life has a way of passing by the windows of my soul when I am holed up, and I have certainly been holed up the last week or so. Denver is a beautiful place, frighteningly beautiful.

My wife and I took some time last Friday and headed up to Boulder for the afternoon. After living at a height of 5,280 feet for two weeks we decided that we were acclimated enough to attempt a day hike. Our effort was… painful.

Our neighbor mentioned that the Flat Irons were an easy hike outside of Boulder and beautiful to boot. We decided that would be the kind of hike we could handle. We were wrong. About 100 yards into the hike my lungs began to burn, my heart was pounding in my chest and my thighs were killing me. I guess I should appreciate the opportunity to hike, but it hurt and the only thing I appreciated at the moment was a rest another hundreds up the trail.

As the hike progressed and we entered a tree lined area, the shade cooled our sun beaten heads and enabled us to keep moving for another two or so miles. We never made it to the Flat Irons. Our hike ended when our boots began to rub blisters on the backs of our feet. The area was beautiful and we look forward to returning for another attempt soon.

The hardest part about moving here has been the loneliness. We have said “hi” to the neighbors, visited a neat little church, and spent the better parts of most days walking our neighborhood, but we still have no one to call “friend.” That part is slow going because we have no routine outside of our domain. We have been together 24/7 for almost a month now, and as much as I love my wife, we do need a break now and again.

The executive presbyter in Denver has mentioned a very small rural congregation that he would like for me think about preaching to in the future. Initially, I jumped at the opportunity to preach again and get out of the house. However, the more I begin to think about it, the more I fear the opportunity. The congregation is currently in conflict due to the circumstances around their current pastor leaving.

What do I have to offer these conflicted people?

I know this is not about me. I know this has nothing to do with my skills, my ministry, whatever. There is little, in the realm of ministry, that concerns me, but then again it has everything to do with me as well. Ministry is already a lonely passion, but to be placed in a situation where the people are conflicted, where half of the people will instantly look upon me with suspicion is to be placed in the lion’s den wearing gazelle flavored cologne.

The more I look behind the fear, the more I see the isolation and depression of moving lurking in the shadows in my mind. The shell that houses my mind seems dark and hollow at the moment. The friends and colleagues that used to fill the voids seem distant, though their echoes are always present. There is no one to have lunch with here, no one to play golf with, no one to relate back to me the messages that keep me sane, keep me real. My wife can be good for that, but she is dealing with her own demons at the moment…

At some point I must wake up from the fog that has clouded my life and embrace the world around me. It will happen at some point, I am just impatient…

grace and peace

Theological Proposition 0.5

I don't know why I place these things out here. I am not ashamed of the way I think or believe, but more the inability to coherently translate all of my ideas from the brain to the fingertips. If this makes sense, great. I feel that it jumps a little bit, but then again that only proves the somewhat futile attempt to describe the indescribable....

There are assumptions that I make in all of the theology I do and believe. These assumptions are a part of my heritage, my education, my experiences, and my emotions. When I write, preach or teach, these basic ideas, basic to me at least, are factored into every result that bursts forth from my mouth and the material used.

In my short lifetime, I have come to rely upon three assumptions. First, within each person is a mark or imprint of the Ultimate Projection. Second, within that same person, the mark or imprint is hidden through the individual and communal acts of sin perpetrated throughout his or her lifetime. Third, the Ultimate Projection remembers, despite the actions of an individual, what has been previously given and desires that each person attain, as best they can, congruence with that imprint.

I realize these three assumptions are fairly standard for systematic theology; they coincide with creation, fall, and redemption. However, the emphasis placed on each can only be particular to the experiences of one’s own life. For example, I am drawn to the redemptive piece of this tri-fold puzzle. This comes through my experience of being exceptionally hard on myself. The appealing nature of this particular aspect of my relationship to an Ultimate Projection stems from my need for grace, forgiveness and hope.

I could choose, and many do choose, to only focus on this assumption and its interplay in my life. However, doing so would only create a lop-sided view of what it is that I believe greater than myself. Therefore, an Ultimate Projection can only be more completely described through relationships with ourselves and one another. My sense is that the more we begin to understand ourselves, through internal and external means, the better we understand that which is imprinted within us.

To do or be good in this world is to rely on the insights of our collective encounters with this Ultimate Projection. I can only project those qualities of God that I experience in myself or in others. You can do the same. We can share these projective ideas with one another in a way that builds a greater sense of who God is; a Projection that takes on a larger meaning that we could intend.

Throughout the millennia, there have been attempts at describing what or who this Ultimate Projection is. Largely, these exercises are futile, because any attempt to describe only places restrictions on that which is believed to be indescribable. The best we can hope for is a close approximation of who/what the Ultimate Projection might be based on the experiences we have with that which is greater than we believe ourselves to be capable of doing/being. Love or hate, sadness or joy, hope or futility are all things that can push us beyond what we thought ourselves capable of handling. Each of these, in turn, could be used to describe the various states of an Ultimate Projection in an anthropocentric way. However, an Ultimate Projection must not be bound by our descriptors as well, it also must be free to be more than the mere emotional or even rational states we wish to ascribe to it.

Our new home

I would be an interesting specimen for a phrenologist; after four days in our new home, I have hit my head three times on the pipes in our basement. I am now dwelling in the land of short people, and it hurts.

The moving in phase has hit a bump in the road for the moment. After three days of unpacking and placing items in our place, our energy has waned and we now just sit and stare at the boxes for hours on end. Our bedroom has yet to be set up; our clothes lay dormant in their cardboard cells; we have food, which is always good. In fact, the kitchen was the first and is the only room that is 95% complete at the moment.

One thing we are learning is that the people who told us about Denver’s weather were only half right. It is beautiful out here. However, all of the sunshine we receive has translated into a week of mid-90’s heat much like the rest of the country, and we have no air-conditioning. So our lives are lived with the constant hum of fans as background noise. This is not a bid for sympathy, just a fact of our existence.

There are still days where I wake and say to myself, “what the hell have I done?” I hope the questioning will stop soon; I need people to talk to, friends to meet. We have been fairly self-contained for the last week, and I can tell that we need some human contact that we are not married to.

These transitions are always interesting to me. I have moved twenty some odd times in my short life, so being in a new place is easy for me. It is a time to re-invent and try new things; a transitional period where two worlds are colliding and what comes next is something entirely new but made up of the old rags of my existence. My life is funny in that way.

We live in a wonderful area, a lot of younger couples and tree-lined streets. We have a park within three blocks of our rented house and a grocery store within eight. We have a front porch and afternoon shade. I am learning how to make a Mojito and soon that will be our occasional evening drink as we watch the world pass by.

There are several churches in the area, but I am not sure where we will try and attend. The neighbor across the street attends an “emergent church” called Soul that was an offshoot of an Evangelical Presbyterian mega-church. The EPC is too conservative for my taste, they don’t ordain women and that is the first thing that tells me we won’t get along too well. It would be interesting to see how the “church” works, so we may try to attend the “conversation” once or twice just to get the flavor.

Truthfully, I am so entrenched in the PC(USA) culture that I would have a hard time not being involved in a theologically progressive congregation. I need the freedom to stretch and struggle with God, not the answers that I find in most places. I am really beginning to feel my desire for mystery taking root in everything I think and believe. It is much more interesting for me not to know than it is too know. I feel more alive in the fluidity and flow of ambiguity than in the safety and security of solid answers. I am beginning to wonder if there is a home out there for one who seeks to find their home everywhere though…

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