Sunday, February 28, 2010

Jesus Mourns for Jerusalem

Luke 13:31-35
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus' lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world --wings spread, breast exposed --but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand. ...

Jesus...a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first; which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter.

She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her -- wings spread, breast exposed -- without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart . . . but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.

-Barbara Brown Taylor Christian Century 2/25/86

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Fasting during Lent is a time-honored practice for many churches, as most of us probably know, but sometimes in some places it seems to have become rather perfunctory--"What are you giving up for Lent?" The mere action of giving up something is not the point. God is not impressed with sacrifice if no thought goes into it!

Consider the following:

Isaiah 58:6-9
This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.'

What an interesting pasage. We clearly see God's heart for people--his most valued creation. Those of us who avoid any hint of something called a "social gospel" might want to read that passage more than once. Fasting is not about being pitiful, or pious, or twisting God's arm, so to speak, to do something you want done. It is, rather, a time to consider our hearts, our behavior towards others, to renew the lost art (for many of us) of hospitality, to give, to forgive debt, to see homeless people as people, to truly be present in the lives of other.

Matthew 6:16-18 When you fast, do not put on a sad face as the hypocrites do. They neglect their appearance so that everyone will see that they are fasting. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. When you go without food, wash your face and comb your hair, 18 so that others cannot know that you are fasting, only your Father, who is unseen, will know. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.

So much for sharing what we are giving up. :-)

Several years ago I decided to do some fasting during Lent. I had fasted, on and off, for a long time, but never as a sort of pre-Easter disciple. I used materials from churches more traditional than my own. The experience was meaningful as it helped me focus, find time to spend with God, and emphasize my spirit instad of my physical body. I do not think the body is bad, by any means, but it is so easy to be aware of it and its needs and desires--I mean it is so present with us. Our spiritual life is much easier to put out of our minds.

Perhaps you have never fasted before, or perhaps you are a veteran of this spiritual practice. There is something for all of us. I recently found these suggestions and found some familiar and some new ideas.


(Courtesy of D. Maddelena)

Food: Meats, poultry (eggs too), fats and oils, soft drinks, 2nd helpings


Coffee (try tea or some other low-caffeine drink if you get headaches)

Dairy (milk and cheese)

Solid foods (only drink water or juices)

Junk foods (chips, snacks, salty food), candy (plus refined sugar in general), and dessert (great for kids—very meaningful!).

Media: TV, movies, computer, email (set an auto responder), Internet, magazines, radio, the phone (leave your cell phone off when appropriate), handhelds, video games, and other technology

Other Things: You may want to fast from certain relationships, or people in general, choosing instead to walk only with God for a period. You may also fast from social events, parties, or clubs, if you regularly go out of your way for that kind of gathering.

Days: Leave it all behind: leave junk food, TV, cars, noise, and all the media and messages of the culture. Pack the very minimum (water, warm clothes, etc.) and find a trail, a mountain, or a beach, and feast on God.

Imitate Jesus, who took whole days to walk alone in the wilderness fasting and praying.

Use the time you would spend eating to do something else with God. The same goes for fasting from media, or any other kind of fast.

Give God the time and the room that he wants. God wants to fill you up, wants to bless you. If we are constantly pouring other stuff into our heads or stomachs, there will be little room for God.

If you are going to join me in this spiritual disciple at some time before Easter, let me know and I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

God, help us to be wise about what we do (and do not do) and when and how we go about it. Help us to love and pray and laugh and live with abandon. May it be the kind of fast that you have shown pleases you, one that is about others and doing what is right. Amen

Friday, February 26, 2010

Why Not Just Skip to Easter? Part Two

For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. When I want to do good, evil is with me. For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God's law. But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin.

Like the Apostle Paul, we face the continuing struggle to live as the children of God and the recipients of grace that God says we are. As we recall the events that led up to the glory of resurrection, we might acknowledge that we, like his disciples, would have slept as Jesus prayed for deliverance in the garden. We ponder whether we would have denied knowing him as he silently accepted his death sentence. We can, perhaps once again or perhaps for the first time, acknowledge the depth of what happened to Jesus, consider how he responded, and marvel at what he did on the cross.

When we come to the Lord's table we are cautioned not to do so mindlessly or lightly, but to partake of the body and blood with awareness and a right spirit. The same can be said for how we approach the mystery of how Messiah "was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:5).

Some years ago I realized that I was becoming too insulated. I spent most of my time with fellow Christians. I volunteered at the church and Ken and I were planning to study theology as soon as possible. One night I knelt by my bedside praying for a family member who was living in darkness. I didn't feel much compassion, and I asked God to help me realize what it was like to live without God as opposed to being a child of light (as Ephesians so gloriously describes it). I don't know what I expected, or if I expected anything, but something happened. I felt plunged into loneliness, hopelessness, sadmess and darkness. Fortunately the experience only lasted a few moments, but I will never forget it. Life without God? Unthinkable!

A stay in the garden and at the foot of the cross makes grace and resurrection life all the sweeter. We face what life was, is, and can be. We once again receive comfort, love, mercy, grace and forgiveness. How our hearts can then cry out, "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord."

God of Grace, I pray that we, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. Grant that we will know this love that surpasses knowledge—that we may be filled with the fullness that comes of God. Amen

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why Not Just Skip to Easter? -- Part One

Condensed from Romans 6

Now if we died with Christ we will also live with Him. Death no longer rules over Him. He died to sin once for all. He lives to God. You too, consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Do not let sin reign in your mortal body. Do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God.

Having been liberated from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. I am using a human analogy because of [your weakness]. For just as you offered your bodies as slaves to moral impurity and lawlessness, so now offer them as slaves to righteousness which results in sanctification —and the end is eternal life! For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Many churches of the Protestant variety, particularly of the "evangelical camp," do not participate in Lent. Lent was something for Catholics (and thus the unspoken assumption was that it was anathema for me). A formerly-Catholic parishioner of mine once said, "It was a relief to leave it behind. After all, it was all about Jesus hanging on the cross and the broken body and the blood anyway, all the time, every Sunday. By the time Lent was over I just couldn't stand it any more, and then it was one day of relief and celebration and then back to the cross."

So it seems, perhaps partly to avoid what was perceived as an undue emphasis on the "bad news" and not enough on the "good news" of the season, we left the sorrow and contemplation of Lent behind. I was over forty years of age before I participated in a Good Friday service--and I am one of those who "cut my teeth on a pew" so it wasn't for lack of being in church.

We are more comfortable with the joy and celebration of Easter than with the darkness that preceded it, and I think that is a good thing. I do not want to dwell on sin and struggle--I want to "live to God" as Paul tells us. But this time is a chance to remember the dark before the dawn, the bondage before the freedom, the loss before the gain. The Orthodox Church calls this time "the season of Bright Sadness," because it is a time of both celebration and mourning.

Jesus' work is done; he's in Heaven. The sting of death has been conquered, and Jesus Christ is Victor. So why should we think about the darkness at all?

There are more reasons than I have time for in this post. Here is just one. Sometimes we must come face to face with ourselves in order to truly see the glory of God's grace.

Jesus cautioned us to count the cost, to die to ourselves, to love our enemies, pray for those who do not treat us right, to be light in a dark world. Loving our enemies doesn't come naturally. Swimming against the current of a culture increasingly comfortable with wickedness doesn't either. If we genuinely want to do this, it is only possible through God's grace. To show genuine mercy and compassion without being smug or self righteous means we do well to take heed to ourselves and our own weakness (being strengthened day by day yes--glory be to God--but not yet perfected).

More about this tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Who Was This Man?

Matthew 5:21-22.27-28,33-34,43-44 and 7:28 NIV)

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all...

You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching,

Who is this teacher who can say such things? These things are impossible!

Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner wrote a book titled "A Rabbi Talks with Jesus," in which he says he is “impressed – and moved” by the teachings of Jesus, admitting that he would have joined the crowd following Jesus around. He also acknowledges that he would have parted company with Jesus, not because of Jesus' teachings but because he made demands that only God can make.

Several times Matthew says that Jesus taught as one who had authority. He unsettled and provoked people with statements like, “I and the Father are one”; “I have the power to forgive sins”; “I will rebuild the temple in three days.” Temple guards came to seize him but returned without him, saying “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” He commanded demons to be quiet. He befriended lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes. He forgave those who crucified him.

He asks us to do things that are simply impossible--apart from God's grace and indwelling Spirit. Who was this teacher? Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Whom do you say I am?”

He asks us the same question today. Does our intellectual belief match our "heart" belief, our actions, and our words?

Jesus had a way of stirring things up.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Hiding Place

The video I'm sharing today is a song I love, but it is a little over 8 minutes long. You can plan that way. :-)

Psalm 32 (NRSV)
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah
I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Our Lifesongs--All for the Glory of God

Soli Deo gloria, Latin for "Glory to God" alone, is one of the five doctrines emphasized during the Protestant Reformation. (You can go here to read more about them.)

The Reformers believed that whether you were in the pulpit, orchard, or kitchen all that we do when done by faith would bring glory to God. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, "What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever."

For the follower of Christ, all of life is to be lived with an awareness, appreciation and intention to bring honor to God by living under the lordship of the Son.

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God; Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (1CO 10:31; 1PE 4:11; REV 1:6; 2PE 3:1; EPH 3:21; REV 7:12; ROM 11:36)

Here is a meditation with music from Casting Crowns.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Desperation Prayer

"In no way is it enough to set out cheerfully with God on any venture of faith. You must also be willing to take your ideas of what the journey will be like and tear them into tiny pieces, for nothing on the itinerary will happen as you expect." Lettie B. Cowman, Streams in the Desert

Psalm 91: 1-2 and 10-15

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust."
no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
Because he cleaves to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will rescue him and honor him.

For the remainder of my life, Psalm 91 will take me back to a time when I was a pastor's wife in a church situation that was beginning to sour, with two children, Christmas coming, and a husband in the hospital with blood clots in his leg.

He still suffers from the aftermath, but at the time he was in a critically vulnerable place. I did not realize just how precarious it all was at the time, which is just as well. One night, coming home from a hospital visit, I could not sleep. I had a sense of impending disaster, and I was deeply afraid. I felt lost, alone, afraid that my inner being felt cold and dark...a sensation I have never felt since.

The children were asleep upstairs, and I was downstairs sitting in bed, Bible open. I was trying to pray and I was too frightened to be articulate. I offered myself and my fear to God, and I spent the rest of that night reading Psalm 91. I read it dozens of times, each time with a sort of desperation..."no evil shall come near..." but it seemed the evil had, indeed, come very close indeed.

About five a.m. I came to a place of surrender. It was not an easy nor comfortable place to be. I wish I could say that it was, and that I was at peace and full of faith. I wasn't, and It wasn't any of those things. It was simply surrender.

I spoke aloud to God, something like, "I did not expect this. I expected blessings. I mean, are we not doing what you called us to do? I do not want to raise these children alone. I don't know what I'll do if Ken dies. And I'm angry that this is happening. He deserves better than to spend Christmas in the hospital. We deserve better than an indifferent bunch of church people and a a deacon board who is probably feeling righteous and vindicated about it all. I need my husband, God....but may your will be done."

I cried as I said again, "May your will be done. I can't read anymore and I can't pray."

And I fell asleep. Was God waiting for my surrender? I don't know. But I do know that I fell asleep. Ken came home a couple of days later.

Perhaps you, like I was, are desperately clinging to what you think God should do?

God of the Secret Place, I pray for myself today, and my own struggle with heart-felt obedience. And I pray for those who may read this and realize they are struggling with the surrender you ask of them. I ask for peace, and especially for grace to relinquish all of the "shoulds" and "why nots" and "but, what about"s. Thank you for understanding our weakness and loving us still, for calling to us, for waiting for us to offer our expectations on an altar of surrender. Thank you for the strength that Christ has provided for us, the strength to tear our itinerary into tiny pieces. Amen

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Great I AM

This passage is excerpted from Exodus 3:1-20 (NLT)

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro...He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”
When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

“Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of...Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers...I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land...Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.”

But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?”

God answered, “I will be with you. And this is your sign that I am the one who has sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God at this very mountain.”

But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

God replied to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you.”

This is my eternal name,
my name to remember for all generations.

"Now go and call together all the elders of Israel. Tell them, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—has appeared to me. He told me, “I have been watching closely, and I see how the Egyptians are treating you. 17 I have promised to rescue you from your oppression in Egypt. I will lead you to a land flowing with milk and honey...”’

“The elders of Israel will accept your message. Then...go to the king of Egypt..."

This passage tells us how Moses encounters God in the burning bush. God announces His plans to have Moses lead the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt and into a wonderful land that God promises to them. Moses has no way of knowing just how large the task will be. That, of course, was just as well, because it willl take all the energy, wisdom, faith and strength Moses has. God has prepared him for just this task.

God also reveals His Name to Moses: "I AM WHO I AM."

The Exodus story is a glorious one, one our Jewish friends and neighbors have celebreated for generations. Just as God revealed great plans to bless Israel and lead them from bondage into freedom, God has revealed in Jesus Christ a wonederful plan to bless the whole world, and to lead all who will follow Him into a place of freedom. I believe that freedom begins in this life and has its ultimate fulfillment in eternity.

Here is Mark Schultz singing, "I Am."

In John 8:51-59, Jesus echoes those words and strongly implies his divinity when he tells the Jews that "before Abraham was made, I AM." This becomes part of the basis for the charge of blasphemy, a charge which would lead to his crucifixion.

Thank you, God, for revealing your plan to Moses, and for revealing yourself to him. Thank you for revealing yourself to us once again by sending your eternal Son, the great I AM...loving giver of life...savior. Amen

Friday, February 19, 2010

Renew a Right Spirit Within Me

From Psalm 51 NLT

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my shameful deeds – they haunt me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight... But you desire honesty from the heart, so you can teach me to be wise in my inmost being.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me – now let me rejoice. Don't keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.

Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don't take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me again the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. Then I will teach your ways to sinners, and they will return to you...then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness. Unseal my lips, O Lord, that I may praise you... The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.

I John 1:9 tells us "If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong"

These days leading up to our celebration of resurrection life are a time to search our hearts and to be fully known by God. Of course, God knows us through and through, yet God longs for us, loves us, and created us to be in intimate fellowship. Psalm 51 is David's song of repentance after lust, adultry, dishonesty, and murder. He is frank, at last, in his honesty with God, hiding nothing. Can we do the same?

There is no darkness too deep for God: his own son suffered death on a cross under the burden of the darkness of the whole world. And he suffered this so that no matter how deep we were buried in it, we would not have to be punished according to our sins. As Corrie ten Boom, who suffered in a Nazi concentration camp, said, "There is no pit so great that God is not greater still."
Forgiving God, so often I find myself feeling buried in darkness, aware of my sin as David was. Sometimes the things I have done, the thoughts I think, make me afraid. Sometimes I don't even want to face them. But Lord, thank you for the promise that because of what Jesus did, I am not to be punished according to my sin. With this promise and the hope of freedom, help me to face my own heart. Lord, shine your holy light inside of me. I want to be known by you. I want to hide nothing, and to let you in. Wash me and I shall be clean. Amen

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The One for Whom Christ Died

Romans 5:7-11 The Message

[Jesus Christ] presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn't been so weak, we wouldn't have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

Now that we are set right...put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we're at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!

I do not recall where I first heard the story of a medieval Christian, a wise and educated man, who ran into financial difficulties towards the end of his life. Things grew worse and worse, and eventually, aged and sick, he was reduced to living on the streets. One cold morning, someone recognized their former teacher and took him to a hospital.

Thinking that the old man was unconscious, one doctor spoke to another, saying "What shall we do with this poor, worthless creature?"

The man raised up and cried out, "Do not call that man worthless for whom Christ died!"

How often we grow tired and discouraged pursuing acceptance and approval from people or things that can never really give us what we need. It might be our job, our position, family, friends, spouses, even total strangers!

I believe every human being needs to matter, to be significant to someone in some way. Many of us--and sometimes it seems to me like it is just about all of us--struggle with fear of rejection.

Relatively few openly admit to how desperately we crave this affirmation and approval. We are too busy making sure no one glimpses our need. How foolish we can be sometimes, denying our need even to ourselves.

God sees. How glad I am glad of that.

I recently read the following:

The "God-shaped vacuum," as Augustine observed, is part of the manufacturing process - "For you have made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."

The rock group, Extreme, may or may not have had God in mind when they sang, "Hole Hearted" but I can't hear it without thinking of what Augustine said.

Here it is. The lyrics are below the video.

Life's ambition occupies my time
Priorities confuse the mind
Happiness one step behind
This inner peace I've yet to find

Rivers flow into the sea
Yet even the sea is not so full of me
If I'm not blind why can't I see
That a circle can't fit
Where a square should be

There's a hole in my heart
That can only be filled by you
And this hole in my heart
Can't be filled with the things I do

Hole hearted
Hole hearted

This heart of stone is where I hide
These feet of clay kept warm inside
Day by day less satisfied
Not fade away before I die

Rivers flow into the sea
Yet even the sea is not so full of me
If I'm not blind why can't I see
That a circle can't fit
Where a square should be

There's a hole in my heart
That can only be filled by you
And this hole in my heart
Can't be filled with the things I do
There's a hole in my heart
That can only be filled by you
Should've know from the start
I'd fall short with the things I do

Hole hearted
Hole hearted
Hole hearted
Hole hearted

God who sees, I submit my heart, my innermost being, to you. You know--and what is more, you understand--my deep longing to make a difference, to be loved, to be remembered, to be significant. Thank you for those who have come into my life who have given me affirmation, but help me not to forget that the only lasting affirmation comes from you, my creator, redeemer, friend. Amen

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Collect for Ash Wednesday

I am from a church tradition that does not observe the Lenten season, but I have come to value it. So I'll be posting here as much as I can. Sometimes it will be music, scripture, sometimes the thoughts or meditations of others, and sometimes my own. Please journey with me if you like.

"For he knows our frame;he remembers that we are dust." - Psalm 103:14

This is why God knows how much we need mercy, grace, forgiveness, and renewed hope.

From dust we came and to dust we return, but in the dust is the image of our Divine Creator. What supreme irony that is. Glorious dust that was transformed by the very hand of God!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Thirty Nine Years and Counting!

Thirty nine years ago today, I walked down the aisle at the Rosewood Wedding Chapel in Burbank, California. My late sister, Darlaine, was the matron of honor, my friend, Pat, was a bridesmaid, and my niece, Joy, was the flower girl. She refused to walk down the aisle, but she did pose nicely for the pictures. Ken's friend Bill, was one of the groomsmen. That was particularly fitting because he had introduced the two of us.
We meet in high school--not the same one. Ken attended a public high school in Sylmar, and I attended Los Angeles Baptist High School in a nearby town then known as Sepulveda. My school was relatively small, so Pat and I had to take Driver's Training at another school. We went over to register, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Ken was a tall, very skinny (yes, really) basketball player with a crooked smile and kind eyes. I was only seventeen, but it wasn't long before I was wondering if this was the guy I would spend my life with. When we married, Ken was only 19 and I was 20. The big Sylmar earthquake of 1971 had just happened. Ken's parents had purchased a home just days before. They ended up sleeping outside on the front lawn. Sadly, they never lived in the house again. The shop where the guys had rented their tuxedos was in an evacuated area under the San Fernando dam and we wondered if they'd be standing up in jeans and tee shirts. Just a couple of hours before the wedding they were able to go in and get their tuxes.

Ken was late...fortunately for me I was unaware. He was in the US Marine Corps and wore the USMC's beautiful dress blues. They weren't ready when he went to pick them, and he was a two-hour drive away. He made a flying trip to Burbank and arrived just moments before time to begin!

Good thing I don't believe in omens, or we might never have tied the knot!

We moved to Oceanside, where we lived in a tiny apartment and then in awful military housing. We weren't too concerned about that. Just over a year after the wedding we welcomed Kris into the world. Then we moved to North Carolina (Camp Lejeune). Six years after Kris, when we were stationed in Washington, DC, Josh joined the family. After nine years in the USMC we went to North Dakota to finish college, then on to Wisconsin where we pastored churches in Tomahawk and Luck. A few years later we moved to the other side of Wisconsin where Ken became a prison chaplain and I pastored a church....and now life goes on.

Here we are about a month ago celebrating Trinity's third birthday. I'm on the left, next to me is a friend, Kristopher, next is Kris, her husband, Daryl with Trinity below, then Ken and next to him is Kevin.

Off we go to start a new life together.

We have had some wonderful times, and some sad and difficult ones. But here we are, both wondering how we got so old so fast. Yep, we'd do it again. And Ken is still my Valentine!

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Little Big Foot: At the Hospital

The hospital was little changed from what Dee Anna remembered. The entryway was flanked by a cactus garden. It also boasted a three foot high stone carving of the state of Texas which held an engraved likeness of the long-ago doctor who had established the hospital.

Inside, a small Christmas tree stood in the entry. The smell was the same as hospitals everywhere, that amorphous blend of Betadyne, floor wax, lunch, and illness. The walls were a minty grey color and the floors were beige linoleum with grey flecked squares. When she was a child she had thought the flecks were interesting. Once, when a cousin was having surgery, Dee Anna had waited in the family waiting room with her mother and her Uncle Chuck. She had tried to count the number of flecks in each square. She had lost track, she recalled, at 67. How could the floor be the same after all this time?

"What nonsense our brains retain," Dee Anna thought impatiently to herself. "I can remember a useless snippet of information from 25 years ago but I can't remember what Michael's voice sounded like." She sighed, feeling the stress of the last few days and the lack of sleep. She unconsciously ran her hand over the top of her head , making her red hair stand up with electricity.

Phil was at the nurse's station talking softly with a petite Hispanic nurse who was wearing a smock featuring Sponge Bob Squarepants. She looked familiar. Was the nurse Lupita, who she had graduated high school with?

"C'mon Danna," called Phil softly, beckoning her. "Dad's down this way." He strode ahead, his back stiff and his steps determined, the heels of his cowboy boots making sharp taps on the polished floor. Reaching the closed door of a room at the end of the hall, he stopped and waited for her, and when she stood beside him he reached out for her hand, surprising her. He grinned. "Good Lord, sis, what did you do to your hair?" The smile faded and he took a deep breath, squeezing her hand before he dropped it. "Okay, ready?" He tapped softly on the door and then pushed it open.

The room was dim, the shades drawn against the afternoon sun. Even in December it could be bright on the Texas plains. After a moment, they could see the thermal blanket across the hospital bed. There was an oil painting of a farmhouse with a windmill on the wall behind a vinyl-covered reclining chair. The chair was empty. The soft but insistent "thup whoosh" of a respirator was the only sound. "They still have beds with crank handles!" Dee Anna thought incredulously, avoiding looking at the occupant of the bed for a long moment.

Slowly she moved forward. Her father looked older, greyer, face more wrinkled. He was thinner than she remembered. His hands were folded across his chest. Was he dead?

Dee Anna's heart lurched for a moment before she realized that if he had died the respirator would not still be whooshing away. She touched one of his hands gently. "Dad, it's me, Dee Anna." She turned to her brother, who still stood by the door. It was Dee Anna's turn to beckon. "Phil is here too." Phil moved slowly to the other side of the bed, eyes blank. Dee Anna felt a quick rush of tears, wondering what her father would think if he could look at the man standing there. Phil said nothing.

The little nurse stepped softly into the room. "The doctor is just down the hall so should be here soon to talk with you. Your mother is in the cafeteria but won't be long." Her voice dropped, "She's been here for three days, sleeping in that chair."

Dee Anna glanced at her name tag. "Hello, Lupita," she said. "I don't know if you remember me. You were in my senior class." Lupita smiled warmly as she reached out to touch Dee Anna's shoulder. "I remember you. I remember both of you." Her slight Spanish accent made her words soft. "You were the prettiest little thing, but so quiet." She paused, "And you," she said to Phil, "played basketball. I remember." She glanced shyly at Dee Anna. "Is it true what I heard? Are you really a preacher?"

A soft tap on the door and then Doctor Martin came into the room, a heavier, more florid version of the doctor Dee Anna remembered. He seemed mildly surprised. "Well, hello. Nice to see you both after so long." He ignored Dee Anna but extended a hand to Phil and shook it briefly before moving to the bed and spending a few moments checking on his patient. "Let's go down the hall to the waiting room and I'll give you an update on your father's condition" he said briefly.

The two of them obediently followed him out of the room. Dee Anna remembered him giving her a shot of penicillin when she had been about eight and ill with bronchitis. She had been embarrassed that he had given her the injection in her behind, and she had fought back tears. More useless recollections, she thought, feeling suddenly powerless and wanting to disappear back into the room.

"Get with it, Dee Anna," she chided herself. "You are a grownup with a child of your own, you are educated and you are independent." She took a deep breath. "I am woman, hear me roar!" she thought ruefully, feeling anything but. She squared her shoulders and marched after Dr. Martin and Phil.

The little waiting room held coffee and a bowl of fruit next to a small sink. Dee Anna wished she could wash her face. She and Phil sat down side by side on a vinyl sofa and Dr. Martin pulled up a straight-backed chair. High on the wall behind him, a television with too-bright color was on and Oprah was interviewing some man in a Hawaiian shirt. The sound was off, and Dee Anna found herself trying to read Oprah's lips, feeling distant and far away from the doctor and the little room. Her shoulder's ached with fatigue and her eyes felt grainy.

Dr Martin cleared his throat and began, "I suppose you two have heard that your father had a heart attack and a stroke. His condition is uncertain at the moment, though scans reveal minimal brain damage. Frankly, I'm not sure why he is not breathing on his own, nor why he has not regained consciousness. I expected he would have done so..."

Her mother's tall figure filled the doorway. "Well, look who's here. Hello, children."

She sat down heavily in an armchair across from them. "How are you, Bernice?" asked the doctor, looking concerned. "You really should get some sleep." After a moment, he went on, "Bud seems unchanged. That may be bad news, but it may be good news. I want to do a few other tests." He looked at Phil. "Take your mother home and make her go to bed."

Dee Anna felt like someone should ask him a question, but she couldn't think clearly. He stood, moving to the door. Turning, he nodded to their mother, and added, "I'll call you as soon as I have something to tell you. It's been three days, so something should change soon, one way or the other. We'll take care of Bud. Go home and get some sleep. And eat some real food. I expect your daughter knows how to cook something."

The doctor's departure left the three of them sitting in silence for long moments. Dee Anna looked at Phil who was gazing intently at the coffee pot. She remembered the day he had left home after a bitter argument. She had sobbed for hours and spent the next day in bed. For once, her mother said nothing and didn't even make her go to school.

He'd been gone when she left for college and she had only seen him twice since. The last time had been just after Madeline was born, and then he had left for a job on some farm out in South Dakota. His letters, always infrequent, had eventually stopped altogether.

When he showed up at the airport his appearance had surprised her. Always lanky, he was now thin and his shoulders were bony. His face looked weathered, but not just from the sun. He looked like a man who had seen too much, and his eyes were sad. She knew he'd come home to Texas a couple of months before and she had heard that he had said little to anyone except that he was looking for work. He'd found a job at the Ford dealership. He'd made it known to their mother that he had been in a drug rehabilitation unit in Houston, that he was now clean and sober, and that he would go to church when he was good and ready. Her mother hadn't told her any of this, but she'd had heard it from a cousin who occasionally sent emails. She had sent Phil a letter telling him of her new congregation in Little Big Foot.

She glanced at her mother, who sat with her head back and her eyes closed, face drawn with fatigue. Her hair was still thick and as red as ever, Dee Anna noted, wondering if it was dyed. She realized that, even now, her mother was still a lovely woman. She could look so pretty, Dee Anna remembered, with that stately figure and her bun of burnished hair. And then she could look so angry.

Her mother's eyes opened and Dee Anna realized that they were full of tears. She could not recall ever seeing her mother cry, even when Grandpa died. Now tears shone in her eyes and then slowly ran down her cheeks. At first Dee Anna was too surprised to speak, but after a moment she rose and went to her mother's side. "It'll be okay, Mom." She patted her mother's shoulder a little stiffly. "He will pull through. He's always been healthy, even though he was heavy..." Her voice trailed off as her mother looked up at her. Dee Ann was shocked to see the stark misery in her mother's face.

Had she loved him then, after all?

"Oh God. What will I do if he dies? What will I do?" Her mother's face twisted in anguish. For the first time since she had hear her mother's voice on the phone, crisply talking about her father being in the hospital, Dee Anna felt genuine compassion. She knelt by the chair, putting her arms around her mother's waist and praying deeply, without words. Phil stood staring at the two of them, their red hair touching as their heads came together, one with a bun that was coming undone and the other tousled. That hair was about the only way they were alike, he thought. Their mother was not the sort to want comforting.

"I never thought this would happen. He's too happy-go-lucky to be sick," she wailed. Dee Anna said nothing, but she stayed where she was. After a moment Phil came behind his mother and patted her back, clearing his throat and feeling miserable. For long moments he stared at the speckled pattern of the floor, fighting his own tears and wondering what he was crying about.

He cleared his throat again. "Maybe we should pray," he said.