Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Seeking Sacred Spaces

Sunrise in Seabrook, TX
Curiously, sacred spaces are geographically specific though anything but bound.

Where are the sacred spaces on your journey?  The sanctuary where I was baptized and spent many a childhood morning in worship.  The woods of church camp where I spent summers as camper, counselor and director.  The walk from my dorm to the church I attended in college.  The Dandenong Ranges outside of Melbourne, Australia where I began my seminary studies.  The pulpits I have been honored to fill during my ministry, from White Oak to Edwardsville.  

I have more sacred spaces than I expected.  I’ll not bore you with the comprehensive list.

What are the important features of your sacred spaces?

Experience of faith community in that place at that time?  The spot of a great awakening in your soul, heart, mind?  Geographic context which cradled the creative creature that is you?  A glimpse of God incarnate in your midst?  Holy meets holly bush?

Sacred spaces are those places where we are more likely to experience the holy and profound.  

Fascinating how often in the Bible that God calls us to attend to sacred spaces.  Asking us to build a simple altar of stone or an elaborate temple or a nomadic tent scene - God invites us to participate in creating sacred spaces.  

Equally fascinating how rarely we are able to manufacture sacred space.  Ever try to force the moment?  Attempt to compel God to show up or your own soul to listen?  Maybe it is that not every location fits your journey?  Maybe God wants to meet you in the places where you can be most present with God?  

There are amazing private sacred spaces!  Aren’t most communal?  Even the hermit like places include the large community in prayer and hope.  We chose the communal places for our special sacred moments - weddings, funerals, baptisms, baby dedications, etc.  

The picture is of one of a sacred space found during my sabbatical in July 2014.  Seabrook, a suburb of Houston, TX.  Sipping hot tea in the humidity and watching the sunrise over the gulf before beginning my trek north to Illinois.  Having just spent the week in silent retreat and a day in conversation with my good friend, Michael Dunn, I was blessed to pause.  I thought of those fishermen who dropped their nets to follow Jesus.  I thought of those I knew who made it possible for me to have sabbatical.  Mostly, I felt the warmth of the sun and listened to God.  

May you find many sacred spaces on your journey and share them well with our fellow travelers.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What makes you "dirty"?

What makes you “bad”?  What makes you “unclean”?

Have you read Matthew 15:1-20?  It was part of the reading for this past Sunday but my sermon focused on Matthew 15:21-28 and the Canaanite Woman.  You can find that sermon here … http://youtu.be/IHF4IvQStCg

I want to say something about the beginning of chapter 15 that there was simply not time to say in the sermon.

Maybe it is helpful to ask, what makes other people “bad” or “unclean”?  Our neighbor, stranger, etc.  

My son and I spent some time in New York City this summer.  We stayed in a hotel at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge and rode the subway all over Manhattan.  I vividly recall a moment when I was looking at those in the subway car with us.  There were couples fighting, spoiled children, people who looked homeless, individuals I kept an eye on for safety, etc.  Is that guy a pimp for the woman with bruises next to him?  Why is that guy sitting when that woman is standing?  I was beginning to feel unclean just being in the same subway car as these people.  It was disturbing.

Then I smiled.  
I wanted to share my smile with every person in that subway car for one very important reason.

I had just heard a small voice say to me that God loved each person on that subway car.  
Even me, the judgmental, middle-class, educated, divorced Dad lucky enough to be on a trip with his son, was loved by God.

Then I noticed the woman with bruises and how tender the guy was in making certain she was seated first, helping her up when they departed … rather the gentleman.  No clue about the bruises.

And I wondered, if I had time - would not all these folks have redeeming qualities?

Of course - they are creations of God and that makes them intrinsically redeemable.

I felt unclean and bad for being in the same space with these people who were different than me.  What MADE me unclean and bad was my judgement of them, God’s children.  What made me even more unclean was that my judgement of others became an obstacle of accepting my own status as redeemable.  My judgement stood between me and the gift of grace.

Jesus says it so much better … what defiles is what comes from the heart.  What God makes cannot defile you.

Set yourself free …. judge not.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Recommended Reading

I love to laugh!  It just plain feels great to laugh!  When I find a book that both inspires my faith and compels my soul to laugh, I want to recommend it.

Jonathan Acuff was a keynote speaker at the church camp I attended with our youth group this past June.  I found him to be an engaging speaker, so I bought one of his books “Stuff Christians Like”.  This book is an easy read, when you can read through the laughter.

Acuff was raised in a different part of the Christian tradition than I.  Not everything he discusses is exactly in my experience of church.  However, his insightful and critical humor is full of hope and joy.  At the conclusion, I celebrated his love of the church and found my own love of the church to be increased.  

Friday, May 30, 2014

An alternate career path that I did not follow was to be a high school social studies teacher.  I did get the degree for that path while at Purdue University.  History can be amazing reading and research.  I am especially fond of the Civil War in its shaping of who we are as a country.

Jeff Shaara's book, A Blaze of Glory, is a retelling of the Battle of Shiloh.  This battle in Tennessee involved over 100,000 soldiers and amassed over 24,000 casualties over two days of hard fighting.  A devastation wrought that had not been seen by our country previously.

Shaara is a compelling author who does well in portraying a battle with lines that were miles long.  I found the dialogue that he created in this historical fiction to be wanting at times, especially early in the book.  The real strength of the book is how Shaara provides at least three perspectives:  of generals overseeing vast armies on a chaotic battle field, of the man with the musket who could barely see the enemy charging let alone the map of advance or retreat, of the historians who have interpreted the impact of this battle upon the war.

I recommend this book very much.  Thankful to my mother who loaned it to me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

3 Truths: 300 words (in the answers)

1)  When we get to Heaven (what ever that is for you), I am confident that you and I will be offended by who God has allowed entrance.

Those missing in “Heaven” will be those who chose not to enter.  When face to face with God, who would opt out?  God so loves us as to respect even that choice.  God makes a way for absolutely all of God’s creation to live forever.
We cannot fathom the reach of God’s love.  God created us.  God named us good.  The Bible is vastly about God trying to be in relationship with us.  Jesus’ resurrection is a climax of God’s endless attempts.  Given God’s effort and power, God does not deny our entrance.  God’s grace extends beyond our comfortable boundaries.
2)  When we get to Heaven (what ever that is for you), I am confident that you and I will be shocked at how offensive we are to God.
Through our soul we most fully know God.  Our five senses, amazing brain, creative imagination all limit God.  We personify and objectify God.
We are created in the image of God.   The difference between the “image” and God is vast.  God gave up nearly all of what it is to be God to be able to walk among us as Jesus.  That is merely a glimpse of the difference between us and God.  You’d be offended if a relationship demanded you be nearly nothing of you?
Singing God’s praise for eternity sounds boring, until you see God face to face.  
3)  Being offended / offensive is a human experience that does not plague God.

Being offended assumes the other has power to offend.  Jesus becomes offended when we mistreat each other or God’s house.  Jesus does not become offended when we mistreat Jesus.  
Assuming the power to offend assumes the power to appease.  We cannot appease God of our own effort.  God always chooses to love us. 

Jesus’ resurrection is less about God’s power over death, that was easy for God who created life.  Jesus’ resurrection is more about the commitment to a relationship with us.  Jesus’ resurrection is a sign that “being offended” does not plague God thus we are all chosen.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Wild Goose Found

This morning while walking my dog, a single goose soared over head toward the rising sun.  It honked its call as it flew.  Effortless seemed its flight.

Maybe the goose called to its brothers and sisters.  Seeking to join the “V” formation of migration.  Seeking a mate in this Spring time.  Seeking the familiar and safe community of a flock on the water.

Maybe the goose was God’s spirit, calling out the Good News to God’s children.  God’s Spirit wild and free.  God’s Spirit soaring over the face of the Earth.  God’s Spirit flying in the wake of the Son’s beams.

I know my soul’s first inkling upon the sight and sound of that bird.  Twas a gift from God.  Such is faith.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lent and the Good Creation

Lent and the Good Creation

I pray that your Lenten journey has been renewing.  We are blessed to have this focused time to examine our lives, to set aside that which may be an obstacle to our faith and to take up a discipline / exercise that may grow our faith.  This year’s season of Lent has been a true joy for me.

I have particularly enjoyed the thread of “freedom” that has been so visible in the scripture readings for worship.  Especially the scripture about Nicodemus and the one about the woman at the well.  Both are so full of hope and transformation.  Following the thread of freedom in each text leads us to a place in the tapestry where true freedom is of God and not of humanity or creation.

Christians now and over time have reacted to this notion as if it were a continuum.  One extreme is to say that if true freedom is of God, then the things of this world (especially material possessions) are bad for us.  The other extreme is to affirm true freedom in God makes us free to have no worries about the things of this world.  I suggest that these two extremes are both false, primarily because they are self-centered in that they are focused on us and upon our relationship with the things of this world.

In the beginning, God judged creation to be good.  You and I, our neighbors and all the things of this world are inherently good.  Everything you know or have seen or will discover is great.  I am confident to write this for God has already said as much in the book of Genesis.  In addition, all the things of this world have the potential to point to God, to be in relationship with God, to serve the neighbor in response to God’s love.

Rather than the extremes of hate or love of all the things of this world, if we first love God and base all upon that relationship, then we will find much joy in the things of this world.  We will learn to use the things of this world to point to God, to discover God, to praise God, and to serve our neighbor.  The more primary our relationship to God, the more free we are.

I realize that this writing does not deal with the problem of evil and that problem may have crossed your mind as you read my article.  If there is interest, I will put pen to paper on that topic.  Till such time, let me encourage you that rather than be distracted by the problem of evil, be assured by the judgement of God that all God created is good.  

May your approach to Easter be an experience of freedom.  Freedom from the obstacles to your relationship with God and with neighbor.  Freedom from guilt and despair, from sadness and doubt, from anger and malaise so that you can experience the “good” that God sees in you and all the things of this world.