Monday, December 19, 2011

A Christmas Reflection at the Edge
At the Edge we see Thee most clearly.  Weddings, birth of a child, graduations are among the many edge experiences where our vision of God gains a modicum of clarity.  I know in my soul that God is in me and through me, around me and beyond me.  Yet it is at the edges of my life where I see Thee most clearly.
A recent watching of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens reminded me of the edge experiences.  Scrooge is visited by a ghost, Marley.  He travels with the three spirits of Christmas; past, present and future.  Scrooge is made aware that Tiny Tim’s life is so fragile as to be in question.  Scrooge is confronted on his relationship with the poor who live on the fringe of life as he knows it.  
This fascinating tale is strewn with edge experiences.  Scrooge is made a spectator by the three spirits.  However, his journey to the edges is actually an invitation to transformation.  At the edges, more than Scrooge’s vision is changed.  
You and I are invited this Christmas season to travel to the edge of life, to the place where Jesus is born.   It is not an invitation to be a spectator.  Spectators stay in the back of the church and watch the journey of others.  You and I are invited up front to worship Jesus and to be changed, saved, healed.   The invitation is not to scare you.  Rather it is an edge experience found in a cradle of new life.
Imagine your Christmas morning following a journey of such magnitude.  No gift beneath the tree will compare.  All gifts will have more meaning.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Surprising Blessings

Today, a friend of mine delivered some Christmas cheer.  Actually it was a birthday present, for a 9 year old, who lived in a trailer, and whose parents had no money for cake and presents.  He wanted to deliver a cake but ended up getting a present - somebody else took care of the cake.  
My friend was not that cheery about making the delivery.  So hard to determine if the one asking for help was actually in need of help or working the system.  He didn’t know this family.  The amount needed was so slight that it seemed not worth the paper work and phone calls to round up the sum of money.  But he kept thinking of the little girl and her birthday and well you know.  He just went and bought the gift and delivered it.  Maybe it was the guilt that both made up his mind and hardened his heart as he drove to the trailer park.
Handing off the gift to the mom did not clarify the situation.  Could go either way - need or scam.  As he climbed into his vehicle, the birthday girl rode up on her bike from school.  Watching how eagerly she was bounding up the trailer stairs, the same stairs he trudged up a minute earlier, he knew he had done the right thing.  And what a treat to arrive early enough she need never know who brought the gift and on time to see the recipient.  Yep - he did a sports celeb point to the sky.  Touchdown!
And again, a giver was blessed beyond measure ... and this time quite by surprise!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Living Traction

Living Traction
“Rubber hits the road”  “Let’s get some traction”  “Measurable impact” 
These may profoundly articulate why our lives are so precious.
As a man of faith, I firmly believe that our eternal life in heaven will / is so much better than our time here on Earth.  All brokenness is healed in Heaven.  All disability is made able in Heaven.  A day in Heaven is better than a lifetime on Earth.
So why do we cling so to this existence?
1.  God values life and so it would be brokenness to end life pre-maturely.  Yep, this is a valid answer.  However, it is an answer that may not fully explain why “we” cling to life so vehemently.
2.  The 5 senses inspire the soul.  The breath and sight, sweat and touch all invigorate our souls.  In the best of times our extreme sacrifice of service for the other is so akin to that of Jesus Christ that our souls experience the eternal perfection of God - even if in a glimpse.  Our good works gain traction against the suffering and sadness of this life outside of Eden and we discover bits of what God intended when breathing life into us.  That moment of creation when we “became” is such a profound experience of God that when the rubber hits the road we are profoundly reminded of the moment.
3. The Golden Rule is even more true than karma.  The rule of karma would suggest that your actions return to you.  Or as popularly understood, if you treat other poorly than you will be treated poorly.  My experience does not bear this out, at least not in a way so consistent as would be necessary for me to bet my life on it.  Beyond popular understanding, the Golden Rule speaks that we should treat others as we wish to be treated ... because we have already been treated beyond our deserving.  God has so loved and embraced us beyond our deserving that our natural response is to thankfully treat others well.  Ingratitude is the sin we regret.  We cling to this life for more opportunity to live out the Golden Rule and thankfully treat others well.  Our soul understands this better than our 5 senses and our soul drives us where our 5 senses dare not conceive.
Cheer this life for it is a true blessing from God.

Monday, November 21, 2011


by Dr. James R. Brooks
Our pantry is scant.  Not bare, but shelving shows through.  In part by design for we are preparing to move.  We hope we are preparing to move but that is another story.
Tonight we shopped for groceries.  The banks were closed and I carried the temporary checks my bank provided.  Preparing to move has left me uncertain of future addresses.  Purchasing hundreds of checks to be shredded seemed an unwise decision.  Temporary checks seemed so much more wise.
After 90 minutes, two grocery stores, two trips through the aisles filling a cart with food, two trips through the check out line, two rejections of my check, two explanation to my son I decided to wait till the bank opened and shop with cash.  The last experience was the worst.  As we walked away from our cart full of food with my rejected check in my hand, my son asks “no food?”  And I say, “no food.”
Honestly there is money in the account.  The grocery stores do not take a temporary checks.  It is a simple matter of access.  For me it is a simple matter of access.  Yet my son’s words haunt me.
A parent’s nightmares are many.  Hungry children is one.  My son’s words stood the hair on my neck at attention.  My explanation of how checks work and how banks work and blah blah blah quieted his mouth.  My explanation did not remove from my ear his simple words, “no food?”
When I began this reflection, I anticipated a sappy ending of compassion for the truly poor.  Sort of a mock humility as I claimed my status in the world and inspired myself to strive harder to meet the needs of my neighbor.
In truth, what would I deny my neighbor to remove my son’s words from my ears?  What  inequality would I create to insure that my son is never hungry?  Many a parent, like me, would dare not speak the next few questions that dwell within us along this line of thought.  The action we would take is unspeakable.
And God so loved the world that God sent God’s only Son.  And we crucified that Son.  The reasons were many.  Our guilt universal.  And on Easter, the tomb empty (as we fear for our children’s stomachs) and then the appearances such as Emmaus over a meal when bread is broken (symbolism that convicts).  We are saved.  My child saved by God’s child.  Even I who would do the unspeakable to save my child.  Even I am saved. 
Why do saints lie prostrate before God?  Unlike I, they understand their place and the magnitude of God’s grace.  My thanksgiving, I pray, be full of that understanding.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Beatitudes: A Way of Living

by Dr. James R. Brooks, Lead Minister at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Edwardsville, IL

Want to get the most from the impending holiday season?  How about getting even more from the relationships that mean the most for you?  What of experiencing more of each day?
Why do martyrs do that they do?  You know - gladly professing their love of Jesus in the face of torture and death.  What are they seeing that inspires them so?  I want that for me and mine!
Jesus had a funny saying - those who save their lives actual lose their lives.  Similar is true of the Beatitudes.
The Beatitudes are A Way (Matthew 5:1-12) was part of my sermon this past Sunday.  After the sermon I kicked myself (almost literally) for not sharing more practical thoughts.  Here are the practical thoughts I wish were in that sermon.
Practical Methods of living the Beatitudes:
1.  Experience loss (Matthew 5:4) - intentionally deny yourself something over time ... soda, tv, dessert, texting, social media, soap operas, elevators, etc ... invest that time in listening for God’s voice and reflecting upon your experience of loss - when something was removed from your daily experience what did you seek to fill that time / space / void? 
2.  Create Change (Matthew 5:6)  - alter your routine, re-arrange your desk, walk to work, fold the laundry differently, set the table uniquely ... reflect upon your experience of this controlled change, then upon change that is uncontrolled, then upon the space / energy it creates in your life for God and your neighbor ... new found empathy for those who cannot control the circumstances of change?  
3.  Offer Peace (Matthew 5:9) - Read Luke 10 while looking for the offering and receiving of “peace”, Ruminate on the impact of your language for or against peace with those you love or tolerate, Do you feel closer or further form God when you intend peace each day? 
4.  Thankful Tithe (Matthew 5:11-12) - After experiencing loss, change and peace ... do you feel thankful?  Does feeling thankful inspire your giving to God and others?  Giving of time, talent and treasure?  
These are but a few practical and early ways to living the Beatitudes.  The Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 3rd century CE took this lifestyle to awe inspiring heights of experiencing God and neighbor.  
Your days can be magical ... don’t settle for the ruts and rituals that grind life into dust.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thankful for Affirmed Diversity

Today on NPR, I heard Brad Pitt interviewed.  He stated that he will not get married until all Americans can be married.  He called upon the Declaration of Independence’s claim of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.  
So thankful am I that I serve in a work environment where the personnel manual is explicit that we will not discriminate based upon sexual orientation.  I recall the meeting when that phrase was added to the final draft.  I remember the joy in my soul that it was not I who turned the conversation to that topic, though I was prepared to do so.  Thankful am I that the phrase was accepted and affirmed.
So thankful am I that I serve in a context that has affirmed diversity among our leadership.  Note that the implication about membership.  That among our leaders is represented a diversity of orientation.
So thankful am I that I serve a faith community that has sponsored multiple candidates for ordination - what a blessing!  And that those candidates represent a diversity of orientation.  And that those candidates could serve openly within my faith community and have their ministry affirmed, celebrated and when they left their ministry was missed.  
So thankful am I that I serve in a faith tradition that celebrates an open table.  What a blessing to gather around a communion table with others who affirm the lordship of Jesus Christ to the extent of claiming Jesus lord of the table and not us.  Remembering that Jesus ministered to all, reached out to all, and made room at the table for all ... including a diversity of orientation at our table today.
So thankful am I to serve in a state that affirms the union of people of diverse orientations.  What a blessing that I am able to officiate the union ceremonies of those who have lived in committed, loving, blessed relationships for years.  How humbling to witness the depth of their profound devotion to and adoration of each other.  
I do not intend to brag of serving the perfect church.  Neither do I forget the grind of these times.  
The Spirit of God provides glimpses of something more beautiful that is intended for each and all of us.  So thankful am I that we can experience and share that “something more beautiful” here on earth with other children of God - in all the diversity that God created.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Free Will demands context of chaos - yeah that is danger filled - so use your choices to be glorious!

Friday, July 01, 2011

To be awesome or not to be awesome

To be awesome or not to be awesome

A friend of mine tried to say that she was not awesome. She is a humble person and it probably embarrassed her that I would use such a descriptor for her. Her self-deprecating response gave me pause to wonder.

Does God create crap?

God creates AWEsomely. God is awe inspiring. God’s creation as it reveals God to us is awe compelling. You and I as part of God’s creation are involved in the inculcation of AWE. Upon being present with a newborn baby, so often is the response, “awwwwwwe.”

We all have the awesomeness breathed into us. It seems to be how we exhale as to our articulation and demonstration of AWE. So yeah - you, my friend, are awesome. Oh and you act like it too.

I know she gets this. As I said, she is humble. Do you? Do I?

And what is it like to be that AWEsome? Does your hair stand on end? Do you sleep more soundly? Do you shine? Is it addictive? Does anyone notice? Is it better than your favorite food? let me know - I’d love to hear!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

10 Year Anniversary

10 years

June 2011 marks the 10 year anniversary of my ministry at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Edwardsville, Illinois. I know this because my son was born three days after my first sermon. He turns 10 on Monday.

It has been a joy that I am able to raise my son in the same church such a length of time. It is not as common as many would hope for the children of ministers. I can see the benefits as tonight he and I walked on the newly paved church parking lot, paid for in part with money that my son is donating to the capital campaign. His pledge was not the largest received by the church. However his fulfillment of that pledge is shaping his life.

Since entering ministry, I have wanted to serve in a long-term situation of service. It has been a belief of mine that long-term ministry is most healthy for congregations and ministers. My experience with the wonderful people who participate with our congregation has confirmed my wish and hope.

We have accomplished amazing things with the help of God. Some achievements were goals we explicitly worked toward. Others were serendipitous experiences of God’s grace and blessing. Many could not have been celebrated without a long term relationship of God, minister and congregation.

I might say the key to success has been the trust and confidence, knowledge and love that has been uniquely shared over 10 years. While that is in part true, there is something more. Understand that not all 120 months have been a bed of roses. Along the way the congregation and I have at times leaned more heavily upon the other or possibly disappointed the other. That is the reality of human relationships. Sometimes we simply enjoyed seasons of rest. Even God has taken a turn or two at stirring us from the compliancy of familiarity. The “more than” which I will and do forever cherish is that our relationship has continued to grow, continued to remain in dialogue, continued to share ministry. We continually find moments of celebration that God has blessed us with vibrant ministry and vital relationships of faith.

I know of congregations and clergy who do not enjoy this quality or quantity of relationship. The negative impact upon ministry is disheartening. I wish for them what I enjoy here, a context of ministry that continues to provide challenges and room for growth - for myself and all who participate in our community of faith. The results are a deepening love for God, neighbor and self.

I thought I would celebrate this anniversary with a listing of accomplishments but that seems rather prideful or at least out of place. I wondered about listing the folks who have meant so much along the journey such as members and participants, student ministers and colleagues, mentors and my family. Alas I fear I would forget a name and they all deserve my gratitude and love.

I prefer to look ahead. To a future of continuing to be unsatisfied with our service to God’s people, to a tomorrow of continuing relationships of share ministry, and to an openness to the movement of God’s Spirit and to those we have yet to share ministry.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Once Upon a Lenten Journey

Once Upon a Lenten Journey

by Dr. James R. Brooks

Once upon a time, we traveled a path that was long and full of obstacles. The farther we walked, the pebbles of the path turned to stones, then rocks, then boulders. It was a dry path requiring only our upward climb. At one point, the boulders held us high that we might see the glory of the sun shining bright upon the fertile valley beyond.

Once upon a time, we traveled a path that was endless. The farther we walked the pebbles of the path melted into the mire. Sank did our feet as we struggled to advance. Hemmed in by sagging vines and dense canopy, we pulled and pushed our way. Our journey fell into darkness until by surprise we reached through a tackle of limbs to find ourselves upon firm ground with the brilliance of the sun warming our souls.

Once upon a time, we traveled a path that was quite like a maze. The farther we walked the pebbles of the path melded into a uniform surface that teased our attempts to discern our way. Addressed by forks and turns, roundabouts and dead-ends, the journey asked more questions than presented answers. Dizzy and distraught by our own doubt, we rounded a corner right into the face of a breeze so fresh and full of sunshine.

Once upon a time, we traveled a path that was straight. The farther we walked the pebbles of the path soothed the soles of our feet. At the same time we took in the totality of our surroundings and the immensity of our interior. The walk went by too, too quickly and in the distance we could see our destination patiently waiting our arrival. And all the while, we knew our arrival would be even more wondrous than the journey we wished would not end.

Only four of the endless ways we journey threaded together by the simple beginnings and glorious endings. The season of Lent for Christians begins with the simple beginning of Ash Wednesday and for some the rite of wearing ashes. From the humility of dust to dust we journey toward the resurrection of our lord Jesus.

To speak plainly, our journey is as individual as we are. The journey is also as similar as we are, enough to be recognizable. My encouragement is that we not stress about comparisons of journeys. Replace comparison with inspiration. Be inspired by the journeys of others and allow your journey to inspire others. Above all, journey with your best effort by giving lead to the Spirit. Know that Easter will be and for you eternally.

(image from

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Book Recommendation

“10 Things They Never Told Me About Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to a Larger Christ”
by John L. Bell (GIA Publications Inc, 2009)

There is that feeling of stretching a muscles prior to heavy use and then right after. The feeling of stretching long in the bed, reaching for both ends with fingers and toes, as the sun streams in the windows and you anticipate a fantastic day. These are akin to the soul-full feelings while reading this wonderfully concise book by John Bell.

I have known him more for his musical reputation. Being in a seminar lead by him is a treat. His knowledge of and passion for singing the faith is inspiring.

This text is equally inspiring. It is impressive how John presses the edges of our notions about Jesus and challenges our stereotypes of Jesus. He is able to do so without undue offense or easily ignored rhetoric.

A real strength of this book is the continual connection to the Bible. John weaves the breadth and depth of our scriptures in such a way as to make easy the seeing of a larger tapestry. Though John does not suggest a radical theoretical system of belief, he provides visions of a faith with far great complexity. The sum of which is a more warm experience of grace and the freedom to share the Good News more broadly. I highly recommend this book.