Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Recommended Reading

In addition to family and food, my Thanksgiving holiday included reading “Killing Jesus” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.  While this might fit more with the Easter season, it is an excellent read.  I deeply appreciate how the authors have given presentation of what the world was like in Jesus’ time, as well as a concise telling of Jesus’ life.  This book stays with the style of their previous books, “Killing Lincoln” and “Killing Kennedy”, by seeking facts and motives.  Both authors are Catholic, and I felt their faith was evident in the treatment of the material.  A warning that this book contains difficult details of life at that time.  With that noted, I highly recommend this book as helpful in our faith journey.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

All Saints Day

Who are the saints in your life story / journey?

The biblical tradition provides us with a multitude of images.  From the Old Testament we are given the concept of a new Israel, a community possessed by the holy spirit and representing in the here and now the community we will know in the after life.  From the New Testament have “the holy ones” such as the apostles and members of the early church.

Interestingly, the Bible does not give us strong trends toward individual saints.  Saints are the community or because of relationship to the community of believers.  The idea of a lone ranger saint does not appear in the Bible.

Another change along the way has been the function of saints in our lives.  There was a time when we prayed for the saint to be cared for by God, especially when their service was dangerous or when they were martyred.  More common today is to ask the saint, especially when they are deceased, to pray for us.

How do you relate to the saints?

Sharing faith,

Dr. Brooks

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Labor Day Reflections

This morning I prayed at the ribbon cutting for a Walmart.  The stage was in front of the store and framed by two ladder trucks from the local fire departments.  The ladder trucks held a large flag, stars and stripes, over the stage.  The VFW presented the colors as an employee of the store sang the national anthem.  A large gathering of government and business leaders participated.  As I watched and participated in this grand opening, I pondered the impending holiday.
Labor Day Weekend is upon us.  An opportunity for barbecues and other outdoor festivities.  Also, an opportunity to remember the economic and social contributions of workers in America.  
At the grand opening, it was noted the hundreds of jobs provided by the store.  Also noted was the benefit to local government and schools through the increased tax revenue.  I am aware of the charitable donations by our local Walmart that positively impact our local community and the service hours provided by the employees.  My reflection, as I watched the ceremony transpire less about the discussion of big box v. mom / pop shop nor was it much about workers rights.  I marveled that a request had been made for the presence of a clergy person in the ceremony.
At first glance, I was encouraged that I live in a community that values clergy as community leaders.  In my dozen years here, I have appreciated that the local business and government communities have included clergy at the table of discussion.  For me it has been an experience of the best practices of separation of church and state.  Rather than exclusion or control, the relationship is more collaborative and cooperative.
What of our individual part in this story?  Is our labor one of love?  Is our workplace a context to live our faith?  Questions for reflection around the grill this weekend, I hope.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Larger Church


Minister’s Musing on Ministry & Misc.

So good to be home!  I want to thank everyone who pitched in during my recent travels.  Special thank you to Jeff Wrigley, our Youth and Children’s Director, who preached his first sermon.  I have heard so many wonderful responses to his sharing of the Good News!

Joseph and I enjoyed the General Assembly of our denomination in Orlando, Florida.  Joseph may not have enjoyed the business sessions that I shared with him as much as he did the evening worship services.  We enjoyed some wonderful singing, preaching and prayer during worship.  My parents joined us for the assembly and succeeded in spoiling Joseph during the event.

I want to commend the larger church to each of you.  Our most frequent and powerful experience of church is typically our congregation.  Church as a gathering of God’s people who love God and serve neighbor is as powerful an experience beyond congregation.  At Area, Regional and General Assemblies, it is profound to gather with Disciples from across the land in thousands to sing the songs of our faith, share at the table of our Lord and to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Through Week of Compassion ministries we serve together with sister congregations to meet the needs of those who suffer locally and globally.   Through the Pentecost special day offering we support the birth of new congregations.  So many are the ways we share ministry beyond the walls and zip codes of our daily lives.  I encourage you to seek ways to engage this experience for it will build your faith in new and exciting ways!

Thank you again for the time and support to attend this year’s General Assembly.  The next General Assembly of our denomination will be in 2015 and in Columbus, Ohio.  Let’ s go together!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

New Class

New Class that I am teaching this fall at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Edwardsville, Illinois

"Theological Imaginings"
taught by Dr. Brooks

Join Dr. Brooks in some safe space to explore some sacred questions.  
We will look a variety of viewpoints and have time for questions and reflections.

Four Thursdays in October
same course twice
10:00am and 7:00pm in the parlor

10/3 - How do we know?
(We will wrestle with issues such as authority of scripture, authentic revelation, value of experience, tradition)

10/10 - Who is God?
(A survey of various perspectives of God from Triune to Gnostic and back again)

10/17 - What is Church?
(What did Jesus intend?  What might be essential and non-essential?)

10/24 - How does salvation work?
(Who gets to be saved and where do they go?)

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Creative Choices

A remark on my preaching noted that reconciliation has been a theme or thread through several recent sermons.  The power of reconciliation is an image that I have seen bubble up from the Bible passages that I have engaged in my sermons of late.  Indeed, reconciliation is a profoundly creative and constructive force at our finger tips.
Deconstruction is the easy move.  Oh a child’s laughter as we stack the blocks for them to knock down.  Over and over again we play this game.  The feeling of power to impact our surroundings is often found in deconstruction.  The neatly mowed lawn that is a field of grass stunted by the slicing blades of our mower.   Our freedom of speech more often seen as the right to criticize those who lead and those who live next to us.  How easy it would be to trod down this well worn path of lamenting our deconstructive delights.
While deconstruction has its place in our lives and relationships, construction is a more rewarding challenge.  Watching the corn sprout in neat rows, now about half a foot tall in places.  Our home gardens beginning to reveal what we hope will be a great harvest in a few months.  Graduations and weddings that call for celebration this time of year.  Vacations that create memories for a lifetime.  
Reconciliation is a powerful force of creation, far more than forgiveness alone.  To reconcile is a choice.  A choice to be in relationship by overcoming brokenness and difference.  Through this choice we demonstrate a love akin to that Jesus shows to the many he invited back into community.  
From the woman at the well, the woman about to be stoned, the prodigal son, Zaccheaus, the disciples ... the list is nearly endless.  Jesus continually initiates contact with the outcast, downtrodden, and common to bring them into more meaningful relationship with himself and the larger community.  Jesus initiates relationship not to network and climb the ladder of success.  Rather Jesus is counting success by lifting up the other into a life of abundant joy.
When we sing that they shall know us by our love, we sing of the choice to be a reconciling people.  If you want a challenge that will provide dividends today and for days to come, chose to reconcile.  In small ways or large, it is a choice to construct a better future.  Who did not show up to Thanksgiving dinner last year that you might chose to include this coming fall?  Single Dad with feisty child could be given the sport in front of you in the check-out line.  To engage in road rage or to ignore the distracted driver who just cut you off?  Kudos to you who chose well to share the love already given you.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fate v Choice

After an invigorating conversation with a dear friend, I want to reflect upon these competing narratives in our lives.

Fate being the vision of life determined.  Choice is our freewill.

Fate is so tempting and tasty.  With fate we have such magic to enjoy.  Romantically our lives sparkle with love predetermined.  Once we discover the “one” for us, we are never asked to change because it was fated that we fall into this relationship.  If the “other” does not live up to our expectations, then they are NOT the one because they do not fit fate.  Fate sets us free of responsibility in romance, career, or well anything.  Of course fate wants the best for us (sarcastically stated).  If it causes us pain, it is ill-fated.  Life is a fairy tale.  If the story does not read correctly, we blame fate or those who have lead us astray.  Maybe, we own that we missed fates call.  Bottom line, fate leaves us powerless to react and weak to enjoy.  Fate is not us created in God’s image.

Choice is truly more free.  While fate frees us from responsibility, choice empowers us to engage.  God has chosen us, as we know best through the life / death / resurrection of Jesus.  Another friend of mine named for me the power of adopted families for they are families of choice.  What if we woke, every day, next to a person that chose us?  No fate, their choice is the demonstration of love that inspires us ... frees us.  Teacher shielding student is choice.  The magic is the choice.  Rather than a static love that never grows, chosen love is like spiritual growth.   Unless a pattern it becomes, our brokenness is merely an opportunity of choice to love us through the healing, transformation, rehabilitation, recovery.  So often in weddings I pray, may they know the blessing of forgiveness undeserved.  Choice is the sparkle given us by the ONE who created us.  

Choice a power so strong to destruct or construct.  

Choice the power so strong we seek to deny it in ourselves and those we love so tempting is fate in our reality.

Relationships are not fated.  Relationships are chosen and maintained.  A mentor once named for me the power of being present.  It is one thing to say we agree or affirm.  It is an even more powerful thing to show up.  

What impact might be if you chose another, daily, for a lifetime?  Could the influence of your choice make better their daily being?  Would not that be worth your investment?

If God created us in God’s image ... If we seek God’s intercession in our lives and the lives of those we love ... if Jesus tells us that all God’s children are our neighbor ... If Jesus tells us to love our neighbor ... what is our choice?

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

C Love

Why do we offer diamonds on rings of engagement?  Love is far more priceless and organic.  Though both share a common experience of expressing great beauty through the stress of high pressure, Love is more than that.  Yes, both may begin as a lump of coal only to become years later the crystalline celebration.  However, diamonds with their 4 “c”s never match the consistency and creative, compassion and challenge of love.

Love is a challenge.  A marathon is a challenge against distance and time, both of which wait for our arrival and never step forward to kick us in the gut.  Sometimes, love is less kind.  Sometimes love kicks us in the gut and then drags us through the marathon, unwilling participants we are.

Love is compassion.  Those who share love share deep compassion for others who share love.  The scarlet letter “L” is the symbol of a club.  Regardless of the truth “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”, those who love share a kindred bond with those similarly afflicted.  When true, dost any other cure so mend brokenness?  

Love is creative.  Let me count the ways I love thee?  Let me count the ways I have loved, been loved, raced from and stumbled toward love.  When glimpsed the loved have I, numerous are the rationalizations I have that it is real.  Face to Face with the other, obstacles melt in my ability to hug even a cactus.

Love is consistency.  Are the mistakes of anything else so easily forgotten or more often ignored?    Classic are the stories of love in its many phases for consistent is the experience.  As unique as we want to be, claim to be, try to be - when sharing the story of our love, smiles contagious greet our telling.

Comprehensive is not this tale.  Love far more complex than to be caught by any caricature.  Aside, unlike a diamond readily enumerated from price to carrot, Love’s elusive nature continues to compel us to communal embrace and curled toes.

Happy Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Anniversary, Wedding Announcement, and the cacophony of celebrations of love . . .

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Identity: Profound Power

Identity: Profound Power Found

The bombings in Boston in 2013 forced upon us scenes both horrific and heroic.  The loss of life and limb were up against the acts of compassion and justice.

In the face of tragedy, it was stark our need to identify the suspects.  Two methods were note worthy.

One was “crowd sourcing” where the authorities asked the “crowd” (you and I) for our data (video, cell phone pics, ATM images, traffic cam takes).  Applying thousands of people hours, the authorities identified suspect images.  These images were given to the “crowd” with the question “do you know them?”  We gave our response and the suspects were initially identified and we all felt a modicum better.

Second was the curiosity of an individual.  When the all clear was sounded in his neighborhood, a sole person crept from his house to explore and discovered a blood stain on his boat.  His curiosity led him to lift the tarp and discover the 2nd suspect.

Crowd sourcing and individual curiosity are amazing methods of discovery!

To the lectionary scripture text of today - John 10:22-30.

Jesus puts forward that those who follow know his identity / voice, and those who do not follow do not know his voice / identity.

To the point . . .

One way of knowing Jesus is crowd sourcing.  There are times and seasons when we are deaf to Jesus’ voice and blind to God’s appearance.  In those moments, we are invited to crowd source our brothers and sisters of faith, asking them if they have heard or have seen the ONE we follow.  To be in God’s flock is to have a host of angelic ones who can point the way, give glimpse to the God we crave.

Another is the curious individual who leaves the pew and sanctuary to quest for the risen savior.  The stories that inspire us most ... youth returning from church camp or mission trip, young adults reflecting upon habitat builds, ancestors sharing the faith that stands them well.  Jesus suggests, “we will believe when we do.”  Those who get up and follow will find.  

I would love to expound upon the character of the one we follow.  Jesus, our risen lord, is beyond our hope and imagining.  For the sake of space, I want to close by encouraging us to be curious individuals who look to the crowd when we are weak.  Let us journey well with our brothers and sisters of faith.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Spark of Community

I like movie trailers.  Maybe it is because I don’t have the time or money to see all the movies I find interesting.  Maybe it is because watching a movie trailer is a quick break while working at my desk at the office or home.

“The Purge” will be coming out on Memorial Day weekend, starring Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder.   The premise is that our nation has been reborn with 1% unemployment and all time low crime rate because one night per year every crime is legal.  One night a year the emergency services of our nation are suspended, including police and hospitals.  All crimes, including murder, are legal for 12 hours.

What a fascinating idea.  Would not we be more kind to our neighbor if we knew that there was an annual big trash pick up day for our bent up anger?  Would not we be more generous to our co-worker, fellow commuter, stranger homeless person we pass on the way to church - if we knew that one night a year all those people could track us down and harm us with no consequences?  I assume these are the questions of the movie rather than it being merely a foil for another horror flick.

Upon reflection, this is simply the opposite ethic of the gospel.  The movie seems to purport an ethic of do unto others so they won’t do unto you.  The golden rule is to treat each others as you wish to be treated.

Rather than leverage the lowest common denominator, the base immorality - the gospel of Jesus Christ reaches to the depth of our created being for that spark of divinity glowing within all God’s children.

Contrast another movie theme ... that of Lord of the Rings and the relationship of Frodo and Gollum.  How often does the faithful Sam question Frodo’s kindness toward the creature Gollum?  Sam knows the obsession in Gollum’s twisted being.  Frodo’s response is innocent, naive, and gospel-like.  Frodo is kind to Gollum because Frodo sees his own brokenness (to a different degree) in the brokenness of Gollum.  If Gollum is un-lovable, un-redeemable, irreconcilable, beyond salvation - then so is Frodo.  

I hope that “The Purge” is at least in part a critique or reflection upon our experience of community.  If it is not, I recommend a different read ... Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ashes and Oil

While preparing my last sermon for this season of Lent, I was struck by a frame to our Lenten journey.  Many of us began our Lenten trek with the imposition of ashes.   The gospel reading for the last Sunday of Lent was the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with oil.

Both acts are intimate, sacrificial and transformative.

Never have I felt worthy of the task of marking others with ash, yet I perform it out of an understanding of its benefit to their journey.  My upbringing did not include this rite and so I lack the shaping as a child that might gird my activity.  As much, it is an act that invades my sense of personal space and decorum.  Finally, there is something uncomfortable about being reminded of our finitude and frailty as the ashes speak to us ... “dust to dust”.  Deep in my soul, I find it right and good to mark and to be mark by these ashes.

There was a level of discomfort in the room as Mary performed her intimate act of anointing Jesus’ feet, with oil, using her hair, before others.  Using expensive perfume, she sacrificed significant resources for this rite.  Her act transformed her relationship with Jesus.  Jesus makes Mary a model for others because of her action.

What of this frame of ash and oil?  

As the frame of any meaningful journey, a desire and intent may be discovered in the elements.

Lent is a season of preparation.  We examine our lives in preparation for Holy Week, most specifically for celebration of the empty tomb and our risen Lord.  How appropriate that we would begin with an element that humbles us.  Rather than a journey begun of confidence and sure footedness, we begin as penitent pilgrims.  

We leave the season of preparation with the element of oil.  Oil that anoints kings who enter triumphant into the capital of our souls.  Oil that anoints the body for burial into a tomb that cannot hold the life of our Lord.  O death where is thy sting?

The elements of ash and oil are symbolic of a desire and intent.  We receive the ashes upon our skin.  Jesus received the oil upon his feet.  

We receive the Good News of Easter.  The humility of ashes is a posture of the soul that prepares us to receive the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness.  We anoint our risen Lord with our adoration and thanksgiving in response to the grace of God discovered.

May your celebration of Holy Week find you moved from receiving that which humbles you to giving adoration to the one who saves you.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Lent: Becoming a Collectable or Just Claimed

Have you ever collected coins, or trading cards, or dolls, etc?   If so you know what makes an item especially worthy of collecting.  It is best if nobody has touched the item since it left the factory.  The fewer the finger prints, dings, scratches the better.  The item is even better if still in the original packaging.  A true collector will keep the item behind glass or on a high shelf.  My piece of the basketball court from Purdue University is secure in a cabinet in my home office where it sits just behind the glass door.

It would be tempting to make our Lenten journey toward Easter into a quest to be a collectable.  We would hope our repentance removes the dings and scratches of our transgressions.  We would image our return to a pristine state of being, maybe the innocence of childhood.  We would wish to be perfect for our Lord to greet upon leaving the tomb.

A more meaningful journey through Lent might embrace those dings and scratches.  While I keep that piece of Boilermaker history in my home office, I have it because of the memories of the ball dribbled on it, the sneakers squeaking against it, the diving defense played on that piece of wood flooring.  Maybe our acquiring the dents of life is part of being claimed by Jesus.

Nancy Rockwell shared the following reflection upon Jesus’ words in Luke 13:31-35: “Part of the way Jesus spreads his wings over us is that we, too, find in our work courage to face ugly dangers,  to let life bite deeply into our flesh and shelter those in our care.  Work is for us what it was for Jesus, a compass in the midst of the devouring days in which we walk, pray, open doors, share bread, speak, weep, call out to one another, write something in the sands of time.”

Preparing ourselves to celebrate Easter is not about becoming perfect to meet our risen Lord.  Preparing ourselves to celebrate Easter IS about receiving the forgiveness that sets us free to meet and to follow Jesus.  Forgiveness is about moving forward as a person freed from past transgressions rather than a return to undo what has transpired.  Undoing what has transpired may be necessary to repair a broken relationship.  Imagine how deep a relationship that holds fast even the wounds of our transgressions and greets us with a smile.

So here is to a journey to Easter that includes the mess of life, the relationships of trust, and the facing of fears that give us grey hairs.  The opportunity of the journey is for those given the breath of life and the spark of soul.    Journey well!

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Transmogrifier and Transfiguration

Transmogrifier and Transfiguration

If you have read much Calvin and Hobbes, the comic, you may recall the great transmogrifier.  It was a device (upside down cardboard box) that could change you into anything you wished, instantly, if you climbed inside.  In addition to the great potential for many hilarious episodes of Calvin and Hobbes, the transmogrifier is the dream of many on a spiritual journey.

How many with a terrible hangover have lead to a promise to “never” drink again, and felt they truly and instantly became a person who would never make the mistake of partaking of too much beverage?  How many in crisis have attempted to make the deal, “If you will save me, I’ll never miss another Sunday of church (or some other dramatic promise) with the belief that they can fulfill that promise?  How many have simply desired enlightenment and chased every fad or trend in a quest for instant results?  

It is not only diet pills that offer immediately change.  We seem to be vulnerable to many a quick fix.

This coming Sunday is known by many on the planet as Transfiguration Sunday.  My church will be reading from Luke 9:28-43.  Jesus and a select few disciples travel up a mountain where Jesus is seen with Moses and Elijah (who are both long ago religious heros and both passed onto to heaven) and Jesus is “transfigured” appearing in sparkling white.  That is the very quick version.  I encourage you to read the text from the Bible.

I find it easy to become obsessed with the “moment” of transfiguration.  It reads as if in a flash that Jesus’ divinity is revealed, that he is changed from whatever he was before into a something even more glorious and spiritual.  In truth, it might have taken a long time on top of the mountain.

What I do know is that my obsession with the immediacy of the moment of transfiguration distracts me from the long climb up the mountain.  Skipping an academic discussion of which mountain it might have been and the true height of that mountain, I want to lift up that all mountain tops require a climb to reach.

My experience of spiritual renewal, personal improvement, church revitalization, relational restoration, systemic reconciliation is that they require a journey of many small steps, trips, dances, and sometimes pure slogging through the muck of brokenness.  

Very true that there are opportunities for leaping and skipping when great distances can be traveled in few moments.  The opposite is of course true.  And if this were a linear process we might be able to find an average and maybe even a quick fix.  However this is not a linear process.

I am reminded of a recent conversation with a new friend colleague where I referenced some work by Dave Ramsey.  Ramsey made the reflection that money is never static but always in motion -- growing or becoming debt.  I believe the same is true of our quest for change, improvement, wholeness.

Fascinating how many of us think the perfect vacation is the beach.  I assume from listening that it is a holy place of rest.  And yet, it is a place of continual change as surf alters turf, tides both hide and reveal.

My reflection is not that life is hard so buck up.  My reflection is that life is full of potential for amazing experiences of God and God’s love with God’s people - again demonstrated in the transfiguration of Jesus.  Would the story be remembered had not friends traveled with him up the mountain to witness the glory?

What is your favorite mountain top experience?  What did it take to get there?  How much was your effort, the effort of others and or pure happenstance?  Life is continual motion.   A stick in the mud suffers the tide and a suffer rides the wave.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Purpose Points: Counting our Blessings

I have always felt that a healthy practice is to count our blessings, from time to time.  I keep a file in my office of notes that I have received which encourage me.  It is a lift on cloudy days to pull that file and review so many gracious notes from over the years.

We have recently counted the blessings from our shared ministry in 2012.  On our website (fccedwardsville.org) you can find a one page snap shot of our past year of ministry.  Without reviewing the numbers you can readily examine, I want to lift up a couple of trends inside the numbers that require a bit of explanation.

Financially speaking, I want to thank the congregation for being so amazingly generous!   The cost of ministry continually rises.  From salaries for a growing staff to the cost of energy, we have experienced an increase in the cost of ministry.  I am ever thankful that we have continually supported our growing ministries with the funds necessary.  I know that your giving is meaningful to the life of the congregation and pray that it is as meaningful in your personal faith journey.

Within our worship numbers are at least two points of celebration, beyond the joy of worshipping with more people on average than the year prior.  I looked at the number of people who attended only once in 2012, who attended more than once but not monthly, and those who attended more than once a month.  

At our Traditional Worship service, we are blessed by the participation of family and friends who celebrate the holidays with us.  These are part of the number who attend more than once but not monthly.  We see those numbers staying fairly steady which is a sign that group continues to chose to travel and to worship with their parents and family we who see the rest of the year.  What a blessing!

At our Contemporary Worship service, we note that the number of those who attended more than once but not monthly declined from 2011 to 2012.  In the same period, those who attended more than once a month increased dramatically.  We celebrate that people have chosen to increase the frequency of their worship with the church.  We claim the opportunity to invite more people to avail themselves of this worship more than once.

The way we educate people is changing.  A decade ago, the majority of our education ministry happened on Sunday morning and with adults.  Inside the numbers, we find that our Sunday morning education ministry is reaching more children and youth than adults.  We also find that the majority of adults engage education ministry outside of Sunday morning, such as small groups.  What a blessing that we have nearly doubled the number of people reached by our educational ministry in a decade!

I believe that if we continue to engage ministry with God and neighbor so as to share the Good News that entices us to worship and praise, we will be unable to count all the blessings discovered in the year to come.  What a joy to be in ministry with you!