This week has gone nothing like I had planned. I was supposed to be at a retreat where I could catch a quick breath of fresh air and get to know some colleagues. Through a series of unfortunate events, I had to leave the retreat early to get back home. I must say that I was very disappointed and angry for not having the time to simply be still.
Well, while I was licking my wounds and feeling sorry for myself, I got a call from my 14 year old. My first reaction was one of anger. Why was he using his cell phone during school hours? My anger gave way to concern as he asked me to bring the medical supplies needed to treat a bleed.
While driving to the school, a million questions began to pass through my mind. What happened? Did he hit his head? My son has severe hemophilia, this could be life threatening. My sense of self-pity gave way to fear and concern. I found out that he was physically attacked at school and pushed off of a railing that was approximately 5 or 6 feet off the ground. Luckily, there was a video camera that caught the entire event on film.
This was a hate crime. The boys who did this had been teasing my son for many days before this event. They called him names that were demeaning and insulting. My son, who says he is not gay, was called names that I will not even write here. They are too cruel and too obscene. All of the names that these two “gentlemen” called my son reflected a gross prejudice against those people who are labeled as different. In this case, the insults were slurs centered around sexuality.
In light of recent national events and this particular event that affected the life of my own family, I come to one question about my own faith. How do I seriously share radical hospitality when I create lists of those who are in the loop and those who should be excluded? I am called to be a minister to all people. We must pick up the gauntlet of being a welcoming and affirming church so that we can stand up against the bullies of this world.
Christ came to set us all free, not to create a list of those who are in and those who are out. Until we truly open our doors and welcome all of Christ’s children, we cannot successfully win the battle against those who threaten and mistreat others. I ask you to stand with me and be far-reaching in your efforts to bring the light of Christ into a world that needs hope and not judgment.
As I pray about this situation, I also am reminded that those who mistreated my son also need prayers. I hope that these two young men reevaluate their own belief systems and learn from this incident. I pray for the graciousness and mercy of God to pour into the lives of our children. I also lift up gratitude for how the leadership of the school (Yes, I mean the public school) handled this situation.
It is hard to believe that we are coming up to the first Sunday in October. Where has the year gone? As typical of just about every first Sunday of the month, our church celebrates Communion. As part of my sermon series “Read Through the Bible in a Year” I have chosen to step away from the lectionary and focus on major themes throughout the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. This week’s focus is on the preparation for the Passover or Seder Meal as found in Luke 22:7-13.
“Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.’ They asked him, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for it?’ ‘Listen,’ he said to them, ‘when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, “The teacher asks you, ‘Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ ” He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.’ So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal” (Luke 22:7-13 NRSV).
The message that I hear from this passage is one that reminds me to be purposeful in my acts of worship and reverence. Jesus models this sense of intentional preparation by sending Peter and John ahead to prepare the important meal of Passover. There is no half-hazardness about this feast. Instructions are specific and direct.
Our offering to God should include everything that we have to give. Is it really our complete selves when all we offer are left overs? We are asked to bring to the table our completeness. As we come to the table we intentionally leave behind the idea that God could never embrace us or love us in a radical and transforming way. In offering all of ourselves we do include our imperfections. The blood that is offered at the table redeems those parts of us which need to be restored to wholeness.
As we prepare and celebrate the sacrament of Communion in our churches let us remember to be fully present. We are asked to give all of who and what we are to God. We are reminded of the sacrifices of both God and humanity in the sacrament of Communion. We come to the table with an awareness that something empowering and impossible is being made known. Our God is reminding us that the Divine is present among us, through us, and yes, even in spite of us.
For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, says the LORD,
because they have called you an outcast: ‘It is Zion; no one cares for her!’ (NRSV Jer. 30:17)
I recently was doing some volunteer work at my son’s high school. Through a strange turn of events, I was told that I was no longer invited to volunteer my services at the school. I was told through an e-mail and without a meeting (which would have cleared up many of the details that surrounded this comedy of errors). In the process I discovered that someone who I thought was a friend was simply saving himself and did not help defend me. I was very shocked and deeply disappointed that I would not be able to provide opportunities that should be minimal standards of music education in the classroom.
As I came off the event fresh and hurting, I ran across this verse in Jeremiah. I am not at the point of forgiveness. I am not sure how long it will take, but I do know that this verse spoke into my wound. It reminds me that God will be there to refresh me and will comfort me.
My challenge is not to be mired down in anger. I can easily be taken away with the feeling that I was wronged. I mean, don’t I deserve the satisfaction of seeking revenge? While my human weakness screams out yes my heavenly sense reminds me that I need to pray for the situation and rediscover God’s grace alive in the world. That world includes my heart as well as those who hurt me.
I am not ready for that last part. It is my faith which gives me hope that I will move past the anger, into the healing of God, and eventually forgive those who wronged me. I give thanks today that this is a process by which only Divine intervention speaks to me in tenderness gently pushing me to the next level.
“Let the moment go, but don’t forget it for a moment though. Just remembering you’ve had an ‘and’ when your back to ‘or’ makes the ‘or’ mean more than it did before. Now I understand and it’s time to leave the woods” (Lapine and Sondheim, Into the Woods).
This phrase is a favorite of mine for many reasons. First of all, it is from one of my very favorite shows Into the Woods. Second, it is the first show that I saw on Broadway. Third, I was very fortunate to see the production with Vanessa Williams as the Witch along with an extremely talented cast.
I come to the subject of regrets or roads not taken. I am very good at remembering what could have been and forgetting that my choices led me to this moment. I am speaking of the here and now. What about the road that I did choose? Isn’t that road just as special?
I think the things that I truly regret are those choices that I made out of fear and not out of a sense of honor to myself. I regret those times that I chose a path, not because it was the one I wanted, but the one I settled for due to shame or a lack of courage.
My life, in this moment, is about embracing those steps which led me to the path to which I have been called. I can honestly say that I live with no regrets, because I celebrate my choices. Now don’t misunderstand me. I have regrets in the past, but none in the present.
The most wonderful part of life is to embrace the “moments” in life for what they are. They are special. My time, even though it was three years, in seminary was a “moment” in my life. I knew that I had to move forward with a hope that the future would lead to more “moments.” I am grateful that I have chosen this particular journey in which I have a blessed life.
“The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14b NRSV).
One of my favorite images that captures my attention and helps to explain the source of my faith is the imagery of water. We are very fortunate to live within an hour of the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. Yesterday my family and I embarked on an adventure into the forest. My wife made fried chicken and the boys brought along a Frisbee. We were ready for action.
We happened upon an area that looked beautiful. It was approximately 2:00 in the afternoon and the temperature was registering 67 degrees. There was a creek that was flowing in the center of the area. My family and I were enamored with the water. The creek was shallow. It was approximately 6 inches deep with stones providing several passages over the creek.
We decided to take our shoes off, roll our pant legs up, and put our feet in the water. It was cold but extremely refreshing. We laughed and had a great time as we stepped onto the rocks in the stream. We were invigorated and felt a burst of energy as we clowned around and played in the water.
The idea that, from the very core of who we are, a life spring of this water will come out of our inner selves compels us to thirst for more of that precious resource. The water of God, like the cool stream in the Gilas, is invigorating and invites us to seek to act with joy and gratitude. May we remember that the spring of life of which Jesus speaks replenishes the spirit and motivates the soul to respond to our Creator and to our community in ways that are dynamic and exciting.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to go ice skating. I had not skated in over a year, so my main goal was to stay upright and not kill myself. As I stepped on to the ice and began to gather a little speed across the ice, I remembered why I loved this sport. While I had my skates on, my roles in life were virtually non-existent. I had a freedom to soar and fly across a small part of my world.
As I left the building, I first of all thanked God that I was still in one piece. I may have been a little bruised, but that was okay. I also tried to make plans to keep me connected on a regular basis to something which gives me so much joy. I live approximately two hours away from the nearest rink. How in the world can I commit to skating when the rinks are so far away from me?
I began to realize that my priorities may need to shift for a while. I may need to find a place in my schedule that allows for me to drive and experience my respite from the world. This is my contact with myself. Should it not be something that is of prime importance?
I am sad to say that my faith life is many times like my skating. It is either hit or miss. Just as I make plans for skating I must make time to the creator who sustains me. Skating connects me with who I am, but my true sources of connection are the rituals which keep me linked to the Divine. Skating brings me joy, but God brings me hope.
Perhaps the drive time might allow me to connect with God as I prepare for the skating ritual which keeps me healthy. I stand amazed at how those things which bring us joy and God are completely interconnected. It seems be that living in those things which bring us true joy also yields to an awareness of the presence of God in our lives.
I hope this week that you “skate.” Find that passion that brings you joy and embrace it and honor it. I am sure that through your experience you will discover the underlying presence of God.
This past week proved to be a little rough for me. I am still trying to figure out some sense of schedule in my life. I have different “projects” staring me in the face and I seem not to be able to dive in to anything. I keep asking for the strength to get it all done.
I prayed to God for help in feeling so overwhelmed. I asked for the way to fight the desire to run away from my responsibilities. In my quiet time I was given the simple answer to my question. Stop trying to tackle everything at once and simply focus on one portion of one project a little at a time.
In ministry it is very easy to be overwhelmed. The only deadline that we face on a weekly basis is on Sunday morning. We prepare for worship services and tend to focus on Sunday as if that is the only thing that we are to focus on.
I was reminded last week that I have people out there who need a pastor during the rest of the week. I also was reminded that, to meet the needs of others, I have to fill myself with spiritual food. How can I give when there is nothing in my own storehouse? It is impossible.
The last day I went up to Denver for seminary one of the professors took me for coffee. I quickly learned that she wanted to emphasize the importance of a commitment to daily spiritual renewal. That can be done in solitude as well as within a group, but I needed to remember that my own need for spiritual reflection was crucial to my own health spiritually and psychologically.
My own spiritual time is the time that I tune in to that power that comes from having a relationship with my God. My renewal will serve to help further my ministry and breathe life into those around me and in my community. Without my own spiritual discipline I lose my connection to the Divine. I must approach this time with purpose and a sense of allowing myself to be lost in the presence of the one who sustains me. My goal is to honor this time every day of the week.
I am craving for the school year to begin. My family will be in a routine. This summer the word “routine” is a standing joke. Our summer seem to be inundated by hospital stays. The word rest was not in our vocabulary.
My summer was a lesson in how to claim those sacred times that I so desperately need to be a good husband, father, friend, and pastor. I found my holiest of times not in long stretches but in brief interludes. I had to remember that sacred time does not necessarily mean lengthy retreats or hours of time. I could not sacrifice large chunks of time because I needed to fulfill the roles I play in my life.
One sacred moment that I enjoyed this summer was meeting up with a very talented and wonderful friend. She reminded me of days when life was a little more carefree and my passion for the arts was real and vital. She reminded me that I made choices in my life. Without the choices I made, my family would probably not exist. I left her presence by giving thanks for her friendship as well as making my choices.
So often, I feel like I became a victim to life. I feel that my life spun in a direction that I really didn’t want it to go. Now let me clarify something right now. I am grateful for my wife and my children. They are by far the greatest blessings in my life. I am talking about those choices that I made regarding my career.
I am sure many of you can identify with what I am talking about. I am referring to the time in your life when the world was your oyster. I am talking about the time where that inner voice motivated you and compelled you into this fearless search to be true to yourself. Little by little the demands of the world set in and fearlessness gave way to practicality.
Seminary was a tremendous blessing in my life because it woke me up from the feeling of entrapment. I began to look back at my choices and realized that they were options that I had chosen to help further my life in one direction or another. I am grateful that teaching provided my family with security. Although I am very glad that I have sense moved past that experience and entered what I perceive as my true calling, I realize that I had more power than I realized.
“Put me like a seal over your heart, Like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; Its flashes are flashes of fire, The very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, Nor will rivers overflow it; If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, It would be utterly despised” (Song 8:6-7 NAST).
I have to admit that this is one of my favorite Biblical passages. The image of a seal over the heart is one of tenderness and complete adoration. The writer, which is described in my translation as the “Wife to her Husband,” captures the desire that there is a commitment to pure and holy love that is binding and is desired. The idea that it is the woman who is the example of what humanity desires in a relationship with God empowers more voices than the traditional masculine description of a relationship with God.
This image of the bride longing for the devotion of her husband is a wonderful depiction of our longing for God. The way that God compels us to commit our lives to the care of the Divine moves us to complete oneness with our creator. We long to be set on the breast of God. We hope to be protected.
We are further given the example of the vastness of love. In reading this text with modern day eyes, I cannot help but notice the description of love as being parallel to Paul’s writing in 1st Corinthians. “Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant” (1 Cor 13:4 NAST). Perhaps Paul’s description of the nature of love is an exegetical study of Song 8:6-7. (That may be a good research project for future endeavors.)
Well, all of this is wonderful, but what does this text have to do with me in the current day? It is simple. Through the noise of what voices all around us say is the right thing to be or do; there is something within us that desires to be shielded by our Creator. I need that protection from a world that constantly tries to define me in ways that are insulting or belittling.
God is my protector. I crave a relationship with God as much as I desire water. May we all yearn for a relationship with the one who radically seeks us out to be in full relationship. Let us drink from the fountain of living water and be sheltered and renewed. Let us all be changed.
I am in Houston and visiting my family and friends. My mom and sister live in my house in Houston and my boys and I are staying in my old home. I must admit that I miss my house however; I do not miss the weather in Houston. The humidity is horrible. I also realized that there are two things in my life that I need to sustain me. One is mountains and the other is stars. You can’t find those two things in Houston.
Being here I am surrounded by memories of the beginning of my journey away from a life that I considered fruitless and unproductive. When I left Houston I felt like I was running away from failure and a life of settling for second best. It was only when I started seminary that I realized that I was actually running towards the calling which God placed on my life. The concept of running soon gave way to a notion of purpose.
When I first moved to New Mexico there was a little room that I stayed in at my church. I felt completely safe from everything and everyone in that room. I was afraid of being found. I quickly discovered that my life was based on fear. I had mixed feelings of being afraid of the past and excited about the possibilities which were before me.
It was in that little room that I discovered the promise of Psalm 139. God was present with me in that little room. My running would be used for the glory of the one who I know as the unknown God. It was in that little room that I discovered the source of my strength which would encourage me and sustain me through one of the most frightening times in my life.
Today I am thankful for that little room. I am thankful that God radically searches me out for a relationship. No matter where I choose to hide, I can never out run God. It is great to remember this wonderful promise. This “vacation” is more about gratitude and less about rest.