Prayers for Pakistan

December 16th, 2014

We awoke this morning to devastating news of Taliban militants attacking school children at the Army Public School and Degree College in the violence-plagued city of Peshawar.  Casualty figures this morning are around 125 dead, mostly children age 12-16.

These events are beyond enraging.  Beyond comprehending.  And they are the world in which we live.  A world at times incredibly blessed and at times  breathtakenly broken as we witness senseless acts of horrific violence inflicted on the defenseless.

So we pray. And we cry.  And maybe something in us stirs to do.

This story is not outside the Christmas narrative.  2,000 years ago, feeling threatened by the birth of the new king in the form of infant Jesus, King Herod, to eliminate potential threats to his despotic reign, ordered the slaughter of  Jewish infants under his jurisdiction.  Titled “The Slaughter of Innocents” it is a little known tragedy tucked away in the Christmas story.  And God’s heart broke as well, “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.”

Events like the the unfolding tragedy in Pakistan are one of the painful reminders that the work we do, the world we advocate for, is not a small thing or a little thing or a conveniently happy little church thing.  It is no less than revolutionary in a still and quiet and non-violent way.  Joined by countless millions from many denominations.  An authentic alternative.  Beginning in our own broken hearts and reaching out into a broken world.

So we pray for Pakistan and we pray for the world.

Sydney, Souderton, and Damaging the Sky

December 15th, 2014

Such sad news today.  A terrorist attack claims 3 lives in Australia.  A still unresolved killing spree in Montgomery Country claims 5 lives.

So little to write that in any way changes the devastating impact of violence on our culture, an impact rippling out far beyond numbers.   In a recent interview, a Yemeni peace activist spoke of the impact of drone strikes on their culture.  His words chilling … drone strikes “damage our relationship with the sky.” Violence does much the same.  Damages relationship.  One to another.  Culture to culture. Damaging our relationship with the Sky.

The temptation – either a massive over-reaction to quell all threats or a shy desire to run away, someplace different, somewhere different. The call though – to stand with the victims. To mourn.  To speak of the better angels of our nature.   To live, somehow, differently.

Peace – never or as noteworthy as violence.  And peace is our soul, our heart, our hoped for destiny.

 

Road Construction Ahead

December 9th, 2014

Churches evolve like roads.  A plan.  A small road.  Joined by intersections, on ramps and off ramps.  A road that hopefully grows.  And serves more. And helps more.

We live though in times when the whole field of Christianity feels painfully like a collapse narrative.  Congregations smaller, older.  Youth more averse. Culture more at odds.

And that might be true, or not.

As new roads are quite quietly built the old roads, the well traveled paths, do not serve in the same way.  Not that those older roads are “bad” or highways to nowhere.  They serve.  And we need new roads to go in new directions in a new time.

That does not mean roads are out of style.  It just means there are new roads.  There are new roads, intersections, off ramps, and on ramps.  And that seems to be God’s plan.

Two Roads by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

It is all what we do

December 5th, 2014

It is all what do.  Not what we do out of worry, or fear, or angst.  Not what we do out of compulsion, or impulse.  But what we do out of conviction, out of a loving intention.  Even truth, even doctrine bows to that blessing.

“Life constitutes the Church, not doctrine; except in the measure that it becomes applicable to life.” (Secrets of Heaven 8152)

And yet we make church what it isn’t.  So often.  So easily.  And what church could be is a beautiful thing … a wonderful cultivation, celebration and application of that loving intent we know to be true, that gift of God that is God with us.  Immanuel.

Christianity: A Humble Not Knowing

December 4th, 2014

Yesterday broke my heart.  Our oldest son called with news.  A paramedic, he had just returned from a call.  An Amish buggy hit head on by car.  A family shattered. We cried together on the phone.

Those are moments of unknowing.  Those are the  moments where the ringing, small theological debates so much of religion unfortunately concerns itself with became transparently the hollow “clanging gong”  Paul wrote of thousands of years ago and we shift to the real.  Where all that remains is a crucified God, God in pain, God suffering with us.   A presence even though we don’t see the plan.   A humble not knowing.

The good story of Christ … gospel, good news … did not happen in a good story.  It happened in a hard story.

Planning for Christmas. Preparing for Christmas: Advent Week One – Hope

November 30th, 2014

Advent, a beautiful, timeless ritual.  4 Sundays.  Each building on the other.  Helping us prepare for Christmas. Not plan … but prepare.

The first week. the first candle.  ”Hope.”

A hope not born of things but born of spirit.  ”Hope that inspires good to reveal itself.” Hope that is the “tender shoot” prophesied of 1,000′s of years ago.  Hope in an event and hope in a becoming.

Time for us to quiet our minds. To light a candle.  To consider.  Where is hope stirring in our lives?  Where is God’s “tender shoot” that opens with our hearts, not with ”fervent hands”?

Welcome hope!

 

Ferguson and Third Ways

November 26th, 2014

Following the exoneration of Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson last night, over 20 businesses were burned as the area yet again experienced a spasm of violence.

In times like this, so so many questions rise to the fore.  Questions of race (Michael Brown was black, the officer white), economic inequality, law enforcement, the judicial system… the list goes on.  Critically important questions.

And I have no idea.  No idea how to wrestle with these questions.  No idea on how to converse in ways that bring more healing and justice and peace.   What I know is that there are third ways.  God always opens third ways.  Not through miracles and incantation but through work, patient and loving work that comes when we reach the end of our resources.   A space where we no longer talk past each other but talk to each other, humble enough to know all we don’t know.

The Real Work by Wendell Barry 

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

The Genius of “The Next Right Thing”

November 25th, 2014

Fear can become pervasive.  Fear remains largely immune from facts, data, knowledge.  What fear carries no immunity from is loving, open relationship.

There lies the genius of the beautiful words from the 12 Step Tradition … one must simply do “The Next Right Thing.”  In times of fear, paralyzed, unsure … do the next right thing.  Very simple.  Very powerful.

Life then becomes, despite complex circumstances and context, blessedly simple, drawing us away from fear and into relationship.

“You have reached wisdom when you no longer have any concern about understanding what is true and good, but are motivated by and living what is true and good; for this is wisdom.” Arcana Coelestia 10225 Emanuel Swedenborg

“Unto Thine Own Self Be True” … or maybe not.

November 21st, 2014

Polonius, in the Shakespearean play “Hamlet”, utters the words we know so well, “Unto Thine Own Self Be True.” Schools have used  these words as a motto for shaping young minds. Countless individuals employ these words as a mantra to craft their lives.

But is it true?  Does life’s primary task come down to “Unto thine own self be true”?

Shakespeare thought not. Polonius is generally regarded as wrong in every judgment he makes over the course of the play.  The line uttered by a fool not by a seer.

There is more to “us” than “ourselves” – might that be what Shakespeare is driving at?  Left to that “self”, if it is our false self, we maroon our lives quickly in a dark space guided only by our own frenetic compulsions and accompanying judgments… a false, dingy and shallow freedom.

There remains space for a different prayer to God, as one author noted, “May I see what I do. May I do it differently. May I make this a way of life.”

Where does prayer come from?

November 20th, 2014

Where does prayer comes from?

For many, prayer is at times a rather dry exercise of hollow incantations.  Words lacking meaning.  Lacking soul.  And then there are other moments of prayer.  Where prayer is who we are … entire bodies and lives a prayer … “My legs were praying” as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel put it as he marched with Martin Luther King in Selma Alabama.

Where does that kind of prayer arise?  From movement.  From soul.  From God.  From within.

“Prayer comes from truth inside you, and you are continually at prayer when you live according to that truth.” Apocalypse Explained 493 Emanuel Swedenborg

Such prayer then is not a prayer for a thing per se.  (And a thing prayer often is often not more than a pleading with an imagined god of conditional love.)  It is prayer as a motion towards the Divine that grows from where we are, who we are.