Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How Long?

How long O Lord
   will we be content with ourselves
      while children are hungry,
      while teenagers are dying,
      while hatred causes violence,
      while others are oppressed to satisfy our materialism?

How long O Lord
   will we buy luxuries for ourselves
      when our neighbors have no heat,
      when children have no coats,
      when the elderly cannot afford medicine,
      when others die from lack of clean water?

How long O Lord
   we are waiting for you to act,
      while we purchase our groceries,
      while we water our lawns,
      while we work on our golf game,
      while we play with our iPads.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Weakness is not comfortable. We would much rather talk of God's power than the weakness of Jesus described in Philippians 2:5-7:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
 who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
 And being found in human form,
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death--
   even death on a cross.

Richard Rohr, in The Naked Now, says that we idealize willfulness and will power rather than willingness and weakness. Even in this season of Lent, our decisions to give up something can be an exercise in will power rather than a willingness to recognize our vulnerability to idolatry.

We fight vulnerability by being in control. It is why some have such a hard time moving from believer to disciple. Vulnerability can only be willingly accepted by faith. At the point where I willingly allow myself to be vulnerable, I have given up control of the outcome.

Jesus modeled vulnerability by his willingness to die on the cross. He was vulnerable because he loved and trusted God. God willingly allowed this to happen because God loves us. God became vulnerable for our sakes.

Jesus taught vulnerability. In Matthew 10:5-10, Jesus sent the disciples out without any money, extra clothes or shoes or even a walking stick. They were totally vulnerable and dependent--with no protection from attack, no way to buy food and no certainty of a place to spend the night. They had to depend on the generosity of others and the provision of God. We call this irrational, but it is really grace-full living. It is faith like that of a child, open, vulnerable, trusting, loving.

This vulnerability is driven by love. The disciples went out because they loved Jesus. Love at its best makes us vulnerable. Love is about letting go of control of the one we love, which means opening oneself to the possibility that the one loved will leave. It is the way God loves us. We are given the freedom to reject God's love for us, to live willfully instead of sacrificially, rationally instead of faithfully.

It takes more courage to be vulnerable than strong. I pray I will have such courage. Discipleship requires it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Courage to Follow

Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.
                                                                                   1 Corinthians 1:27

I cannot be a disciple of Jesus if I am ashamed of him. I must live in the joy and peace of Christ without hiding it under a basket. I must trust God with my life, even if it seems foolish to others.  It's not just those "in the world" who see Christ as foolishness. There is a strong pull among church folk toward worldly intellectualism that only accepts certain teachings of Jesus and writes the rest off as impractical. 

The United Methodist Church has a Lenten series called "Fearless: The Courage to Question." I don't think it's questioning that we fear. It seems to me that we are more afraid that Jesus might really mean what he says and that he expects us to live as he teaches, not choosing the parts we like, but all of it. That really is foolishness in the eyes of the world, and sadly, to many in the church.

Sacrificial living, nonretaliation, loving those who hurt us or who are merely different than us, not worrying about the future, giving to anyone who asks--all these and more are things that most of us aren't willing to do, so we write them off as foolish, which is writing Jesus off as foolish. We don't believe the powerless will shame the powerful or that the foolish will shame the wise because WE are the wise and the powerful.

Courage to question? That is not the issue. The real question is do I have the courage to abandon myself to Jesus' way of living, giving up the power and wisdom and status of the world for the weakness and foolishness and death of Christ. Now that does take courage--and trust in God.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.
                                                                              Philippians 4:11

I look forward to my first sip of coffee in the morning. I enjoy smelling it and wait with great anticipation for it to finish brewing. This morning, as I savored the aroma, Jim came in and asked if I had made one cup or two. I told him only one, because he was not eating breakfast at home, but if he wanted it, he could have it.

At his suggestion, I simply added more coffee to the grounds already in the basket and made my cup. Bad plan. When I finally got my first sip, the coffee was bitter. 

So as I grumbled about my bitter coffee, I read Paul's words about being content with whatever I have and was jerked back to face my attitude. I was sitting in a comfortable house with moe than adequate food and clothing, cars in the driveway, and lots more stuff than I really need. I should be content, but I was grousing about a cup of hot coffee on a cold morning that didn't taste quite like I expected. 

I suddenly felt very self-centered and spoiled. Halfway around the world, Japan is reeling from an earthquake and tsunami, in Warner Robins a family has lost two children to a car wreck, and in my own community, people are hungry and homeless.

It's day four of Lent, and I realize that I have much farther to go than I can hope to travel in forty days' time. Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Being Different

And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world. . . 
                                                                John 17:14

The season of Lent puts me at odds with the world because the practices of Lent are contrary to what is practiced in the world. Self-denial through fasting, study and prayer do not fit with our self-centered, me-first culture that encourages us to indulge ourselves because we "deserve" it. 

Busyness is viewed as a badge of honor by the culture, but Lent pushes us into the wilderness, where busyness is meaningless. I mean, what are you going to do in a place where there is nothing to do? Our culture looks on such a lack of doing with disgust, for we value people by what they do, not by who they are.

To me, Lent is about drawing near to God, doing less stuff and spending more time at the feet of Jesus, who is in the wilderness with us. Forty days of less busyness means forty days of closer walking with Jesus. Our hurry-up society cannot fathom coming aside for forty days to fast and pray and listen. 

This is day three of the journey, and already the world is attacking me, demanding that I get busy, catch up, get back in the rat race. Lord, help me to resist. I want to come out on the other side of this pilgrimage stronger in my faith and closer to God. May I have the courage to  live differently than the world. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Turning Away

Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example.
                                                                                Philippians 3:17

Paul was utterly consumed with making Christ known. I wish I could have met him personally, but I wonder what I would have thought of him had I met him. His drivenness could have either drawn me in or scared me away. I expect he did scare some away, for in Philippians 3:18-19, he warns the Philippians against those who are "enemies of the cross of Christ." He says of these, "Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth." 

Unfortunately, our churches are filled with such people today, and some churches seem to be founded on such principles, particularly those in which a prosperity gospel is preached. Even if the prosperity message isn't preached, we don't come down very hard on the god of appetite (for food or anything else). Our churches are often models of excess and we who are members are its disciples. We overeat, overspend, overstimulate and overindulge. I know I am guilty.

How would it be if during this season of Lent, I focused on simple eating and simple living? If I ate mindfully and in moderation, if I focused on what was essential and not on excess--in food, in purchases, in activities? If I really looked at all the evidence of my "worship" of the god of appetite and made an effort to turn away from that god? How would that enrich my Lenten pilgrimage?

Recently I read Pilgrimage of a Soul by Phileena Heuertz. She recounts an actual pilgrimage and how as she began, she realized she had overpacked. The excess weight slowed her down and made her tire more quickly, so she had to leave some things behind to be able to go forward.  As I travel on my own pilgrimage through this season of Lent, may I do likewise. I want to pattern myself after Paul and after Jesus.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dust and Ashes

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The phrase is familiar, but as I heard it said over me tonight at the Ash Wednesday service, it hit me how ordinary and vulnerable we are. I don't want to think of myself as dust and ashes, things we don't find particularly appealing or likable. But like the palm branches that are burned to make the ashes for our foreheads, we go from life to death, and then are either buried or cremated, becoming dust or ashes ourselves.

We are fragile and finite, although we expend much effort and money to be strong and immortal. Ash Wednesday calls us to remember that for all our wishing for invincibility and beauty, we are merely a dirty smudge, weak and fallen, totally dependent on the One who became flesh, who became as we are, so we might become as he is. My broken and sinful self needs this Savior, for I am but dust and ashes.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Olive Grove

After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees. Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples. The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove.
                                                                                                      John 18: 1-3

                What had been for Jesus a place of retreat became a place of confrontation and arrest. Into this peaceful olive grove came soldiers with torches, lanterns and weapons. I can imagine how their arrival shattered the quiet.
                Jesus and his disciples were drawn to this place and probably felt a peace wash over them each time they came there. They may have recalled earlier visits, things Jesus said there, or even the way the grove looked in different seasons. With this event, however, the way they saw the grove would be forever changed. They would find their memories of this place dominated by the events of this one evening and I imagine they would have to eventually find new places of retreat, places where new memories could be made.
                That Jesus came to the olive grove knowing what he knew would happen this night, makes me wonder about his motivation to be found here by Judas and his entourage of soldiers. Was it for him a way of drawing into himself one final time the peace this place symbolized? Maybe Jesus knew he needed his final moments of freedom to be in a place he loved.  
                The way this place would change for the disciples is symbolic of the way their ministry would change. The familiar rhythm would no longer be possible. New rhythms would be needed. New places for rest and teaching would need to be found and the disciples would become the teachers, the disciple-makers for others.
                The olive grove had been a place of comfort, growth and ultimately confrontation with the world. Yet it was because of what had happened in the grove before this night that the disciples would be able to overcome this night and move forward.
                In my own life, I may also experience upheaval of what is familiar and comforting. I hope that in those times, I can draw on the former experiences of growth and comfort and thus be able to move forward into new experiences and find new rhythms for my life.