Thursday, December 17, 2020

Joy as Resistance

This past Sunday as I lit the pink candle on my Advent wreath, it sputtered and sparked as if it were fighting itself to remain lit. The pink candle represents joy. The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means Rejoice in Latin. 

My candle’s fight to burn was a reminder to me that sometimes we fight joy. We don’t fight happiness (though some folks seem to have the disposition of Eeyore, always looking for the downside of every event or opportunity). Many of us spend our lives pursuing happiness, but often, that very pursuit keeps us from joy. In fact, the ways we pursue happiness may be seen as a fight against joy because it keeps us always on the surface, rooted shallow. It’s kind of like trying to satisfy hunger with junk food. It may work temporarily, but the deep need for food remains unmet. 

Joy is not dependent on our happiness. The seed of joy often finds its most hospitable soil for germination in suffering and struggle. When we have found ourselves in deep darkness, when we have fallen into the abyss of despair and still found God’s presence there, we know what joy is. Joy is the sense of rootedness in the heart of Christ that allows us to endure even in the midst of great difficulty. 

If there ever was a year we need joy, it is this one. From the pandemic to racial strife to a divisive election season, there have been many reasons to despair. So many people around the world have died or continue to struggle because of Covid-19. Here in the United States we realized afresh that we have not made as much progress toward liberty and justice for all as we might like to think we have. And we also realized that despite being the United States of America, we are not as united as our name would suggest. 

We live in a time where the fires of fear and hate are being stoked daily, and yet, we have lit a candle that says “Rejoice.” Joy is not denial of our circumstances, but the awareness that in the very muck and mire and ugliness that competes for our attention, a shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1). God is not absent when the darkness is its darkest. A single pink candle keeps the darkness at bay. It is a testament of resistance. 

My prayer for you is that in a moment of stillness and quiet, you sense the joy of God’s ever-abiding presence. May you feel yourself rooted and grounded in the strong love of God, and celebrate, with wonder, that God was hopeful enough about humanity to enter the world as one of us.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

God as Disrupter

As we approach Christmas in the midst of a pandemic, I have found it helpful to reflect on the events leading up to the first Christmas, which was chock-full of disruptive events. In this video post, I consider Mary and Joseph, and just how much their lives were disrupted by God's choosing of them to be the parents of Jesus.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Waking Up to Right Use of Resources


Doom to the one making evil gain for his own house, for putting his own nest up high, for delivering himself from the grasp of calamity.

                                                                                                     Habakkuk 2:9

 Habakkuk was one of the texts for our weekly morning prayer service this week. While not a book I read often, this particular verse stood out to me that morning, and convicted me. How often am I concerned about making myself safe, putting my own nest up high, and not doing enough to make things safe for others? I expect that most of us able to read this post do what we can to keep ourselves secure—physically and financially. There is nothing wrong with that except when we stop at our own safety and security and fail to work to make the same provision for others in our world.

 The Common English translation of Habakkuk 2:13 says this: Peoples grow weary from making just enough fire. That seems to reinforce verse 9. We make just enough “fire” for ourselves, and fail to make a fire big enough to provide warmth to others. That we do so without any compunction or guilt says that we’ve forgotten that we are all interconnected. This is something I continue to struggle with in my life—how much provision do I need for myself, and what of my resources should I share with others?

 I don’t recall when I first read this quote by St. Basil the Great, who lived from 329-379, but I do know that when I read it, I was convicted, and I continue to be convicted by it:

When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.

 Reading this quote for the first time was an awakening moment for me. It was another of the experiences that reshaped my notion of what faithful discipleship looks like. It’s pretty amazing that Basil lived in the 300’s, not in the materialistic culture of the United States! In the same way, Habakkuk speaks out against those who take care of themselves while others suffer. Throughout time, we show ourselves to be selfish, self-absorbed residents of the planet.

 I could just shrug my shoulders and say, “That’s just the way it is.” But doing that would not be faithful to the one who gave his life because of limitless love.

 I believe that when we make Christianity a morality show, we often do so in order to not face our own greed and selfishness. In the well-known story Jesus tells in Matthew 25, the question that separates sheep from goats has nothing to do with personal morality. Rather it is about caring for others. To fail to share what we have with others, according to Basil, makes us a thief. May we struggle with how to make right use of our resources, and may we not numb ourselves to the needs of others that we can meet.


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Another Waking Up Experience

A couple of weeks ago I shared a post about one way I had awakened to a different way to be a follower of Christ. You can read it here. This week I'm sharing a video post made for my church. It speaks of another way I have awakened.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

An Experience of Waking Up

 Life should be a process of waking up. I was recently thinking about some of my own waking up experiences. I define waking up experiences as times when you realize that something is other than what you thought it was, when you become aware that what you know is insufficient, or skewed, or seen through a lens that distorts your vision. Paul talks about seeing a dim reflection in a mirror in 1 Corinthians 13:12, and Rumi says “Wake up, wake up! You have slept millions and millions of years. Why not wake up this morning?”

 Father Richard Rohr had a recent series of daily messages about corporate sin, the sin perpetrated by powers and principalities that we often fail to see as sin because we benefit from the system. Reading these reminded me of one particular waking up experience. I woke up to the way I was swept up in a materialistic, acquisitive culture, and how incompatible that was to my faith.

 I was not asleep to the disparities among people, both within our country and in the world in general. I’d participated in mission trips and I knew that I had significantly more resources than most of the world’s people. But the waking up was the recognition that I was allowing myself to be swept along in the general current of American culture, which is oriented toward acquiring, holding, and protecting assets, and that this way of living did not feel healthy for me as I sought to practice being a faithful disciple of Jesus, who had very few assets.

 It’s interesting how we pick and choose which parts of Jesus’ teachings we want to follow and practice, or any of the Bible’s teachings for that matter. Some of my waking up experiences have been around the recognition that I cherry-pick which of Jesus’ examples I try to follow and which I choose to ignore or explain away as irrelevant or unrealistic.

 I realize that to live in our culture I will need certain assets to function effectively in the vocation I feel called to practice. But I am also aware that much of what I have is superfluous. While I am far from living as simply as Jesus did, I am continuing to work to detach from the desire to acquire and hold material assets because it is an expected practice of our culture. It requires attention and discipline, because even in the Western Church, we don’t necessarily advocate for going against the grain of our culture with regard to materialism.

What experiences have you had of waking up? Are you fighting to stay asleep? These are questions worth pondering, and questions I return to time and time again.


Thursday, October 1, 2020

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Sanity is No Excuse for Hate

 Last week my blog post was a video in which I shared a couple of stories that disturbed me. They remind me that no matter who we are, we are not immune from behaving in cruel ways. If you didn’t see the video, you can find it here. I want to spend a little time today reflecting on why it is so important that we not turn away from stories that make us uncomfortable.

One of the things I thought about, especially as I read the story of Stephen Biko and the cruelty inflicted against him, plus the government official practices that sought to make black South Africans feel inferior to whites, was that these practices were likely created and enforced by people who considered themselves Christian. Certainly not everyone involved in their creation or implementation would have considered themselves a Christian, but I’m pretty certain that there would have been white churchgoing South Africans who were actively involved in perpetuating the belief that black South Africans were inferior to themselves. And they may have excused their behavior because they were “obeying the law” or “doing their job.”

We certainly have our own history of such belief in the United States. And that belief was held by people who called themselves Christians. Beatings, killings, racial slurs and derogatory thinking about people different than we are does not get checked at the doors of the church. Sadly, it persists today.

We have to be better. We have to do better. Hatred is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus. Arrogance and a belief in your own superiority cannot be supported by the Sermon on the Mount. We cannot justify calling other people, who are, like us, created in the image of God, any derogatory name, whether it is “animals” or “heathens.” (And I’ve heard church leaders use both of these to describe others).

A meditation by Thomas Merton entitled “A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann” should give us all pause. Merton says this:

One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane. . . The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous. It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared.

Merton goes on to say:

And so I ask myself: what is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one’s own?

Along with Merton, I wonder how we can fail to apprehend the pain of others as our own? If we claim to follow Jesus, we can neither condone or keep silent when policies and practices developed (and often made into laws) create and perpetuate systemic hatred and demeaning treatment of others. We cannot hide behind sanity. That is not a sufficient standard for Christians to follow.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Choice to Love

We are capable of encouraging life or destroying life. The choice to love matters.


Thursday, September 3, 2020

Armor and Clay Pots: A Reflection on the Story of David And Goliath

 My favorite part of the story of David and Goliath is when Saul puts his own armor on David. The armor was too big and heavy for David to move well, which tells me just how small David really was compared to the soldiers in Israel’s army, much less Goliath.

 When I read this story, I think of Paul’s words in in 2 Corinthians 4:7: But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. We have a hard time admitting that we are clay pots, fragile and easily broken. We encase ourselves in armor—the armor of financial security, moral superiority or respectability—to present a confident self to others. We do not want to be seen as weak and vulnerable.

 Yet it is reliance on such armor that God criticizes when he condemns the lukewarm church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:17: You say, ‘I’m rich, and I’ve grown wealthy, and I don’t need a thing.’ You don’t realize that you are miserable, pathetic, poor, blind, and naked.

What God wants is not our strength or respectability or morality. God wants clay pots—weak, vulnerable, fragile pots—so that we rely on God, not ourselves. Watchman Nee, In The Normal Christian Life, recounts what he said to a man who struggled to please God: “The trouble with you is that you are weak enough not to do the will of God, but you are not weak enough to keep out of things altogether. You are still not weak enough. When you are reduced to utter weakness and are persuaded that you can do nothing whatever, then God will do everything.” . . . A drowning man cannot be saved until he is utterly exhausted and ceases to make the slightest effort to save himself.

When we recognize that we cannot save ourselves, that our goodness and morality and wealth have weighed us down like heavy armor until we are utterly exhausted, we may finally realize that freedom is found in weakness. The very first Beatitude, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, says that we experience heaven here and now only when we live in poverty of spirit, which is the acknowledgment of our own helplessness, coupled with complete trust in God’s strength.

Armor keeps God out. Like David, we have to be weak to know God’s strength.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

It's Okay to Rest

Maybe we would be more inclined to rest if we viewed it as a spiritual discipline.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Learning to See

We’ve all seen images that represent more than one thing. We see something immediately and then we struggle to see the other image portrayed in the picture. When we are children, these images that fool the eye are great fun, and yet, we don’t always do a good job of carrying the lesson they teach us into adulthood. We forget that there is often more than one way to see something.
A Native American profile?  Or an Eskimo entering a cave?

Our rigidity is a form of violence, not only violence against others whom we can only see in one way, but also violence against ourselves. By choosing to limit our ability to see and understand, we lose our capacity to grow. In essence, it is as if we have decided to enclose ourselves in a box in the dark, starving ourselves of any stimulation, any movement, anything that might lead us to change. If we actually did this to a child, or someone else we were caring for, we would be prosecuted for abuse. But when we figuratively do it to ourselves, no one will arrest us, but we still are guilty of violence against ourselves.

 Sometimes even when we know better, we let ourselves be influenced by an image that, if we paused to consider it, is inaccurate. Prior to an out of town trip, I made a to do list that had not just what needed to be done prior to leaving town, but also a list of projects, some of which were not due for several weeks. My reasoning was that I didn’t want to forget them. However, the day I made that list, every time I looked at it, I got anxious. It was long and I was leaving town and how would I get all that stuff done? I knew it didn’t all need to be done immediately, but the image of that long list still caused me anxiety.

 The next day I made the same list, but I put the immediate needs at the top, left a large blank section of paper, and put the longer term items at the bottom. The separation made a big difference in my stress level. The list was no different in content, but I saw it differently. There was more than one way to see the list but I had to take the time to allow myself to imagine It differently.

 Why are we so unwilling to expand our seeing, to use our imaginations to understand people and situations in different ways? What are we afraid of? Is our pride, our reputation so fragile that we are afraid of losing our identities if we change?

 Jesus says, in John 12:24-26:  I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. Whoever serves me must follow me.

 Jesus invites us to change. A seed “dies” to being a seed, and then bears fruit. Letting go of our certainty opens us up to new life, new seeing, and becoming more like Jesus. Change is a death of sorts, but it can be the death that leads us into a larger life, a life lived for others, a life that is not weighed down by the burden that pride places on us to be and act in ways that win the approval of others.

 A willingness to change, a desire to see things differently, and compassion toward self and others, can make the world a better place, a less violent place, a less angry place. Rather than sit around wishing for things to get back “to normal” so we can check things off our bucket lists, why not replace the bucket list with these three aims and find more joy and richer life bearing fruit in a world that needs more joy and less pride.

Thursday, August 13, 2020


Though many people think that yoga is predominately about physical poses, the actual postures of a yoga practice are only one limb of the eight limbs of yoga. Yoga is a way of being in the world. The first limb of yoga consists of ethical principles to guide how we live in the world among others, and the first of these is ahimsa, which means nonharming. 

 For those of my readers who are familiar with the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, you may know about his three simple rules, the first of which is Do no harm. Nonharming is a universal ethical principle. 

 I have thought much about the importance of practicing ahimsa as we continue to be in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The opportunity to practice nonharming is always before us, but it is hard to deny the importance of not doing harm to another right now. Harm is front and center, not only because of our unwillingness to take simple steps to slow the spread of Covid-19 but also in the continuing inequities toward people of color in society, especially when it manifests in being killed because of skin color. 

We do harm when we fail to be sensitive to the life experience of people whose experience differs from ours, when we choose not to listen, when we do not seek to understand. We do harm when we stereotype—whether by race, gender, age, nationality, religion, or any other way we box people into categories. 

 What if, for one day, we could practice ahimsa all day long, in mundane, invisible small ways that no one sees? If we could choose to not say the unkind word, share the inflammatory social media post, wear a mask in public, or learn what life is like for someone different from ourselves—by the end of the day we might discover a gentleness within ourselves that had been obscured from view. 

 For you see, when we practice not harming another, we reap the reward by a greater sense of well-being and inner peace. When we are practicing ahimsa toward the world, we experience ahimsa toward ourselves. Imagine how much better you can feel just by choosing to not do harm to another.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Living the Feast

Many people are invited. . .

                                                                Matthew 22:14

I don’t know that I’ve ever really considered this phrase that is part of a sentence I know well: Many people are invited, but few are chosen. It is part of a parable Jesus tells about a wedding feast that people won’t take time to attend.

What I’ve always focused on is the scarcity—that few are chosen. And isn’t that human nature? We cannot enjoy the feast that is so lavishly offered to us because we are afraid for the future. Like the folks who were concerned about their fields or their businesses, we miss the free gift of a banquet because we are focused on the future with fear that there won’t be enough.

Many are invited. That says to me that the table is big enough to accommodate everyone—any and all who will accept the invitation, who will lay down their skepticism, pride and fear and show up. Generosity, not scarcity, marks the nature of God. Joy, not fear, should be our response.

Maybe chosenness simply has to do with our willingness to live now in the lavishness of God’s love, the poverty of spirit to know that all that is good comes from God to us but only if we are open and humble enough to receive it.

I’ve always wondered about the wedding guest who gets into the feast without the right clothes. Was he unwilling to blend into the group? Did his pride keep him from entering into the joyful abandon of the party? Maybe it was his unwillingness to let go of his own carefully created identity that got him thrown out.

Our discipleship should be joyful, not morose or fearful. Our lives should be lived with a lightness and trust in God. The kingdom of God is a feast! Let’s live like we know this to be true!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Living in Through Times

I offered this devotional this morning and thought it might encourage readers of my blog as we continue to live through COVID-19.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

A Prayer to Yield

Then he said to them, "Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they said nothing. Looking around at them with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts, he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he did, and his hand was made healthy.
                                                                                                Mark 3:4-5

O God, show me when to speak,
   how to speak, and what to say.
May my heart yield to you and your way.
May I be one who loves, who does good,
   who places life ove rules.
May I practice ahimsa, seeking always to do no harm.
Lord, you know I burn inside with desire for justice and mercy.
Show me the right use of the fire within me, so it brings light and warmth,
   but not harmful destruction.
Let my life bring healing in the world.
Show me your way. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

New Wineskins

But new wine is for new wineskins.

                                                                    Mark 2:22b

In the verses that contain the above sentence, Jesus is talking about why his disciples don’t fast while the Pharisees and Joh’s disciples do. He uses the illustrations of sewing a new patch on old fabric, placing new wine and old wineskins and the mismatch of these.

 Mismatch is the word that connects everything in Mark 2:18-22 together. New ways and old ways are not compatible.

 We can only receive new knowledge when we are of a new mind and heart. Otherwise the dissonance between what we are certain about and what is offered to us is a mismatch that we cannot accept.

 Change isn’t easy. And change can cause relationships to be torn, like old cloth tears away from a new patch. One has to be willing to hear a perspective different from one’s own, to be open to another way, to live in the dissonance between what we think we know and new information.

 Many people think that the enemy of faith is doubt or fear. But as is evident in this day and time, the enemy of faith is certainty. Certainty divides us. Faith that is deeply rooted in God is pliable, not rigid.

 When the container that holds our viewpoints is rigid, it can only hold so much. To listen to another voice, a voice different than what is familiar to you, you have to dismantle the container. You have to have a new wineskin if you are to learn anything new. You have to be willing to be changed.


Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Finding the Holy in the Ordinary

Over my bed hangs a print of a mostly brown butterfly. Not the type you might consider art-worthy. Under the butterfly are these words: Finding the Holy in the Ordinary.

 To be able to find the holy in the ordinary grind of daily life is a practice that can transform the mundane to the marvelous. Awe and wonder are not only triggered by big things, but also by the small things we may overlook or take for granted.

Nature is full of things we may often overlook in their ordinariness. One day I was 

walking near where I live in downtown Macon. I saw what had looked like a patch of weeds every other time I’d passed it, but that particular day, what I saw were adorable flowers. The flowers had been there all along, but because I was able to see differently that particular day, I collected a bouquet to enjoy in my home.

 A number of Psalms extol God’s creativity in the natural world. One of my favorites is Psalm 104. The whole Psalm is a song of praise for God’s work in creation, but these particular verses always make me smile:

O Lord, how manifold are your works!

In wisdom you have made them all;

the earth is full of your creatures.

Yonder is the sea, great and wide,

creeping things innumerable are there,

living things both small and great.

There go the ships,

and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

Psalm 104:24-26

I love the Psalmist’s use of imagination. Creation and creatures are not merely acknowledged and described with literal precision. We are invited to see with the Psalmist’s imagination—even a giant sea monster frolicking in the ocean! 

I invite you to get outside, take a slow walk, and simply see what may be quite familiar to you with a fresh sense of awe. Let your seeing be a prayer of praise to God. A friend of mine calls it “marveling.”

 Author Macrina Wiederkehr was walking one morning when she saw a silver maple tree whose leaves were shimmering in the sunlight. She was suddenly uncertain if what she was seeing shimmering in the light were leaves or angel wings. I think about that when I see the sunlight shining on leaves, especially when the tree is glistening after a rain shower.

Another way to invite mystery into the mundane is with a practice the Celtic people employed:    blessing the ordinary activities of the day.

They had prayers for rising, prayers for kindling the fire, prayers for making the bed, prayers for dressing, and even prayers for milking the cow. And that’s just the first part of the day! There were prayers for travel, prayers for the herd they were tending, prayers for seaweed they harvested, prayers for the seeds and plants, prayers for churning butter, making cloth, and for the tools of cobbling shoes. And then there were prayers for putting the fire out at the end of the day, prayers for protection at night.

 There was no activity or item too mundane to bless.

 Several years ago I was part of a retreat that studied Celtic spirituality. One of the exercises we were given was to write a blessing about an ordinary practice or item. A friend who attended with me wrote a blessing for her favorite paring knife. How might you bless the ordinary items you use each day or the ordinary activities of your day?

 Is a blessing for your paring knife or your toothbrush silly? I would argue that it is a tool for a deeper relationship to God. When we live with eyes that see the holy in the ordinary, we are actually praying without ceasing.

 I invite you to a fresh way of encountering the world today, even if your world feels quite small and confined right now. God meets us in the ordinary. Our experiences provide all we need to swim in holiness, even if those experiences feel mundane and unremarkable. How will you meet God today?