God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Potter Molds Us

preaching UCC Casper WY
This weekend is my first sermon at my new congregation. I decided to do a sermon series on being shaped by the Potter’s hand. So we are going to look at people who have been shaped by God’s presence.

This first week I am using Isaiah 64:8 and Jeremiah 18:1-11. Both speak of God the Potter. God gives Jeremiah the command to go and visit a potter after watching the potter God tells Jeremiah that I have that same ability. I can take you Israel and shape and reshape you the way God who fashions and forms us. I hope to share about myself and my faith.

God has worked in my life molding me and remolding me. I wish that I could say as Bono sings in Magnificent “I was born / I was born to sing for you / 
I didn't have a choice but to lift you up / And sing whatever song you wanted me to / I give you back my voice “. But God didn’t choose to make me a rock star who can share a passion for singing and moving a crowd.

God chose to mold me into a preacher. He started by showing me I had a talent for words. Those first words were a desired to write. I often said of my writing it was as if I was speaking to people, all kinds of people could hear and understand what I said. But it wasn’t enough teaching me to write, I didn’t have a passion for any subject that would lead me to write as a job. I was still in need of molding and shaping. I needed to find what I truly wanted to share with the world and until I found it the Potter had to seep refining me. "Only love, only love can leave such a mark / 
But only love, only love can heal such a scar / Justified till we die, you and I will magnify / The Magnificent / 
Magnificent
/ Only love, only love can leave such a mark / 
But only love, only love unites our hearts.”

I found that love that changed and marked me. I realized God gave me a gift of words and the ability to make connections in order to share that gift with others. While I can’t sing, I can preach that joyful noise. I can preach that challenge that Jeremiah shared with Israel. God’s longing to mold people into the creation he desires, a community of love open to all, a community called to take that love out into the streets and help transform the world into God’s vision of a world where the blind can see, the lame can walk, the captives are set free, and God’s favor is shared freely with all.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

How Do we Speak in the Midst of Tragedy

One of the news shows I enjoy watching is the Ed Shultz’s show. One of the stories that he continues to follow is the mining tragedy where thirty miners were killed in an unsafe mine. A mine that has been cited over and over again for not following the safety regulation. They continued to operate without making as sure as you can in a dangerous occupation that your workers are safe. In this mine the owners believed that profits come first. The owners of the mine make it impossible for the workers to unionize. While a union mine cannot prevent all mining disasters but they do provide a way to put an actor in play that is looking out for the safety of those working in this dangerous job. For many in these small mining towns, mining is the only job and may have been the only job for generations: grandfathers, fathers, and sons.

So when this tragedy occurs and entire town is impacted as fathers and sons are lost. How do we respond to the pain and hurt and anger that accompany this tragedy? Part of our role as outsiders is to make sure that the conditions of these workers is not forgotten and work to make the laws that will keep them safe and make sure those laws are enforced.

But what can we do personally, U2 wrote a song on the Joshua Tree album called Red hill Mining Town. Bono wrote this song during a strike that occurred in a mine in Ireland. People questioned the lack of criticism and call for change. People didn’t feel it was political enough. Bono said of this song, I know relationship that’s what I wrote about. In the midst of this tragedy maybe that is all we can do: hang, on, hold on.

Yeah, you keep me holdin' on
In Red Hill Town.
See the lights go down on
Hangin' on
You're all that's left to hold on to.
I'm still waiting
I'm hangin' on
You're all that's left to hold on to
On to.

A link is lost
The chain undone.
We wait all day
For night to come
And it comes like a hunter (child).

I'm hangin' on
You're all that's left to hold on to.
I'm still waiting
I'm hangin' on
You're all that's left to hold on to.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Open and Affirming: One

This is an old note.

When the movie begins the camera pans over the rugged beauty of Wyoming (Canada). We are then brought down to a shot of a deserted town, a dusty road, and a train flying by. And then we see a young man, a lonely man, a sad man, an intense man, waiting for a better life, hoping to get work for the summer. He gets work and meets what will become the love of his life.

The movie is billed as an epic love story that will change the way we look at love. It took me a long time to decide to go see this movie. Everyone was asking me what I thought and did I see Brokeback Mountain. But, something was keeping me back from seeing it. I don’t typically go see movies I know end unhappily. I always want a happy ending where good triumphs over evil. So I finally rented the movie. What I experienced in this movie was a tragedy. For this epic love was stunted before it could grow and all that is left is a shirt.

This could have been a wonderful love story if these two men had been taught from birth that they are children of God. That they are a growing, creative, expression of God’s love for the world. Instead these men are forced to deny a part of who they are. In the process of keeping a part of themselves in the closet, their love does not have a chance to flower. For them love is not a blessed sacred occurrence, but something done in secret, hidden from family and friends.

I want be part of the creation of a new world where there is one body as Paul imagines for us in 1 Corinthians. A body that is tied together through one love, one life, one blood, but is also different from each other and unique. Can you imagine being a part of a community where no child grows up being taught to hate themselves because they are different, because the person they choose to fall in love with is not the one society says you are to love. Every child should know that God has created them, blessed them, loved them. That there is nothing that can separate them from the love of God. And if nothing can separate them from the love of God how can we do anything else but to also love.

Brokeback Mountain reminds us of why we as a church need to be a safe haven for people of sexual orientation of all kinds. Can we dare to become a church that is a safe haven helping to create a world open and affirming of lgbt persons of all ages? Can we dare to dream of becoming a safe haven where everyone is free to love and live openly? Can we dare to be a church that is a safe haven for people to explore faith and identity? May we learn how to carry each other as sisters and brothers, one.

When all you got is hurt

One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should
One life
With each other
Sisters
Brothers
One life
But we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other
One
U2


For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Oil Spil


Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
I was sitting by the lake with my dog this afternoon. As the water was gentle lapping the shore, I thought about the story in the news. The giant oil spill off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico, where this drilling rig has dumped a lot of gallons of oil and is continuing to leak and may leak for a long time. You could see the oil spread out for miles. They told us at first, no problem it isn’t still leaking, we have it under control. But it is never under control.



fishing the jetty on Padre Island Texas
When I was young, we went on vacation to visit my grandparents in Texas on Padre Island in the gulf of Mexico. I loved to go visit because it meant we got to play in the ocean. Growing up in Illinois there wasn’t a lot of water around so being by the Gulf was one of my favorite things to do. When I was little it was so beautiful, people weren’t allowed to build in front of the sand dunes. It was like an undiscovered slice of heaven. There would be different times when there would be no one but my family on the beach. We would play for hours in the crystal clear water on the soft sand beaches. You could see endless miles into the ocean. As I got old they built the first oil rigs and each year we went back more oil rigs appeared breaking you view. But they didn’t just create an eyesore, they created a difference in how we could be at the beach. There started to be patches of tar that would stick to the sand and float in the water. This meant that those patches of oil would stick to you and then you would have to scrub to get them off. It meant you had to take special goop to clean with when you went to the beach. I even remember a time we couldn’t go in the water at all because there had been a spill and the place was just covered with tar. My little piece of heaven was now a little unsafe. The last time I went back for my Grandmother’s funeral there were so many people you couldn’t find a free spot of beach and they had built so many condo on the other side of the dunes. Place that were wide open before.

I know what it means to experience oil in the gulf. When that oil comes to shore it will kill wildlife, but the newscaster missed that it is already killing wildlife. Beautiful, amazing sea creatures are now having trouble breathing because their skin is coated with tar preventing them from breathing. Life is dying yet we are concerned about will it hit shore and impact us. It already has. President Obama, probably doesn’t get this. I don’t think they drill off of Hawaii the ocean he visits. I wish he would go down to the gulf and spend some time on the shore with his girls. Then maybe the small benefit of having a few more gallons of oil does not outweigh the cost to life experienced in the ocean. Instead of drilling we need to change how we use energy. The beautiful days that are lost to life in the ocean is not worth the risk of drilling.

See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
See the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colours came out
It was a beautiful day
A beautiful day

           U2

Monday, April 26, 2010

Grace

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.
- Anne Lamott, from her book Traveling Mercies

I have been thinking a lot about grace and forgiveness today. I have been reading Jesus Freak by Sara Miles. In the section on forgiveness , she tells how during one sermon her friend the priest asked the congregation is God just or merciful. He said God isn’t just, God is full of mercy (p. 109). Justice requires a right and a wrong. If we get hung up on seeking justice when we have been wronged, we have a hard time giving and receiving forgiveness. We believe one side is right and that the other side has to give in and give up. Mercy and grace let you move into the messy part of life where it doesn’t matter who is right. There is truth to be found in everyone’s perspective and actions. Grace is that unconditional love that you have received from God and there is nothing you can do that will take it away. But mercy and grace are hard.

We all find ourselves in times when we don’t want to forgive or forget. We want to hold on to our righteous indignation, yet being stuck there keeps the world ugly and messy. Even in a time of pain and hurt there was something beautiful. “What once was hurt / What once was friction / What left a mark / No longer stings / Because Grace makes beauty / Out of ugly things / Grace makes beauty out of ugly things” as Bono sings.

Grace:
The 80 year old couple who came to the family party and made us laugh
The woman who bought shoes and sweats for a man no one comes to see
Chocolate and laughter when sharing about life and God
“Grace, … It's also a thought that changed the world … Grace finds goodness in everything” U2

You shall be forgiven everything! Accept God’s love and then give it away!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

One Step Closer to Knowing

I was at an ecclesiastical council today. In the United Church of Christ, that is when a person seeking ordination is supposed to defend their faith. They have jumped through the hoops and have written a paper about their beliefs and why they want to be a UCC pastor and the group of gathered pastors and lay people grill them. So one question asked today was: “ Tell me what you believe about the resurrection?” A question that many of us struggle with: is it real literal resurrection of the body or is it metaphorical? Something from our position here 2000 years later we cannot prove or disprove. We can only have faith. The trouble is that what does having faith in the resurrection mean? Is it something we just know or is it something we just feel? When I was talking to my son about it I said I would answer with the gospel of Mark approach. The gospel ends with an empty tomb and women fleeing in fear. We are asked to go on ahead to Galilee where we will again meet Jesus. Galilee the place where ministry began, where Jesus healed the sick, cured the lame, brought sight to the blind, set the captives free, fed the hungry crowds, and shared the stories about the in breaking kingdom. So Mark gives us a call and a challenge in the resurrection. There is no proof of a risen savior just a command to go to Galilee.

The song I was going to write about today since I’m taking the first one to appear when I hit shuffle was “One Step Closer.” The story is that Bono was eating lunch with a friend and talking about his dad dying and how his dad was losing faith. The friend said to him well at least he is one step closer to knowing. I think that is one of the points we need to understand about the resurrection. It does not have to be a litmus test that says you are truly in or as Heidi says “you’re out.” To be a Jesus Freak is about following and getting a step closer ever day. Each day you take one more action that places you closer to God; you learn one more thing about yourself that helps you grow into the child of God you were meant to become; you help one more person. It isn’t about finally figuring it all out, we can’t. Isn’t that why Jesus speaks in parables, so that each time we get it, we are: “One step closer to knowing / One step closer to knowing / One step closer to knowing / To knowing, to knowing, to knowing.”

Friday, April 23, 2010

Play All - Miami

So I put in my ear buds and push play all under U2 this morning. I’m ready to be stirred in my soul. I’m ready to relive memories of long ago when U2 was the soundtrack of the best summer of my life.

But the thing about U2 is you have to expect the unexpected. For up came Miami. A song I am so not feeling. A song I’m not feeling a spiritual vibe for. A song that pulses with the beat of a city; a place of cigars, bikinis, car chases, and excess. “Bought two new suits / Miami / Pink and blue / Miami / I took a picture of you / My mammy / Getting hot in a photo booth / Miami.” The song pulses with a consumerist excess.

Is this consumerism Bono sings of creating something beautiful? “I said you looked like a Madonna. / You said maybe. / You said I wanna have your baby, baby. / We could make something beautiful / Something that wouldn't be a problem / We could make something beautiful / Something that wouldn't be a problem / Least not in Miami.” In the new suit you look like a Madonna. Out of something crass can come something beautiful. Something that isn’t a problem. In this bleak landscape, when we are searching for God no place is totally forsaken.

As I was listening to this song on repeat, the image that came to my mind was from the prophet Hosea. God tells Hosea to go and marry a prostitute in order to show the fidelity of God even in the face of infidelity. Just as Hosea was faithful to his wife, God will be faithful to Israel awaiting its return from the distraction empire.

Can something good come out of something wrong? That is the hope we have in the God of Israel. That God can use what was intended for evil for good. The prophets are continually calling us back to faith in the one who can create something out of nothing.

When I had just spent the most horrible weekend with my ex, he had been just mean to me all week at my family reunion. I even told him to go away and visit his friends and come back later. Well when we got home, I had put our son to bed and was watching the news. There was President Clinton saying I have not had sex with that woman. Of course we all knew he was lying and that this was just his last attempt to save face. So I crawl into bed with the ex, he says we have to talk… boy those dots are big. I have fallen in love with someone else who I am never going to see again and I don’t love you, in fact I never loved you… I cried… I talked to a friend…I talked to a pastor… I moved out… I found God or God found me. The infidelity of my ex led me to reconnect with the fidelity of God. Out of the mess came something new. God used my mess to give me a call to reach out to the mess of the world. “We could make something beautiful / Something that wouldn't be a problem / We could make something beautiful / Something that wouldn't be a problem.”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Musings for a Beautiful Day


Block Island, Connecticut
When my son, a friend and I were on Block Island. I wasn’t planning on us going swimming. I thought we would just walk along the shore and get our feet wet. Well, we had walked for a while when we decided to sit. Reed started walking out into the ocean. At first he would just walk out a little ways, so that he wouldn’t get his clothes wet. Then while he was playing fetch with this black lab, a big wave came and got the bottom of his pants wet. He was still trying to just get the bottom wet. But pretty soon he thought well the bottoms wet, how about going out a little further. So then the waves are hitting him all the way to the bottom of his shirt. Then he takes a look back at me to see if I’m watching and then he runs all the way in getting his entire body wet in the water; enjoying the joy of body surfing the waves. It was a beautiful day and he could not help himself. He wanted to be there in the water and waves, enjoying the sun and would worry about what Mom had to say later. Right now, in the moment, it was right.

When we started out that morning, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a beautiful day. Reed had a frown on his face when I woke him. By the time we got to the boat, I wondered if the frown would ever go away. All he wanted on the boat was quarters to play Ms. Pac Man. I felt like I was in the commercial with the voice of the mother who is sounding like a wildlife guide in search of some rare mysterious creature. She is sneaking up on her pray and captures that rare thing, a smile from a frowning daughter. So there he is experience joy, smiling and laughing. There is no way I’m going to ruin the moment.

Sometimes it is hard to find the beauty and joy because the stuff of life that isn’t easy and breaks in on us (becoming a teenager, changing jobs, moving, getting sick, losing someone…) Yet, we can’t avoid the stuff of life. So where do we turn. What will help us to enjoy the beautiful day?

The psalms provide a wonderful example of how to live life in the midst of pain, attacks, fear, enemies and illness. Even in the darkest psalm, a song, prayer where the writer is surrounded by enemies, there is hope. A hope founded on the belief that God is merciful and abounding in steadfast love. God is there to help and save us. There is a never a dark so dark that God cannot shine through. The psalms show how to live life. It isn’t always going to be a beautiful day. But when we stop to step out, to dip our toes in the water, pretty soon we remember that God will help us through and we can’t help but body surf the waves. We are to enjoy the beautiful day, as the Contemporary Psalmist U2 sing:

The heart is a bloom
Shoots up through the stony ground
There's no room
No space to rent in this town

You're out of luck
And the reason that you had to care
The traffic is stuck
And you're not moving anywhere

You thought you'd found a friend
To take you out of this place
Someone you could lend a hand
In return for grace
It's a beautiful day
Sky falls, you feel like
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away

May you find a beautiful day

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Inifinity


Last summer I spent a week by the sea. Each day as I was watching and praying by the water I would see something different. There were days when the sea was tranquil, with very little white caps. There were days when the sea was churning from the onset of a storm. It went from the colors blue, grey, white, green. Every day the sea was different. Yet it was a place where you could get lost in. There was this sense that it was greater than you could possibly imagine and you were smaller than you could know. The problems you had seemed to smooth out and settle in the constant newness of the waves that pour into the shore over and over again.

When you are looking out and the water you sense that the world goes on forever. As Bono sings, “She said infinity’s a great place to start/ Oh / Time is irrelevant, it's not linear." As you watch the sea, the horizon blurs with sky and water touching and changing. The possibilities of what the world will be or could be are endless. “No, no line on the horizon / No, no line /No, no line on the horizon / No, no line / Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.” As I was by the sea, God seemed so much closer because I was so much smaller. There is something at the sea that allows you to touch infinity, touch God. A peace settles over you, a sense of love, of fullness, of hope.

U2 takes this experience farther. “I know a girl who's like a sea / I watch her changing every day for me / Oh yeah, oh/ One day she's still, the next she swells / You can hear the universe in her sea shells / Oh yeah, oh” The lyrics take us to a person and beyond. At the sea we recognize this since of the constant changing nature of the sea and of humans. You can sense this song is about the deep love a person takes in another; a love that glories in the changes and transformations of a person. The love described is a love like I believe God has for us. A love that loves every part of you, hoping that you will take that magnificent life you have been giving and will use it to touch infinity.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Unknown Caller


While my son and I were at the U2 concert in Boston, I was struck by the lyrics of one of the songs. A song I had listened to on my No Line on the Horizon CD, but had not really heard. As I was experiencing the song, I realized it was a prayer and was putting myself into the prayer. The song begins with the dark night of the soul. A person lost in the middle of the night unable to sleep. All alone or feeling all alone. And into that place, where the numbers on the clock blur, the voice of God enters. The clock says 3:33, a time that recalls Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known).” In that moment, in that dark night if you open yourself you just may hear the voice of God.

A voice that you can call on that will tell you things. “Go, shout it out, rise up, Oh, oh, Escape yourself, and gravity, Hear me, cease to speak that I may speak.” The voice in this song is saying stop the stuff rumbling around in your mind , so that I may speak. You need to stop, slow down, quiet, hush, shush, so that I may speak. But the lost soul hasn’t quite heard the voice and continues to struggle. Lost on the edge, lost at an accident, waiting. And into that waiting again comes the voice, actually a chorus of voices, singing: “Restart and re-boot yourself, You're free to go, Oh, oh, Shout for joy if you get the chance, Password, you enter here, right now, Oh, oh, You know your name so punch it in.” So those of us who spend our life on computers hear the voice of God speaking to us in the language we understand. We haven’t taken the time to hush, to be quiet so that voice of God can speak of those great and hidden things.

In the silence comes the music that speaks to us. The recorded song ends with a guitar/organ solo that sounds like a hymn being played. One fan argues the hymn played is “My Savior’s Love.” The live version of the song ends with “Password, you enter here, right now, You know your name so punch it in.” As this is sung over and over I kept thinking what is my name? What is my password? My answer was child of God, called. How would you answer? What is your name and password? Are you willing to shush now and hear you name. Hear God whisper your password. Hear: you are a beloved child of God. I have named you. I have called you. You are mine. You are loved.