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."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jesus Story - Our Story

There is a story found in a native society describing how one tribe learned to find its way on long journeys.  These travelers navigated by singing a song as they journeyed, a song that was a roadmap by which they could remember changes in direction and key landmarks.  This song would change as the hunting ground changes with the season.  Their song charted a course for the season.  How do we chart our course?  Do we need a story to sing as we go?  One of the ways we can read the Gospel of Mark is as the song to sing that guides us through our life story and journey with God.  When we see how Jesus interacts with the lives of people he encounters, we see people’s lives being transformed and their stories changing.  The story of people being renewed and healed makes it possible to envision our renewal.
We are going to begin this New Year with Chapter 1 of the Gospel of Mark.  The story opens with “The beginning of the good news about Jesus, the anointed one, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).  The beginning, a word we’ve heard before, at the very start: “The beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  This is the new beginning, the new story that God is going to share with us.  As we enter Mark’s story we enter “a world of conflict and suspense, a world of surprising reversals and strange ironies, a world of riddle and hidden meanings, a world of subversive actions and political intrigues.  And the protagonist — Jesus — is most surprising of all” (David Rhoads, Mark as Story, 1).  To enter Mark’s story is to enter a world where you are to join the story and become a means to help bring about God’s kingdom.  This story challenges us to see the world differently and invites you to act to make the story of God real. 
We will begin Our Story - Mark’s Story with John the Baptist, preparing the way and hearing the words spoken over Jesus “you are my beloved, I delighted in choosing you.”  This leads to Jesus’ time in the wilderness. He comes out of the wilderness preaching “The right time is fulfilled, and the rule of God has arrived.  Turn around and put faith in the Good News. “Jesus then calls the first disciples, heals a man with unclean spirit, heals Simon/Peter’s mother-in-law, spends time in pray, and heals a leper.  In each of these encounters with people in the first chapter of Mark, Jesus takes the story of the Holy One of Israel and returns salvation to God’s people.  As Ched Myers says, scripture is once again the story of God’s liberating love and call to live according to it (Binding the Strong Man).
We are called to be prepared, to accept the risks that come from allowing our story to become part of God’s story.  To chart our course, we need a story that we sing as we go, will we allow that song to be Jesus’ song?  Will we sing of a life transformed by the Holy One of Israel?  As Bell teaches us come walk and sleep; come savor and sit; come eat and discover; come share and give; come close and find; come stand and loose; come leave and come welcome.  Come find that love which never ends and opens your heart wide. 
Come join me in this story,
Come with me, come wander,
Come welcome the world,
Where strangers might smile
Or where stones may be hurled;
Come leave what you cling to,
Lay down what you clutch
And find, with hands empty,
That hearts can hold much.

Sing Hey for the carpenter
Leaving his tools!
Sing Hey for the Pharisees
Leaving their rules!
Sing Hey for the fishermen
Leaving their nets!
Sing Hey for the people
Who leave their regrets!

Come walk in my company,
Come sleep by my side,
Come savor a lifestyle
With nothing to hide;
Come sit at my table
And eat with my friends,
Discovering that love
Which the world never ends.

Come share in my laughter,
Come close to my fears,
Come find yourself washed
With the kiss of my tears;
Come stand close at hand
While I suffer and die,
And find in three days
How I never will lie.

Come leave your possessions,
Come share out your treasure,
Come give and receive
Without method or measure;
Come loose every bond
That’s restraining the spirit,
Enabling the earth
To be yours to inherit.
- John L. Bell

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas for the Outcasts

      A couple of weeks ago I was ringing the bell for the Salvation Army.   While I was there with my son and a girl from church, we rang with our broken bell that kept losing all its parts and watched the people go in and out of Walmart.  It's interesting to watch as people tried to avoid you at all cost.  My sons favorite was the baby block where the mother held up her baby so that it blocked us from eye contact.  What I noticed was who gave and who didn't.  I can understand not giving, if there like me I never have cash in my wallet.  But I know how much this money helps the people of our community with rent, utilities, a tank of gas or groceries.  So when someone who looks like they didn't have much managed to give you could feel the power of hope in the kettle.  
     One of may favorite Christmas songs in Father Christmas by the Kinks.  Here is someone wanting to share the spirit of Christmas who is being mugged.  Christmas is so hard that the muggers want the money for they know its the rich kids that get the toys.  This song asks us to remember those who have nothing at Christmas. 
     A state that breaks the heart of those who this week in our community met with people who had little for Christmas.  One particular girl had nothing for her baby at Christmas: crashing on the floor of friends, paying them back with money from babysitting by getting toiletries, with the father of her baby in jail for beating the baby.  She came seeking help and hope.  As she broke open the heart of those who met with her.  They tried to find the organizations that could give her a hand up.  They help her with toiletries presents for those she crashed with because one of the church's had collected tins, grabbing gifts that had been donated.  These people who gather monthly  to help those without much in our community experienced what Christmas can be about.  That a baby came into the world among the lowly and poor, a baby whose mother upon meeting the shepherds. These shepherds were rough, dirty, not even considered good enough to be counted.  Yet God's Angel's appeared to them bringing good news of peace, about a baby come to save us all.  Jesus the baby came to the outcast and marginal.  As Mary pondered in her heart the presence of these shepherd she probably heard her song again.  Her song that shares how God lifts up the lowly, is with the poor, and wants the hungry to eat.  

"My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."  Luke 1

Have Yourself a Merry, Merry Christmas
Have yourself a really good time
But remember the Kids who got nothing
                The Kinks

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rise Up Shepherd and Follow

There's a star in the East on Christmas morn,
Rise up shepherd and follow.
It will lead to the place where the Saviour's born,
Rise up shepherd and follow.

Follow, follow,
Rise up shepherd and follow.
Follow the star of Bethlehem.
Rise up shepherd and follow.

Who will you be following this Christmas?  Will you take time these season to seek the Christ child?  

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Hope

I love Christmas movies.  I could watch them all day long from Thanksgiving to Christmas, from the Hallmark Channel to black and white classics.  My son who is 16 is not quite the fan of Christmas movies that I am, so as I was trying to find a good movie to write about for this letter I came across a dystopian Sci-Fi film for Reed to watch with me, “Children of Men.”   This is a movie about moving from despair to hope.  The movie begins with a drunken Theo almost being blown up trying to get coffee.  He has just been drifting through life after the death of his son and all of the children of earth.  As Theo says, “I can't really remember when I last had any hope, and I certainly can't remember when anyone else did either. Because really, since women stopped being able to have babies, what's left to hope for?”  Theo is paid to save an African refugee because of his political connections.  He learns that Kee is pregnant.  His mission is to get them sanctuary with a group called the Human Project.  This is no easy task as the government and rebels are fighting each other.   But in the midst of a refugee camp this baby is born, a baby who will change the world.  This movie shows us how very sad a world without children will be.  When this baby is born, even though there are bombs and bullets flying, as Theo guides Kee and the baby out of ground zero, everyone who hears the child cry stops and listens, falling to their knees and making the sign of the cross, offer a blessing, or just for a moment feeling wonder and hope.  As Jasper says, “Your baby is the miracle the whole world has been waiting for.” 
Christmas is that time of year when we get to stop and take a moment to believe in and practice hope.   This time of year we wait for a baby to come into the world bringing hope and salvation.  My prayer this Christmas is that you will allow yourself to discover the hope of Christmas.  That even in the midst of darkness, trouble, despair, we are taught to hope:
"Hope in the Lord! Be strong! Let your heart take courage! Hope in the Lord!" Psalm 27:14
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint, Isaiah 40:31 
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit, Romans 15:13 
Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was.  This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:  "Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. …  In his name the nations will put their hope."  Matthew 12:15-18, 21

May you discover the hope you need this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mary's Song

     What would you do if you were a teenager and pregnant?  If you knew that God had a plan for you and your baby, yet still you think about what to do?  How can I care for a baby when I haven't even started to care for myself?  How would you respond to the looks that said you had done the unthinkable?  How would you deal with your boyfriend who isn't the father?  So you run.  You head to a place where you hope you will be welcomed or at least not rejected.  
     Then you arrive at your cousins house and her first words to you are you are blessed.  She wraps you in a hug and for that moment you feel safe, you feel comforted, you think that maybe everything will be ok. And you start to sing.  
"My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers."
     With the arrogance of youth she says now everyone will call me blessed, because God has done great things for me.  Deep within me I feel God's presence, my soul and my spirit glow.  And then there is a moment when her own experience gets transformed into a song of revolution, a song to change the world.  The last, the lost, and the lowly will be the first, the found, and exalted.  The world will be turned upside down by this baby you have allowed to enter my life.  
     Who would believe that a teenage girl could birth something so beautiful?  Could sing of revolution and inspire us all?  But God does work through us when we are open to the calls of our spirit.  We can change the world.  
     A story that came to mind was of Lovette Conto.  As a baby her father fled the war in Liberia to a refugee camp in Ghana.  At this camp, she fought for her friend who needed a place to go to school but was blind.  Her fight led her to be noticed by someone who could offer her a scholarship to make her dream of being a designer.  She came to the US where she was inspired.  She saw a leaf with life printed on it and then she thought to take bullets from the war in Liberia and turn them into jewlery.  She took something of war and created something of love.  Akawelle is her jewelry which means aka (also known as) wel'le (love).  She knew this was possible for:  In Africa,everywhere you turn you are told, “It ain’t gonna happen”. But my dad would always say "Keep walking. Press on. It's going to happen."  He was right.   
     Like Mary, Lovette sings a song that is different from the world.  She sings of hope and beauty in a world that can be full of pain.  Will you sing with Mary this Christmas?  Will you create love?