Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Suit Pants & My Big Hips

This past Sunday was a fun Sunday at church, wasn’t it?

For anyone who wasn’t able to attendyou missed out!

We had balloons, a beautiful tablecloth purchased from the dollar store, and a little confetti to go along with our *party*. Indeed, we had fun.

Mixed in with the fun, however, was an invitation. The invitation was a response to the Gospel lesson of the day: Jesus telling a parable about a king who had a wedding banquet and all his buddies, who didn’t show up. So the king sent out folks from the party to grab anyone, the good AND the bad, and he sat them around the great feast. There was a lot of laughter in the great hall, along with jokes as good as the ones your pastor tells. The amount of joy filling that room was comparable to what Chicago felt after the Cubs won the World Series last year.

Everyone in attendance was having a good time.

But you know things got a bit weird and uncomfortable. The king was walking around doing what kings do, and he noticed someone didn’t have their wedding garb on. So this ol’boy well let’s just say he had to leave and hang out in a dark alley to experience the party through the crack of the backdoor.

The story ends with Jesus saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

What a party. What a wait, wait, wait.

Let me get this straight. Dude throws a party. Those who received the ‘Save the Date’ cards didn’t show up. So he sends folks out and brings in anybody off the street. Again—not to be overly dramatic about it—the guests included the good and the bad. The Good. And the bad. The people you like! And those you can’t stand,
         sitting next to one another
                        at a supper table
                           that NONE of you were ACTUALLY invited to.

At just about the time we can accept the radical hospitality of the king—a symbol for how God welcomes everyone—we might become a bit troubled by what happens to the guy who received the “Y'all come in” invitation but who refused to put on the wedding garb.

Let me help us out. Back then, when folks threw weddings, guests had to put on a wedding garb. Not to take away from the rich history of Judaism, but it would be like showing up today to a birthday party and refusing to wear a party hat. Now, I hope you wouldn’t get hogtied and thrown out beside the dumpster to party with the opossums and raccoons if you were too cool to wear one of those annoying hats.

So here’s the thing about this confusing parable that presents a king as easily angered and overly vindictive, who gets peeved if you don’t show up to the party looking like everyone else: we dare not worship such a king nor imitate his behavior.

Nope; we are supposed to reflect God’s reign—a reign where hospitality is not limited to the “best people” (let's be honest, often those “best people” think they have better things to do than following God’s way). And we also don’t want to limit that hospitality because of our own pride. That person who didn’t put on the wedding garb—by saying, “No”—closed the door to the fullness of divine generosity. Sad.

Oh, notice one more thing about this problematic parable: the person who refused to put on the wedding garb (or that annoying party hat), though they were excused and found themselves in an awkward place, they were never pushed beyond the grace of God. So there is still good news!

Unfortunately, consequences to our actions or pride are real, but God’s deep love always makes its way to us, guiding us back to a place of wholeness, especially for those of us who refuse to believe we are worthy of God’s love time after time.

Thanks be to God, friends that the realm of God must always be a place of second and third chances. [[And thank God that even the backdoor is still a doorway back in. And thank God that even the opossums and raccoons are also creatures of God’s making.]]

On Sunday, I invited those who were at our party to come down and receive an envelope, which contained an invitation. They had the option of actually asking someone they know (or don’t know! what a strange idea evangelism can be) to church with the invitation. I hope Lincoln and Logan County are filled with lots of “See Y'all there” responses.

Also—and this might have been lost near worship’s end by my weak attempt to explain it—I invited everyone to receive God’s love, peace, hope, and joy.

Do you remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6? The invitation he extended to us?

“Hey, beloved child. Do not worry. Do not worry if you are enough—do not worry about if you’ll fit in. Do not worry about the latest fashion trends or keeping up with technology—trying to stay relevant. Do not worry about the crows feet around your eyes and the stretch marks on your belly. Don’t worry about these things because what mattersis you.

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

Here’s the thing, friends, the disciples didn’t get this right away either, so Jesus repeated it in Matthew 10:

“Child of Love, have no fear of those who ridicule you or make fun of you or persecute you because you stand on the side of justice because you preach a message of peace, or because you identify as something that isn’t *normal*.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Mother. And even the hairs on your head are all counted.”

Listen up—God is throwing a party. God welcomes you to attend. God invites you to show up. Some days, you’ll know what to wear to the party, and you’ll come in right on time. Other times, you might feel like those suit pants make your hips look big, you might wear sweatpants to the black tie affair, or you might lose your “save the date” card and miss the party altogether.

But the thing you must remember is this: it is okay if you do. Whether you show up or not, God loves you. But when you do show up, and when you do receive the invitation to dwell in the presence of God and one another, the party is better—way better—and so much more complete with you.

You are needed. Don’t worry if you’ll fit in or if you have the right attire. Just show up. Be yourself. Because as one great writer once said:

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another.”

I invite you to receive God’s claim on you. I invite you to sit at the feet of Jesus and allow him to heal your wounds. And I invite you to let the Holy Spirit use your gifts to make the church and this world a better place.

Friends, the party just isn’t the same without you.

I’ll be here we’ll be here waiting at the table with and for you,


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-peace & prayer


We all want peace.

I’m even willing to say that we need peace.

Consider Isaiah 1.16-18…
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
   remove the evil of your doings
   from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17   learn to do good;
seek justice,
   rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
   plead for the widow.
18 Come now, let us argue it out,
   says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
   they shall become like wool.
Listen up:  God is merciful and kind; what God wants is for us to be at peace. Our brokenness is made whole by the goodness of God.

Sure, perhaps this is easy to believe on an individual level. But what about the world, right? Everywhere we turn we hear of war or rumor of war. And if the faux news reports aren’t adding fuel to the fire of hate, violence, and fear, then chances are they are reporting on what seems to be the earth turning in on itself. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires range alongside us as a result of our neglect to properly care for the earth. Things are changing; there’s no doubt about it.

To say September has been an overwhelming month is an understatement. Where do we turn for answers? Where do we look for love? How is peace ever going to be achieved? There’s so much angst in the world I'm willing to bet most of us, even the most Reformed Presbyterians, offer up a Hail Mary for some relief.

Fortunate for you I have the answer to peace.

You ready?

Start within.

While we may not be able to control the actions of others, we can control our own. If we want peace, we must begin with making peace in our own lives.

Think of it this way, okay?

Almost everyone has had to perform at some point in life. Whether it was for a recital, a game, or speech, practicing was a part of the process leading up to the performance. If we wanted to perform well, it began with how we practiced. The same goes for peace. If we want peace in the world, we start with cultivating peace within.

How do you do that you ask?

Easy:  pray.

Take the time to be with Divine Love. Like, really take the time. The way you take time to sit with your beloved or your best friend. When we do this, we will arrive at the door leading to peace. (See Revelation 3.20)

This peace is the Divine within you.  It is the same peace Jesus offers to the disciples in John. Remember? Jesus said to them and us:

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Christ dwells at the center of who we are and the longer we remain there, choosing the ‘better part,’ the easier peace will come into our lives because God, by the Spirit, transforms us into Christ and we become agents of peace. Of course, this can’t happen until we “argue it out” with God. Who, by the way, will always have the last word which will be…
blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Do you want peace?

Start close in. Take the first step towards God’s mercy and love. God will lead you to where you need to go:  yourself.

After all, that’s where the Holy dwells...

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Primary Prayer

Hey, let's do something a little different with this midweek reflection.

Instead of me writing a lot of words you get bored with, how about we pray together. You, me, and the occasional wanderer on the internet. Whether you are by yourself or use this meditation with your family or co-workers, this pause in the day to pray joins us with all the faithful of every place and time. How wonderfully comforting is that?
It won't take long, I promise. Then again, take as long as you need. Prayer is essential to our life as God's people. Especially since prayer is that moment in the day, and in our lives, where we allow God to be God in us. Or as Father Thomas Keating (the guy who wrote the book we are reading for Sunday's [09/17] book group) said, "Prayer is primarily a relationship."
So, beloved friends, this is an invitation (or a pastor's note if you need one for your boss or spouse or teacher) to put down your phone, set aside the report, or walk away from your sweet child who is finally napping, and pray. I'll help you. We will pray together.


Opening Prayer
O God, come to our assistance. O God, make haste to help us. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and forever shall be, world without end. Amen.

The Psalm
Psalm 96
1 O sing to the Holy One a new song;
   sing to God, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Holy One, bless God’s name;
   tell of God’s salvation from day to day.
3 Declare God’s glory among the nations,
   the Holy One’s marvelous works among all the peoples.

Scripture Lesson
Exodus 3
God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the Holy One said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…

What made the ground holy?
Are you hiding your face from God?
Where do you find comfort in this story about God’s promise?

            Relax for a few moments and let go of the morning. Close your eyes and take several deep breaths until you feel your body relaxing.

Blessing of Self
            I affirm and celebrate myself for…


Poetry as Benediction—Fire in the Earth by David Whyte
And we know, when Moses was told,
in the way he was told,
“Take off your shoes!” He grew pale from the simple

reminder of fire in the dusty earth.
He never recovered
his complicated way of loving again

and was free to love in the same way
he felt the fire licking at his heels loved him.
As if the lion earth could roar

and take him in one movement.

Concluding Prayer & Lord’s Prayer
New every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world. Stir up in us the desire to serve you, to live peacefully with our neighbors, and give us eyes to see the risen Christ in all those we meet. We pray this through Christ, who taught us to pray saying, Our Father…

            God said, “I have come down to deliver you…”
                        May God the Father/Mother bless you.
                                    May God the Son walk with you.
                                                May God the Spirit lead your lives with love.

See, that didn’t take too long!

Have a great weekend.

PS—Below is the entire poem from above. I hope you enjoy.

 And we know, when Moses was told,
in the way he was told,
“Take off your shoes!” He grew pale from the simple
 reminder of fire in the dusty earth.
He never recovered
his complicated way of loving again
 and was free to love in the same way
he felt the fire licking at his heels loved him.
As if the lion earth could roar
 and take him in one movement.
Every step he took
from there was carefully placed.
 Everything he said mattered as if he knew
the constant witness of the ground
and remembered his own face in the dust
 the moment before revelation.
Since then thousands have felt
the same immobile tongue with which he tried to speak.
 Like the moment you too saw, for the first time,
your own house turned to ashes.
Everything consumed so the road could open again.
 Your entire presence in your eyes
and the world turning slowly
into a single branch of flame.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Experience Eclipsed

A "free hand" time lapse of the creation of the Richmond eclipse banana by
my dear friend and colleague, Jeremy Cannada. This photo was captured
on Monday in Richmond, Virginia between 1:30 p.m.-2:45 p.m. EDT. 

“I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth” Joel 2

I tried to be the cool kid this past Monday—you know, the dude who wasn’t going to be impressed by the eclipse.

I mean, come on. I saw one in ’92. Chances are, I’ll see one again in 2024 when I’ll be 39.

Also, the Lincoln area would only see a 90% eclipse not even the full thing. So what was the point?

I had better things to do. Really, I tried to be the cool kid.

But I failed. I failed miserably.

About 1:00 p.m. I got a text from a friend asking me if I was outside. Trusting her judgment, I went home, pulled the shades down in all the rooms (so the pups wouldn’t look into the sun) and went out to my patio.

Initially, I was a bit disappointed because the storm clouds were rolling in, preventing clear skies, and blocking a clear viewing of our partial eclipse.

As I stood texting my friend back, with my head bowed down to the glow of the phone, I felt it:

I felt the world go still.
         I heard the birds go silent.
         I watched my shadow disappear.
         It became something special.

As the moon sashayed in front of the sun for but a couple hundred seconds, I felt small. There was something happening that no one can control. We were all part of something greater—much greater—than any of us. The universe danced and played this past Monday, and we were fortunate to watch.

Standing in the stillness and silence, I couldn’t help but think of our ancestors in faith and what such an event must have meant to them. Was this pause in time and sound what Moses experienced as he stood before the burning bush or on the mountain receiving the Torah? When Elijah was in the cave did he feel the same awe and wonder I experienced while the eclipse was at its peak? Could have an event like an eclipse been what inspired the psalmist to write prose about the splendor of creation and the profundity of our being?

I can’t speak for them, but I will speak to my own experience; I cried. As I watched the shadow disappear, it felt as though a oneness between myself and the world was born. At that very moment, as I stood alone in the confines of my home, gone was the false self, and for an instant of my life, my only awareness was the existence with which God gifted me—myself.

If I have lost you with the talk of false self versus true self, I apologize. What I intend to communicate is this: in that moment of total eclipse, my heart felt the totality of God’s love. As I witnessed the universe move at its own speed, there was an assurance warming my heart and a promise shading my despair. In all of this, the Creator of the Universe, the one in whose image and likeness I am created, was, is and shall be a part of it all.



So no, I didn’t actually “see” the eclipse because

1. I didn’t have the sunglasses and chose to listen to the expert advice that suggested not looking up without them, and
2. There are times when we can’t see God but can only feel Her.

It has been my experience that the times when I’m most reluctant to welcome something greater than myself, that’s when I most needed God’s presence like on Monday, when I wasn’t going to sing that annoying “Total Eclipse of the Heart” song, nor was I going to write a blog post about the imaginative nature of the Divine Dance.

But here I am. I’m still contemplating the absence of light in the middle of the day—an event that had geese flying in circles, wolves howling at noon, and many of us pondering the vast mystery of the universeand our faith.

So though I wasn’t being kitschy by singing Bonnie Tyler’s hit, another song did come to mind, and it is a childhood classic:

God’s got the whole world, in Her hands.
She’s got the whole wide world, in Her hands.

And this, friends this is our invitation to forget any vain cares and enter into our own hearts, which God has set aside to be God’s paradise and our own. God’s not only got the whole world (or sun, or moon, or stars, or space) in His hands, but he also has you.

Rest in that celestial good news, trusting the Divine Dance will continue to woo creation—and us—into being!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-the Alt L...

Despite being born in 1985, if I am honest, I am a child of the 90s.

You can see this played out in a couple different areas in my life, some twenty years later.

Musically, I still prefer the alternative melodies of bands like the Wallflowers and the Counting Crows to Justin Bieber and Toby Keith.

My style of dress definitely embodies the alternative grunge-look made famous in the 90s. Okay, maybe I don’t wear flannel shirts two sizes too big, like the musical legend, Kurt Cobain, but you won’t find me in a pair of skinny jeans or pastel polo shirts with my collar popped.

I still prefer “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” to “How I Met your Mother,” and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls will forever be the greatest dynasty of all time. (Yes, even over the G.O.A.T, Tom Brady.)

Yet, over the last few years, I’ve noticed how this ‘alternative’ lifestyle has penetrated deeper than my entertainment and fashion choices.

It has shaped my understanding of my faith.

Let me put it as plainly as I can and proclaim it as boldly as I am able: God in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, has called us—as the church—to provide an alternative way of life in the world.

We must work at all times and in all places to exclude sin and establish God’s reign.

To establish God’s reign and to embody the prayer we pray every Sunday in the Lord’s Prayer means to stand in mutual relationship with God. Culture is built on movements toward empire, toward equating success with rugged individualism, and toward a homogenous way of life. Through scripture, which is the story of God, we yet see that God’s people stand in direct conflict with this system of being (and culture). This is the radical and alternative meaning we are supposed to get when we read the word “world” in the New Testament. Friends, human systems are the ways we structure our reality, and they are almost always going to be diametrically opposed to the mystery of God—to the Trinity.

Our systems say racism is okay. God says diversity is cherished.
Our systems say sexism is okay. God says “blessed are you among women.”
Our systems say you must check one of two boxes. God says you are beloved just as you are.

After all, Jesus did say something like, "whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all." 

At Christ's table, there is no room for hate. 

Only love.

When we fail to live as this alternative community, sin prevails.

Again, to put it a bit more plainly: sin is every refusal to move in the direction of our deepest identity as love.

No matter how many times you have heard me say this or have read my words, I will never stop enjoying any moment to remind us of these radical truths: Love is our destiny. Love is our name. Love is our true reality.

Love is the alternative to how culture often encourages us to exist. When we want to grasp for power via our salary or job title, God tells us true power comes when we embrace humility and patience. One system says peace will never be achieved. But God says it can and will be if we but commit ourselves truly to become and to be the alternative community we have been gifted to be.

Let’s be honest; these are grim times for our country, during which the God of our fondest dreams seems nowhere to be found. Yet, below the darkness of despair and underneath the suspicion of doubt, there is still reason to hope. One preacher says this place of disillusionment isn’t so bad. After all, “Disillusionment is the loss of illusion—about ourselves, about the world, about God—and while it is almost always painful, it is not a bad thing to lose the lies we have mistaken for the truth.”

God does not conform to our expectations. Rather, God invites us into God’s power, which is not controlling but is redeeming. It is a power best felt when we are awakened to the capacity to love other people.

This is what it means to be an alternative people—to embody an alterative faith. Jesus teaches that a person can neither move inward nor find peace with any depth unless and until the person diminishes in service to others. Our ability to love and serve depends upon our willingness to think less of our self-estimation and the estimation of others, and instead, rely on the deep wellspring of God’s life within us—each of us and all of us.

To live the alternative lifestyle of God is a daily choice. On most days, my efforts flop, kind of like the band, Hanson. But thanks be to God that when and where I see failure, God sees an alternative action: resurrection.

And that promise is truly what moves me.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Through Stained Glass: Mid-Week Reflection-Heart Prayer in June's August

You read that correctly.

That says 92-degrees. (Though my truck thermostat said 94!) And yes, it does feel like 97 out!

And you are also correct in that it is, in fact, June and not already August.

I guess we should be thankful that it isn’t so humid out… yet.

Funny isn’t it? How when it’s cold, we want it to be hot, and when it’s hot, we wish it to be cooler.

Some have suggested this is how they sometimes feel with their prayer habits: when life is going well, it is easy not to pause and pray, and when life gets hard, the first thing we do is pray.

Think of that last one. Maybe a part of your prayer is to blame or to question God about the difficulties we experience. That’s called lament. It’s also honest to admit that because of the hardships, we may sometimes choose not to pray.

Whatever our motivations (or lack thereof), God welcomes prayer: whether it’s those we have written in our journals or those we offer up quickly before we pull off a Band-Aid, God finds us.  

This is why—in spite of God’s availability and hospitality—we must make time to pray. It is easy to get lost in life’s busyness and the occasional storm that accompanies this journey. Prayer brings us back to the depths of our being, and perhaps by invoking the name of Jesus in wonder and love, prayer returns us to the place of our true (first) existence: God.

To rest in the presence of God has often been called ‘prayer of the heart’ or contemplative prayer. Prayer of the heart may use few words or none, but it requires faith and a willing, attentive heart. Sometimes we don’t pray because we may not know how to, or we wonder which practice is the right one. Our worry makes us miss the purpose of prayer. After all, prayer isn’t about doing something right so that we might change God; rather, we pray so that we may become of aware of God’s presence in our lives.

Prayer is meant to reorient our lives toward God, and it reminds us of our need for ongoing conversion, mercy, and love—all of which God freely gives. The quality of each person’s life grows from the prayer of the heart as a whole, and prayer immeasurably nourishes one’s life in return.

To pray when only we find it convenient robs us of God’s goodness in every moment of every day amidst every season. When we begin to make time to pray—to ponder what is before us now with trust, joy, and loving attention—that’s when we become aware of the divine in all aspects of life.

My understanding of prayer has evolved over the years. What used to be a transactional practice as a child—“God if you heal my cut, I promise to never walk barefoot in the alley again”—has become one of holy listening. And being.

The best example of a prayer of the heart I can offer you from my life is one I experienced on this 94-degree day:

I was shopping in a store who had their air conditioner cranked up so high—I swear—I saw snowflakes. The longer I wandered the aisles, the colder I became… to the point that I started getting goose bumps. Though my heart rate was up a bit after the jaunt from the store to my truck, I was still shivering when got to the door. As I opened it, it was like I had stuck my head in my mom’s oven after she cooked lasagna; a wave of heat smacked me in the face. Getting in and settled in the seat, I grabbed the steering wheel almost hot to the touch, and a strange thing happened….

Suddenly, a profound sense of peace overcame me.

I imagine that’s what it’s like when babies wake in the middle of the night, scared from loneliness or want, then are held and swaddled in their parent’s arms, pressed against a beating heart and comforted by a rhythm they’ve felt since the beginning.

As I thawed, I became overwhelmingly aware of my need for God’s mercy in my life. In that very moment, God cradled me in the warmth of Her gentleness, returning me to my core—to Love. On this August-like day in June, I remembered the real purpose of prayer is the deepening of personal realization in love—the awareness of God.

Friends, may you be warmed by the light of God. And may you come to embrace that you have already been found in Christ. And may you trust that even now, with your words or despite the absence of them, the Spirit is shaping you into the beloved child of God you are.