Monday, July 21, 2014

Praying the Streets

This morning I walked some of the streets in Buda, praying as I went along. I listened to a recording of "Morning Prayer" for part of the way, and I prayed for various people and situations as I passed them. Everything deserves God's attention: "The earth is the LORD's, and all that is in it" (Ps. 24:1), and everything that caught my attention, I prayed for: 
  • the children who play on the playscape at the city park
  • the United Methodists and their pastor & secretary
  • those who receive food from the food pantry
  • the teachers and students at the elementary school
  • the kids who play GAGA ball
  • the residents of the homes in the neighborhood
  • the pastor and members at First Baptist Church
  • the proprietors of businesses downtown, by name if I knew them
  • the city employees
  • the firefighters, Lion's Club, senior citizens
  • those who collect trash
  • the men constructing a new home
  • the cows in the field and the families who depend on their productivity
  • the green grass, and weather to keep it so
  • those who travel on trains
  • wise choices for economics and commerce that serve the common good
  • fair business practices and safe working conditions
  • owners of stores that have closed
  • my dentist and her staff
  • the occupants of each car that passed me as I waited for the light to change

I also thought about praying itself, how it works, why we do it. I realized that praying in a somewhat general way, by category rather than by name, felt very communal on my solo walk. I felt like I was drawing each thing for which I prayed into the care and protection of God, drawing together all these pieces that intersect by geography or happenstance in this little town of Buda. We may not all know each other, but we belong together by virtue of living in the same community.

I thought too about people who do not pray themselves, or who do not particularly want to be prayed for, especially by a stranger-pastor who may be a nut job for all they know. What if the "aha!" moment, the "I just felt differently about it one day" is a result of someone praying for them? There's connection and belonging again: as Dr. Cindy Rigby preached at Austin Seminary recently: "Prayer creates space for us to imagine God's desires", and I believe God desires connection with all of creation. Perhaps a random prayer from a stranger is the thing that makes all the difference. I'm not sure, but I'm willing to spend my time, and my 10,000 daily steps, just in case.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Spirituality Book recs

Here's an updated list of possibilities for spiritual reading for our book club (we've already read some of these). I'd love to get some of your recommendations in the comments here or on our FB page, Living Word Lutheran Church Buda, Texas.  Thanks!

Bell, Rob. Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. NY: HarperCollins, 2010.
Bolz-Weber, Nadia. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. NY:Jericho Books, 2013.
Borg, Marcus. The Heart of Christianity.  NY: HarperCollins, 2004.
Borysenko, Joan. A Woman’s Journey to God. NY: Riverhead Books, 1999.
Chittister, Joan. The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully.  NY: Bluebridge, 2008.
Evans, Rachel Held. Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the AnswersLearned to Ask the Questions. Zondervan, 2010.
Foster, Richard J.  Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World. NewYork: HarperOne, 2005.
Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. NY: Penguin, 2006.
Kidd, Sue Monk. The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine. NY: HarperCollins, 1996.
___. Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story. Viking, 2008.
___. When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990.
Lamott, Ann. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. NY: Anchor Books, 1999.
___.  Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. NY: Riverhead, 2005.
___. Grace, Eventually: Thoughts on Faith. NY: Riverhead, 2007.
McLaren, Brian. Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?:Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World. Jericho Books, 2012.
Miles, Sara.  Take This Bread: The Spiritual Memoir of a Twenty-first CenturyChristian. NY: Ballantine, 2007
Neumark, Heidi. Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx. Beacon, 2004.
Norris, Kathleen. Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. NY: Riverhead, 1998.
Oliver, Suzanne. The Faith Club: A Muslim, a Christian, a Jew—Three Women Search for Understanding. NY: Free Press, 2006.
Palmer, Parker J. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. Jossey-Bass, 2000.
Rupp, Joyce. Dear Heart, Come Home: The Path of Midlife Spirituality. NY: Crossroad, 1996.
Sentilles, Sarah. Breaking Up with God: A Love Story. NY: HarperCollins, 2011.
Taylor, Barbara Brown. An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith. NY: HarperCollins, 2009.
Weems, Renita. What Matters Most: Ten Lessons in Living Passionately from the Song of Solomon. NY: Warner Books, 2004.
Williams, Terry Tempest. Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. NY: Vintage, 1991.
Winner, Lauren F. Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis. NY: HarperCollins, 2012.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Flickers and Figments of (Good) Fridays


Many Good Friday thoughts and memories today:

I’ve been fasting on Good Friday since I was 16 years old, 2/3 of my life. In recent practice I fast for 40 hours on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday, and one 24-hour day during the weeks of Lent in between.  I also used to not do my hair or make-up, but one of my college profs (whose class, and exam, I had requested to skip in observance of the Holy Day) called me on that, saying, “Isn’t is supposed to be that no one knows you’re fasting?” (Mt 6:16-18) [I did get permission, from that Roman Catholic prof, to take the test a different day.] 

Good Friday, 1988 I hosted a small group of people at my home for a Good Friday worship service, at which we read some scripture, prayed, and sang “O Sacred Head”. Our presence was required at a work-related dinner, and none of us wanted to miss observing the day. 

When we lived on Long Island, Phil participated in a Via Crucis among the Latino community with whom he served as pastor there. One of my favorite pix of him is from that event. 

Shortly after moving to Texas, all four of us walked in the Via Crucis in San Antonio—what a powerful and culturally interesting event!

Good Friday Hill Country Stations of the Cross hosted by First Christian (Disciples) and St. Mark’s Episcopal Churches in San Marcos—beautiful and striking setting for contemplating this day.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday observed on Wednesday in Holy Week at TLU; a combined service telling the bulk of the story.

Tre Ore service at First English in Austin; Craig Sommer and Lou Flessner preached before and after me, in turn.

Trying to black out windows in a sanctuary with a 100-foot-long aisle (big sanctuary!) in Janesville, WI, for a noontime tenebrae service

Acquiring my first cassock to be appropriately attired for the evening tenebrae service at Epiphany, Hempstead, NY

A young Lucas observing, “Mom and Jason can’t eat supper with us because they’re starving”.  He may have been onto something, several hours into our fast!


As I walked this morning, I saw a flag at half-mast, and wondered about who was charged to come to a public school that was off for the holiday to raise the flag. I then thought about how many reasons the flag may be at half-mast: recent shooting at Ft. Hood, ferry accident killing students in South Korea, school girls abducted in Nigeria, Jesus dying on a cross.  Good Friday happens all around us, all the time—senseless, unjustifiable killing of God’s beloved people and creation. And that is why this Friday is Good Friday (or “God’s Friday”, I saw posted earlier): for all the evil and heartbreak we continue to perpetrate, God still looks at this creation and proclaims us “good”, and when we can’t live into that divine description, God still works to make us so—reclaiming, redeeming, restoring, re-creating, reimagining us. This Friday is not good for God; it isn’t good for us who wish we could be different, who love Jesus and don’t mean to hurt him. But it’s good work that God does in Christ, showing us holy love that knows no limits.

Please remember we are in the midst of Triduum—THREE days. They are not about death, they are about depth, the depth of God’s love for creation, which, finally, is not shown on the cross, but in resurrection.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Week What-for

The Triduum, “three days”, are upon us.

I’ve been caught in the quagmire that is this week: for some people, this is a time of holiday, some free time to do extra things around the yard, visit family, hunt for candy-filled eggs. For my Jewish friends in Texas (and other places, surely), it’s a time to remember that some holidays are more observed, more understood, more accommodated than others—Passover being one of the “less so” around here. And for us who observe Holy Week that leads to Easter, it is a time of reflection, a time set-apart, a time intended to be different from other Time. There are rituals and rhythms unlike other times of the year, feelings and questions unique to the holiness of this week.

And I am reminded that part of the call to holiness is that we pray on behalf of others who are not praying, observe the days for those who are not able or allowed to observe or practice for a variety of reasons, many beyond their control. I am not the type to get annoyed by or angry with those who are not doing what I am doing these three holy days; rather, when I am weary, those “others” are precisely for whom I must take the next step on the labyrinth, listen to one more last word of Christ from the cross, and wait, and wait, keeping vigil in the silence of the unknown. I do not believe Christ died to take away my sins, but rather that all of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection are God’s way of reconciling all of creation. Indeed, the “work” we do these three days is holy, walking alongside what God is doing in Christ Jesus, for the sake of the world. 

Blessed Triduum to all (and, since I probably won’t write on Sunday—Happy Easter, too!)  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sermon: Ten Things Your Pastor Wants You To Know About Holy Communion

February 16, 2014
6th Sunday after the Epiphany
Narrative Lectionary, Year 4 
Preaching text: John 6:35-59 

 10.  This is God’s grace, given to us in a way we can comprehend.
God doesn’t really need us to take communion, to gather around what isn’t really a table to eat what isn’t really a meal.
But WE need it.
We need to go through the motions, hear the words, practice receiving this grace from God, because too often we either don’t think we deserve it at all, or we miss it when it’s right in front of us.
Communion happens in a way that we can’t miss—God’s grace and love, here in a bite of bread and drink of wine that startles our senses into paying attention.
We may not always fully comprehend the grace that comes to us in this holy meal, but when we actually take and eat, take and drink, we can’t miss that it’s there.

9. It’s a sacrament—Jesus commands us to do it.
In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we hear the words of institution—the words Jesus said to his disciples at his last Passover meal: “Take and eat, take and drink, do this in remembrance of me.”
We hear those words every week as we prepare for communion, remembering that this is more than just a cool thing or a quick snack on a Sunday morning: this is something Jesus wants us to do.
Communion is an ordinary thing used for God’s extraordinary purpose;
it’s open to all; and it’s commanded by Jesus—this makes it a sacrament for Lutherans.

 8. This is an open Table—all are welcome.
Since this is not “our” meal, as Lutherans or as Living Word, but Christ’s meal and his invitation, everyone is welcome, as we say, “to receive God’s gifts of grace as they come to us in this holy meal.”
Lutherans talk about baptism, communion, and preaching as the “means of grace”, the means by which God’s love is conveyed to us in a way we can comprehend.
As such, I think they’re all the same, and if we’re going to offer any one of them to everybody, then all of them should be offered to everybody.
God’s grace is not about deserving or understanding—it’s a gift.
And Jesus was talking to all y’all—this holy meal is something we do together, as we recognize Christ present among us, together.

7. So that’s why I think young children can receive Holy Communion.
They may not understand what’s going on theologically with a sacrament—but we don’t really want to make that a test question, do we?—but they certainly understand what it feels like to be left out of what everyone else is doing.
And it’s one of those things we learn from experience: we know love because we are loved, not because we understand love intellectually. 
We know God’s grace because we receive it, we live in it, it surrounds us. That’s also why we have frequent sermons about communion!

6. There’s no such thing as “too much”.
At Living Word we celebrate communion every time we gather for Sunday worship.
It is God’s grace, given for and to us—why wouldn’t we want it as often as we can get it?
We used to think that communion was something “special” that we “saved” for only a few times a year, or if you were an extravagant Midwestern pietist, maybe once a month.(!)
But when we think about it as God’s free gift, something we don’t and can’t deserve, we realize we need it more often, not less.
This table is always ready for those who hunger for its gifts. 
5. What we eat:
Bread and wine are used in communion because that’s what Jesus used, but also because there is some form of bread, some form of wine, in every culture.
Not wanting what we eat to be a stumbling block, however, we also offer alternatives: grape juice and gluten-free wafers.
It doesn’t matter what kind of bread or wafer or wine or juice is used; you’ve probably seen a variety of wafer flavors, shapes of bread, types of wine or juice as you’ve taken communion in various places.
There are theological justifications for all of them, as well as practical considerations.
But the focus is not on the form—these elements are merely the vehicle God uses to get that holy grace from God to us.

4. This is the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you:
 One of the most difficult things about Holy Communion is the language we use to describe what’s going on, specifically Jesus’ own words that we heard in the gospel lesson today.
Is this bread and wine, or body and blood?  Why would Jesus say that? Those who have grown up with this language know it’s metaphorical—Jesus does not expect us to take these words literally.
Martin Luther spoke of the presence of Christ being “in, under, and through” these elements; body and blood inseparable from bread and wine, but more than just a “symbol” to make us think of Jesus.
I think of it as the lengths God will go to to make sure we know this amazing love: Jesus gives everything he has, and everything he is, gives his very life, body and soul, to BE the love of God for God’s beloved creation.
That’s where grace and faith come in, rather than acceptance or understanding:
God wants us to have this grace, and we may never figure out how it works, but it’s for us. 

3. Forgiveness:
Jesus himself tells us this is “for the forgiveness of sins”.
We occasionally use the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness; even less often I hear a private confession; we sing the kyrie, which is a kind of communal confession.
But it is in this meal that we receive God’s forgiveness, that <getting rid of anything that stands in the way of God’s love getting to us>
—whether or not we’ve asked for it in confession, whether or not we think we need it.
Forgiveness is part of the grace, part of the “all”, of this holy meal.

#2. God comes to US--

#1. This is FOR YOU
And thank God for that!
Given that we cannot comprehend all that God does for us and to us in this holy meal, we probably can’t be trusted to find our way to God—we would spend all our time wandering in the wilderness, wondering where God is to be found.
So God comes to US.
The God who knows everything about us, knows who and how we are, knows where and when to find us, and comes to us—week after week, bite after bite, in faith and in doubt.
God comes to us in this holy meal and assures us we are God’s children, beloved, forgiven, filled with God’s grace, given and shed FOR YOU.