Sunday, January 23, 2011

What Are You Looking For?

Ever hear one of those sermons that work on you all week?

This one did. (The Rev. Brian Cole 1/16/11)

It referenced this passage: The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” (John 1:37-39)

I appreciated learning about these first words of Jesus in the Gospel according to John. And, it's made me wonder. What am I looking for? A place to call home? God's love? Release from deep anger? Sense of security when I am afraid? Courage to forgive? Compassion to replace condemnation?

The response of his disciples to these first words is so ordinary, "Where are you staying?" And his reply? "Come and see"

The sermon cracked open for me the sub-text that was going on in this dialogue. It's about how Jesus invites us to come along on the journey, to see for ourselves, to find what we are looking for. To me, there is also a mutuality about it. It also means, Come, Jesus, come into my heart and see with me. Journey with me.

It's such a good question that I used it this week. I was greeting a walk-in at my work place. He was struggling with various ailments, one of which was inability to say his needs. He told me a long story, how he got to the truck stop before his car broke down, how he gave those people a ride, how he helped out his neighbor, how he gave money every week to this organization. And now, "What are you looking for?" I asked. It was, seriously, unclear what he wanted.

There was a pause.

Then he told me the other long story. He wants his car to be fixed, his unemployment to be reinstated, and several other things. Out of the litany of what he wanted, I just knew that I could not help. Nor could our organization. I referred him to 2-1-1 and he just blew me off. "They won't help me." As he opened the door to leave, he turned around and wished me well.

So, I sat with this question all week.

What are you looking for, in this moment? Come and see.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


This week, instead of having a staff meeting, we had a conversation.

A novel idea! Instead of discussing processes, policies, procedures and updates, let's dream a little. Facilitated by the VP of Planning and Community Investment, we discussed - on a personal level - how we dream about our community. Here is how it flowed:

  • What kind of a community do you want?
  • Given those answers, what are the 2-3 most important issues or concerns when it comes to the community?
  • Given our aspirations for the community, what do we want education to be like in our community?
  • How will this (answer to #3) help us get the kind of community we want?
  • Overall, how do you think things are going when it comes to education in our community?
  • How do the issues on education we’re talking about affect you personally?
  • When you think about these issues, how do you feel about what’s going on?
  • What kinds of things are keeping us from having the education we want for kids?
  • When you think about what we’ve talked about, what are the kinds of things that could be done that would make a difference?
  • Thinking back over the conversation, who do you trust to take action on the issues you’ve been talking about?
  • Now that we’ve talked about this issue a bit, what questions do you have about it?
It was very invigorating for me. I felt the hopefulness return to our team, who was having a stressful week.

It reminded me about a professor that I had in seminary who liked to consider the first words of the Gospel of John, "In the beginning was the Word..." as "In the beginning was the intimate conversation..." I found this very refreshing and a concept to which I could connect.

Intimate conversations, I found, connect me to others in a way that words do not. No wordy discussion about policies, procedures, or processes could have shown my how deep my colleagues' compassion runs for our community. No waterhole exchanges about new restaurants or coffee bars could have shown me my colleagues' fears of loss, pains of family dysfunction or perspectives of cultural upbringing. Intimate conversations do that.

And that, is the light that shines in the darkness.

What conversation have you had lately that shifted your connection to others?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Everyone's got it - a shadow side.

What varies is how much we love our shadow, how much we accept and learn from our shadow and how our shadow informs how we see the world - our perspective. One of my shadowy sides tells me that there is "not enough" in the world. Or that I am "not enough." My awareness has allowed me to embrace my inner "Ursula." That not-me personality that sometimes comes out - that deep sea witch that grumbles, moans and wails. When I think about her, I realize that often the source of her power is somehow related to "not enough."

When I came across this poem by John Van De Laar in Weavings Volume XXV, it caught my eye. After I read it, I read it again and again. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do (and Ursula does, too!)

Worry and stress are not hard for us, God,
we do them without thinking.

There is always the potential of threat
to our security,
our comfort,
our health,
our relationships,
our lives,
and we foolishly think that we could silence the fear
if we just had enough money,
enough insurance,
enough toys,
enough stored away for a rainy day.
It’s never enough, though;
the voice of our fear will not be dismissed so easily.

But in the small, silent places within us is another voice;
one that beckons us into the foolishness of faith,
that points our gaze to the birds and flowers,
that, in unguarded moments, lets our muscles relax,
and our hearts lean into loved ones;
In unexpected whispers we hear it,
calling us to remember your promises,
your grace,
your faithfulness;
And suddenly, we discover,
that it is enough.

In this moment, I remember that grace is enough.

We pray that you'll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us. Colossians 1:9

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


On Monday I attended an all-day "Orientation" session at the hospital.

It's a mandatory first-day overview course designed to, well, orient the new employees. [I will be working PRN (on an as-needed basis) as an overnight Chaplain a few weekends per month.] I have to admit that even a day filled with a death-by-powerpoint teaching style, it was helpful. The CEO came in and spoke about what matters - to him, to the hospital, to the community at large. The chief "service" VP emphasized quality. The Human Resources VP expressed how "employees are our best asset."

The more time we spent in the below-freezing air-conditioned theatre, the more we dredged through the practical muck and mire. How and where to park. How to wash our hands. How to stay alert to safety. It was all very predictable, and although I will remember very little, I do feel oriented. This Orientation day is a way to mark the entrance to a new work-a-life - it's a bit like a hazing, too. Here's what everyone knows no matter when they started here. It's an equalizer.

I wondered about getting a God's Love Orientation [day]. Something like a mandatory first-day overview of all creation. Maybe Jesus comes on stage and talks about what is important, to him, to the Kingdom of God, to our hearts. Maybe Peter or Paul come and talk about the importance of Unity. Then perhaps Luke shares about caring for each other, particularly the poor and marginalized. Matthew emphasizes our continuity with our traditional values.

Then, I remembered my baptism.
  • Do you believe in God the Father?...
  • Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?...
  • Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
  • Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? I will, with God’s help.
  • Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? I will, with God’s help.
  • Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I will, with God’s help.
  • Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? I will, with God’s help.
  • Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God’s help.
Now *that's* an Orientation day. Thanks be to God!

How are you "oriented" in this moment?

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13

Saturday, January 15, 2011


I made some mistakes at work this week. One, in particular, will continue to haunt me for the next month or so. Oh, it's not fatal, nor is it something that I beat myself up about. It was, IMHO, an "honest" mistake.

The repercussions of said mistake means that I, and the other people with whom I work, will receive phone calls from not-so-happy corporations and donors about the way they were billed this month. No money has to change hands, it just is going to "cost" in time to explain why it happened and how while it looks like they owe money, they really don't.

I found that making this mistake and having to hear the comments from the callers as well as from my colleagues is really hard for me. Like a wound that stings every time you pull off the bandaid, it's a bit ouchy. And, humbling. Just when I thought I had that Grand Idea for how to make things simpler, better, faster in one area, I turn around and do this. Grand Idea - back in the box.

The up side to mistakes is it allows me to practice saying I'm sorry. This mistake reminds me of my humanness. It allows me to ask for forgiveness (over and over) and to pray for those who swear at me, whether or not they put words to it. Through this whole process, my heart is softening and I really do experience, well, grace.

How are your mistakes healing you, in this moment?

But don't let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother's milk! There's nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. 2 Timothy 3:14 (The Message)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Beautiful, touching, insightful, liberating... all sensations that describe Kate Braestrup's latest book, "Beginner's Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life."

Having read her other two books, I had a feeling that this book would be good. Her style of writing is so ... consumable and yet thought provoking. Between laughing out loud and making those "awww" sounds, I realized that I was completely engaged in the book.

When I worked as a chaplain in the hospital, I was often "asked" to pray, or "sensed" to refrain from prayer, or "searched" for the right words to say, or simply just let my presence be my prayer. In this book, she covers it all.

I connected with her in so many ways; from the prayer of "wow!" she exclaims to the sun as it rises over a frozen lake to the need to interrupt a situation with a prayer to name the sacred moment to the prayer for my enemies.

And, although her world (the out-of-doors) is so different than mine (the indoors), she captured so many subtleties that infuse the honor of prayer. This book reminded me of the sacred ground on which we all walk when we live in a spirit of prayer.

Take off your shoes, in this moment, and let's pray!

Pray diligently. Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude. Col. 4:2

Monday, January 10, 2011

Who chooses?

Vacation read: Geography of the Heart by Fenton Johnson.

This book was recommended to me by my CPE supervisor; it's not for the weak-kneed. Gut-wrenching, heart-enlarging, Spirit-filled and worth every tear that fell on the pages.

The book profiles tenderly the author's memory of "how I fell in love, how I came to be with someone else, how he came to death and how I helped, how in the end love enabled us to continue beyond death." Early on, the author talks about what he learned in his relationship: " love chooses us, if we let it, rather than the other way around..."

I found myself deeply touched by Johnson's frank candor when talking about death, and love, and fear. I include some meaningful paragraphs:

"...One measure of love is the ability to speak aloud the unspeakable, secure in the knowledge of the bedrock on which you rest. To speak with such frankness of the terrors of the heart - to talk so openly of the demons within, with no fear on either side of rejection - honesty of this completeness is the privilege of true lovers..."
"...I was beginning to understand how love offers some kind of victory, the thing that enables us to become larger than ourselves, larger than death."
"...But now I know in my heart what before I understood only in my head: we don't fall in love for reasons. This is the source of love's meaning and of our obsession with it..."

" keeps us human; love taps us into mystery, into that which we can't control or explain: love, and we give away some part of ourselves, to find that part returned to us tenfold, in ways we could never have predicted and cannot rationally understand. Loaves and fishes. Miracles happen."

In showing up to this book, in this moment, I found love in the midst of my own fear. En-couraged by this book, I found strength to name - out loud - what I am fearing now in my life. This book, in this moment of my life, chose me.

Who (or what?) is choosing you, in this moment?

God wasn't attracted to you and didn't choose you because you were big and important—the fact is, there was almost nothing to you. He did it out of sheer love, keeping the promise he made to your ancestors. God stepped in and mightily bought you back out of that world of slavery, freed you from the iron grip of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know this: God, your God, is God indeed, a God you can depend upon. He keeps his covenant of loyal love with those who love him and observe his commandments for a thousand generations. Deuteronomy 7:7 (The Message)

Friday, January 7, 2011


A short review of E. Peterson's magnificent "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places."

To me, it was a helpful and fabulous book, exposing Christ's playful incarnation and clarifying what "spiritual theology" might mean. All that is a mouthful, and taken in small bites, I found myself fed purely and mystically by many insights.

Peterson uses a sonnet by pet and priest G. M. Hopkins to frame this work. The poem's last lines, "provide the image for the metaphorical arena for working out the details of all that is involved in Christian living."
For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs and lovenly in eyes not his
To the Father throgh the features of men's faces.
That sense of PLAY - exuberance and freedom that "mark life when it is lived beyond necessity..." which is to say that all life is or can be worship. Christ plays in creation, in history, in community.
Throughout the book, Peterson's frankness and economy of words captured my attention. He constantly moved back to the ordinariness that Jesus is God among us - a good thing to remember in Christmastide. "...everything that Jesus does and says takes place within the limits and conditions of humanity."
In the midst of this grounding, how do we live a Christian life?
The Eucharist is a core practice brought about by Christ in history. Central to my faith, I resonated deeply with the poem he quoted by R. Heber simply called
The Eucharist
Bread of the world in mercy broken,
Wine of the soul in mercy shed,
By whom the words of life were spoken,
And in whose death our sins are dead.
Look on the heart by sorrow broken,
Look on the tears by sinner shed;
And be thy feast to us the token
That by thy grace our souls are fed.
The treatment of the Eucharist in this book surprised me with fresh perspectives and emphasis.
Finally, Peterson wraps up the beauty of Christ playing in so many ways while emphasizing,
"This is slow work and cannot be hurried. It is also urgent work and cannot be procrastinated... but in the Christian way, patience and urgency are yoked. Urgent as this is, there is no hurry."
I connected with the playfulness and imaginative approach to his Christology. I will return to this book again, when I am impatient or dulled - to find Christ playing in abundant ways!
How is Christ alive in you, in this moment?

Spiritually alive, we have access to everything God's Spirit is doing, and can't be judged by unspiritual critics. Isaiah's question, "Is there anyone around who knows God's Spirit, anyone who knows what he is doing?" has been answered: Christ knows, and we have Christ's Spirit. 1 Cor 2:14-15 (The Message)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Make Way

One of my assignments while a Ministry Intern at Holy Family was to "play church."

I gathered four parishioners who offered to be my guides and guinea pigs and off we went. With pita bread and sparkling grape juice in-bottle, I presided over a simply Eucharist on St Nicholas day.

I vested, prayed the collect(s), preached a homily and waited while my "Deacon" (Fr Rob+) set the table. I prayed the Eucharistic prayer, gave pita-bread body of Christ while my deacon gave the sparkling-juice blood of Christ.

I felt grounded yet self-conscious and awkward with the liturgical gestures.

And, in the end, as I re-cessed after the bumbled final blessing and diaconal dismissal, Miss M called out "Make way for the image of God!" Okay, she is one of my best supporters and so I graciously smiled, all of us knowing that it is so NOT about me, or any priest up there. It's the LORD's supper, for heaven's sake (pun intended).

I have thought about this affirmation often - how delightful to make this pronouncement... no, not of me, but of anyone and eveyrone with whom I have contact. Can I do it? Can I internally say to anyone who comes near me, "make way for the image of God!"

In that moment, it made me smile. It still does. Thank you, Miss M!
For whom are you making way in this moment?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

my beat. Your heart.

This week on vacation, I am blessed to hold my silent prayer time outside, on the balcony, overlooking the beach.

I fall into silence and begin to hear my heartbeat. I sink into that silent place, listening to and for God, when my monkey mind begins to relax. My heart beating seems almost to ooze energy from within my to outside of myself.

I become aware of the waves crashing ont eh shore. They fill my left ear - and then both ears - and then after emptying my left, fill my right ear completely. In stereo resonance, the rhythmic waves fill my beaing. This comes from the outside moving inward.

Its almost like God's heartbeat of creation, these waves, that crash of regularity into my heart.

I feel more in synch with life every day.

How is Love's heart beating within you in this moment?

Be strong and let your heart take courage all you who wait for God. - Ps 31

Homily on St Nicholas

Homily on St Nicholas ~ December 6, 2010

Mark 10:13-16
People were bringing little children to Jesus in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Today, Dec. 6, is the official feast day of St. Nicholas.

In yesterday’s children’s sermon,
Paul, or rather “Bishop Nicholas of Myra,” shared his long history –
* his possible presence
at the Council of Nicea,
* how his name Nicholas
was Americanized into Nick Clause,
* his gift money
to three child-brides
with coins which he used to
fill their stockings,
which were apparently hung
by the chimney with care.
In his memory, then,
parents of young children
would later fill stockings with treats.

For the longest time,
I was afraid of children.
Unpredictable, noisy, direct.

When I preached in Corvallis
at the children’s sermon,
the kids would gather around
and I’m sure they could smell my fear. After a three sermons, however,
they transformed me.

I remember one sermon
where my teddy bear
was the focus of comfort
and the honest, direct answers
I received from the children
deepened my comfort with them and helped grow my confidence.

One of my ongoing spiritual practices,
therefore, is to do
as Jesus says in today’s Gospel,
to “let the little children come to me.” Rob and I have talked about
how my challenge to hang
with the youth
raises up my fear
and so is perhaps exactly
where I need to learn.

So it’s no wonder that
I was drawn to pick up
Eugene Peterson’s book
“Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places”
quite “by accident.”

His thesis revolves around a poem:
For Christ plays in ten thousand place,
Lovely in limbs, and
lovely in eyes not his
To the Father
through the features of men’s faces.

The central verb,
catches the essence of children –
how we are called to recognize Emmanuel
in this Advent season.

I love the incarnational essence:
Christ playing out
in our limbs and eyes,
in our feet and speech,
in the faces of men and women we see
all day long.

And it is with some fear and trembling that I am doing “play” church tonight.
But, you know what?
Play is that exuberant,
unpredictable, noisy,
and direct

That kind of play is freedom
Freedom to live beyond mere survival–

Freedom to play with God,
so that all life is,
or can be,

Playful, giving, exuberant, …

We are all reminded
through St. Nick
to play.
To give.

To “let the little children come to you.”