Tuesday, May 31, 2016

the practical realities of living into a theology of the cross...

"A theology of the Cross stands in opposition to a theology of Glory" writes Belden Lane in his stunning albeit dense book, Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality.  

Calvin, like Luther, was ever wary of a theology of glory, one that tries to grasp God's splendor through an immediate apprehension of theoretical insight. A theology of the Cross, in contrast, discerns God's presence hidden in the little things of the world, revealed most perfectly in the broken body of Christ on a hill outside Jerusalem.
The great Reformers confessed to living into the foolishness of the Cross, following and even celebrating a Crucified God, as the key to God's wisdom.  For those willing to embrace the depths of life's vulnerability, this is the only kind of Savior that makes sense, although making sense isn't quite accurate. It is more like ringing true or resonating beyond the fluff and the bullshit that passes for truth. The lectionary texts from the Hebrew Bible for the past few Sundays have been saturated with just this type of hopeful imagination:  in the midst of despair, broken and frightened people find a measure of new life as they share from their souls and create community in the Spirit of God's grace. This week the Elijah story cycle takes center stage:

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying,“Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” 

I am moved, shaken and energized by the tales of the prophet recorded in I Kings. For reasons greater than I can comprehend, I both need this jarring call to God's faithfulness beyond all evidence at this moment in my ministry and am ready to embrace it. Hope, vision and love are clearly hiding in my world right now; they will be revealed in God's own time, but I am truly looking as through a glass darkly. So my task is to stay the course, keep as silent as I can and trust that there is more to be revealed.

Douglas John Hall, one of the great lights of the contemporary Reformed Church, articulated what it means to stay the course theologically in his penetrating book: The Cross in Context. His extended summary of how to live into the foolish wisdom of the Cross is worth sharing at length:

The best way that I have found of conveying what I think this theological method and spirit is all about is by considering these so-called virtues in the light of what they are each negating. Unless the negation of each is understood, the positive statement (the “virtue”) of each is cheapened and made into a cliché. We do not have to speculate about what these virtues negate, for in each case the negation is clearly present in the collected works of Paul; and as the New Testament’s chief exemplar of this “thin tradition” Paul speaks, I believe, not only for Luther but for all who have been grasped by the principles of this tradition.

Faith. What does this term negate? The metaphor that crops up time and again in Paul’s writings is “sight.” Faith, which “comes by hearing” and is precisely a not-seeing. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,”—one of Luther’s favourite texts. The eschatological element—especially the “not yet” side of Christian eschatology—is here strongly present. The theology of the cross is a theology of faith, and while faith is certainly a positive term for Luther it must not be elevated beyond its proper limit. In the act of trusting, the One trusted is glimpsed—as through a glass darkly; but not seen. Faith that is not sight is thus a faith warned against presumption. It is also a faith that is able to live with its antithesis, doubt, and that is in fact dead faith (as Unamuno said) when doubt is no longer allowed a hearing.

Hope. Hope is at once an orientation to the future and a recognition that the present is
still lacking its promised fulfillment. Hope realized is no longer hope. The stance that we call hope is one constantly made conscious of the fact that the present, the hic et nunc, is a falling-short of what is most to be desired. So the hope that is faith’s future dimension is always “hope against hope” (Rom 4:18). As faith must live with doubt, so hope must live with its antithesis, hopelessness, despair. What is hoped for must not be taken for granted, as though it were already experienced reality, already “seen”—for here too Paul resorts to the metaphor of sight: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8:24-25).

Love. Love negates many things, as Paul makes plain in the famous hymn to love in 1 Corinthians 13. But I think that what must receive priority where this discussion is concerned is power. “Love does not insist on its own way (1 Cor 13:5). “The crux of the cross,” wrote Reinhold Niebuhr, “is its revelation of the fact that the final power of God over man is derived from the self-imposed weakness of his love.” 

This, I think, is of the essence of this theology, and it is hard for all to accept who think of deity chiefly in terms of power—omnipotence, almighty-ness. But if God is love, then the divine power must accommodate itself to divine love, and not vice versa. And that, for the theology of the cross, is basic.

Such is the foolishness of the Cross for those who follow Jesus:  it appears as folly to those paying homage to the metrics of the bottom line. Hell, it appears as folly to me most days, too. And yet according to the via negativa that Hall applies, it gives shape, form and meaning to this quest, as well. Psalm 30 articulates the challenge of such holy foolishness - and I trust it with my heart even when my head is filled with questions.

You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. Lord my God, I will give thanks to you for ever.

1.  Carrying the Cross @ liamjonesfineart.com
2. Head of Christ @ www.imagejournal.org
3. Meditation on Christian Art @ myocn.net

Monday, May 30, 2016

after a memorial day prayer...

Our local Memorial Day parade was cancelled this morning due to rain, but the ceremony marking America's fallen war dead still took place and I was grateful to have been asked to share the invocation.  There was a time in my ideological past when I would not have done so - especially in my early pacifist days - because I could not bridge my own inner contradictions about war and peace-making. It was easier to project on to others my own confusion and sit in self-righteous and safe judgment.

But one of the blessings that comes from serving God as a pastor in the local church for over
35 years is the chance to get over yourself:  LIFE is NOT about ME!  It is about how I can be allied with God's love and grace for others in the world as it is. If you do this gig long enough, you get a chance to hang with vets from WW II and Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars - and if you are lucky, you get to hear some of their stories. You also get to be pastor to active duty service women and men, too - and really learn what sacrifice is all about. And if you are profoundly lucky, you get to earn a bit of their trust in the process, too. It comes down to the wisdom Niebuhr articulated in part two of the Serenity Prayer:

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Two of my favorite people were present at today's ceremony - both rabbis - albeit from different generations. They, too, know what it means to accept life as it is rather than as they might want it. As the rabbi's benediction made clear:  on this day we must come to terms with the ebb and flow of the divine cycle of times where there is always life and death as well as war and peace. Looking at the faces of so many stony men in uniform (and they were mostly men) brought back my earlier discomfort: for the longest time I mistook these chiseled grimaces for cruelty. But that is so very, very wrong. In reality, in this moment of remembrance, they are just doing their best to keep it together in public as they remember the excruciating agonies they have endured and the immeasurable grief they feel for comrades who have died. Truth be told, these tough looking faces are barely holding back tears we can never comprehend. And they keep it together to honor their beloved friends lost in combat with dignity and affection.

Most of us have no real experience with the insight Jesus speaks in chapter 15 of St. John's gospel:  no one has greater love than this, but to lay down your life for a friend. But the humble gathering today in Pittsfield - and all across the US - know this hard truth and know it from the inside out. It was a privilege to share this morning with these soldiers, sailors, air men and women even as my soul prayed for a peace beyond bloodshed.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Unplugged with Beatles vs. Stones...

In the unfolding thoughts about this "unplugged" thing, I was pleasantly surprised yesterday to recall the way both The Beatles and the Stones played with this, too. I've blogged about my favorite Stones' "country" songs before (everything from "Country Honk" to "Sweet Virginia") but never anything about my Top Five acoustic British Invasion tunes. So, while I may have already worn out this theme for some, I think it is just getting started for me.


+ Things We Said Today:was originally written for A Hard Day's Night but not used after it was recorded in 1964. It is one of my favorite McCartney tunes and stands the test of time.

+ Blackbird showed up on the so-called White Album (actually The Beatles) from 1968.It too is a McCartney tune, a tender tribute to the African American quest for social/racial justice. I have been playing it with affection since those early days.

+ I'll Be Back is another song recorded/written for A Hard Day's Night but omitted from the film in 1964. It did, however, find its way into the British soundtrack album and then Beatles 65 in the USA. It is a mostly John Lennon lament that I continue to enjoy - especially the chord changes and harmonies - even while noting Lennon's less than mature attitude towards his lovers.

+ I've Just Seen a Face is a terrific love song that owes a debt of gratitude to US country music. It is just too much fun to sing, play and harmonize on - and lest anyone doubt that McCartney loved love songs, just take a listen. From Rubber Soul in  the USA and Help in the UK in 1965.

+ You've Got to Hide Your Love Away is a heart-breaking Lennon song from the Help soundtrack that is every bit as angst laden as "I'm a Loser" or "No Reply." Insightful critics have observed the blaming/shaming misogyny in many of Lennon's early songs with the Beatles and it flows through this Dylan-esque tune, too. Outwardly life was soaring, while inward he was starting to crash and burn and he tended to blame the women in his world.

If the Beatles drew on Dylan and country influences for their "unplugged" oeuvre, the bad boys of English rock and roll were a bit more eclectic taking in the blues, country, and western, English folk songs plus a nod or two toward the music hall tradition.

+ Factory Girl from the phenomenal Beggar's Banquet in 1968 opens with a quasi-country blues riff followed by some congas, a mandolin and a fiddle before Jagger starts to sing about his low down lover from the factory:  she's got curlers in her hair who ain't got money anywhere. A total gas.

+ Sitting on a Fence picks up on the non-blues folk song tradition in 1965. It was offered to a British duo, Twice as Much, who had a Top 40 hit but failed to make it on to the terrific album Aftermath in 1966. It has an Appalachian feel to it, a bit of harpsichord and some truly regrettably sexist lyrics that were all too common and blunt in the day but have finally become scandalous and blacklisted from the songs my mates sing we me today (at least so far as I know.)

+ Lady Jane from the 1966 masterpiece, Aftermath, shows Brian Jones bringing new musical influences to the dominant songs of Jagger and Richards. It comes from Jagger's reading of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover and mixes mid 60s flower power with Elizabethan balladry and psychedelic instrumentation. Kind of a hoot to listen to again after all these years.

+ Sweet Black Angel is arguably my favorite unplugged Stones's song next to Factory Girl. It comes from the equally wild and creative double album Exile on Main Street in 1972 and is a love song to Angela Davis. It sounds like a country blues, but is a plea to set Angela free with an Islands back beat. This was the B side to Tumblin' Dice but I wore the 45 out listening to this track.

+ As Tears Go By was written for Marianne Faithful and released by her in 1964. It includes a sweet oboe with a simple 12 string guitar background - and a string quartet, to boot! I can remember pining after girls who looked like Marianne Faithful back in high school - and much of it took place while playing this song over and over again. Alas, young love and the sirens of tragic romance for a teen, yeah? It was released by the Stones on December's Children in 1965.

Bonus tracks:
+ You Got to Move: There may not be a better, down'n'dirty British blues take on Mississippi Fred McDowell than the 1971 recording of "You Got to Move." It is TOTAL attitude at the height of the Stones' groove! The rest of Sticky Fingers is freakin' amazing, too but I couldn't sign off without including this gem.

+ While My Guitar Gentle Weeps:  Thank the Lord that the Beatles' Anthology kept track of this version of Harrison's finest contribution to music and spirituality from 1968. While I am moved to tears by Clapton's solo guitar on the White Album's final take, the haunting hurts expressed in this version make it a worthy addition - and fitting close - to this chapter of the unplugged legacy.

Friday, May 27, 2016

caught in an unplugged jag...

The more I think about this "unplugged" thing, the more I am taken back to a few artists I saw in the day who were neither electric nor acoustic, never only rock and roll but like CSN&Y put it: we have to do both because we love to play "wooden" music, too. Four late 60s performers grabbed me with this genre bending groove - Pentangle, Tim Buckley, Joni Mitchell and Donovan (when backed by either Jimmy Page or the Jeff Beck Group) - and I've been playing with it  in my own way for 48 years,too.

Pentangle brought together two of my favorite guitar players: Bert Jansch and John Renbourn along with the first upright bass player that really knocked me out:  Danny Thompson. They have been called an "English folk jazz" group and that is probably as good as labels get - but they were so much more.  They took their British background very seriously, whether that involved interpreting old folk songs with a jazz/rock sensibility or naming the band after Sir Gawain's five pointed battle shield emblem (it also was meant to evoke the unity and diversity of each of the artists, too.) This song, Sally Go Round the Roses, has been one of my favorites in every one of its incarnations: the Jaynettes did it as an "underwater" 60s lament, Grace Slick and the Great Society covered it in the early San Francisco psychedelic days and then Pentangle put out their cover on Basket of Light. The whole thing works for me from the early guitar/bass interplay to the female/male call and response vocals that are woven into the fabric of the instrumentation.
Tim Buckley (who was clearly influenced by Fred Neil's mining of this same vein in the early 60s) mixes it up best for me on his Happy/Sad LP from 1968.  No longer constrained by any one particular sound, Buckley blends acoustic jazz instruments with Lee Underwood's electric guitar riffs and his own folk/pop guitar playing. As I think about it, clearly Bob Dylan's departure from the purist folk camp was inspirational here (duh!) but so was the influence of Richard and Mimi Farina who put his satirical/political lyrics alongside her guitar playing and his mountain dulcimer (and a few top notch electric studio musicians including Bruce Langhorne) to create a grittier sounding American take on Pentangle. Diversion #1 - Richard and Mimi had an impact upon another British folk/rock band, Fairport Convention, who were also innovative genre benders in this style. Diversion #2 - Buckley's Happy/Sad was produced by Zal Yavlonsky who started off playing lead guitar for the Lovin' Spoonful who, in their own way, mixed acoustic/electric sounds in a more pop style. I cherish everything about this Buckley album but especially embrace "Buzzin; Fly" and my all time favorite, "Stange Feelin" (that falls into the category of songs inspired by Miles Davis masterpiece "All Blues.")
My introduction to Joni Mitchell was as the intense Canadian folkie with poetry every bit as nuanced and penetrating as Dylan's. Her first two albums sent me into folkie heaven as I tried on the intense folk-inspired persona her music felt like to me for a few weeks in high school. Her next albums - Ladies of the Canyon followed by Blue, For the Roses, and Court and Spark - kicked up the stakes for unplugged tunes as she moved from straight ahead folk sounds to this electric/acoustic/ jazz/rock/ folk experience that was gaining traction in my soul. The first notion that she would continue to mature in this groove was her take on "Woodstock."  As covered by CSN&Y, it became a rock anthem celebrating the pop festival, but Mitchell's version was a bluesy lament more aware of our fall from grace than our success in creating a "Woodstock nation." And as she collaborated more intentionally with jazz artists - from Tom Scott to Jaco Pastorius - all the lines between electric and acoustic were destroyed. I continue to return to For the Roses every few months and particularly appreciate what she does with "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire." It sounds like an anthem for this subject, yes?
The last late 60s artists who successfully explored the electric/acoustic divide was Donovan. Yeah, I know he could be too precious sometimes - and he really needed the presence of editor and producer Mickey Most who could take his excess and cut it down to the essence. But when this one time Welsh Dylan wannabe moved into the flower power era - and was backed up by both John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page in the studio (later of Led Zeppelin fame) he was on fire. He did some fine genre bending with the Jeff Beck Group, too - check out "Barabajagal" - but the hands down winner of this mixed up realm for me continues to be "Hurdy Gurdy Man." It ain't jazz and it ain't folk, but when it jumped out of the car speakers in 1968 and grabbed me by the  throat, I knew it was a killer. If you listen, wait for it first at 25 seconds into the song and then throughout the chorus. And then savor what happens at the instrumental break @ 2:02! It still rips me up and I have to play this thing over and over again because it just gets better and better (something that drives my lover NUTS but that's for a different post!) 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The genius of going unplugged: Springsteen...

One of the the things that intrigues me about the whole "unplugged" thing, is how making a commitment to work in an acoustic vein gives artists permission to rethink and rework their own songs. I have found this to be an aesthetically satisfying change-up, too both as a performer as well as a listening participant.  Let me offer three of my all-time favorite unplugged recreations by Springsteen who is a master of this genre.

+  Adam Raised a Cain: When the Boss took his Ghost of Tom Joad solo show out on the road, it was clear that this CD would be at the heart of the gig. It was his first solo acoustic tour in support of his second acoustic album (Nebraska being the first back in 1982.) But who could have imagined the transformation he would conjure for this once straight ahead rocker on "Darkness on the Edge of Town" as it became a chilling Appalachian lament?  I had been a long time fan, but when we experienced this song at the Cleveland Music Hall on January 17, 1996, my appreciation for his genius expanded beyond limit. I am still moved to tears listening to it 20 years later.
+ Empty Sky: When the post September 11th album, The Rising, came out , like many hardcore Springsteen fans,I loved it. I was eager to hear the band's take on these songs live, however, knowing that often after a tune is often recorded and played repeatedly in a live venue, young songs can mature - and that was most noticeably true for me with "Empty Sky." On the studio take, it is a modest musical expression of loss after the Twin Towers were destroyed. But what Bruce and Patti do with it as they perform it acoustically is nothing short of exquisite.  It was never flat or simply a filler song on The Rising, but in its unplugged rendition it becomes essential.  
+ Thunder Road:  Always a killer song in a live rock concert context, this unplugged version evokes not just the longing of a young man, but something more seasoned. It is as if playing it in this style let him enter the soul of his characters more deeply.  He feels their uncertainty right along side of their hope that maybe a road trip will be liberating. Or maybe they just have to get out of town and start again. No one is sure in this version. Having matured (and done his own share of therapy) helped Springsteen reshape "Thunder Road" in a way that resonates with a whole new level of pathos.
There are countless other reworkings of Springsteen songs that are equally stunning, too but these give a flavor of how an artist can mine new treasures from a well-worked vein.  Paul McCartney once wrote: "take a sad song... and make it better." But I've come to think you can take an old song and make it better, too. So here's one more for the road - not profound - just a whole lotta fun and ma be the most joyful transformation job he's done to date! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

taking an "unplugged" journey this summer...

Having been a big fan of MTV's old show, "Unplugged," I wasn't surprised when it recently
revisited me during a sermon series planning session. For a variety of reasons - those some of us have anticipated over the past nine years and others thrown at us by circumstance - we must make yet another change in the culture of our congregation: privilege and power. 

The presenting issue, of course, has to do with adapting to the realities of limited resources,
diminishing demographics and a popular culture that is more spiritual than religious. As you might imagine, that's how deeply some analysis goes:  fewer people attend worship so we must make changes. I hold a fundamentally different perspective that seeks to go beyond the obvious to ask:  what new/old ways of doing mission and ministry is God asking of us given the very real changes that shape this moment in time?  In part, I defer to St. Paul when he confessed that "now we see as through a glass darkly, later we shall see face to face." That is one truth: until we spend time in quiet, thoughtful study, prayer and conversation we can't pretend to know what is of the Lord in our future.

I also trust that "God is still speaking" - that there is ever more light and wisdom to be discerned from the gospel than we currently grasp - and that it speaks to this moment in time as much as it did to those who followed Christ in the early years. It is too easy for people who have mostly been in control of their lives to grasp that we/they are unable to predict God's future. How many times have I heard various individuals tell me their unqualified predictions about the church? That's why I sense that a huge part of this transition has to do with naming, grieving and repenting from traditional ways of thinking and acting built upon privilege and power. When the Psalmist invites us to "sing a new song unto the Lord" he/she is NOT asking us to keep singing our old favorites as if nothing has changed. Nor is the call to simply change a few words and/or notes. Rather, as Walter Brueggemann makes clear in his study of how the elite of Israel made sense of exile in 587 BCE, we must first face reality, then let it lead us into honest grief before we are empty enough to hear God's still small voice for the future.

During the post-Christmas season of Epiphany, I used Brueggemann's text (Reality, Grief and Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks) for a worship series. When I spoke of the elite needing to face reality with grief and learn to stand in solidarity with the wounded of the world, many loved that notion - but only so long as it applied to the USA. When I suggested that the same truth was operative in our own church culture - where we needed to come to terms with the fact that once we were the First Church filled with financial and social wealth and power, but now those days are gone forever - well, then there was more tension and angst in the room. There still is: we like to believe that we are in control when, in fact, God is calling us into solidarity and servanthood rather than leadership and prestige. A staggering symmetry was highlighted for me when I read Fr. Richard Rohr's morning reflection:

I think there are basically two paths of spiritual transformation: prayer and suffering. The path of prayer is taken by those rare people who consciously and slowly let go of their ego boundaries, their righteousness, their specialness, their sense of being important. In the journey of prayer, as you sink into the mystery of God's perfect love, you realize thatyou're nothing in the presence of God's goodness and greatness, and that God is working through you in spite of you. For many people, it is deep love which first allows them to pray. Authentic prayer is always a journey into love.

The path of suffering is the quicker path to transformation, but as I shared in yesterday's meditation, men are hard-wired to block suffering. The male psyche is, by nature, defended; we have a difficult time allowing events, circumstances, or people to touch or hurt us. Such blocking may have allowed us to survive--if you want to call it survival--the endless wars of history. But it has also restricted the male capacity to change. Most men don't change until we have to. Until economic disasters, moral or relationship failure, loss of job or health are forced upon us, our tendency is to project the incoming negative judgment somewhere else. We don't do shadow work well, because struggling with our dark side is humiliating, and we've been trained to compete and to win. When winning is the only goal, we can't admit to anything that looks like failure, or even allow basic vulnerability. We have to project weakness and failure onto others, making them the losers. Such dualistic thinking and resistance to change only guarantees more war and conflict.

Relationships, experiences, and mirroring change you much more than ideas. You cannot really do something until you have seen someone else do it. You do not know what patience is until you have met one truly patient person. You do not know what love is until you have observed how a loving person loves. We hold great power for one another--for good and for ill. Thus, rites of passage were communal, led by elders, father figures, and spiritual teachers, who could mirror the initiate instead of needing to be mirrored themselves.
Spiritual masters are not interested in social niceties or logical buildups, but in deep resonance. They say, as it were, "Deal with it. Be scandalized and shocked. Face your resistances and your egocentricity and let a greater truth unsettle you." They lead their students into a space of transformation, but they don't always lead them back immediately. They leave you alone, deliberately askew, without your usual mental protections--until you long for guidance and hopefully recognize that: 1) you are somehow the problem, 2) the answer is within you, and 3) you need help from a higher power.

It takes a wise master to teach you that you are not that important; otherwise, painful life situations have to dismantle you brick by brick, decade by decade. I suspect that the basic reason initiation died out is because there were not enough spiritual masters around. We had to settle for institutionalized priests and ministers, many of whom bore roles of outer authority without being people of any real inner authority. In other words, they were never initiated themselves.

Typically it is the prophets who deconstruct the ego and the group, while priests and pastors are supposed to reconstruct them into divine union. True masters, like Jeremiah and Jesus, are both prophets and pastors. As Yahweh said in the inaugural vision to Jeremiah, "Your job is to take apart and demolish, and then start over building and planting anew" (see Jeremiah 1:10). The only reason masters can tell you that you are not that important is because they are also prepared to affirm your infinite and unearned importance. The prophetic charism has been out of vogue for many centuries now in Western religion, thus the ego is out of control.

Every master's lesson, every parable or spiritual riddle, every confounding question is intended to bring up the limitations of our own wisdom, our own power, our own tiny self. Compare that, if you will, to the Western educational approach of parroting answers, passing tests, and getting grades, which make us think we do know what is important and, therefore, we are important. Information is seen as power, as opposed to the beginner's mind, which wisdom deems absolutely necessary for enlightenment. Jesus called it "receiving the kingdom like a little child" (see Luke 18:17). To submit to being taught means accepting the wonder and largeness of truth and our own smallness in relationship to it. Eventually we must learn to hold the paradox of our finite self held within the eternal and infinite Love.

Sacred cultures could tell individuals they were not that important because they knew they were inherently and intrinsically very important. Secular cultures like ours keep telling individuals how special and wonderful they are--and they still don't believe it--and thus have to run faster and faster! Do you see why we need some form of initiation now more than ever? We are an uninitiated society, except for those who love deeply, pray deeply, or suffer deeply.

It is not my job - or calling - to take away the necessary suffering and grief we must embrace as we forsake and repent of privilege and power.This is true personally, pastorally and professionally.  It IS my task, however, to interpret it from within the tradition and celebrate God's grace that cuts beyond our limitations. And this brings me back to MTV's "Unplugged." Being smaller and quieter on MTV was not simply doing lesser versions of the good old songs. No, being "unplugged" meant having the freedom to discover a whole new way of sharing the music so that it spoke even deeper and more beautiful truths than the original. It was then, and is now, a time to sing a NEW song unto the Lord. ( And here's my favorite from the unplugged series...)

Monday, May 23, 2016

returning thanks for an upcoming ordination...

Today has become a "down" day away from public ministry due to some kind of stomach
"thing." The good news about this type of illness is that it gives me time to read, think, pray and write - and today I have been working on the ordination sermon for Robert Hyde set for June 5, 2016 in our Sanctuary.  It has been one of the joys of these later days of ministry to have journeyed with Robert through his discernment. To be sure, among other things, this has been a way for me to "pay forward" my debt of gratitude to the Reverends Sam Fogal, Ray Swartzback and Luther Pierce. In other way, it is also a chance to celebrate the mysterious love of God as experienced and expressed in the life of this talented and faithful young man.

A few weeks ago, Robert and I met for one of our many lunch conversations at Dottie's Coffee Lounge on North Street. We started hanging out there just to get to know one another about eight years ago. Over time, we've met to talk about wedding plans, short term vocational goals, theology, books, the politics of wider church meetings and eventually seminary. From time to time after seminary began, we would visit together to stay up-to-date, too. And I had the privilege of joining Robert's faculty advisor, the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Peace, for the annual close of seminary faculty evaluation. Having written a variety of letters of recommendation for him over the years - and watching him grow in wisdom, humility and gravitas as a person of faith, husband and father - I was truly honored when he asked me to preach this ordination service.

We've selected St. John's take on the woman who anoints Jesus with costly, perfumed oil both as an act of devotion as well as a prefigurative allusion to his burial after the Cross.  We both cherish this story - it is included in all four gospels - but probably for different reasons. I see it as one that speaks to Robert's life of faith - this is the descriptive connection to the Scripture - but it also serves as a tender corrective and prophetic reminder to the wider Church about our raison d'etre - making this an equally compelling prescriptive pericope for this ordination.

Now the Passover was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, ‘What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?’ By now some of the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him. Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’ When the great crowds learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So some of the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many were now trusting the way of Jesus. The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!

So far I have six pages of exegetical and anecdotal notes, so it is time for a break (after six hours) to let the deeper truths settle in and then rise to the surface.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

pilgrimage, pain, music and hope...

Over the past month I have been making my way through a small stack of novels by my bedside
- and about halfway through, it began to dawn on me that there was a clear theme running through them all - mysteries, different cultures, etc. Not all of the authors pull off a work of art, mind you. But they all give shape and form to something simmering within my soul. And, as often happens when I finally "hear" the music I have been listening to at any given moment in time, these books are speaking to me truths I have been feeling but haven't yet acknowledged. 

The first, Arab Jazz, by Karim Miske was supposed to be a simple mystery. Set in Paris, with excursions into Brooklyn, too, this is a tale of an emotionally wounded artist who becomes inadvertently embroiled in the violent criminal schemes of a Jewish, Islamic and Christian fundamentalist cabal.  As the story unfolds, the artist is slowly reawakened to the joy of living in the real world, but only after making peace with the death of his upstairs neighbor. She, too, was a wounded soul searching for beauty beyond her brokenness only to be destroyed by the unresolved demons in her past..The second, The Piano Maker by Kurt Palka, started out with promise, but soon turned flat and plodding. It too, involved an artist - a French refugee musician who endured the wars of Europe only to find herself in Quebec - who seeks a fresh start. Again, a tragedy from her past haunts her new life and forces her to endure yet another bout of suffering before hope is restored.  The dialogue becomes stilted and too much of the closing takes on an "Indiana Jones" quality for my tastes. But by the time I was near completion, I was beginning to become aware of this emerging theme. Susan Hill, a master British noir story teller, has regularly grabbed my attention, and the latest installment of her Simon Serailler series, does not disappoint. The Soul of Discretion is not for the weak-hearted. It is a dark story of sexual obsession fueled by child pornography. To keep their ugly and unconscionable secrets hidden, the hero (yet another wounded artist) goes undercover and is nearly beaten to death by members of a publicly polite and powerful English elit.who are privately vicious in their dedication to pain and evil. 

As you might imagine, by the time I began the fourth novel, Lauren Belfer's And After the Fire, it
was clear that my book purchases were telling me something important about the state of my soul. This novel has grabbed me - it could cut deeper emotionally - but mostly works as a multifaceted plot unfolds connecting the realm of artistic creation with the flaws and promise of religion. Belfer writes about the paradoxical beauty of Bach's music alongside his equally repugnant Christian anti-Semitism. Set in contemporary NYC - with periodic flashbacks to the life of 19th century Jewish artists and merchants in Europe - the author describes a variety of ways that art awakens us to the horrors of reality even as it lures us towards hope. She also tenderly but unsentimentally reminds us that all of us have been broken - often by that which we once held dear. After the Fire is a more satisfying read than The Piano Maker - and I am only two thirds through - but looking to my bed stand and seeing the other three titles awaiting me, my inner pilgrimage in no longer enigmatic: 

+ The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George finds a hurting intellectual who leaves his home behind in order to bring literature and poetry other weary pilgrims on a floating literary apothecary.

+ Grace by Calvin Baker recounts the choices a war correspondence makes as he quits the violence in order to rebuild a new life of hope and tenderness.

+ The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa blends folk tales from her Palestinian family into a storytelling prayer for her oppressed and often bereft relatives in the occupied territories of 21st century Israel. 

Last night, before sleep, I wrote in my prayer journal that three clear truths are calling out to me: 1) an artistic invitation to move beyond my status quo is percolating that simultaneously 2) integrates my art with 3) the reconciliation of my wounds - particularly the pain I know born of religious fear and bigotry. I was writing and praying about this exact pilgrimage at the start of last year's sabbatical. Facing some unexpected challenges - and at times unkind realities upon re-entry - kept me distracted from acting upon this emerging vision. Our work on both Missa Gaia (Paul Winter) and A Love Supreme (John Coltrane) reignited the fire for more. 

And just so that I wouldn't mistake the movement of the Spirit, last week a musical colleague and soul mate dropped off a book for me entitled, Prayer Beads - and inside there was a CD with a title: music is THE healing force.  As Di said to me at breakfast, "Such is the hero's quest: a new journey into pain that discovers reconciliation and hope beyond the wound." Ain't life grand? 

Friday, May 20, 2016

the blessings of living in balance: thoughts about the holy trinity...

This coming Sunday faith communities are asked to consider the blessings and presence of the Holy Trinity:  in our lives, our prayers, our thoughts, our actions and our world. My hunch is that for most of us, this sacred mystery is rarely a conscious part of our living - myself included. Like Carl Jung once said of his own spiritual formation:  when I asked my father (a pastor) to tell me about the Holy Trinity, at first he became flustered, then frustrated and finally
flabbergasted as he shouted, "I can't really explain it - it is very important - so just believe it and shut up. (paraphrase is all mine.) Like so many older Christians who still attend worship, some may have heard about the Trinity from time to time on Sunday mornings, others may actually "confess" it weekly at Eucharist (albeit with their fingers crossed behind their backs) while the rest of us hold a vague recollection from a confirmation class long ago and far away and nothing more. But do we consciously consider the Trinity's wisdom and love in our lives and celebrate it as a part of our spirituality? Probably not so much...

As this week unfolded, however, I sensed a call to give myself more time than usual to sitting in prayer and study with this perplexing spiritual truth - and I am glad I did. Because the promise of the Trinity points us towards a way of living that is grounded in God's grace. Eugene Peterson calls this the unforced rhythms of grace in the spirit of Jesus.  It is a radical trust that knows from the inside out that love is greater than all death. The Holy Trinity evokes a pattern for our ethics by honoring that before the beginning of time we were all bound together in creation:  bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. But never in the shame-based morality that has come to define too much of conservative religion nor the empty moral relativism the plagues more and more of contemporary liberal spirituality. 

Rather, the Trinity is an expression of radical and extravagant hospitality. It is depicted best in art as a dance - most often among three women - and for me this suggests a boldly relational way of doing politics, organizing our economy, speaking to one another as well as shaping how we do spiritual formation. The Trinity encourages us to question the self-absorbed habits of the status quo and challenge the snarky cruelty that saturates so much of what passes for public discourse. Richard Rohr recently shared this insight about living into a Trinitarian reality:

The way to arrive and remain within "the force field of the Holy Spirit", which is one way of describing consciousness--is both very simple and very hard: you've got to remain in love, with a foundational yes to every moment. You can't risk walking around with a negative, resentful, gossipy, critical mind, because then you won't be in the force field. You will not be a usable instrument. That's why Jesus commanded us to love. It's that urgent. It's that crucial. That love, as contemplatives learn, can begin in the mind or can be inhibited by the mind. You may have heard this quote--sometimes attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt:

Watch your thoughts; 
they become words.
Watch your words; 
they become actions.
Watch your habits; 
they become character.
Watch your character; 
it becomes your destiny.

Contemplation nips negativity, hatred, and violence in the bud. It begins by retraining your initial thoughts, because if you let the mind operate in a paranoid, angry, and resentful way, you aren't going to get very far. You're not going to see clearly. At the same time, if you spend your time only in contemplation without moving toward positive engagement, you end up with what many call spiritual constipation. I am afraid it is quite common.

In Karen Armstrong's A History of God she notes that the while the origins of the Trinity began over a battle between competing understandings of Jesus, the early Cappadocian Fathers who later constructed the Trinitarian creeds did so with a sense of awe and grace for they wrote with the conviction and artistry of poets.  The Holy Trinity, you see, is fundamentally a poem - a simulacrum - that seeks to evoke a truth greater than mere words and a reality that can only be expressed through art. Walter Brueggemann underscored this insight when he wrote Reality, Grief and Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks. God's grace breaks through our grief, he observed, when the sacred imagination becomes art.  Hope is always a gift from God that is beyond our control. If we honor and embrace it, we grow in wisdom. The core of my message for Sunday unfolds like this:

Guess where Jesus and all the early church theologians learned their poetic and hope
filled vocabulary? From the prophets of Israel along with the songs and sayings of the Psalms and the aphorisms of Proverbs!  In ancient Israel there were three groups of teachers:  the prophets, the priests and the sages (wise men and sometimes women.)  Today’s unique insight comes from the later group as recorded in today’s Proverbs 8.  Here God’s hope for the world is personified as Lady Wisdom (as opposed to Dame Folly.)  And Peterson renders this text in a way that demands our regular repetition:

Do you hear Lady Wisdom calling? Can you hear Madame Insight raising her voice? She’s taken her stand at First and Main – or we might say right out on Park Square - at the busiest intersection. Right in the city square where the traffic is thickest, she shouts: “You—I’m talking to all of you, everyone out here on the streets! Listen, you idiots—learn good sense! You blockheads, too—shape up! Don’t miss a word of this—I’m telling you how to live well, I’m telling you how to live at your best. I am giving you the WISDOM of the Lord.

Right out of the gate we’re told that God’s wisdom is public – it is not for private consumption just by the highest bidder or the cognoscenti – God’s mercy and the unforced rhythms of grace are for all the people: the idiots and blockheads, the savvy entrepreneurs as well as the addicts, the intellectuals and all the broken, wounded souls of the world., too. That’s the whole point of the opening verse:  can you HEAR God’s wisdom being announced from the center of the city? From Park Square? From the top of the gates to the places of commerce and entertainment? In your newspapers or on TV? It is there. God isn’t far away – God is right here and right now – not aloof in the heavens but smack in the middle of human life.
So let me ask you:  does this sound like anything else you might have heard in the Bible?  The gospel of John is saturated in this type of poetry: In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was in the world, in fact the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t always notice. The Word came to his own people but some of them didn’t want him. But whoever did – those who listened and heard and believed… he made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.

The Christian belief that in Jesus the depth of God’s truth was revealed and lived among us – the Greek actually says dwelt among us, pitched his tent in our neighborhood and became human flesh – begins right here with Lady Wisdom in Proverbs.  But it goes deeper and gets better, too. The wise sages of ancient Israel who shaped the ministry of Jesus and informed the poetry of the early Church, believed and taught that God’s will has existed since before there was time. These teachers understood that not only was there a balance to the created order, but that human beings could live in harmony or opposition to this balance established before there was time. If we opt for wisdom – the way of the Lord – the earth will thrive and our neighbors will experience hope and trust.  The Psalm we’ll sing in just a moment celebrates this truth: O Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark… to silence the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet…

If, however, we chose to live as if we are smarter than God – if we organize our personal and social lives around selfishness, bigotry or fear – we will experience the consequences of disharmony:  war, anxiety, ecological and economic disaster as well as hatred, misogyny and racial bigotry.  Proverbs proclaims that the essence of God’s wisdom is not a secret: it is revealed in how creation is organized and is at the heart of all ethical living.  St. Paul picked up on this second poetic truth about Lady Wisdom being with God since before creation and uses it to describe Jesus.  

Look at the comparison chart between Proverbs 8 and Colossians 1:  Paul used both the wisdom sayings of ancient Israel as well as the poetic tradition of Judaism to help us get a sense of the deepest meaning of Jesus the Christ. Before the beginning of time, there was a holy order created for life. Wisdom revealed it – Jesus embodied it – and our lives can experience it if we ally ourselves with it. God’s wisdom – God’s will – is not a mystery. It is built into our soil and our air. God’s grace limits the chaos of the sea by giving us dry land and God’s wisdom has been shaping all creation since before the beginning of time. Like both Genesis and the gospel of John say:  before the beginning, there was chaos – it was God’s loving wisdom that came upon the chaos to give it order, shape and form so that all life might thrive. And just so that there is no ambiguity, the precise nature of God’s order looks like personal compassion and social justice.

That is the third insight for this opening commentary on Trinity Sunday:  Walter Brueggemann calls the order and fabric of God’s wisdom embodied in these ideas the agency of a generative moral coherence for all of creation. To be wise is to trust God’s path more than our own public relations.  It is to live in harmony and connection with our neighbors, the earth and the Lord.  Foolishness – ignorance – destruction:  these are the opposites of holy wisdom. And the choices we make in life hold ethical consequences as good and compassionate choices eventuate in shalom; but sowing and reaping fear and discord bring us back to the brink of chaos – or worse. 

The good news is that wisdom comes first: Brueggemann notes that Lady Wisdom was with the Lord first and has been in divine intimacy with God since the beginning of time. She is of the Lord while foolishness and disharmony – destruction and despair – are not present at the start of this story – and only come afterwards as the agents of chaos. These are some of the truths that gave shape and form to how the early Church talked about the blessings of Jesus – even his Cross.  They point to a love greater than death that embraces us sometimes like a Father – or Mother – shows us the way of love like a beloved Child – and speaks to us still from within the world and our own hearts like a Spirit. 

When you let the insights from Proverbs mix with the later ruminations of both St. Paul and St. John, my prayer is that you are starting to sense that any conversation about the Holy Trinity is more like a Zen koan – or poem – than an operating manual or rule book.  Essentially the Trinity points us towards the enormity of grace – a truth that encompasses beauty as well as sin, hope in addition to death and fear – to say nothing about the sacred order of God’s will exacted in reality throughout history. Grace is beyond definition – we can know it, trust it, love it, taste it, experience it, share it and cherish it – but we can never adequately define or limit it. The brilliant Palestinian-American poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, put it like this in a poem entitled, “Kindness” that was used during our Good Friday liturgy.

Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment, like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape
 can be between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness you must travel 
where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, 
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it 
till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for and then goes with you everywhere 
like a shadow or a friend.

The words of Paul in Romans – and the gospel text in John – I sense build upon the poetry of
grace initiated in ancient Israel as they insist that there is a right way to live into God’s wisdom – even in the face of suffering – as well as a morally bankrupt way that leads us towards trouble and injustice.  Paul is telling us that in addition to feelings and poetry there is an ethical quality to God’s wisdom that is counter-cultural: even  our pain can become one of our teachers, he writes, for:  We know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because hope is God’s love being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Please note that the apostle is NOT telling u God’s wisdom is automatic. He is not a fool who claims that all suffering is good because it always leads to endurance blah, blah, blah. Not at all. We now that all suffering hurts – and not all pain is redemptive. What Paul IS saying, however, is that when we trust that God’s grace is the truth that gives moral cohesion to all of creation – when we trust by faith that the arc of the moral universe tilts ever so slightly towards justice to paraphrase Dr. King – then we can let go of anxiety, allowing ourselves be transformed even by adversity because we know that the foundation of everything begins in God’s love..

Let me rephrase Paul’s proclamation like this: because we have been touched by God’s wisdom –and trust God from the inside out – we are now able to be patient in our afflictions just like Christ who endured the Cross. Paul is confessing that once we have experienced true hope born of God’s love – a love most fully revealed on Easter Sunday – then we begin to comprehend the living will of God – the order of creation – so even though parts of our lives are agonizing or unfair, we don’t quit. We don’t deny suffering but we don’t let it have the final word either. The same goes for injustice or fear:  we know it is real, not an illusion as the Buddhists sometimes say, but it isn’t the end of the story. The resurrection is the true end of one story as the Cross exposes – but it also the start of a whole new life, too.  When we live from within the power, truth and love of Easter, the Holy Spirit pours hope into our hearts just as Jesus promised. Troubles can develop passionate patience within us, patience can become the forge of tempered steel on the path of virtue, and anything else that connects us to human solidarity can bring hope to birth because… hope is God’s love being poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

That’s what St. John’s gospel underscores, too:  When my Spirit comes, Jesus said, he will guide you into all truth. The Spirit, you see, is intimately connected to the Father and the Son – the Spirit is how Wisdom and Comfort are communicated to our living flesh – and the Spirit is how we reconnect with God’s harmony, balance, wisdom and moral cohesion in our ordinary lives. No wonder the early church wrestled with finding poetic language for this blessing for four hundred years – and why most of us don’t go anywhere near it today – not only is it nuanced and complicated, it also demands that we make a moral stand against the relativism of contemporary culture.

Let me put it to you like this:  the Trinity – inspired by Lady Wisdom and the sages and prophets of ancient Israel who include our Lord Jesus Christ – tells us that God has given us a guiding principle for life:  harmony, balance, personal compassion and social justice with all creation.  St. Paul would push the envelope and say that wisdom teaches that grace is at the heart of creation as the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus make clear.

But let’s be real:  grace, harmony, trust and moral balance are not the guiding principles for contemporary Western culture. No, if we had to summarize the heart of our values right now, the quintessential American proverb would be something like: “Different strokes, for different folks.” There are variations on this theme:  live and let live – to each his or her own – a man’s home is his castle – don’t rock the boat. But they all mean the same thing and can be boiled down to one word according to the old preacher, Thomas Long… whatever!  

Long makes the case – and I agree – that our laissez faire relativism means that there is NOT a coherent vision for how best to live in the world. He says:  It’s as if each of us has been handed a little box of puzzles pieces that conveniently snap together in any number of different ways. So if the picture I end up assembling of what I think my life should look like ends up being wildly different from what you piece together, big deal! Different strokes for different folks. Why would anyone even expect that any two puzzles would end up looking similar? Whatever, right?

Biblical wisdom in Proverbs – and the mysterious poem we call the Holy Trinity – suggests otherwise.  They point to a consistent vision for life – God’s shalom – that is just, loving, compassionate and trustworthy even in the midst of suffering and instability.  Small wonder that the best artistic depiction of the Holy Trinity is not a static portrait of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: it is three women dancing!  Usually a Crone – in old age – a child – in innocence – and a mother – bearing life as they all dance in unity and harmony. They are NOT all alike. They are not automatons forced into a one size fits all ideology or spirituality; rather they each have sacred and unique gifts that they bring to God’s dance – and their expression is a joy to behold.

Dear people of God, I don’t think that it is coincidental that Lady Wisdom in Proverbs is
feminine.  Nor do I think it is accidental that one of her descriptions at the close of today’s reading could be translated either as God’s helper in creation – a master worker who advances the will of God in the world – or – a little child. Apparently the Hebrew root, ‘aman, is enigmatic – and ancient scholars are split on which way to go: it could be master worker – divine helper – but it could also be little child who delights in the creativity of God – suggesting to me that a principle of “pleasure and playfulness is built into the structure of God’s sacred order of compassion and justice.”

And I have to tell you, I like both options – architect helping the Lord as well as little child laughing with delight. It makes me think of the words of Jesus:  “unless ye become as an innocent child ye shall not enter the kingdom of God.”  Having just spent last weekend with my grandson, Louie, I am totally down with the personification of God being a giggling, little girl delighting in awesome diversity of the human race.   Think about that one for just a moment, ok? Besides holding a newborn infant to your chest while she sleeps, there may not be a more sacred sound in all creation than that a little child’s infectious laughter. We were out at Hancock Shaker Village checking out all the “baby animals” last Saturday.  And man, you should have heard my little dude laugh – especially as the baby chicks strutted about and the piglets wallowed in the mud – it was pure innocence. Complete joy. Total trust.

Wisdom’s followers – people of the Holy Trinity – have been called to be playful just as much as we are to be compassionate and just. In this we learn to live in harmony with God’s will and share it with all our neighbors in a sacred dance. So let me give you my take-away for Trinity Sunday – it is one I am still learning after all these years and I have to work it every single day – but it is the forever time-tested, spiritually un-contested, ethically never-bested and unquestionably12-Step suggested way to live into God’s grace and wisdom in your everyday, walking around, ordinary lives:  it is indubitably the practical way to make the blessings of the Holy Trinity the core of your existence.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

We are not always in control of events – there is pain and war and fear and death – most of which we cannot change:  let it go and leave it to God.  There are also other realities that we can change if we claim the courage to go against the grain:  we can make time for prayer, we can interrupt our addiction to fretting, we can say no to those who would devour our soul or compromise our compassion:  and as we do it God’s peace becomes our own. And of course there is the wisdom – the Trinity – the grace of God that helps us know the difference.

The question I asked myself over and again this week is what I ask of you now: do you want to live in anxiety or the peace that passes all understanding?  Do you want the Trinity’s promise of serenity, courage and wisdom or Dame Folly’s chaos, fear and violence?  Beloved, the choice is ours. Yes, I wrestle with this everyday – but incrementally over time I continue to know from the inside out that the more I trust, the more God’s love is poured into my heart by the Holy Spirit.  And there isn’t any better news than that – so let the promise of the Holy Trinity come to those who have ears to hear, hear.

1.  Trisket @ www.pinterest.com
3.  Robertz Lentz @  robertlentzartwork.wordpress.com
4.  Divine Feminine Trinity @ www.pinterest.com
5. Shall we dance @ frscottrussell.wordpress.com
6. Celtic trinity @  robertlentzartwork.wordpress.com
7.  Christ dancing @ goodfridayblues.wordpress.com

playing for our lives: a concert to combat local homelessness June 15 @ 7 pm

In an interview with Krista Tippett a few years ago, the late Jean Vanier gave contemporary people of compassion his antidote for despair:...