Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Be careful what you pray for...

The minute you take your sticky fingers off the controls....(see New Year's Day entry)

I got a job.

I'm filling in for a pastor for three months while she goes on sabbatical.

And in March I'm leading the women's retreat at my own church.

And I'm working with another pastor to organize a regional Lenten service of prayer and healing for a Sunday afternoon in April.

And I'll get to preach my very first Easter sermon.

So, because my time for writing will be signifigantly occupied with writing sermons, I'll be posting my weekly sermons here. The first one is from this past Sunday at another church for whom I was guest preaching. My regular gig begins next Sunday.

A Driveway Moment

Psalm 111; Mark 1: 21-28
***** Congregational Church
January 29, 2006

In a 2003 report from the National Survey of Children's Health approximately 4.4 million children aged 4--17 years were reported to have a history of ADHD diagnosis; of these, 2.5 million (56%) were reported to be taking medication for the disorder. 60% of those diagnosed continue to have problems well into adulthood.

In the past few years I have wondered if there is a spiritual component to this disorder that we are neglecting. In this age of multi-tasking when there are so many activities, ideas, so much information, not to mention marketing and advertising, that have the power to hold our attention and to divide it, I sometimes wonder if having an attention disorder is a way of the body and the spirit rebelling against the madness with which we have surrounded ourselves.

Some folks who have ADHD have the unique gift to be able to shut out all the extraneous clutter and focus on a task or thought process. Those of us who have tried to meditate know how important it is to be able to quiet our minds and focus on just the simple breath. When I paint with watercolors or crochet or work with beads I tend to lose track of time because I am so focused in doing something creative. Any of us who are avid readers may have alienated our families when we are “in a book”.

In our culture what would you say is the number one thing that captures and holds our attention, that is, has authority and power over us, to the exclusion of all else? (One answer was money.) In my opinion I think it is information. Every morning we can turn on the TV, the radio, the computer, open a magazine or unfold the newspaper and know what is going on across the country and all over the world. We hear of disaster, war, elections, brutality, violence, death, and the small corner reserved for good deeds, cooperation, and valor. We may have free speech in this country, but we use it so freely that it whirls willy-nilly around us and into our minds where it reverberates in an endless tumble of anxiety. And we can become bound inside; bound by our fear not so much of what has happened or what will happen but our fear of what could happen. Our spirits become unclean and bound up, from the Greek word “akathartos”, meaning the opposite of catharsis. To put it bluntly, we are full of it, we allow ourselves to become overcome by “stinking thinking” as they say in 12-step groups, and our minds need to be healed.

In the gospel of Mark the people in the synagogue hear of a new teaching, some new information, that which can give release to the unclean spirit. Listen to the unclean spirit. It says “Have you come to destroy us?” The response to the very real presence of Jesus is one of fear, destruction, and violence. Resistance.

We’re all awfully good at giving Jesus resistance. Especially when we are in group form; you know, Church. Take for example annual meetings. Fear usually raises its head at one point or another in an annual meeting. I heard one church had on its agenda a deficit budget. One member exclaimed in so many words, “You mean you expect us to pass this budget on good faith that we will find the money sometime this year?” And another member responded, “Yes. That’s what we’re all about is faith. All we have are pledge cards. We don’t have any money in hand right now. We always pass a budget on faith: faith that people won’t lose their job or get sick or move away. Every year we have to trust that people will keep their promises.”

As a community of faith we also need to trust that God will keep the promises made in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, that is, the promises of forgiveness, mercy, healing, rebirth, and love. When we hear news about the war in Iraq, the latest insurgent attack, about Hamas winning a majority in the Palestinian parliament, about people losing their jobs to the latest restructuring, about the high cost of health care and prescriptions, about anything that can tempt us toward despair, it can be easy for us to have our imaginations swept up by fear and dread. When our church family murmurs to itself and has difficulty imagining its future we can sometimes lose our attention from Jesus and the promises made to us.

I am an avid listener of public radio. One of the news programs, “All Things Considered”, has a phenomenon referred to as a “driveway moment”. It’s when a news feature or interview or story captures the listener in such a way that they are compelled to stay in the car in their driveway for just a few extra minutes to catch the end of the story. Jesus is giving the people in the synagogue just such a driveway moment. He is giving them new teaching, new information that is so compelling that his listeners acknowledge the authority with which he gives this new teaching, this new information. We do not hear what Jesus has said to them but we do hear only a few verses before that he proclaimed that the time is fulfilled, that God’s reign of love has come near, that those who listen and hear are to repent, to return to God and believe the good news.

This would have been quite a gripping driveway moment for the listeners of Mark. Mark is often referred to as a “wartime gospel” in that it was written during the war of revolt between Israel and the Roman occupation when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, around the year 70 CE. Jews who followed the Way of Jesus still thought of themselves at this time as Jews and would have seen the destruction of the temple as a sign of the end of the world.

Having witnessed yet another temple in Jerusalem destroyed would call to mind the times of exile in their past and might have led them to despair. The gospel writer of Mark, through the teaching of Jesus, is giving his listeners a message more convincing, more persuasive than that of the Roman lord Caesar’s edict of utter destruction and death. The new authority of Jesus over that of the Roman Empire, the power of God over the power of evil, that authority, that power being love, is the gospel, the truth that can heal our minds, release our unclean spirits, and center our attention on Christ. When our attention is centered on Christ, we are able to accomplish far more than we can possibly imagine.

We may have convinced ourselves that it is our weakness, our powerlessness, our darkness that makes us fearful to be the Church in the world. Marianne Williamson, in her book A Return to Love, writes:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

In the letter to the Ephesians Paul prays that his listeners may be strengthened in their inner being with power through the Spirit, that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith, that they may have the power to comprehend and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge so that they may be filled with all the fullness of God. He then praises God “who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can possibly ask or imagine”. God is more than able but able through the power at work within us. When our spirit is unbound, when our minds are released from fear, we can then be in the mind of Christ. We can then tap into that power that God has placed within us that the glory of God can be made manifest, be made visible, in our lives, in the Church and in the world.

Worship is our “driveway moment”. It is our time to be in community and to remember we are a community not a crowd, to confess our lack of attention on Christ and our need to be healed of our fearful thinking. Jesus comes to us as a people; his very real presence commands our attention and says to us: “Be not afraid. I am Lord.” The way of domination, of empire, war, death—these are not lord. The way of injustice, exclusion, strife, shame—these are not lord. The way of scarcity, poverty, slavery, disease—these are not lord. The way of fear is not lord. Jesus is Lord; his Way is love, mercy, forgiveness, peace, justice, and resurrection.

So, ***** Congregational Church, in what ways do you need to be healed of fearful thinking? What are you full of that you need to be emptied of? How do you see yourselves as church? Where do you witness the power of God in your life together? What aspect of the good news of Jesus Christ captures your imagination and moves you to action? How can you be a source of Christ’s authority of love and justice in a frightened world?

Worship is our catharsis, our creative moment to be out of time, to be healed of our “akathartos”, our unclean mind, to let go of all that binds us and to refocus our attention on Christ. So we surround ourselves with sights and smells, rituals and rites, the proclaiming of the good news and the praise of God, that we would remember again and again the simplest of confessions, that Jesus is Lord, not only of our lives but of our life together as a people of faith. We have been set free: to serve, to love, to be the very real presence of Christ in a fearful world. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


From the car I saw
a thin line of frost on the horse fence
curling on the pale wisps of tall grasses
bending wiry thorns to its fierce whisper

I didn’t see the sun
until I was driving home
a waxing disk of white and gold
tucked in its wintry
slant southern corner
its rays wrapped in the
chill of a January fog

In about half an hour
it would all be gone
The fence gray and damp
grasses wilting under crystal tears
thorns released from their ardent genuflection

I drove slowly that morning
anxious for nothing
for once content to see
but dimly

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Patriot Act

Test your simple civics knowledge

Some answers to the questions are patently obvious. Others take some serious thought. But the intent is simple: being a patriot has more to do with knowing the polity of our government, thus what is expected of us as citizens, than it does with political fervor and from which side of the aisle a vote is cast.

Also, listen to a former Speaker of the House and his new contract with America:

Newt Gingrich's NPR commentary on needed GOP reform

And if you haven't seen the movie The Contender, with actor Joan Allen's speech about the chapel of democracy, rent the DVD.

After you've taken the short quiz above (30 questions), post your score. I got 25 out of 30 correct.

P.S. Cost of the Iraq war

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Another day to make new

Janus: the Roman god of beginnings and endings, of gates and doorways; the first day of his month is the pivot around which we turn.

When the year 2000 approached, I reminded folks around me that this was an arbitrary date, constructed by humankind, and given meaning by the same. Each day is the beginning of a new millennium, a new year. But we hallow New Year's Day if for no other reason (and no other day) than to take stock of our lives and perhaps reorder our priorities.

Many people make a resolution: diet probably being No. 1, get another job, learn a new skill, spend more time with family and friends, take that long awaited trip. The best advice I've heard is to make it something specific: don't just lose weight but set a goal; not just get another job but network, redo the resume, spend some time thinking about what you really want to do; sign up for a class; set aside time every week for family/friends; save for the trip, get vacation time, and buy the tickets.

I once performed a wedding ceremony on December 31 because the bride and groom wanted to start the new year as husband and wife (an ancillary benefit: they could still take the tax deduction for the 364 days that they weren't married). Other people make fresh starts of their own: a journal, an exercise regimen, a new attitude, new sheets on the bed, organize the desk at work or at home, renew an old friendship, repair a broken one, clean out closets, come out of the closet, whatever little prison we've locked ourselves in. It's a time to look at the past, see what hasn't worked and try something new.

Me, I'm going to relax. I don't mean couch-potato-let-the-dust-bunnies-procreate-do-nothing relax. I mean lighten-up-take-my-sticky-fingers-off-the-controls-and-let-go relax, especially as it relates to my vocation and whether or not I'm working. I've spewed a lot of angst on-and-off for the past almost nine years and I can't continue like this.

I came across a quote that shook me out of my warm and cozy navel. It was used in a rather unusual context (the recent Coach Carter movie) in that it's from Marianne Williamson but it works nonetheless:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. ...Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are meant to shine... And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." (from A Return to Love, p. 165)

Whatever you do this new year, do it with love and from that place of light within you. Peace be with you in 2006.