Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lord, save us (from your followers)

In this age of rampant fundamentalism, whether believer or atheist, this movie looks like a possible balm in Gilead for those of us who have been wounded by dogmatic beliefs.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Group tries to lift veil on mystery in D.C.

13 Columbus-area pastors to file IRS complaint over the tax-exempt status of the C Street Center in Washington
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
By Joe Hallett

Jonathan Quilter DISPATCH

The Rev. Eric Williams, right, is the leader of a group of pastors in Columbus who are challenging the IRS status of a Washington-based organization called the Family. The group includes, from left, the Revs. JoAnne Nay, Forrest Hoppe, Bob Molsberry, Eric Brown and Al Debelak. They were photographed at North Congregational United Church of Christ.

here for the article.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hang up and drive

This morning I volunteered at WSHU for their one-day winter membership drive. Too many of the calls I took were folks on their phones while driving to work...while it was sleeting. I suggested to one of the station's employees that during membership drives they have another kind of announcement: a simulated caller getting pulled over by the police while making a pledge...or worse yet, the volunteer in the radio station hearing an accident over the phone while taking down a credit card number.

I may love Jesus, I may even honk for him but I'm in no hurry to meet him. Drive safely, dear blogfriends, especially during these winter months.

Monday, February 15, 2010

In the zone

The Transfiguration by Raphael

Exodus 34:29-35; Luke 9:28-36 (37- 43)
******** United Church of Christ
February 14, 2010 – Transfiguration

On a silent retreat I once spent two unchecked hours cheering and whooping the crashing ocean waves as they slammed against the rocks near the grassy edge where I sat, the deep cups of water shining against the hot white of the sun, the crisp blue of the sky, splashing their coolness on my hair and clothes and skin.

In a hot dirty garbage dump in Mexico a little girl shared a piece of stringy cheese with me, her grimy hand extended toward me with such faith and innocence and openness. I still have the lump in my throat from swallowing that sweet surprising gift.

Most times when I sing, whether it’s a congregational hymn or I’m singing in a choir or with a group or I’m going solo, I feel a physical sensation, a shiver, a light switch going on, a power surge, down my side or up my back, sometimes to the top of my head. When I seem as though I can’t contain myself and I’m all charged up after the first hymn, it’s because I am!

Almost twenty years ago I went to the ordination of Diane, a classmate from seminary. Everyone was invited to come up for the ordination prayer and lay hands on Diane’s head and shoulders as she knelt before us. After we said “Amen”, I offered Diane my hand to help her up. Her face was shining, her eyes were ablaze and she nearly crushed my hand with the power, the force, the Spirit that was coursing through her.

All of these are experiences of what are called “thin places”, a term taken from Celtic spirituality signifying that the veil between the visible and the invisible is so sheer that we feel as though we are experiencing both worlds at once.

At the leadership workshop I attended recently, author Brian McLaren used another term for these experiences: temporary autonomous zones. The instigator of this idea, author Hakim Bey, defines them as “a socio-political tactic of creating temporary spaces that elude formal structures of control.” In essence, the status quo or the usual, customary rules we live by are temporarily on hold, giving chaos its freedom to trigger individual creativity. Some examples from Hakim’s book: Weird dancing in all-night computer-banking lobbies. Kidnap someone and make them happy. Bolt up brass commemorative plaques in places (public or private) where you have experienced a revelation. Go naked for a sign.

Hakim Bey writes that “the audience reaction or aesthetic-shock produced by [these experiences] ought to be at least as strong as the emotion of terror— powerful disgust… superstitious awe, sudden intuitive breakthrough….if it does not change someone's life…it fails.” [1]

But McLaren gives these temporary zones an even deeper spiritual purpose. These are ecstatic moments, spaces where grace and Spirit can happen, enfused with the power to change someone’s life. Remember the bumper sticker “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty”? That’s a spiritual temporary autonomous zone, where the rules we normally live by don’t apply. Unless, of course, that is how we live.

Jesus was the Master of creating these temporary autonomous zones for others. Whenever he pulled a child on his lap, healed someone, included them in his circle, called them out from a crowd, forgave them of their sin, fed them from a few fish and some bread, saved new wine for last, Jesus was creating a temporary autonomous zone, a thin place where the visible and the invisible were made one. Jesus himself is an eternal autonomous zone, that Word made flesh, God with us, God’s amazing grace breaking into the expectations of what we think “Messiah” is.

This is what Peter, James and John experienced up on that mountain with Jesus transfigured before them. They were in a thin place, a temporary autonomous zone where the two worlds collided with such power that Jesus’ face was changed and his clothes became dazzling white.

In truth Jesus went naked for a sign. He revealed all of himself, his glory, his power, his death, his purpose on that mountain. In the company of Moses the Liberator and Elijah the Prophet, Jesus the Savior is illuminated. Later, on another mountain, the disciples would come to know that that glory came at a price.

As followers of Jesus we hunger after these experiences of glory, these thin places, these temporary autonomous zones that we might find our faces shining with God. And like Peter we wish we could wrap them up and take them with us, set up a shrine we could visit, keep the wild glory of God as a talisman against despair. But perhaps what we lack are the practices that keep us fluid between the visible and the invisible, that keep us in the zone.

We expect God to be the one to break in and surprise us, yet God is always with us, within us, permeating each and every speck of the ordinary with light. Where are our eyes tuned and fixed? Do we ever keen toward the music of the spheres on a daily basis? How often do we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34: 8)? Surprise and risk can be fuel for faith, yet it is we who must be willing to be surprised or even surprising, we who must risk what we see for what we wish to see.

cartoon from
Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Perhaps you do not realize it but you have already begun to make your own temporary autonomous zones. You could also call them interim autonomous zones. You have a new Board of Stewards, a year-long experiment to see if combining efforts of finance, trustees, stewardship and fundraising into one committee will be more effective. You’ve suspended your by-laws as they pertain to the length of time one serves on a committee so that folks would not be daunted by a three-year commitment but serve for one year and see how it goes. A wonderful handful of you have signed up for the preaching class and for the women’s retreat. And next Sunday is our Appreciative Inquiry congregational workshop.

But being in the zone is more than suspending the usual way of doing things for something risky or unknown. It requires practices of faith: Bible or book study, prayer and meditation, discussion, mission and ministry, inviting in the ‘other’, and gathering with others for worship and support. We can’t be in the zone if we aren’t ready to experience God and all that wild glory.

So this Lent I invite you to get reacquainted with a regular practice of faith but to give it a twist to keep you engaged. No time for prayer? Put a prayer book in your bathroom or office desk drawer or sign up for the UCC daily devotional at
. Is reading the Bible too daunting? Get a paperback copy of Eugene Peterson’s The Message, a contemporary paraphrase that reads like a novel. Or come to our Lenten study on the book of Jonah on Wednesday evenings during Lent. Looking for a regular mission opportunity? What kind of mission would you like to see happening here on a regular basis that you would like to participate in? As for inviting the ‘other’, why not begin with asking a friend to Easter service and then Holy Humor the Sunday after?

And to kick it all off, come to our Ash Wednesday service this week as if you were meeting God again for the first time. If you’re going to move into God’s neighborhood, that is, the kingdom of God, God’s autonomous zone, what do you need to leave behind in dust and ashes that God’s light might shine through you and transfigure your life?

Live in the zone. Devise a subversive plot for hope. Go naked for a sign. Be willing to reveal everything to God, for God has already revealed everything to us and continues that revelation in Jesus Christ, God’s Beloved and Chosen One. This Lenten season, let’s really listen to him. Amen.


Friday, February 12, 2010

A Valentine's Day plea

Oh Rose, thou art sick! wrote William Blake. He probably wasn't thinking of the toxic rose industry, but hopefully you will. Please don't add to the suffering when you express your love this Valentine's Day.

The 200 million rose stems that arrive in the U.S. for Valentine's Day each year require tons of pesticides, and it's estimated that some 20 percent of the chemicals used are illegal here. A 2007 study by the International Labor Rights Fund found that more than 66 percent of Ecuadorian and Colombian flower workers were plagued by work-related health problems — including skin rashes, respiratory problems, and eye problems — due to toxic pesticides and fungicides. ILRF also found that "flower workers experience higher-than-average rates of premature births, congenital malformations and miscarriages." It's also bad in the U.S. The U.S. floriculture industry is one of the heaviest users of pesticides in all of agriculture. Some of the highest-use pesticides in California's floral industry, for example, include methyl bromide, a hazardous chemical that is also a top ozone-depleter; acephate, an organophosphate neurotoxin hazardous to humans and highly toxic to bees; and chlorothalonil, a carcinogen.

If you give roses, please buy organic: One online source is ORGANICBOUQUET.COM

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Monday, February 08, 2010

Deep waters

"Great Catch"

Isaiah 6: 1-8; Luke 5: 1-11
******** United Church of Christ
February 7, 2010

Their fishing nets were empty when they first saw the Lord.
All night they had been fishing in the waters by the shore.
The Lord said, “Go to deep waters; cast your nets once more.”
And because they obeyed, they would never be the same.

Go to deep waters, deep waters, where only faith will let you go.
Go out to deep waters, deep waters;
Harvests of faith will overflow.
Harvests of faith will overflow.

It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? You’ve been fishing all night. You’ve caught nothing. You’re tired. Hungry. Somewhat smelly. Discouraged. You’re washing the nets, ready to call it a loss and go home. Then someone, a leader, a teacher, someone who knows Scripture and some carpentry and not much about fishing tells you to try again, only this time to put the nets in deep water. Before you know it there are so many fish that you can’t pull the fraying nets into the boat; you have to call for help, ask your partners to come and join in the abundant catch.

Right there, in that moment, you have everything you could ask for. You have so many fish that maybe you could take a week or two off from fishing, which would have been unheard of in Jesus’ day. You’d have enough money to live on and perhaps a bit more to put away. You have friends with whom to share your great joy at such abundance and to share in the profits. You feel full, generous, almost giddy—that cup of mercy is overflowing—and you know who’s at the source of it all: this Jesus, the Master, sitting in your boat.

"Deep Waters", Gerald Folkerts
Maybe, like Simon Peter, you start to feel afraid and unworthy of it all. After all, who are you to deserve such fullness, such blessing? Who are you to be face to face with the Word made flesh and live and receive? Notice that he is referred to as Simon Peter, the Rock on which the Church is built, only when he is afraid and shameful. But then Jesus reassures him: “Do not be afraid.” In the previous chapter Jesus healed his mother-in-law of a high fever. Perhaps Simon Peter has seen enough to know that he is in presence of the undeniable power of God, probably the last thing any of us would expect to encounter when our work has come up empty. If we were wise, we’d be on our knees too.

And then, the coup d’├ętat, the unthinkable, the biggest twist of all: when they come to shore, they leave it all behind and follow Jesus.

Imagine your fondest dream for yourself, your biggest wish. What would it be? You’d have to go to deep waters to get it, make huge efforts when all hope seems lost. Suppose you get this fondest dream, this biggest wish: what would you look like, how would you be living?

Imagine your fondest dream for this church, your biggest wish. What would it be? Again, you’d have to go to deep waters to get it, make huge efforts when all hope seems lost. Suppose you get this fondest dream, this biggest wish: what would the church look like? And when I say church, I mean the people. What would the church be doing? How would the church be behaving in worship and in meetings and in mission?

So, as a person, as a church, you have everything you have ever asked for, BUT it comes in the presence of the undeniable power of God. You are surrounded and standing on and permeated by the Ground of All Being. What’s the first thought that comes into your mind? How do you feel? What do you say? What do you do?

And then the coup d’├ętat, the unthinkable, the biggest twist of all: you are invited to leave it all behind and follow Jesus, to go to the deepest waters of all. Instead of holding onto what you’ve been looking for, you’re going to help others find the meaning they’ve been searching for, the meaning that you’ve experienced and continue to experience in the presence of God, in the person of Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

What’s the first thought that comes into your mind? How do you feel? What do you say? What do you do?

You see, the boatload of fish wasn’t really about the fish. It was about Jesus. And leaving them behind wasn’t about the fish. It was really about Jesus. In the gospel of John we read: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples…but these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

The abundance of fish, the abundance of grace that we desire in our lives and in the life of this church is not about the grace but about Jesus that we may come to believe that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing we may have life in his name.

This story is all about the first, second and third of the twelve steps. It’s about admitting we need help to acquire grace, acknowledging the power from whence this grace comes and then surrendering our lives to that power that our lives may be changed.

So let’s put out to deep water, cast our nets, and when our nets come up to overflowing, let’s share it, celebrate it, and then leave it behind and follow Jesus, that our lives may never be the same.

They cast their nets and almost before they could begin,
their nets were overflowing and they had to pull them in.
And even though this was their greatest catch
their fishing days would end.
For they abandoned all when they heard the master’s call.

Go to deep waters, deep waters, where only faith will let you go.
Go out to deep waters, deep waters;
Harvests of faith will overflow.
Harvests of faith will overflow.

[1] Pepper Choplin. “Deep Waters”. Copyright © 2002 Beckenhorst Press, Inc.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Why beer is better than religion

Thursday and Friday of this week I was at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, MA for their annual Woodbury Leadership Workshop. Author Brian McLaren was the featured speaker and he shared this with us. (I also had lunch and a beer with The Improbable Bostonian, who I thought would enjoy this immensely.)

Top 10 Reasons Why Beer Is Better Than Religion
by Steve Berry of the Texas A&M University Agnostic & Atheist Student Group

10. No one will kill you for not drinking Beer.

9. Beer doesn't tell you how to have sex.

8. Beer has never caused a major war.

7. They don't force Beer on minors who can't think for themselves.

6. When you have Beer, you don't knock on people's doors trying to give it away.

5. Nobody's ever been burned at the stake, hanged, or tortured over their brand of Beer.

4. You don't have to wait more than 2,000 years for a second Beer.

3. There are laws saying that Beer labels can't lie to you.

2. You can prove you have a Beer.

1. If you've devoted your life to Beer, there are groups to help you stop.