writing, reflecting, and hoping for a transformed world

Note: This #litany and prayer of confession was written in 2012 and links Palm Sunday and Advent.

Leader: Lord of Creation, You seem to be one that likes to make curious entrances into the world – burning bushes, wild dreams, booming questions, cryptic prophecies, a child born of a virgin, even a low budget parade. We confess that we don’t always see or understand the way You move in the world. We are not always on the look out or ready to join up in your cosmic procession.

On this day then, receive these prayers of confession and renewal. March into our midst today. Come, O Come, Emmanuel. March in and disrupt our everyday routine that we can live lives that are filled with justice and compassion. Come, O Come, Emmanuel. March in to our situations when we sin against You and our neighbors. Come, O Come, Emmanuel. March into our heads when we think we are not good enough. Come, O Come, Emmanuel. March into out hearts when we think we don’t deserve to be loved or have love to share. Come, O Come, Emmanuel. March into our silence when we feel deserted or abandoned. Come, O Come, Emmanuel. March into our grief and weep with us. Come, O Come, Emmanuel. March into this world that Your kingdom, heaven on earth, may reign forever. Come, O Come, Emmanuel. March against empires built on violence and war. March for youth and children abused and killed, for peoples oppressed and enslaved. Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Leader: Hear this good news: There is room in God’s parade for saints and sinners, for idealists and pessimists, for young and old. God invites us to join the celebration – forgiveness and reconciliation abound! Thanks be to God. Amen

Creator, God of Justice and Reconciliation, We cry out – How long, O Lord? How long must our communities suffer? How long will black and brown neighbors be unheard? How long will justice be delayed? Right now, a deadly virus rages among us Not just COVID-19 - But the virus of white supremacy, indifference, and division. We witness it on the streets of Minneapolis, we glimpse it in the statistics of over 100,000 lost to disease we recognize it in generations that have been denied education, access, and voice in American history. Right now, O Lord, too many of us who are white and comfortable have been infected. We are content with the status quo. We are silent in the face of discrimination, inequality, and murder of our black and brown siblings. We believe we do not have power to change the trajectory of this moment. We have bought the tempter’s lie that it is someone else’s problem. We have chosen to be comfortable, closing the window to the Holy Spirit who even now gathers Her winds in preparation for change. Your Spirit is fierce and mighty, promising not to simply rustle our hair but alter who we are and who we can be. Your Spirit offers us an alternative narrative, “to loose the bonds of injustice… to let the oppressed go free.” Trusting in your grace, trusting in your capacity to alter this broken landscape, we repent of white supremacy. Empower us afresh to reject this demonic narrative that devalues lives and erects walls between our common humanity. May their names be on our lips: Ahmaud Arbery Breonna Taylor George Floyd and so so many more: (Silence.) May their deaths not be in vain as we seek justice and transformation. May those in power in our communities, lawmakers, law enforcement, and policy makers, know who we are and what we demand. May we take ownership of how we have contributed in our complacency and complicity to where we are today - and may we, enabled by the Spirit, work for change with boldness. Spirit, equip us afresh to imagine a just future for our families, our neighborhoods, our cities, our nation, and our world, one where no one is unheard. In the name of the Risen One, Jesus, Amen.

Like many pastors, I lead a faith community that is beginning to think carefully on how we will gather again physically during this pandemic in a way that is safe. Guidance continues to suggest some of the things we take for granted in our worship, like singing, should be avoided. The closeness we feel through handshakes, hugs, laughter, and deep conversation become vectors for the transmission of this disease which can harm so many.

I know the question for many Christians will be – is it church if we gather without hugs? Is it church if we cannot lift our voices together in praise and lament from the depths of our hearts? Is it church if we must maintain six feet of physical distance and minimize our time together for one another’s safety? Is it church if our practice at the communion table focuses more on sanitization than celebration? All of these realities make these decisions so difficult because we know, from previous pandemics and the nearly 100,000 lives already lost, life and death is at stake. When we do gather, it may not feel like the church we once knew.

And yet I recognize somehow that social distancing is woven into the very DNA of the church’s story.

Jesus regularly distanced himself, going out to pray to renew and recharge, and often invited his disciples to the wilderness or mountaintop or middle of the lake to wait upon God’s presence, away from the commotion of crowds and expectations.

The early church sustained itself and passed on stories and wisdom through the writing of letters, which we call the Epistles, instructing and encouraging early communities of disciples in how to live faithfully in anxious, oppressive times. Some of these letters were even crafted from prison cells.

The desert fathers and mothers fled the Roman Empire into the wilderness to wrestle with their inadequacies, pray in community, and pursue Jesus away from distraction and corruption. Generations of monastic orders continued that practice to this day, some even around the corner from where you might be reading this.

And there have always been those who have been turned away by church structures and leaders and had to form their own socially distant networks, resources, and communities to foster alternate narratives and ways of holy living, speaking words of affirmation and justice to those marginalized and wounded by systems of power.

Perhaps social distance for people of faith provides an opportunity to save lives not just from a pandemic but also from systemic evils that take lives everyday by providing us a time to look at what exists, critique it, and reimagine what might be. Reimagine a church where no one is socially distanced by the misuse of power. Reimagine a church where the care of the most vulnerable is at the core of who we are. And live into that imagination.

an Easter #sermon sunrise meditation

Have you ever noticed that two of the most important moments of the Bible happen in a garden?

In the Book of Genesis, we discover the story of the first humans living in right relationship with their Creator in a garden, a garden which supplies all of their needs – only to have that balanced, just, abundant life shattered and broken when we humans mess everything up.

And then in the Gospel of John, the one God sent who came to heal the brokenness of our lives, to teach another way, and to offer abundance here and now, was arrested who we call Jesus was convicted in a sham trial, tortured, and crucified on a cross. He is laid to rest in a tomb in a garden nearby. His death too seemed to be another instance of we humans messing up something good that God gives us.

On this Easter morning, we are deeply aware of how we can mess things up.

We see in COVID-19 a virus that harms us physically but also exposes the continued brokenness and fragility of our society. We bear witness to the deep veins of racism and inequality in our healthcare and economic systems that especially put our black neighbors at risk. We have learned that some people are worthy of getting tests and resources first while the rest of us have to wait at the back of the line. We have been unable to look away when insults and slurs and violence have been inflicted upon immigrants and people whose grandparents are from another part of God’s planet.

And we have marveled at how the Earth has gasped for a desperate breath when we stop for just a minute – stop driving in circles, stop producing more and more, stop and wait and be silent. Did we realize how our busy-ness poisons the air and harms our precious Creation?

What will it take to break these cycles?

The good news of this Easter morning and the story of both gardens is that they do not end in defeat and loss. Though the first humans must leave the garden, God goes with them and continues to covenant with them to bring wholeness to this blessed Creation.

Though Jesus is crucified, on Easter morning, the garden teems with life as the angel proclaims, He is not here – he has risen!

These are the stories of God – God reaches out again and again to repair that broken relationship and gather us into a new way of living together.

Today, on this beautiful Easter, as the sun rises over our lives, know that God invites you to receive that gift.

We are able to write a new story for our lives, for our society, and for our world.

May we walk with God and write it together.

Christ has risen. He has risen indeed!

Adapted and written for Holy Saturday vigil

One: God, you created Creation and called it good. Enable us to move from silence into action to care for this Earth. Many: Here I am, Lord. Send me. One: God, you created humanity and called us good. Challenge us to love each other and see the face of God in the eyes of a stranger, no matter who they are and how you created them. Many: Here I am, Lord. Send me. One: God, you give abundantly – enough food for the world to eat and be filled. You give us enough, so transform the way we live that we may share this abundance so that no one is poor. Many: Here I am, Lord. Send me. One: God, you come that we might have peace for neighborhoods and for nations. Through love and service, may we mend broken relationships and bend down to bless even those who intend us harm. Many: Here I am, Lord. Send me. One: God, you promise that the deepest night gives way to morning. You gather our tears and our hearts into your care and bless us. Renew us in the hope of resurrection. Many: Here I am, Lord. Send me. One: You have heard the good word. Even on this day of silence, God is not silent. God suffers alongside us, and God even now births a New Creation. Let us go to the tomb in expectation for what God is doing in and through us.

Yesterday, I had a first as a pastor – a small family-only graveside funeral without hugs or even handshakes.

It was already a wet and chilly day, so maintaining our physical distance made it feel a little chillier.

The funeral home placed COVID-19 pamphlets on every chair, spaced out evenly in the viewing area.

We fiddled with our smartphones as we waited in silence.

Touch is important in a time of grief. Sure, it’s not the only way to grieve or always appropriate, but there is something about being together as human beings, drawing close to the presence of God and the comforting connection in each other. We are frail creatures. Life can be short. Funerals help us remember that we are not so different from each other.

In those sacred gatherings, when we can be thankful for life, when we consider the complexity of our relationships, when we confront pain and regret, when we are reminded that the people we love (or struggle to love) will not be with us always, we need, often, a little touch.

So, it was difficult as a pastor to offer comforting words and to be present in a time of grief and yet not be able to take the hand of a family member and pass on a little connective warmth on such a chilly day.

Maybe it was difficult because I need that touch as much as others might need it too.

I write a lot.

But I often feel very sensitive about posting those things on the web.

I suppose this is something I need to talk to my therapist about, but seriously, I've written academic papers, religious service material, and lots of reflections. But then, when it is time to share it with the world, I feel very reluctant. Judged or something.

It's a problem. Maybe not as big as other people's problems, but why do I not dare to risk putting my work out there?

Stay tuned.

This #prayer was used at a funeral in 2010, but it could be adapted for other uses.

Almighty God,

Source of all mercy and giver of comfort: Speak to our hearts as we gather this morning to remember, to laugh, and to weep.

May we hear Your word for our lives spoken clearly.

May we be encouraged by the presence of friends and family.

May we know the touch of your grace.

Fill us with the joy and peace that comes from your presence.

We trust in You and Your will, In the Name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, we pray, Amen.

I wrote this #song in Dallas for a worship service. I'm not sure if I ever performed or led it in worship, though I did record a demo somewhere. Chord chart available on request.

welcome welcome to the table of God

if any one shouldn’t be invited that any one would probably be me But God’s invitation is spread far and wide cause God’s love is deeper than the sea

come on and join this family we all look weird and a little strange but when God sees us, God sees beauty cuz God’s love doesn’t change

here at God’s banquet table we eat the bread, we drink the cup Christ gathers us in for this feast the Holy Spirit sends us out to be transformed to change the world to love, to love, to love, love to be love.

This is a #calltoworship from a recent Celebration Sunday, reminding our church on its 60th anniversary that God was still creating and giving us reason to worship.

One: In the beginning… Many: God created the heavens and the earth One: In the beginning… Men: God created plants, animals, and life. One: In the beginning… Women: God created human beings, young and old. One: In the beginning… Youth & Children: God created families, churches, music, art, and laughter! One: I wonder, is God done creating? Many: No! God is still creating! God still gives life! So let us worship God together!

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