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Praying Christmastide

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The Sacrament is Strangely Absent for Many

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No love that in a family dwells, No caroling in frosty air, No all the steeple-shaking bells Can with this single Truth compare- That God was Man in Palestine And lives today in Bread and Wine.
 -G.K. Chesterton Quoted from New Reflections on Advent,
 Donald Neary, p. 81

I've come to admire and appreciate the weekly Mass that many Roman Catholic churches provide for their parishioners who simply can't get to church. No matter where I visit church members in health care facilities, it seems mid-week Mass is offered.

That the Eucharist is a celebration of the real presence of Jesus is the reason for its importance in the Anglo- Catholic tradition, and thus, why the Catholic observance seems more available for long term care residents and hospital patients than are the Protestant offerings of Holy Communion and the Lord's Supper.  
Even though United Methodists teach that Christ is present in the bread and cup in a "spiritual manner," most of us follow the pat…

Simple Prayer for the World

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Christmastide/Epiphany is about God's love for the world, manifested in the Word becoming flesh.  A few years back, I discovered a prayer at the Cenacle Retreat House in Houston, Texas. Part of it is below.





God's Wondrous Love Always Surprizes: Advent Midweek Missal (3)

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Luke 7:18-23

John’s disciples informed him about all these things. John called two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord. They were to ask him, “ Are you the one who is coming, or should we look for someone else?” When they reached Jesus, they said, “ John the Baptist sent us to you. He asks, ‘Are you the one who is coming, or should we look for someone else?’ ” Right then, Jesus healed many of their diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits, and he gave sight to a number of blind people. Then he replied to John’s disciples, “ Go, report to John what you have seen and heard. Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled now walk. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. And good news is preached to the poor. Happy is anyone who doesn’t stumble along the way because of me. ” 
"The kingdom of God dawns in that moment when, from the ditch, you look down the Jericho Road, having lost your last…

Peace, God are already here: Advent Midweek Missal (2)

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Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light. ” 
Something written by Julian Norwich many centuries ago in a book called Revelations of Divine Love: stays with me: "Peace is always with us; but we don't always live in peace." There are few statements that better describe the reality of our spiritual work than this little proverb. In this second week of Advent, we may well have already experienced all too well the reality the 14th Century parish anchoress and spiritual friend was talking about. 
Without letting this verse from Matthew soak over into every part of us, the promise of rest just stays in our head swirling around. Nothing is accomplished by just wishing things were different. One time when I was on an individual retreat, my spiritual director sugges…

God is enough: Advent Midweek Missal (1)

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Matthew 15: 29-37 (CEB)
Jesus moved on from there along the shore of the Galilee Sea. He went up a mountain and sat down.  Large crowds came to him, including those who were paralyzed, blind, injured, and unable to speak, and many others. They laid them at his feet, and he healed them. So the crowd was amazed when they saw those who had been unable to speak talking, and the paralyzed cured, and the injured walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. 
Now Jesus called his disciples and said, “ I feel sorry for the crowd because they have been with me for three days and have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry for fear they won’t have enough strength to travel. ” His disciples replied, “ Where are we going to get enough food in this wilderness to satisfy such a big crowd? ”  Jesus said, “ How much bread do you have? ”  They responded, “ Seven loaves and a few fish. ” 

He told the crowd to sit on the ground. He took the seven loaves of bread and the …

Do a Fly Over Stinkin' Thinkin'

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In the days when folks were free to smoke everywhere, the most difficult person to be with was not necessarily a smoker but the former one. Did you ever hear one complain about those irritating smokers clogging everyone's lungs?

It's similar to a new religious convert who believes he was wrong about everything before he saw the light. Now, he's suddenly right about everything.      
The "dry drunk" as known in AA, is the one who thinks and can even behave like the worst addict, but is abstinent. The pain brought on by  all-or-nothing thinking can be so tortuous that another cycle of abuse- or the creation of substitute addictions- easily begins. Too, the ceaseless judgmental and condemnatory attitudes and behaviors can drive others to drink, or just run away.  

Some compare the "first stepper" dry alcoholic to a Christian who never goes beyond conformity to the expectations of others. Well- explained by Richard Rohr in Breathing Under Water,  The res…

Jesus Smiles

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Have I said anything with a stern look or manner, especially on religion?     - Evening Self Examination, 30 Days with Wesley

That self-examination is normally a serioussubject is why this question about a stern countenance catches me totally off-guard. In the most traditional liturgy for Holy Communion, we pray that we "bewail our manifold sins and wickdeness." 

If that isn't a prescription for a self-condemnatory scowl I don't know what is. But just because self- inventory is important doesn't mean we have to start aping the judgement scene from Michelangelo's The Last Judgement.
If you believe that the power that transforms us resides in God's love in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit that is poured into us, then any and all self- examination is a means to greater self knowledge, healing, holiness, and sanctification.

But that movement is blocked when we think we can somehow improve on God's creating us in God's own image and likeness. No amount…

God's Generosity Doesn't Run Out

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"The farmer, without preparation, just went out and began to sling the seed. This is farming Jesus style...The Master seems to find more joy in careless sowing, miraculous growing, and reckless harvesting than in taxonomy of the good from the bad, the worthwhile from the worthless, the saved from the damned." Will Willimon, Why Jesus?, p.78.
It's a rare autumn in Houston. Everywhere we walk, there's the crunch of a live oak acorn. They remind me of the larger ones seen every fall in my native Ohio. They're  so plentiful there that my buddies and I could fill trash cans and buckets, then spend the rest of the day chucking them at each other.

The wonder is how in the world do any of these odd little nuts turn out to become anything at all! But they do!
Richard Lischer, who well chronicles his first pastorate in Open Secrets, sheds light on this parable of Jesus from Matthew 13. Lischer served a rural parish where the calendar was set by the corn harvest…

Young Goat Theology Is for Old Goats (Luke 15)

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The problem is NOT belief in God but rather, what God do we really trust and cling to? Because we will become like the God we worship. J.B. Phillips brilliantly named some of our self-made tin gods in his classic Your God Is Too Small.

No matter how many gods you have, they are never enough, and if they are false, we will end up being formed by what is most false and fragmented in and around us. 

In the parable of the Two Sons (Luke 15), the older son's attitude over the feast thrown in honor of the younger son's homecoming bursts forth like sore boil: "You never even gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends." (15: 29)
OK, except that young goats are not even comparable to fatted calves. Well, maybe in the mind of bitter older brothers. Like the "Young Spring Chicken" from an old family favorite in my childhood (with apologies to the Dudley Motor Inn in Western New York),  the meat of young goats is lean but neither tasty nor tender nor pl…

Calming Storms with the Oil of Christ

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Talking helps

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If a brother or sister in Christ has the courage to name racism as a continuing wound in our life together, that should be enough of an opening for more, not less, conversation.   

While it may hurt to have these accusations pointed in our direction, and some may get "sick and tired" hearing charges of bigotry, just think of those who have to live with it every day of their lives.

In the long run, it's so much more helpful to talk with each other than to throw names at each other. It would also allow us to see each other better, without the kind of hindrances Jesus mentioned in Matthew 7: 5. 













Time to Quit Tossing the Labels Around

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You would think that among Christians, it would be enough to be called by the name of Christ. The name assumes a spirit of generosity that too many of us Christians reject in favor of other names like orthodox, progressive, contemplative, confessing, liberal, reform, conservative, Bible believing, fundamentalist, emergent, evangelical, etc., etc, etc.!

I know, the genius of our growth is how we can divide and multiply. Jesus is incarnated in any and all cultures. So we've also come up with lots of proper pronouns to delineate our historic differences, like Independents, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics, Protestants, Nondenominational, and so on.

There's no use pretending a unity that isn't there, but isn't it enough challenge just to be known as a follower of Jesus, enough blessing to be one of Christ's own, enough grace to be made in God's image and in God' love? Why isn't this better than any confining label?

The great preacher and United Me…

Reviewing We Were Least of These

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Elaine Heath's We Were the Least of These: Reading the Bible with Survivors of Sexual Abuse is her recent book, published in 2011. The McCreeless Associate Professor of Evangelism and director of the Center for Missional Wisdom at Perkins, Heath explains how the church and its Story can be heard and explored in a healing way by survivors of sexual violence and abuse. Her telling of the Christian Story is authentic mainly because it is done by a survivor, in the presence of the estimated 1 in 3 woman and 1 in 6 men who are also survivors of sexual abuse.

Naming survivors as the least of these is key to the entire study, the hermeneutic Heath applies to the many Bible stories she re-presents and retells in the rest of the book. The words themselves are of course from Jesus' parable in Matthew 25: "We were the least of these, all of us who suffered abuse, neglect, violence of every kind. Jesus was with us; Jesus was in us; Jesus is for us." p.9

Heath's choice of text…

There but the Grace of God...Really?

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The actual phrase is something like, "There but the grace of God go I." K, the grammar can change it around. Like another popular refrain, this little phrase is to be found nowhere in the Bible. Its source is a matter of widespread conjecture, but it has been a popular phrase for decades, and probably since the late 1800's. The words may sound poetic (they are not in Shakespeare either), but it's what this phrase says about God's grace that's ugly.
Because it teaches that God's grace is with those who avert a disaster, but not for those who suffer tragedy, I have no use for it. Further, I have to conclude that those who use it do so in ignorance, since I have no idea of their intentions. A clergywoman, from a wheelchair, taught me this: that when we use this and phrases like it, we show ourselves to be clueless about the amazing grace of God in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or the recipients of God's grace. Too, we declare those who suffer various ca…

The Power of Quiet

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In most books I read, there's at least a short paragraph or two that is so useful and helpful that it was worth reading the entire book just to receive that new insight. Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, was enjoyable and interesting because the author not only shares her breadth of wisdom about introversion, but also, she does while sharing her own journey from Wall Street lawyer to best selling author and prophet of quiet reflection

Cain explains where the American cult of extroversion and our misunderstanding of introversion originates. No field of study is left out of the discussion: from religion to pop psychology, from Harvard Business to Dale Carnegie, from Asian American High School students to FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt and from biology to personality theory, Cain coalesces her impressive knowledge, much of it from first person interviews and observations.

Introverts, which, according to the book, comprise up to 50% of th…