Archive for the ‘Holy Stuff’ Category

As much as I love winter, passing years remind me that winter does not love me. Aches, pains and creaking joints intensify in direct relation to falling temperatures. I live on the edge of prairie, a mere two hour drive from the Canadian border. Winter, cold and snow are unavoidable throughout this corner of God’s Creation. It still remains true that the colder and tougher the winter, the sweeter the spring. Tastes and smells of a new season are with us now for a few weeks and newness floats along the wind.

April is that mystical time of our year when tides turn. In the motion of the Church year this is also true. Now, the drama of Holy Week unfolds and Easter brings its new-life surprise. Newness is here, beginnings abound from many endings.

The power of Easter is the force which brings death from life. Rather than a fantasy story book or fantastical movie Easter 009which only portrays death and life, what we have now is the real thing. We know death and darkness all around us. Jesus, in his innocent death, confronts all the forces contrary to God’s love. While for a moment it appears darkness has won, Jesus is vindicated with resurrected life. We too, are invited into this newness. Loss, sin, loneliness, sickness of mind or body indicate some sort of death in our existence. Through Christ we confront these deaths and look for new life. Newness is here, beginnings abound from many endings.

May this season of spring and the coming of Eastertide be for you a moment to come into God’s new life. Confront the darkness of sin and death and seek to follow the new way of light. Take time to rest, to renew in quiet stillness, reflecting on the still small voice of God. Carve out moments for devotion and prayer; maybe start by lifting up friends, family or troubled areas across the globe. Start a fresh study of Scripture—check out online resources. Mend a relationship. Help someone needy. Work for justice. Go about your day with a sense of calling to God’s good world. Go skydiving! Whatever it takes to celebrate God’s newness for you.

Winter slides now into memory and spring ushers in the sweet smell of new life. Newness is here, beginnings abound from many endings. The world so loved by the Crucified and Risen Jesus waits for you.

10519497_10152475346936245_6357215499360071137_nIt’s all about forgiveness. Several years ago a good friend who lived with a terminal illness told me with both seriousness and joy, “This is the week for which we live.” He died two year later on Easter Sunday. Yes, this week is about forgiveness not simply some palm branches and Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs, although I enjoy both immensely. Between the Palm Sunday Parade and Easter brass the heart of our faith plays out a drama like no other. Think of it; Christmas displays part of the simply strange way God seeks to meet us, and now the Holy Week drama draws us into the oddity of Jesus’ mission. He will die a cruel, criminal’s death all for us. Yes, this Holy Week is about forgiveness, about God restoring the connection with us, about doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

A Story of Forgiveness

My son loves Legos. I do too. Although he is now 22 and nearly done with a college degree we still fulfill birthday and Christmas gifts with some sort of Lego. It is tradition and more. You see, he taught me a deep and valuable lesson of lego-1forgiveness through a Lego mishap. He was about three years old, and of course the rule was to put away toys when done with them. Easy enough. This was also the era of close to two years when his regular routine was to awaken me every day between 5 and 5:30 am. A few mornings the rising was tough but I take those days back in the twinkling of an eye. One early summer morning we made our way downstairs and sure enough, my bare heel found the sharp corner of a stray Lego piece.

I howled in pain, yet that was not the howl I regret. Restraint was lost as temper flew toward my three year old son. Voice at a fevered pitch I said things not to be repeated as the berating carried on due to the lack of clean up. Until I saw the quivering lower lip of a tender child. Silence. My parent-of-the-year nomination? Automatically revoked. What had I done? This was one of those moments the full brokenness of the human condition comes streaming down, a deluge of guilt and shame.

What happened next was the only thing I could think to do. Dropping to my knees we were soon face to face. “I’m sorry, Mat. I should not have yelled or said those things I said. I am really, really sorry.” This three year old then taught me a life-long lesson in forgiveness. Reaching out his bear-sized toddler hand, my son patted my shoulder, “It’s ok, Dad. I forgive you.”

No doubt a wall of separation came down with those simple yet life changing words. There may still be a loss of connection 19 years later if forgiveness did not happen.

This week is all about forgiveness. Dramatic portrayals of courage, betrayal, denial and abandonment arise from the players around Jesus. He goes to death for us anyway, because of us and in spite of us. This is love like no other.

May your Holy Week be whole and filled with mercy.

“I wonder as I wander out under the sky,

How Jesus, the Savior, did come for to die.

For poor, ornery people like you and like I—

I wonder as I wander out under the sky.” –Appalachian Carol

 

Young people teach us many important lessons. For example I recently learned from our 7th grade confirmation class they can readily distinguish between reality and movie magic. Our lesson for the evening was “Moses” and we watched the trailer for the upcoming movie, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”. When I pointed out, (gently, I think), some inconsistencies with the film clip and biblical witness they were quick to respond, “It’s film magic! It makes for good cinema!” Party poopers. They stole my thunder right out of the gate. Yet, these kids readily understand that simply because they see it in a movie, on TV or the internet does not make it true, factual or authoritative. We are, however, taking a class trip to see the movie.

We can see nearly anything our beautiful minds can imagine through the wonders of movie magic and good cinema. Couple that with graphic images regularly on any news outlet and there’s not much we cannot visualize. On-screen visions can appear so realistic we become, to certain degrees, desensitized to the real thing. What happens to our sense of wonder and awe, especially when we consider our lives before the Almighty? Perceptions of God’s activity in our midst can be passé, visions might be ho-hum, our reading of scripture possibly becomes just another fairy tale filled with fake-movie-magic.

Still, I’m convinced our hearts and souls long for awe, wonder, the mystery of the Divine. I see it in each generation, whether the elderly senior preparing for the final journey home or the small child singing to Jesus with glee and great hope. We human creatures possess a longing for the Divine, for wonder and mystery, for something which takes us beyond our own selves.

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December may quite possibly be the month created for just such a thing. Weeks of Advent waiting prepare, shape and mold us for the depth of a silent and holy night. The season is one of great joy, families and friends reunite, we mourn and grieve the ones not in our midst, whether from miles or the veil of death between us. This month may well be the one which most prepares us for awe and wonder.

“To you this day is born in the city of David, a savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord,” could be the most awe-inspiring words ever shared. The Almighty, the Ancient of Days now in human flesh, entering our existence in the most humble of manners. May your heart be softened to the wonder of the Christ-Child, and may your wandering be filled with renewal and joy.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIf given the options of either a time of celebration or contemplation of deep, dark places, which would you choose? I would certainly look for the party. There is far too much darkness in this world, why give it any more of our time? Still, there is a fine line between looking away from the dark and plain, simple denial. Moments arise in our days when we must take a good and honest look at what is wrong with the world and our lives, even come to terms with our own mortality.

People who identify themselves as Christian are inching toward the week to end all weeks. By most identifications we call the week “Holy”. The drama begins Palm Sunday, as we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem carried by a donkey. Events then unfold in the happenings of Maundy Thursday, (Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest), Good Friday, (trial and crucifixion), and of course Easter Sunday, (resurrection). We mark our remembrance of these events as they are central to our faith.

Each year I’m a bit surprised, however, with the ratio of worshipers on Palm Sunday and Easter, and those who arrive on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Certainly I understand that mid-week services are not our norm, and people are certainly busy. Given that this is our big week, however, I can’t help but wonder if a big part of the vastly greater numbers on the two Sundays has something to do with our aversion to the real difficult parts of faith. Death? Betrayal? Arrests and beatings? Give me a good celebration any day.

A number of years ago a friend made the powerful Holy Week observation in his comment, “Well, this is the week we live for.” How very true. He died much too young on an Easter Sunday not long after this statement. He lived fully and knew how important it is to observe this Week and contemplate the deeper issues of faith and life, perhaps even that which makes us uncomfortable.

Check out the full events of this week to come. As one of my favorite restaurant proprietors often says, “You give it a try; we’ll see what happens.”

12.21.12 and Still Kickin’

Posted: December 21, 2012 in Holy Stuff
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Well, we’re still here.  Neither the end of days nor the new epoch seem to have entered on this the shortest day of the year. It looks to me as if the Mayans were wrong, or at least we’ve misinterpreted what they meant.  I’m all for a new day, a new time, new season. There is much that is wonderful in this world and existence, and it doesn’t take much of a look around to see the horror as well. For those anticipating or perhaps worried about the Mayan new-age, it could be that today is a day to reevaluate what brand of newness we may desire.

Serving as a Christian pastor, now is certainly a time when we lift up the newness the Christmas season may hopefully bring.  In this vocation it is also a time when the deepest of human hurts are elevated as well.  I’ve spent, (and I know my colleagues have as well), a great deal of time in the last few weeks tending to people with deep concerns, and none of them seemed too worried about 12/21/12. Kids and parents try to make sense of senselessness in Newtown, CT. The poor in our communities are becoming poorer and the ranks of those in poverty levels are on the rise. Young and old alike deal with medical needs, many facing their own impending deaths. We have much more immediate needs than all the wasted time worrying about predicting and prepping for the end.

Lately I’ve been watching TV programs and reading articles about all the “apocalyptic” end of days stuff. It’s fascinating and because I am one who studies, scours, and holds dear the Bible and its message, I want to know what the world is saying and who is buying into all the fear. What I notice is that I’ve seen less bullshit cleaning out a dairy barn. This is dangerous stuff for those who believe it and let it rule their days. Followers of such tenets have extremely lost focus on what is important in this life, this world, this moment.

Maybe Christmas and One whose birth we celebrate can bring us a newness and refocus our efforts to genuine peace on earth, goodwill to all. May we all be purveyors of hope, compassion, charity, justice and love.  It is time to live faithfully, not fearfully. After all, tomorrow the days become longer, and hope just may be on the rise.