upper room daily devotions

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

al gore and his slides

Last week I had the opportunity to see Al Gore present his slide show in Key Arena in Seattle. It was surprisingly similar to the movie An Inconvenient Truth. While the presentation included some new information, the contents of his live presentation virtually followed the flow and content of the movie. One of the memorable parts of the evening is what happened outside prior to the presentation. The Key was swamped with political activists and people with petitions. Everywhere you looked were people with anger at how the world is and hope for a new one. The presentation last week reminded me of the importance of voting. I hope all of those people at the Key, inside and out, vote this month. This election provides "green" Christians a critical opportunity to vote the environment. Issues like Iraq and the economy are not separate from that of the environment. They are radically interrelated. I hope my vote makes a difference and that this difference helps our planet take a big breath of fresh air. It deserves it. God's glorious creation deserves better than we give it. At the top of this blog, I included the picture of the "blue marble," our home, from the NASA website. This picture should be enough for people to take care of this precious and holy home of ours.

happy halloween - all hallows eve

It's a beautiful day today - a cold, crisp, bright, and sunny Halloween day. Halloween is my favorite holiday. It's one time of year during which I am able to step wholly into the mystical. It's a great feeling. On this day I rejoice in my faith tradition that celebrates the communion of those who have died with those who still live.

Over the years Halloween has been slandered by ignorant people who have no understanding of its origins or real meaning. Dating back to the Celts who celebrated the new year on November 1, October 31 was the festival of Samhain, the Lord of the Dead. Celts believed that on this day the veil separating the living and the dead lifted and the souls of those who had died could roam the earth. Ghouls and goblins would also arise. Bonfires were lit to scare away evil spirits and people donned masks. When the Romans conquered the Celts, they brought some of their own traditions and added them to those of the Celts, including bobbing for apples and drinking cider. In 835, Pope Gregory IV moved the Church's tradition of remembering martyrs from May 13 to November 1, which became All Saints Day, replacing the remembrance of martyrs with the rembrance of the saints of the Church. All Souls Day followed on November 2. October 31 marks the eve of these holy days and was thus known as All Hallows Eve or Holy Evening. Later it became known simply as Halloween.

Mexican Catholics celebrate the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), beginning with "Dia de los Angelitos" (day of the little children). Like Samhain, this festival predates the introduction of Christianity to Mexico. After the Christian conquest of Mexico, the dates of the Mexican festival were changed to coincide with All Saints and All Souls Days on November 1 and 2. In Mexico flower petals show the dead the way home or to an altar made by family members. It is a celebratory time with particular local customs. Sugar skulls, temporary altars, candles on graves, eating fruit, singing songs, saying prayers, family suppers, special bread, skeleton adornments, and parades mark the special days.

I remember my father, my grandparents, and even pets I have loved. I give thanks for their presence in my heart and for the honor of knowing them. I also remember they surround me with love and support even though they do not live on this earth any longer.

Happy Halloween! I hope we all have meaningful All Saints and All Souls Days.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

progressive christians have a conscience to vote this election

The November elections are getting ever nearer. Just this week I received my absentee ballot in the mail. Progressive Christians have the opportunity to connect our beliefs - the bedrock of our beliefs - with our ballots. The National Council of Churches USA has published a voting guide to help us remember our Christian principles in election time.

If you are like me then you are tired of the word "Christian" being equated with "Conservative Evangelical Christian" in the media and in the minds of the average American. We need to bring our voice loudly into the public square. We have strong beliefs on the environment, on equal rights, on peace, on tolerance, and on poverty. We have important things to say that need to be heard.

Since 1994 election time has been disappointing for many Progressive Christians. It may even be that some of us have started to avoid the voting box out of despair. I know when I look at the choices that are before me, it doesn't look like much of a choice. Too many people running for elected office capitulate to pressures to "move to the midde" (read, to the Right). Too many have been seduced into believing that economic growth regardless of cost should be the purpose of our government. Others are so afraid of their opponents that little difference appears to remain between them. But I know that withdrawing from the process is not a viable option. Too much work needs to be done; who else will do it? If I don't vote, how can I in good conscience hold my elected officials accountable? And if I don't do hold them accountable, who will?

I encourage you to vote. I encourage you to vote proudly as a Progressive Christian, committed to the radical politics of Jesus and sustained by the radical presence of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, October 13, 2006

come out, come out, wherever you are

National Coming Out Day was Oct 11. This is a short note of encouragement for all who still live in the closet and who yearn to be fully known by family and friends. This is a word of comfort to those who have come out and have been shunned by family and friends. And this is a word of hope to all who continue to seek love and acceptance in their families, from their friends, and in their faith communities. Coming out never seems to be a finished process so take it easy and do it at your own pace. I know that I, despite not being in the closet for most of my adult life, find myself having to explain who I am all of the time. Not only do gay-identified Christians have to come out as GLBT but we also have to come out, if you will, as Christian in the queer community. It has never been easy to be Christian and GLBT. It also has been a struggle to be GLBT and a Christian. There are, however, faith communities of all denominations that welcome us openly and warmly. Please seek them out. What a wonderful step toward wholeness to be in a community that celebrates the wholeness of our creation!

the amish, violence, and christianity

The nation stood still in horror when a man attacked children at a small Amish school house. How could someone do that to children, to Amish children? Sister Joan Chittister writes about the experience in the National Catholic Reporter in an article called "What kind of people are these?" The school is now gone, to be replaced by a pasture. It was demolished by a people who want no monument to the violence that might invite gawkers or tourists.

Progressive Christians have the opportunity to stand firmly against violence and the enticing lure of retribution. When our hearts are wounded and our souls broken it is tempting to believe that coercion or violence will lead us out of the pain, but that road inevitably leads to more woundedness. Whether faced with nuclear arms build up in North Korea, a dead-end policy in Iraq (655,000 Iraqis now dead, over 3,000 Americans now dead), or school shootings in the United States we have options of how to repond. We do not have to respond to violence with violence. Will we continue to act from places that embrace violence or from places that embrace the gospel that has transformed our lives?

Joan Chittister: "The country that went through the rabid slaughter of children at Columbine high school several years ago once again stood stunned at the rampage in a tiny Amish school this month.

We were, in fact, more than unusually saddened by this particular display of viciousness. It was, of course, an attack on 10 little girls. Amish. Five dead. Five wounded. Most people called it "tragic." After all, the Amish represent no threat to society, provide no excuse for the rationalization of the violence so easily practiced by the world around them.

Nevertheless, in a nation steeped in violence..." (more)
Sister Joan Chittister is a Benedictine Sister of Erie who writes about women's issues, justice, and peace.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

lost sabbath, lost soul

Last week I attended a gathering of United Methodist clergy. The one sentiment that I heard more than any other was a desire for real and authentic worship. In the midst of planning and leading worship for others, clergy often forget to seek out worship for ourselves. As I looked around at the hundreds of people gathered, I could see the need; it was very noticeable. What this did to me, though, was make me more aware of all of our lost sabbaths. It isn't just clergy who miss out on spending time with God.

Sabbath is foundational to our identity as individuals of faith and as a community of faith. God commanded that we set aside one day a week to spend in worship and reflection. It's become anathema in the United States to do this, though. I would even speculate that it's more rare for progressive Christians than for more evangelical or conversative Christians to set aside time to honor God, family, and self. I spend a good deal of my time worried about and praying for members of my church who work on Sundays and who don't set aside a special holy time/day for their Creator.

We all pay the price for not spending time in communion with the Holy One. Not for a second do I buy the excuse that we don't "have" the time to offer God. We find time for movies, hobbies, friends, reading the paper, paying bills, and going on vacations. No, it isn't that we don't have the time; it's that we don't honor the time. For some reason we've stopped valuing Sabbath. We deny ourselves the important time of gathering with others who are on similar paths of exploration. We keep from ourselves the quiet that is needed to soothe our souls. We restrict ourselves and contend that our time is spent better elsewhere than in song, prayer, quiet, and community. Because of these choices, we lose and God loses.

I wonder how alive and vibrant we all would be, especially progressive Christians, if we valued our Sabbath. I wonder what it would be like to belong to a whole community that set aside one day to sing, pray, and break bread together. Some friends of mine contend that the hour or so that they spend alone suffices as their Sabbath, but I am referring to something deeper, more communal, more rooted in our rich tradition of holy Sabbath. I look at how busy progressive Christians are and how involved in working for the commong good, and it seems clear to me that we are groaning for respite and for holy communion - with God and with others.

We have something to learn from our Christian and Jewish brothers and sisters who take Sabbath seriously. Progressive Christians can become so action-oriented and so outwardly-focused that we forget to nourish our souls and our communities. A year of so ago I was sitting at a table with people from diverse faith backgrounds. Eventually the topic landed on the length of our respective worshiping bodies. When someone noted that their worship was one hour - no more, no less - another person from a more conservative background asked, "What's the rush?" What is the rush? Why do we feel that we've done God a favor by setting aside one hour on a Sunday? That's not Sabbath. That's giving God the bare minimum appointment. We have a lot to learn about about Sabbath and how it restores our community and our soul and honors the God who made us.

My prayer is that we begin to take Sabbath seriously. In a world that assaults our senses with news of school shootings, war, famine, ecological devastation, and financial and energy pressures we need time that is set apart. We need a day a week to spend with family, in public and private prayer, with friends, and having fun. And, we need to do these things on a day set aside just for them - no chores, no work, and no email. I pray for us to remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy just as God instructed and just as we need. It's time to leave behind the lost Sabbath and our lost souls.

*I'm writing this post using capitalization because it is easier for some people to read. I don't like using capitalization very much, but I'll do the best I can.

Monday, October 02, 2006

personal choice, mother earth, and the sanctity of (h)earth

despite my commitment to challenging the systems that create poverty, helping my glbt brothers and sisters find a home in the church and equal rights in their nation, and my yearning for peace, i believe that the most important and crucial issue facing us is the environment. thankfully, i don't believe that i have to neglect issues of poverty, personal liberty, and peace in order to address god's good earth. in fact, i believe they are all constitutive parts of god's peaceable kin-dom.

god commanded us to be stewards of the earth. we've done a pretty miserable job at it, too. as we move into stewarship season in our churches, a lot of churches will spend the time trying to increase the financial contributions of their members for the sake of next year's budgets. i am trying my hardest to get folks to make this "stewardship season" for their whole lives - at church and at home. i'm giving it a go in my home as well. i'm looking at ways that i can live more simply. i am reviewing all of the organizations to which i contribute money and i am making informed choices about next year's giving. and, i am looking at ways to make my home more kind to the earth and her inhabitants.

we can, one choice at a time, impact the earth in increadible ways. it is remarkable the amount of power that we have to heal the earth and to be the stewards that god would have us be - one house at a time, one light bulb at a time, one bleach free product at a time, one energy efficient appliance at a time. for those who live in the seattle area, there are financial incentives for making "green" choices in our homes. from solar powered hot water systems to tank free systems to the appliances that we purchase, the city has a program that encourages us to make ethical and moral choices that lay at the heart of good stewardship.

as a pastor who lives in a parsonage, i struggle with how much of my money i am willing to invest in a house that i don't own. for over a year, i have wanted to shift my hot water to solar power. it's almost financially possible, but it feels just out of reach - especially because the house is not mine. more and more i've been wanting to buy my own home so that i would feel more comfortable about the financial outlays that it will take to live as i think that i ought to. sometimes i wonder if this conflict is another excuse to maintain the status quo, though. is it any less good stewardship to leave this gift for the pastor who will follow me? i don't know where this internal conversation will lead...

if you are a home owner in the area, please check out the city's website that shows all of the ways they will support choices that make homes more friendly for the earth. some of the choices cost very little; some are very expensive.

however, not all personal choices to tend mother earth are expensive and prohibitive. we can, indeed, sanctify our hearths with small changes that require little expense. if everyone would just replace one light bulb with one that has an energy star label, we (the nation) would save $600 million in electricity bills and would prevent greenhouse gasses equivalent to 1 million cars(1). the epa's website contains a page where you can fill in a pledge to change just one light bulb and make a difference. please respond to the energy start change a light, change the world challenge and make the pledge. i encourage everyone i know to make the little changes because we all can. and, if and when we are privileged to be able to do it, we should make big ones.

the evidence is incontrovertible, the earth is dying because of our greed and misuse. the cure is also as clear: we can make a difference. we can heal the earth one personal choice at a time, and our mother earth will again be alive and vibrant along with all of her inhabitants. and, when we make these changes in our homes, we sanctify them and bless them with god's joy. that's why this blog is called personal choice, mother earth, and the sanctity of the (h)earth - the personal choices that we make at our hearth will forever affect our mother earth.

for more information about energy star, please go here.

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