upper room daily devotions

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

worship and love

Bishop Will Willimon has posted on his blog a Peculiar Prophet a great article about the function of worship. It is in response to an email question submitted to him and is called "Why Do Worship?" It begins:
Frankly, I just don’t get much out of the Sunday morning thing. A lot of the time, I like the music, particularly when it’s contemporary. But there is a lot that goes on Sunday morning that doesn’t do much for me. Am I supposed to feel something? I would think that being a Christian is more than sitting and listening. It is also doing. What is the good of the praying and the singing and the sitting and listening?

What is the chief end of humanity?

The proper answer from the Westminster Confession: The chief end of humanity is...
Read the whole article.

Liturgical worship places this love in the midst of a long tradition of loving God. That is why we respectfully stand for portions of the service, follow a certain order of service, and why we return time and again to our sacraments and rituals. How liturgy and love interplay is worth a great deal of exploration. Perhaps they sometimes diverge. It is, of course, always possible for liturgy that once glorified God to simply function as a relic of the past. We need to always be intentional about the ways in which we live into our liturgy and be mindful about how we introduce newcomers (and old hats, for that matter) to liturgy. Liturgy exists to point us ever closer to God and to bring us into closer and closer relationship. When it doesn't, we lost the act of loving God as the primary goal of worship.

Monday, February 26, 2007

books to help with lent

Several people have asked me lately for book referrals for use during Lent. Here are a few resources for use in personal devotion.

The Story of the Cross: Stations of the Cross for Children by Mary Joslin (the best resource that I've seen for kids...it introduces some negative implications regarding the Jewish leadership of first century, but these are minimal and can be dealt with)

Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen

Show Me the Way - Henri J.M. Nouwen

The Lenten Labyrinth - Edward Hay

Walking a Sacred Path - Lauren Artress

In the Light of the Messanger - Joan Chittister

I am always looking for more resources, if you would like to share them with me!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

california church goes green!

Thanks to John_the_Methodist for this article from the AP that he posted on the Methoblog.

The UMC and Alternative Energy
LIVE OAK, Calif. (AP) – United Methodist Church has long looked to the heavens for strength, now it's depending on the heavens for power.

The $8 million Live Oak church will be Santa Cruz County's first to go “green,” including solar power panels disguised as roof tiles and skylights to let in the light. Construction could begin this summer with completion in a year.

“The building itself could be a witness to our values of sustainability and good resource management,” pastor Michael Love said, noting a self-sufficient church fits perfectly with the core values of the Methodist community.

“It's our responsibility to be stewards and caretakers of natural resources,” he said.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

ash wednesday

Ash Wednesday is finally here. I hope you had a great time yesterday living it up before the official beginning of Lent. Pancakes? Parties? Beads? Beer? However you celebrated, I hope it filled you up and got you ready for Lent. Today, we mark the start of Lent with Ash Wednesday. Christians everywhere will head to their churches for meditation, confession, and the imposition of ashes. This day marks us all as equals in God's eyes. It reminds us of our mortality and of the precious gift of life. It is one of my favorite days on the Christian calendar.

As a Protestant pastor, I hear people complain that Ash Wednesday feels foreign to them. And, it is true, that many Protestants have not observed this day with regularity. People who haven't grown up in the church at all tell me that Ash Wednesday doesn't make sense to them. What do we do with this slightly strange custom?

Ash Wednesday is a beautiful observance of the equality of humankind and a powerful call to us to discern God in our lives. But where do the ashes come from? Why do we use them? In 2 Samuel Tamar puts ashes on her head and tears her clothes as she grieves violence done to her, as she laments the harm that she has experienced (2 Sam 13:18-20). In the Book of Esther, Mordecai, deep in lament, puts on a sackcloth and pours ashes on his head (Esther 4:1-3). Ashes signify a terrible wrong, a deep mourning, a desire for change, the brutal truth of mortality. Ashes are the left-overs from a purifying fire. They are remnants. On Ash Wednesday, Christians place ashes on our heads as a sign of lament that life, our world, and our lives are not all that they could be. We put them on our foreheads as a desire to find right relationship with God. This desire sends us on our Lenten journey.

I also see in the imposition of ashes a levelling of the playing field. In the world, some of us are rich and some are poor. Some of us have privilege and some do not. When the ashes are placed on our heads, we are marked by God. The ashes show what the world often ignores - we are all equal in God's eyes. All of us have fallen short of perfection in love. And all of us are equal recipients of God's love and grace. Personally, the ashes remind me that I have only so many days to live fully in God's grace before I leave this world. As a mortal, I am the dust of the earth, and back to the earth I shall return some day. In the meantime, I am grateful that God extends mercy and love to me every day. Every day I have the opportunity to right my wrongs and to celebrate the goodness in creation and in me. No one is better than I am; I am better than no one else.

Ashes on our heads are not signs of piety gone wild! They are signs of our humility in the world. They are signs of God's love. They are signs of our mortality. They invite us into Lent and put us on a path of spiritual discernment during these forty days of wilderness.

If you have not been a participant in Ash Wednesday in the past, find a service and sit in meditation, hear the proclamation from Joel that the Day of the Lord is near. Hear his urgency as he cries, "Rend your hearts, not your clothing" (Joel 2:13). "Blow the trumpet... sanctify the fast; call a solemn assembly" (Joel 2:15). Joel doesn't invite us on this journey. Joel cries to us with urgency. Hearing his cry in worship or listening to Isaiah 58:1-12 is a powerful reflection on our lives and on God's claim on them.

Ash Wednesday brings us into the season of preparation for Easter. During these forty days, Christians are sent into the wilderness of discernment seeking God's presence in our lives and in our world. The call on Christians is to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It's oh so much more than giving up chocolate.

Read here for more information on Ash Wednesday.
Go here to read the scriptures for Ash Wednesday.

local choirs offer songs to heal katrina

If you're in the Ballard or North Seattle area, head over to Trinity UMC for an event of song and hope to benefit those who continue to live with the effects of Hurricane Katrina. As a member of a United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) team that headed down there last fall, I can say from personal experience that the need is great, the people are strong, and that change is happening. Come be part of the change!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

ideas for lent

Transfiguration Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays because there is so much great stuff to do with kids! This day provides so many ways to get ready for Lent. As individuals, we are invited to "listen" to Christ speaking in our lives. As a community, the invitation is no less for us as a group. During church today we prepared for Lent by decorating "Alleluia" signs so that we can hide them next week and keep them hidden all throughout Lent. We also burned last years palms for use this week during our Ash Wednesday service. Transfiguration Sunday sends me right into thinking about Lent. So I've started making a list of things to do (or not do) during Lent as part of making way and creating silence for listening to God. I thought that I would share some ideas with you.

*I listen to sacred music. If you are into sacred music (however you define that), listen to some every day; I find this really helpful. I have made two playlists on my ipod to help me during Lent. One is primarily gospel music with Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Clara Ward and the Clara Ward Singers, Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama, Brother Joe May, Corey Harris and Henry Butler, Alison Krauss, Gospel Dream, Bruce Springsteen, Etta James, Tapiola Choir, Sweet Honey and the Rock, and the Staple Singers. It's a great playslist. Because there's a lot of gospel on this list, don't be surprised if there are a few "Alleluias" floating around! The other playlist is sacred music composed by Eric Whitacre, including all of the music from his CD "Cloudburst."

You can buy the full gospel playlist from itunes.

*I am giving up turning on the TV during Lent. Now, I can't give up TV shows; don't get me wrong! I will watch DVDs and download from iTunes the programs that I really want to watch (I plan on cheating on Sundays in order to see the Soprano's. I'm telling myself it's my "little Easter" moment-I'm sure that's not the right idea, but...). While not a TV addict, I have been known to turn on the boob tube just to see what's on. Not this Lent. We'll see how that goes.

*I am saying grace before every meal. While many people do this all of the time, I don't, especially when I'm eating in public. I did this two years ago and found it a powerful exercise. I had to confront my reasons for my silence in public restaurants. I had to recognize the lack of gratitude and intentionality in my life. This led me to give up meat this past Lent...still don't eat it! If you have never given up meat during Lent, I recommend it if your health will bear it. When I gave up meat, I had time to reflect upon my participation in the meat industry in the US and in the industrialization of farming in general. I was reminded that all of creation is valuable and important to God. Giving up meat has been one of the most transformational journeys of my life.

*I recommend attending a weekly Taize service or other contemplative worship service. Most of our liturgies are filled with words. And while the Word is important in worship, contemplative worship invites us to listen for God. Even more than that, though, it invites us to rest in the Divine. For Protestants contemplative worship can feel a little strange, but I find my soul at home in the silence, in the chanting, and in the mystery of God.

*Go green. I know that my spiritual discipline this Lent will include an intentional act or practice to show reverence toward God as expressed in creation. I haven't determined what it will be yet. I already walk to work and have a hybrid car. I try to unplug appliances when not in use. I already recycle and compost. I'm not sure what my "green" practice will be, but I feel called to incorporate something significant into my daily habits. As we move toward the cross, I cannot help but think about the crucifixion of the earth that happens every day. I know that at the end of Holy Week we will find a resurrection. I do not know that we will find such a resurrection at the end of our actions toward the earth. I am open to suggestions on how to live more green in the world

I was so excited today about the beginning of Lent. I have just begun the process of discerning how I might prepare my spirit and my life to listen for God. Progressive Christians like me find Lent a wonderful jouney into the heart of God. If you have not had a habit of changing your life during this season, I invite you try something new, whether it be daily prayer, something for the environment, or thirty minutes of silence. Lent invites us to move from knowing about God to knowing God. I can't wait!

Update: A couple of people have sent ideas for Lent that they are doing or have done.
*Pray the Divine Hours - a fixed hour prayer practice. There are several online and book resources to help you. Explorefaith.com has a great online guide that can be set to your time zone!
*Make sure the TV stays off one night a week and that adults don't bring work home. Have a family night as part of your Lenten journey.
*Go walking every week. One person has suggested not using ipods as part of the experience of slowing down, being in the moment.

Keep the suggestions coming!

Update 2: The suggestions keep coming. Here are some ideas that have been shared with me.
*Keep thirty minutes to an hour of silence. Contemplative prayer is an invitation to quiet our minds and center our souls. It is more than not talking; it is silence. Contemplation invites us to rest in God's mystery.
*Practice the Examen. The Examen of Consciousness invites us to find the movment of the Holy Spirit as we reflect on our daily lives. This spiritual exercise takes about 10-15 minutes.
*Use labyrinths as part of your spiritual journey. In the Seattle area, Plymouth Congregational Church and Seattle First Baptist Church both have regular labyrinth walks. In the greater Seattle area, labyrinths can be found on Whidbey Island at Earth Sanctuary and the Whidbey Institute.
*Volunteer as part of your spiritual exercise. Lent invites into a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
*Take Holy Communion regularly.

Friday, February 16, 2007

progressive magazines and their changes

Here is a recent article by G. Jeffrey MacDonald in the Chicago Tribune called "Liberal Christian Magazines are Stumbling," which deserves a posting. What are your thoughts? Why are liberal magazines having a difficult time sustaining themselves? There are a lot of liberals/progressives who yearn for better information and a stronger community. There are liberal and progressive Christians who feel out of place in the hosues of worship. One would think that these pubs would offer something needed and valuable.

"It's never been easy to make ends meet while putting out a progressive Christian publication. But in an ironic twist, a re-energized religious left may be making a tough task even harder.

That's one key observation from watchers of liberal Christianity who are trying to explain why progressive magazines and journals have been dying just as the broader movement seems to be gaining fresh traction."

why do we let children suffer?

Two things have come across my radar screen in the past few days. First there was the UN report on child well-being, which listed the US and Britain last in child welfare. The second was a press release from one.org lauding the senate's vote not only to protect $1 billiion at stake in a poverty bill, but also added $450 million to extend the work.

I'm not quite sure why these two things are tumbling around in my mind. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that no one has ever been able to explain to me why 45 million Americans don't have health care and why preventable and curable diseases aren't treated around the world. I suppose these reports are on my mind because even the kids I do know who have health care don't receive the other support necessary to have well-being. There is much to be done in order to care for our children and to do so holistically.

When I look at the life of Jesus, the one thing that seems irrefutable is that he lived and moved among the poorest and sickest in his society, and he offered healing freely to them. He also placed a child in the midst of his disciples and commanded them to model their lives on this example. As a Christian, I see no other way to live than to continue the work of Jesus and to follow his commands. As someone living in the most affluent nation in the world, I wonder if our affluence hasn't stunted our well-being. We don't place children in the center of our life. I feel convicted by UNICEF's report card. How am I - how is my church - really and truly providing for the well-bing of children? I look to my government to extend money for this work, but in the places where money isn't the obstacle, why are we failing miserably? What can we do to make significant changes in the lives of our kids who are disaffected at younger and younger ages? For all who haven't read it, the report is stunning!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

happy valentine's day

Like so many other holidays begun and sustained by the card industry, Valentine's Day is here to stay. So, last night I watched "A Charlie Brown Valentine" in order to get in the mood. I love this special! I love Charlie Brown! It's not sentimentalized at all. And, as anyone who's been around for a while knows, love is not a sentimental thing; it's scary and risky, and when it disappoints, it hurts!

There are a lot of us who are like Charlie Brown, Sally Brown, and Linus Van Pelt. I remember the anxiety of going to class on Valentine's Day. Like Charlie Brown, I hoped each year to be a member of the group, receiving a lot of notes telling me that I belonged. Inside, though, I still wondered if I would I get any cards. I often didn't get a lot of them. I was a little bit of an oddball - smart, read too much, and a little on the fringes of things. There have been times that I've been like little Sally Brown, so sure that the one she loves will love her back only to be disappointed. There she sits so proud to know that Linus will give her a big box of candy, but he runs out of the rooom to give it to their teacher. She yells, "Why is he in the parking lot with my box of candy?" And then there's Linus, reaching beyond his grasp to offer his love. He can't find the courage to offer his gift to the one who has captured his heart - his teacher. After finally settling on his presentation, he learns that she is gone. He runs to the parking lot to find her with her boyfriend, arriving just as they pull away in the car. He stands there with his heart in his hands - literally. What a genius cartoon. What a true commentary on life.

This Valentine's Day I am lucky to know where I belong and that I have special love in my life. I have places to offer my heart and people who will receive it in return. Too many of us don't, though. And, I don't think our churches are doing a good enough job to welcome love fully into our midst and share it freely with others. Our churches are too much like Charlie Brown's classroom where some are loved. some are left, and some are invisible. Good ol' Charlie Brown is a great prophet for our churches today. He reminds us of the deep marks that our thoughtlessness leave. I wonder if our churches change enough that one day I'll pop in my Charlie Brown movie and something else will show up on the screen with all of the kids loving and being loved without exclusion.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

home from retreat

I returned home this afternoon after spending three days on retreat with other clergywomen/women in ministry in the PNW Conf of the UMC. This is one of the most important three days of my calendar year. Every February we head into the Cascade Mountains to a lovely retreat center called Rainbow Lodge. We sit in sacred space and share our life journeys with one another.

This year we discussed Diana Butler Bass's book "Christianity for the Rest of Us." We had great dialogue about tradition, call, and ministry. We played games, took walks in the woods, sang, and worshipped with one another. I love to hear the voices of the thirty-five or so women singing with gusto. We're a great choir!

The worship experiences that we have together always intrigue me. As a pastor, I hardly ever get to experience the worship creativity of my friends and colleagues. On the rare occasions when I am blessed to be led in worship by others, I realize that there are a lot of poets, storytellers, hymnists, and liturgical artists in our midst! The creativity that flows from the hearts of worship leaders is powerfully generative.

So tonight I am hungry to find new liturgical resources...for Eucharist, Holy Baptism, prayers... I wonder what joys are occurring in churches all around me. If you would like to offer a progressive liturgical resource that would help my community, please do so. I am always trying to find new ways for people to experience the transforming grace of God. And I am forever seeking new ways to engage the Christian passion for justice. This is a plea...Don't let me come home from retreat. Help me stay a little longer!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Update on Lutheran Pastor Bradley Schmeling

The disciplinary hearing committee has released its decision related to the Rev. Bradley Schmeling of St. John's Church ELCA in Atlanta, Georgia. Bradley Schmeling was charged with violating the ELCA's policy that bar practicing homosexuals from ordination. He was always open about his sexual orientation; it wasn't until he entered into a relationship with another man that his bishop charged him with violating the church's rule.

After meeting last week, the committee released its report and their findings. In essence, they determined that the Rev. Bradley Schmeling is a gifted pastor who possess all of the gifts and content of character necessary to be ordained and serving within the denomination. They called upon the denomination to change their policies, and they noted that the policy may be illegal given the denomination's constitution. However, seven of the twelve determined that if the oplicy is not changed then Bradley Schmeling will have to be removed from the ELCA's roster, in essence removing his ordination. They have delayed action against him until the denomination meets in early August in order to allow the necessary time for the policy to be changed.

As a gay identified pastor in another denomination, my prayers remain with Bradley Schmeling. As someone serving a church that supported a previous pastor under complaint for being gay, my prayers are with his congregation. But more than that, I pray for Christianity that has made itself so very small over this issue. God calls us into loving and caring relationships. If a pastor, or any person, finds a healthy, supportive, mutually respectful, loving relationship, as the body of Christ, we should support and bless that union. I am not going to debate the scriptural (un)reasoning used by those who continue to discriminate against GLBT folks. I just offer prayers for Christian unity, grace-filled encounters across diving, and for heaing of the wounds that too many GLBT people experience in the name of God.

Books I recommend:
"The Good Book: Reading the Bible With Mind and Heart" by Peter Gomes
"Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?: A Positive Response" by Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollencott
"The Children are Free: Reexamining Biblical Evidence on Same-Sex Relationships" by Rev. Jeff Miner and John Tyler Connoley

And, for a longer list of reading resources, including books mentioned above, the Episcopal Bookstore has a great selection.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

give peace a chance - the church and war

"And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends."
--Martin Luther King, Jr., "A CHRISTMAS SERMON" 24 December 1967 from Standford University

Church and peace. One would think that these go together. After all, we call Jesus the Prince of Peace. However, preaching peace is a dicey deal for many pastors, especially when people in our pews have family members serving in the line of fire. Yet I would suggest that this is exactly the time to witness to peace. When our nation sends young and old, men and women, girls and boys across the ocean to take the lives of others and to risk their own lives, the church has a moral obligation to question the reasons why. It is our job to advocate for peaceful solutions to difficult problems and to stand in the public sphere as a relentless voice of shalom.

Recently I had a discussion with a United Methodist lay person about Army Lt. Ehren Watada who is undergoing a court-martial for refusing to deploy to Iraq. Not a coward, but an objector, Lt. Watada requested to be sent to Afghanistan instead of Iraq. Lt. Watada sought and received sanctuary in a United Methodist Church, and United Methodists have become especially involved in this struggle. The person I was in dialogue with was upset about an invitation that I extended to members of the church to support Lt. Watada and the church that offered him sanctuary. The invitation was perceived as overly and overtly political and, thus, inappropriate. This has been on my heart for a while, and it seems that I need to say without apology that the Jesus that I follow and the Christianity to which I have dedicated my life is entirely political...and it follows the politics of peace.

Churches shouldn't be Republican or Democrat. Nor should they be American (that's why I dislike the tradition of many churches of putting an American flag in their sanctuary). We belong to God - first and before all things. Peace does not belong to a political party; it is not partisan. Peace is a fundamental concept of the Christian identity, and it startles me when I see churches advocate war. Supporting those who have committed themselves to protect our nation is not the same as supporting policies that wage and sustain war. I, too, have members of my family who are serving in the military and who have served in Iraq. I pray for their safety and the safety of all with whom they come in contact. I pray that the experiences that they undergo and acts which they must perform will not scar their souls beyond repair. I pray for the wholeness of the world. And, I am not a pure pacifist; I understand that times arise when tyranny must be confronted with armed conflict. There are also times when our nation or our allies may be attacked and cannot resist the assault in any way other than by pressing down with great force. I am not anti-troop; I am pro-peace.

Peace is not easy. Coercion is always an easier road to take. Throughout the ages prophets have protested and railed against the powers and principalities of their times, especially their own governments, when they have chosen coercion and hard heartedness over peace and mutual care and respect. As we read through the lectionary during Ordinary Time, we find the call stories of some of our greatest prophets. They reluctantly answered their calls and went into the world to proclaim a difficult message of repentance and peace. Peace requires repentance. Peace brings us into conflict with those who would deny peace a chance. Peace. It is a short word. It is a hard word. It is a word at the foundation of our identity as the living body of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Recent article about Lt. Watada: Seattle Times - Feb 6, 2007

War and Just War from Stanford Ecyclopedia of Philosophy

Monday, February 05, 2007

Clashing Generations

I continue to explore how churches, especially small churches, might be a place for multiple generations. One of the hesitations that I have about the emerging church movement is that its particularity as a postmodern movement may make it inaccessible to people older than 40. Of course, I know the response to this hesitation of mine is that "regular church" is already for the over forty crowd. I get it...I get it. However, if we are trying to build a new approach to church, I think it's important to keep in mind the clashes of generations and how the differences between and among them could be part of their strength. Remember Pentecost? Difference is a gift from God.

In my reading, I ran across an article published a couple of years ago in a local paper. While it concerns different attitudes toward and hopes for the working envirnoment, it offers me more to add to the growing pile of articles, books, videos, and notes about the active four generations (Greatest, Boomers, Gen X, and Gen y/Millenials/Nexters). The article, The War at Work, follows employment trends and how they are related to attitudes about life, work, family, and the world.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

going to congo

I have signed up to go on a Volunteers in Mission (VIM) trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The trip will be this summer between Aug 2-Aug 24. We will be travelling to the southern province of Katanga, the same province which just elected United Methodist Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda as a senator. The DRC has made incredible strides toward stability after years of civil war and strife. Bishop Ntanda has been instrumental in the peace efforts within Katanga. He, along with the rest of the Senate, is expected to be installed on Feb 3.

While we call these mission trips, really they are expensive Christian education trips for us. The hope is to build relationships, for us to realize the interconnectedness of all life, and then to become invested in one another's well being. I am a strong supporter of this kind of Christian education.

We are going to Kolwezi, which is WNW of Lubumbashi, and has a city population of about 450,000 people. While there our team will work in a hospital/clinic and do some construction work. It is our hope to also visit the orphanage Jamaa Letu in Lubumbashi - an orphanage that United Methodists in the Pacific Northwest helped to build with our sister annual conference.

On the way home we are stopping in Kenya to debrief and to go on a brief safari. It is my hope while I am there to see first-hand the good work that MERC is doing to preserve the culture of the Maasai people and for the environment.

As time draws nearer for the trip, I continue to read more and more about the politics of Central Africa, the DRC, the mineral ventures in Katanga, and about the incredible peoples of that area. I really don't know why we call this a mission trip, unless we really mean that it's a mission for those of us going over there!

I would love to hear from folks who have been to Congo and would love pointers to reading materials or packing helps that might be useful.

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