upper room daily devotions

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

CBS' "In God's Name" Video Online

A few posts ago I recommended a special on CBS called "In God's Name." If you missed it, CBS has now put the entire video online. To watch it, go here and click on "new."

As I celebrate these twelve days of Christmas (yes, believe it or not, Christmas just began!), I intend to celebrate the power of God's Light that splinters our darkness, God's Word that proclaims peace and justice, God's Incarnation found in the weak and vulnerable, God's Love that explodes my preconceptions and prejudices, and God's Grace which is beyond my understanding.

Terrible things are done in God's name. No better time than Christmas can call Christians to re-examine our actions and to correct them. We are, after all, followers of the Prince of Peace.

UPDATE: CBS appears to have removed this video from their playlist. It can be watched on YouTube. Here is the first part...follow YouTube links for the rest.

You can still read about the film at CBS.

The documentary has been put into book form and is available.

Beyond that, I do no know where you can purchase the vide.

Merry Christmas.

"Ring Out, Wild Bells" - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

This was written in 1850, the same year Tennyson was named Poet Laureate.

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Go here to read more Christmas poems.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

When God Comes during Prayer

All too often, people pray expecting something miraculous to happen and so they are disappointed when God's voice doesn't speak to them or God's will open before them. Most of us move through life without experiencing a burning bush, supernatural dreams, or visions given to us from the Divine. And yet, we often believe that the devout, the faithful, the true will have these experiences. "What's wrong with us?" we wonder. After all, our scriptures are rife with stories of direct encounters with the Divine. Story after story, we read about God's angels speaking to ordinary people and the prophets talking on a hotline to God. There was a time in my life that I, like many others, wondered what was wrong with my prayer life. It seemed that I prayed and prayed and never heard anything back. At some point I stopped thinking of prayer as a transaction with God or even a conversation with God; I came to experience prayer as time spent with God. This has been one of the most rewarding transitions in my spiritual life. No longer to I expect to leave prayer with any preconceived outcome. I don't pray to get something; I pray to sit with God.

That means that on those rare occasions when something comes to me in prayer, it feels especially sacred. That happened this evening during our Contemplative Advent Service. Each Thursday during Advent, people have been invited to gather together in a time of extended silence and Holy Communion. Our meditations have focused on God's peaceable kingdom. Tonight in the midst of silence and in the flicker of candles, I prayed, "Let me have hope. Let me know peace." Those two lines just came - over and over they came. And the plea itself served as its own answer for me. In uttering (albeit silently) those words simply and without caveats, I named a deeply important yearning. I felt heard and encouraged, almost as if God were saying, "Yearn for these more. You can't need them enough. The world needs this prayer."

Prayer is not a transaction with God. We will be sorely disappointed if we go to God in prayer with a laundry list of to-dos and I wants. God is not the invisible Santa. I know that there are those who say that faithful prayer expects God to act in the world. Yes, that is so, but God may not act according to my agenda and certainly not in response to my demands. Contemplation is the most rewarding kind of prayer that I've experienced. It puts me in the deep silence that comes with communion with God. This silence strips away the words and excuses that function as barriers between the Holy One and me. The silence brings me back to place of deep honesty. And, occasionally, like this evening it leaves me more truly who I am - hurts and yearnings and all - and, surprisingly more whole. Thanks be to God.

"Let me have hope. Let me know peace. Amen."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Advent Candle #4 - Peace

We light this candle in a spirit of peace. Our world, torn apart by war and violence, cries out for a savior to bring us into God's holy kingdom. And so we await the birth of the Prince of Peace, the little child who lead us along your paths. Christ is coming. God’s kingdom is coming. Let there be peace on earth and goodwill among all people.

In God's Name Airs This Sunday

French filmmakers and brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet ("9/11") have teamed up with CBS to "explore the complex questions of our time through the intimate thoughts and beliefs of 12 of the world's most influential spiritual leaders. It will be broadcast Sunday, Dec. 23 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT)."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Congo in Pictures and a Prayer in Advent

The New York Times is reporting on the conflict in The Democratic Republic of Congo and its attending humanitarian crisis. For a good overview of the problem and for compelling pictures, please read the article.

It's easy to get caught up in the chaos of the pre-Christmas season, especially, I would add, for Americans. I know that stating the problem over and over can feel overwhelming, but clearly most of the world is still unaware of the tangle of complex issues in Africa and in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am actually more aware of the poignancy of Advent in light of the humanitarian crisis in the DRC, its difficulty in establishing peace, and the plight of the mountain gorillas caught in the middle. I wait for God to come among us, for a child to lead us, and for God's light to finally break through the tribalism (of all kinds), the greed, the violence, and the ignorance that holds our world captive. Come, thou long-expected Jesus. Come and set your people free.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mountain Gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo

As anyone who reads this blogs knows, I have a particular interest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, especially the welfare of the mountain gorillas. Anderson Cooper has done a couple of stories on the DRC and the gorillas in recent months. I followed the interview process via blogs at Wildlife Direct. Here is part of a story for CBS that recently aired. For the whole story, go to CBS 60 Minutes:

And here is a part of a story that was aired earlier this year:

Part of my Christmas wish list includes a request for donations for Wildlife Direct, headed by Richard Leakey, that, among many other things, helps fund the work of park rangers in protecting the mountain gorillas. Wildlife Direct is an incredible, forward thinking, solutions oriented organization. If you're looking for a good way to give this Christmas, please keep them in mind.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Advent Candle #3 - Joy

We joyfully light this candle as we await the birth of the Christ-child. Like Mary, we receive the news of the coming miracle filled with awe and wonder. Like her we sing: My soul gives glory to my God, My heart pours out its praise; God lifts up the lowliest in many marvelous ways. God moves in the world to bring justice for the poor and weak, and God humbles the rich and the haughty. Something new comes with the light of the Lord. Christ is coming. God's kingdom is coming. With this candle we rejoice that God breaks into our world in surprising and life-changing ways.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Contemplative Advent Service Liturgy

Each Thursday of Advent, our church is hosting a moment of silence and Holy Communion to help people quiet their minds and settle their hearts in preparation for the coming of the Christ child. Here is the liturgy for the first service; all those following will be similar. The prayers have been inspired by Henri Nouwen and by Brother Roger of the Taize community. The service itself relies heavily upon Taize; both congregational songs are from the Taize service:

Meditations on the Peaceable Kingdom

During this series of Advent services, we will pray for God’s Peaceable Kingdom. Each week will highlight a different theme: Hope, Love, Joy, Peace. We know that you bring your own hurts and hopes to these services, however, and you are invited to pray to God in any way that is most meaningful for you.

Week 1 - Hope

Please enter in an attitude of prayer.
Messiah Hwv 56 (Complete)
Panis Angelicus
Missa Papae Marcelli: Benedictus - Hosanna
Requiem in D Minor, K 626: VI Benedictus


First Bible Reading – Isaiah 11:1-9
The Branch From Jesse
1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling [a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
Song – Wait for the Lord
Wait for the Lord,
Whose day is near.
Wait for the Lord:
Be strong, take heart!

Second Bible Reading – Matthew 6:25-34
Matthew 6:25-34 (NRSV)
25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you--you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.


"We welcome you, small child of Bethlehem, whose coming we await with quiet attention. ...[E]ncourage us to turn our hopes to your coming. We know that the promise is hidden in the stable in Bethlehem and rooted in the offspring of Jesse; let us look for our salvation there." (Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri JM Nouwen, Compilation, Prayer, and Action by Judith A. Bauer, Liguori Publications, 2004).


The Great Thanksgiving

The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,
forever. Amen.

Sharing of the Bread and Cup

Bringing the Light
You may light candles as an act of prayer.

Song of Light - Our Darkness
Our darkness is never darkness in your sight:
The deepest night is clear as the daylight.


Concluding Prayer
Light of all lights and Life of all life, you move among us in the lowliest stations and bring life and justice to those who most need. In the depths of this winter, let us find the offspring of the root of Jesse in such a way that our world becomes a vibrant green even amid the gray of the skies and dark of the early evenings. Raise us up in this growing tree of life to have hope that your kingdom will one day come, perhaps even this day. Amen. (Katie M Ladd)

You may remain in prayer and leave at your own bidding.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
O Magnum Mysterium
In Dulci Jubilo
Lift Up Your Heads

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Advent Candle #2 - Love

I received an email asking me to post all of the Advent candle readings that we will be using this year. In respose, I am posting this week's reading for the second candle, which will focus on love. Our overall theme for the season is "God's Peaceable Kingdom."

Advent Candle #2 - Love

We light this candle in the love of God. During Advent God pierces the darkness of the world with Divine light and love. We wait for Christmas Day when the Christ child - God's love for us - will born into the world. The holy infant will grow into God's promised Anointed One proclaiming God's peaceable kingdom in which love will overwhelm the limits of our world. Christ is coming. God’s kingdom is coming. And we are God’s children who are invited to walk in the light of the Lord as we wait in love for that glorious day.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Advent Candle #1 - Hope

In the church that I serve, our theme for Advent is "The Peaceable Kingdom." Each week the reading that accompanies the lighting of the Advent candles will highlight our pathway toward God's Peaceable Kingdom. This week we light our Hope candle and this is our reading:

Advent Candle #1 – Hope

We light this candle in a spirit of hope. This Advent season we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ child and for God’s kingdom which he brings to us. In a world deeply divided and often arrested by fear, the promised coming of the Christ child and the assurance of God’s kingdom give us hope. Christ is coming. God’s kingdom is coming. And we are God’s children who are invited to walk in the light of the Lord as we wait in hope for that glorious day.

About Advent Wreaths

The Advent wreath is one of my favorite ritual elements of this season. Not only do I love the lighting of the candles at church, but I have a wreath at home; we light the candles and read a devotion every Sunday. Technically, the candles do not carry any specific theme. They are a weekly countdown to Christmas in the same way that an Advent calendar is a daily countdown. However, several candle traditions have arisen over the years.

While the word "wreath" evokes an image of greenery, the Advent wreath is a ringed set of four candles. With the lighting of additional candles each Sunday, the light of Christ becomes brighter as we move closer to Christmas Day. On Christmas Day (or Christmas Eve evening), a white Christ candle is placed and lighted in the center of the wreath signifying the light of Christ shining in the world.

Traditionally, the candles in the Advent wreath are purple or blue, with purple symbolic of the royalty of Christ and the penitential nature of the season, and blue is symbolic of the hope of the season. A few churches light only white candles for the season. Often times a rose colored candle is lighted on the third Sunday marking the movement past the half-way point along the Advent journey. This is known as the Gaudette candle, which is Latin for "rejoice."

Even though the candles don't necessarily carry any individual significance, sometimes the candles move people along the Advent story by being known as the Prophet's candle, the Bethlehem candle, the Shepherds' candle, and the Angels' candle. They can also be understood thematically as Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. It's just fine to come up with your own understanding of the weeks and how the candles in your wreath relate to them.

At our church we are using thematic readings about Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace to fit in with our Advent theme of "Peaceable Kingdom."

Just as Advent calendars are fun for adults and kids alike, Advent wreaths are also a meaningful way for people of all ages to mark the pathway toward Christmas. If you don't have an Advent wreath in your home, they are easily purchased and they are quite affordable. You can buy them through any major religious supplier.

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