upper room daily devotions

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Ash Wednesday" by TS Elliot

There are so many devotional books written for the season of Lent. Rather than relying upon these ready-made materials, however, the church that I serve is putting together its own booklet. It's part of our theme "Our Journey With God." The stories that we write, collect, and edit together will be a part of our own journey, more so than a booklet with stories put together for an anonymous public. I am looking forward to what people submit. I know one submission is T.S. Elliot's poem "Ash Wednesday."

Ash Wednesday
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.


At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man's mouth drivelling, beyond repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs's fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

but speak the word only.

Who walked between the violet and the violet
Whe walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary's colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary's colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season, time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.


The lines most meaningful to me in this poem are:
"And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice" - Lent is a time to let go of "the voice" and construct something new in which we can rejoice - a new faith, a renewed faith.

"Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still" - This has been my mantra for several years.

"Shall these bones live...and the bones sang chirping" - the question for each of us and for the Church itself. The power of faith, the power of life, the remnant singing to the wind.

"The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed." - Exile, exile of spirit, exile of soul, exile of people. Lent is exile chosen, but exile comes all too often unplanned and uncharted.

"Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee." - The perfect prayer.

You can hear TS Elliot read his own poem.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bishop Gene Robinson on The Daily Show (and more)

Bishop Gene Robinson was on The Daily Show on January 20.

The bishop was in Seattle, WA on January 12, 2009. Listen to to an interview that he gave to Seattle's local public radio station KUOW during that visit.

Additionally, at 8 PM on Thursday, January 22 KUOW will air the full speech that Bishop Robinson gave at Town Hall.

UPDATE: While Bishop Robinson was in Seattle, he preached at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Joseph Lowery's Inaugural Benediction

Eighty-seven year old United Methodist clergy person and Civil Rights activist Joseph Lowery provided the benediction at President Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, January 20, 2009. Updating scripture, providing advice, and infusing the event with humor, Lowery struck a homerun (IMHO), vastly outpacing Rick Warren's long, rambling, and slightly offputting invocation.

Let me say that Rick Warren surprised and impressed me with his invocation. It was relevant and - for the most part - appropriate. Where he ran aground was in his inability to refrain from "speechifying" and in the use of the Lord's Prayer. While Rev. Warren and President Obama are both Christian and, thus, the prayer may in many ways be pertinent, the invocation serves as a call for the whole nation and not just for Pres. Obama (or all Christians gathered). He erred on the side of exclusion using a prayer exclusive to our community, even though some can and will argue its use as both appropriate and meaningful.

I found Rev. Joseph Lowery's benediction more meaningful. Was it because I watched in an interfaith setting? Because I'm United Methodist? Because I'm just simply not a big Rick Warren fan? I don't know. In the end, even though some might accuse me of doing so, I don't need to take anything away from Rick Warren in order to praise Joseph Lowery. While others may have found Lowery's benediction "interesting," I thought it was absolutely delightful. He spoke out of his faith, but in a way that appeared to be more inclusive and invitational - but, that is just my opinion.

Here is video of Joseph Lowery's benediction:

VIDEO: Bishop Gene Robinson's Prayer

If you watched the HBO special of the inaugural events at the Lincoln Memorial, you will know that Bishop Gene Robinson's prayer was omitted from the broadcast. For a full story on this, head over to the Huffington Post, which also has the missing video.

National Prayer Service with President Obama Webcast

On Sunday HBO broadcast the events at the Lincoln Memorial - and they did so for free. CNN has been using Facebook to create a virtual viewing party of the inaugurgation on Tuesday. And, unknown to most people, the Washington National Cathedral is webcasting the National Prayer Service on Wednesday.

Webcasting will begin at 9:30 AM with the service scheduled to begin at 10:00 AM. The newly sworn in president will be joined by religious leaders of many faiths for this by invitation only worship service. The National Prayer Service has been a part of the inaugural events since the election of George Washington as our first president.

A list of religious leaders participating in the event has been released by the Presidential Inaugural Committee. They are:

-Reverend Samuel T. Lloyd III, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral (Welcome)
-Reverend John Bryon Chane, Episcopal Bishop of Washington (Invocation)
-Reverend Otis Moss Jr., Senior Pastor Emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio (Opening Prayer)
-Reverend Andy Stanley, Senior Pastor, North Point Community Church, Alpharetta, Georgia (Prayer for Civil Leaders)
-Dr. Cynthia Hale, Senior Pastor, Ray of Hope Christian Church, Atlanta, Georgia(Scripture Reading)
-Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, New York City (Scripture Reading)
-The Most Reverend Francisco Gonzalez, S.F., Auxiliary Bishop of Washington (Scripture Reading)
-Rabbi David Saperstein, Executive Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Washington, D.C. (Psalm)

Responsive prayers given by six leaders will symbolize America’s traditions of religious tolerance and freedom:

—Dr. Ingrid Mattson, President, Islamic Society of North America, Hartford, CT
—Rev. Suzan Johnson-Cook, Senior Pastor, Bronx Christian Fellowship, New York City
—Rabbi Jerome Epstein, Director, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, New York City
—Rev. Carol Wade of the Washington National Cathedral
—Dr. Uma Mysorekar, President, Hindu Temple Society of North America, New York City
—Rev. Jim Wallis, President, Sojourners, Washington, D.C.
—Rabbi Haskal Lookstein, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurunm, New York City
—Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, Senior Pastor, Windsor Village United Methodist Church, Houston, TX

-Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President, Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) (Sermon)

-Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C. (Prayer for the Nation)
-Bishop Katherine Jefferts-Schori, Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Church USA (Closing Prayer)
Reverend Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America (Benediction)

This is an opportunity for us to come together not only in celebration (as on Sunday) or in the transfer of power (as on Tuesday), but in a spirit of unity. In this interfaith worship we are called to remember the commonality of our faiths, each of which teaches us about a power that transcends the frailty of humankind. I will be there on Wednesday (virtually, of course) and I hope that you and I will be joined in an attitude of prayer, hopeful for our nation's future, hopeful about our planet's future.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bishop Gene Robinson's Inaugural Prayer

Today The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire opened the inaugural events at the Lincoln Memorial with these words and this prayer:

"A Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President, Barack Obama

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


For more about Bishop Robinson, head over to Diocese of New Hampshire website.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Religious Presence at the Inauguration

When it was announced that Rick Warren would participate in the events of Barack Obama's inauguration, it seems that the whole GLBT community took to arms. Not only them, but progressives everywhere cried foul at the choice of Rick Warren at such an historic event. I think that I might have been one of the few GLBT identified people whom I know who did not feel great outrage. In support of the Obama team, let me say that Rick Warren took a real chance with his congregation and with his larger religious community when he invited Barack Obama to speak at his church. Intense criticism was levied against him, but he stood firm with his invitation. Warren said that it is important for people to find ways of building coalitions around issues on which they can find agreement. He broke with the typical "He doesn't believe like me on most things so I'm going to ignore him or worse speak badly about him" mentality held by both those on the Right and on the Left. Choosing him to be present at the inauguration was an act by the Obama team to show their intention to do likewise - to keep their tent wide, to build coalitions, and to keep ideology from stagnating progress. At the same time, the timing is very unfortunate. Warren's work in advocating for Prop 8 in California and its approval by voters wounded many GLBT people and their families. It was a moment when a minority was once again treated unjustly. How disappointing on a day when justice seemed so important for the American people. Perhaps if the voters had voted another way, even if Warren had supported the proposition, then the GLBT community would have been more forgiving. Or, had the proposition passed but Warren had been less vocal, perhaps they would have felt less strongly. Regardless of the "what ifs," this is what happened and Warren supported it, helped it to pass, and Prop 8 did pass, denying marriage to GLBT people. Many were sad and angry.

However, the Obama team invited three other Christian religious leaders to participate in the inauguration. The selection of these religious leaders illustrates Obama's commitment to diversity. Joseph Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, will provide the benediction at the inauguration. An African American United Methodist praying at the inauguration! WOW! Bishop Gene Robinson, Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire and openly gay man, will offer the invocation on Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial. And, Rev. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President of the Disciples of Christ/Christian Church will provide the sermon at the prayer service in the National Cathedral on Wednesday. She will be the first woman to do this.

I actually applaud the Obama team for inviting such a broad representation of Christianity - the faith of the new president - to participate in these historic events. And, I have to say that I'm a little excited - especially so - for Joseph Lowery's presence.

Who Would Jesus Smack Down?

In a recent article, the New York Times magazine featured an article about Mars Hill Church founder Mark Driscoll. I was interviewed for the article so I knew it was being written. When I read the final product I was surprised by its content. An article that I thought was going to be about the phenomenon of the church, the charisma of its pastor, and the church's place in the emerging church movement wound up to be more of an assessment of New or Neo Calvinism.

I'm wondering if others have read the article and what you thought of it. I am still mulling over its contents.

Since I was quoted (albeit a very short and insignificant quote) in the article, several members of the congregation that I serve have come to me to discuss Calvinism, how it differs from Wesleyanism (if I can use that as a word), and to delve more deeply into the particulars of theology. If the article achieves no more than that, I find it a very helpful thing.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bible Basics

Christians need Bible study. That may sound trite, obvious, or odd to say. However, I hear an alarming number of stories about churches that can't sustain a Bible study because people won't attend. Furthermore, when I review the materials for many Bible studies, they are often boring, filled with errors, and (did I say it already?) boring. The Bible is anything but boring, but we do a good job oversimplifying, complicating, convoluting, dumbing down, and drying out the rich, wonderful text of our faith.

I recently was looking for a short introduction to the Bible to teach in adult Sunday school. Curriculum mostly included role-playing (my folks won't do that), collaging, and reading. After culling through about five different written curricula and a few video based ones, I wound up putting together my own session.

This week we're going to have an introduction to Bible - both to the Bible in general and to our own Bibles in particular. People will spend time taking a look at their tables of contents, maps, book introductions, and appendices. We are going to explore the order of books, why they are ordered that way, and the history of the canon.

The Bible brings to us God's mystery, but the Bible itself should not be too mystifying. Christians need to know how to use their Bibles in order for them to find God's word in them.

If you have found good Bible studies (I already know about Disciple Bible Study), please let me know. We are moving to a study of the prophet Amos next...and, would you believe it, I couldn't find much user-friendly material so I'm writing this, too! So, I especially invite heads up to materials on Amos.

Just in case you are interested, Bible Basics includes: What is the Bible? What is the Old Testament (books, language, development)? How does the Old Testament compare to the Jewish Bible? What is the New Testament? When were the books written? How was the canon put together (Jewish Bible and New Testament)? What is the Apocrypha? Did the Reformation affect the Bible? What version is my Bible? What's in it? Are there special articles, explanations, or concordances?

If I've left out anything important, let me know!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Worship is Worship - What I Want in Worship

Worship is Worship. Well, that might seem self-evident, but in actuality we have done a pretty good job of transforming worship in to all kinds of things except worship.

I don't like to make universal claims - okay, I do, but they aren't very helpful...who am I, after all? I don't like to make universal claims so I'll just speak about what worship is to me and, as a leader of worship, what I hope for during worship services.

I want worship to be special time - sacred time - and to be held in a special place - sacred space: If I am to come into the presence of the HOLY HOLY HOLY, then certainly time and space are different from when I do other things and I am different from how I am when I meet other people/things. I don't think that a church has to have gothic architecture to meet this criterion or that a sanctuary has to have an eternal flame, altar candles, pews, and a pulpit, but something has to mark this space as separate from other space. Of course the goal is to see the sacred nature in all things - the God in all things - but the goal is also to honor a God who is more that all things. I also love the church calendar and I love that it is different from the annual calendar. Churches would do a much better job of reaching into the hearts and souls of people if we celebrated the church calendar more wholly rather than cramming it with all kinds of non-church items.

Worship is ritualistic and therefore repetitive. Repitition doesn't have to be boring. It sure can be boring: "Bueller? Bueller?" However repetition can be inspiring and calming: "I have a dream...." What makes repitition work is whether it's performed with intentionality. Few things sadden, anger, and disappoint me like rituals poorly performed, dead, without joy. Are rituals understood by those performing them? Are they rushed and hurried? Are prayers "prayed" or read? For example, the Lord's Prayer is a prayer not a recitation or words. Enfuse rituals with intention, joy, and care. Then the repitition invites us into something familiar to our hearts.

Worship is both joyful but not chaotic and quiet time is not dead time. I have been in too many worship services that confuse noise for joy. Chaos, noise, and overstimulation are not the same things as joy. I have also been in worship services that are deader than a door nail. Slow and dead are not the same as intentional and reverential. I find meditation important for worship services to reach into my soul, but intentional quiet time is different from dead time. Get it right and it makes a real difference.

Worship is participatory; it is not a spectator sport. A lot of worship services have attempted to become participatory by using "culturally relevant" music, images, and media. I know this works for a lot of people. Most of the time it does not work for me. I feel like I'm at a concert; and while concerts are highly participatory, they are things that I consume. They are consumerist based. Worship is not something to "consume," to "purchase," or to "meet my needs." Worship invites my whole being into a separate world where God's kin-dom is manifest so that I might return replenished to this world where it has yet to come fully. Worship reminds me that I am needed and necessary as a part of the body of Christ. Worship requires me to use my mind, my body, and my heart.

These are just a few things that help worship to be meaningful for me. I know that I'm getting old now and that I'm no longer part of the demographics that count, but am I alone? I can't believe that I'm the only one out here who still wants sacred space, quiet prayer, the occasional organ, incense, chanting, musical variety, discreet media, and an emphasis on the sacraments. But sometimes I wonder...

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