Window Poems #20
by Wendell Berry.
In the early morning dark
he dreamed of the spring woodsflowers
standing in the ground,
dark yet under the leaves and under the bare cold branches.
But in his dream he knew their way
was prepared, and in their time
they would rise up and be joyful.
And though he had dreamed earlier
of strife, his sleep became peaceful.
He said: If we, who have killed
our brothers and hated ourselves,
are made in the image of God,
then surely the bloodroot,
wild phlox, trillium, and mayapple
are more truly made
in God’s image,
for they have desired to be
no more than they are,
and they have spared each other.
is undiminished by their past.
Let me, he said in his dream,
become always less a soldier
and more a man,
for what is unopened in the ground
is pledged to peace.
When he woke and went out
a flock of wild ducks that had fed
on the river while he slept
flew off in fear of him.
And he walked, manly, into the new day.
He came to his window
where he sat and looked out,
the earth before him, blessed
by his dream of peace,
bad history behind him.
Prayer: Lord, let me use the words of my heart to speak the poems of your love and grace. Amen.
Wendell Berry. The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Counterpoint Press: 1998.
"They will know you are with me by the way you love one another." John 13:35
A few years ago, I sat in the sanctuary and watched our church’s Joy Bell Choir practice for their big fundraiser. The ten members and the choir director went over the selected music, note by note; playing and stopping until they all were in sync with each other.
I would come to learn that each individual hand bell is not a separate instrument. It’s only when they are together do they make one instrument, in one octave? While each musician can play the different bells, in different notes, and sometimes even in different timings, what makes it work so perfectly is their willingness to all play in the same key. Because they shared a common ground, they actually make a joyful noise unto the Lord!
As I watched and listened I asked myself what might it look like if the world were orchestrated like this this group? What if countries learned to play together in harmony? Sure we might play a sour note from time to time, and if that were to happen we could always stop, regroup, and then start over.
Now, the common assumption about Lent is that it’s an individual practice. This is true on many levels in that each one of us has to struggle and fast alone as Jesus did. But if hundreds of millions of individuals are fasting together, then doesn’t that suggest this is a communal struggle as well? After all, aren’t we all struggling to do the will of God?
Like the Joy Bell Choir we are separate people but one humanity. We may not always see eye-to-eye, or agree on who plays which instrument, but we are playing the same song called, “Life.” Together we are lead by a Divine Conductor, whose love for us unites us all together as one great orchestra.
This is why love was the centerpiece of Jesus’ ethic. The challenge for us is not so much saying the words, “I love you,” but to live them in such a way that shows our love without ever uttering a word. As Jesus said, "They will know you are with me by the way you love one another."
Fun Fact: The Bible frequently replaces the word "love" for the word "forgiveness." If we are to find real peace and joy in our life and in the world, then we need make forgiveness a top priority. The two are one in the same. Forgiveness needs love just as much as love needs forgiveness. Without either, there can be neither peace nor joy; in both the individual as well as in the world.
Let’s use our time in Lent to read from the same sheet of music and share the love of God with the instruments that we’ve been given. And may we never forget when we love as God loves us, we become one instrument of God's joy.
Prayer: Lord God, you love me so much that you will forgive me of all my wrong doing, no matter how big or small they might be. Show me ways to love and forgive others just as you have loved and forgive me. Amen.
“Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish’ - 2 Peter 3:14
(Excerpt from a piece I wrote in 2016.)
I am writing this on February 29th, an unexpected day that catches me by surprise roughly once every four years.
Surprisingly, I am not fond of surprises. I remember going to work one morning only to find out, “Surprise, your job has been eliminated.” I also remember going to the doctor only to discover, “Surprise, that lump in your throat is cancer.” I’ve even gone to the bathroom to learn, “Surprise, a tree is growing in your sewer pipe; you’re out $23,000!”
On my 50th birthday this year, Kathleen and the kids had a few surprises up their sleeves, including fifty individually wrapped gifts, with the last being a surprise visitor! Birthday gifts are about the only surprises I still truly enjoy, but that doesn’t stop God from waking me up and shaking me from time-to-time. God is full of surprises, with many yet to come.
Jesus reminds us that we always need to be prepared for you never know when the master will return. Thus we are called to live each day and each moment doing the righteousness of God as a way to be prepared. This is a good way to embrace life and all that it will throw at you. By being always present in God’s grace and peace, you will be better prepared to handle both the good and the bad that might come your way – sometimes at the same time!
Jesus tells his disciples, “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come” (Mark 13:33). The Greek words used in this passage mean things like ‘Beware! Be alert! Be awake! Keep watch! And for goodness sake, don’t be surprised!’
While we spend the remaining days of Lent reflecting on the power of God’s surprising love for us, we must also remain alert by keeping watch over the condition of our own lives. Peter says it like this, “Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish.’
Our waiting, be it Lent or ordinary time, is a sacred time that invites us and moves us towards Christlikeness. By him and through him we are called to be peacemakers, caretakers, and servants to one another. Surprise! God calls us to be God’s love to one another because it’s in the other we meet God face-to-face.
Hopefully by now this does not come as a surprise to any of you. If it does, then do not be alarmed or shocked. Just be ready to welcome it and embrace it, to always be ready so you want be too surprised to meet him whenever and wherever he comes.
Prayer: God of life, you are always surprising your creation in new and creative ways. How will you surprise me today? As my heart awaits, send me your Spirit so I might be prepared to meet you again, be it today or tomorrow. Amen.
Just a reminder that every Sunday is a mini-Easter and your Lenten fast is lifted for the day! Which means you get to watch this instead of reading that. This is a sweet video explanation of God's righteousness and justice that will help you to better understand your faith. And better yet to help others understand it too. Especially your kids and grandkids. Happy Sunday!
You can copy and paste this into your browser if link above does not open. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A14THPoc4-4&feature=youtu.be
“What is the basis of our security?” asks Henri Nouwen. Take a moment to think about his question. What are some of things that come to mind for you?
I first thought of Linus from the cartoon “Peanuts.” I can’t remember a scene where Charley Brown’s friend was not with his trusty old security blanket. It had this tremendous power, over him and the world around him. Like a soft, cottony Swiss Army Knife – it often transformed into a bullwhip, a lasso, a shield, or a shepherd’s crook when needed.
It seems comical to believe that a material objects can give us security in today’s world. But nearly all of us put great stock into things like money and material wealth; success and popularity; family and friends, and business connections; knowledge, technology and data. It may seem shallow to think that such things form the basis of our security, but our actions and feelings towards them may seem to suggest otherwise.
For example, I often review throughout the week how well the viewership has been for Sunday’s service. Even though I know I should never determine or judge my self-worth by the number of “butts are in the pews”, I admittedly submit to the numerical data. If viewership is up then my attitude goes up. But if numbers are down I often follow.
Nouwen writes, “When we start losing our money, our friends, or our popularity, our anxiety often reveals how deeply our sense of security is rooted in these things.” It can throw your focus off of your fasting. Instead of leaning on the Spirit of God for our spiritual sustenance, we rely on ourselves. This seems to be counter-productive…just saying.
Jesus said, "You cannot be the slave to both God and money." He calls us to literally give away all we have so that we might live faithfully and completely in God’s care. Jesus also knows it’s easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than it is for us to let go of our false senses of security. In spite of this, relying solely on God’s grace and mercy is not impossible to do.
“A spiritual life,” Nouwen concludes, “is a life in which our security is based not in any created things, good as they may be, but in God, who is everlasting love. We probably will never be completely free from our attachment to the temporal world, but if we want to live in that world in a truly free way, we'd better not belong to it.”
Lent is a time to move closer to God’s love, so we might discover God’s purpose for us in its fullness and depth.
"You cannot be the slave to both God and money. " - Matthew 6:24
Prayer: My God in heaven, may your name be forever praised from my lips as I wait for your kingdom to come and your will to be done. Give me the sustenance and security I need to get me through the day. And forgive me of all my wrongdoings so that I may be able to forgive the people who have done me wrong. Keep me away from temptation and protect me from the evil that lives around me. You are my security light and the only weapon I need to protect me, and those I love. Amen.
Nouwen, Henri. Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith. Harper-Collins: 1997.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." - Joshua 1:9 ESV
This last week, I’ve been watching the Olympics with my family. It’s a ritual we wait years to enjoy. This year, our wait has paid off. The athletes seem to be pushing themselves farther than I’ve ever seen in order to stand on that podium to receive their payout for the years of hard work and the endless hours of training and competing.
Watching highlights of the Olympic games while working out at the gym is not the same as watching on the couch in my sweats. In my house, I get to watch my kids pretend they are the athletes competing. But in the gym, I fool myself into believing that if I just run a little faster or lift a little more weight, I too could be an Olympian performing super human feats. Luckily my lungs and shins don’t always agree with me.
Someone once said, “A flower does not think about competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” This wisdom is as true on a snowy mountain in Pyeongchang as it is in a steamy gym in Van Nuys.
Since the very beginning, Olympians have always competed on a much higher level. And to get there, these athletes have to live in a world where faith must stand above raw talent, bodily strength, or technical skill. Faith is the one thing that pushes them off the platform in the first place.
While it might be passion that allows them to take the risk, it’s faith that motivates them to get up after a fall and do it again. An athlete, or anyone, can look back to see where they made the mistake, but it is faith that moves us forward towards the joys and gold of life.
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wisely said, “Life must be lived forwards, even though it can only be understood backwards.” That is faith – jumping towards the gold.
At times, Lent feels like an athletic competition. First, it requires hours of working out our spiritual muscles and conditioning our soul for the greater challenge. Second, no one truly succeeds right out of the gate so faith has to take the driver’s seat until you’re up to speed.
Most importantly, one must always jump! Lent calls us all to take the risks by leaping out with the One who can and will catch us and guide us to where we need to go. That takes faith more than it does anything else.
Faith assures us if we tumble to the ground, God is there to pick us up. If we hit a wall, God is there to show us a way around it. If we cross the finish line, God is there too – celebrating in our tears of joy.
Take this day to practice something you may have given up on or are having trouble overcoming. As you do, leap into the arms of God with faith and trust that you will one day be standing on the platform having earned the gold that await you.
“Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible. And suddenly you are doing the impossible.” St. Francis of Asissi
Prayer: Lord, help me to live faithfully as I jump forward into your loving heart in all that I do. Amen.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
- 2 Corinthians 12:9
Whoever was the first to say “You can’t always have too much of a good thing” probably never ate a box of Good & Plenty. If comedian George Carlin were alive today he might agree that these hard-shell candy covered licorice bites are an oxymoron. Like jumbo shrimp and military intelligence it's easy to see the obvious contradiction. Unless, of course, you think making plenty of trips to the dentist is a good thing.
There’s something to be said about indulging in the plenty of good stuff God provides. Grace is a great example, as is love. Not only are they good for us, but the more we devour the healthier we become. Rarely thought is the season of Lent understood as a delicious blessing. We don’t always recognize that God has asked us to set aside some time to savor God’s goodness, and to chew on the spiritual wisdom.
As you might already know, Lent is a 40-day journey that signifies the time Jesus spent tempted in the wilderness after his baptism. But if you do the math by counting the days between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday you’ll discover it’s really 46 days. This is not a minor ‘clerical’ error, or some kind of religious fuzzy math trick. The Church, in fact, is allowing us extra time to celebrate each Sunday as a mini-Easter.
It’s also a day many recognize as Sabbath, the day we take off to worship God in the community of family and friends and to celebrate life’s gifts and goodness - the God given candy treat so to speak. In this time, God invites us (tells us) to take one day a week to set aside your fast in order to enjoy a feast of all the good and plenty things God offers.
Our fast is a time to reflect on God’s grace and love. And our feast is when we share that divine meal with others in the world so they too can become filled with the Spirit of God – the very Spirit that was with Jesus when he began his ministry is the same Spirit Jesus gave to us to continue his ministry.
Paul reminds the churches in Corinth how the Spirit of God gives us all the grace and strength we need to both fast and feast. He writes, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
This, if you ask me, is a Good & Plenty thing.
Be holy (whole and complete) as I you God am holy (whole and complete)…show neither partiality to the weak, nor difference to the mighty, but judge all justly” (Leviticus 19:2;15).
When my oldest daughter was five, she and I were out ridding bikes in the neighborhood. Noticing that I was saying hello to every person we passed she asked, "Why are you talking to strangers? You told me never to do that."
If you are a reader of my blog, Jesus Not Jesús, then you might see something wrong with this scenario. You see, for years I have been asking people to do the opposite of what I was teaching my kids at home. While I’ve worked hard to teach people to look for the divine presence in every person, and to treat them as if Jesus was the other person.
So why then did I think my own kids should be exempt? I know, my kids safety should come first otherwise but what kind of lesson am I really teaching them if I say one thing but do the other? The cool thing about Jesus is he meant what he said, and practiced what he preached. He did what he says he’s going to do. And then asked us to do the same.
Easier said than done when you’re the Son of God, or when don’t have to worry about what mean people might do to your child. Oh, wait…maybe it’s not so easy for God either. Still, we are called to be like Jesus – to show the same love, grace and kindness to others that has been shown to us.
Lent is a time for practicing our spiritual exercises that build our strength and the discipline we need to be Disciples of Christ Jesus who met people in their pain and celebrated in their joy. This is the way to our wholeness in human terms, and holiness in the divine.
It doesn’t need to be scary, difficult, or harmful. In fact, the simpler the better because we all share the same basic needs. It could be as simple as offering a smile to a stranger as you pass them on the street; giving a dollar to a person in need of money; recycling clothing you no longer wear so someone can have a clean shirt for a job interview that might change their life around.
When we set aside our own fears or concerns to care for a friend or show kindness to a stranger, when we treat him or her the way we would treat Jesus or someone we loved dearly, then we are demonstrating a kind of justice that comes from the heart and embraces peace.
Each kind act begets another. This is what Jesus' teachings were all about. Through compassion and love, God teaches us how to love both God and our neighbor with one simple act.
“As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
Here's a great lesson to teach your kids!
“When they saw the star they were filled with joy.” (MATTHEW 2:10)
In the city square of Iquitos, a small Peruvian town settled along the Amazon River, I swapped adventure stories with another tourist about where our travels had taken us so far.
It was my first time there, and his first time back since he and two college friends hiked the infamous Inca Trail in the late 70's. I have heard many stories from people who have taken this ancient trek to the ruins of Machu Picchu. But never had I heard one like his.
Long before there was GPS to locate the nearest Starbucks, travelers used the stars and whatever survival skills they had to reach their final destination. These three brave men were no different.
They spent six grueling weeks ascending and descending the steep rugged terrain of the Andes Mountains with nothing more than a hand drawn map sketched on the back of a cocktail napkin.
Yes, you read that correctly. How bold they must have been to put so much trust in something so vulnerable and susceptible to the elements.
My new friend said he was a bit skeptical at first. After all, he had no idea who the person was who drew the map in the first place. He eventually confessed he was a little scared watching their train disappear into the dark canyon.
Standing in the middle of nowhere, they looked at the napkin and began their journey. By nightfall, they had reached the first set of ruins marked on the napkin. I can only imagine the relief they must have felt. Under the vast expanse of stars, they slept with a peaceful sense of excitement and joy.
Their story reminded me of those three ancient Magi who took their own strange journey. They left their comfortable homes and travel across treacherous lands to follow a bright shining star. Of all the billions of blinking lights in the night’s sky, there was one in particular that called out to them.
Imagine how crazy it must have sounded when they first concocted their plan. And I’m sure there was skepticism and fear among their wives and children as their caravans disappeared into the darkness of night. They had no idea what would be waiting for them underneath that star’s glowing light.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” There is much to be said about this well-traveled cliché. But what worth can a journey have if the final destination is never reached?
The Magi could have played it safe. They could have watched from afar. Instead they took the road less traveled, navigated the wilderness, overcame the tempting lure of an untrustworthy ruler, and discovered in a small town called Bethlehem, a vulnerable and revolutionary king.
If adventurers never braved treacherous, overgrown trails or climbed steep elevations in inclement weather, then the world might not have ever known of the breath-taking beauty Machu Picchu, or the life giving breath of our Lord and Savior.
I hope that your Lenten journey is becoming an adventure that takes you to all kinds of interesting places. With each step you take towards your final destination, may you never lose sight of that bright shining star that brings you ever closer to God’s joyful love through Christ Jesus. Onward and upward!
Prayer: God, today as I try to I walk faithfully with you, led me to where you want me to go – to still waters and green pastures, to a set table for a banquet feast, or even through the darkest valley – so together we will have an adventure that might lead other’s to your glory. Amen.
For the next 40 days I would fight the urge not to kill. And every day I would fail. My mind, my mouth, my heart were all guilty of crushing and annihilating everyone around me. What made it worse was it seemed like second nature. I was doing it without really thinking about it. Who knew a subconscious could be so evil and dangerous?
Had it not been for the fast I am not sure I would have recognized my negative behavior. Because of my failure to keep my Lenten promise, I began to notice I was also succeeding at seeing the error of my way. By the end of Lent, I was catching myself in the act and seeking new ways to reverse my actions.
In short, I was turning my failure into spiritual growth by focusing on not what I was doing wrong, but on what I could do to make it right. Every year since that strange experiment began I fast from something by feasting on the opposite, i.e. fast from judgment and feast on acceptance (which by the way was harder than not killing.).
By taking a different direction I discovered a new joy for Lent. It became a fun way to work towards being more Christlike. By failing at my fast, I am able to better understand where my shortcomings are, and discover new ways to overcome them. By setting the bar so ridiculously high, I now rely more on God than myself.
Before Jesus began his ministry, the Spirit led him out to the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and nights from food but feasted on Scripture (c.f. Matthew 4:1-11). As a result Jesus overcame the Tempter and walked righteous with God.
This is just one reason why I would encourage you to try a “Fast From – Feast On” for Lent. Instead of sacrificing chocolate or beer (or both) for 40 days, build up your spiritual muscles by fasting from something negative and feasting on something positive. It’s not as hard as you might think, because the more you fail the more you succeed!