Mindful Within and Without

The prophet Jeremiah longed for a day when we all could find God already written on our hearts. Mary Oliver would add this: that we can also find God already written in the natural world—the signature of the Creator in all creation.

2024-03-17T18:18:59-05:00March 17, 2024|0 Comments

You Loved Your Life, and You Let It Go

I wrote a new hymn for the second Sunday in Lent. (It goes with my sermon, “To Let It Go“.)

There’s this paradoxical teaching from the Jesus tradition. It appears six times in the gospels (Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, Matthew 16:25, Luke 17:33, Matthew 10:39, and John 12:25) possibly from three independent sources (Mark, John, and Q). Luke 17:33 puts it this way: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.” I think that’s one of the many things Jesus not only taught, but also demonstrated in his life.

These are the words of the hymn:

You Loved Your Life, and You Let It Go

You lived and laughed; you loved to be
At table with high and low.
Sharing our lives, and helping us see,
Teaching us truth, setting us free.
You loved your life, and you let it go.

Answering pain, answering thirst,
You let your fair fountain flow.
We were enslaved, oppressed and coerced;
You gave us hope: last shall be first!
You loved your life, and you let it go.

In word and deed you made it plain,
The way that the wise should know:
Clinging to life is always in vain;
Letting it go, wins it again.
You loved your life, and you let it go.

Ever lament! Ever rejoice!
Let tears and let laughter flow!
Heaven and earth still ring with your voice,
Thanks to your love, thanks to your choice:
You loved your life, and you let it go.

As always, sheet music for “You Loved Your Life, and You Let It Go” is available in our Free Stuff Area. Also, you can see and hear it being sung for a church service here.

2024-03-03T15:49:40-06:00February 25, 2024|0 Comments

Transfiguration Shows the Flame

Before I became a pastor, Transfiguration Sunday always used to bother me. I didn’t like the way the transfiguration story (Mark 9:2-8, Matthew 17:1-8, and Luke 9:28-36) was treated in church. The churches I attended were always progressive churches, more or less, so the preacher never explicitly insisted that this story is historically accurate. But they engaged with it as if it might well be a factual account.

That’s sensibly politic, in a church environment where at least some of your congregation will be offended if you refer to this or any other passage of scripture as a “legend.” But sensibly politic, in this case, is just weasely and dishonest. The events in the transfiguration story are highly supernatural. They strain credulity, and there is no confirmation from credible witnesses. The sequence of events doesn’t seem to fit particularly well with the rest of the gospel stories—for example, the disciples go on to behave just as cluelessly about Jesus after witnessing this event as they did before. And if the police interrogated these texts, they would be particularly suspicious that Peter, James, and John didn’t tell anyone about these events at the time. The police would guess that this story was invented later—after Jesus was executed, apparently—and you know what the police think of witnesses who change their story.

I would say that this story is obviously more legend than history. We shouldn’t try to read it as an accurate journalistic account of an event in Jesus’ life. Instead, we should read it as a story that our faith ancestors told and retold, polishing it up until it shone, because it captured something important they believed about Jesus. Taken that way, it works for me too. It captures something I believe about Jesus—and about all of us, his fellow children of God.

Transfiguration Shows the Flame

Each life we live will leave a trace
of human grief on human face.
In Jesus’ face we trace those lines,
and yet his graceful spirit shines.

The sound is cold, confused, uncouth,
when human voice speaks human truth.
In Jesus’ human, warming word
the voice of God is also heard.

Our human hands may curse or bless,
attack, defend, assault, caress.
But Jesus’ work-hard hands embrace
with holy love our human race.

Transfiguration shows the flame
of God within the human frame.
As Jesus did, now help us too,
O Light Divine, to shine with you.

I’ve set this to the tune of Conditor Alme, which is an ancient church melody (Sarum plainsong, mode IV). Here’s my friend Ron McCutchan singing it.

As always, sheet music is available in our Free Stuff area.

2023-02-16T12:15:49-06:00February 16, 2023|3 Comments

Video Series for The Inn

 I’ve created a video series to go with my book, The Inn of God’s Forgiveness. This five-minute video will tell you about the book, and the videos:

There’s a more extensive pitch for the book and videos on the church web site. It will eventually direct you back to my store here.

(I created these videos for a class I conducted as pastor of the Open Prairie United Church of Christ in Princeton, IL. All profits from the sales of the videos go to support the church.)

2020-10-23T11:13:28-05:00October 23, 2020|0 Comments

Reality First

I’ve heard many sermons on the story of Doubting Thomas. Most of them have characterized Thomas as an example of inadequate faith—someone we should try not to be like. I don’t think that’s quite right. Jesus loved Thomas, welcomed him, and gave him exactly what he needed. And I think Thomas the Twin is the man for our times.

(In this talk I address the importance of truth. So, naturally, you’ll hear me criticize President Trump. I’m sorry—a little sorry—to be so hard on him; he’s obviously not the only politician to stretch the truth to make himself look good. But he’s by far the most prolific of my lifetime.)

2020-04-19T14:12:42-05:00April 19, 2020|0 Comments

Tired of You

I don’t want to alienate my politically conservative friends, God bless ‘em. And I’m a bit embarrassed to add any more political ranting to our overheated national discourse. But I do want to be honest in sharing my work here.

So here’s fair warning: if you’re tired of political rants, you might want to skip this one. Because it’s a song addressed to President Trump. It’s called, “Tired of You.”

[youtube id=LcEHOaoQ7N4]

P.S. This YouTube video is mostly a still image over the music, with only a little performance video at the end. If you’d just like the music, here it is:

P.P.S. I really had to work to edit this song down to a manageable length. There were, initially, a lot more words. Because I know words. I have the best words….

2017-08-16T11:38:19-05:00August 16, 2017|6 Comments

Goodbye, Cat-Friend

I’m feeling too sad to follow through with my plans for The Merry Mystic this week. My good old cat Justice got too sick over the last couple of days, and today we had to have him put to sleep.

Justice was an ordinary cat in many ways: he loved tuna, watched birds, didn’t like car travel. But one of his extraordinary qualities was his instinct for compassion. Whenever anyone in the family was feeling low or stressed out, Justice would find that person, snuggle down on his or her chest, and purr. He did it for me; I know that he did it for my wife, especially during her father’s final illness and death three years ago. I’ve had a number of cats before, each one special in its way, but I’ll always remember Justice for the comfort he gave to people in need. Well done, thou good and faithful cat-friend.

In his memory, I invite you to re-watch my cat video from last fall, Justice the Ranting Cat.

2017-02-20T11:45:11-06:00February 20, 2017|5 Comments

Body, Mind, Vine, and Fruit

My seminary brother Rob Pierson offered a whole pamphlet in response to my Siphonophore message last week.  His is a more positive metaphoric understanding of community — not as a self-serving institutional organism, but as a relational expression of the mind of Christ.  Rob has given me permission to share his pamphlet with you, so I’m attaching it below.  Rob is a remarkable soul, and I recommend reading this, and anything else he writes.  (I also recommend spending time with his photographic artwork, if you can find it.  How’s that web site coming, Rob?)

The seminary Rob and I attended is the Earlham School of Religion.  It’s a community rooted in the Quaker tradition, which is Rob’s faith family too, though not mine.  A “pamphlet,” in that tradition, is a monograph inspired by the Spirit; it’s a time-honored medium for written ministry.  In Rob’s pamphlet, you might find one or two terms that are used in unfamiliar, Quakerly ways: clearness committee, testimonies, business meeting, and so on.  But his message is universal and accessible.  I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Body, Mind, Vine, and Fruit

2016-07-10T12:45:42-05:00July 7, 2016|0 Comments

On Not Having Heard from God Recently

Have you ever asked God to tell you what to do?  I have …

[youtube id=xLvBpU8n4g4]

Leave a comment and tell us a story: have you ever received clear instructions from God?  Did you ask for them?

P.S. — Here’s the text of that poem.

On Not Having Heard From God Recently

I think that if I were King,
I'd want a captain who doesn't keep asking,
	What should I do now?
I'd want an agent who knows what I want,
	and does it,
	and rarely asks for advice or permission.
I'd want an independent servant,
	someone I have to seek out
	to comfort from time to time.

I'd find her in the field, at night,
	in the chapel there alone, with her weapons beside her.
I'd sit down next to her,
	pray with her.

After a while, just as dawn began to lighten the sky, I'd say:
	Hello, Captain.
	It's me.
I just want you to know, I'm grateful for all you do.
Anything I can do for you?
Anything you need?

And my captain would smile,
	maybe for the first time in days,
	and she'd say:
No thanks, Boss.
I've got it covered.
2016-03-28T16:54:49-05:00March 28, 2016|2 Comments
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