Tiny Dart Frog

Poison Dart Frogs are some of the tiniest and beautiful creatures on the planet; they are also incrediably deadly. So, why call this blog "Tiny Dart Frog"? It goes back to the old adage - good things come in small packages. We are all created exactly as God has intended - unique, strong, and beautiful.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Blessing

From the darkest depths of the cosmos
the eyes of God twinkled
like stars.
As they spun forth hope.
Quickly God exhaled 
into a space
much smaller than his usual home.
A womb of a woman.
In that moment the universe did sing
enjoined to the songs of ten-thousand angels. 
Nine months passed...
    and then a lullaby.
Shepherds heard the haunting songs
and wise men too.
Moved by strength beyond their own
they trudged and traipsed to find ‘Wonder.’  
May the God who filled Mary
with all of himself
infuse and impregnate you.
Coming whole into your life.
May you receive this
most holy gift
of 'Wonder'.
And in the darkness
when despair threatens ‘Wonder’
may you have the courage
of a young, unwed mother.
May you hear angelic songs
on paths untrodden
and on roads well-known.
And may those songs confuse your heart.  
When life is ordinary and habitual
know that signs of God
are so often fabricated 
from the lowly and common.
And when you are seeking and traveling
up winding roads;
On long dusty paths
to where you belong
May you find shelter - 
in stable or inn
under a tree or an umbrella
May you find shelter in a friend - a sanctuary to take you in.  
And in that may you know ‘Wonder’.
And may you always ponder
And question
this mystery so dear.
May you never fully ‘know’ the story.
The cries of the Christ child
keeping you awake.
For today the angels sing unto house and nation,
unto rulers and peasants,
unto locusts and wild beasts....
Unto you and me
‘Wonder’ the child-gift has been born.  Amen.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sidewalk Prophet

Things I know about prophets:
They make a big ruckus.
They are relentless.
They stand up for the oppressed.
They refuse to go unheard.

And - we mostly don't believe they exist anymore.

Well, I met a one the other day in the most unexpected of places.  He wasn't proclaiming in a church, nor was he leading people through the wilderness (at least not literally), nor was shouting, "Thus says the LORD,"on top a mountain.  And he most certainly wasn't clothed in camel's hair.

There he stood on the sidewalk to his grandparents house.  The Sidewalk Prophet I will call him.

He stood as tall as he could, shaking a ceramic bell and holding a tupperware container; he wore a T-shirt that said, "Raised by Elves".  Not the usual paraphernalia for a prophet, I guess.

Oh, and I forgot to mention he's five.
As in five years old.
A young age to have such a big voice.
But he sure knows how to use it and get what he wants.

Our congregation adopted area families for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We promised to provide meals for them at Thanksgiving and gifts for children at Christmas.  We started with 12 families, which recently expanded to 17 families, which translated to about 50 children, which ended up being 52 bags of toys.

We are a small congregation and I'm not very good at saying, "No," when people need help.  And, actually, the congregation I serve isn't very good at saying, "No," either.

Well, I was worried about where the toys and money and food would come from.  I just didn't want to fail these families and I most certainly didn't want to fail God.  My faith faltered a bit as I tried to manage all the needs, and fathom where the money would come from.

I may possibly be telling this story to remind myself that what's needed for God to spin a miracle into being is very, very little.  A few loaves, a few fish can be turned into a feast.

Well, my worry and pragmatic side may have gotten the best of me for a few moments, but not so for the Sidewalk Prophet.

As money began pouring in, I talked with the congregation about the abundance of love that was pouring out.  My voice always seemed to crack as I held back tears of heartache mingled with joy.

The little Sidewalk Prophet must've heard God's call in those words, because what rose out of his little body was a voice that everyone would listen to, whether they wanted to or not.

Sometimes I think we believe a prophet is someone who predicts the future.  Maybe.  But I actually believe a prophet is someone who points to how what we do today will impact the future.  They point out that which we don't see.

Sidewalk Prophet sees more hope than many people I know.

On this particular Sunday there was something special going on at his grandparent's house (whose house is across the street from the church).  It's what they call, 'Cookie day!'  So, from what I understand, 'Cookie Day' is basically when the entire extended family gathers at grandma's house and  bakes Christmas cookies all day.  Dozens and dozens of cookies.  Relatives come from all over the town to bake cookies, eat cookies, and the men...they seem to watch football.

Well, the little Sidewalk Prophet had an idea and seized the moment.

He grabbed a glass bell from his grandma's shelf, stood on the stoop with a bucket and rang his bell as loud as possible.  He'd hijack people as they tired to knock on the door.  People would come over to bake cookies and....
he wouldn't let them in.

At least, not until they put some money in his bucket.  "A buck to bake cookies," he told them.

I'm sure he got some weird looks.  But everyone gave.

I actually had no idea that any of this was going on until he confidentally marched back into the church about an hour after worship, carrying his bucket and his bell, with his mother walking alongside him and his cousins all trailing behind, as if they were following in his footsteps.

His little body weaved through the adults to find me seated on a chair.  "Here you go," as he hands me a bucket of money.

His mom filled me in on the story as I looked at the $40.00 sitting in my lap.

"For the homeless people," he says, "so they can have toys too."  A big smile erupted on his lips.  Sidewalk Prophet.

And a smile erupted on my lips.

I think that often we hide behind the veil of wanting to help, but not knowing how, so we don't do anything.  I think I forget sometimes too - or maybe I get scared.  The Sidewalk Prophet reminds me to just go, do God's will.  It doesn't have to be fancy.  Heck, it doesn't always have to be well thought out.

There's one thing this little prophet can't begin to understand yet, but maybe you will.

He not only called a bit of justice into the world that day,  but he prophesied to me, reminding me that there's nothing too wonderful in this world for God.

Make some noise, cause a ruckus in the name of God.
Prophets exist today.  I met one just the other day.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The writing of a love story...

She stood there - hair covered by her knitted hat, her heavy black coat hung over her pink fleece sweatshirt as if it weighed a hundred pounds - staring into space.  I stood next to her, pressing the starred number one button on the elevator.

Down.  We were both going down from floor number six where we had spent hours together.  I glanced at her worriedly out of the corner of my eyes.  She took a long breath as we passed floor number three.

With a nod she says, "He'll be ok, doncha think?" as if to reassure herself.
"The doctors are doing everything they can.  He's in good hands," I responded as I brushed the hair off her cheek.
"I don't know what I'd do without him, ya know..." she says, still staring at the closed elevator doors.
"I know, I know..."

And I remember the love story that had just been told to me.  It's the kind of love story that seems so ordinary, while all the while remarkable in every way.  This is the kind of love that still holds hands at eighty; the kind of love I always dreamed of.  

My heart hurt in the good kind of longing way as I watched and listened to them finish one another's sentences, as only true lovers can.

As we sat next to his hospital bed, I had innocently asked, "How did you two meet?"  Maybe nobody had asked this eighty-something old couple that question in a long time, because the question was met with a sly grin from the man in the hospital bed.

"Now, that's a funny story," he says, as he looked over at his wife who was shaking her head at him.

He proceeded to tell me that some friends had given him her number as a dare.  She wouldn't date anyone; her standards were too high; she would only marry a teacher or doctor.  He proceeded to tell me that he told those boys, "Now, that's the kind of girl I would like to meet."

He took the number and set it on his desk for a few weeks before deciding one Sunday afternoon to give her a call. 

I made him back track in the story a bit...making sure I had it right...  Yes, he called her out of the blue, never having met her.

At this point the wife interjects into his storytelling: "My father walked through the kitchen and asked with whom I was on the phone.  I said, 'I don't know.  Some gentleman.'"

The husband laughed.  "Some gentleman.  Little did she know."  He continued to tell me he drove out to her house to take her for a ride, ended up helping her father finish building their house, and married her four months later.

"Four months?" I asked, shocked.

"Yes, four months," looking over at his wife who was smiling at him, "There's never been anyone for me, but her."

She shook her head again, "Now stop, dear."
"We're still together after all these years.  That's a long time, ya know?" he says looking at me.

Yes, I knew.  And as I sat there in the midst of all that love, I knew that there must have been hard times along the way.  Times when they wanted to walk away.

And I was so thankful neither of them had. 
I didn't know them when they were younger, when they courted, or when they had babies.  I didn't know them when they built their house, when they planted gardens, or hung drywall in the church basement.
I have only known them in these last years of their life.
I have only seen the end of their love story... 

So, as she stepped out of the elevator, I rubbed her back a bit, "You gonna be ok?"

"Yes.  Yes.  I'll be fine....
as soon as he comes home."

We walked together to the parking lot.  As I watched her shuffle to her car, I couldn't help but imagine her husband reaching out to grab her hand as he walked alongside her.

"Don't you take him," I pleaded with God.
I just couldn't bear for the story to end...not quite yet.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Fourth

I intentionally do not post all my messages (sermons) from Sunday mornings, however after a few requests for the written version - here it is.  This was originally preached on November 13th at Epiphany Lutheran Church, based on Matthew 24: 14-30.

Okay - so I’m just going to say it.  The third servant - I feel sorry for him.  Not only do I feel sorry for him, I kinda like him too.  I’d probably do the same thing if the guy I’m most scared of in the world just handed me the equivalent of 20 years wages.  What in the world am I supposes to do with that much money? 

From most peoples’ vantage point he’s done nothing to deserve this harshness and wrath.  And yet, he’s thrown into the darkest regions of the universe by none other than... God...?
I mean, isn’t that how we always read this?  We assume that the wealthy landowner is God.  I wonder how God feels about this characterization?  
I’m sure God gets angry and is disappointed with us sometimes, but wanting us to live in fear?  To be scared stiff?  No.  I’m confident this isn’t what God wants for us.  So, I’d like to hold out the possibility that maybe the Master isn’t God.  
In this parable we also have the two ‘wise’ servants - the ones who do the ‘right’ thing.  They are given enormous amounts of money, more than they could ever or should ever be able to earn in the course of their lives.  And they make more....  Good for them.  And, good for the master.  
I guess I wonder who else is it good for?  It certainly doesn’t say.  
Over the years we’ve heard this preached as - take what God has given you and use it, do more with it!  Multiply it.  Give it away.  That’s valid; God does want us to do that.  
However, I believe there’s more to it, because I have a question.  What if you have nothing?  What if you haven’t been given an astronomical amount of money?  Or talent?  Or joy?  Or...anything?
What if you already live in no-man’s land?  There are plenty who live this way - on the fringes, skating by, lucky to have two pennies to scrape together.  There are plenty in the world who are already gnashing their teeth and weeping as we sit here.
And then there’s the idiotic third servant.  You know, the guy who heads out to the field, digs a hole and buries the treasure.  He wants nothing to do with it.  Obviously he has done the wrong thing.  I mean, seriously, who goes out and buries treasure?  
Everyone.  Everyone...seriously.  Especially during this time period - if someone entrusted something to your care it was because they trusted that you would protect it at all costs.  Burying it was common.  
Those hearing this parable would’ve assumed the third servant was doing the right thing.  So, when Jesus says the third servant gets thrown into the darkness everyone is shocked and surprised.  
So, how about a surprise this morning?  I mean, that’s the point of parables really.  To wake us up, to broaden our perspectives, to make us think about God and God’s world.  Once we start to assume we know what God’s story is all about then we’ve “predictibilized” the Gospel.  We’ve made it the ‘good news according to Christine’ or the ‘good news according to_____”.   
What if the good news today is:
The third servant is Jesus.  Is this possible?  
Let’s just play around with this a bit... 
The third servant guards something precious with his whole life - just like Jesus.
The third servant pushes back at those with great power - just like Jesus.
The third servant is tossed aside, discarded, left for dead - just like Jesus.
The third servant is misunderstood and mocked for years and years - just like Jesus.
I mean, could it be that there is more to the third servant than we assume?
If Jesus is the third servant, he can’t be talking to God... since Jesus is God.  So it means he’s taking on someone powerful and mighty and wealthy.  
Maybe the words the third servant would spit out today would be: 
“Do you know how scared everyone is of you? How your big feet squash them down?  You steal money that’s not yours.  People work in the heat and filth of this world, just so you can get more.  And then, you cut the needy out of your budgets. 
Well, I’m smarter than that. I’m not going to work for you. I’m going to try another way.  Don’t worry - I don’t steal.  Your money is back there, buried.  Get it yourself.”
I mean...what if Jesus was saying that?  It’s not really a leap – just a different way of hearing it.
Of course, he’s going to get fired for talking that way to the boss.  Don’t those who speak up against injustices always get thrown into the outermost regions of the universe?
In this parable the rich get richer.... and the poor get poorer... And if we don’t like that ending, then I believe the question to us is, “What are we going to do about it?”
The disparity is great in this parable and here in this world.  And I have a huge problem preaching that by our just being more generous with our money then things will be better for those on the bottom.
The good news has to be more than just ‘give generously’.  Jesus didn’t have to die for us to learn how to give money away.  People in Jesus’ time did give; many of us already give....
Plus, if faithful servants are those who get returns on their investments, then we’re all in trouble in today’s unsteady economy.
Maybe the good news today is about us not being like the first two servants - who produce in excess and use money to keep the system going...
The system was corrupt in Jesus’ day.  Poor servants made the world go ‘round.  Unfortunately, the system is still corrupt today.  Poor servants still make the world work the way we want it to work.  
Did you know that every single one of us has slaves working for us?  You heard that right.  
Here’s one - make-up.  I wear it most days.  Many of us do.  Did you know that many of the minerals used in make-up come from mines in India that have been worked by children?
From the smart phone, to the cup of coffee we drink, to the t-shirts we wear, to computers... Honestly, I could go on.  And on.  The truth of the matter is that we unknowingly buy products which make our lives easier and simultaneously injure another.
There isn’t a single solitary one of us who hasn’t unwittingly been one of the ‘generous two servants’....giving from what we have, but not necessarily knowing where’s it’s come from.
The third servant knows where things come from.
This coming Saturday we’re hosting a Fair Trade Fair here.  People can come and buy holiday gifts and ALL the profits go to support small-scale farmers and artisans, so they can be productive, self-sufficient members of their communities.  
If you know nothing about Fair Trade or even if you are unsure about what it means, let me tell you that at its core it is a method of doing business with justice and morality.  The business practices oppose cruel working conditions, support women’s rights, do not engage in slave labor, and promote good stewardship of resources and the environment. 
The entire principal is built upon equity.  Not wealth; not on making more and more.  It’s giving every one a fair shot at living well.  Not living large, but living fully.
There’s a difference. 
All the items - from baskets to jewelry, from textiles to kitchen-wares, from nativities to coffee have all been produced and crafted by individuals who have been trampled upon, who have been weeping and gnashing their teeth...
And in some small way we have a chance this weekend to protect the thing God treasures most.  God’s people.  We...who in many ways can act like the first and second servant are given the opportunity to be - 
The fourth servant.  
What?!  No, fourth servant?
Ah, there must be.  Today, my dear friends, we must be the forth servants.  We must be the ones who follow after the third servant.  Who is this forth servant?
The fourth servant doesn’t only give from what we have.  We give up our right to have more.
The fourth servant doesn’t make more money to live a comfy life and then gives away want he or she doesn’t want.  We learn to live with less, so that others can live with more.  
The fourth servant doesn’t only ensure his or her kids get to go college, but works to ensure all children are afforded a good education.  
You may say that I am taking liberties with today’s Gospel...maybe I am.
But what if, no-mans land isn’t no-man’s land to the people who live there?  What if the fourth servant went to the place where people are weeping and gnashing their teeth?  What if God’s calling fourth servants today? 
And, what if that forth servant was you? 

It’s a hard road to go.  It involves sacrifice, and thinking, and work and a whole lot of compassion for people we may never meet in this lifetime.  But thank God Almighty that the third servant has been there already and is still there willing to work with us.  It’s time to write a new chapter to this parable.  AMEN.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Love not as work, but as art (I'm still figuring this out)

based on the poem "I Believe" by Elizabeth Alexander and retooled by 'me'.

The Gospel, I tell those who pass,
is peculiar.  It's the Good News

in which we find our true selves
(though Sterling Brown said
"Every 'I' is a dramatic 'I'").
digging in the clam flats

That mud, sinking mud, we call life
For the shell that snaps,
emptying the proveerbial pocketbook along the way.

Good news is what you find
in the dusty crevices of your heart,
and under sandaled feet,
Which hardly seems the place for Gospel to be.

Overheard on the bus,
God in the details, the only way

To get from here to there.
Good News (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love
and I'm sorry the dog died (even though I am).

The Gospel (here I hear myself the loudest) is the song
which makes the human sing:

"Are we not of delight to each other?"

This poem, in it's original form, was shared with me by one of my dearest and truest friends and I am eternally grateful for the ways in which it continues to speak to me.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

Why Growing a church is a bit like eharmony (or match.com or any dating website)

When I was in college there was never a lack of boys to date...and not because of how I looked or how smart I was or what parties I attended.

There was never a  lack of boys to date because we were all in the same boat.

Single.  Relatively free from responsibility.
Every day I could step out of my sorority house and meet someone new, someone interesting, someone intriguing (and possibly cute too).

But, let's face it.  As we get older, it's not that way.  If you aren't hooked into a relationship by the time you're out of graduate school, then it's much harder (if you're married, just trust me on this).  If you want to meet someone new, then you'll have to take some drastic measures.

You may even have to turn to eharmony or match.com.  ICK.

To do that then you have to be willing to admit very publicly that you want to be in a relationship with someone.  You have to admit that you're looking... that you want to be loved and accepted and known.

It is at this point you realize how much effort it takes to build a relationship.  It is also at this point you realize how easy you used to have it (those tears cried over the returned lavaliere hardly seem catastrophic now).

I don't know if it was ever 'easy' to grow a church, but I do know that we seem to think it used to be easier.  I do know that how we built relationships in the past are different than how we build them today.

I'm not saying the church needs to set up an eharmony profile and see if anyone wants to date us, but what I am saying is we can't sit around and wait for people to just show up.

They aren't going to just show up.  If we're going to find the people who are 'looking' then we're going to have to say we're 'looking' too.

If we want to share the good news to all the world that they are:
utterly known, completely forgiven, entirely freed, and forever loved, then we're going to have to put in the effort.

We're going to have to put ourselves out there first and say, "Hey.  So, it's sort-of hard for me to talk about this...I don't have all the answers, but I can share a bit about how God helped me through something similar."

Those might not be the words you would use - you'll have to come up with your own 'profile'.

I guess you don't need to come up with a 'profile'.  We can be content to sit inside our church buildings and hope we'll bump into someone to love, someone to share with, someone to serve with.

That probably won't happen though.  We're not in college anymore.
The people are out there for you to meet.
Go.  Meet them.  Share the love of Christ with them.
Don't let your insecurities hinder you.

Because in the end... the Church is the site that's got a handle on love.  Not eharmony.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cookies anyone?

Tomorrow is my oldest son's 14th birthday (I have absolutely no idea how this happened...I swear he was 4 years old just last week) and it's also the date my  mom is retiring.  For some reason, that has been a bit lost on me, I am amazingly excited for her.

This evening I stood in the kitchen, making a chocolate chip cookie cake for my son to take to the Confirmation retreat tomorrow (yes, he's a trooper for spending his birthday at confirmation).  I used the recipe my mom taught me - the one I have memorized; the one that is dubbed the 'best cookies in the world'; the one my mom makes; the one my kids say they are going to make when they have kids.

And I remembered how it used to go when I was very little...

Every Monday when I was a kid (actually, I don't know if it was every Monday or not, it just feels that way when I think about my childhood) my mom and I would make cookies.

She let me measure out the ingredients and even crack the eggs.  She held the bottle of vanilla under my nose and we both agreed it was the best smell on earth.  I'd lick the beaters.  And we would each steal a few chocolate chips.

My mom says she doesn't really remember this next part, but I do.

Once she slyly whispered to me with a grin, "You know, they always put a few extra chocolate chips in the bag just for moms and daughters who are making cookies together."  And I believe I looked at her with awe, thinking I was the luckiest girl on the planet.  And maybe I was.  Maybe I am.

I've carried that memory, however clear or faded it might be my whole life.  It says everything about her. Everything about me.  Everything about my children.  See, I  may have some of the details wrong, but the truth is...that doesn't matter at all, because what I remember is how I felt.  I felt as if there was nothing that could ever go wrong; that everything was possible in the kitchen with my mom.

That feeling is what matters.

This evening, as I stood there with brown sugar and cracked eggshells, my youngest son saunters into the kitchen and says, "Oooo.  Yum.  Can I smell the vanilla?"  And I almost cried.

And then as my oldest - my son who is more a man than a baby - snagged a few chocolate chips and glanced at me with the teenage head bob, I knew why I was so happy.

I don't really need my mom to come and bake cookies in my kitchen with me... but she could.
And I don't really need my mom to help me decorate my house...but she could.
Just as I don't really need anyone to share a Mountain Dew with me...but she could.

Maybe we never overgrow wanting that feeling of 'it's all about you and me, baby...'.  My childhood, my mom, my child who is no longer a child, all wafted through the kitchen mixed with the aroma of freshly baking cookies.  This is what it is to be happy.  My mom and dad taught me that.

It sounds like I think my mom's retirement is all about me, doesn't it?  I don't mean it to sound that way.  I'm good with written words...not always with spoken words.  And so on the eve of my son's birthday and my mom's retirement, I say~

Cookies anyone?

Love you, Mom.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The gift

If you are a woman then it is quite probable, if not a 100% certainty, that you have been invited to one of those home parties.  You know the ones - everything from jewelry to baskets to make-up to kitchen gadgets can be had.  And it's all centered around some conversation, come tasty snacks, and a nice glass of wine.

If you are not a woman...then it is quite probably, if not a 100% certainty, that a woman in your life has gone to one of these and bought something.

They aren't really my thing, but...I go.  Mostly to see friends.  I've even hosted these parties before...not because I want to earn points and get more stuff, but to support friends who are sales representatives.  Plus, sending my children out with their dad and having an evening with friends to catch up is akin to gold.

So, my friend came over to set up her jewelry; I had the snacks ready; the kids were set to go to pizza and a movie with their dad....and, my youngest son wouldn't go.  UGH.  Best laid plans.  All he wanted to do was stay with me.

I tried to explain to him how boring it would be for him - a bunch of women trying on necklaces and braclets, talking 'girl-talk,' and eating foods he wouldn't like.

I didn't matter.  There was no budging him.  So, the other two left and he stayed.

He watched as the representative took pieces to people to try on and my friends tried them on.  He watched as peoples 'oohed' and 'aahed' over all the pretty things.  Quickly he figured out a way to 'help'. He started picking out what he deemed the prettiest of things and took them to my friends, helping them get them on.

He was a very good salesmen.

At one point he disappeared up to his room, only to return with all the money from his piggy bank.  He gave it to the representative so he could buy me a pair of little silver cross earrings.  I saw what he was doing and quickly said, "Oh sweetie.  You don't have to do that.  I can buy them with the points I get.  Plus, you don't have to use your money."

And then...he started to cry.

Big, large, crocodile tears.

I was confused.

"I want to get them for you, Mommy.  Don't you love them?  They are Jesus earrings."

My friend, the sales representative, pulls him aside and whispers, "You have been such a good helper.  I pay all my helpers, but if you would rather use the money I would give you to get those earrings, you can do that...".

Essentially, she gave the earrings to him for free, so he could give them to me.  He wanted them to be a gift from him to me.

I wear those earrings at least three times a week - for the past 4 years and every time I put them on I think about him.  And when he sees the earrings, he smiles and says, "Those are the earrings I gave to you."

And when he says that it's like he's saying, "I love you," in a whole other way.

My friend who is the sales rep, she says she still tells that story at parties.  She says it was one of the sweetest things she ever saw.

Take the gift.  Don't refuse.  Just smile and say 'thanks' and hold the giver super tight.  Because it's never about the gift...it's about what's behind the gift.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Falling into Jesus

Sermon from August 7 - Based on Matthew 14: 22-33 (although it is not my practice to blog sermons...after a few requests for the written version - here it is).

Poor, poor Peter.  This guy gets such a bad rap...if only he had a bit more faith, or trusted a bit more then surely he could’ve walked upon the water, through the violent storm, in the pitch black of the night to Jesus....
Yeah - I don’t think so.  Because last time I checked people were never made to walk on water.  I’m not so sure Peter sinks because he’s afraid or lacks faith...is it possible he sinks because he’s supposed to.  
Peter’s sinking doesn’t surprise Jesus at all... Jesus immediately reaches out his hand and catches Peter.  
Have you ever had one of those falling dreams?  You know, the kind where you’re dead asleep and then all of a sudden you are in a free fall?  Something wakes you up, your heart is beating about a million miles and hour, and you are so thankful you are no longer falling.
Something about falling brings our fragility straight to the forefront. 
Which is actually one of the things that is so intriguing about Peter...and this may be a bit different than you’ve thought about it before, but I think it’s possible that Peter knows he’s going to fall.  
Really, let’s think about this, because maybe he just happens to be one of the smartest in the bunch.  
Remember the boat the disciples are in is getting tossed and turned about in a violent storm.  They have been fighting the storm all night, they are tired, and they presume they’ve been left alone.
Their little boat could capsize at any moment and they could be swallowed up.  Their, and our, worst nightmare is about to come true.
So, when Jesus shows up things are still crazy violent.  The wind is still whipping, the rains are still bearing down on them, it is still the dead of night!  
Jesus’ presence at the beginning doesn’t automatically calm down their lives.  Don’t we all know that?!
Every bit of reason tells Peter he is going to die - whether he gets out of the boat or stays in the boat.  So he chooses to go from total chaos into complete and utter insanity.  
Faced with the choice between going through the storm in the boat or going through the storm with Jesus, Peter’s picking Jesus.
Peter picks falling...into Jesus.
I don’t think we like to admit this very often, but sometimes falling is the best thing that ever happens to us.  Now, I am not advocating, jumping out of a boat on a stormy sea, but the clear choices in life aren’t the hard ones.
The choices which are so hard, so scary, are those in which no matter what we do we feel as if we are doomed.  It’s like Peter - there’s a mess staying in the boat and a mess getting out of the boat.
When choices are clear, when life is going smoothly it’s easy (or maybe easier) to profess our belief in God.  But when choices aren’t clear, when life keeps hitting us with one thing after another, I think we’re more apt to say, “God, why aren’t you doing something?” or “I just don’t know what to do.”
I really hate this, but it’s been my experience and people have told me the same thing and honestly, it is the witness of the entire Bible - 

Storms are often when we most encounter God.  The closest I’ve ever felt to God was in the worst times of my life.  I wish that wasn’t true, but it is.
Peter - about to lose his life - finally knows that his whole life, his whole being, is utterly in Jesus’ hands.  The only one who can save him in Jesus...and he finally knows it.  “Lord, save me.”  
Lord, save us.
Save us from the things we know we need saving from and the things we don’t.  
Peter’s worries that night were all about the storm...I don’t think he stopped worrying just because Jesus had him, but I do think he knew he’d make it.  
So what are your worries? What’s your storm? What’s the thing that gives you the ‘falling dream’?
Now here’s the thing - Peter picks Jesus - he makes a choice...seemingly the right one.  Choose Jesus - isn’t that what we often say.  Well, seriously, of course I want to choose Jesus...I sometimes just don’t  know where he is or what if I make the wrong choice.  I am in a storm after all and can’t really see straight...
I actually don’t think this is about our choice.  This is about Jesus‘ choice.  Jesus‘ choice to be with us no matter whether we stay in the boat or get out of the boat; whether we go left or right; whether we stay or we go.
Jesus is actually on the water and in the boat.  
Where’s Jesus in all you are going through?
Wherever you are.
The promise I want you to hear today is, Jesus is with you in it, even if you can’t see him, feel him; even if when your trust falters, even when you’re fairly certain that God’s got bigger things to worry about then what you’re going through...
I was thinking about this - about Peter’s willingness and unwillingness to trust, about the storms of life, and about how sometimes it really is hard to know how we’re going to make it when we just feel like our heads are under water and we’re drowning.  
I was reminded of this image someone once used to talk about trusting our faith.  And I think it is about that, but I think it’s actually more about God’s faithfulness to us.
So maybe this is an image, a story, a vision, that you can carry with you.
All of my children can swim - they are great swimmers.  We started them early...
When they were learning the lifeguards stood in the water, put their arms out and said, “Come on.  Get in.  You will be fine.”  And they were.  Maybe when we’re younger we just don’t know any better.
Soon they were swimming...maybe not across the Chesapeake, but swimming none-the-less.  They learned if they moved their arms and legs with enough vigor and determination - basically if they thrashed around enough- then they wouldn’t sink or swallow too much water.
However, when it came time for them to learn how to float on their backs the experience was entirely different.  The whole thing is counter-intuitive.  We want to thrash to stay afloat, but if we do that when we’re on our backs, then we end up swallowing a bunch a water and sinking.
Lying on our backs we are sure we are going to fall...sink straight to the bottom of the pool.
But eventually, if we give up control and trust that the water really will support us, really will hold us up, really can do what seems totally impossible, then we float!
We realize that the thing we need to float has been there the whole time and it has nothing to do with us.  Floating has everything to do with the water. 
You making it through the storms of life has everything to do with God’s promise in Jesus - never will I leave you, never will I forsake you, I am with you until the end of the age.  
We have been caught by a God who will move heaven and earth; wind and water to save us. 

Save us Lord, because we need you so.  Amen.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How is it with your soul?

I am restless by nature.  If God asked me to move a mountain, I would be all over it.  I'd gather a team, grab a bunch of shovels, put on my boots and get to work.  I do.

I am not a good sitter.  When I am feeling especially overwhelmed I often think, "Wouldn't it be nice to sit on my back porch, sip a soda, and read a book (or maybe a 'trash' magazine like Cosmo or something).  But given the chance, I really don't know how to do that well.

It's much harder for me when Jesus says, "Come, sit with me for awhile."  I want to know what's next.  I want to know why.  I mean in there a point in just being still, Jesus?

Well, the other night, I was having dinner with a few friends and one woman started talking about a Spiritual group she attends.  It's not really a Bible study, but they talk about the Bible.  It's not really a support group, but they support one another.  It's just a gathering of people who every single Monday answer this question: "How is it with your soul today?"

It's the founding question of John Wesley.

Every week to  be confronted by the question, "How is it with your soul?" by people who care is, to me, enchantingly lovely.  It sends chills up my spine.

How is it?  What a different question from, "How are you?"

It has stuck with me so much these past few days.  There is, for me, something about the poignancy and sweetness and directness which beckons me to look inward at my relationship with God.  As I think on that question I honestly can't help but sit and slow down.

As I've been praying and dreaming over this question, I've started to know again that Jesus, he really wants to be with us.  Maybe even enjoys our company.

Oh, I know all the theology, that we are Baptized into Christ and made new and holy through the blood and body and water of our God who will stop at nothing to redeem this world.  I truly believe all those things, but sometimes our words and theology may get in the way of our relationship with God.

There's something very, very compelling about God caring so much that God would say to us, "How, my dear child, is it with your soul?"  And I'm just wondering if I can answer it....

the cry of the soul
deep within the caverns of your body
i lie....restless for you to remember
there is more to you than flesh and bone

i am your true heartbeat
i am divinity
and loveliness

and you push me down
isolate me and cut me off
and it hurts.

what i know so well is
that i am
the you
the father
and son
and spirit

i am here.
i am well.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Look how much...

The breath he was holding escaped his lips
as he peered out the airplane window.
"Look how much ocean there is, Mom," he says, "Wow!"
And I felt his breath in my ear~
Full of excitement and wonder and anticipation
as we were hurled into unknown adventures.

This must be, I thought,
a tiny bit of the excitement that God felt
on that second day of creation.

I imagine God gasped, even as the Spirit breathed into this world,
"Look....look how much there is and can be and is to come..."

Thank you, Carter, for reminding me of wonder on the FIRST day of our trip to Guatemala (and we hadn't even left the country yet).

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Unintended recipient

I get a lot of junk mail and it's probably my fault.  You know, I'll order some super cute item for one of my kids' knight collection and BAM! I'm on every medieval collectors mailing list around.  Or, I order a new pair of running shoes and now, not only do I receive every athletic magazine on the planet, but also every road race promotion and outdoor adventurist advertisement known to humanity.

And then there are the catalogs that come with all the cute graphic t-shirts.

At least half of these catalogs are from stores I have either never heard of or never set foot in.

I don't look at all the catalogs, but...I do look at a lot of them, just to peruse what's out there.

Today was no different.  Not one piece of mail I needed, but 5 catalogs.  As I flipped to the last page of one I just happened to notice the postal instructions from the company.  "Please deliver to Current Resident."  The words 'current resident' were underlined, as if to highlight the fact that it could possibly be to the benefit of the company if the magazine ended up in the hands of an unintended recipient.

Which, of course...it would be, because as soon as it lands in an unintended recipient's hands, the company has broadened it's marketing base.

Never bought a lego set in your life and you love Volkswagen Bugs...we have just the thing for you!  A lego baby blue VW bug.

Companies know that every magazine that goes out has the potential to reach one new person.  They know their words don't go out with no return...even if they don't see the return right away.  Someday a person may be looking for a frog hose holder or a lego pirate or a self-scooping kitty liter box.  You just never know...

Which brings me to God.  Yes, I know cat boxes, legos, frogs, magazines and God are an unlikely combination.

But, hear these words from God found in Isaiah, "So shall my word which goes forth from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

Unintended recipients seem to be what God is all about.  Wherever the Word lands, God says, God can do something there.  I'm thinking that God would almost rather have the Word read by a bunch of people who have NO IDEA what they are reading or hearing, rather than a bunch of people who went to seminary, who can debate dogma and theology on blogs and in classrooms.

Yes, proper teaching and preaching and exegesis are necessary.

But even when we screw it up (which we will) that doesn't mean that the Word returns empty or does nothing - that would be a fairly low and flat view of what the Word of God can accomplish.  What we view as unintentional or accidental or mis-delivered may just be the means through which God will work.

If God's word can work through Pharaoh and Saul, then I'm fairly certain the religious and denominational and racial and ethical and sexual lines we've drawn aren't going to stop the Word of God from accomplishing all that God intends.

Which brings me to my primary point of pondering...
If the magazine marketers intension is mailing to whoever so that people will buy from them...
Then what's God's intention?

Isaiah's words don't actually say.
Maybe we're not supposed to know.  Did you ever think of it that way?  I mean...of course, we want to  know, we think we know, but we do not fully know the mind of God, even as we are given the mind of Christ, as Paul says.

Sure, we know a lot about what God's ultimate intentions are for the world and mostly those intentions are related to restoration of relationships between God and humanity.

But wouldn't it be interesting to trust that God sends the Word out...and then see what good came come from it rather than just deciding whether the way it's proclaimed or interpreted is right or wrong.

I hear enough about the fundamentalists and the liberalists; the ELCA Lutherans and the Missouri Synod Lutherans; the evangelicals and the protestants; the spiritual, but not religious and the religious and sorta spiritual...

How about listening to how they've experienced the Word of God in their lives and in their worship and in their vocations and honoring that.  Because even if you don't agree with them, with us, with me...God is still at work and promises to accomplish something.

One cannot (well, they can, but it doesn't make it true) deny the glory of God working in unexpected places or ways.  If it's God, it's God, even when it doesn't fit in our dogmas and theologies.  We can't say God's Word can transform our lives and save the universe...basically do anything, and then say but we better keep a close eye on it otherwise it will fail to accomplish God's mission.

It is not up to us to control God's Word.  It is up to us to share it as much as we possibly can, in as many places as we possibly can, in as many ways as we possibly can.

What we deem as unintended recipients or inconsequential interactions, God may see as current residents, who happen to be in the right place at the right time.

The Word promises to return to God full.  That filling up may just take a bit of time sometimes, especially when we end up spilling things on the ground.  But the Word made a promise to God to return full so that we might all dance in the light of God, so that the trees might clap their hands to the music of God, and so that the all might join in the song the God is conducting.

"So shall my word which goes forth from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.  I will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands."  Isaiah 55: 11-12