Friday, April 28, 2017

Five Minute Friday: More

Earlier this month Five Minute Friday featured the word enough; this time we get to write about more—Kate Motaung hosts again.

more sunshine please desert spirit's fire more rain please desert spirit's fire

Meteorological Considerations

Local weather talk may look to be small talk, but weather or no weather – as commentators in some media markets sometimes claim to have – what's in the sky and all around us affects us mightily. You may know about seasonal affective disorder or SAD that afflicts people with winter months clinical depression, or in a few cases, manic highs during the winter, serious lows in summer. Those are extreme cases, but most people who struggle even minimally with low moods that might not meet DSM depressive criteria will feel and function a lot better with a daily short stroll, sprint, or jog in the early morning light. Something about the quality of light that time of day triggers feel-better brain chemicals. (Endorphins?)

In places like the Pacific Northwest that I've visited only briefly and when it was delightfully sunny, after a sequence of mostly rainy days people will be screaming more sunshine please! They want and need the physiological and psychological healing sunshine brings. In Southern California that reportedly recently emerged from a serious drought, often we beg and request more rain please!

What weather yearnings happen where you currently make your home? Or in a past life or two or three?


More Sunshine / Rain Please font is Rainy Day.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Porch Stories: Tales as Old as Time

Time for another Wednesday Porch Stories linkup hosted by Kristin Hill Taylor; time for Tales as Old as Time. As she reflects on several cinematic updates and remakes, Kristin admits, "I didn't expect to love remakes of movies I watched as a kid. Like Annie. Or The Parent Trap. And now Beauty and the Beast. In all three instances, I love the new version – the version my kids will call their own – better than the one I had always known. I surprise myself because I'm usually not so quick to embrace change."

desert spirit's fire porch stories tales as old as time

If you attend church, you may have sung the old hymn "I love to tell the story ... of Jesus and his love." Several times I've mentioned the Sunday morning class I facilitate at the church I attend. We sometimes call it bible study, sometimes adult forum, sometimes Sunday School, but we mostly draw upon at least one of that day's scripture texts from the Revised Common Lectionary, so ideally our discussion becomes God's living word to us for this place and this time. More often than not we discuss the gospel account for that Sunday, those two thousand year old stories that often refer to events thousands of years older—tales and chronicles as old as linear time itself! I've round tripped through the 3-year long RCL quite a few times; even if I hadn't, I'd still remember Jesus' post-resurrection appearances. We speak of post-resurrection appearances, but they weren't simply someone or something that looked to be Jesus; after his death and resurrection, people experienced Jesus of Nazareth the Christ of God physically right there and then on earth in the flesh as post-resurrection realities.

Most likely you know scripture is full of do not fear! – don't be afraid! – fear not! and related admonitions because humans tend to react in fear or apprehension—sometimes even to something as seemingly unthreatening as new versions of favorite films. Jesus' disciples even feared the resurrected Savior himself!

The third Sunday of Easter that's on the calendar of the church's year of grace in four days features a pair of travelers walking along a road about seven mlles from Jerusalem on the evening of the day of resurrection. Only the gospel of Luke [24:13-35] contains it, yet it makes the RCL schedule for Easter evening in all three lectionary years as well as being the appointed gospel reading for Matthew's year A and Mark's year B. Crucified, risen, scarred yet fully alive, Jesus of Nazareth joined and conversed with the guys along Emmaus road. Yet only when they later experienced their companion along the byway replicating history by taking, blessing, breaking, and distributing bread did they recognize the stranger as Jesus.
33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Luke 24
Sufficiently free of fear by then to venture over to Jerusalem to repeat the ministry Jesus modeled by turning the world upside down?

During the Great Fifty Days of Easter the lectionary brings us stories from porches, marketplaces, homes, town squares, house churches—all those places people go to and interact with other humans. Although worship leaders and preachers who follow the lectionary still sometimes choose their own passages in order to focus on special observances or major world events, the first scripture reading appointed for each Sunday during the Easter session is from the book of Acts. And you know what? All those Acts of the Apostles' stories about all those places show us people who are bold, outspoken, and fearless as they proclaim the love of God poured out onto all creation in Christ Jesus. What's the difference? The person and presence of the Holy Spirit pervades Luke's gospel, yet the evocative rendering of the Day of Pentecost with fire and flames in Acts 2 is another pericope or scripture selection unique to Luke, and the rest of the apostles' acts happen in the wake of that Day of Pentecost.

Kristin admits she's usually not quick to embrace change or newness; like many humans, I alternate between being highly flexible and spontaneous as in, "Of course I'd love to do that! I'll be ready in ten minutes," and mind-mindbogglingly inflexible as in "I can't possibly consider such a thing without at least ten days' notice." New versions of movies or TV shows, a newly illustrated edition of a book or a redecorated room don't turn our worlds upside down in terms of changes, yet they still represent newness and difference from what's already over and past. Jesus went ahead of his disciples to Jerusalem, to the center of the known world of his day. The Crucified and Risen One goes ahead of us to the next place God will call and send us. Not quick to welcome change? Do we still fear? Dare we not trust the unexpected surprise of resurrection?

As we study scripture on Sunday mornings and on our own during the week, all of us hope to relate the texts to our own circumstances well enough to start trusting the Holy Spirit of God more and more, to open the biblical narratives wide, deep, and high enough to make them God's living words to us. The old old story of Jesus and his love we sing about in "I love to tell the story" is a tale as old as two thousand year's worth of time plus more millennia not recorded in any history book. We think we know the rest of the story because all of scripture is full of God resurrecting life from death, but we really don't and won't know what God will enact in our cities and communities, along our sidewalks and freeways (in our own hearts!) until we follow Jesus to the Jerusalems that are the centers of our worlds and lives, until we follow Jesus' call and begin turning those worlds upside down and inside out in the Spirit of Pentecostal fire and freedom!

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Earth Day 2017

earth day2017

Five Minute Friday: Sing

Kate Motaung's our FMF again this time; as days in the northern hemisphere get longer, what better FMF prompt could we have than sing? As days in the southern hemisphere grow shorter, "sing" also is the perfect prompt!

psalm 63:7

Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the LORD, to the rock of Israel. Isaiah 30:29
Particularly the psalms and the books of Isaiah in the scriptures bring us a literal plethora of instances of God's people and all God's creation responding in song to God's grace and providence! I especially love that psalms 96. 98, and 148 the lectionary appoints for Christmas – Nativity, the sanctified solemnity of God's incarnation in a body made from earthly elements – feature singing hills, mountains, rivers, and streams. In the passage that eventually became chapter 30, we receive God's promise of a song for us through Isaiah of Jerusalem who had more than an inkling another threat from the north soon would overtake Israel. This is not random incidental singing, but voices that well up and sing from inner joy – "gladness of heart" – so immense it requires accompaniment by flutes, horns, wind instruments that magnify and glorify the breath of the divine in each of us. For sure Mountain of the Lord refers to Mount Zion and the Jerusalem temple, but this kind of exuberance is the shalom, the fullness, and completeness we experience in the presence of God whenever God's people assemble. Isaiah's words may refer to a passover celebration, possibly to any encounter with God in the Jerusalem temple...

...less than a week ago the church celebrated Easter, the festival of the holy solemnity of the resurrection of our Lord. Just as passover observes Israel's exodus from Egypt and trek out of bondage and slavery, easter's the freedom feast of the new covenant children of God. We call the week after easter Bright Week and celebrate it as the eighth day / the first day of the new creation. What a reason to sing! Sing hallelujah as we did last Sunday in church with brass quintet? Amen! Amen!

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Postscript: Some versions of Isaiah 30:29 add "the rock that shelters Israel" to the end of the verse. My header image is my interpretation of a psalm verse that also refers God's shelter and protection that lead to joy-filled song. In the end I didn't write about it at all, but the singing colors, energy and optimism fit this prompt to perfection.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Porch Stories: Remembering

In her Porch Stories testimony this week, Kristin tells us more about her son's recent medical emergency, framing it into the overall topic Remembering Beyond a Single Moment. Kristin suggests, "Take a few minutes to look beyond whatever moment you're in. Remember where you've been and where God is leading you. Remember how the hard days didn't last forever and good was mixed in even when you may not have expected it."

desert spirit's fire porch stories remembering

Remembering is a power-filled human activity, a vital, life-restoring theological concept. As an individual or a community re-members, they literally reassemble pieces of history and aspects of lives that have been dismembered, with pieces and parts often widely scattered and hard to retrieve. Scripture abounds with instances of God's command to remember, with times of community remembrances, with narratives of God remembering how quickly we humans tend to forget. Our scriptures are written-down accounts of countless communities remembering by telling stories that later got recorded on parchment, still later printed on paper. Former neighbor and forever friend Sara told me she'd heard the gospel could be summed up in the single word "remember!"

Related to history, remembering and being present, I've been trying to practice mindfulness on a more regular basis; one of the instructors at the Hammer Museum mindfulness meditation sessions describes it as "showing up for your own life" – living in the moment with what is, whatever that is. Part of the irony is that humans tend not to be as fully present in the right now as they might be, when at other times trusting that the pain and uncertainty of this moment is all there every will be, despite their own histories that have shown them God's constant faithfulness and very presence.

This past week synagogue and church celebrated passover and easter concurrently. These great festivals of freedom and liberation carry a similar focus of remembering God's mighty acts of deliverance from death; seder participants recount the Exodus narrative of Israel's wayfaring from slavery into the gift of the promised land with symbolic fresh food that no longer depends upon empire – they sometimes call it eating history. Christians retell and re-enact their experience of death and resurrection with the Triduum, a three-day long liturgy that begins on Maundy ("mandate," or command) Thursday with Jesus' example of servanthood as he washes his disciples' feet, and then with another of Jesus' examples and commands as he takes, blesses, breaks, and distributes bread, takes and blesses and shares a cup filled with fruit of the vine. On Friday the second day we re-collect Jesus's arrest, passion, and death. The Easter vigil, Easter sunrise, or Easter day liturgy (some people attend all three services!) marks the last of the Three Days. Historically, Easter has been the baptismal day for the newly-catechized, with a full, dramatic, immersion into Jesus' death and resurrection in the flood waters that drown us to our first death, waters that then become the womb of our second birth.

God commanded Israel to remember and tell the story of their passage from bondage to freedom; when the church obeys Jesus' charge to break bread and pour out wine in his memory in the eschatological feast of the Eucharist, part of the liturgical action includes remembering and retelling the story of God's people Israel in order to make it part of our own history as individuals and as a community. In fact, we refer to that section of the written and spoken eucharistic prayer or canon as anamnesis—"remembering." So it's not only about Jesus for each of us, for all of us gathered in this local assembly, in this room today—it becomes about all of us throughout history. To paraphrase Kristin words, as the people of God and as individuals baptized into the whole people of God in every place, every time, we trust beyond whatever moment currently engulfs us; we remember where we've been and where God is leading us. How even those hard days didn't last forever... we remember and re-appropriate the small deaths and the huge losses; we again trust God whose final answer always is resurrection from death. For the apostle Paul, the gospel is death and resurrection. For us, the gospel in a word? Remember! Somehow despite all our remembering, we never expect mixed-in good times, never even imagine resurrection to new life. But in spite of it, let's remember!

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Triduum 2017

Maundy Thursday evening with the neighboring UCC

Maundy thursday Maundy thursday Maundy thursday

Maundy thursday Maundy thursday Maundy thursday

Good Friday evening Bidding Prayers and Tenebrae

LCM good Friday sign LCM Good Friday

Decorating on Holy Saturday for Easter Sunday

Holy Saturday chancel steps Silver polished choir loft and organ with handbells

Brass ensemble music stands Holy Saturday reflection on chancel wall LCM sanctuary easter ceiling banners

Easter Day was amazing and Hallelujah Chorus!

LCM Easter street sign LCM Easter Day bulletin cover easter chancel flowers and baptismal font

easter palms, font, chancel sanctuary rafters easter banners great 50 days Romans 6

Easter Day 2015 desert spirit's fire web banner

Friday, April 14, 2017

Five Minute Friday: Empty

Today the church commemorates the bleak Friday we call Good; Kate Motaung hosts our weekly linkup and suggests the prompt empty.

Holy Saturday

"How the city doth sit empty that once was full of people" poet-prophet Jeremiah grieves.

A few hundred years later, religious and political powers that be crucify Jesus of Nazareth outside the gates of that once empty city, outside a crossroads of commerce now packed full of people. Anything but empty! At the ninth hour of 3pm / 1500 Jesus dies; they remove his body and leave the cross of criminal execution empty. They bury Jesus in a borrowed grave. As usual Saturday follows Friday. This particular Saturday is an empty Saturday we know as the day nothing happens yet everything happens. Sunday follows Saturday. On Sunday? An empty grave! Just as we wait for a new morning through the course of night's [apparent] emptiness, the emptiness of death has been a surprising way to wait for the fullness of new resurrected life...

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five minute friday button five minute friday empty

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Porch Stories: Shared Stories Matter

Kristin describes her site as Seeking God as the Author of Every Story. For this week's Porch Stories she reminds us Our Shared Stories Matter.

desert spirit's fire our shared stories matter

What's my take on Our Shared Stories Matter? Getting our pains and our joys out there for others to hear helps us gain perspective that tells us, "this is seriously devastating, after all," or "sounds like another routine incident" ...nothing to be concerned about. Interesting that sharing tends to be a church-related word and also common 12-step group terminology.

You've probably heard "show your wounds; a lot of healing will happen." Tell your own story! People will relate! I find it annoying when someone does their best to outdo others with their own life stories, yet leveling and connections still happen whenever we discover someone else has been through the same thing. I've always had trouble talking about myself—even in psychotherapy where the client is supposed to be the main subject of conversation. More than ironic since I've announced "I crave an audience the way an addict craves cocaine." As a little kid my life ambition was to be famous! However, performing music in public, displaying my art, facilitating Sunday School all legitimately make me everyone's focus, though I do my best to hear everyone's voices and ideas when we discuss scripture. I want to tell more of my story online and in real life, but I fear being misunderstood or trivialized, which actually has happened more than a few times. Have you ever been misunderstood, despite your attempts to be carefully clear?

Back to stories that matter.

We find the four new testament gospel narratives packed full of stories about Jesus, his followers and others he interacted with during his public ministry. Jesus listens to people, attends to their illnesses and their concerns. Luke's gospel especially emphasizes Jesus' eating, drinking, partying with strangers, friends, outsiders to his group and outsiders to society. Wouldn't it be fascinating to know more about his earlier years, his family life, the neighbors who influenced him? Jesus often explained a practical or theological point – for him, the theological always was practical – by telling a parable that's a type of story that contains examples sometimes fairly easy to interpret, sometimes extremely obscure.

The baptismal word our in stories matter is about togetherness, community, and belonging. Last Wednesday Kristin didn't blog because her son had sustained serious burns, yet when she posted on social media people immediately showed their concern; many started praying because Kristin's family had become part of their shared experiences, a part of "our" that mattered to them. She revealed some details rather than saying something vague so we'd know an appropriate level of concern; also, people like to be able to pray for specifics, though everyone knows God already knows.

God is the author of every one of our stories, though it can be a challenge to discern how God is leading us to newness through some situations. You know what? Our stories matter to each other, and because our stories matter to God, God will bring new life and resurrection from the bleakest, the most discouraging, most humanly hopeless circumstances imaginable.

That's my testimony on this Wednesday in Holy Week, a day known as "Spy Wednesday" that recalls Judas' betrayal of Jesus, and helps us look forward to Easter Sunday and trust new beginnings will be God's final answer to all the betrayals we've committed against other individuals, against society, against creation; resurrection from the deaths they've caused will be God's response to betrayals committed against us. But on Thursday, the day after Wednesday that's prior to the day of resurrection, Jesus invites Judas – and all of us – to his Table of Grace and Reconciliation. Sin and betrayal were parts of Jesus' story that mattered to God and to us. Sunday's coming, and this coming Sunday will be a special celebration of the Day of Jesus' Resurrection because our stories matter to God!

PS For fallen humans, appropriate behavior becomes far more complex. We always eventually can forgive, but sometimes reconciliation is plain unhealthy, so we need prayerfully to consider whether or not we'll break bread with our enemies and betrayers, whether or not we'll even casually socialize with them—let alone party. As the apostle Paul insists, indeed we are "in Christ," clothed in his righteousness, but we're not Jesus. Really we're not.

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Thursday, April 06, 2017

Five Minute Friday: Enough

With historical, emotional, and other implications, our host Kate Motaung's Five Minute Friday prompt is—enough!

Maundy Thursday

The title of the song "Dayenu" that's part of the Passover Haggadah – telling, remembering, re-enacting the story of God delivering God's people Israel from slavery and into freedom – reminds us that only a single one of God's signs and wonders would have been plenty, sufficient, would have been "enough."

Next Thursday the three day long liturgy of the Triduum [Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil/Day] begins with Maundy or Holy Thursday, when the church tells the story, remembers, and re-enacts the Eucharistic founding meal Jesus gave us as he celebrated Passover (or possibly a pre-passover meal) with at least a dozen of his closest followers. Bread of heaven from the heart of the earth, cup of salvation from the fruit of the vine, the church's freedom feast also is sign and anticipatory realization of the fullness of the God's reign, when all creation is healthy and whole, all humanity reconciled into the household of God in a Holy Communion, a common unity.

Regarding "enough" and related to some of our dismay and disappointment with the church, the Reformers reassured us we find the church wherever we find the assembly of God's people gathered around Word and Sacrament. Article 7 of the Augsburg Confession tells us Satis es—it is enough or sufficient, "it suffices" for the presence of the church that the gospel be faithfully preached, the sacraments rightly administered. I'll add during those times our lives seem to be reeling, rocking, and rolling, Word and Sacrament are enough. For us.

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:2
God is here! As we God's people meet to offer praise and prayer...
Here are symbols to remind us of our lifelong need of grace.
Here are table, font and pulpit, here the cross has central place...
–Fred Pratt Green© 1979 Hope Publishing Co.


Not part of original post, but to clarify what I've written:
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
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