Monthly Archives: November 2021

The Earth Will Now Rest… will you?

I came across this Harvest prayer for the Seaconke Wampanoag people written by Michael “Tender Heart” Markley.  The Wampanoag people were a thriving culture and people living in modern-day Massachusetts and Rhode Island inclusive of all of Cape Cod long prior to the sixteenth-century arrival of European settlers. Their numbers were decimated by epidemic but their culture lives on in the resilient way of life and today I’m grateful for their wisdom which I share with you, the prayer reads:

“Let us give thanks to the creator for all that is given.  The harvest moon has shined its brilliance over our home and now as we store the harvest of our work the creator gives sustenance.  The Earth will now rest through the coming seasons storing the energy needed to once again feed our people.”

Harvest Prayer of the Seaconke Wampanoag by Michael “Tender Heart” Markley

I love reminders to pay attention to the seasons… to let our work reflect the work that is natural to each season and thus keep our life in concert with the larger rhythms of life.  I believe God created and nurtured all that draws breath (and even that which does not) to live this interconnected pattern so that all creation shares breath, life, and death.  God was the originator of social networking! 

And the Earth is about to sleep, a type of death, that is not only natural but life-giving for the next season in the cycle.  Our forebears knew to match those cycles and let ourselves rest as well… that we might be prepared to have the energy we need to once again “feed our people” come the spring.  However Modern technology grants us the illusion that we are no longer bound by these rhythms, we can fight them and seem to win.  Our lives would see the gift of seasons as an obstacle to overcome and keep at bay and we learn to grow things out of season and even out of place.  We “extend the day” and fill up the coal tender of our lives with enough artificial energy to keep running… seemingly without end.  But we are finite beings… and there is always a cost.  It will be higher and higher the longer it is when it finally comes due. 

You are not meant to run without end.  The Earth will slumber and rest… will you? 

I have been thinking lately, as Thanksgiving prepares to blend right into Advent, about how I will intentionally incorporate more rest to my days… that I will allow myself to fall back into the natural rhythm I was meant to live… and fight now more.  I will be tempted to call it lazy and give it up.  But I am hoping to hold to my resolve… to ask myself each day:

“The Earth is resting… are you?”  And I invite you to join me in this spiritual discipline. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Viral Dis-Content and Disjunctive Gratitude

We have talked a lot about viruses the last year – many of us are running around with google degrees in epidemiology!  (Note: this does not equal an actual degree in actual epidemiology…)  But infectious diseases aren’t the only things that are viral in nature.  We can talk about a social media post that “goes viral” when it’s shared repeatedly by an ever-growing network of people.  We can talk about viral phenomena when a new idea catches our interest as a society and becomes, almost overnight, pervasive.  Viral is contagious, growing, and has a persistent (pernicious?) grip on our attention.  

So, I want to take note of another thing that can go viral: complaint… dis-comfort… dis-content. 

When people start to complain and take not of reasons to be upset an interesting thing happens… we all start taking note of all the reasons – legit reasons – to be upset.  We “catch the bug” of one moment of discontent, we focus on it, and we let it spread so that all that our eye sees is that which is wrong.  And the wrong things are often there.  We aren’t “making it up”.  There is much over which to lament and be upset.  But the nature of the viral pushes out anything else – it consumes us.  It allows that we only see that which it is looking for: bad stuff. 

Enter thanksgiving: I’m caught up in the idea that the root idea of thanksgiving (both the concept and the holiday) is of gratitude IN THE MIDST OF messiness and challenging circumstances… it to have a necessary disjunctive experience to our viral complaint and our current condition.  This is not the same thing as having rose-colored glasses.  I’m not saying to ignore all that is wrong with the world and pretend it is all good.  I’m saying that sometimes we need to clean off our glasses to make sure we are seeing the WHOLE picture… which often is as much – and even more – filled with reasons for gratefulness and celebration than it does for complaint… but we won’t see it, experience it, or celebrate it if we don’t cut off the viral nature of the progressive cancer of discontent. 

I’m a cynic and an idealist at the same time.  I’m not sure which is more my core being.  But I do know how easy it is for me to swing out of balance towards cynicism… or out of touch towards idealism.  And then I need a disjunctive experience – my own vaccine to my viral blinders.  It is often my favorite part of “going home” at the end of the day.  Work can get me negative… or work can be high on idealism… and home brings me back to rootedness in the everyday blessing and messiness of life.  It is why I appreciate seasons and liturgical seasons because ready or not a new thing is ready to interrupt my current thing… and I think, for me, that’s healthy. 

So, thanksgiving?  What are you grateful for?  Who are you grateful for?  And how are you expressing and sharing and celebrating those gratitudes in ways that interrupt your, and others, viral fascinations? 

We all need it.

Taking Off the Whole Armor of God

I was reading this article ( this morning and I was struck by the tagline: “First I needed to meet a progressive, gracious God.”  That line was something of a tuning fork to me… I found reading the rest of the article difficult because I want to spend time just with that phrase.

I spend a significant amount of my personal faith journey, preaching life, and ministry trying to take off the “whole armor of God”.  You know that exciting passage in Ephesians… the breastplate of righteousness and the sword that is the Word of God.  So powerful.  So strangely anachronistic to most of the ways scripture talks about our life of faith.  No wrestling with an angel and limping the rest of our life… no Paul talk about being afflicted and, Paul who speaks with confidence but also with an open heart to the ways faith makes us vulnerable to ridicule, confusion, and doubt.  Any attempt we make (and we make a lot of them) to turn Jesus into some indomitable warrior-monk fails at the foot of the cross, or when Jesus took towel and washed his disciples’ feet.  I’d like to pass on that please and put on the belt of truth and pick up the shield of faith instead. 

I’m struck almost daily how much energy we put into pretending… into appearing like knights in solid armor.  My heart aches for how much lies underneath that we fear to share with the world.  Enter the tagline of my current focus: “first, I needed to meet a progressive, gracious God”.  We have nothing to hide.  We do not need to pretend.  We are not playing a board game where we count all the tokens at the end of the journey and proclaim a winner. 

“First, I needed to meet a progressive, gracious God.”

John Calvin is much maligned, and oft misunderstood.  I have my appreciation for him and dislike of much of his jurisprudent theology where everything had to be square and plumb no matter the conclusions such perfect logic arrived at in his God-talk.  But I’m a fan of predestination – that terrible divisive concept only a mind so legally consistent as Calvin could have put to paper. But in the end, Calvin’s point is this and only this: you are not saved because of you… you are saved because of God.  It has nothing to do with you… you can’t gain it, keep it, or lose it.  The creation and healing (saving) of the world is a God job and its way above your pay grade.  And we can all stop pretending. 

I have said before that we all need to crucify God… or better said, we need to crucify the constructs of God we created or were created for us… because then the God who is really is will rise from the ashes of our armored warrior God – or the vending machine who simply gives us what we want when we ask.  And when we meet that God – that God who exists beyond our machinations and projections?  A whole new world unfolds around us.  The armor falls off and all the energy we have put into winning, or looking like a winner, can… simply relax. 

I’ve been called an embarrassment as a pastor and not worthy of respect. I have received notes calling me a blasphemer, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and all manner of names. I have watched many people walk out of my life because I failed them, because I wasn’t enough, or right enough, or fun enough, or authoritarian enough, or malleable enough… or I don’t even know.

It hurts… every time.

But you know who has done none of those things?  You know what picks me up and helps me to heal those hurts?  You know upon what ground I can fall apart every time?

“First, I had to meet a progressive, gracious God…”

What armor are you wearing?  What are you hiding?  How much do wish to just let it all go?  Stop pretending; stop playing the game; stop wearing ill-fitting and much constricting armor.  Just be you… standing before the God who loves you as much as God’s life itself… bathing your feet… and willing for you health and not harm.

Let me introduce you, if you haven’t met, to a gracious God.  It’s the first day of the rest of your life.

It is NEVER ‘just in your head’

The word just is one of the most dangerously abused words in our language.  For the sake of this conversation, I’m not talking about the word just as a term for justice, but when just means only or simply.  It creeps into all kinds of dialog… “I was just talking about that,” “it will just take five minutes,” “can you just sit still for a minute?”

It is regularly a throw-away word that wasn’t needed in the sentence, but that’s another conversation… today I want to talk about the ways it is toxic.  It is a word to negate identity and experience.  You are (I am) just a layperson.  You are (I am) just a beginner.  You (I am) just….

And then we use it this way: “it’s just in your (my) head”. 

Mental health continues to be a major stigma in our country.  When you break an arm, everyone can see the cast and understand why ordinary things are more difficult for you.  When you are carrying trauma, when your body chemistry is out of balance, when you experience pain or identity crisis or emotional distress – no one can see it, you cannot quantify it (no matter how many times they ask you pain level on a scale of 1 to 10), and its lack of objective reality makes us have a tendency to utter the harmful words: it’s just in your head. 

Our mental and emotional worlds, despite their subjectivity, are as real as our flesh and bones.  And in many ways, they are far more powerful motivators of our well-being or lack thereof.  And it’s made all the harder when we try to discredit that reality with words like “…just…”  I find myself heartsick at how pervasive our need is to address feelings of grief, stress, trauma, and all manner of mental and emotional health challenges.  A reality made more difficult if we aren’t willing to admit that we are carrying these burdens… or that they are not legitimate burdens. 

I sincerely hope that we all can carve out space for ourselves and others to talk about the mental and emotional burdens we carry… and I earnestly pray that you, me, and all the people are willing to use professional resources to address the pervasive burdens that prevent us from being whole and well.  When you break your arm?  You get it looked at by a doctor, x-rayed, casted, cared for by professionals. Please do the same with all your health challenges, encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same, recognize that there is no such thing as normal… and there is never a reason to say, “it’s just in your head”.  Do not negate the pain of your neighbor simply because things affected them differently than you, and do not negate your own pain because you wish it didn’t bother you as it does. 

If you do not know where or how to start, I’m always here for you – and no I’m not equipped to be the only person here for you, but I’m willing to be the guide towards the better guide and to be the voice crying in the wilderness: you are not alone.