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A Prayer – of sorts – of Lament in Search of Hope for the World

Creator? Redeemer? Sustainer?

I do not know what name to lift up to you God. Not in this moment of prayer. Not to get your attention at this time. Will a pleasant name give my plea a greater hearing?

God who is – I AM. God who claims naught but existence… and hearing – for you heard the cries of your people. God who claims naught but existence and hearing and yet also responds through broken vessels like Moses and Paul, in prophets like Elijah and Jesus, in poets and priests and prostitutes and peons and… and whatever you can lay eye on. God who is, hear our prayers – our cries – our lamentations – our bafflement and our despair, and respond. Because we need you.

“In the beginning… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” (Genesis 1:1)

Our world knows much of formlessness, void, and darkness. Our world – your world I might remind you – is swirling out of control. (Are there controls on this thing?) Madness seems to have taken over. We are killing each other at obsessive rates. Killing over land, over long held hatred, out of neglect, self-interest… or for no reason at all. God… we are killing. We are killing ourselves.

“Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10)

So much hate. I do not know what to do in the face of hate. I feel overwhelmed by it all. I do not know how to look into the eyes of one who sees another human being as unworthy of life. I do not know how to stare deeply into those eyes… with love. I do not know how to love the hate-filled other. To love them in such a way that the only death is the hate and not the other.

“Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 22:34)

We lack the strength Lord to be a gracious people. We are consumed by a need for personal safety. We are consumed by a need to protect our own. We are consumed by our self. We are literally consuming ourselves in the name of our own glory. And the victims of our hunger are legion.

“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine.” (Daniel 1:8)

Our hearts are empty. We care not. Certainly not enough to deprive ourselves. Besides, we cannot get beyond our own hurts, for they are real and true and hardship abounds. We cannot be moved to care for another when we cannot care for ourselves. Where do we go when everyone is a patient and no doctor will come to work? Is there balm for the wounded soul?

“I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” (Matthew 23:37)

But our children are scattered and dying. Hungry and homeless and… what future does this world hold when schools are warzones and warzones are shielded in their bodies?
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)
Our leaders are as scared as we are – perhaps even more because they can see farther than we can, for all their short-sightedness, from their elevated lofts of luxury. What does a disciple do when then master is aimless, absent, apathetic or amorally removed from the plight?

“I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.” (Ezekiel 34:10)

Them too – but maybe you are not hearing me, where are you, O God…. How long O Lord… if we die in this wilderness of hate and indifference who shall be left to you of your creations? My God… my GOD… why have you forgotten us… forsaken us…. Whither shall we go – shall we look to the hills? Shall we find you in the shadow of death? The demons have overturned the furniture and made a mess of the homes in our heads… the bleeding will not be stopped… the death-throws of the Beast – if death throws they are – are far too much for our little lives to stand. If you are Alpha and Omega.. we need you in the middle too – where are you, O Lord… my God?

“Be still… know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

I find myself almost out of breath… that is – out of God, out of you. Molded and breathed into and given life, it is death now that I see, that I breathe, that I live. Justice isn’t rolling down, Habakkuk is no more pleased today, does he still stand his watch tower? Do I stand in his place? Do I have it in me? I am out of breath, and our world feels out of time. Oh Ancient of Days – it’s time to appear on scene. At least a little late I might say. Where do we go from here – when just to stand seem more than I am able?

“At the beginning of your supplications a word went out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved.” (Daniel 9:23)

That’s nice.
I was looking for a little more Revelation.
I am stirred to anger and I am ready for an angry God. We are past the point of words… we need action. Oh God – DON’T YOU SEE IT?!?!

“Hear, O Israel-” (Deuteronomy 6:4)


“Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” (Mark 10:21)

I’m not sure I know what to do with that. Is that an answer? Why won’t you answer me – don’t you know I have your life in my hands…..

“Jesus began to weep.” (John 11:35)

I didn’t mean it, God I didn’t mean it. I’m just frustrated. More than a little lost. More than a little heart-sick for all those whose lives have been thrown to the wind. More than little despairing that we just can’t get this love thing. I’m tired… God knows, you must be too.

“My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” (Hosea 11:8)

God may our hearts be broken… broken open to one another. Broken up by you and for you and with you. May our hearts be kindled and may our anger be healthy. Angry at killing, not killing angry. Angry at systems of homelessness, violence, power and dominance, ignoring the widow and orphan, at imagining there is no room in the inn… But not angry at the homeless, the violated, the least and the lost. May our hearts be kindled. May our compassion grow warm, yes, and tender. May seedlings of hope be scattered in the wilderness and the rocks and roads and the urban slums and the rooftops of palace and stable and may the sprout up. May we protect them for them are a hard won and precious gift. May we honor them for their roots go deep into the marrow of the earth connecting pole to pole – person to person, and their leaves are absorbing the starlight of different worlds and in their veins lies the life blood of heaven and hell.

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Just help me see the hope… for all the rest is all too easy to be consumed by.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13)

Make it so. So be it. Amen

The Giving Tree or The Taking Boy

Okay so now and then I let slip that I do not like The Giving Tree. People love it. I get it. So here you go, why I don’t. You will have your reasons why I’m over analyzing, but it’s what I do and… I really don’t think this is a reach but it’s right there in the story:

The message that we read in the story of the boy is that happiness is procured from money, working all the time so you have no time for play, a family (he seems to not to end up with), having a house, and going to far away places to find what you don’t have. All this at the expense of the life and vitality of your friend who appears to be codependent and lives only for the happiness of the boy who apparently has no thought of the happiness of the tree.

By the end the dead used up remains of the tree are, we are told, happy to have served the whims of the boy who appears to have never found happiness because here in the end he is sitting alone without friend or family on the stump of an old dead tree.

The end.

Yes that is harsh.  But I really do think this story is a damaging narrative cloaked as a sentimental and benign children’s tale.  So some further thought before you go to it’s defense:

Yes the tree gives. But the boy takes. This is the groundwork for almost every imperialist culture ever. Imperialists take advantage of generous people until it’s too late to change the dynamics of the relationship.

There is a reason Jesus’ death is said to be “once and for all.” It’s that we do not require sacrificial death from our neighbors in order that we might live… and yet, sadly that still isn’t true.

The hidden sadness of this book is that you cannot buy happiness. Happiness is not external and no amount of chasing after it will “find” it.

This book more than any other reminds me why I love the triune love commandment from Jesus: “love the Lord your God… and your neighbor as yourself.” These three work in concert and balance. You can’t do one or two to the exclusion of the third if you are following in Jesus way. To love God but not neighbor? Misses the point. Self-love to the exclusion of others – no way. But also: to love neighbor without any care for self stands outside of Christ’s calling. In our care and service to one another we have to be able to care for ourselves as well. We live interconnected lives building each other up – not one at the expense of the other no matter that we claim the other “desired to make those sacrifices.” This is the way we defend imperialism, slavery, patriarchy, racism, and the subjugation of the environment, etc, etc, etc.

So there you have it, why whenever someone reads or mentions The Giving Tree, all I hear is The Taking Boy.

Celebrate Life; Celebrate Each other – a Pentecost sermon

This is a shorter version (you are welcome) of a sermon preached at First Presbyterian Church of Boise, Idaho on Pentecost Sunday.  June 8, 2014.  It was preached from the text of Acts 2:1-21.

The Apostles post-resurrection are a fairly reluctant group.  They keep hiding out.  They keep sending motions back to committee.  They aren’t ready to do the whole ‘go and be my witnesses to all the world’ thing.  That is… until the matter gets taken out of their hands.  The Holy Spirit literally swoops onto the scene from stage up-above and gets them going.  A violent wind… as tongues of fire… speaking and hearing in all manner of languages and breaking down all kinds of barriers.

The crowd becomes confused how this group of people could be doing all of this – this group of nobodies from Galilee… this is hardly a group of people expected to be so worldly, educated, and articulate.  It’s like they’re a bunch of people from Idaho.  And yet here they are showing off a flare for the dramatic with worldly inclusivity (old and young, slave and free, men and women, heavens and earth are all wrapped up in this spiritual awakening).  The presumption of some in the crowds is that they must be drunk, a move that is natural because we have a tendency to meet the miraculous or mysterious with disbelief and mockery whether its unexpected healing or Jesus’ head on a piece of toast.

This is a rousing call by the Spirit of the Lord to celebrate all people, to bring down all walls and all divides both real and tangible, and those deeply rooted in the coding of our hearts and minds.

This is a rousing call to celebrate life.

I have had a tough transition from May to June.  It isn’t unique to me or this month in particular, I’m in one of those kind of times – but so are many people, and many more than that who have had far worse. But here I am.

We went into this month with challenging family medical issues.  Surgeries.   Complications. Insurance battles.  Add to that our own church community has had three members die in the last two weeks, and then over the weekend, I lost a good friend. My across the street neighbor growing up – Mike.  Mike was also the younger brother of my best friend for life, and the two of them became like my brothers as I grew up with only sisters. He had overcome his own childhood disease and illness and become a fine young man, teacher, coach, husband, and father of twin one year old girls.  And then in one fell sweep a massive and unexpected stroke took him from us.

So all of this is going on for me and in the midst of that Caroline and I had planned a night out for a late celebration of our anniversary.  My middle sister and brother-in-law are in town so like it or not they got the kids for a night and we booked a hotel… a mile down the road.  We went out to dinner and our conversation was mostly about my younger sister still in the hospital for a third straight week, and about Mike.  After dinner I took a break to call my Dad to check in on my sister and what the new plan is (we get a new plan several times a day).  We hung up and then Caroline and I went on a late evening sunset walk along the Boise river and my dad texted me one final thought:

“Celebrate life, celebrate each other.”

There is fragility to life.  And that fragility can make us scared, cynical, fearful.  That fragility can make us despair.  And we can respond to the fragility of life by doing everything in our power to secure safety.  We can try to build the thickest walls, and have the strongest guards.  We learn to doubt, we do not trust, we disbelieve good news.  We can obsess about death…

Or… we could choose to celebrate life.

Celebrating life doesn’t deny death; it isn’t a denial of the suffering and the agony.  But we do not let them rule us either.  Celebrating life is an intentional choice in spite of fear, anxiety, and doubt.  It is courage.  It is a bold choice to limit the sway and power of death.  Because as victims we can allow tragedy more power than it’s due.  We allow it to kill not once, but twice.  First it kills a beloved reality – be that a loved one or something about our life we cherish.  Then it kills our spirit… our hope…. our ability to celebrate life.  And we live in fear.  To live “with fear” is probably unavoidable but to be ruled by fear is the second death, the death we perpetrate on ourselves.

What I believe attracts me to the poetry of the Psalms or to African American spirituals is the very resistance to this second death.  They do not give in to despair.  Certainly they speak of suffering, loss, and struggle.  They wrestle with the “how long, O Lord” of injustice.  But there is a hope that is transcendent to their current misery.  In the midst of pain they do not allow hope to die as well.  The cling to, they proclaim, they celebrate hope.  We may die, but will never cease to celebrate life.

Celebrate life, celebrate each other.

In the wake of Jesus’ death he knew his followers would struggle with this kind of celebration – resurrection or not.  He knew that despair was a difficult enemy to keep at bay.  And so he promised them that one would come who was life itself.  That the Holy Spirit would come to them as a comforter, as an advocate, as a mighty wind that was the very breath of divine life and that it would sweep them up in empowering celebration of life.

And – ready or not – they are now caught up in a bubbling over of the cup of life, an ascendant celebration of life and each other whose tenor was so lively and audacious that the crowds think it must be drunken revelry.  And Peter says no this isn’t the foolishness of alcoholic public indecency in some kind of avoidance of the world.  Oh its drunkenness he says. Its foolishness for sure.  It’s even a dance of public indecency.  But the only thing they are drunk on is life, and it’s the foolishness of hope that will not give in to death, and a celebratory dance of each other – of all life.

Celebrate life; celebrate each other.  Amen.

The Surprise of Being Beloved

All through Lent I’m preaching on the Matthew periscope of the temptation of Jesus in the desert.  This is being done in conjunction with a curriculum we are also using in small groups throughout the church.  This Sunday before Jesus is “led by the Spirit into the wilderness” we are hearing the voice of blessing in Jesus’ baptism. As a secondary text our study also provides the voice of Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son. It is this text that began speaking to me and became the lens through which to talk of blessing and celebrating relationship with God who looks on us as “beloved.”

Matthew 3:13-17

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Luke 15:11-32

11Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 

20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 

25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”


We come to this parable, or this parable gathers us in to it.  Now parables are not meant to be taken literally – they are stories that often back us into a transformed understanding of the world and the deep truth of God’s participation in creation.  This story doesn’t have to be about families, it doesn’t have to mean that the father is God, nor should “father” and “brother” makes us think only of the men in our midst. Our interpretation and wrestling should focus more on the heart of the story – the deep truth it is mining on our behalf – rather than any of the particulars.  At its heart this story is about celebrating the return of one who is lost; it is about restoring relationships and celebrating them without bitterness and judgment. Now that reminder given… I’m going to now break my own previously stated rule… and pay some attention to particulars.

We Presbyterians… or really any churchy folk – we make good elder brothers.  We pay attention to his story for we know him all too well.  We are so often the ones who feel we are doing everything we should be doing; who is getting it all “right” and yet… somehow we don’t feel the love.  Somehow all our right answers aren’t connected to the Spirit and vitality that is meant to be ours.  We are lost in our own righteousness. (Sitting outside in our bitterness even, denying ourselves the celebration because the wrong people are being allowed in.)

We also tell the story of the younger brother because we are all that younger brother – or at least we know we should claim to be him in our more honest moments… when we can stop being the elder brother long enough.  The younger brother who chases after a different life – for whom the grass is always greener on the other side.  The younger son who flushed it all down the toilet.  And we become crippled with shame and feels far too unworthy… of love, or our adoption as sons and daughters of God.

However I was intrigued me this week was the story of the father, the untold part of his story.  I was intrigued by that because we got to this text through the study that is shaping our Lenten Journey – Temptation in the Desert, and title of the section we are working on today is The Surprise of Being Beloved.  I heard that title and thought of that surprise and immediately my head jumped to another snappy and provoking title, Philip Yancey’s book What’s so Amazing about Grace?

These titles were swirling in my head and I’m reading this story and thinking about the father, what is like for him? What was it like when his son came to him and said, ‘hey pops, I would like you to give me my inheritance now because you are kinda like – dead to me – and I’m ready to be dead to you and call this thing we have going between as done.  I’m going out on my own.’

What was it like in the days and the weeks and the months after his son left, after they went through that awkward transaction – which I’m sure the father went through with a daze about him wondering if this was really real.  What was in like that night staring up at the ceiling unable to sleep because he is no longer whole? Part of him has rejected him and I’m sure he is wondering things like: what did I do as a parent that my child walked away?  Did I not love him enough, did I not say it enough, and did I not appear to want to know his story, to hear his hopes, to support his dreams.  Was it really necessary for him to just cut me out?  Where is he now?  What is he doing now?  Is he okay now?

And you know as well as me that this wouldn’t just be a night time thing.   In the day time he’d catch movement in vision, “was that him… no, no it’s someone else.” Looking through the faces in the crowd wondering if somewhere just around the corner… if just around the corner the child of heart is waiting.

And then there is this, in our claiming of this story as our story the death may well have been literal.  Far too many parents have born the burden of their child’s death.  A death that is experienced over and over. You do not lose a child once, you re-experience that lose, that death every life transition you should have gone through with your child.  You are re-visited by the pain, the lack, the death happening all over again.  Why? Why has this happened?

A question whose answer never comes… cannot come.  It is a question that lacks an answer all together.  My child is gone.  Cut out.  That should be me celebrating over there… with him… but it won’t ever happen.

I realize that there are unloving families out there.   I realize for some the idea of father is not one of love, and the idea of mother may be no better.  Our brokenness knows no bounds.  But for the sake of this story the father is the father wants nothing but to love the son, to behold the son and embrace the son, and be.  With the son.  This father is father of countless families where death struck, this father is the mother of countless lost sons.  The parent here yearns to simply love her child, his son, our brother.

This typology of parent, if you will, this form of the idea of parent for you Platonists out there, this norm or ideal or whatever you will.  This father wants nothing but to love the son.  And why not.  Wouldn’t I want the same?  Wouldn’t you?  This, child of you – heart of your heart, bone of your bones – flesh of your flesh – wouldn’t you do anything to find a way to be in relationship – to share lives, to seek the good of each other?

This father has carried death with him, for a part of his being has been dead… lost in sorrow, and he wants for nothing more than his child to crawl back from the grave – out of the mists – to say help me.  Father?  I am home.

In this light, when I think about what’s so amazing about grace… What is so amazing to me about grace is that it’s not surprising at all.  Grace isn’t a surprise.  Grace should never be a surprise – not from God’s side at least.  For Grace is who God is, this parent – this father, mothers, brother, sister, friend – this one, this holy and loving one can be nothing other than Grace.  It is foundational to God’s being, at the core of God’s character – God is love.

God who is creator of all that is, all people, all places, all things – these are all the children of God.  And God exists to all of them as love, God years for nothing more than to be in relationship to all that is and love all that is and to celebrate that relationship for its intrinsic value regardless of what has been – or will be – the character of that relationship.  All is worthy of God love by virtue of the nature of God’s love.

To (very loosely) paraphrase the prophet Hosea in chapter 11 giving voice to the inner wrestling of God with God’s inability to be anything but love to God’s children.  ‘I am angry with my children, Ephraim and Israel.  I am angry that you turn from me and cut me out and go away from me – but how can I simply let you go?  How can I let you come to ruin?  How can I act out of my anger?  Because while I am angry and frustrated and feel thwarted in my desire for your well being by your clumsy choices… my heart is yet kindled for you – over and over and over again compassion bubbles up from the depth of my being for you… and am I not God.  Is this not how it works, and has worked from the beginning.  I am God.  And I love.  And I forgive. And I celebrate your return no matter how often you depart from me.  I can do no other.’

God chooses love every time.

Grace in God is not surprising.  This is what I think every time I hear the son proclaimed beloved in the waters of baptism.  This is what I think when I hear a story that even the most wayward among us, even the betrayer and the forsaker among us (and within us) are pronounced beloved.

As I think about a father’s heart broken by the separation at the hand of his son.  And there is nothing surprising about grace from our father, welcome from our mother… except for us.  Think about this with me for a moment, its seem that from this story I understand that there are two and only two impediments to Grace we can experience and neither of them come from God or are about God.

The impediments to Grace are:

  • Our own inner self that says to ourselves: I am not worthy.
  • And our brother.  Our brother who is all too quick to say – he is not worthy.

In this equation we cannot conceive of love because we think worthiness matters. We think that even though over there outside of the house is our brother who is as worthy as can be, but feels no love.  His inheritance was not the assurance of God’s love and forgiveness and the fruit of his spirit is not Grace.  And I stare into that abyss and what stares back at me is a challenge for the church.  How often has the Church as an establishment been the elder brother who sought to deny reconciliation for our wayward sibling?  Not just the resentment of this story but we further yet and run down the road to intercept this…. this former family – this son yours we no longer claim – and stop him from crawling before our parent telling him that he isn’t welcome that God has nothing but anger in God’s heart towards you who sinned before God and your family and the world, “you shouldn’t come home.  You would not be welcomed there.”

That abyss stares out at me from the elder brother who knows much of worthy and little of love.

The impediments to Grace have nothing to do with God and everything to do with us.  These two fold broken hearts – the worthy and the unworthy.  The first part of us plays the elder brother preventing others from experiencing the love of God because we have deemed them sinners, unworthy of celebration.  And the other part is that seed of unworthy in our own heart that is perhaps even the genesis of this judgment of unrighteousness.  We are both children at the same time and the younger – wayward son – within us does not feel we are worthy of love. We cannot conceive of being the receiver of the unsurprising love of God.  And so we are doing everything we can to prop up a sense of worth in our constructed world to try to get parental approval – to earn what we cannot believe we already have.  After all, if we haven’t earned it how can it possibly be ours?

God is love. There is no other way God can be. And to our split selves of unworthy shame and worthy judgment a nothing but loving God speaks.

You were dead… and now you are alive.  You were lost to me and now you are found.  The father in this story says nothing about tomorrow, the father in this story being told to us by THE beloved of God says nothing about contingencies or worth or expectations to being welcomed.  Not even a pause.

We create applications for God’s forgiveness.  And God tears them up.  How?  How could you possibly imagine that you aren’t worthy of my love.  You are my child. My creation.  I know you inside and out.  No matter how frustrated with you I may get I will always love you – you will always be my child. You can deny me, but I will never deny you.

You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.

Thanks be to God.

We are all a bit of a fixer-upper

On Sunday at FPC, Boise we talked about hearing the familiar voice of judgment.  From small group studies and Sunday School to worship we listened to John’s voice in the wilderness calling us to repent and take note of the way the kingdom of God is around us.  We examined our “threshing room floor” for wheat and chaff and practiced not standing in judgment of people, but also being willing to discern in our lives practices/habits/areas that tear us and others down and re-invest that energy in more life-giving ways.

So it was perfect to come across these words again today.  They are from the movie Frozen and you can catch the video of the whole song here:

But this is the part that speaks to me:

We’re not sayin’ you can change him, ‘Cause people don’t really change.  We’re only saying that love’s a force that’s powerful and strange.  People make bad choices if they’re mad, or scared, or stressed. Throw a little love their way. And you’ll bring out their best.

Everyone’s a bit of a fixer-upper, that’s what it’s all about!  Father! Sister! Brother! We need each other, to raise us up and round us out.

Everyone’s a bit of a fixer-upper, but when push comes to shove.  The only fixer-upper fixer that can fix up a fixer-upper is love.

In a world where we are often quick to judge, hesitant to change, frustrated with conflict, and ready to give up on each other… How are we loving each other to bring out our best?

We Will Not Be Assimilated

A collision of three occurrences over the last three days:

  • On Saturday in a conversation of Presbyterian colleagues some offered a need to have a clear and coherent theological identity.  The most extreme version that got offered was a call to have a core belief that made it easy to say who belonged among us and who did not based on their agreement with that common core belief statement.
  • A coke commercial that I originally found a bit banal (and then realized was still prophetic) offering America the Beautiful in many of the diverse languages (and images) you will find spoken in our country – and then a reaction of some strongly against that notion because “people should speak English here.”
  • Two blocks from my church office this morning a group of advocates gathered (and I am sad that I was not with them this morning) in silent protest on the steps (and inside, many of whom were arrested, updating my post already here is an article on this mornings protest) of the State Capital building to “Add the Words, Idaho” asking the legislature to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act thereby protecting our LGBT neighbors from discrimination and the insecurity of knowing that who they are at the core of their being could be held against them in livelihood and liberty.

add words

(This picture is from a few weeks ago when I joined friend and collegue Marci Glass as part of the “Add the Words, Idaho” Rally also on the steps of the Capital.  Here is a sermon I preached the next day that reflected on this experience among others.)

All three of these cause the same reaction to me.  Whether we are talking about the church or the country I love, we are not the Borg (sorry folks – Star Trek reference, a race of aliens that forced all civilizations to become a part of their collective consciousness).   We do not – or should not – seek to assimilate the world.  We are at our best when we celebrate diversity.  We have admirable ambition when we seek to protect the minority and their right to be a part of us without having to become “like us.”

There is a particular insidious narcissism that we can name as either Exceptionalism or Zionism that seems to think who we are is the best, and the best we can offer is to convert – assimilate – the other into the exceptional reality we already have.  (This narcisissim is made worse because we also add fear – we fear those not like us, the twin emotions of fear and superiority create a very dangerous blend)   Whether it be our brand of Spiritual Truth or the particular expression of our national identity, we are sure the best one can be is what we have to offer.

What I love about my understandings of both the United States and the Presbyterian Church is that I believe it is central to who we are that we DO NOT have a cookie cutter look of what is central to who we are.  We do not seek to melt away differences to become uniform, but we seek to bring connection to very diverse perspectives, cultures, and expressions of liberty, truth, goodness… whatever.  We are in the business of building bridges across divides and not in removing those divides.

Is this harder than assimilation?  Absolutely.   It is easier to sell a clear product.  It is easier to offer an existence in a group of people who think, look, and act similarly along similar goals.  It is easier to have a common language, currency, and worldview.  Life without the need for translation is easy…

But I also think that is a sad reality – and ultimately rather boring.  I am reminded again that in the first creation story of Genesis God did not say let “me” make “Adam”.  God said, “Let us make humankind in our imagine.”  Singularly we do not reflect God.  Together we do.  Even God wasn’t singular in the story.  Creation was meant to reflect a rich diversity of goodness.  I am similarly reminded that our nation is not a democracy where the tyranny of the majority rules, but a Republic whose role is as much to protect the minority from the majority as anything else.

We are not Borg.  We do not assimilate otherness – we celebrate it.  And this does take work.  Work at overcoming fear, and expanding our boundaries, and finding common bridges across differences that are their own blessings.

I do not want to think I can only gather in God’s name around a single sentence of clear Truth – what a small God that world is.  I love that my kids go to school with kids whose first language isn’t English because the realize the world they live in every day is VERY VERY SMALL compared to the rich diversity of all creation.  And forcing other people to live in fear of their safety because we don’t like who they are or because we think who they are somehow threatens our way of life?  That is terrorism.

We are not Borg – we do not assimilate – we celebrate.  Thanks be to God, and thanks be that we live in a country that aspires (in its better moments) to let us.

Illuminating Love

Texts: Exodus 34:1, 5-8 and 1 John 4:7-21

These texts illuminate love for us, divine love.  This means we see what love is not even as we learn what love is.  This can challenge us as God doesn’t meet our expectations, but it also gives us life as God exceeds our wildest imagination.

Love isn’t placating and pleasing the other by giving them what they want (sorry Israel – no golden calf god who is willing to be less than GOD… mere ornamental jewelry).

Love isn’t restricted to only those who want to love, or who will love you back – the overarching story, to the thousandth generation no less, is the forgiveness and steadfast nature of God’s love regardless of what we do with it – we cannot be unworthy of love.

Love isn’t free from claiming us for something better, for placing before us expectations.  We are forgiven, and yet the ways we participate in thwarting God’s love will still be named and called to mind to the third and fourth generation as we seek to be more fully claimed by love.

Love is neither all about me or all about God.  Love isn’t simply just what we have been given but because of love we becoming loving.  And God does not seek to be the object of our love and devotion, in fact God IS the love.  God abides in us as we love and devote ourselves to one another: our brothers and sisters, neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies.

So what is love?

Love is an action and not simply and emotion.  This is the key to incarnation.  Love cannot be done remotely or apart from tangible expression.  Love is dirty – its flesh and blood.  Love is not God sitting on God’s throne in the heavens showering some benign good will upon the world.  God’s love is revealed among us as God’s son born among us.  Similarly we cannot love the world from within a sanctuary.  We can talk about, prepare for it, and practice it: but loving our brother and sister requires sending ourselves into the world to love one another.

Love is giving.  Fear has no place in love because loving means opening oneself up fully to the other and not allowing our fear to hold us back.  Love is becoming vulnerable and open to the beloved.  The world teaches us to be turtles holding back until we trust.  God says that life lived safely without love isn’t worth living.  And God did so by loving to the point of death… and beyond.

Loving is knowing.  In love we seek to know the other, not our assumptions, not our generalities or categories.  Love is about descending into the other’s abyss and seeking to know them at the deepest level on their terms – not on ours.  God didn’t force us to come to God; God came to us.  God didn’t keep the power; God empowered us while being completely vulnerable before us.  Love is about encountering the other and seeking to make their story, our story; and making our story a part of their story.

This is the love the coming Christ illuminates for us and the constant reminder that when we abide in love – we abide in God, and God abides in us. Amen.

Water for the people of Kisima Island

Water for the people of Kisima Island

December 11, 2013 at 8:01am, by John Eckhart

In November of 2013, I travelled to Jinja, Uganda to work with International Medical Relief providing healthcare to people with no access to care whatsoever.  Twenty five of us on the team and during the week we were there  we treated over 2,000 people. 

    After a long hard day of clinic in the Luwuka District of Uganda, I was enjoying coffee with Jean Kaye and Ally Novell after the rest of the team had gone to bed. Jean was the team leader for this mission and Ally was working closely with her.  Ally was expressing her deep frustration over the phone calls she had been receiving from Pastor Kijambogo Mukisa Franco who lived on Kisiama Island out in the middle of Victoria lake. The water well that supplied water for the 1500 inhabitants of Kisima island had been out of service for seven long years. They had a small rainwater collection system, gutters that collected water from a small galvanized roof that lead to a six foot concrete tank. this kept them going except it had not rained there in a long time. The people of the island were drinking water from the lake. His people were getting sick, further deepening the problem was the latrine that the people used was completely full so that they could no longer use it. Many people on this island were sick or getting sick and their situation getting very desperate. Ally had no idea what to do for this man or his people. 

      Listening to Ally, I realized that I could fix their well. I have owned property in Idaho with several wells on it for the last 35 years. Whenever these well pumps had problems, I could never afford to pay someone to fix them so I had to educate myself about the pumps and fix them myself. 

     I told Ally and Jean that I thought that I could fix that well pump. Although this was out of the scope of what International Medical Relief usually does, they agreed to send me to the island with the natives but could not send any other team members with me. I would be missing a day of clinic with the team but if there was a chance that I could provide for this community a clean source of potable water it would be for the greater good. To prevent Illness rather than treat it. 

     Two years ago, I was a very sad man. I felt that my life had no meaning and I wanted it to change. a dear friend introduced me to Amy Jordheim and I got involved with International Medical Relief. I took a trip to Ethiopia six months ago that forever changed my outlook and my life. When I signed on for the effort in Uganda and began fundraising, I told most everyone that doing this work, for me, was like I was dying of thirst and had been given the job passing out water.  I will say that again: “I was dying of thirst and had been given the job passing out water”. 

     When I arrived in Uganda, Jean had no idea that I had been using “passing out water” as a metaphor for how my own life had changed. the first interaction that I had with her, Jean gave me the job to see to it that the team had… water. It would be my responsibility to see to it that there was an adequate water supply on the bus for team before each day of clinic and ironically, the room I stayed in while in Jinja Uganda was right off of the supply room/kitchen so every night and every morning I would lift the heavy water jugs to fill the water bottles for every member of the team. 


     The following day as we were traveling to a small village near the border of Kenya I was reflecting on the people of Kisima island, their well, their need. Would I be able to fix their well? would I go there and fail? It was then that I remembered what I had said to so many, “I was dying of thirst and got the job passing out water”. I realized that I had been doing that very thing the entire time I had been in Uganda to that point and that I now had the opportunity to give a sustainable source of water to an entire community. I was so grateful at the thought of it that I wept.

      The next day as the team prepared for another day of clinic, I loaded the water on the bus and then prepared for my own journey. We were working in a third world country, Ally and Jean who had spent a lot of time in Jinja with their work for Help International and the Help School in Masese both told me that the village on Kisima was the poorest place they had ever seen and that I needed to prepare myself for what I would see there.  

    After the rest of the team had departed, Ally and I travelled to the fishing village in Masese, but the boat for my passage had not yet arrived so we then travelled to Jinja to obtain the tools I would need to work on the pump. There were no tools at all on the island and none to be had in Masese. I had time to consider what my minimum needs would be for this job even though I had no idea what this pump even looked like and we were able to acquire everything with little difficulty. Ally “haggled” with the merchant as though she had been doing it her whole life. the tools were all placed in a cardboard box and we headed back to the fishing village.


    There were many boats at the fishing village but none of them would be anything close to what you would consider modern. Hand hewn wooden planks of mahogany, sealed with pitch with tin nailed over the seams. the boats all had exaggerated bows to cut through the swells of Victoria lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world that I imagine could have swells like that on the ocean.


     The boat would twist and flex with each swell and the spray covered us as we headed towards the Island. There were several nuns on board, one a teacher, the other, a nurse. We stopped at the sister Island, Kisima 2 and dropped one of the nuns off there. she climbed over the the bow of the boat and disappeared into the brush. There was a fisherman there wearing a shirt so tattered I wonder why he even bothered to put it on. Clearly it was the only shirt this man had. Pastor Franco told me there were 600 children that lived on Kisima2 but that there were no quarters for the teachers so they would come by boat every day. 


    We then set off for the Kisima, when we arrived, there was a woman quietly turning very small silverfish over in the sun. they were spread out on a 30 ft fine net in the sun to dry. The shore was lined with hand hewn fishing boats, several women were there filling large yellow jugs with Lake water. 


Pastor Franco, showed me his home, a very small mud structure with a tin roof.   He then showed me his church. a ten by twelve foot building made from salvaged boat hulls.


I met the pastors wife, Margret, his children, Mukisa Joel and Mwesigwa James, both were sick. 

As the pastor showed me around the island, children followed us, most wearing rags, some with the distended bellies of malnutrition. In Africa, white people are known as “Mzungu”. We’re viewed as saviors, caretakers and to many children, we’re ghosts. they are are once fearful of ..and drawn to the Mzungu.


He showed me the failed latrine, long since abandoned, the stalls filled with refuse, the fiberglass panels of the roof that had been installed for light had rotted through. The steel lids covering the holding tank accesses were rusted through. The Pastor told me that the stench from this latrine had become so unbearable with it filled up and that they had filled them as much as they could with ash to try and deal with the stench. 

    I asked him, “pastor, where do your people go to relieve themselves?” He just shrugged and said, “the nearest bush”. 

 Before I journeyed to Ambo Ethiopia with IMR earlier this year, I was encouraged to read the book, “Where there is no doctor”.   I studied that book. The people Of Kisima Island and how they lived mirrored those in that book to the letter. The lack of clean water, the lack of sanitation, how necessary it was for the people to dig latrines, but more than that, how these people did not understand why it was that they were all getting sick.

   Pastor Franco showed me the well pump. It had a goat tied to it. It obviously had not produced water in a very long time. the pastor introduced me to the elders of his tribe, those responsible for the well, the latrine and the boats as well as other men from the community. With the Pastors help as interpreter, I told them all that I wanted them to help me dismantle the pump so that we, as a group, could determine why it was not working. I told them that I wanted all of them to understand how the pumped worked, how it was able to pick water up from deep in the ground and that if they understood it, then they would be able to fix the pump themselves in the future. 


 We began taking the pump apart and I found that it was packed with debris. The lift chain rusted and seized, the lift rod was bent. We removed the well head and the attached pump handle, then working the lift rod up and down until it was free and working together we pulled its thirty foot length from the well riser. the foot valve at the bottom was completely fouled with rust and scale. 

 I showed the men there how the foot valve worked, that it would open when the handle was lifted pushing the valve deeper into the well and that it would close when the handle was pushed down thereby lifting the water in the riser. 

I showed them that the rust and scale would fall off of the pump rod and that if it fouled the valve it would no longer seal and the pump would no longer lift the water. they could then see how important it was for everything to be clean so we all scraped the rust and scale from every inch of the pumprod and footvalve. then I showed them that the small watertank at the head of the well and the water spout were both completely packed with rust, scale and sediment, so much so that no water could get though it at all. I told them everything would have to be cleaned and rinsed out but that it was very important that the well head be sealed to prevent anything from getting down in the well that might contaminate it. I asked the pastor for an old spoon that I could use to dig the rust and scale out. One of the men fetched a fork and I said that it would work if I just put a bend in it, Pastor Franco snapped it out of my hand and said, “No. please don’t ruin the fork, he will go and get you the spoon you requested” This fork was one of those cheap stamped aluminum ones you might find in an army mess kit. Yet it was so valuable to him. I was having trouble cleaning the spout and I needed a short piece of wire, I asked the pastor if he had an old coat hanger. I have improvised with old wire coat hangers in my life more times than I can count. when the man came with the coat hanger it was one that had been home made, fashioned from a piece of wire and I quickly cut it up without thinking that this was the only thing this man had to hang his coat on, later on, I felt terrible about it. I live in such abundance that I do things without thinking. I did get the spout clean. Then I had them fetch jugs of water from the lake and with the well head tightly sealed with a rag, we rinsed everything off.

Working together

 Then together we assembled the well pump. Once we were done, the Pastor himself began to pump the handle. Cheers of joy erupted as the water began to gush from the spout. They were so excited, each of them taking turns pumping the water. We placed a pan under the spout and I showed them that each time they filled it, the water would be cleaner than the time before, the rust would clear quickly. 


Even the children wanted turns at the handle. It is written, “With joy we draw water from the wells of salvation” Dying of thirst, drawing water for these whose thirst was now over. the joy as pure as the water coming out of the ground. Water is the foundation of life and these wonderful people now had a clean sustainable source.

 The pastor said that he wanted to honor me with a meal with his people, so we went to a special hut by the water, small handmade tables were brought in, and a pan with a jug of water to wash our hands. Margret bought in Talapia, Victoria lake perch and lion fish she had prepared as well as a potato like banana. The meal was delicious! 

I had some homemade oatmeal cookies with me that my daughter in law Janine Eckhart had baked. ( I must confess here that cookies do not fare very well being carried in a pack halfway around the globe so I lovingly referred to these as Janine’s Homemade Oatmeal Uganda Cookie Crush)  I asked Pastor Franco and the tribal elders if they would like to share them with me. they were very hesitant at first but lit up as they each tasted them. 

Pastor Franco asked if his wife Margret could try them and he sent for her. She was even more hesitant than the men.  Margret doesn’t know if she wants to try this or not.


(I love the twinkle in her eye here as she tastes this)

   After trying Janine’s cookies, Margret called for her children to share them them with us as well. 

She was laughing with joy that moment when I snapped a photo of her and her children in that little hut by Victoria Lake.  Of the 1400 pictures I took on this trip, this was the defining moment, The best photo of them all, this mother rejoicing over clean water for her children and janines home baked oatmeal cookies. 


  It is the best photo for me because I felt that I had come full circle. You see, I had been living with this  photo posted in my home of an Ethiopian woman and her child who had fled to Somalia during the famine in the early 1980s


  This photo haunted me for years. It looks somehow to me like the Madonna and the Christ child. The baby’s eyes are so piercing and the anguish on her face, the mother who would give anything for food for her child if only there was food to be had. I swore to myself that one day I would help. Who could have known that one day I would bring Joy, laughter, fresh water and *cookies* to this mother of sick children on the other side of the globe? 

We really can make a difference, you know?

 After dessert I settled in with the men from the village and and with Pastor Franco interpreting for me I explained Sodis to them, that if they did not have clean water, they could fill plastic water bottles with lake water and place them in the sun from morning to evening and the water would be fit for them to drink. I explained to them how the sun wold purify the water for them and that if they kept enough water bottles so that they could have a set up on the roof while they were drinking the other they would never run out of water that would not make them sick. 

 I explained to the men how the germs from the feces of their people could not help but be tracked back into their village by their people, children and animals because they were just leaving it on the ground. the feces were coming into the homes and getting into everything. I explained to them that this was what was contaminating their water and making their people sick. I explained to them how they needed to dig a latrine, that it did not have to be a big hole, just big enough to go in and that they could build a small tent over it, one they could easily move when the hole got full. I explained how important it was that the hole be filled with dirt before they moved the tent so that it was covered and nothing could get into it. I explained to them that if they followed what I taught them that their people would get well and there would not be nearly as much sickness in their village as there had been.

 We said goodbye to one another, I said goodbye to the children and climbed aboard that rickety boat and headed back to the mainland. 



 There are no words to express my gratitude to International Medical Relief for the opportunity…. the gift really, of serving these wonderful people. There are no words to express my gratitude to all my dear friends who helped me to do this work. I took all of you with me to this wonderful place. I was asked for a special story, some singular event that was meaningful, (I apologize for the length of this ) a way that I was touched by a person or a patient in Clinic. That is difficult for me because I have been touched in every single way and profoundly so, by the entire experience. The juxtaposition of moving from the great wealth of the United States through the grueling international travel to the crushing poverty of the third world to have a malnourished, sick child take you by the hand in love, reveals in us all ….our own humanity.

–John Eckhart

Advent Hope, Bubbling Up, and Nelson Mandela

Yesterday, Joanna asked us: “How do we live a hope filled life without then being one who only ‘looks through rose colored glasses’?”

It is a great question.  Is there a difference between optimism and hope?  I think we do well to remember the one who anchors our hope is Jesus Christ.  Our hope is not a general sense of goodness or well-being, or a “Don’t Worry – be Happy.” (Does anyone even remember that song?  Google it youth, you missed out on a whole phenomenon with that one.)

What does it mean to have our hope rooted in Jesus Christ?  I think it means the character of our hope ought to take on the character of the one in whom our hope rests. (Because it isn’t Pandora’s hope, after all, it is God’s hope resting in the one who is God-with-us.)

As God with us we know that Jesus sets aside glory and honor to take on flesh and blood, sin and grief.  That is to say our hope is decidedly not rose colored glasses.  It’s the opposite.  Hope takes an extra-long and very real look at suffering.  We know as well that our hope resides in one that died for us.  Our hope is not a self-serving thing of comfort, ease, and material well-being.  Our hope is rooted in the one who had nowhere to lay his head, who sought out the least and the lost, and chose as companions the ones that others had deemed unworthy.

But to come full circle this doesn’t mean our hope is less than rose colored glasses, or benign happiness.  The point is that our hope is so much more.  Our hope resides in the one who rose from the dead, who healed those left for dead, who united people across cultural and racial divides tearing down the dividing walls of hostility, the one who proclaimed along with the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) and more than proclaimed it by chapter seven when John the Baptist is wondering if Jesus is the one to come – the one in whom our hope resides – Jesus response is not to say yes or no.  But to say look what is happening in my wake?  Where I go hope rises; lives experience tangible good news.

The hope we find in Jesus is BIG.  It is world transforming.  Its aim is creation-wide.  But it’s accomplished one person at a time.  It starts at the bottom and bubbles up.  It sees the worst the world has to offer, and responds in counter-intuitive love and blessing.

You want tangible hope?  Why don’t we end this week’s reflection on hope in the most tangible and fitting manner.  With these words from Nelson Mandela who the world celebrates even as we mourn our loss in his death yesterday because his was a great spirit:

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

This is hope.

Illuminating Advent: Hope (day 1)

We began this week reflecting on Hope.  Each Monday of Advent our devotional will be a synopsis of the sermon from the day before and then Joanna and I will continue through the week with a conversational devotion continuing those thoughts in various trajectories.  So how does scripture illuminate hope, we asked yesterday in worship?  When we illuminate the darkness two things happen.  We being to see what something isn’t – that isn’t the bogey man under our bed, it’s my dirty clothes.  And we begin to see more clearly what something is.  So what did we see about the hope that is routed in Jesus Christ?

This hope in Jeremiah 33:14-16, Romans 8:18-25, and 1 Peter 1:3-9 wasn’t a promise that life would be easy.  Even those who have the first fruits of creation, Paul tells us, still groan in labor pains with all of creation. We are still waiting for something not yet fully realized.  Our hope is not a panacea that promises an easy journey.  Our hope also doesn’t promise an escape from this world to some idealized place removed from here.  Jeremiah reminds us that the messiah links our past, present, and future.  Hope is dirty and rooted in earth.  God intends not to redeem me – God intends to redeem (all of) creation.  Nothing is getting scrapped (God reminds God’s self of that with every rainbow).  Hope doesn’t promise us escape and it also doesn’t promise that we can just sit by as bystanders because God’s work is incarnational – God’s work is in-the-flesh – and this reminds us that God works through human agency.  God called Abraham and Moses and Ruth; God calls Mary, Peter, and Paul.  God came in flesh: rooted not just in earth but working with all creation as partners in love and care.  God calls us.

So if hope is not about ease, retreat, or having our work done for us, what is hope?  Is there anything left to make hope have substance?

I think the essence of our hope in Jesus Christ is two-fold.  It’s that God’s creation is one.  We are all inter-connected; we are all called into neighbor-love in which we understand all that exists – people, earth, stars and sea – to be our neighbor.  We are not alone, nor are the tasks before us ours alone.  Our hope lies in a God who gathers in all of creation and binds us together in love.  We are not alone.

The other aspect of this hope is that God just doesn’t give up on us.  The parable of the prodigal son gets us in touch with our own elder brother bitterness.  Why do good if even the good-for-nothing younger brother that squandered his inheritance is rewarded in the end?  This is the wrong question, an understandable one, but the wrong one.  Flip that script.  The good news is that God doesn’t give up on us.  There is nothing we can do that makes God love us less.  There is nothing we can do that puts us outside of God’s grace.  There is nothing we can do that puts us beyond the reach of hope.  God doesn’t give up.  This is our hope.

I leave you, again if you were here Sunday, with this story.  My son Warren loves playing video games (he gets that from me) and he gets extremely frustrated by them (sadly he gets that from me too).  He annoys Caroline and me to no end with his whining about them.  I take the phone away or turn off the PlayStation. I tell him to either stop letting the game bother him or stop playing.  But he won’t.  He is determined to prove his efforts to win aren’t futile.  (Subject to futility anyone?)  Staunching determined.  He just won’t admit defeat.  So there he is – in tears with puffy eyes and contorted limbs – playing.  (I’m not exaggerating here.  And this is what he does for fun?)  And then I realized there is something of God in this.  No creation isn’t a video game.  God isn’t simply controlling us like a giant APP on God’s iPhone.  But God is engaging us day after day hoping it all goes right, vexed that it doesn’t and yet unable to give up on us, unable to give up on creation, unable to imagine that it is not futile but in fact is the groaning and moaning of labor that is birthing something we cannot yet see but know to be a reality.  So day after day God engage us again. Generation after generation God – lamenting the brokenness of creation – endeavors to work it towards good.  And this – this God contorted and weeping with loving frustration is our hope, because the maker of all that exists is so determined to make it all work to good that God is not capable of giving up on anyone or anything.

We are not alone.  We are bound together.  We are the people of a God incapable of giving up on us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.