Category Archives: Faith

Coming, Going, And Epiphany.

I love things that make me stop and take note. There’s an East European tradition of blessing homes for the Epiphany and marking the lintel above the front door with an inscription written in blessed chalk. The ritual can involve the blessing of each room in the house as well. I’ve read stories about clergy who wandered through towns carrying chalk, holy water, and a step ladder. While having chalk that’s blessed and holy water to sprinkle, and even the presence of clergy is a clear way of showing that what is happening is sacramental, it’s not the easiest thing to arrange. Especially at the last minute.

Still, the idea of beginning the year by thinking about the things I want to take place in the rooms of my home? The ways I want to be? The ways I’d like us to be? Where will my family come together to be quiet? Where will we be still? My family is as busy as most. I can’t imagine that the day will come where we pay someone to create that space. But, you never know. I like the idea of talking about what our mealtime should be like. Of sharing our hopes for what happens to the people who sleep and play and do homework in each room. Of asking my kids about their hopes. Naming and claiming each room together might be a wonderful family activity.

If you’re inspired, why not bring this Epiphany tradition to life this weekend? Bless your home and mark it with chalk: 20+C+M+B+12. The numbers match the year and the letters have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar; they also stand for the Latin, “Christus Mansionem Benedicat”, which means, “May Christ bless this house.”

The crosses remind us of Christ, and the holiness of the magi. You write the words above the front door, so that every time you come and go, you are reminded of what you claimed, and of the blessing.

How you do it can be as simple as praying the Lord’s prayer together, asking God to bless everyone in the family, and everyone who visits this year. Then you write the inscription above your front door with chalk. Everyone can write part of the inscription, too. Want a prayer that’s already written? You can find a few options here.

I like the idea of revisiting the claims for God’s blessing, each time I see the markings on the lintel. Part of that is because I don’t have any memory of successfully keeping a resolution made once, and late at night. You know the ones I am referring to. Well, aside from writing the correct year on checks. Every year I have to learn that one over, and over, again. It’s not that I’m not trying. The repetition helps. If I didn’t write it again and again, I’m not sure the change would sink in.

That matches the sense I have, that most of the time, that change happens step by step. It’s incremental, the product of ongoing reflection, and action with intention. I choose again, and again, and again, the way a painting comes together, brush stroke after brush stroke.

Parker Palmer says that the call of Christmas is “to be born and born and re-born, again, and again, and again.” A few weeks ago I wrote, about the “yes” we give each other, and the “yes” that babies require, because they’re so delicate, and fragile. When we have the courage to be ourselves, in those moments, I think we’re as delicate as babies. And yet as they grow up, or as our marriage partnerships continue, we can forget that simple truth.

All the more reason to stop and consider who it is that we share our lives with, as we come and go.


Sunday’s Word: Yes!

And Mary said,

Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
just as you say.

Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:37, The Message)

I’m not one who believes that there is one person out there for everyone. One true love. One best friend. One partner in crime. Instead, I think there are people to whom we say yes. Like Mary.

From what I can tell, most of us aren’t visited by angels when it happens. It’s more like we think the person we’re giving our yes to, is an angel. What makes that happen? What leads us to say yes? Is it the chemistry of our pheromones? Something the other says that makes us laugh? Might it simply be that in a given moment, they’re there? Or they say or do something that shows us they understand who we are in a way, we think, no one else ever has? Maybe it’s us too? Maybe we change. Maybe it’s just that, we’re ready. It’s a mystery to me.

Early, in my second year of college, I found myself with a pair of tickets to a concert. Who to take, I wondered. Should I ask Abigail? Zelda? Everyone in between? I thought it might take that. To my roommate, the answer was obvious. “You have to take Mary (not her real name). She’s already said yes.” “What are you talking about? She couldn’t have. I just got the tickets!” He smiled and asked, “When you go to the dining hall for breakfast, who do you eat with?” “Mary.” “Is she already there, or does she come and join you?” “Usually, she’s there. I walk in, and she’s there.” “Everyday or just once in a while?” he asked. “Every day.” “Every single day? Really?” “Yes.” “And dinner? What about dinner?” “I usually eat dinner with her too.” I paused. “Oh my God.” “Yeah,” he said. “I thought you’d never figure it out.”

I asked her. She said, “Yes.” And for the next four years we gave our yes, to each other.

Last night I watched the 2003 film, Love Actually. The film tells not one, or two, but eight different love stories. What I love most about the film is the way it captures the varied forms of awkwardness that falling in love, and giving your yes, entails. The awkwardness is always there, at least for me. And our inability to see mutual affection when it’s staring us in the face? The way I couldn’t with my Mary? That’s often part of it too.

For me, one of the wonders of the film is the way it spends time showing characters coming into the awareness that giving someone your yes, isn’t just about saying that one word, or the familiar three (I love you). It’s a response you give with your whole being. When you do that, this little three letter word, becomes everything. The orientation of your life changes, fundamentally. To me, that’s the wonder of Mary’s yes in the story of the Nativity. We are only told that she “pondered” the angels words, not what that looked like.

Recently, friends of mine adopted twins. When I learned this, I thought, “Wow! What courage!” And, also, “Oh my! I wonder if they have any idea of what they’re in for.” Babies… Women have them, and you bring them home. Or you birth them in a tub as if it were the most natural thing in the world, which it is. There’s no test to pass. No class to take, or degree to obtain, in parenting. There are manuals, yes. Mostly, they don’t help. Fact is, most kids grow up thinking their folks are certifiable with good reason. We are learning as we go. Being a parent, takes courage every day. Mary, must have had a helluva lot of courage. Joseph too, for that matter. They did not know what they were in for. Like my friends, they both, said yes.

I often hear parents say that they live for their children. There is an obvious reason for that. Babies require so much care, that if we expect them to live, they have to become the center of our lives. Children live, and thrive, because people in their lives have the courage to say, yes. And by the way, for what it’s worth, I think the most honest book a new parent can read is Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions., It’s marvelous, honest and hilarious.

We’re one week away from Christmas. One week from celebrating love, actually coming into the world and dwelling in our midst. That baby, like all babies, asks us to to make him the center of our world. He asks us, for our yes. What does it look like for you to listen the way Mary did? What does it mean to take action, to give your yes? My guess, is that you won’t see any angel as you ponder these questions. If you do, it’ll be in the form of a friend or a stranger unexpectedly meeting a need you didn’t know you had.

I lied earlier. I do that, more often than I like to admit. There is one person out there for everyone. One true love. “Do not be afraid” about giving him your yes. This babe, born in a manger, has already given you, his.

Merry Christmas!

Lent’s Compass. Day 20: You’re Not Necessarily Who You Think You Are.

I am a particular incarnationalist. I believe that we can understand cosmic questions only through particulars. I can understand God only through one specific particular, the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth. This is the ultimate particular, which gives me my understanding of the Creator and of the beauty of life. I believe that God loved us so much that he came to us as a human being, as one of us, to show us his love. ~ Madeleine L’Engle from an interview in Christianity Today, 1979.

A number of years ago several friends sat around and imagined things Jesus would never say. The list they came up with included such gems as:

– “Gimme that!”
– “OK, so you come out first and introduce me, then …”
– “Do I look fat in this?”
– “Comme ci, Comme ca” (with hand gesture)
– “If you really loved me you’d try harder.”
– “I’m disappointed with you.”

The list works because the statements are contrary to the person we read about in the Christian Bible. They don’t align with what he said, or how he lived. How many of us can say that? That our thoughts and words about how we should live or who we are are as people are in alignment with our actions? That they’re in alignment with the way we actually do live, every day?

One of the things I like about the Franklin Covey approach to managing time, is that you’re asked to spend time thinking about what your values are and to spell out what each value means to you. After that, you look at the relationship between what you value and the way you spend your time. You’re not asked to consider it once, but every time you plan. Once isn’t enough. To maintain alignment, you have to take stock again and again. That discipline is good practice.

You have to pay attention because it’s easy to lose track. It’s easy to think that the person we think we are and say we are and who our actions say we are, are the same. They’re not. We lie. We lie to others and to ourselves. A friend of mine said to me, “Do you know what I don’t like about Facebook? The way everyone seems to be living an extraordinary life, except me.” It’s not true of course. We’re all leading ordinary lives. What she’d noticed is the gloss that exists in Facebook posts.

The presence of some of the gloss is sometimes intentional. One Facebook friend loves to provoke arguments. To him, if it doesn’t spark controversy a post is boring. Some of the gloss is unintentional. Last year I went to my high school reunion. Several high school Facebook friends told me they look forward to seeing my cooking updates. Two more wondered when I joined the priesthood. I like sharing the meals I’m preparing. I’m deeply interested in the way people think what they’re supposed to do in this life. About vocation and also about the zen of being human. I didn’t think anyone would define me by those posts. Yet they did. It is also something I’ve done too. A friend mostly posts photos she takes. For a long time I thought she’d become a professional photographer.

It’s a short walk from believing the gloss we see on Facebook posts to missing the irony that happens when our actions move out of alignment with our thoughts or words. Before I started working as a coach and trainer, I ran coffee shops for Starbucks. I remember hearing a free-spirited member of my staff having a conversation with a customer about the evils of corporate coffee. She explained how she preferred getting her coffee from independent shops. She did that while working a shift for Starbucks. She was one of my top performers. This same woman enjoyed her job enough to spend chunks of her free time at Starbucks. She never let on that she was aware that who she thought she was, who she said she was and who her actions said she was, were different things.

When our thoughts and words and actions are out of alignment, our being changes.

Pay attention. Take stock. Are you the person you think you are?

Lent’s Compass. Day Fifteen: Becoming An Icon To The Invisible.

It would be easier to be an atheist; it is the simple way out. But each time I turn toward that wide and welcoming door it slams in my face, and I–like my forbears–Adam, Eve–am left outside the garden of reason and limited, chill science and the arguments of intellect. Who is this wild cherubin who whirls the flaming sword ‘twixt the door to the house of atheism and me? ~ Madeleine L’Engle A Cry Like A Bell, p. 23.

This video reflection is from Peter Rollins 2010 Insurrection tour. It’s stuff to chew on.

To Doubt Divine from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.

Lent’s Compass. Day Fourteen: The Super-man God (Continued).

A friend objects: Can’t God do any or all of those things you listed yesterday? If God is all-powerful, then why couldn’t that be the case?

I suppose God could. That’s not the real issue.

A few weeks ago, Sweets handed me several pieces of torn rubbery plastic “Polly Pocket” clothing and asked, “Daddy, can you fix this?” I looked at the pieces and realized there wasn’t any hope. I did what most Dads do. I told her I’d try. I added that I wasn’t sure that anything could be done. She’s approaching nine and is becoming aware that even if it’s somehow possible, her Dad has limited skills. She’s young enough that she doesn’t hold that against me. Yet. Time was, when she truly believed that I could find a way to repair most things. She’d look at me with puppy eyes, present what needed repair, and say, “Daddy?” I would do what I could to meet her requirements. Often I prevailed upon the gods of Target, Walmart and Amazon, along with the angel Google, to achieve the desired result.

If the way God is present in your life is to rescue you from situations where you didn’t plan, or use your time well. If your primary act of faith is that you turn to God the way my daughter used to turn to me? Then God is someone you’re using to meet your needs. A Super-man, not the one we ask to “make us true servants.”

Make us true servants to all those in need , filled with compassion
in thought word and deed: loving our neighbor, whatever the cost,
feeding the hungry and finding the lost.

Lord, make us prophets to cry out the way, telling the nations of
mercy’s new day. Let us break barriers of hatred and scorn,
speaking of hope to all people for lorn.

Lord, make us healers of body and mind; give us your power to
bring sight to the blind; Love to the love- less and gladness for pain,
Filling all hearts with the joy of your name.
~ Susan G Wente

Lent’s Compass. Day Six: Piles of Laundry.

John of Kronstadt, a Russian priest of the nineteenth century, counseled his penitents to take their sins of omission and commission, when they get too heavy, and hang them on the cross. . . . Sometimes when I hang on the cross something which is too heavy for me, I think of it as being rather like the laundry lines under out apple tree, when I have changed all the sheets in the house. The wind blows through them, the sun shines on them, and when I fold them and bring them in in the evening they smell clean and pure. If I could not hang my sins on the cross I might tend to withdraw, to refuse responsibility because I might fail. . . . ~ Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season, p.48

Sweets wears a uniform at school. It’s simple. A collared white shirt and navy bottoms. When she gets home she changes her clothes. She changes again at night before going to bed, wearing the set of PJ’s that strike her fancy.

Bud’s school doesn’t require uniforms to be worn. Invariably he wears a hoodie with jeans. At the end of most school days, he’s broken through whatever 24-hour deoderant was lathered on that morning. His chosen product is with him at all times. He doesn’t change after school. If something smells off, he layers on more deoderant. It helps. A little.

Generally, the clothing they wear is worn once and put it in the hamper to be washed. Every few days the hamper overflows. It’s as if the clothing is reproducing like a Tribble on Star Trek. Rabbits seem celibate in contrast.

I change my clothes daily too.  What I don’t do is place a pair of clean pants in the laundry after one wearing.  A sweater may simply need to be aired out. And hats? I think the last time I washed a hat it turned into a yarmulke with a bill.

What kind of a life do you want to lead? A good one or bad? A good one of course! Given our consumerism and tendencies towards exceptionalism, it’s not just a good life that we want to lead. It’s the good life.

In that small shift we lose the Golden Rule and miss the point. We’re off target. That’s sin. It takes away from who we are. It stains us, the way dirt stains an article of clothing. If we are to hold onto the Golden Rule, living a good life and living well looks more like making life good for others.

We strive and we fall short. Either through words and actions that make another persons life harder or by choosing not to do or say things to make their lives better. During Lent many repent for these sins by giving something up as penance for their failure.

Sometimes that negative reinforcement works. Sometimes it’s just short term withholding. A minor punishment to make up for who and what we’re not. But what if we look at this season a little differently? What if we follow the advice of Joan Chittister and use the season as an “opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not.” What if we make it “not about penance. . . . [but] about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.”

“We have refused for years, perhaps, to even think about renewing old commitments that we’ve allowed to go to dust — spending time with the children, visiting our parents, exercising, taking time to read good books. We’ve closed our minds, maybe, to the thought of reconciling with old friends whom we have hurt. . . . Lent is the time to let life in again.”

Perhaps it’s time to treat our sin the way Sweets treats her clothing. If it stinks, don’t lather on another layer of deoderant. Send it right to the spiritual hamper! With laundry everything comes out in the wash. Yes, sometimes you have to pre-treat and if you don’t read the label or think, an item might be permanently changed. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred? Your favorite shirt comes out as good as new. It’s not new, but that doesn’t matter, it is fresh and clean and light. Like dirt, sin washes out. And that ninety-ninth time when something changes you forever? That’s character.

Lent’s Compass. Day Five: Quakes, Waves and Sonnets

“You mean you’re comparing our lives to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle In Time.

Like many, I’ve been thinking about the tsunami that followed Thursday’s earthquake in Japan. The event calls to mind our agreement regarding what L’Engle–in comparing life to a sonnet–calls the “strict form” of life.

We live most days without thinking about the way we agree on the nature of this “strict form.” We know to avoid casual conversations about politics, religion and the specifics of how another parent should raise their child. We share a clear agreement to not discuss these things in public.

Many of us also lean towards the hopeful side of the form, believing that if we pray hard enough, hope hard enough, believe hard enough and work hard enough, only good things will happen in our lives. Less daringly, we urge each other to do these things so that circumstances will get better.

Watching the waters wash everything away is stunning and transcendent. Clearly there is nothing a single person can do “hard enough” to slow the waters inland push. We are pulled towards two forms of the same question: Why? and How could God let this happen?

Aside from a discussion concerning the science of plate tectonics, these are not questions that can be answered.

That doesn’t mean folks won’t try. Glenn Beck is already echoing Pat Robertson from a year ago. He is blaming the victims, assuring his listeners that there is a reason! I’m not sure if he’s thought of one yet, but I won’t be surprised if he does.

At America Magazine, James Martin, Why Do We Suffer? discusses perspectives on the question offered by the Jewish and Christian traditions. If you’re as flummoxed by the question as I am, the full piece is worth the read.

At the end of the story Martin notes that because a question cannot be answered, it doesn’t mean that you have to blindly accept the result:

“When we are suffering, our friends will want to help us make sense of our pain, and they will often offer answers . . . Some answers may work for us. Others may leave us cold or even be offensive. But, in the end, every believer must come to grapple with suffering for ourselves. And while our religious traditions also provide us with important resources, ultimately, we must find an approach that enables us to confront pain and loss honestly with God.”

Earthquakes, Tsunamis and all manner of natural disasters challenge faith. We have visceral reaction to hearing words that blame others for them. I think that shows we’re aware that it’s a mistake to do so. When we blame God for not stopping these events, I think we make a similar error.

We cannot answer the question of why suffering happens. It is part of the “strict form” of life. Perhaps the freedom within the strict form of our sonnets, isn’t found in the answer to why suffering happens. Instead, maybe it’s found in the way we respond to it.

Lent’s Compass. Day Three: Unrequited Love

Unrequited Love by Jude Simpson

Jesus is in turmoil.
He can’t stop thinking about you.
Every moment without you feels like eternity.
He blushes whenever someone mentions your name.
His heart skips a beat when you walk in the room
any room
every room
he’s in all of them.

Jesus lies awake at night trying to think of ways to get your attention.
He composes emails to you that never get sent.
He really has to force himself not to follow you home.

Jesus remembers every word you’ve ever said to him, and I mean every word
though to be fair, there aren’t a great deal.
Only on occasions,
when something feels like it’s about to go really wrong.
Once when your Nan died.

Yesterday, Jesus spent half an hour just trying out your name with his –
how good you would sound as a couple – Jesus and Shaun – or Shaun and Jesus?
He’s tried swapping surnames – both ways.
He thinks Jesus Penlington sounds marginally better than Alison Christ.

Jesus keys your name into Google at least twice a week
The results are always the same –
an obscure mention in someone else’s blog,
and the medal table of a judo competition when you were twelve –
but even so, it still makes him feel very slightly closer to you.

You see, Jesus wants to be with you all the time.
He could sit all night just watching you sleep
Sometimes he does,
but not very often,
in case you wake up and think he’s a psycho.
That might not help.

Jesus tries to say to himself, that he just wants you to be happy
but he doesn’t.
He just wants you to be happy with him.
Jesus bought the Zutons new album last week.
He overheard you mention that you like the Zutons.
If you ever come round, he’s not sure what he’ll do.
He might have to hide it in case you realise he only bought it
because of you.

But if he’s feeling confident, he’ll casually leave it out, and when
you see it he’ll go, “yeah, I love the Zutons – what –
you do too? Wow, that’s amazing! Hey, actually –
what a coincidence!
I’ve got two tickets for their next gig next week
and my mate’s just pulled out – I don’t suppose you’d …..

But it’s all just a fantasy,
what can he do if you don’t even seem to notice him?
You are Jesus’ hero and you haven’t got a clue.
Sometimes Jesus feels like you don’t even know he exists.

~ original post found here:

I’m spending Lent working through 40-Day Journey with Madeleine L’Engle (40-Day Journey) Each day’s entry begins with a quote of L’Engle’s followed by questions to ponder, journal reflections and prayers for the day. I’m using the quotes as writing prompts for my own reflection, which I’ll share here. Sometimes, like today, the quote will spin in my head and remind me of someone else’s work and reflection. I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to post. I’d like to do a daily post, but that might be beyond the scope of what I’m able to do. There may be pauses in between posts, where life takes me to different places and keeps me from sharing my thoughts here. We’ll see.

And so, the first three posts move from agape’s unconditional love, to the impossible becoming real and now Jude Simpson’s “Unrequited Love.” The link to Simpson was triggered by a quote about false expectations. You may find yourself chewing on both.

“We have false expectations of our holy days, of our churches, of each other. We have false expectations of our friends. Jesus did not. He had expectations, but they were not false, and when they were not met, he did not fall apart. He was never taken in by golden calves! Friendship not only takes time, it takes a willingness to drop false expectations, of ourselves, of each other. Friends – or lovers – are not always available to each other. Inner turmoils can cause us to be unhearing when someone needs us, to need to receive understanding when we should be giving understanding.” ~Madeleine L’Engle