Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent from the Underside: 4th Sunday, Hope Amid the Scattered Thoughts and Aching, Proud Hearts

Advent from the Underside: I met the hope of the world this morning in worship on this 4th Sunday of Advent, the day we set aside to wait in hope. (It was not DT.)
In part, the Luke reading went like this: “And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
When I asked for prayer requests, the lowly and the least among us prayed: “For the refugee’s please Lord. They are lost and afraid, the separated from family and friends, the familiar and friendly. So am I. I would offer them a home, Lord, a place to live. I know what it’s like. Let them come. May they find peace, and hope, safety and a new home, Lord.” And, I would add, and so may you. Amen.
Perhaps it is a good time for we as individuals, and as a nation, to open our hearts to the truth of our need of God’s forgiveness and salvific grace. Surely, we are living days when the thoughts of the proud are scattered and, more and more, we know the aching danger of living among empty, prideful hearts….

Friday, December 11, 2015

New Directions, Light in the Darkness

I am not the leader of one of the historic mainline Protestant denominations. That is likely a very good thing. But I am an ordained Presbyterian minister and a hospital Chaplain in Behavioral Health for over two decades. I listen to people for a living. I listen with an ear to truly, deeply understanding their pain and, with close attention, to the whispers and movements of the Holy Spirit in their hearts and in their living.

I know that the great majority of the people I see are deeply longing to be lifted out of despair and anxiety, they are longing for a reliable voice of hope in the dark, wilderness of these difficult and confusing days. More and more, I listen to people who cannot hear or identify that voice in the mainline Protestant Churches. Often, they would like to but even if they hear a word of hope and grace, of forgiveness and compassionate direction, they fear, based on strong experience, they cannot trust the actions of the leaders and the people to be follow suit.

We church people are quick to defend that among leadership and the people, Christ calls and gathers sinners and the broken. That is most certainly true, I am a huge sinner and quite broken—as are we all. But defenses, especially, those often practiced and employed, prevent our growth toward deeper and more authentic union with Christ. The more we practice them, the more the relieve us of our faithful responsibility of inviting the Holy Spirit to heal and grow our hearts and communities of faith beyond the boundaries of our broken-sinfulness into deeper and more authentic union with Christ. Jesus is the way the truth and the life (John 14). To know Jesus’ truth, to grow closer to God, to live our great mission of participating in bring about God’s Kingdom in this world, we cannot hide from our own sin and brokenness—our own truth.

Mainline Protestants leaders, local pastors and congregations now have an amazing invitation to stand on a national and world stage (pulpit) proclaiming the truth of the heart of the Gospel before the mania, mayhem and message of Donald Trump’s run for President of the United States.   
In my email I have received statements by two of the major Protestant Denominations denouncing Trump’s latest statements about banning our Muslim sisters and brothers from our nation founded on religious freedom. It seems opportune for the leadership of these denominations, and all others, to take a more public and united stand. And, it seems well for the rest of us, clergy and lay, to follow suit from the pulpit, in adult and youth/children’s education, around the water cooler, board room table and on the 19th hole to do the same.

Based on what I hear from people who are honestly, and in earnest, seeking places of spiritual, communal and social compassion and integrity to call home, such a prayerful, public, faith-filled commitment to concerted action might be a good way to witness being Church in new way for this new mullein. Witnessing our faith in Christ with the integrity of our actions such that the people trapped in the land of deep darkness can see the shining light of Christ (Is. 9).  Jesus is the way, the truth and the light….


Thursday, December 3, 2015

2015 Mass Shootings and a Prayer on the Declaration of Independence

More mass shooting in 2015 than there have been days. Impotent leadership. After so long, even the most ardent prayers only placate. Sadness. Anger. Grief. Fear.  I am coming to believe that as sharers in the sin-sick soul of this nation, we each more Helen Lovejoy than Sojourner Truth.
My prayers today and from now on are for the victims and the community of San Bernardino and far too many others, for the parents of special needs kids and those who are for them everywhere who are sleeping and living less easy in these days.

My prayers are no longer for our leaders, for they, again, have run from the call. My prayers are now for the American people, especially for the women in America, that we must now, as we have done in the past, lead a reluctant nation to recover its right mind and heart, to remind or leaders that the governed do not consent to life as we have come to know it in 2015. We now live in a land where the self-evident truths of the Constitution are not being upheld. If we are not safe from violence we perpetrate   against ourselves, pointing only fingers of blame scapegoated others rather than examining the conscience of our common life, no person or groups of persons in this land is equal. As we are slaughtering one another in the street, at seemingly random times and in disparate and random places, we are cannot live any common life that was worth the lives and sacrifices of our Founders. We are by no means a free nation if we carry arms against one another for our fear. Rather, we are slaves of ignorance and despair.  None among us can be happy if we cannot ever find new meaning and hope, renewed life and greater purpose on the other side of our grieving, for as yet, it has no end.

It is not our leaders who have wondered far from our Creator, is us. And it is only we, in prayer and repentance, action and dedication, who can begin the long slow of return. Amen.   

“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.” 
Sojourner Truth

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

Monday, November 30, 2015

First Week of Advent from the Underside: How Will You Prepare?

If you live in the US, you celebrate Christmas, even if you aren’t religious, or a Jewish or are Buddhist or are Whatever. Given our national obsession with making money at of the Birth of Jesus, even if you cover at work so your Christian friends can be with their families or eat Chinese food and go to the movies, your life here in the US is different in some way on the 25th of December.

We are currently in the season of preparation for Christmas. If you follow the recommendations of the merchants, you are making shopping and gift lists and checking them twice and probably not caring a whit who’s been naughty or nice.

In the Christian Church this season of preparation and waiting for Christmas is called the Advent Season. During the four weeks preceding Christmas, Christians wait in hopeful expectation, prepare spiritually for the birth of Jesus. It is common for Christians to mark the days with spiritual practices intended to help them open their hearts and minds in new ways to receive the gifts of new life, hope, and salvation born into the world in the Holy Child of Bethlehem.

Whether or not you self-identify as religious or claim Christianity as your own,  you can still spend some time in this season of preparation for Christmas to prepare spiritually for the celebration on the 25th.

 The birth of Jesus celebrates hope, love and joy born anew into the world.                                                           
Preparing for Love: Identify and act on a concrete way you can increase love in your life this week. Or, perhaps you can reconnect with  friend you haven’t talked with in a while, give an extra dollar in the Salvation Army kettle, or try to be understanding in a relationship where you feel not all that understood….
Preparing for hope: Think back over your life to a time when you were faced with overwhelming odds that you overcame over time. What did you learn about own strength and resilience that you hadn’t know before. Now, spend some time  thinking about a difficulty you’re currently facing, recommit to that struggle with renewed hope in the reaffirmation of the depths and grace of your own resilience.  
Preparing for salvation: Think about the Holy, the Divine, God as you have come to know the Sacred in your life. Call to your mind’s eye an image that speaks to you of this reality. And, breathe. Relax into the Presence of grace and compassion, safety and peace. Breathe. Relax. Feel at home and be grateful. Be grateful for your day, for the big and little thing, for the people and pets, for the blessing of the good and the wisdom gained from the bad. Think about the Holy, the Divine, God as you have come to know the Sacred in your life. Be grateful and say, Amen.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The End is Always Near
First Sunday of Advent 2015, from the Underside
Kintsugi Meditations for a Broken World 

Luke 21: 25-28:  “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

This is not an easy passage to preach, especially, when those in the pew are still recovering from a weekend of turkey coma, Black Friday shopping, initial Christmas decorating  and surviving annual visits with extended family. Hope is the liturgical theme for the first Sunday of Advent, but picture of hope here in Luke’s gospel is in the midst of distressing times filled with bleak struggle and fear. Not kind of thing we want bouncing around in our minds when we’re trying to pick out the fullest and most symmetrical White Pine on Boy Scout Troop 108’s lot before we head home to football on the couch….

But they are powerful words of hope for these days. Even on the couch in our own living rooms, we cannot avoid the intrusion of violence, and death, refugees and protests, a nation divided over race and power, privilege and the absence of hope. Human life is always filled with destruction and violence, Luke and, our difficult times lived early in the digital-age of perpetual news cycle sources all around us, simply call a reality, most of us do our best to avoid, into sharp focus. Luke’s assurance, is exactly what  we are needing to hear: when things seem the most hopeless, our redemption, our hope, is drawing near.

What can we do? The passage makes it clear, we are not to turn away, of faith with fear and foreboding. We are to raise up, to take a stand, to open our hears and lives to the hope that is our faith, to seek to draw near to our Redeemer even as he is drawing near to us.
What will you do this Advent to draw closer to our Redeemer, to be the light of Hope in the darkness of our world?  

Kintsugi Meditation for the First Sunday of Advent:

Invite Jesus, our Redeemer, to be present with you. Call to your mind’s eye an image that speaks to you of Jesus’ love and protection, grace and hope.

Focus on your breath, sit silently, allow Jesus’ love and protection, grace and hope to fill you. 

Relax. Relax. Relax. Pray the Holy Spirit guide you and open your heart to the Still Small Voice during this sacred time.   

Pray Jesus keep you safe, well, happy and peaceful.

Ask Jesus to keep you safe, to keep your heart safely within his own heart, to keep your mind safely within his wisdom. Pray that Jesus keep you safe.

Pausing….. Focus on your breath.

Pray Jesus keep you well. That he would keep you from times of trial, from the despairs of suffering and grief, from the grasping for false idols in anxiety and fear. May Jesus keep me well.  

Pausing….. Focus on your breath.

Pray Jesus open you to happiness, that he open your heart and mind to the truth of your own divine wonder and awe, knit into you in the womb of your mother. Ask that you know the joy of living your birthright, the authenticity of the blessed beauty of who you were created to be.

Pausing….. Focus on your breath.

Pray that Jesus grant you the peace that surpasses all human understanding, that your heart and mind, that your entire being is so joined with his love and forgiveness that you are not dependent on the things or situations of this word for peace, hope and joy, but on Him.

Pausing….. Focus on your breath.

A brief prayer of gratitude for this time…. Our Father…. Amen. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Most Saturday mornings, I travel about 45 minutes west to the town of Woodstock, Illinois,  film location for the Bill Murray classic film, Groundhog’s Day, and home to the BlueLotus Buddhist Temple (BLT).  I’m about 25 years into a contemplative Christian mediation practice, mostly using the Ignatianpractices of Contemplation of Scripture, the Examine and Contemplation inAction.  I’ve had a Jesuit Spiritual Director for the past 25 years and am unimaginably grateful for their patience, wisdom and the gracious presence of the Holy Spirit in the living of my prayer.

About three years ago, I began to feel and discern that I was getting in my own way at prayer. I longed and desired to grown closer to our risen and incarnate Lord, but seemed unable to open my own mind to allow the Holy Spirit to lead me.  I was, also, after so many years, longing deeply for a spiritual community seeking the still small voice of the Holy in shared silence. This longing seemed congruent with my deep spiritual roots in Reformed Theology and its emphasis on Christ’s Covenant Community.   

With the encouragement of noble Buddhist friends, I made my way to the BLT and began to sit regular meditation with the sangha (the community of those gathered in Buddhist meditation).

A foundational Buddhist chant affirms Buddha’s teaching that all human experience springs from our minds “Mind is first.” It continues that our actions, for good or for ill are the result of our thoughts. There is no refuge in “the devil made me do it!” (sorry to  Geraldine and Flip Wilson), nor, is there the luxury of the convoluted hubris in Christian refuge of, “I give all the glory to God.” In Buddhism, for good or for ill, we are responsible for our actions and before that the thoughts that got us there.
I am not a Buddhist. In my Christian ontology, God knit us in our mother’s wombs and we are made with wonder and awe (Psalm 139). The loving grace of God’s creation precedes all that is, especially, my feeble mind. God’s forgiveness precedes my thoughts and actions, for good and ill.

Yet, it is exactly my thoughts, the order and the disorder of my thinking which is the pall that blinds my heart and mind  from experiencing and perceiving the exact same grace and forgiveness for which they long.    

Over the last three years, I have slowly, and with great unbidden resistance, only just begun to learn to so order my mind in silence so as to hear and know the leadings of the Holy Spirit into a more intimate relationship with our risen Lord.

Namaste and Amen.  


Friday, November 27, 2015

Being a Chaplain in a Psychiatric Hospital and not a parish pastor has led me to develop a bit of a niche adapting to the Spiritual But Not Religious seekers. With Thanksgiving just past and Christmas on the horizon, I was asked to develop a seasonal practice for a mother to share with her daughter to focus in gratitude and compassion.

Below, I’ve outlined a two part practice that based on an adaptation of Loving-Kindness Mediation combined with a focus on service and justice for them to share in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  

Part I. Nightly Loving-Kindness Meditation—I know this looks long on paper and can seem long at first but with regular practice it’s about 10 minutes. You can play Native American flute music or some other background music—youtube is full of music for meditation, find one you two like. You can also use chants, Christmas music…. Light a candle, have a little pine bough and flower in a vase, invite the dog…. Whatever makes it a Sacred and special time for you both.
Lead her in this guided breath meditation:
                                Have her focus on her breath…. In-out-in-out. Relax…. Relax… Relax…. Have her picture in her mind’s eye a person, pet, place or activity where she feels safe and compassionately held. Focus on your breath in this place of safety and compassion…. And,….. relax……
                Now wish for yourself, or pray for yourself: May I be safe, may I be well, may I be happy, may I be peaceful.
                Focusing on your breath….. and…. Relax…..
May I be safe; safe in my own mind, safe in my own heart, safe in my own body, safe in my own life. May I be safe……
Now wish for yourself, or pray for yourself: May I be well; may I be in healthy relationship with myself; free from suffering and anxiety, free from grief and fear, free from loneliness and pain. May I be well in my relationship with myself. May I be well.
                Now wish for yourself, or pray for yourself: May I be happy; may I know the happiness that is my birthright, the happiness that comes from living deeply from the most authentic part of my being. May I be happy.
                Now wish for yourself, or pray for yourself: May I know the peace that passes all human understanding; the peace that lies in the deepest and most silent recesses of my soul, that deep secret place where the Divine dwells.  May I know peace.
This pattern is then repeated calling to mind her family, loved ones, good friends (pets can be included too).
                Then the pattern is repeated for all those struggling and suffering in the world. You can name specific groups, like children living at Home of the Sparrow or PADS, children living in violence in the Westside of Chicago or among refugee families.

Part II. Called to Serve With Compassion and Gratitude.
                Find a focus for each week before Christmas (this time in the Church is called Advent, a season of spiritual preparation for the birth of Jesus)— children living at Home of the Sparrow or PADS, children living in violence in the Westside of Chicago or among refugee families. You will tie this into the loving-kindness meditation above. Just to get your started check out: Look up their “Ministries” tab. or, Woodstock Bible Church Food Bank and Soup Kitchen,
  Hope this is what you had in mind. Hope you and all those you love are happy and well.

Take good care,