Thursday, September 26, 2013

Watch where you walk

Ok, the subject heading for this blog has multiple meanings for me, but just to get one of them out of the way - yes, we have 2 dogs (our beloved Rose and Cooper) and so watching where we step is just a normal way of traversing the lawn for us.

Those who are unsteady on their feet or have the natural tendency towards clumsiness (like myself) need to watch our steps to stay upright.  Or what about watching where I walk as a practice of attentiveness to the world around us.  Like my Blurry Lives post, we can miss a great deal around us when we fail to remain alert.  I think of a time hiking with a friend who was intent on our destination while I find my eyes kept getting caught by the flash of a red salamander scurrying across our path, a bird winging through the trees or a small wildflower hidden amongst the dry leaves (of course it may be that I am easily distracted as well).

Yet. today this title speaks of the story of Moses' encounter with the great I AM in the book of Exodus.  It is one of my favorite biblical relationship revelations.  Moses is just minding his own business or actually that of his father in law Jethro.  From the palace of the Pharaoh to hiding out in the wilderness, Moses is trying to settle into a more "normal" life.  But God steps into his business, as well as our business today, grabbing our attention.

Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. (Exodus 3:2)

Whaaaaatttt?  What is this?  I've never seen anything like this before?   I must turn aside and look at this great sight said Moses (verse 3).

Moses' attention is grabbed and diverted from his regular routines and tasks.  Something different is going on!

And God called out to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses".  And he said "here I am"  Then he said, "Come no closer!  Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." (verses 4-5)

(I think whenever this is read that people should take off their shoes.  I think we need to feel the floor beneath our feet, no matter what it is - linoleum, wood, grass, carpet - to more intimately connect us to the earth beneath our feet, for we are on holy ground no matter where we are standing.)

Pay attention to where you are standing, walking, living.  Watch where you walk!

Watch where I walk?

More than just to keep us from stepping in or on something or to keep from falling.  More even than an attentiveness to the world around us - watch where you walk for this is holy, sacred ground.  Our footsteps mark the ground that was made by our Creator.  It is not just the physical earth beneath our feet that we need to heed, it is the places that we go and the people we meet.  Our lives are surround and imbued with the sacredness of God.

Watch where you walk so that as you go through the routines of your day or encounter something new, you may be aware of the presence of God with and amongst you. 

Watch where you walk to see the path that God has set before you and how God is accompanying you along that road. 

Watch where you walk to see who God has placed next to you or behind or in front of you. 

Watch where you walk because God is here and you are on holy ground!

Monday, September 23, 2013

On an Adventure

My mother has always said "we're not lost, we are on an adventure."  Usually this was when she decided to try another route rather than the tried and true one.  We would meander along back roads and rural highways until she would inevitably proclaim either "oh, this is where this road goes" or "I thought this is where we might end up".  With all these adventures, we never were lost (at least to my knowledge as a child) and always ended up back home at the end of the day.

I still like to take these kinds of adventures periodically.  Michael and I will set out on one of my days off and just head into a particular direction that we hadn't gone before to see what we might discover.  One vacation - on my own - I decided for the better part of 2 weeks to not plan out my route or itinerary beforehand.  Each morning when I woke up, I would set off in a different direction, finding a place at the end of the day to lay my head.  It was one of the best solo vacations I ever took!

Most of the time our daily routes are pretty established.  If our cars had auto pilot, they would follow the same path that we take day in and day out.  These paths might vary a bit depending on our particular to-do items for the day - side trips to the grocery store, doctor's office, mechanic and the like.  Yet, overall we are creatures of habit and our car tires have made ruts in the pavement along this daily route.

How much of our lives are like this?  I had someone remark to me recently that "life seems to be a to-do list".  We end up marking our lives by our habit and routines.  Yes, there are certain things that need to be done (don't let me forget to pick up more milk for my cereal tomorrow morning).  There is food to be bought, clothes to be cleaned, bills to be paid, gas to be pumped and the list goes on.

How many of us would say that our "life is an adventure" rather than a to-do list?  Do we just wait for our vacations or that proverbial time in the future when we can start life's adventure?

I think about the disciples in the Gospels when Jesus first called them.   They were immersed in their routines of fishing, mending nets and fixing their boats.  These things had been done for generations as well as day in and day out.  Yet, Jesus stepped in and took them on an adventure that they would never have imagined!  No longer rowing across the water every day, but traveling around the countryside, meeting all kinds of people, experiencing Jesus' words, miracles and action, going to new places...

Some will be called today outside of their routines to go on an adventure, to travel elsewhere.  Sometimes that adventure is just waiting for us around the corner as we break from our well traveled paths to discover or try something new.  We are invited to put aside our to-do lists, looking out and forward to what adventure God might have in mind for us.

God invites us on an adventure!  Are you ready to follow?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Writing in the margins

It was my Systematic Theology class when we were reading a book by James Cone on Liberation Theology (book: A Black Theology of Liberation) that I found myself for the first time having a conversation with a book that I was reading.  It inspired and challenged me so much that I moved from just highlighting and underlining passages to writing in the margins.  Sometimes it was just a question mark?, but then another passage would elicit an exclamation point!  I talked back and to the author as I made my ways through its pages.   This was no longer just another textbook, but a dialogue of faith and understanding.

I'm not sure if this is what gave me "permission" or just an entry into writing in the margins of my Bible(s) (never seem to use just one).  From this time on, I didn't read passages of scripture just to read them like any other book, but found myself more engaged in them.

There were times when my margin notes were translation reminders or clarifications.  Other times, I would highlight a passage so that it would easy to find and go back to time and time again (such as the ones that I have mentioned previously: Psalm 46:10 and I Corinthians 10:13).  Within theses pages, I would add those !!!! points and ???? marks as I was inspired and challenged as well. 

Recently, one of the web sites that I visit had people share their own thoughts on writing in the margins of their Bibles (here  is the link to the site to be able to read some of them:

As I reflected on this margin writing experiences, I realized that the notes and highlights that I have made are part of my ongoing conversation and relationship with God.  They not only point to where I have been in my faith journey, but continue to encourage and challenge me as I experience the ways in which God speaks through this particular gift of faith.

What is written in the margins of your Bible?

What might you write in the Bibles of others to share your own faith experiences with them?

Take the opportunity to share that here (on the blog, facebook or email responses) with others.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A question of faith

If you could ask God any question, what would it be?

Questions are vital to faith.  Without questions faith would be blind and incapacitated.  Questions are what challenges, encourages, enlivens and grows the gift of faith.    Questions invite us to explore our relationship with God and with one another.  We are called to question and to enter more fully into this relationship.

Think about the questions that you ask someone when you first meet them: name, home, work, family and the like.  If the relationship stopped there with these questions, we would be no more than acquaintances.  We would know each other's "stats", but would we really know them.

As we grow in relationship with one another we find out more nuances embedded in the information that we have learned about them.  Maybe we find out that they named their cat "Mickey" because of those childhood memories related to Mickey Mouse.  Or we learn that they really want to go to Estonia  because of their family connections.  Or that they agreed to teach Sunday school because of Mrs. Webster who was so important to their own faith development.

Beyond  the information of a person we discover their habits and personality quirks - you know, the way that they swish milk around in their mouth before swallowing or that they move their lips when they are deep in thought.  Sometimes a person's habits can be "cute" or even (become) annoying; yet, they are still a part of what makes that person who they are.

In the midst of these deepening relationships, we discover their values and what is most important to them.  Sometimes they are stated values about honesty or integrity; other times, they are implied in the ways that they interact with others.  These deeper insights come as we watch how they respond in the face of difficulties, conflict and stress.  We begin to see beyond the surface that is presented.

In  all of these stages of our relationships, questions arise as we discern a person's character, as we learn more about them and we explore the ways in which our interaction with them evolves and changes.

While our relationship with God evolves in different ways, it is still the questions that propel us forward in our interaction with  God.  We can have fun with questions like: "if Jesus came to your house, what food do you think he might like to eat" or "where do you think God might like to go on vacation?"  We can reflect on those human-like characteristics which make God more personal and real.

Still, like our deepening relationships with one another, is the values and character of God that bring us greater understanding.   In our questioning, we can reflect on what is important for God as the world is viewed or as our own life is looked upon.  We can see images of God's character as we look upon each other, as we read scripture, as we spend time in prayer.  We explore who God is in relationship with us, other people and the world.

There is much that is beyond our human knowing and that we will just have to wait to find the answers to, but it continues to be in the asking that we find out way into the mystery as well as the revelation of God.

And so, what questions are you asking of God?  And how are you exploring those questions to grow in faith and understanding?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Formed by experiences

Remember the old "I dream of Jeannie" tv series where Jeannie the genie could just blink her eyes and make something happen, disappear or change?  While I didn't want to live in a bottle - no matter how luxurious - I did want to have that ability.  In fact, there are days when I still wish that I could just blink my eyes and things would change.

I can't tell you how many times in my own life and even more so in my vocation as a pastor, I wished that I could blink and make something disappear.  Sure there have been a few of "those people" that fell into this category, but more often it was when someone found out that they cancer or another illness, when a beloved family member had died, they lost their job, were going through a divorce and so many other terrible things that people live in the midst of everyday.  If I could just make people's pain - along with my own - go away....

As I look back on my own life and see the path that I have journeyed, there have been many rough places along the way.  There were days when all I seem to encounter was a steep and sheer cliff with no way up or around it.  There were other times when I was tripping over rocks, potholes and other obstacles.  Times when all I seemed to do was fall down, skin my knees and shout in frustration.  Or how about those days when the path seemed clear and then a storm broke out and the path was washed away?   My cry would go up - Lord, please make the "rough places smooth and the crooked straight" recalling the promises spoke by Isaiah and repeated by John the Baptist.

Yet, there was no flash of light, no blinking of the eyes, no reversing of time to restore things back to the way that I wanted them.  Was God not listening?  Was this a test?  Had I done something to deserve this?  Where was Jeannie when I needed her?

If I look closer along that rough path, I notice God at work.  God did not cause these bad things to happen, but rather offered me a hand and a way through them.  Most often, it has been through the gift of others.  The prayers, the shared strength, guidance and comfort from others helped me to scale those sheer cliffs, to pick me up when I had fallen, to hold me up when I didn't feel as if I could go on.  I see faces of family, friends and even strangers along  that path.

Often it is said (wrongly) that God doesn't give us more than we can handle.  I don't know about you, but there have certainly been times when there had just been toooooo much for any one person to handle.  And the God that I believe and know about is not one who brings bad things to bear upon people's lives.   We live as fragile people with free will in a fragile world where life gets broken, bruised and worn out.  God only desires the best for us as his beloved.

If we read Paul's words to the Corinthians, we hear about the God who does not test us: "No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.  God is faithful and will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it." (I Corinthians 10:13)

God provides that "way out" and through these times and experiences.  Through Jesus Christ we see how these rough places are smoothed through the power of the resurrection.  We find that we are strengthened as we endure and live through these times.  I see how God used the "death" of a job, a relationship or another experience to open up new possibilities and new ventures for my  life.  Our faith can be formed by these experiences.

I would still like to be able to blink my eyes and change my life at times.  I still wish that many of these bad times and experiences had never happened.  Yet, I also see the ways in which my faith has been formed and strengthened.  I see how God has blessed my life through others who have helped and supported me along the way - that I would not change.