The Temple and the Beast

Ever seen light shooting out of your fingers?  Me, neither.  But do you remember when the Beast’s fingers did that, as his curse was being lifted?  Inside that beast was a human being.  It’s a pretty good visual for being filled with the Holy Spirit, I think.  One minute you’re growling around, in the depths of despair, fighting with the enemy.  The next minute, you’re lifted up, filled with light, and the weight of all that beastliness is gone.

These last few months have been beast times for me.  I’ll spare you the details, but I can bet every one of you reading this have had your own beast times. It’s no fun, for you, or for the friends, family, and colleagues that are around you.  But in the last week, things have shifted. I feel the Holy Spirit inside is no longer buried under a heavy coat of fur.  It feels like a new beginning.

It seems appropriate that it is also a new year.  As Jimmy Buffett would say, it’s time to treat my body like a temple, rather than a tent — a temple of the Holy Spirit.  With all that optimism, allow me to share with you this Collect from church this morning:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

May we all shine in the coming year, so that the people we meet can see the light inside.

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Remember Why

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

You hear about the Constitution in the news: the Supreme Court rulings, the pocket-sized copies carried by Tea Party faithful, and its example for new countries venturing into democracy. But when is the last time you looked at why this Constitution was created?

In honor of the upcoming mid-term election, I’d like to review that Preamble with you:

  • in order to form a more perfect union – Yep. We’re not perfect. We the people squabble and disagree, and divisions abound, some dating from back before the United States were united. However, we all agree that the Constitution is the keystone of the government. Sure, some of us want it to be the keystone of a multi-story mall complex, and others are adamant that it’s the keystone of a one-room bunker, but the Constitution’s durability helps to keep us together.
  • establish justice – Youtube has excellent examples of the horror that other governments (or terrorist groups with government aspirations) call “justice”. And is there any doubt that part of what drives the immigration from our southern neighbors is the lack of an effective justice system at home? The Constitution is the re-bar in our justice foundation.
  • insure domestic tranquility – We don’t have to have a coup or a civil war to overthrow the government, thanks to elections and term limits. Here in the US, folks can vote differently from each other, and not worry about endangering their lives or livelihoods. Other countries share this blessing, but the Constitution defines the American rules of engagement.
  • provide for the common defense – The Constitution gives us the ability to raise an army to fight enemy combatants. The NIH budget ballooned when the security-conscious post-911 Republican administration thought outside hardware weaponry, and into potential biological threats. Today’s Ebola virus vaccines were partly funded by those government dollars. The powers of Captain America’s shield are nothing compared to the powers of our Constitution.
  • promote the general welfare – Remember the TARP program, started by the Bush administration at the beginning of the Great Recession? Remember the banks “too big to fail”, and the buckets of money that Republicans and Democrats alike were spending? Convinced that the general welfare was at risk, they did what experts said was needed. Future economists and historians may debate the effectiveness of their efforts, but the Preamble tells us their intent was constitutional.
  • secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity – Liberty. Not just for this generation, but for generations to come. Not just for the rich, white, heterosexual, native English speakers, but for all the people of the United States. Liberty not just for the short term — that myopic view that plagues human nature, but for the long haul. That’s what our Constitution is meant to do for us.

As you look at the candidates’ platforms or the ballot initiatives for this election, can you see glimmers of the Preamble in their intent? I expect you will. So make your plans to vote. Do your part in our government. Let the Preamble remind you Why.

inspired by a particularly good rendition of God Bless America in Game 3 of the 2015 World Series (Note: the video clip’s temporary silence happened at game time, and was not a post-production error.)

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The Pasta Lesson

Our bishop’s husband died recently. She‘s a widow now, and I think about what she’ll be going through. There will be the nights when she wakes up, and he’s not there. There will be times when she thinks, “Oh, he would love this…”, wanting to share something new. And then there will be the moments when she recalls an experience from the past, and realizes that she has forgotten part of that story. There weren’t any photographs, and it was a long time ago, or a far away place. And now he’s gone — his memory out of her reach.

What do you remember from your youth? Your college years? Your late twenties and early thirties? If you’re like me, you have a few “important” memories, some others that can be revived with help from a friend, a photograph, a song, or maybe a movie from that time, but the rest has faded out.

Memory is a funny thing, though. We think of it losing it as a bad thing. “Memory like a sieve” is not a complement. But other memories are “seared on our brains” — ouch. Don’t we all have memories that we would rather forget? Times that we’d like to remember the lesson, but forget the actual experience?

Allow me to suggest to those who suffer from memory – good memories lost with the death of a loved one, or bad memories too easily recalled – that the answer is simple: learn to forget. Train your brain to be a colander. Pasta is cooked in a pot full of water, but the colander only holds the good stuff. Life is going to keep sending you wonderful experiences. Be the sieve, and enjoy the now.

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God Sent a Rainbow

Is society’s move towards acceptance and support of homosexual relationships a good thing? People of faith and religious institutions disagree. Some look at the Bible and claim homosexuality is bad, pointing to Sodom and Gomorrah. Others have a different interpretation of God’s message.

I’m no Biblical scholar. I don’t wear a clerical collar, or have a theological degree. I admire folks who mine the Bible for verses of sustenance and growth, but I’ll say right now that I don’t think much of folks who mine the Bible for ways to judge and attack others.

At the risk of being a hypocrite, I will remind you that Jesus said to Love thy neighbor as thyself. Does following that commandment mean to beat others down, to say that love shared as sweethearts is wrong, to turn your back when support is needed in a long-term commitment?

Maybe you think it is such a serious sin, that you cannot bear the thought that others should be tricked into believing it’s okay.

Let me suggest to you, if your righteous grief or authority cannot bear the thought of sanctioning this sin, that you spend some quality time meditating on forgiveness of sins.

Let me suggest to you, that instead of looking for Bible verses about what everyone else should not be doing, start looking for Bible verses about what you should be doing. If we have anything in common at all, you’ll find the stuff you should do is a whole lot harder than the stuff you should not do.

And for those of you who answered yes to my first question, I offer this: the rainbow adopted by the LGBT community is not just a symbol of diversity, it’s a symbol of hope. It rained for a very long time before God sent that rainbow, but He did send it. Hang in there. Find an ark, and trust in God.

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Terrorist Attacks by Muslims – A Prayer for Peace

A long list of past terrorist attacks by Muslims against the West is circulating these days. I’m reminded that there are extremists out there who consider the West their enemy, and I’m saddened by the righteous rage it incites in fellow American Christians. Powerless to stop the aggression or heal the anger, I turn to a familiar prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven

We Muslims, Christians, and Jews claim the same God and Biblical history. O Father, please help to renew familial bonds, remind us of our common heritage. Help us bring the children of Israel and Ishmael together in peace.

Hallowed be thy name.

We have different names for you — Allah, Jehovah, God. Help us to invoke your name in prayers for healing and mutual understanding, rather than calls for victory and revenge.

Thy Kingdom come.
Our visions of your Kingdom are distorted through the lenses of our cultures, our spiritual leaders, our families, and our education. Help us to create a common vision of your Kingdom, and work together towards that goal, innovating for peace, rather than perpetuating violence.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

What is Thy will? Not that thousands should die. Not that millions should feel anger and despair. What is heaven on earth? Not the grief of the widowed, the poverty of the orphaned, the wreckage of bombs and body parts. Oh, please, let Thy will be done – not ours.

Give us this day, our daily bread.

How ironic that this prayer is said the world over, by those who earnestly pray for food to survive, and by those who are praying for nourishment beyond food, their basic needs well met. Help us to reach across the chasm between wealth and poverty, which feeds mutual distrust and disdain.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

How can we forgive the violence wrought upon us? How can we forgive the spiritual leaders using your Word to divide us as peoples, rather than join us as Children of God? O Father, forgiveness is so difficult in the face of such atrocities. Please, help us to forgive.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Who can say what temptation leads each terrorist down the road to evil? A sure ticket into heaven would sorely tempt any of us believers, knowing our own personal sins and wickedness, only too ready to leave the agonies of mortal life behind. O Father, please help us in our weakness.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.
It’s all about You. Some say that without religion, we wouldn’t have all this violence. No religion, no war. But violence and hatred always seem to find a new reason for being. O Lord, may our lives as believers shine brightly against the darkness of evil, examples of how faith in God can lead not to violence, but to peace.


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The Thank You Note

Blue Cross 3“Do you remember your baptism?” the sermon began. Like many of you, I was a baby, and I do not. “Do you remember the five promises made by you, or on your behalf, at baptism?” I thought I recalled something about renouncing evil or something, and yes, that’s in there, but I was drawing a blank on the other four. Sometime later the sermon finished, we opened our prayer books, and renewed our vows:

“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?”
“I will, with God’s help.”

Going to church. Yes, I can do that. I think there’s some flexibility for vacations and the occasional desperate need for more sleep, but yes, Sunday mornings I can be in church.

“Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”
“I will, with God’s help.”

“With God’s help” is key to that one, for sure. You’ve got to recognize Evil and Sin, and those two just love to find ways around your Jiminy Cricket. But saying I’m sorry, and getting back on the good path, I think I can manage that. (See promise #1.)

“Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”
“I will, with God’s help.”

Now that one has got to be the hardest one of all for me. Proclaiming the Good News is right up there with streaking through the neighborhood grocery store – waaay outside my comfort zone. However, if I think about it, I do wear a cross on a regular basis (that’s short-hand for the Gospel, right?). I do deliver a brief “Minute for Mission” to the congregation every so often (but does preaching to the choir really count as proclaiming?). I do make an effort to be nice to people. And there’s this blog . And doesn’t it count to give money to the church so that the ministers can be paid to proclaim the Gospel? But if this was in the California Vehicle Code, the nice officer who just pulled me over would be getting quite a long explanation, positively dripping with sincerity. (No batting of the eyelashes — see promise #2.)

“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”
“I will, with God’s help.”

Yep, I’m all about that. It’s a personal mission for me to serve my co-workers, and I love seeing Christ in other people.

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
“I will, with God’s help.”

This might be my very favorite baptismal promise. I love giving my hard-earned money to charities, and my top charities seem to be all in this direction. Second Harvest Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, The Carter Center, Food for the Poor, and World Vision, to fight the injustices of poverty. Smile Train, Siena House, Planned Parenthood, and March of Dimes to give dignity to mothers and their children. Never mind “I will” — how about “Let’s Do This!”

Now, renewing your baptismal vows once a year is a pretty cool thing to do. It’s like an annual offsite meeting – you step back from the regular routine and look at the big picture. Where are you going with your life? Are you on track? It’s good to put everything in perspective. But what if, just what if, the Big Boss wrote you a thank you note? You’re just doing your normal job, day in, day out, and you get a letter in the mail.

Well, the other day, I got such a letter. Technically, it wasn’t from the Big Boss, it was from Food for the Poor, but there is no doubt in my mind that some Inspiration helped to pen this one:

“Thank you for responding with compassion to the needs of the poor. Many sit in silence or choose to look away while the poor pray for someone to notice their plight. But you took action. Your loving response reflects the compassion of God! … God asks us to be His hands in this world. Thank you for allowing Him to work through you to protect the poor and needy. Your generosity is answering the prayers of those who groan in their misery for help.”

Now I’m aware that you’re not supposed to do good works in expectation of praise. Montessori schools teach our kids to do things because they’re the right thing to do, not because some authority figure says “Good Job”. I guess that makes me old school. An eloquent thank you from the boss, and I’m like a poppy in the sunshine, smiling at the world.

Do I remember my baptism? No. Do I remember my baptismal covenant? Kinda sorta. But did that thank you note get me fired up and happy about doing Christian things? You bet your sweet bippy. How about it, dear reader? Let’s Do This!

Thanks to Rev. Eliza Linley and Robin Mahfood for inspiring this post.

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The Peanut Butter Lessons

Peanut butter was a staple at our house growing up. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Peanut butter on saltine crackers. Marshmallows on peanut butter on saltines (no chocolate), baked in the oven for somemores on game night.

Peanut butter became comfort food when I grew up. I found that on my most stressed-out days in the office, I would head over to the peanut butter and jelly station and make myself a sandwich. Over the salads and sandwiches and burgers and Asian cuisine, I chose a PBJ to soothe my soul.

Somewhere along the way, I discovered that my lifelong brand of peanut butter had added ingredients that I didn’t want, so I switched to an all natural brand. It had a layer of oil on the top. Every time we opened a new jar, it was quite a chore to manually blend that oil back into the peanut butter. And if you didn’t blend it well enough that first day, some day later you’d hit pockets of very dry peanut butter. But I was determined that we should have “the good stuff”, and jar after jar, through my daughter’s entire pre-school and elementary school career, we blended that peanut butter by hand.

Then, one day, someone in the family noticed that there was a fresh peanut grinding machine in the bulk section of the grocery store, on the opposite side of the store from the peanut butter in jars. We agreed to give it a try, when the current jar of peanut butter ran out. It did, and we did, and just like that, no more hand blending the peanut butter. For as long as it takes our family to eat a pint of peanut butter, that oil stays in the butter. It tastes fresh, and is easy to spread. Our search for the right peanut butter is over.

So what are the peanut butter lessons?

  • Just because you haven’t found the right one, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
  • You might not have to go very far to find the right one, but you may have to look in a different place.
  • Finding the right one can take years and years, but don’t give up. You’ll find it, one day.

So next time you’re certain that the right one — whatever or whoever it is — just can’t be found, remember the peanut butter lessons, and have faith.

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