Tuesday, April 29, 2014

50 Days of Easter: Fabulous Idea

Click here to go to this wonderful website.

Lent for many of us can be a grind.  Yet we endure for the "prize" -- Easter Day. The best day of a year for a Christian.  The feeling is unmistakable.  Yet it is easy to forget that Eastertide runs longer than Lent. 50 vs. 40 days. 

These light-filled days are truly valued not just for the spring-like weather that lifts our spirits, but for the stories of the risen Christ meeting his followers where they were: living their lives. They were, as we are, flawed, promising, doubting, fearful and faithful. 

I encourage you to visit 50 Days of Fabulous each morning and continue read and pray through these days. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

My Easter Top Seven List

My Easter list of seven reasons Easter is a core of our Christian faith – or at least something you should think about.

1.    “Proclaim it don’t explain it.”
2.    It’s not about emptiness, it’s about presence. 
3.    There is room for doubt.
4.    It’s not about you.
5.    It’s about you.
6.    Believing in the Resurrection is a gift and a choice.
7.    Easter makes all the difference. 

Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken...

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Lastly… it’s about joy.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Easter Strong

I do not know where it all started.  Was it ABC Evening New’s ongoing upbeat series 'America Strong' that highlights ordinary people doing positive and inspiring things? Moments after the horrendous bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon last year college students were making t-shirts with ‘Boston Strong’ splashed across the front in bold letters. ‘Boston Strong’ began out of a response to a senseless violent act of hatred and cowardice and expressed a knee-jerk, heart-felt response of vigilant defiance that connected with a city on edge and the entire nation. At first, proceeds of anything with the ‘Boston Strong’ logo were directed to charities aiding the victims, but since the phrase was never copywrited there is no way to know today if all the shirts and trinkets on sale in the Boston area are going to their intended beneficiaries.  That is unfortunate. The desire to stand with the victims and the city of Boston spread up interstate 95 where I live to New Hampshire’s commuting outer ring: I have heard ‘Seacoast Strong’ on the radio as groups organize outreach events at the anniversary of the bombings.

My intent here is not to denigrate or be cynical of what began as a natural response for a people in a nation with 9/11 forever in our DNA. Far from it. I see this generous and spontaneous use of the phrase ‘Boston Strong’ as a way for us to understand and experience another movement of horror, loss, anguish that the Cross on Good Friday represents as believers move towards Easter Day. 

The chronology of events in Jerusalem is the focus of the church during these three holy days of the Triduum -- Jesus’ betrayal, trial, beating, crucifixion, death and burial. A whirlwind of events and cascade of emotions for Jesus himself and his followers. It is not hard for us to imagine how his friends must have felt. The gospels speak of their scattering for fear that they too may meet the same end. Yet on the third day, we point to the events that followed the discovering of the empty tomb. In his death and resurrection, Jesus became the Christ for those who could not fully believe when he walked among them. Jesus became the Christ for those who would never talk with him, meet him along the roadside, and watch him heal and teach.  The Risen Christ becomes the ultimate phoenix moment of flight from the ashes.  The cosmic battle of evil and good plays out in an event that is joined by followers through the centuries.

We preach that in the Resurrection of Christ, God’s victory over sin and death is complete.  The first step of belief can begin to radiate in our daily lives.  In the face of evil then and now, hope wins. Light is stronger than darkness. After amazing defeats in our lives, there is by God’s grace a road map ahead for life. Love wins.

So Boston, I join your valiant response with a great truth: Jesus Strong.  Christ Strong. Easter Strong. Alleluia, Alleluia!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Crosses Hurt like Hell: Preparing for Holy Week

Last Sunday in Children’s Chapel here at Christ Church in Exeter, we talked about the gospel story of the day of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. I focused on that one short line that is available to all who wish to commit a verse of the Bible to memory: “Jesus wept.” Or “Jesus cried.” I asked then children when and if they have ever cried. They all said yes, of course. Then I asked: what makes you cry?  There were examples galore. When I get tackled playing a sport. When my brother hits me.  Many of the children connected pain with tears.  Others sadness. The death of a beloved pet.  And then one boy said that he sometimes cries when he laughs.  

We’ve all done that, haven’t we? We get laughing so hard and fully and for so long that tears literally start coming out our eyes. Why the connection with the pain and loss of sadness that brought tears to the eyes of Jesus at the death of his friend – and the quick turn of tears to laughter?  There is a very thin line isn’t there, between good times and bad, health and sickness, up and down, employed and unemployed, together and alone, content and miserable.  In the blink of an eye, in a moment, on a day, things can change.  

That is what Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday feels like to me.  Even our use of the word passion is two edged and double-sided.  Only in the church does it point to the suffering of Jesus and the way it is used today – the strong desire or compelling emotion towards another.

The triumphant, joyful, expectant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem with the waving of palms to signal a new day, and then the reality hits.  The betrayal, trial, denials, torture and death.  In the past these two events actually had their own Sundays: we would have read the Passion story last Sunday and only deal with the Palm part of that story today.  Both converge.  These two mixed yet related messages and events are a lot take in. The reading and listening to the Passion can be overwhelming and exhausting.

The line between sadness and joy is thin, tenuous, real and ever-present. 

I have previously mentioned that I am a reluctant Twitter user because I know that being a leader in the church today means that one needs to at least know about social media and how people are communicating with one another.  So I have a Twitter account, as the does the parish. The pop singer Katie Perry has 52 million followers – (people who receive what she communicates -- she’s very popular) – I have 73. I don’t take it personally. 

I do I follow Jesus Christ on Twitter.  You can find him @JesusofNaz316 with the description “Carpenter who hangs out with fisherman, alcoholics and prostitutes: I ascended. Remember?” The thousands of Jesus tweets are often edgy and provacative, sometimes heretical if not hysterical.  I was certainly glad to see that Jesus of Naz follows God on Twitter: @almightygod.  Based on those associated with this social media project, I’m guessing the author is of an Episcopal/Anglican persuasion.  You can just tell. 

The entry for this past week caught my eye. Twitter Jesus wrote: “Crosses hurt like hell.”  Funny, provocative, profane – yes. Thinking about the post more: profound and true.

The one-time dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco wrote that “everything that happens to Christ happens to us.”  Birth, wilderness, temptation, loneliness, joy, loss, suffering and yes, in time, death. 

And yes, crosses hurt. The literal crosses that were used to end the lives of so many living under Roman occupation were horrendous. Any attempt to lend the scene of a crucifixion of Jesus any air of historical accuracy by Hollywood is either gory to the extreme that it can cause the moviegoer to avert their eyes or to the other end to over-sentimentalize or sugar coat what a terrible way to die and a scandalous beginning of a new faith. 

For you and me as followers of Jesus – not the Twitter JesusofNas316 – but the compassionate face of a loving God who lived in and blessed our world – we know that crosses hurt.  The crosses of illness, injustice, divorce, addiction, depression, the death of a loved one -- they hurts like hell. Hell being that place in our tradition, in our lives and imaginations where it can seem that God is out of reach: silent and powerless. What is hell? Often time it is believing that God is nowhere to be seen. It’s just us swimming alone through the universe of unknowing. That is not what God promised us.     

Palm and Passion Sunday all wrapped up into one remind us of a truth that is right under our nose and in the air around us.  The crosses of our lives are many times a means to an end. And I believe they are an end to a means – intended to loop us back around to kind of life God desires for us.  Crosses can teach us to trust. Pain and tears can and do bleed into laughter. Joy and laughter get interrupted and upended by tears.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Stumbling and Falling

Throughout this Lent I have been reading with a keen eye the daily offerings by Franciscan Richard Rohr.  So much good stuff here.  I was particularly moved and impacted by his April 1 meditation called “Stumbling and Falling.”

Sooner or later, if you are on any classic “spiritual schedule,” some event, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with, using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong willpower. Spiritually speaking, you will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources. At that point, you will stumble over a necessary stumbling stone, as Isaiah calls it (Isaiah 8:14). You will and you must “lose” at something. This is the only way that Life-Fate-God-Grace-Mystery can get you to change, let go of your egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey.

We must stumble and fall, I am sorry to say. We must be out of the driver’s seat for a while, or we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide. It is the necessary pattern. Until we are led to the limits of our present game plan, and find it to be insufficient, we will not search out or find the real source, the deep well, or the constantly flowing stream.

The Gospel was able to accept that life is tragic, but then graciously added that we can survive and will even grow from this tragedy. This is the great turnaround! It all depends on whether we are willing to see down as up; or as Jung put it, that “where you stumble and fall, there you find pure gold.” Lady Julian of Norwich said it even more poetically: “First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God!”

When I was young I would hear the urban legend that suggested that if, during a dream, you actually reached the bottom of the cliff, mountain, or building that you were falling off of – that you would cease to breathe, have a heart attack and die. Imagine: even in a dream you could die! Scary stuff for kids camping out and telling ghost and other horror stories. Over the years though I realized that there is a lot of falling in dreams. My dreams at least. Usually I jolt myself awake before I hit the ground. But there have been dreams when I did hit the bottom. 

In life we stumble and fall. We fall hard sometimes. One has to train one’s mind and spirit to really believe that there is anything good in falling. Falling is tough, embarrassing, sometimes private yet often public, and it can hurt.

Rohr reminds us when we need it the most that there is a cosmic helping hand to get us up off the ground, out of the ditch, back on track and dusted off for another day.  All the clich├ęs and memories of childhood come flooding back. As it turns out, it is necessary to get back up on that bike after falling off, to go back to school, work or back into relationship.  Life as you knew it is not over.  It is actually only beginning.  Good news. 

I commend Rohr’s daily readings.  You can sign up here: Go to Rohr website