Thursday, November 5, 2015

It's Really Too Bad ...

It’s really too bad that evangelical christians have, in so many curious ways, abandoned science, fled science, as if it were some monstrous enemy, full of threats and dangers and demonic fires.

It’s a long and tangled story, I fear, and now these evangelicals find themselves stuck in a corner, from which there is no gracious exit, other than saying, “We were wrong.”

So, there in the corner, like little Jack Horner, they sit, stewing and steaming, creating new stories about evil scientists and how glorious the Bible is as a source of fact on all things that count, and a lot of things that don’t, and never will.

I was just reading about a Methodist encampment of the late 1800s on the Monterey Peninsula, that was named, and still is, Pacific Grove. Chautauqua-like in style, lots of famous speakers, including scientists, and no booze - it seems the good Methodist Folk of Pacific Grove wanted to know the latest, which is not a bad thing at all, and thought that sobriety was a good thing, which it mostly is, but not entirely so. And with clear minds, they welcomed those who could teach them about the world, with a keen appreciation of science.

Though the latest news from science fails to serve the ego of those who prefer to think of themselves as the free-ranging monarchs of God’s creation, a creation put together in 7 days, 7 24-hour days, to be precise, maybe 8000 years ago, at most, if one goes by the Bible and its begats. Or if 8000 is a bit too stodgy, then maybe 6000 will do. What’s a few thousand years here and there?

Well, it’s too bad that evangelicals lost the Chautauqua Spirit - the spirit of inquiry, the longing to know something about the Great God Almighty, who created the world through the eons, and is still creating it, and then created Hebrew Poets to write so beautifully about it, with metaphors of light and symmetry - this world is not some higgledy-piggledy mishmash wondering who it is, but something with purpose - “let there be light” ... and then let things reproduce after their own kind, which never seems to be much of a problem for anything that lives and breaths and hankers after a little hanky-panky, now and then, which seems to be pretty much the center of things for most things. And, then, as all things must, it’s “dust to dust and ashes to ashes,” which disturbs us, I guess, but there’s not much to be done about it ... unless cryogenics comes up with some fancy ideas, but I’m rather cool to the idea myself.

Anyway, the Hebrew Poets, some mighty smart folks, I think, if hanging around Pacific Grove in the late 1800s, would’ve signed up for the latest Chautauqua Lecture Series on science and all things that delve into the deeps of life, with lots of questions and lots of delight ... it’s energizing to live in a world so large, so expansive, so old, so beyond our grasp ... yet giving life to us all the time, giving us second and third chances, and entertaining us with beauty and fierceness that swirl around us like the leaves of fall, or a cloud of gnats on a hot summer day in a Northern Woods.

Billions and billions of years ... staggers the mind, it really does. A mind staggered now and then, by big numbers, or maybe with a glass of Monterey Wine now and then, is a mind God can work with ... a mind staggered has lots of vulnerability to it, it’s pliable, workable, malleable and laughs easily, which, I think, most evangelicals are loath to do. The world is far too serious for them, and they miss the point of “making light,” which has to with our eyes, and with our sensibilities. If we can’t, or won’t, make light of things, I doubt if we can make light at all, which is contrary to the point of God’s good work - to make light ... “take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for my burden is light” - not only in terms of weight, but in terms of delight and hope and wonderment, which led those late 19th Century Methodists to create Pacific Grove in the first place and learn a few more things about God’s great and very good creation.

I don’t know what will become of today’s corner-sitting evangelicals ... but who wants to sit in a corner all the time? Maybe one of these days, enough of them will get sick of their windowless room, turn around and see what a large and wonderful world they’re missing, and then, en masse, step out it with peace toward one another, abandoning the corner into which they put themselves a long time ago, eager to set out upon the road ahead, which never ends as it pushes on into the infinite love of God.

It’s good to live in a world so big, so old, so wise. On every turn of the road, when I’m laughing and when I’m not, I see what Isaiah saw in his smoky dream, the “hem of God’s garment,” swishing away, just over there, out of the corner of my eye, filling the temple of my brain and heart with wonder and joy and a very strange surpassing peace suffused with the aroma of love.

Billions and billions of years ...

Friday, October 30, 2015

Reformation Day and John Calvin

Tomorrow is Reformation Day ... and it means something to me ... because history means something to me ... the stories told by the past, and the stories we tell about the past ... to try to figure out who we are, and if there’s something worth standing for (dangling participle, I know!).

I’ve read Calvin’s “Institutes,” in their entirety, at least 5 times, in preparation for teaching a one-year course on them ... in bits and pieces, countless times, since my first selective reading at, where else, “Calvin College.”

At one point, while working on my D. Min, I wrote to a half-dozen or so Calvin scholars and asked for some sense of what they thought his genius might be, and each replied with a slightly different take on him.

Which is to say, Calvin was about as multifaceted as anyone of us can be.

His “Institutes,” of course, a theological distillation of years worth of work ... combined with his letters, often deeply pastoral, his pissy attitude toward those who challenged him, his endurance in the face of criticism and threat, his openness to science, his affirmation of politics as a high calling, his concern for education, and a decent sewer system in Geneva - make Calvin fully human, and a man worthy study.

But more than anything else, his regard for God ... yes, a sovereign God whose love prevails in all matters, a love that will see this world through all sorts of travail and sorrow to bring it to the place where it belongs.

Double-predestination and all (take a deep breath here), which is nothing more than Calvin’s affirmation of God’s hand upon us all, in such a way, as to insure, and to assure, this business of salvation, and, for Calvin, this business of damnation.

For me, omit the damnation part, and we’ve got something worth while.

In a world of change, where things often go upside down, full of misery and war and hate, the love of God prevails.

Rob Bell says it well, Love Wins!

That’s about as Calvinistic a thing as any writer could offer.

Which is to say, I like Calvin - always have and always will, likely.

Did he make mistakes?

Indeed - when he should have kept his mouth shut, he didn’t. He spoke of things in a loud voice when hushed whispers would have been better.

But who hasn’t screwed up on this score?

But screw-ups and all, Calvin loved God, and understood that God’s love for us was a powerful love, an effective love, that would see us through, and the world with us, to the appropriate end.

I like that kind of faith.

It’s all about courage to keep on keepin’ on ... because love wins. So don’t give up, don’t retreat, don’t run away.

Stay the course, because God stays the course.

Of course.And on this score, Calvin was right, and if that’s only thing he was ever right about, that’s enough, to insure his place in the pantheon of Christian Thinkers who yet deserve our attention and our gratitude.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Praise God and Take Up the Sword

Psalm 149 ...

Who knows what the writer intended, when it comes to two-edged swords, vengeance and punishment.

It’s accurate, I suppose, to think that the author had literal swords in mind, given the bloody history of Israel and Judah and Jerusalem. 

Yet, to read it literally today would clearly violate the spirit and intent of Jesus who eschewed the way of the sword and made clear that his followers do the same.
Nevertheless, and you knew that was coming, can it be read metaphorically? Or should it not be read at all?

Well, it’s part of the the Psalter, and we’re stuck with it.

Perhaps a literal reading at least reminds of us how easily human beings take up the sword in “righteous causes” linked to faith and the gods. Ever since Cain killed Abel, we’ve been killing our brothers and sisters at a horrendous pace - in personal crimes against one another and with state-sanction killing - capital punishment and war. Protest as much we do, our killing of one another is not about to end. 

Which perhaps reveals the importance of a metaphorical reading of the Psalm.

1) The praise of God always is linked to political behavior (v. 5). Whether it be the monk in his cell or the average pew-sitting Presbyterian, what’s offered up to God ends up being offered horizontally to the world, for good or for ill, and likely some tragic mix of both. But like it or not, this is how it is.

2) The “sword” is wielded to restrain the power of kings and their nobles, and is there a king anywhere who doesn’t need to be retrained? And what of all their nobles, sycophants mostly, singing their praises, inflating the king’s ego? It’s a deadly system that needs to be constantly challenged, for such power, as kings accrue, and their nobles bless, is charged with obsession and cruelty. Left unchecked, such power always ends badly, for everyone, including the innocent, i.e. the people, or specifically, the biblical triad of need: the widow, the orphan and the alien.

As for the original intent, it’s safe to say, “literal.”

But a metaphorical reading reminds the reader of the link between spirituality (praising God) and political ethics (striving to restrain the power of the powerful on behalf of justice). 
It is this linkage, then, that is “glory for all the faithful ones” (v.9b).

And one last thing: it’s a messy world in which we live, and the lines of “good and evil” are rarely clear. Which is to say, that no one has the option of opting out of the world - to praise God without a political link is no praise at all, but a cursing of God, a rejection of God’s world, and God’s commitment to the world. and all of its mess, and a forthright abandonment of our covenantal commitment to the “widow, the orphan and the alien” and the concomitant responsibility of restraining power.

So, indeed, praise God.

And then take up the sword (metaphorically speaking) ... on behalf of those who have no sword of their own, and as a favor to the powerful, who are likely to strangle themselves on power, lest other powers give them the gift of restraint. It’s messy, for sure, but necessary.

Praise God and take up the sword.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pastoral Prayer, October 11, 2015

First Congregational Church, Los Angeles

Eternal God, bless us we pray, with the mind of Christ … 
That we might be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

This day, O God, we pray for a great strengthening of our faith … to embrace the opportunities that stand all around us … opportunities for good, kindness, transformation … to lift a clear voice for the sake of the oppressed … to come to the defense of the poor … to stand firm against violence … the violence of fear and hatred … the violence that fails every test of trust and violates all the conventions of human kindness.

The world is a great sorrow, O God, … but we will not turn away from it … we will not hide in our homes, nor in our religion, neither in our work nor our play … for you have called us to great responsibility …

We pledge to you, O God.
The resources of life.

We promise to learn and grow.
Engage and serve.
Sign up and sign on.

We will add our strength to your strength, O God.
We will add our love and our hope.
Our time, talent and treasure.

We will read and study.
Ponder and pray.
To learn more of our world.
And of your ways.

Eternal God:
Your glory leads us.
Your mercy surrounds us.
Your purpose compels us.
Your love is everywhere.
Heaven beckons us onward.
And the saints cry out to us:
“Finish our work!”

Amen and Amen!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Pastoral Prayer, October 4, 2015 - First Congregational Church of Los Angeles

Holy God, forever faithful to your creation …

Your love is at work in all things for good … and toward the good we strive: the welfare of all creatures, great and small … the holy communion of all that lives and breaths upon the face of this earth.

But our hearts are heavy, O God.

We cry out on behalf of our nation and the community of Roseburg, Oregon … the horror of yet another shooting … and how many more times, dear God, will we have to say, “yet another shooting,” how many more deaths will we have to count, how many more shattered families to support, until our nation comes to its senses about violence and guns and the rhetoric of hate that fills our souls with wretched thoughts and compels some to take up deadly ways.

Our minds are whirling, O God - our own Garden of Gethsemane: we don’t want to be here, anymore than Jesus did … we say: “let this cup pass from me” … we want peace and quiet, stillness and calm … yes, give that to us here, O God, in this gracious place and time … but we’re you’re people here and now … no one else to make the decisions, no one else to bear the burdens, and care for your earth. 

Give us a few moments of respite from the trials and tumult of the world; feed us, we pray, with the bread of heaven and refresh us with the cup of blessing … and then send us, we pray, as you sent Elijah: back to our world, to our tasks, to the hard work of salvation - to be an offering of praise and goodness, for the wellbeing of the world. 

On this World Communion Sunday, O LORD, we catch a glimpse of what can be … a world gathered around a Table, a table big enough for everyone, set with enough bread and drink to satisfy the deepest hunger and the most pressing thirst.

All around the world, dear God, people gather in the name of their gods and goddesses, uttering prayers and seeking life in an endless variety of tongues and traditions … we give thanks for every bit of it … 

Because we’re all in this together, dear God, frail and fragile as we are, given to impulses sometimes less than good, dreaming dreams of a better world … learning how to use our abilities, O God, never to conquer, and always to console; never to abuse, but only to enhance … never to degrade, yet always and forever to bless.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Pastoral Prayer, September 6, 2015 - First Congregational Church of Los Angeles

Another summer, O God, has passed us by … and we wonder where all the time has gone … time speeds on heedlessly, and we’re swept along in its mighty currents … and in every moment, with every tick of the clock, every turn of the calendar, dear God, there you are, the contestant companion, who walks with us and talks with us along life’s narrow way … 

In moments of worship, O God, with just a word, a memory, a song, a Bible Story, we find ourselves transported, moved, caught up, in something wonderfully good and beautiful … 

If only for a moment, catching a glimpse of you out of the corner of our eye, and when we turn to see more, we only see our neighbor … as it should it be, O LORD, in whose image we all are formed … remind us day-by-day, that when we look for you, dear God, we find our neighbor, and when we look at our neighbor with kindly eyes, we find you!

We pray for our world, O God, … convulsed with violence and war - a child’s body washed ashore in distant Turkey shreds our soul with unspeakable sorrow … we would rather turn away, O God … but you firmly hold our face with your hands and turn us toward the image of the child … you turn us toward the refugees fleeing the maelstrom of war … you open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and our hearts to bleed … and we are wiling, O LORD, to follow Christ, though always a little fearful … the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak … but we are yours, O God, and we give ourselves to you all the more.

And to one another … for we are not alone in the struggle for righteousness and peace … and we thank you, O God, for all whom you have raised up in this world to fight the good fight, women and men of good will all around the world … striving for humanity’s highest ideals of peace and goodness … with them, O God, we join hands - in prayer, in faith, in work, with all that we are, and all that we hope to be, for the sake of a better world.

Lead us, we pray, to be engaged and thoughtful … willing and eager to take up our cross … to follow in the footsteps of Christ where’re he lead … to bear witness to hope, to speak truth to power, and to welcome the little children. Amen!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Pastoral Prayer, August 30, 2015

Eternal God, we open our hearts and minds to you this day, anew … we seek your guidance and wisdom … the wisdom of the ages, tried and tested by women and men who have given themselves unto humanity, taken up the hard work of justice, applied themselves to the toughest problems of history … 

Open our eyes, O LORD, to those who love life and can teach us how to love all the more … women and men of great compassion and learning and devotion … they’re all around us, O God … sometimes we learn of them in the news, but most of the time, it’s a quiet witness they give … as they go about their daily tasks - with bravery, faith and love … bless them, keep them, in their noble endeavors, and watch over us all that we might constantly push ahead for the better world.

We pray for this church, O God … may it always be a safe haven from the storms of life, a place to learn of faith, hope and love … to hear the gospel proclaimed in all of its beauty and all of its power, to transform lives and reshape the world.

Bless our Trustees and Deacons … our Altar Guild and the Women’s Association, the Seekers Class, Pilgrim School, Jonathan and Christoph, and all our gifted musicians, and our staff, dear God - who maintain the books, print the bulletin, keep an eye on things, maintain our buildings and grounds, clean our hallways and offices … 

We pray for Scott and his family … may they all have safe travels in their various and sundry endeavors … may your Spirit continue to liven Scott’s spirit and provide him the words and insights needed to speak the gospel and to mirror its grace.

And for the members and friends of First Church - who work and pray, serve and give … to keep this church vibrant and growing … a reflection of humanity’s highest values and your deepest grace, O God … keep us we pray, in your hand, that we might be of great value to your world.

We pray this morning, O God, for rain … and for snow in the Sierras this winter …

We pray for the scientists who study our environment … who help us understand the world you’ve created, dear God, and how it works, and how we can spell the difference - for good and for ill … and we pray that your Spirit will guide us toward decisions that honor your creation, decisions that honor all creatures, great and small … decisions that honor the butterfly and the river, the vast oceans and the smallest minnow.

Even as we pray, remind us that you hear our prayers, and that every prayer counts … plain and simple, what’s on our heart, in our mind, well-said, or said in a panic … we lay our prayers before you, just as they are - it’s all we can do, O LORD, and these are the prayers we offer … 

In the name of our LORD Jesus Christ, who is, who was, and is to come, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning of all things good, the end toward which all creation moves … a bright and glorious day, a new heaven and a new earth … all made new, all made good - our mission, our hope, our purpose, our dream. 

To the glory of God, and for the wellbeing of all. Amen! and Amen!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Pastoral Prayer, August 16, 2015

First Congregational Church of Los Angeles

Eternal God, we give thanks … thanks for the day, these moments of worship … to be here with one another in the great fellowship of faith, to hear the words of hope and peace proclaimed in sermon and song … to feel the very presence of the saints - their memories linger here, O God, in stone and wood, glass and fabric, all of which speak to your high purpose and our task to bless the world.

With your Spirit, O God, help us to be attentive, to look with determined eyes, eyes to really see one another, the world around us, the beauty of our earth and the wonder of the universe … vast and mysterious, glorious and good … 

That we might have hearts of praise … hearts quick to respond to goodness … eager to praise and give encouragement: to the child next to us, to the colleague across the table, to our lovers and our friends … to lighten the darkness, dispel gloom, raise up hope, and speak the words of peace to our troubled world … 

Help us, we pray:

To be all the more devoted to seek humane solutions when others give way to violence … to preserve life in all its many forms … from the lions of Africa to the child living in a cardboard box … help us, we pray, to see the world with your eyes, and to apply ourselves as best we can to the great tasks of life … to never grow so weary that we quit, to never be so jaded that we give up, to never accept evil so that we cease doing good … 

And so we pray today:

For all of those affected by the explosion in Tianjin, China … 
For the refugees streaming out of Burundi … 
For the nation of Greece …
For the Peoples of Palestine …
For Cuba and for Iran …

In a world distressed and great with danger:
We give thanks … holy thanks, for those who seek peace and speak truth: so we especially pray today for President Jimmy Carter and his family … we know, O God, that his doctors will do their best, yet the clock ticks onward, as it does for us all … and time quietly steals us all away.

May President Carter find solace in the greats works of peace to which he has devoted his life … and may all of us continue to learn from his vision for a better world. 

We pray, too, for Julian Bond’s family as they grieve his passing today … what a legacy he leaves for us: faith, hope and love … bravery in the face of high difficulty, and a willingness to put his life on the line. 

O LORD, our God, we thank you that we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, who speak truth to power, and who live the power of the Crucified and Risen Christ. 

In their strength we are strong; in their wisdom we are wise … help US, dear God, to learn from them all.

With the courage of their faith encouraging us, we take up our cross and will never lay it aside, dear God … we follow Christ as he would lead, we go where the heart of faith calls us, we are brave in the face of difficulty, and will not turn aside, even though we tremble!

We will be as Christ to one another, so that life prevails in the goodness of love.

This we pray, in the name of our LORD Jesus Christ … Amen and Amen!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

It'll Be Okay!

When it comes to life after death,
My wife and I decided many years

That whatever happens, it'll be okay.

It's never been high on my list.
Because I had good preachers and teachers who
Didn't dwell on it, but on life, instead.

So, whatever happens, it'll be okay.
Whatever God decides.
it'll be okay.



With one caveat ... for others who've suffered
Much and had life cut short.
For them, I'd like something more.

A full belly.
A safe bed.
Some toys.



Whatever God decides.

But I hope ... for their sake ...
I'd be okay with that.



"Stand by Your Man" - Written by, Guess What, by a Man

A man wrote the lyrics for Tammy Wynette's hit, "Stand by Your Man" - Billy Sherill, country music producer in the 1960s and '70s, who recently died.

So I looked up the lyrics, and here they are:

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman
Giving all your love to just one man
You'll have bad times, and he'll have good times
Doin' things that you don't understand
But if you love him, you'll forgive him
Even though he's hard to understand
And if you love him, oh be proud of him
'Cause after all he's just a man.
Stand by your man, give him two arms to cling to
And something warm to come to
When nights are cold and lonely.
Stand by your man, and show the world you love him
Keep giving all the love you can.
Stand by your man.
Stand by your man, and show the world you love him
Keep giving all the love you can.
Stand by your man.

Wow ... what a dysfunctional message: Women, the guy may be a jerk, but, after all, you've had YOUR bad days, too, and he's just man - I mean, a low-down skunk with the morals of alley cat, who drinks too much and loves to use his fists, but that's all right, dear little woman, because you have your bad days, too, and he's just a man.

Only a man could have written this drivel, this nonsense, this dysfunctional, "love him no matter what." And how many women, living in hell, with "just a man" who's cruelty and selfishness know few boundaries, have sung this song in their tears, crying themselves to sleep. And how many evangelical pastors have relied on this abusive text to convince women to "forgive, submit and try all the harder," because it's their task to "stand by their man," no matter how many times he abandons his family, comes home drunk, beats everyone up, commits adultery without remorse ... because "he's just a man," and this is surely God's will for the woman. The Bible says so.

This song's a crime against women ... and, yes, it could've only been written by a man.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Pastoral Prayer, July 12, 2015

Pastoral Prayer - First Congregational Church of Los Angeles

Eternal God, we are what we are.
A mess of this.
And a mass of that.
Bits and pieces swirling around like autumn leaves,
Driven by the wind.

We are dream-chasers, O God.
And when we catch them, we’re still not sure.

There is a great restlessness in us, O God.
Always the yearning.
The search.
The quest.

We look toward the hills on high.
Pathways abound, O God.
Some well-traveled.
Some less so.
Some highways, wide and easy.
Some narrow and hard.

And you are the God of the Way.
We find you upon every pathway, and upon every pathway,
You find us. 
Sometimes, dear God, to help us move a little bit faster.
To keep up the adventure, to stay the course, to maintain the journey, to never give up in our pursuit of good.
Sometimes to stop us dead in our tracks, lest we make a hideous mess of things … hurt and compound hurt in our sometimes willful ways … turning us back to find another way.

You are the companion of the way.
Even when we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

There you are.
The constant companion.
The guide, everlasting.
The Shepard of the Sheep.
You take us to fresh water.
Lay us down in green pastures.
Restore our soul.

O LORD, our God, we pray for many things this day.
Ourselves, of course, for we need your grace.
For our loved ones, O God, that your mercy would enfold them.
And for our world, dear God, that women and men of great vision, deep wisdom, compassion, would lead us aright, dampen the fires of war, increase the light of learning, strengthen the efforts of peace.

In the name of the Prince of Peace, even Jesus Christ our LORD. Amen!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Pastoral Prayer, July 5, 2015

First Congregational Church of Los Angeles

We pray, dear God, for lots of reasons.
Reasons we don’t even fully understand.
Sometimes we’re desperate, LORD.
Sometime we’re angry, so angry, we frighten ourselves.
Sometimes, LORD, we’re filled with joy.
A cup overflowing …
Our hearts dance with pleasure, and we say, Thank You!

On this weekend, O God, we’re mindful of our nation.
Our Founding Mothers and Fathers.
A vision of liberty and justice for all.

LORD, there is goodness in our DNA, a bright and beautiful thread woven into the tapestry of our story, and we thank you.

Help us, we pray, to strengthen that goodness all the more:
Creative energies to find new ways for better living.
Generosity to build universities and hospitals.
A social security network to leave no one behind.

Yet in your kindness, O God, keep our sins ever before us.
Do not, we pray, let us be blinded by our goodness, lest we become victims of sinful pride and the idolatry of nation.

We admit, O LORD, and we confess:
We haven’t always done the right thing.
With Native Americans whose land this was.
Chinese laborers who built our railroads.
Africans enslaved to harvest sugar and cotton.

O LORD our God, stir our conscience, press in upon us, that we might be more than we are … 

And we will sing, O God, with joy and hope:

“My country ’tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, Land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountain side, Let freedom ring.” Hallelujah and Amen!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pastoral Prayer, June 21, 2015

Pastoral Prayer
First Congregational Church of Los Angeles

Creator of heaven and earth, eternal God … the news of the day won’t let us rest … and that’s all right, O LORD… we’ll not shy away from the cross of Christ; in his name, we will carry the burdens of justice and love, and the pain and sorrow occasioned by fear and hatred… we will, dear God, to the best of our abilities, defend our neighbors against all forms of bigotry and mistreatment.

But neither are we pure, LORD. We know that, and it pains us to say so.

There is something of Cain’s instinct in each of us, perhaps quiet and not so violent, but Cain nonetheless, skulking around the edges of our soul … protect us, we pray, from evil influences; help us to look to Jesus all the more, and with his Spirit, confront our own demons and help the world find its goodness.

With your Holy Spirit, dear God, empower us to work all the more to make this a just and peaceful world … to live the glory of the beatitudes … to honor the Sermon on the Mount … to love as our LORD has loved us, for there is no greater power than love, and love no greater, than to lay down our lives for one another.

We pray for the families of the dead … may the love of friends and neighbors be deeply felt in long hugs and shared tears … may the hymns of faith bring comfort … may the Word of Life proclaimed bring new resolve to work for racial healing.

We pray for those who have given themselves unto hatred … who look upon the world with fevered eyes … eager to kill for the sake of bad dreams and bitter lies. We pray that some influence, some word, some moment of sanity, will break through the walls of hatred and fear, to cleanse their souls and change the course of their lives, to a course of life set upon good rather than evil.

And may our nation, dear God, use this tragedy to think a little more clearly about the violence that courses through our cities and towns … racial and ethnic hatred, hatred for gays and lesbians and transgenders … so much hatred, O God, and a lot of it in the name of your Son, Jesus.

Here in this place, we would be different … true to Christ, welcoming all, and lifting up the truth of all religion: to love one another is salvation.

For our leaders, O God, grant wisdom to craft legislation that can put the brakes on violence … legislation that promotes the dreams of our pilgrim mothers and fathers - a land of opportunity, where anyone can be president, and everyone can find a safe place to live out their hopes and dreams.

Be with us, then, dear God, in the remains of this day … whether it’s back to work, or back to bed, or out to celebrate Father’s Day … help us, we pray, to be of good cheer, love much, think deeply,  read widely, forgive quickly … brave in the face of adversity and kind in all our ways, eager to put our hand to the plow and never ever look back … Amen and Amen!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Pastoral Prayer, June 14, 2015

Pastoral Prayer - June 14, 2015
First Congregational Church of Los Angeles

Vast are the heavens, O God.
Glorious is the earth upon which we live.
Remarkable in all ways is the carnival of life that sings and dances across the ages … all creatures, great and small … the curve of a gull’s wing and its raucous cry as it wheels through the morning sky … from the tiniest bug that bites us to the mighty creatures of forest and prairie … each, O LORD, a living being crafted by your hand in the eons of time and the mysteries of biology.

We are humbled and blessed by the world around us, O God … and amazed that it’s ours to batter or to bless … to manage well is our prayer, as you have invited us to name the animals with care and to dress and replenish the earth … to exercise the care and love with which you created the heavens and the earth in the original moment, when your Spirit moved over the face of the deep and light shattered the darkness.

Grant us, we pray, the encouragement of your Holy Spirit this morning, that we might catch our breath, find hope anew, and leave here ready to embrace the times in which we live: to learn all that we can, to redouble efforts as peace-makers in a world of too much war, and to regard well the lilies of the field and the ravens of the air.

To this end, O God, we pray for the welfare of the church here and around the world … that the gospel be preached with integrity and intelligence and kindness, that the church would reflect the very welcome and affirmation of Jesus Christ our LORD.

We pray for the welfare of all houses of worship … for synagogue, temple and mosque … for rabbis, monks and imams … for all who lift up the hopes of humankind in prayer and deed … and especially, we pray this day, for the Guibord Center and its efforts to build bridges between the great religions of the world, to lessen the tensions of misunderstanding and to create trust and appreciation for your manifold glory, O God, the many pathways you’ve created, revealed in every sacred text and in every prayer.

We pray for leaders of industry, O God … leaders of government around the world … into whose hands, O God, you have placed great responsibility. May the demons of profitability be challenged by the angels of responsibility … may the madness of greed be tempered by the powers of mercy … may the interests of the few be supplanted by the needs of the many.

O God, we pray, with heart and mind, body and soul, giving thanks that our prayers are heard, our needs acknowledged, our sorrows taken up into your great heart … as your providential care weaves mercy and kindness into the folds of time and into the very fabric of lives, working in all things for good.

And so we say Dear God: you are worthy to receive all that we are and all that we have … for thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever, world without end. Amen!

Monday, June 1, 2015

God and the Weather

God and the weather.

Various conservative pundits and preachers boldly announce that the latest weather catastrophe (whatever it might be at the moment) is of God, and likely related to God's displeasure and subsequent punishment. From hurricanes to drought, God is in the weather business.

Reading in Deuteronomy the last few mornings, weather was clearly a part of the god-story, vital to an agrarian society. Moses makes clear: love and serve God faithfully and the climate will be good for crops, with adequate rainfall, early and late, just right.

And should the people fail to honor God, then God will shut up the heavens and the crops will fail for want of rain.

Tit for tat ...

So when Rev. So-and-So decries the sins of some city, or nation, as the reason for the hurricane or flood or drought or earthquake, the Rev. is simply echoing what's in the Sacred Text: Morality and faith, or the lack thereof, are directly linked to the weather.

Hence, the denial of human-influenced global warning, and the affirmation that "only God can change the weather."

What do I do with this?

First off, the easy association of human behavior and God's manipulation of the weather is just "too easy." We know that the earth revolves around the sun, and the world isn't flat. We know that vast weather patterns and earthquakes are the result of a living planet and eco-systems. Dead planets neither shake nor have weather, either the pleasant kind or destructive.

So, simply to say, "the sin or New Orleans brought the hurricane," or the flooding in Texas the result of "witchcraft and sodomy" is simply a manipulative device to frighten people, even as it encourages spiritual smugness on the part of those "safe in the LORD."

What we know scientifically (God be praised) makes such simple and simplistic associations untenable.

Yet, in spite of themselves, conservatives have a point (contrary to their assertions): Human activity does influence the weather!

While their love of capitalism and money keeps them from seeing just how deeply influential on the environment is human activity, as in fracking and the use of fossil fuels, they've managed to hoist themselves on their own petard (sort of like the sermon illustration of finger-pointing - there may well be one finger pointing at someone else, but there are three pointing back at us). Indeed, Moses was right, not quite in the way Moses might have thought, but in the reminder to the people that human activity has a bearing on the weather and the earth.

What we know about our living planet and its vast weather systems no longer allows what I call a simple "punishment model." But the text does remind us, as scientists are telling us, that human behavior is connected to the weather and now we know to earthquakes, too.

Connected, not quite in the moralistic way that Moses might be suggesting, but in a way deeper and more profound and a whole lot more dangerous.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Psalm 96

Psalm 96.10-13 offers a word of hope for all the world, confused and crazy and mean as it can be.
The Psalmist says: "The world is firmly established; it'll never be moved." 
The rest of the Psalm offers up striking images of judgment ... not the hammer and fire kind, but restoration and kindness and peace.
The Psalmist clearly sees the world for what it is, and it isn't always good (vss. 1-9), but rather than shouting out wrath, the Psalmist offers up hope. And in the hope offered, judgment is clear, not as a threat of destruction, but a pathway for how it's going to work out. 
The Psalmist doesn't succumb to the spiritual temptation of faith: threats of punishment to the "enemy" ... "god will get ya', and it ain't gonna be pretty. Ha!"
Noting like that in Psalm 96.
Only confidence in God's restorative justice and judgment - not a separating of the peoples from one another (there's more than enough of that already), but a joining together of all creation with humankind - the image of the Garden realized.
The Psalmist has a kindly spirit about her.
Other writers of the Text have differing temperaments, and there's time and place for them, too. Take names and kick butt.
But this Lectionary piece caught my attention. The world will end in flowers and fields and goodness, and with peace between Cain and Abel.
Such is the judgment of God!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Shorter History of Western Civilization" by Robert Lax, 1962



Jews & 

Jews & 



Jews &

Jews & 





Saturday, April 18, 2015

I Love Words ...

I love words, and have loved them since my
English Prof back in 1966 challenged me (that's
Another story).
Words are my friend and my enemy.
They welcome and defy me.
Sometimes compliant; sometimes defiant.
They fall into place, sometimes.
Sometimes, like getting blood out of a
Words continue to amaze me.
So many words.
Many I rarely use.
I keep wrestling with them. And,
They with me.
Never a clear winner.
But always the delight.
Of a hard fought

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Chalk Screeching on a Blackboard.

Children, these days, are
Denied the "pleasure" of
Hearing chalk screech on a blackboard.

A sound that
Sets teeth on edge, and
Sends a chill through the body.

I had such a moment this morning.
Reading Psalm 47.
Which begins well enough:

"Clap your hands ...
Shout for joy ...
The LORD is awesome."

I was all set to clap and
Until ...

"He has subdued peoples
Under us ..
Under our feet."

My teeth clinched.
My heart soured.

Written by someone
Standing on the mountain of victory.
Written with the chalk of death.

Someone who saw God in the blood.
In the violence.
In the victory.

How different the Psalms
Written when all was lost in

Harps hung up.
No singing.
No joy.

But that's another story.

This morning.
My mind hurt.
With sadness.

Sadness for "all those peoples."
Oh sure, they were heathen.

They had no right to "our land."
It's all about national security.
The LORD is awesome.

In the minds of some,
Who Cotton to things like this.
Let the bombs fall.

Let there be death and violence.
Plenty of it.
Plenty to go around.

We're on top of the mountain.
Our little pile of bones.
Our junk yard of shell casings.

The LORD is awesome.
Subduing folks beneath our feet.
Crushing them like egg shells.

Discarded after Easter.
When we all shouted,
"The LORD is awesome."


Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday

It's Good Friday ... strange term for an ugly day.
When Rome said to Jesus:
"No more of this young man."
"To your room, and there'll be no supper for you."

Rome was the top dog.
Its version the story.
Raise a question? "I wouldn't if I were  you."
"Cross us, and we'll cross you."

Some Christians, when Empire looked good to them,
Said: "Jesus died for our sins."
Now, here was an idea Empire could dig.
An idea that really worked, for the sake of Empire.

"We may be bad," but we're forgiven."
Jesus died for our sins, right?
All is good.
So, let's get on it with it.

Empire in Jesus' name.
Blood and guts spilled by the ton.
Slavery, torture and death.
All in Jesus' name.

Wow ... what a pack of lies.
What a terrible day.
When the church looked at Friday,

and called it Good!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Prayer Is a Very Odd Thing

Prayer is a very odd thing.
Delicate as a desert flower.
But sturdy like a desert plant.

"I don't know," is often my prayer.
"Jesus my LORD" is often my prayer.
In not knowing, trust.

Prayer is a very odd thing.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Judging Others

"By their fruits you shall know them" ... Matthew 7.16 ... are there no standards for Christian Life, for Christian Ethics? If someone says, "I'm a Christian," does that exempt them from scrutiny? BTW, Jesus said this in the "Sermon on the Mount" and in a passage where he warns against "false prophets who come in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves."

Yes, I know, "Judge not" ... Jesus said that too, Mathew 7.1 ... so it's helpful to read the entire chapter ... the "judge not" is "the judgment of exclusion" ... a judgment that says, "You do not belong and can't enter because you're not good enough,or righteousness enough." Of such judgmental people, Jesus uses the word "hypocrite" - i.e. they fail to see their own foibles and weaknesses, but rather harshly exclude those whom they deem "unworthy" of God's love.

Jesus makes some very profound judgments ... against those who are quick to exclude, who are quick to pander to the powers-that-be, who parade around their religion before others in public places.

Jesus judges, and with his words and insights, so must we ... but not a judgment that excludes, but a judgment that exposes - exposes hypocrisy and falsehood and bigotry and hatred and spiritual one-upsmanship (something that really bugged Jesus, and Paul, too).

If I say that I love my wife and then turn my back upon her needs and hurts, one would rightly have to question my claim of love.

Just saying ...