Daily Devotional: (Repost) Living Authentically, Living Holy, Living Whole

Recently my wife passed.  To be gentle with myself and give myself time to get back in the swing of editing and choosing what I share from my spiritual journal, I am sharing some oldies but goodies from the devotional.  This one focuses on something my dear wife had to learn to do not just for herself but for others in her work as a pastor, a youth advocate working with bullied/abused youth, and also a queer woman with disabilities: how to find wholeness, live authentically, and discover or build (when not already present) supportive community.

I hope it helps you find wholeness.

Micah

Daily Devotional: Living Authentically, Living Holy, Living Whole

candle under bushelLuke 8:16-25

This reading includes three different stories.

The first is Jesus’ warning about not hiding a light under a bushel. As I first began to read this parable of Jesus, I jump immediately to the version of it I am used to hearing. That one, found in the Gospel of Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount, says that we must remember we are light and our lights are supposed to shine.   Matthew remembers Jesus’ words as a call to live out fully and visibly the difference Jesus calls us to be. Dare to be different, dare to demonstrate through your actions in visible ways the difference Christ has made in your unseen heart.

I am a bit surprised to see that Luke interprets this story differently. Luke remembers Jesus moving from this example into an explanation that what is done in secret will be displayed visibly for all. This is a call to integrity, to having your unseen life match your public life.

I think about how we can try to present as if we are “better” in the eyes of the world and the community at large than we are. We can try to appear more together, more skilled, more virtuous, more forthright, than others.   I also think of stories like Caitlyn Jenner’s recent coming out as a transgender person. This fact of Jenner’s experience was something kept secret while she was known to the world as “Bruce”, yet it eventually had to come out as a part of her journey to wholeness.   At times we can think that hiding our past, our gifts, our weaknesses, or (as in this case) our true gender identity or sexuality can cause us to look better and get by. Ultimately such secrets can eat us up from the inside out.

I have been learning the last few years while serving more as a chaplain than a pastor, that there is a power in vulnerability about one’s own weaknesses, fears, insecurities.   When we are willing to be open about those parts of who we are and allow others to do the same, there is a way in which our willingness to be vulnerable can build a bridge across which true connection can happen.   Yet to do this we first must be willing to be vulnerable to ourselves and before God.  In truth, a part of why hiding parts of ourselves to others is so attractive is that often we don’t want to face ourselves in all of our complicated, messy journey.

Here is where the other two stories of this reading – of Jesus identifying our new family, and of the storm – tie together for me today.

We fear facing ourselves in all of the messiness and complexity that we are because we fear rejection and loss, and because we fear our lives from abandoning the comfortable patterns we are used to. We fear true honesty with ourselves and others, let alone God, will cause our lives to tail spin out of control.

In truth, at times people do face rejection for their honesty. I know many LGBT folks I’ve ministered to as a pastor and a chaplain who could tell how initially important family members and friends were confused, upset, or even rejecting.   I know of folks who, when they face the reality of addiction and begin to make amends, experience others as not open to this new stage of sobriety in their lives.

jesus and new familyYet living a lie can rob life from our days, stealing our authenticity.   It can cause us to deep down have a despair in knowing the relationships around us are ones that are founded not on others truly accepting us as we are, in all our messy glory, but based on facades. And opening up allows us to connect with those that will accept us in ways that go so much deeper.

So Jesus reminds us that even if we lose some in our circle of connection – family and friends – God provides a wider network of community. Those who follow the path Jesus is laying out find themselves being re-integrated into a community of belonging based on this deeper honesty and truthfulness.

When I talk to LGBT people who come out, this is the truth they share. There are some who reject them, but they find others with whom their already existing connection becomes truer and stronger. They also find new friendships and new “family of choice” emerging out of those who find this from-the-heart honesty and vulnerability life-giving and meaningful.

new familySimilarly in the lives of people living out the honesty sobriety requires there is a new camaraderie that bursts forth among other former addicts who find such honesty is the key to saving their own lives from disaster.

At the heart of such acceptance is a sense that they matter, just as they are. Even though not all coming out or seeking sobriety in such a way would put this feeling in religious terms I believe it has at its heart God whispering to us in our souls the Good News that we are perfectly imperfect, accepted by God in all our messiness and confusion as beloved, beautiful, and worthy. We are children of God in whom God is well-pleased whatever our difference, our vulnerability, our failings, our brokenness, our past, our hidden secrets. They are not secret to God. And opening up about them to others allows us to be true to God about them, inviting deeper vulnerability to God.

This is why we need not fear the storms in our lives such honesty may unleash.   The Living Christ walks with us, riding alongside us on the boat of our souls. When those waves whip up, as they inevitably will whenever we try to change the patterns of our lives to the better, the living Christ can speak the words of peace which may or may not end the storm but will allow us, if we embrace them, to get through the storm to the other side more whole than before.

May you experience that living presence more fully from the depth of your soul, as you and I both walk together into a life of more authenticity and peace. Amen.

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Daily Devotional: Singing of the Flame That Never Dies

coffee-prayer-scripturePsalm 146.

Here the psalmist contrasts the faltering, fleeting power of human rulers who do not last beyond their lives at best and often are fickle about the poor, marginalized, and oppressed with the work and presence of God. What stands out to me is what God does and where God can be found: “The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind; the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;

The LORD loves the righteous; the LORD cares for the stranger; he sustains the orphan and widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked.”

Growing up I got the sense from church that where God was to be found was in withdrawing from the world.  Both in the Adventist group called the Church of God where I spent my childhood and later among the charismatics in high school with whom my faith first came alive I often got the message got had a list of taboo things we had to avoid, lest we get caught up in the world.   If I withdraw from this world and its temptations, avoid those hurdles, I can be holy and apart.  Then God will reach me.

mother with baby in lead sunsetYet the Psalmist does not picture God as far off from our world, but right in its midst.  God is knee-deep in the muck, arms rolled up, like a farmer going down into the mud to rescue his wayward hog or goat that ran off getting caught in mud and briars.   God is more like the mother who hears her child’s cries when they are fallen with broken leg and rushes into the midst of things right to where that child is to lift them up.

Where is God?  God is in our lives, always present and working.

If we want to see God, we need but open our eyes.  Where are there people discovering freedom? Where are eyes being opened more fully to life? Where are people with disabilities discovering greater accessibility in a world so often full of barriers to them?  Where are the bowed down, the oppressed  or discouraged, finding hope and new direction?  Where are the marginalized being included and embraced?  Wherever such happens, where life breaks forth in the midst of death and freedom in the midst of oppression, whatever name is given for that happening ultimately it is the power and presence of the living God motivating it.

To me this is a reminder that to fully experience God I ought not pull away from the muck and mud of this world but plunge in, arms rolled up and ready to help.   We experience God in being God’s partners in this world, going to the places where God’s power and presence daily break out.  As I sit beside the sick and dying, holding their hand and comforting them & their families, I encounter the living God.  As I listen to the stories of the oppressed and marginalized, I see the face of God, and as I join my voice to theirs I participate in God’s work.   As I am present to the life-giving greening power of nature I see God, and as I join my hands to help repair the damage to nature in my small way caused by our selfishness, pollution, & greed I join God in God’s work.

Life then, in every spot and location, is a temple of the living God. Wherever I look I can find the presence of God.  And in any place I can worship, for the work of joining God in the work of healing, giving life, extending compassion, bringing justice or freedom, is worship and is prayer even if no words are spoken or songs sung.

This image of a worship, a song, that is our actions, to me is beautifully pictured by the words of the final song in Les Miserables

Do you hear the people sing

Lost in the valley of the night?

It is the music of a people

Who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth

There is a flame that never dies.

Even the darkest night will end

And the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom

In the garden of the Lord.

They will walk behind the plough-share,

They will put away the sword.

The chain will be broken

And all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade?

Who will be strong and stand with me?

Somewhere beyond the barricade

Is there a world you long to see?

Do you hear the people sing?

Say, do you hear the distant drums?

It is the future that they bring

When tomorrow comes!

Will you join in our crusade?

Who will be strong and stand with me?

Somewhere beyond the barricade

Is there a world you long to see?

Do you hear the people sing?

Say, do you hear the distant drums?

It is the future that they bring

When tomorrow comes…

Tomorrow comes!

Let’s raise our voices and join this throng raising voices in praise, joining God in God’s work of giving life, healing, and freedom to our world.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotional: It’s Never Too Late

U-Turns are often the best way to move life forward.2 Chronicles 29:1-3; 30:1, 10-27

It is never too late to make an effort to make right.  In this text, Israel has been through monarchies and generations ignoring the call to celebrate the Liberator God who freed them from slavery so long ago in the Passover.  They have for generations overlooked the message of God in Holy Scripture.  And now, when they decide as a nation to make time and space for God and God’s Word in their life, they don’t do so on the actual date of the Passover.  They do it a month late, with not everyone ready, and scrambling for supplies.

I think as I read this story of “If only’s” in my life I have had that I thought “it is too late”.   It seemed too late in my career as a pastor to go back to seminary.  It seemed to late to try my hand at something new with my career.  For a friend close to me, it seemed to late in life to admit to themselves and others their sexuality and come out.  For another, it seemed to late to try to have children.  In each of these occasions, the person involved found when they put their hand to the task ahead of them, it was not.  God had planted that desire in their heart and was standing at the ready to help them birth this new possibility into fruition.  For my “if only’s” I found God showing me how it not only was not too late, but this seemingly late timing actually readied my heart through tough experience for deeper aspects of this journey I would not have been ready for otherwise.

It is never too late to commit to whatever God has laid on your heart to do, to seek to make some peace and amends for whomever you are estranged from.  Hear God’s call, take God’s hand, and join in the work God has given you.

And I ain’t whistling Dixie here,

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotional: Remembrance as a Path To Reconnect

great cloud 4 Psalm 105

This psalm is about the power of memory.   God remembers Israel and not just Israel, but also the relationships God had with Israel’s forebears – with Abram who heard God while in the city of Ur, with Sarai who laughed in delight and shock at the news of children beyond all hope, of Moses who trusts God enough to return to the land from which he was exiled, of Mirium who dances to the Lord before the Red Sea singing her bold prophecies.   God remembers God’s relationship, renewing God’s covenant anew with each generation, with each person.

A part of discovering the promise in such a relationship, a relationship the Bible calls “a covenant”, is by our remembering.

great cloud 6I see the power of remembering each day as a chaplain. Sitting by the bedsides of the suffering, the dying, I see how remembering is not just something that happens. It is instead a discipline or spiritual practice like prayer.   For so many patients and their families what gives them the courage and strength to face the uncertainty of what lies before them is the fact they take time to remember: to remember the experiences shared with people like their spouses, children, friends, and parents who have been sources of hope through life’s storms, and to remember the many ways they have encountered God through their lives. This type of remembrance does not just happen but is cultivated.

In Scripture we see this cultivated through hymns like this Psalm which invite us to take time to remember God’s hand both in our personal lives in the history of God’s people across all ages and spiritual practice tree 2lands. We are challenged read and to rehearse to our children this story, which is a part of what Bible study is about.   Yet in the Hebrew Scriptures this is also one of the roles of worship.   The feasts of Israel are days in part set aside to remember holy times in the history of the people of God found in Israel.   The times at temple invite people to reorient their lives not around the business of chronos, the unending avalance of years & activities, but Kairos, time as experienced as the unfolding of living relationship with the Source of all life and with those people whose lives God knits together with our own. As these occur in tune with the cycles of the seasons in Palestine in Scripture, they frame Kairos as including time as include the unfolding of our personal and collective relationships with the land, the air, and the water that makes what Pope Francis calls our ”common home” in his recent encyclical Latudo Si and with the many other living creatures it includes.   Even prayer is framed in Scripture in terms of remembrance for prayer is not just the speaking of the heart what first comes into one’s mind, although this extemporaneous prayer is a spiritual practice prayerlife-giving practice found in Scripture.   Yet Jesus prays the words of Psalm 22 as he hangs on the cross.   The apostles are quoted in Acts as praying the words of other psalms, and Christians through the ages have recited the words “Our Father” as an experience that grounds them in life.   The tradition of liturgical prayer, prayer that uses ancient words of the people of God as a framework to guide our own prayers and breath prayer, using these words of Scripture and words of God’s people down through the ages to inspire contemplative meditation, not only helps us find words when our words fail and to center our minds and hearts but also invite us to remember. To remember the many ways God is at work in us we would forget. To remember too our connection to all God’s people in all lands, times, and faiths. To remember our connection to those who went before us. To remember our connection to those who come after us. To remember our connection to nature and all creatures. To remember our connection to the One in whom we live, in whom we move, and in whom we have our being.

I see as a chaplain and as a pastor people returning to such memories of their own lives, the stories their parents told, the experiences of faith, and see such remembrance give them strength to not just survive another day of illness or suffering but in fact at times even to thrive, radiating a hope, joy, serene acceptance, resiliency, or stubborn “I will not give up” which inspires me.

It would seem that individuals facing dementia would lose their capacity to remember, but I great cloud 2wonder about this fact.   So often when I discover the words of a prayer that drew together their family or church community, the words of a Scripture they often quoted, or especially of a song that gave them hope, when I use that with the patient with dementia I find a light twinkling in their eyes and them mouthing the words to the prayer, Scripture, or song even when a moment before they acted disconnected from me and their environment. On some level, these practices of faith help them remember, if but for a moment, whom they are and whose they are.   I hope in those moments in their own way they hear the whisper of the Almighty “You, dear one, are my child. You, dear one, are the one whom I love. In you, dear one, I am ever well pleased as a mother is ever to her child or a father to his own”.

In my own life, in addition to the practices of meditation, liturgical and breath prayer, Scripture spiritual practice becomingreading, and joining in Christian worship that celebrates our common history, I find the following practices help me remember:

Journaling.   There is a power to writing out to God, to myself, and to others what I have experienced of God, of doubt, of faith.   By writing things out and, time to time, returning to what I have written, I am able to see the ways in which God continues to walk alongside me causing my life to unfold.   In fact, this blog in many ways is an act of journaling. Most of what I write begins as a spiritual journal which I edit, screen for things I don’t need to go public, touch up, and share with you.

Gratitude Practice. I try every day to take time to list of to God and another person several things spiritual practice journalthat happened which are concrete which I am grateful for, including both answered prayers and unexpected joys as small as seeing a red cardinal on a tree to as big as getting a job I worked toward.   I also try to take time to thank people for the blessings they’ve bestowed on me in my life, although I am perhaps not as good at that as I wish I was.   In fact in our family, Kat and I have begun the practice before saying grace for a meal to ask those at the table with us to each list one or two things for which they are thankful, incorporating those into the prayer of thanks.

Reading spiritual biographies and histories.   When I can, I like to read spiritual biographies or books about the history of spiritual leaders & movements. I say “spiritual” because it includes Christian leaders and role-models, but also recognizes people of spirit of other faiths than my own. I am more and more convince that where justice, mercy, compassion, service, and life breaks out, it is a result of the Holy Spirit whom Hildegard of Bingen describe as the bringer of veriditas, the greening life-giving energy in which all things thrive.   And so I see figures like Hildegard, like Dorothy Day, like Deitrich Bonhoeffer, like Sojourner Truth, like Rumi, like the Dalai Lama, like Gandhi, and many others as people whose stories can help me remember how God has worked through the ages and connect up with whom God is & how God is working in my life and world today.

Pilgrimage I don’t do this often, but I do try to practice a bit of pilgrimage – no, I don’t mean heading to holy sites like Jerusalem or Mecca. I really don’t make the money for such long trips. But when I can, I do try to make pilgrimage to holy sites in my own life – to the ocean where I was baptized, to the hills I would visit in my childhood, to a retreat center where I renewed faith.   By visiting for spiritual enrichment such places I revitalize my own sense of where God was at work in my life and my eyes are opened to where God might be at work now.

How do you take time to remember what God has done in your life? In your family? In your community?

How do you take time to experience your connection with those of faith and of spirit whom have gone before? With those of spirit and faith in other lands, cultures, and faiths? With our common home and its many creatures?

Let us take time to remember, knowing in doing so we renew our relationship with One who will never forget us.

And I ain’t whistling any Dixie today,

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotional: No-one is too “ordinary” to make a difference

ahab11 Kings 21:17-29

In the account of Elijah with Ahab and Jezebel, I am struck by how Elijah speaks to this king and queen. There is no groveling here. There is no recognition of them as somehow greater than him. He speaks as to equals, as if before God there is no higher class or lower.   Elijah is no royalty. He is not a part of the elite. He is just a man, a man who prayed and heard God’s voice. And when Elijah did he had a vision of what justice looks like – and saw the people on the top, in this case Ahab and Jezebel, were not living up to that reality of justice.

This is challenging to me.   I don’t know about you but sometimes when I see the weight of injustice in our society – how the top tiniest percentage gain the most wealth while most average people eke by, when I see the oppression faced by my friends & neighbors of color and who are LGBT, I get overwhelmed. I am just an average guy, doing my job and caring for my family. What can I do?

Elijah’s example reminds me that the concepts in my mind – average guy, ordinary gal, or top dog, leader, executive – are just that: ideas. They are not real. In reality, the person on the top and me are no different. If Elijah can do something about injustice, if he can speak up and raise his voice, how much more can I?  As the main character in the British sci fi show Doctor Who says, “900 years of time and space, and I have never met anyone who is not important”

eleventh doctor quoteIn fact, in many ways it is easier to be an important voice for change, whomever you are, today. The book of Kings tells the story of times in which Ahab and Jezebel attempt to kill their critics, going on witch-hunts against voices that speak out against them.   In that day, the king held absolute authority, while today I live in a democracy. I can vote against their policies, and usually can be a part of voting them out.

I can also reach out to raise my voice against unjust practices in local and national businesses. I can get involved in volunteering at places that lift up the lives of the suffering, or groups that call for changing our systems of injustice.

Though it may be overwhelming, I too can do my part. And so can you.

Let’s try to realize there are no “ordinary people” but all of us have the capacity to become Elijahs who do our part against injustice.

And I sure ain’t whistling Dixie,

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotional: Know You are Held, Carried, Nourished, & Never Forsaken

mother holding baby 1Psalm 131 is an image of utter trust.   The child does not cry or raise a raucous for that newborn rests upon her mother’s breasts, wrapped tight in her arms.   She is surrounded by security, has all the nourishment she needs. She is held and protected.

Often what may appear like occupying ourselves with matters to great for us is us living as if it is all up to us, out of a kind of deep insecurity.   Yet in the center of our life is this same love.   The word for Spirit in both Greek and Hebrew comes from the word for breath. The Spirit (ruach, a feminine word in Hebrew) is closer to us than the breath in our lungs, the wind on our face. Like a mother holds her infant close, so God the Holy Spirit ever embraces us while God the Creator, the Christ, the Spirit say to us “you are my child, the one whom I love, in you I am well pleased”. Go through this day and all your days knowing whatever you face and whatever you go through, you are held. You are embraced. You are alove. Never alone you can face whatever lies before you.

And I sure ain’t whistling Dixie, your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotional: Learning to Confront Your Fears and Live Into Your Futures

cave-you-fear-joseph-campbell-quote432Psalm 5

At times, like the Psalmist, I feel hounded by fears. Since beginning my meditation practice, in which I slow down and pay attention to my feelings and thoughts to help better see myself and see God within the patterns woven throughout my life, I have come to realize that underneath the façade I show others and at times try to show myself, I have a greater amount of fear than I ever want to admit.

I see an open door and the same time a part of me says “thank God! What a blessing!” a part of me says “you are just going to blow it like you always do”.

I see a new friendship or relationship open up and a part of me rejoices to get to know another and be known, but deep down there is a voice of fear saying “once they really know you, things will change” or “Just wait! Foot in mouth disease is about to ensue”.

It is strange to find in my meditation practice that in many ways I may feel these fears more strongly at first. It is not that I am more afraid, but more aware of the many whispered voices and thoughts in my life, both the ones of hope and also the ones of fear, doubt, questioning that sometimes feel like they nip at my ankles like angry dogs gathering around.

God mother henThe Psalmist finds hope in God, who shelters them like a mother bird shelters her chicks underneath her wings. I remember when Katharine and I were raising chickens in Robeson county.   A big hurricane came through and we woke to the cheeping of many little squeaking voices.   Tiny puffs of feather were all over the debris-strung yard, being gathered up under the wings of one fierce momma hen.   Whenever the chicks went off into unsafe territory, she gathered them under her wing. Whenever danger threatened she was poised to peck it away with her sharp beak.

Like a mother, we are told God gathers us under Sacred embrace where we are safe. I see this in my remembrance of God’s words over Jesus, words said over each of us in our baptism – “You are my Child, whom I love, in you I am well-pleased”. I’ve begun to include this in my meditation lately, remembering these words as I say the “Our Father” prayer Jesus gives in the Sermon on the Mount.   For me, this remembrance helps bolster me against my yipping Mother_and_Child_by_senseibushidofears of inadequacy and failure that sometimes so beleaguer my soul.   My worth is not what I accomplish, what I know, how well I present myself to others, or how liked I am by those I want to like me. Rather, I have worth for I am. I am born of the mothering Spirit of Life who embraces me in each moment, in the Father of all Creation, in Christ my Brother in suffering and joy who walks ahead of me in this path of life.   I am looked at by this One as loved, one in whom this God is pleased. Ever and always. Before I have done anything right or wrong. Before I show potential or contribute. My failing or succeeding in the eyes of the world – or my own eyes! – does not change this. My worth remains constant. For me this settles some of my trembling fears.

The amazing thing, of course, of the image of God relating to us as mother bird is that the mother bird gathers the chicks under her wings not just to keep them safe but so that they might learn how to find the strength to know how to defend themselves against obstacles, and to learn the wisdom to know safe paths. It is not so they can ever remain under wing.   By moving with her motion, they learn the way of safety, security, and peace. To me that too is a picture that helps me as I face into my fears.

God’s desire is for me not to remain infantile, stuck in patterns of fear. Though the same fears may re-emerge throughout my life – for goodness’ sake, throughout my day – they need not keep the same hbreath prayerold on me. As I practice my meditation, mindfulness, prayer, and other practices of Spirit I can become aware of the ways the Spirit is modeling care for my soul, awareness of my worth, other ways of seeing the sources of potential fear. As I do this I can begin to learn self-care, the path to finding wisdom within, the path that is safe, secure, and life-giving. One of the surprises of my spiritual journey to deeper freedom has been to learn how to ask my fears: What do you want to teach me?   In doing so, I can begin to not become stuck by them, but also to realize these seeming enemies can be teachers on my way, as I see what mistakes these fears are trying to ask me to avoid.  Often I find as I ask this question, I already am doing the things necessary to avoid the pitfall my fear wants me to side-step, but sometimes I find turning areas I can learn, grow, and hone my path so that instead of becoming barriers, the fears can become helpers instead of hindrances on my journey.    As I continue on my spiritual journey, I can begin to grow up in Christ into a more whole and holy person. Though I may never arrive this side of the veil, my spiritual practice opens my heart to let God teach me how to daily confront my fears without being ruled by them, how to break these patterns that could otherwise keep me prisoner.

I wonder what story you have of your own experience confronting fear, doubt, questions, which feel threatening and seem to block your way ahead. What practices or experiences of Spirit have helped you face these? Where do you struggle still? What has opened up for you and how?

Know you are held and loved. Know you are worth more than you know. Know together with God, you can learn not to be destroyed by your fears but to embrace a new and holy path.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah