Jesus Deported: A Holy Week Reflection

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-m3fh4-8e3977

For our Holy Week podcast this  year, I want to share an old recording — an interview with Rev. David Mateo, pastor Spanish language ministries at United Church of Chapel Hill, about his book JESUS DEPORTED, which re-casts the life of Jesus in the light of the experience of undocumented immigrants.   As we hear the call this season to take up our crosses and follow Jesus, Pastor David’s vision of Christ standing with the poor and outcasts and of the church as tearing down all barriers at the table of the Lord is a refreshing vision that I think will inspire you during this Holiest of Weeks.

Enjoy!  

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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Daily Devotional: (repost) Porch Sittin’ in a Marathon World

Daily Devotional: The Power of Porch Sittin’ in a Marathon World

rocking chairs on porchPsalm 131 is a picture of perfect contentment.

As mystics like Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen envisioned, starting with the prophet Isaiah, the Living God is pictured like a mother holding us close to her bed, cradling us in life.   Just as a child is quieted and soothed by this experience of being held close to the beating heart of their mother, so we need to let ourselves experience being held, being lift up, being cradled by the Sacred One whose heartbeat flows through all of life.

Often the message I get from the world around me, whether from the media, from the messages I heard growing up about what a “real man” looks like that I still carry with me, from the pressure of bosses and coworkers, from the syllabus for class or the calendar of to do lists, is that I need to carry. I need to man up. I need to carry my load. I need to buck up and just do what needs to be done. Yet if that voice alone is the one I listen to, I find myself exhausted, drained, and heartsick.

mother-and-childThe promise not just of Scripture but of what Richard Rohr calls the “perennial tradition” at the heart of all life-giving spiritual traditions of every faith and land is that we are more than grunt laborers, more than automatons working to hold up the ever-grinding image of economies.   No we are at heart each people of infinite worth, deserving of love and compassion. Each spiritual tradition envisions this differently, but in the Christian tradition the image is that the Ultimate Reality known by many names but called by us “God” is best known more as a Parent loving a child, a Lover embracing her beloved, a Friend defending his circle of friends even to the death.   Ultimately, the Christian message is that we are loved, beloved.   Our worth is not based on our output, based on our material success. We have intrinsic worth. Just as you might look at your newborn child and value it, love it, embrace it not for its list of successes or failures – which it has not had time to have yet – but simply because it is your child, so God looks at us all with the eyes of love saying over each of us the same words spoken over Jesus in the Gospels — “This is my Child, the one whom I love, in whom I am well-pleased”.

To be able to sustain our lives with all of their responsibilities and trials, we have to take time to pause, to stop going along with the ever-turning seemingly ceaseless grinding of the wheels of “you must do” which we often seem locked into. We need to take time to experience ourselves as ones full of worth and value, not because of our output but because of our intrinsic worth, simply because we are ourselves. We are children of the King, Queen, or Ruler of Creation, infinitely loved.

meditation+dogs+do+it+too_99a07b_3753826One of the things I’ve begun to do to help me with this is a daily meditation practice. In meditation, I stop from the constant focus on what I must do and accomplish and what is lacking in my life. I simply am. I simply focus on my life, on this moment, and on the God who is ever present.   As a lifelong southerner, I find myself drawn to do this not in a traditional lotus position like the mystics of the East but on an old fashioned rocking chair. Yes, I do meditation on a rocking chair with a Mason Jar of sweet tea, thank you very much. I am convinced from that experience that my southern ancestors, poor farmers all who lived close to the earth, were onto something with their sitting on the porch in a rocking chair at the end of the day. There is something to the motion of my body while meditating that reminds me of being rocked as a little child in my mother’s arms.   I am reminded through that meditation that, as this psalm shows me, whatever tasks lie ahead of me and whatever list of oughts are before me, I am still in the eyes of that Living God a precious child, whose worth lies in simply being and being loved. I am reminded that ultimately I am held, held by arms more capable than my own.   Though I must do what lies before me, my worth is not bound up in success and failure. My worth lies in the fact that each moment, however I succeed or fail in the eyes of the world, the One whose heartbeat makes the universe with its galaxies and planets dance in all their orbits is unceasingly looking at me with the eyes of love saying “You are my Child whom I love, in whom I am well-pleased”.

sweet teaKnowing this in your soul is essential. Your spiritual practice may not be rocking chair meditation and your drink of choice not be sweet tea from a Mason jar, but finding ways daily to connect with your identity as one with intrinsic worth, deserving of being loved, deserving of compassion from yourself and others is key.   You may not be a southerner, or even a Christian, but finding the practices that help your rediscover each day that worth will help you sustain your life and reinvigorate your soul.

It is more than just such seemingly spiritual practices as meditation or prayer. Sadly in the West we tend to think of the world of spirit and of flesh, of life-giving awareness and earthy concerns, as separate. So we may see practices like jogging, fishing, laughing, going to a play, writing a poem, working a garden, enjoying our family and friends, as essentially non-spiritual or non-religious.

I think though that these practices, too, can help us renew our sense of worth, value, and push pause on the often crushing tyranny of the oughts. I think for Christians this is modeled in our Scriptures.

It is modelled by Jesus who is often found gathered with friends, food and wine in hand, celebrating his life and theirs.   What’s more, it is modeled by a Jesus who often right when the list of oughts before him is the longest leaves the crowd to lonely places simply to be, because he knew that even as God with men & women as humanity to dwell He could not sustain the life of compassion He had come to model without maintaining his own sense of being Beloved, Valuable, of Worth.

I think this is why in the Jewish tradition in which the Christian Old Testament was composed and in which Christianity emerged perhaps the most central spiritual practice is the keeping of Sabbath. Unique in the ancient world the people of God were taught to break the tyranny of the oughts one day in seven, taking one day in which no back-breaking work was to be done. The responsibility was not that day to meet quotas for work, to clean the house, or even to go to church (for the Sabbath command has no mention of going to temple or synagogue for worship).   Instead it is to do as God did. In the priestly creation myth of Genesis 1 shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike after 6 days of busy labor, God’s final act of creation is to rest. It is not because God is tired, but because God is modeling the need to take time to delight in the life you have been given. So on day 6, God watches the beauty of the animals, walks in the cool of the garden, listens to the songs of the bird, and takes time to simply enjoy what is and be enjoyed by creation. pruning  This practice is not considered a binding rule for Christians in the New Testament to avoid it becoming just another task on our list of oughts, but the principle stands: in order to not lose sight of who we are, we must take regular breaks from the business and strain of the many to do list’s in our lives, simply to delight in life.   This delight may be in simple daily activities like gardening, going to the bowling alley, painting, listening to music, or playing with a child. But embracing the delight in your life and the lives of others is a spiritual practice and, as a way of keeping the principle of Sabbath rest, an act of worship.

How do you find ways to put breaks on the breakneck pace of life and hear that voice that calls you Beloved?   I’d love to hear your way of finding peace in life’s storms.

Tell me, while I sit and rock a while, Mason Jar in hand.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotional: Reaching Out While Preserving the Hard Call to Be Transformed

sermon on the mount laura jamesMatthew 8:18-27

I’ve always been struck by what a bad evangelist Jesus is in this text, if evangelism means what I have always heard it presented as: as some sort of ad campaign for Jesus & Christianity, promoting it in a way that will make it popular with the masses or at least accessible and easy to choose to take part in.   Both liberals or progressives like me and conservative Christians like folks in the churches in which I grew up and was baptized all talk about evangelism, often in this way. In conservative churches it is talk of “winning souls” and “spreading the kingdom”. In progressive or liberal churches we talk about “widening the welcome”, “embracing the outcast”, and “removing barriers”.

Sometimes this can mean the sort of beautiful radical welcome Jesus offers throughout his ministry, when he sets down at the table of fellowship both with the well-to-do religious or city leader and the outcast poor, including even sex workers and con artists. It can be like Jesus not waited for people looking for things of the spirit to come to us but going to where they are and reaching out in love, as Jesus does to the Samaritan woman at the watering hole and the many people with illness or disability whom have been ostracized by the community outside the city limits.

But such a focus can also lead toward reducing the very challenging teachings of Jesus down to their least common denominator: heaven when we die, God loves everybody, be good people.   Jesus didn’t get killed for telling people about love, about heaven, or to be good. Many other Jewish preachers said the same without having Rome become fearful of them and attempting to stamp out their teaching with ruthlessness.

Jesus’ teachings radically cut to the heart of our own preconceived ideas about life and how it works. He challenges our expected notions of fairness by painting images of a radical all-inclusive grace of God in his parables which upsets our notions of the well-to-do and acceptable or the gone to far and beyond help, of the hierarchies of power and vulnerability, of the victim and the perpetrator, … well of how our world and lives work.   His example upsets the power structures of his day by living out radical inclusive love in a way that ignores how society has set up its systems of power and demonstrates how another way, which levels unfair patterns of wealth, power, and privilege can happen. He questions the beautiful and pious practice of religion which can become a money-making scheme for the few but is empty and destructive when removed from compassion for actual people.

What Jesus is seeking is not converts but rather transformation — to transform our world starting with the community we live into places in which swords are beaten into plowshares, into a place living out the peaceful vision of healing and reconciliation, equality and inclusion, which the prophets of old dreamed and spoke concerning. For this to happen he does not simply need people joining a movement like one joins a club, signing their name on the dotted line and doing little else. He does not need either people who voice admiration for him with their lips as either a good teacher or as God in the flesh, thinking such voicing of faith in Him gives them a get into heaven free ticket, yet who do nothing at all else with this claim of having faith in Him. No Jesus needs people willing to be transformed, from the inside out, into people who live out these values of a new and different world built on justice, compassion, care for all at every stage of life, and of transforming communities and the earth into places that are life-giving for all people and all living things. And transforming are hearts is no easy task.

So Jesus meets the eager folks saying they want to follow him not with a “good job” or a “welcome home”, not with a big hug like one gets when they come up to the altar with “Just As I am” or an “all are welcome here” like we say in my beloved progressive churches. No, he begins by saying troubling, vexing things which speak right to what this path of following Jesus and transformation will mean they have to give up.   He says things that sound at first like actually setting up obstacles to being welcomed. Of course, I think it is more that he describes what following him *actually* entails.

I am reminded here of the great quote by C. S. Lewis on conversion in his classic book Mere Christianity:

“Now what was the sort of “hole” man had got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor– that is the only way out of a “hole.” This process of surrender–this movement full speed astern–is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person–and he would not need it.

“Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen…”

Lack of gender inclusivity aside (for this predicament he describes is not reserved to only male-identified folks but people of all genders), Lewis hits the nail on the head.   Jesus begins by describing the barriers that exist to following Him not because He is saying we should not as liberals do practice radical welcome or as conservatives do point people toward the path of salvation for their souls but because he is showing what we are radically welcomed into and what salvation for our souls entails. We are welcomed into a path of transformation that is painful, hard, and (though life-giving) entails a sort of death, a dying to our selfishness, our complacency, our indifference, our prejudices, and all the things that keep us from living as those making this earth as it is in heaven and from loving God, ourselves, others, & God’s good earth as Jesus modeled.

To me Jesus’ approach reminds me so much of other spiritual teachers in history who focused on transformation.   Particularly Jesus’ approach reminds me of the example of Christian mystics we know of as the desert mothers & fathers, as well the Buddhist mystics we know as Zen masters.

Both groups would have eager folks show up seeking deep meaningful spirituality but end up first being given hard, paradoxical challenges which could seem to be presenting barriers to the spiritual life but, later, they would find to be the very things that caused them to discover what barriers in their heart they needed with God’s help to remove before they could undergo the transformation which makes spiritual growth possible.

Jesus’ example shows us we need to make sure to remember that spiritual life involves dying to old patterns of thinking and acting in order to be transformed into new patterns. This dying and being raised to new life is the constant pattern of the spiritual life not just in Christianity but in all true spiritual paths.

To be true to this pattern Jesus is giving we need to be open to those voices in our life that question our assumptions, challenge our patterns of life, and push us uncomfortably to look at things we are overlooking. We also need to, yes, continue to practice radical welcome and radically reaching out but not do so in a way that we remove the scandal of the Gospel, for its scandalous nature is like the scandalous statements Zen and monastic teachers used to wake us up to where our hearts have become lax, complacent, or where we simply are not conscious of our barriers to growth.   Jesus again and again demonstrates in the Gospels that we can lovingly reach out without compromising this call to transformation.

For me a part of how I do this is to be honest about my own short-comings and areas in which I see barriers in myself. Admitting I have not arrived but, like everyone else, am on a journey while openly talking about the areas I falter allows dialogue with others about their struggles in ways that disarm their defensiveness (and my own) while opening up awareness to their areas where change or growth is needed.

Another approach I use is to take time to listen to my own questions and challenges in my heart. So often we fear our questions, push them down, and act as if they threaten our own faith. Yet in the Gospels it is often questions Jesus uses to push people out of complacency into real growth. Your vexing questions about your faith and life can be the voice of the still-speaking God calling you to deeper awareness. For an example of someone doing this, check out my wife Katharine’s blog http://www.questionsyoucouldntaskinsundayschool.wordpress.com/   In that blog she is openly exploring her doubts and questions about faith & life as a spiritual practice.

What are ways you are learning to open up to voices of others or within yourself that can challenge your preconceived notions? How are you learning to balance radical welcome, pro-active outreach, and also remaining faithful to the Gospel’s scandalous call for transformation?

I look forward to hearing what helps you on your journey.

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: Embracing the Life that Bursts Forth in the Midst of Death

Sarai-Choose-Life-800x544(pp_w770_h523)Psalm 116 identifies God’s presence for the Psalmist as found in life breaking forth when he was surrounded by death, certain it would drag them down to utter destruction.

I can relate with this. In what feels to short a time ago, my wife had a health episode in which we both feared the outcome might be death.   The rush of doctors, the recovery, the fear all was like a storm of uncertainty. Like the psalmist, I felt like she was wrapped in the cords of death and that our shared life together would be dragged down into nothingness. My heart broke and I shed many a shaky tear, afraid I might lose her.

veriditas 2I remember the joy of sitting in the doctor’s office when he told both of us not only did it look like the condition would not be fatal, but in fact even the risky surgery it usually required was not necessary. My heart leaped. The breath was knocked out of me with joy.   It was like receiving back the one I love, my dear wife, from death, and knowing we still have many years to share together.

Yet I think this is not the only way we experience God as life breaking forth in the way of death.

At times we also face dead-ends in life, where our dreams lie shattered. The career we worked toward, the ministry we were building, the relationship we’d invested in falls apart. It dies.   Our heart breaks and we feel alone. In those moments there are people and experiences that help heal those broken places in our lives. They believe in us. They help us to hope again by their trust in us. To me such moments and people are this in-breaking of life in the midst of death.   Ultimately when you have been so low and finally you saw your life open up again, it is like discovering life after feeling you were sliding into the pit of death.

As a person who works right now as a hospice chaplain, where often the prayers for healing I share with people do not end in the disease ending but in death itself, it is important for me to notice that chaplain 1this life the Psalmist talks of breaks forth, too, in situations of incurable illness and situations in which the physical particulars you face in life are not eradicated. It may be someone does lose their mobility or vision, but learns to find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in a full life with their disability.   Healing is finding wholeness as they are.   It might be that someone does die but comes to accept their death as a part of life, and in so doing finds peace that allows them to live each day as fully alive as they can.   I’ve seen life come in the midst of death in families that are torn apart and divided yet through the experience of loss, illness, or tragedy heal old wounds and learn to be together for each other again.

The ways in which life appears in the midst of death are countless. It is right like the Psalmist for us to take time to acknowledge them and recognize them. To show gratitude.

The Psalmist’s gratitude leads them to praise God, thank God, to tell the story of the inbreaking of veriditas-jo-thompsonGod’s love and life in their own time of tragedy. I think that is a good model for us.   When we find life beyond all hope breaking forth in our darkening night of sorrow and loss, it ought to re-shape our life. It is a word of God as much as Scripture itself, calling us to new or renewed vision. It calls us to be people of life, who willingly cooperate with the Spirit whom Hildegard of Bingen called the bringer of veriditas, the power of life that makes the world green and vibrant.   We each in our way can pay forward these experiences of life breaking forth beyond all hope by being people who choose to use our experience of life-renewing Spirit to help others discover, embrace, and feel the life return where and when death seems to reign in their midst.

For me, this is the work of healing all true people of God have shared in from the beginning. Let’s embrace our lives, living fully alive, and help others find the life the Spirit of God is reaching out to extend in each situation, no matter how dark or broken.

And I ain’t whistling no Dixie, folks,

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: Held by One Stronger than the Roaring Wave

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Psalm 93

I am struck by the final image of this psalm – the image of waves crashing on the beach, waters crashing on rocks. I imagine the smell of the salt water, the feel of drops of water sprinkling my face, the roar like some ancient music calling me to peace.   The Psalmist sees God as stronger, more powerful than this image.

For me this image is one of constancy and of peace, but for the Psalmist it is likely one of threat. The sea was the ever changing, the constant chaos which engulfed all things at the beginning of time and always stood at the ready to overflow all things if allowed.   Upon its waters, mighty ship are shattered like kindling and in its depths even great heroes have drowned.   Its ever changing, chaotic energy would not have necessarily been viewed as I view it as a source of life, the womb from which all life was birthed, but instead as the ultimate power of entropy, uncontainable, uncontrollable, and constant threat.

It is interesting to notice how one image can have such diametrically opposite meanings.

wave 3Yet to both the Psalmist and me this image of the roaring ocean waves is one before which we both feel small. It reminds us of our place in the universe – tiny sparks of life on a grain of dust circling but one twinkle of light in the great cosmos that is God’s night sky. One tiny strand in the great web of life. Small, and at times feeling quite powerless against the world.

Sometimes when I feel this way, like the Psalmist before the ocean waves I sit and am frightened. I remember when my wife had an event like a stroke and it caused both of us to change the whole course of our lives dramatically and all at once.   It felt like mighty waves of change were buffeting me. It hurt to see her pain and not know if things would improve or get worse.   Everything was changing so quickly. Her life held in the balance. My future seemed uncertain. I felt like the waves were knocking against us constantly without a chance to get a breath, let alone keep our heads above water.

It was at this time we started to attend the UCC in Chapel Hill that we do.   I did not grow up with a church that treasures liturgy the way our UCC does, so at first the repeated prayers that were almost the same each week, the wave 4Gloria and Doxology we sang, seemed odd. But I remember one Sunday coming to worship, feeling particularly shaken and dragged by the waves of change when I came and found myself saying those repeated words of liturgy and feeling anchored, feeling as if I suddenly for a moment could have my soul be still. I was standing if but for the time I said those words upon a solid foundation. In that moment, I was reminded that though it feel like the waves of change and loss are all about me, even when I don’t see it or feel it there is One who is greater than those waves, who can speak and they be still, and who holds me even now.

I feel it is just such a reality the Psalmist is speaking to here as they say that God is greater than the storm and waves. God is the One who, against all logic, speaks and God’s Word holds the trembling worlds together.

And so when I face crisis of my health or the health of one I love, I can whisper “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” and know that God will hold me through what comes. I can look at situations where work is uncertain, finances up in the air and say, “Praise God you creatures here below”, knowing the One who cares for the sparrow and the squirrel will not leave me abandoned in the cold.   When I look and see discrimination against myself or others, oppression in our political and economic system, I can say “Praise God above you heavenly host,” knowing Christ shall set free. I can look with fear at the way in which we are wrecking our ecology, tearing asunder the very web of life that grants us breath, and whisper “Praise Creator, Son, and Holy Ghost”, knowing creation may groan in pains of childbirth, but it does so in hope.

Know whatever waves roar around you, you are held. You are loved.   You are embraced.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah