We Don’t Need More Violence

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50actsoflove squareA four-year-old blog post of mine on preachers inciting violence has been coming to mind lately in light of the recent events in Orlando, and the hate-filled preaching of some pastors. Violence is a sickness, especially violence shrouded in religious piety. More than ever, our world needs those who will love in the face of hate and work to heal the sickness of these preachers. I’m sharing a recent nasty example from a pastor’s Facebook postings, and then linking in my blog from four years ago on preachers who incite violence. Lord, have mercy.

Recent nastiness in the name of Christ…

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My post of four years ago: On Preachers Who Incite Violence

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.21.31 PMWe must loudly and strongly, with civil tongues and constant hearts, repudiate these voices and their messages. We must stand against these messages of hate and violence. Silence is not an option, no more than violence. Answer them with sure, true and sincere messages of love. May our voices never cease to sing and weave the story of God’s unending love.

AMDG, Todd

#50ACTSOFLOVE Campaign

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“Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable,
and lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.”
Indigo Girls, Closer to Fine

50actsoflove square

This is my response to the Orlando shootings as a Christian and as a human being. I’m making a campaign in response to the deadly act of violence committed against  49 people at the Pulse Orlando night club in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12, in Orldando, FL. How do you respond to such hatred? Such violence? Such darkness? You light it up. You light it up with love.

Light Up The Darkness With Love!

Let’s start a movement of people committed to honoring the lives of the people senselessly killed at the Pulse with 50 acts of love. Our acts of love will also honor those injured and can help support them and add to their healing, especially if you are close enough to give blood, hold a hand or be a listing ear.

Many of us are far from Orlando and lack ways to directly respond to Sunday morning’s violence and death, but the world where we live also needs our love. Communities across America and across the world produce mass shooters, hurting people, broken people, pain and darkness. Let’s light it up with our love.

We hurt with the victims of senseless hate and violence. We stand with our beautiful LGBTQ neighbors, friends and family against the hatred and violence that too often targets them. They deserve better and they deserve our support. We stand with our innocent Muslim friends, family and neighbors who now may be targeted for more hatred after the shooting. More hate is not the answer. 

Please feel free to share this graphic, use this graphic, spread it far and wide. Let’s all shine some light on the darkness!

Ideas for getting started with #50ACTSOFLOVE…

  1. give blood

  2. donate to a charity

  3. volunteer at a local school

  4. reach out to a long lost friend

  5. say something encouraging to someone

  6. help your child with their homework

  7. mow a neighbor’s yard

  8. pick up some neighborhood litter

  9. start recycling at home

  10. volunteer at a local food bank

  11. sit with a grieving friend or family member

  12. post a few positive articles on Facebook

  13. tell someone you love them

  14. send a greeting card to your grandparents

  15. find ways to support (too often homeless) LGBTQ teens

  16. find a local battered women’s shelter and donate time/money

  17. carry an extra $5 bill for the next street beggar who asks

  18. ask if your employer will match your charitable donation

  19. learn more about your Muslim friends and neighbors

  20. learn more about your LGBTQ friends and neighbors

  21. offer an apology you’ve been avoiding

  22. tell someone they’re beautiful today

  23. compliment a coworker on their job

  24. say thank you and mean it

  25. hold the door for someone at the coffee shop

Let’s open up our hearts, minds and imaginations to the potential of spreading love to everyone within our reach. Respond to the hate with love. Shine your light on the darkness. Believe in us.

AMDG, Todd

Indelible Grace

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BibleI was blessed to be asked to preach again at St. John’s Episcopal Church this past weekend. Heres’ the transcript, with a warning that it’s a bit longer than my usual posts. =)


Sermon of June 12, 2016, St. John’s Episcopal Church

Any prepared sermon is going to be undeniably challenged by a tragedy the likes of which we have witnessed in the past 24 hours. So as we begin, we also stop. We’ll take a moment to pray for those who have died and been hurt in Orlando, Florida, and their grieving friends and families.

“God of the Dance, God of Love and God of Life,
Our hearts break at these tragic deaths
and this horrible glimpse into the darkness.
Welcome the souls of all those who have died needlessly
in Orlando this past night, by an act of humanity’s deep
and dreadful love of violence, hatred and division.
For their souls we ask a place at your feast table,
at your home of light and life and love, forever.
For survivors, their families and friends we pray peace and comfort,
that your Spirit and your people will surround them,
hold them, and heal them in their rending grief,
and that they may know joy and healing in the coming days.”

“Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart in this our broken and needful society,
that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear,
and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed,
we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.” BCP pg. 823

Tonight’s Gospel Reading from Luke 7:36-50…
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus[j] to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii,[k] and the other fifty.42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus[l] said to him, “You have judged rightly.”44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Maybe you’re not like me and don’t have stories from your childhood which embarrass you. Maybe you matured faster than I did and you avoided the worst of decisions and moments we often experience as forming people, but I had some real doosies.

Tonight I’m thinking of 7th Grade Todd, and a time when I was at my worst. I was in the Art Club, and our much anticipated field trip to the Zoo in Dallas had arrived. We were going on a sketching trip! I was fired up, until we started assigning seats with parents to drive to the Zoo. My closest friends were all in one car, and I was assigned to ride with someone else and his mom. Now, this other guy… he was not a friend. In fact, he was a bully at whose hands I had occasionally suffered some hurt and harassment. He wasn’t smart, either. This is back in the day when they divided our seventh grade class into groups from the most smart to the least smart; our groups were labeled 7:1, being the smartest, all the way down to 7:6, being the least smartest. And this guy was a bit behind me and my friends. I’m also pretty sure his family didn’t go to church anywhere, and we know those things in a small town. I loudly proclaimed my horror at riding with him and his mom, “I don’t want to ride with him! Why is he in Art Club anyway?” I was told to quiet down and get in his mom’s truck, and I’d get to ride home with someone else. It was a tense, joyless ride to the Zoo.

And on days when I read stories like the one from Luke 7, I’m reminded of the lesson so painfully illustrated by 7th Grade Todd. Like Simon, I was the one who would invite Jesus over to supper, not the other person. I was the one who would be most likely to have Jesus over for supper (at least in my way of thinking), not them. I was the one, not them… I’m “the one most”  (fill in any other descriptors you want): deserving, good enough, forgiven, allowed, expected, invited. But in a Gospel view of the world they are the one who is welcomed, grateful, forgiven, closest to Jesus.

Oh, Simon. I get it. I really do. Imagine working so hard to be ready for Jesus to come to dinner, making sure the right people are present, the food is perfect and you look your best. And then this sinner crashes the party. That word sinner says it all, huh? This sinner takes center stage. This sinner becomes the focus of discussion and begins to take Jesus’ attention and energy from your dinner party. Why is she here anyway? Wouldn’t a prophet know she doesn’t belong?

It’s easy enough to say that Jesus loves everyone. What takes a little more energy is really digging into Jesus and getting a hand on his way of seeing people, God’s way of seeing people. It differs so dramatically from the way I have so often viewed people. Did you notice in the words of Jesus that this sinner seems to be both responding to forgiveness and also still waiting to receive it? He says that her act of love flows from having much forgiven, and then afterward says to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

She seems to be responding to a forgiveness that has yet to be articulated, maybe even yet to be sought after, but that has totally consumed her.  She teaches us something of how God sees people: forgiven before even asking. in the story she is returning a love that Jesus has yet to express directly to her. She’s an inspiration. Of course, Simon’s not all that inspired, because he only sees her as needing to be forgiven, while Jesus seems to have forgiven her before the first tear, before the anointing.

There’s a really good old theological term for this: prevenient grace. This is an term that states, in various ways in differing Christian traditions, that God’s grace and forgiveness pre-exists our seeking it and in fact enables us to seek it and understand it. This concept doesn’t in way lessen our turning to God and experiencing grace in repentance, but it does help us with taking what scripture teaches about forgiveness and form a daily Way of living with that understanding. So scripture teaches that Christ died while we were still sinners, that God predestined us, elected us, chose us before… these statements are familiar to biblical students, and they point us to way God sees us, viewing us in our intended beauty, in our intended state of grateful love, in our very best and deepest place of love and dignity. I especially like this as a counterpoint to the idea of Original Sin, that instead we are born into a state of Original Forgiveness. Perhaps, we are born into a state of Indelible Grace.

Wouldn’t that bring us to the feet of Christ, too? Do you think that maybe just hearing Jesus teach in the marketplaces and streets, maybe preaching on a mountainside, this woman got it, she understood, and that grace brought her to her tears? The story reminded me of times when scriptures instructs against partiality, judgement…

Sirach says:
1 My child, do not cheat the poor of their living, and do not keep needy eyes waiting. 2 Do not grieve the hungry, or anger one in need. 3 Do not add to the troubles of the desperate, or delay giving to the needy. 4 Do not reject a suppliant in distress, or turn your face away from the poor. 5 Do not avert your eye from the needy, and give no one reason to curse you; 6 for if in bitterness of soul some should curse you, their Creator will hear their prayer… 22 Do not show partiality, to your own harm, or deference, to your downfall.” (Sirach 1:6 & 22)

James says:
2 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? 8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors… 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:1-9, 12-13)

And Jesus in Matthew 7:1-2
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

I don’t think these passages are only good teachings in times of economic disparity, but must be applied to a broader sense of partiality which threatens to divide us, blind us and to honestly make fools of us. Simon seems to have had some justification for knowing that the woman was sinful. But Simon is intimately shown that he doesn’t understand forgiveness and his own love-debt to God’s grace. This sinner does. Simon is ultimately shown a new definition for “sinner,” which he may think means “undesirable” or unforgiven, but in actuality means deeply beloved and sought after.

After our trip to the Zoo I was relieved to be informed that I would get to ride home with my two closest friends. I crammed happily into the back seat with them, and then began one the of longest hour and half rides of my life. My friend’s mom figured that I didn’t go to the right kind of church, wasn’t good enough. So for the next hour and a half she illumined me on my impending damnation and sinfulness. To top it off, after I was dropped off at the school, she later called our home to accuse me of stealing a class ring from their car, a ring later found to have slipped between cushions and into the trunk of the car. Oh, Simon. You and me, brother. Some of us must learn the hardest lessons of life in the hardest ways to sink them through our hardest of skulls and into our hardest of hearts.

I will probably continue to fail at this, but I hope that every time I am confronted with someone I imagine to be the least forgiven, the least lovable, the least worthy, Christ might help me see them in their prevenient beauty and grace. I pray that the next time I feel so unworthy and believe the worst of myself, I will hear that call of grace, and my tears will be a thank offering for all the love and forgiveness God has already intended to lavish on me. 7th Grade Todd was not prepared to understand Martin Luther’s poignant exclamation, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.” 7th Grade Todd wasn’t ready to get it, and I can only hope I am before I’m 70.

Once more little gem from the Book of Common Prayer, one more cry to heaven…
“O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle
and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth;
that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you
in harmony around your heavenly throne;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” BCP pg. 815

AMDG, Todd

Exercise Devotion

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devotion

Pronunciation: /dəˈvōSH(ə)n/
NOUN Love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause
from OxfordDictionaries.com

This morning I became acutely aware that I needed to begin my day with some devotion. In the stress and hustle of daily life it is all too easy to forget that I am a spiritual being, I am capable and needful of such expression. My voice, though not well trained or particularly pleasant, is made to actively be raised in love and enthusiastic loyalty. It is made to sing. It is made to call out. My heart, though sometimes bruised and left thumping in fear and anxiety, is whole and held. My days, though sometimes long, sometimes dull, sometimes bright, sometimes warm, sometimes short and sometimes frantic, are gifts given to me, each one.

So I got in my car to drive to work, you know, my job at the Mall. I searched my phone for the tunes that would support and inform this stirring I felt in my heart and mind. I settled on a few songs by Acappella including To Him Who Sits On The Throne. I rolled up windows, bumped the AC, and I screeched along in the protected (for the safety of others) privacy of my little vehicular world. I found it later on YouTube, of course…

When you feel that little stir, a hollowness that feels kinda like hunger with twinge of giddiness, that need to sing, that absence of devotion, let something loose. Dance. Sing. Shout. Don’t forget that you are made to praise, you are a human being capable of deep and amazing beauty and grace. God has so gifted you. 

1 I will lift my praise above everything to You, my God and King!
    I will continually bless Your name forever and always.
2 My praise will never cease—
    I will praise You every day;
    I will lift up Your name forever.
3 The Eternal is great and deserves endless praise;
    His greatness knows no limit, recognizes no boundary.
    No one can measure or comprehend His magnificence.
4 One generation after another will celebrate Your great works;
    they will pass on the story of Your powerful acts to their children.

5 Your majesty and glorious splendor have captivated me;
    I will meditate on Your wonders, sing songs of Your worth.
6 We confess—there is nothing greater than You, God,
nothing mightier than Your awesome works.

    I will tell of Your greatness as long as I have breath.
7 The news of Your rich goodness is no secret—
    Your people love to recall it
    and sing songs of joy to celebrate Your righteousness.
8 The Eternal is gracious. He shows mercy to His people.
    For Him anger does not come easily, but faithful love does—
    and it is rich and abundant.
9 But the Eternal’s goodness is not exclusive—it is offered freely to all.
    His mercy extends to all His creation.

Psalm 145:1-9 from The Voice translation

“If the only prayer you ever say
in your entire life is thank you,

it will be enough.”
Meister Eckhart

AMDG, Todd

Little Big Things

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I am so grateful for the three young men that Teresa and I have raised, because past all my own failings, each of them teach and encourage me on a daily basis. Recently, Isaac caught me off guard with a reminder to be thinking of others before myself.

I have said for years, and when I was a pastor I preached it, that we should not fight to get the front spots in a parking lot when we go shopping. “Think of someone who might be arriving just after you who needs that closer spot,” I would say. “We’re all healthy and we can easily walk an extra fifty feet. We should be thinking of others in practical ways that help them have a better day.” I often made the bold claim that this was an important spiritual practice to help make a kinder, better world.

A few weeks ago the family came and joined me at the Mall for dinner when I got off work. Since Teresa drove up with the boys we had to decide who was driving home with whom, and Issac ended up with me. As we exited the Mall, and he saw my car right up front by the door and he says, “Wow, dad.” “What’s up?” I asked. “You parked really close to the door.”

Ouch. Like every good person caught not quite walking like they’re talking, I started to rationalize for my son. I immediately began with something like “Well, you see, when I arrive for work really early in the morning there aren’t many people here and the older folks walking for exercise at the Mall have already arrived and found parking.” Blah blah. And my son says, “Hmmm.”

As I thought more about it I realized that getting caught like that was a better occasion to humbly thank my son than to undermine one of the central things I’d been trying to teach him all his life. Later, I did thank him for the reminder and promised to park further back from then on. And I did start parking further back the next day.

I’ve been praying my daily prayer for several years now, “Let me love, let me learn, let me serve.” I’m glad for the little reminders along the way to stay on top of my game. I’m glad for the humbling that comes from raising our kids. I’m glad that God sometimes answers daily prayers not always with more things to do, but with needed reminders of who to be.

AMDG, Todd

A Spring Novena

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StFrancisGood morning, beloved. This past weekend was our Pentecost celebration in churches around the world, and it got me thinking of making a novena, a nine day prayer exercise for my daily life; it’s a little Spring Cleaning for my soul. I’m starting mine tomorrow, on Wednesday, May 18th. My little novena is not officially sanctioned by any church body, Catholic, Anglican or Episcopal… it’s just my own effort to focus my prayers for the next nine days, and I invite you to go along with me as a spiritual friend.

I’m structuring my novena with an intention, prayers and a practice. You’re invited to join me in that intention, the use of these prayers and my framework of practice, or to change them and use them as seems best for you.

Intention

My intention for this novena is to focus on the spiritual flow of my day, to slow down my mind and still my heart to a place where I can sit with God in the middle of my hectic flow of work and play. In short, my intention is a greater awareness of God’s Spirit with me at various points in the day.

Prayers

I’ll be using three prayers as a beginning place for each prayer time during the nine days, my own daily prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer for the human family In Times of Conflict. I’m going to have these all on my phone for easy access, and I usually have my Book of Common Prayer (also found online and in most used bookstores) in my backpack. Plan for prayers!

My Daily Prayer: “Let me love, let me learn, let me serve.”

Our Father, who art in heaven, 
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come, 
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, 
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

28. In Times of Conflict
O God, you have bound us together in a common life.
Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth,
to confront one another without hatred or bitterness,
and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  BCP pg. 824

Practice

My practice will be to stop before each meal or a break time when I get something to eat (I sometimes take a break at work and grab a samosa and a diet Coke), and feed my soul before feeding my belly. Again, my beginning prayers are all in the Book of Common Prayer which I normally carry, but will also be in my phone and iPad. I also plan to begin each of the next nine days upon waking with our baptism vows of the Episcopal. If you’re familiar with them, they end with the following lines (my favorites):

Celebrant: Will you proclaim by word and example
the Good News of God in Christ?
People: I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons,
loving your neighbor as yourself?
People: I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among
all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People: I will, with God’s help.
BCP pg. 305

If you join me on this little journey, I’d love to hear about your prayers and days. If you have a different intention or vary the prayers and practice, I’d love to hear about that, too.

AMDG, Todd

Treat People Like People

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FullSizeRender 2I’m on a Sirach kick again, as happens every couple of years. I have a deep affinity with the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus. It might also be called Ben Sira. Fun, huh? It’s a unique kind of book among the Apocrypha and scripture in general as the work of a proud grandson, an interpretation out of Hebrew of his grandfather’s acquired knowledge and wisdom.

Pressing Down. As a young Christian I was taught to primarily read scripture in a transactional way: do this and get this, don’t do this and don’t get this. Life was a cosmic vending machine and God was the correct change. Most things in life were a linear transaction of cause and effect, and the scriptures were a guidebook for making the best transactions. While many passages seem to support this way of reading scripture, there’s much more to be experienced. Pressing down into the way of a passage can remake us into new people, whole new communities.

Ecclesiasticus looks very much like the guidebook to end all guidebooks. However, like shifting one’s focus from the nearest trees to the farthest, we can press deeper and farther. Rather than take the transactional sounding statements as the product, let’s view them as the tools to create something bigger: a more just and blessed world.

Sirach 4:1-10
1 My child, do not cheat the poor of their living,
and do not keep needy eyes waiting.
2 Do not grieve the hungry, or anger one in need.
3 Do not add to the troubles of the desperate,
or delay giving to the needy.
4Do not reject a suppliant in distress,
or turn your face away from the poor.
5 Do not avert your eye from the needy,
and give no one reason to curse you;
6 for if in bitterness of soul some should curse you,
their Creator will hear their prayer.
7 Endear yourself to the congregation;
bow your head low to the great.
8 Give a hearing to the poor,
and return their greeting politely.
9 Rescue the oppressed from the oppressor;
and do not be hesitant in giving a verdict.
10 Be a father to orphans,
and be like a husband to their mother;
you will then be like a son of the Most High,
and he will love you more than does your mother.
Don’t just pass by, but sincerely greet the needful neighbor, all neighbors. Treat people like people. Hear that the Creator loves them, too. Stop what you’re doing and enter into relationship with them. This short passage speaks to deep values of care, empathy, sharing, presence and humility. These aren’t just commands, but a framework for seeing people.
Treat people like people.
AMDG, Todd