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Saturday, August 8

Today’s Readings: Psalm 131; 2 Samuel 15:19-37; Mark 9:30-41; Acts 25:13-22; Psalm 43

Like most students, I had my favorite (and least) favorite classes in school. My favorites were classes like English and History; my least favorites were classes like Math and Science. So what turned me off about Math and Science? Well, those classes were linear in a way that my mind wasn’t. Case in point: Geometry. In our geometry class, our teacher Mr. Cox told us we were expected to do two things. First, we had to solve the problem; and second, we had to provide an explanation or proof that showed how we arrived at the answer. I usually did okay with the first part. I often didn’t provide an adequate explanation of how I got there, however, so I frequently got marked down by Mr. Cox. Getting marked down for a poor proof really upset me. I couldn’t understand why anyone could be penalized for arriving at the right answer - even if that person used a creative route to arrive at that answer. In some ways, this is the sort of dynamic that was involved in today’s Gospel reading from Mark. In that passage the disciples come to Jesus with a complaint. They point out there is a man out there who arrived at the right answer (i.e. he expelled demons), yet he didn’t provide the right explanation for how he got there (i.e. he didn’t belong to their particular group). For this, the disciples had marked the man down. Jesus refused to buy into their approach. He gave the man space by saying, “If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally” (Mark 9:40 from The Message). So how do you approach life? Are you like my Geometry teacher Mr. Cox and those early disciples – demanding that people not only arrive at the right conclusion but use your approach to get there; or are you like Jesus – able to give others space and allow them to get there in using their own methods? Til next time…

Friday, August 7

Today’s Readings: Psalm 3; 2 Samuel 15:1-18; Mark 9:14-29; Acts 25:1-12; Psalm 130

Within the lesbian and gay communities, there is a phenomenon known as the best little girl/boy in the world syndrome. What it means is that many folks with a same-sex attraction realize fairly early in life that they aren’t like everyone else. This realization spurs a fear that this difference will lead to rejection by others. In order to minimize the possibility of being rejected, many lesbians and gays develop a coping mechanism that tells them, “If I act as if I’m perfect, then everyone will have to accept me – even if I am different.” I was a classic practitioner of this line of thinking. If you looked up “overachiever” in the dictionary, there would have been a picture of me. I was ASB president, salutatorian, church youth group president, athlete, musician – you name it and I did it. I practically killed myself off with my obsession to try to be perfect. Of course, I’m not the only person who has wrestled with issues of perfection. Lots of folks struggle with those issues. Somewhere during the course of their life they too picked up the notion that they have to be perfect in order to be loved. While such a psychological response might make sense as a coping mechanism, it goes against one of the most basic tenets of our faith. That tenet is alluded to in today’s second psalm where the psalmist says: “If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance? As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that’s why you’re worshipped” (Psalm 130:3-4 from The Message). That psalm raises two points that we should carry with us through our day. First, it reminds us that none of us are perfect – so some of us should let go of our obsession to try to be perfect. Second, it also reminds us that others aren’t perfect either – so we should extend grace to others just as God extends grace to us. Try carrying those realizations with you today and see what happens in your interactions with others – and in your relationship with yourself. Til next time…

Thursday, August 6

Today’s Readings: Psalm 2; 2 Samuel 14:21-33; Mark 9:2-13; Acts 24:22-27; Psalm 97

There were a lot of wonderful things I learned during my sabbatical experience two years ago that had to do with emergent worshipping communities. Some of those learnings were simply trendy while other learnings had more substance. One of the most substantial learnings I experienced was an entirely new way of engaging Scripture. Let me tell you about that experience. Having been raised in traditional churches, I was used to examining Scripture in one way: I was used to using scholarly methods that were intended to help me better understand what the Scriptures might have meant to their original audience. While this approach to Scripture was intellectually stimulating, it had the additional benefit of being very safe. I say this approach to Scripture was safe because there was always a good deal of distance between Scripture and my life. Many emerging communities approach Scripture very differently. One of their primary goals is to help people find places where the sacred stories of their faith intersect with the story of their own lives. This removes virtually all space between oneself and the Scripture. This emerging approach is based upon the notion that Scripture is relevant to our daily lives. Ever sense I discovered this new way of relating to Scripture, my spiritual life has taken on rich new dimensions. As much as I personally enjoy this new way of engaging the sacred writings of our faith, I am mindful that not every one likes the notion that our faith should intrude into our everyday lives. In today’s reading from Acts, for instance, we were introduced to one such individual: Felix. When Paul laid out his faith in the God revealed through Jesus, Felix responded by pulling back. “As Paul continued to insist on right relations with God and his people, about a life of moral discipline and the coming Judgment,” the author of Acts noted, “Felix felt things getting a little too close for comfort and dismissed him.” (Acts 24:25 from The Message). In other words, Felix - like many of us - was more comfortable with a faith that could be held at arm’s length. My question for you to consider today is this: do you prefer a faith that you can stand back and explore at your own leisure, or one that often gets too close for your own comfort? Til next time…

Wednesday, August 5

Today’s Readings: Psalm 66; 2 Samuel 14:1-20; Mark 8:31-9:1; Acts 24:17-21; Psalm 124

Those of you who have read my blog for a while know that there are at least two distinctive aspects of my call to ministry. One of those aspects is that I am a bridge builder who has an ability to bring groups together that would otherwise not be in relationship with one another. Another is that I have an ability to be in relationship with those who would otherwise not be in relationship with people others might call “progressive”. These two aspects have become foundational to my call. While I use these skills regularly in most areas of my life and my ministry, there is one area where I do not. That area is in my relationship with my sister. You see my sister and I come from very different places in life. One of those areas in which we are different is in our spiritual lives. While I belong to a community that encourages free-thinking and the inclusion of all people, she belongs to a faith community that is more dogmatic and exclusive of people. Two years ago, in fact, her pastor became president of a national group that – among other things – wanted to limit the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered people. Since then our relationship has become incredibly strained. We are lucky now if we talk more than 2-3 times a year. While in almost every other area in my life I am able to reach across cavernous divides and engage people, ironically with people in my own family I have been less that willing to do so. I was reminded of this situation by today’s reading from 2 Samuel. In that passage we hear the story of how King David is presented with a problem by a woman from Tekoa. David hears the story and thinks the resolution of the case is rather obvious – that is until he hears at the end the people involved in the case are really he and his estranged son Absalom. The interaction is a humbling reminder that many of us (myself included!) often have double standards as to how we lead our lives: one set of standards for the world, and one set of standards for our personal lives. Perhaps there is a relationship in your own life where you have been held double standards. If so, today just might be the day where the Spirit is calling you to reach out and welcome home someone you have exiled from you life. Til next time…

Tuesday, August 4

Today’s Readings: Psalm 146; 2 Samuel 13:23-39; Mark 8:22-30; Acts 24:10-16; Psalm 119:153-176

Over the years, I’ve talked with lots of friends of other faiths and of no faiths about their perception of Christianity. I’ve gotten a lot of interesting answers about the faith – answers ranging from “It’s that movement that’s anti-intellectual” to “It’s that group of folks who hate those who are different than they are”. Many of those comments make me sad – for they are strong indictments about the face of Christianity some of Jesus’ followers have put out there. One thing some individuals have done in presenting their faith is lead with all of those things that set our faith apart from others. Often, this is done with an “I’m right and you’re wrong” edge to it. In today’s reading from Acts, Paul gives us another way of presenting our faith. In that passage Paul didn’t start by emphasizing differences – he started by emphasizing areas of commonality. “In regard to the Way, which they malign as a dead-end street,” Paul said, “I serve and worship the very same God served and worshipped by all our ancestors and embrace everything written in all our Scriptures” (Acts 24:14 from The Message). Paul knew a very basic fact about human nature: people are more responsive when you begin by affirming commonalities than if you lead with differences. All of this raises issues larger than just our faith. This raises issues about how you approach life as a whole. Are you someone who leads with differences and divisions in your interacts with others, or are you a person who leads with commonalities and shared values? In your interactions with others today, pay attention to yourself and see how you answer that question through both word and deed. Til next time…

Monday, August 3

Today’s Readings: Psalm 119:121-152; 2 Samuel 13:1-22; Mark 8:11-21; Acts 23:31-24:9; Psalm 80

Today’s reading from 2 Samuel contains one of the most difficult stories for me to read in all of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). The passage tells the story of Tamar’s rape by her brother Amnon. Now most people assume there is one person to get upset at in the story. That person would be Amnon: the individual who raped his sister. Clearly, one would be correct in getting upset with Amnon. There is another person in the story, however, whose actions also push all of my buttons. That person? King David. In the culminating verses of the passage we are told: “King David heard the whole story and was enraged, but he didn’t discipline Amnon. David doted on him because he was his firstborn” (2 Samuel 13:21 from The Message). Amazing! A person of authority who not only looks the other way, but goes so far as to dote on the rapist. That gets my blood boiling. Of course before I get too bent out of shape, I should remember that many of us often get sucked into a place in our lives where we have the opportunity to stand up for what’s right and do what King David did – yet we keep our mouths shut and look the other way. In speaking on behalf of those who have found themselves in situations analogous to Tamar’s, Martin Luther King, Jr. so correctly observed: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Today, I would encourage us to use Tamar’s story as impetus to speak out against all acts of injustice we encounter – whatever form they may take. Til next time…

Sunday, August 2

Today's Reading: Mark 6:24-35

As I look back now, there were many milestones I reached in my development as a pianist. One of those milestones occurred in the year 1971 when I sat down beside my sister on the piano bench for the first time and picked out a few notes. Another came in the fall of 1978 when I started piano lessons. And yet another came in the winter of 1980 – when I started sharing my music by playing at church. Each of these markers was important in my overall development.

There was one stage in my development, however, that I can point to and say, “It was here that I evolved from someone who played the piano into a pianist.” That stage came in the fall of 1985.

You see prior to 1985, my development as a piano player was overseen by one person: Miriam Patterson. Miriam was a wonderful pianist who had moved to our small town from Montana. Her skills were unlike any other who lived in our community – so as soon as it was possible, my parents signed me up to take piano lessons from Miriam.

From 1978 through 1985 Miriam oversaw every stage of my development. She assigned the scales and arpeggios I needed to practice in order to develop dexterity. She chose the theory workbooks that I completed in order to learn the basics of music theory. And she picked every piece of music that I learned. During that period of time I did everything I was told; and my development as a piano player soared.

In the spring of 1985, however, I graduated from high school. That fall I moved across state and began studying with a new piano teacher: a man by the name of Calvin Knapp. For the first time in my life, I was exposed to a pianist who saw things differently. The music I explored was different. Whereas Miriam loved classical and baroque music, Calvin loved music from the romantic and impressionist eras. Whereas Miriam focused on solo performance, Calvin nurtured my ability as an accompanist. And whereas Miriam picked out music for me, Calvin expected me to choose my own music.

In the span of that one school year, a profound shift happened as I broadened my experience of music. I went from being a piano player to being a bona fide pianist. In a few moments I’ll say a little more about the difference between the two.

I was reminded of that period of my life this week as I read our sacred reading from the Gospel of John – for in today’s Gospel reading we see Jesus encouraging his followers to make a similar shift. Only this time, the shift had nothing to do with music – and everything to do with spirituality.

You see much like me, the followers of Jesus were use to sitting back and having others oversee their experience of God. For instance, they grew up hearing stories of how heroic leaders like Moses had worked with God on their behalf in order to secure provisions for them.

And later – when Jesus burst on the scene – they took those expectations and put them on Jesus. When they were sick, who was supposed to take care of them? Jesus. And when they were hungry, guess who was supposed to provide for them? That’s right. Jesus.

In other words, much like me prior to that transformative fall of 1985, they were stunted in their development.

So what needs to happen to move a person to the next level – the level of which Jesus spoke?

Well, I can’t speak for Jesus’ followers in the First Century, but I can speak for myself. I learned an important lesson about life through my music. A person who simply pushes down the keys on a piano isn’t a pianist. That’s a piano player. In order to become a pianist, you have to transcend the keys on the keyboard and the notes on a page. You have to enter into a relationship with the music and experience it. That’s when you become a pianist.

Same thing goes with our spiritual lives. A person needs to go from one who simply reads words on a page – even if those words are in the Bible - to being someone who actually embodies those words. A person needs to evolve from worrying about performing right actions, to actually living in right relationship.

In other words, to use the words from this morning’s passage, a person needs to align oneself with the God revealed through Jesus. Once we do that, the rest will fall into place.

And the good news is that this alignment we seek isn’t like other forms of alignment in our lives. It’s not like our cars, for instance, that we have to get re-aligned every so often. This alignment takes. For as Jesus said in today’s passage: “And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go.”

So friends, let us come to the Communion Table today fully informed by the words Jesus gave us. Come to the Table, not simply because you’ve been told to. Come, not in an attempt to satisfy your fleeting hunger or put a temporary band-aid on an owie that life has inflicted on you. Come expecting more. Come expecting to experience for yourself the words of Jesus – words that have carried across two millennia: “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, EVER.”