Sunday, June 14, 2015

Conditions for Life

Ezekiel 17:22-24 
Conditions for life

A couple weeks ago I began my morning as I typically do by climbing out of bed and stepping over the dogs, throwing on warmer clothes and my glasses and stumbling down the stairs to make my coffee. Then - a part of my spring and summer routine I head out to ‘walk the north 40’…  as I call it- or meander around our little back yard to examine the chickens and the garden.

On this cool morning a couple weeks ago I was looking to see how the seeds had finally burst through the soil and the little heads of the green beans, snap peas and zucchini were finally beginning to open and look toward the sky- hopeful- just as I was- that we might -finally- see the sun..

But on this day- as I looked down something caught my eye.  It was a little - translucent worm like creature - it looked like a little piece of angel hair pasta- but it’s neck stretched and twirled in a kind of snake like movement. I’ve never seen anything like it. So I kneeled down to see that there were about 20 of these little critters all over the soil- freshly composted soil I had recently added to the garden. I was so mesmerized I plopped down on the ground to watch. I texted Kyle to come look- and quick! A text which he was super excited to receive at 5:30 am…

Later that day I went to do some research to get to the bottom of this mystery creature.

With a bit of digging I discovered that these little snake-like angel-hair-pasta translucent worms have a name: they are called enchytraeids, or as they are commonly known- which I can pronouncepot worms- no, not that kind of pot- flower pot. They sometimes appear in compost soil in times when there has been a lot of moisture - like when we’ve had a month of rain in Colorado. They are generally harmless - but are an indicator that the conditions of your soil might not support other types of life— as these little worms thrive in conditions that are low in pH and high in moisture.

It turns out- my compost bin had created the perfect conditions for life…. for pot worms- but perhaps not for the vegetables I hope to grow to feed my family.


The prophet Ezekiel spoke among the people of Israel in the midst of the babylonian exile in the early decades of the sixth century BCE. The people had just lost everything. Their land, their monarchy, and their temple were all destroyed, and here they are in babylon trying to understand what has happened to them and what it means for them as a community.

We pick up with the prophet Ezekiel in the 17th chapter- which is pretty darn beautiful honestly… 

“  On the mountain height of Israel
               I, God, will plant it,
          in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,
               and become a noble cedar.
          Under it every kind of bird will live;
               in the shade of its branches will nest
               winged creatures of every kind.
24        All the trees of the field shall know
               that I am the LORD.

however- reading the rest of Ezekiel is a lot more harsh, and gives a more broad understanding of the depth and meaning of todays text.

You see, the first chapters of Ezekiel tell a story of death and exploitation. The powerful have taken everything from the people. Chapter 17 begins with a long, poetic riddle like allegory of two eagles and a vine- recalling the leaders of Israel being seduced by the power and armies of Babylon- only to desert their own people. Ezekiel says that following these corrupt leaders is like transplanting a vine in poor soil. The roots are easily pulled and the fruit rots on the vine. We see patterns of those in power exploiting and neglecting those without.

When we come to todays text we see that God’s power and creation is bigger than the ways of exploitation and corruption.

God is the one who creates an environment for life. God takes a sprig from atop the lofty cedar. And, foreshadowing the poetry of Mary’s magnificat in Luke, the high are made low and the low are made high. God creates an environment where all can live and grow and thrive.

This is in line with this theme we see throughout the Bible old and new- God calls for conditions that support life… in a context where the people have been oppressed and the powerful have exploited and taken advantage of their own… The Prophet Ezekiel reminds us that God is the one who reverses the status quo so that all may thrive.

One of my favorite thinkers- Buckminster Fuller said, “I must commit myself to reforming the environment and not people; being absolutely confident that if you give people the right environment they will behave favorably.”

Buckminster Fuller knew that given the right conditions people will thrive- when starved of the right conditions- often due to a lack of will or greed on the part of those with power and resources, people will suffer.

And then this week I read an article in the satire magazine- The Onion-source of truth and wisdom…  the headline read “15 years in constant fear somehow fails to rehabilitate prisoner”….

While it may not look like it if you step back and look at the systems and communities we have created - We do know what it takes for people to thrive, for communities to thrive: 

All people need access to healthy food, homes free of violence, clean water, opportunities to learn and be challenged, communities where we can feel safe outside, clean air, jobs that pay a living wage, friends and family who are supportive, affordable healthcare, and opportunities to work, play and rest.

We do not have a lack of knowledge of what conditions it takes to thrive- we have a lack of will.

While many here- including myself- might have conditions that allow them and their families to thrive…

too many in our communities and too many in our world are not able to survive- let alone thrive.

Because something is out of balance- the ph in our soil is too low to support life for all.

We have pot worms growing in our soil.

Disparity between rich and poor in our country has grown exponentially in the past 40 years. Theories that if we only increased the gross domestic product of our country then all of our social ills would be solved have been busted. Studies show that social ills are tied more to inequality than to poverty alone. Thriving is more about balance than wealth.


I invite you to wonder:

What conditions support life for all?

Why is our ‘soil out of balance’? What is stopping us from creating an environment where all can live? 

What actions can we take to build a church/ community where all can thrive?

Ezekiel came in the midst of brokenness beyond our imagination. A time of exile and wondering when people felt helpless and hopeless. 

And he brought a word of life. He came to remind the people that they need not rely on the leaders who had fallen into corrupt ways. They needed to turn to God- and to take action - to rise up and live into the ways of life. 

“  I myself will take a sprig
               from the lofty top of a cedar;
              I myself will plant it
           Under it every kind of bird will live;
               in the shade of its branches will nest
               winged creatures of every kind.
24        All the trees of the field shall know
               that I am the LORD.”

May we have the will to take action. To till the soil. To water, fertilize and weed. To name injustice, to support those in need, to call for systems that are fair and provide opportunity for every person— every person- to live and love and grow.

May it be so


We Are More

2 Corinthians 4:13- 5:1
We are More

When I was a kid my family moved a lot. I mean A LOT.

I was brought home from the hospital to a trailer outside a military base in Belleville Illinois. By the time I was a year old, my parents had moved to a little house with marbled orange and brown shag carpet..  By age two, we were moving back to the state that was my parent’s closest state to home- Arizona. First an apartment, then a little white box house in the desert of Black Canyon City, then back to Phoenix, to a couple different apartment complexes.

Things began to settle down when we moved to Las Vegas, shortly before I started Kindergarten- first an apartment, then a condo near the university. Then to Carson City for 10 months, back to Las Vegas… then to the other side of Las Vegas.
And finally to Colorado. By the time I was 12 years old I think I’d called 12 different places ‘home’.

While my dad was in the military for a short time- our moves weren’t due to military life directly, but perhaps were impacted by the reality that my parents had both come from military families- and frequent moves had become their rhythm that would never break- even to this day.

While this sounds like a terribly unstable environment for a kid- and just reflecting on all of the moves is a bit exhausting for me even now…

At the time, I knew no different. And.. Where we were didn’t matter so much- as long as my family was there. If my parents and my sister and pets were there- we were home.

No matter the external circumstances- then and now- I learned early that my center could not be tied to external circumstances. Home was more than a house and stability was more than consistency.


Paul writes to the people of Corinth to assure them and to strengthen them. 2 Corinthians is thought to be one of the later letters that Paul wrote to the Christian community in Corinth- as enough time has passed that the community has experienced conflict- they have experienced frustration with Paul- and they are a bit deeper into the messiness of life. Early on they thought Jesus return was imminent, and now they have experienced illness, death and doubt. They thought the early exhilaration of life in Christian community would last forever. They thought Paul would be perfect, and life would be perfect and it would all last forever. And now people are dying, and fighting and losing hope.

In his letter, Paul affirms his own determination to never give up, to not lose heart- to practice resilience.

These momentary setbacks and experiences of diminishment are only passing illusions in the light of the unseen eternity that awaits.

Paul calls the people to live from a deeper place. To look beyond that which passes and dies—calling up images of tents and clothing and buildings. And he calls them to find their center in that which is permanent- a grounding in God, a home in Christ.

This is a tension we find again and again throughout the Bible Old and New.

Permanent vs. Impermanent

Physical vs. Spiritual

Here and now vs. ever after

From the beginning of time, people have held tension between these two seemingly at odds ways of being… a need for permanent and physical structures and institutions—

and a focus beyond- a realization that life is something more than what we can see, a life beyond- that is bigger than our current structures.

We can see this tension in the Hebrew people’s early longing for a temple— moving from nomad people to settled people- from Samuel to Saul, David to Solomon … the earliest leaders of Israel sought to build a physical home for God- a tabernacle or temple that would last forever from generation to generation.

In the time of the early Christians- communities of followers met in homes, and hidden places outside the center of power. Over time Christianity shifted from a movement- a branch of Jews following the prophet Jesus— to a religion endorsed by the state complete with elaborate institutions and extravagant churches at times losing sight of a grounding in God and grasping to property and power and permanence.


We - as the Christian church of the 21st century continue to struggle with the need for buildings and institutions as the old falls away and the new is born.

Our churches are changing- as we hear again and again- less people are attending Sunday worship, institutions struggling to figure out how to be sustainable into the future…

While the old may be passing away- We know that our buildings matter, our communities still matter. We still need ‘a home for God’ - a place to gather and to worship, pass on our faith, and work for justice.

And, while we need buildings and value buildings, we know these buildings and institutions will not last as we know them now. The renovation that is now underway- the updating and hard work to be good stewards- to prepare a place for future generations— will one day itself be outdated. The work that is currently being done will one day need to be torn down, renovated, and adjusted itself.

Knowing they ultimately will not last, some dismiss the need for buildings and institutions at all.. However- I think this is missing the point.

Knowing our bodies will one day fade and pass, that our buildings will one day be outdated and lose their usefulness, that our institutions will not always serve us in the ways they do now- should not lead to a nihilistic dismissive view of bodies, buildings or institutions— nor a clinging to keep things just the way they are forever…

rather — this reality should invite us to care for, honor, appreciate all of these things now, while at the same time holding them lightly.

We know that most things in this life pass. The people we love, homes that hold memories, seasons, our possessions that bring comfort and joy, pets, and even the spring tulips and iris that have already faded.
Knowing they will pass- Paul reminds us- don’t get hung up on the passing- appreciate all things while you have it- take care of it… but don't grasp, cling, hoard— hold gently- with gratitude and awe— and release when the time is needed to release.

For we know that there are things that are permanent.

Our center is in God’s love is always there and always available.

The laws of love are permanent; treating one another with justice and compassion passes from one generation to the next. Our relationships and connections tie us together in ways that surpass time and space.

I have a confession- My habit of every time I clean the house or the car I think… ok— It is going to stay like this for-ev-er.

Within 20 minutes one of our three kids or two dogs has walked through and dropped a backpack, or a wrapper, or a muddy footprint— and for-ev-er has passed.

I can whine and complain- and you can bet I do— and then I can move on- either clean it up or not worry about it.

For all these things are passing- just like the homes of my childhood, just like the buildings and places we love.

What is permanent is love. Is God at our center. Is the relationships and the connections that call us to something more.

May we know what is permanent—
That we might experience the grounding in God that lasts - that pulls us to share love and grace and compassion.

And may we know what is passing—
what is now and and is important- but not to be clung to… to be held gently.

May we say:

For all that has been— Thanks.

For all that will be— Yes!



Sunday, May 31, 2015

In and Of

Romans 8:12-17
In and Of

This past week I had the great gift of officiating the wedding of two good friends. And bonus- the wedding was in Sayulita, Mexico— destination weddings are a treat for pastors!

So last Monday, I joined 10 strangers at the gate in front of United Airlines. As we introduced ourselves- each was thinking we were the outsider and assumed everyone else knew one another. 

After the three hour flight, we exited the plane to the warm humid air we had been longing for- after the past month in Colorado, and moved through confusion and customs- stopped to change money and buy water and loaded into a van to head to the small town of Sayulita.

As we drove through the unfamiliar terrain -each asked how they knew the couple getting married.. and one by one we each realized that we weren’t the only outsider- in fact we were a bus full of outsiders all traveling together.

There was a sister from one side, and a cousin from the other, a childhood friend, a co-worker, an x-cousin-in-law who got to keep the family, a long time roommate, a neighbor/ photographer, and a pastor they met three years ago in a bar next door to a church. Think breakfast club for 4 days, in Mexico- all were traveling to celebrate and support friends in love. Traveling to reconnect to ourselves- to each other- to our spirits.

After moving through steep hills and rocky dirt alleys - just two inches wider than the van we were stuffed into - We arrived to the house we would share for the next four days. The beauty of both the terrain and the home brought an immediate shift in awareness.

We settled in and went to work- we were there to support our friends in marriage. Everyone helped. Some made sure dresses were perfect, others did hair, two went to find the perfect spot on the beach, another found flowers. After taking far too long… we all began a journey through the rustic city, down the giant hill past stray dogs and roaming chickens.. past a beautiful old cemetery, to the sandy beach, and to the perfect location where waves crashed and birds flew overhead.

We formed a half circle with our friends at the front- I officiated- but all participated. Each person had an opportunity to share from their heart. To name their connection and give words of love- and we celebrated.

Then we let our guards down. As we walked through the week- sharing meals, playing at the beach- interacting with street vendors - we began to share stories. It was clear that while it was an eclectic group- there was a consistent theme of strong and resilient people. Each person shared about the pains and the joys in their lives past and present..

— no one on the trip was conventionally ‘religious’  — but every person held a deep spirituality— as has become typical of our generation. I heard authentic questions, frustrations and skepticism about God and religious communities in general… And- as we laughed together I heard stories of longing. Longing for connection and authenticity and creativity and community. Longing for life.

We live in a time when old structures are no longer relevant. When the assumptions of the past no longer serve to support the life and grace we need here and now and always. When stale words and doctrines have been rejected as irrelevant and hypocritical. In the midst of this context- many are left feeling disconnected and fragmented. We know what doesn’t work… and together we are longing to find what does work to create connection.


Paul addresses the community in Romans in a time of deep social and individual change to remind them of their ultimate connection to God- through Christ- and to inspire them to live into this connectedness. The early followers are struggling to make sense of this new way of being. There is intense struggle in how to reconcile belief and action. How to live in the midst of the constant and inevitable spiritual battle between living in ways of life- or continuing ways of death and division.

At the root of this struggle is what I call the ‘myth of disconnection’. The people in Romans are separating the teachings and the ideas from their actions.

Now here is where I have to stop and do a bit of critical analysis of the text—

In this section of Romans- and quite frequently in Paul’s writings - the writings are interpreted with a condemnation of ‘the flesh’ and a glorification of ‘the Spirit’. Too often this word ‘flesh’, sarx in Greek, is seen as synonymous to our ‘body ’, or soma in Greek….

This interpretation has led to a de-valuing— and even justified exploitation of ‘bodies’ - and to our physical created world in general.

One of the great fallacies of our religious tradition is a de-valuing or dismissing of bodies and our physical world. In the teachings of Jesus we can see that Jesus was directly concerned with bodies- healing, feeding, caring.

Dis-connection of body and soul has led to dismissal of real social inequity as the material poor are promised a better life in the spiritual world- and neglected in the current world.

Fragmentation of body and soul has too often led people to be at war with their own body- rather than seeing it as an integral piece of their whole- and a vital tool to be cared for in working for good in the world.

The myth of disconnection has been furthered by damaging readings of our text- which when read thoroughly and in context actually serve to call for deeply connected living- rather than fragmentation and compartmentalization of  body and soul- or values, ideas and actions.


In the book of Romans, Paul reminds the early followers of Christ that the gospel names the reality of salvation, reconnection, and reconciliation. No one is an outsider.

While all are broken and fragmented— or as Paul says- sinners- we are ultimately created and born of God, re-connected again and again through Christ— and this connection is sustained through power in the Spirit— the great connector.

Now this might sounds a bit too theoretical or theologically abstract — which on this Trinity Sunday in our liturgical calendar is pretty much expected—

But- I have to admit- I am a big fan of theologizing ‘the trinity’— as I see a ‘relational understanding of God as key- and practical in our daily lives;

Through naming God as relationship at the core- between creator, redeemer and sustainer- each unique, yet mutual and interdependent- our image of God becomes shifts to a kind of circle dance rather than an old man sitting on a throne.

The ‘myth of disconnectedness’ - between body and soul, between God and humanity, between each of us and our neighbor— is at the root of pain and struggle. Dis-connectedness breeds fear and guilt- and ultimately can result in hate and violence.

Paul call us to a theology of connectedness — To see the reality that we are children of God- adopted and brought in and loved as a parent loves their own children. This reality is at our core and can’t be broken.

Realization of this connection leads to life, creativity and flourishing — light and joy—

We can let go of notions of disconnection and fragmentation

In order to walk connected - in the Spirit and of the Spirit—

Gathering at the airport last Monday morning we all felt disconnected. We assumed we were the outsider. In realizing we were in reality connected- to each other- and through something more— Each person opened up. laughed, shared stories, let themselves be vulnerable, and experienced genuine connection and friendship.

As we look to the future of the church- in a context where old assumptions and institutions are falling away— as we listen to where the Spirit is calling us next-

May we see that we are already connected. We are a participant in the very being of God. May we meet people from this place of connectedness.

May we live, listen, play, work for justice, and be present to others with a deep awareness of the work of the Spirit- the great connector- tying us to the God we come from, and the world we live in.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Love and Narratives that Divide

1 John 4:7-21

Over the next two weeks our texts lead us to talk about the timeless and ever relevant topic of love. This week - we are invited to look to the beginnings of love, and next week we will take a closer look at what love looks like.

Our text today comes from the book of 1 John. Not the gospel of John- though 1 John carries the same riddle like language and ideas- the book of 1 John is thought to have been written by the community of the gospel writer, about 10 years. Ten years has been just enough time to get into the messiness of life together in community that we all know well. They have faced a major conflict and division over right thinking, and right practice. 

While some have left the community; questioning, resentment, anger and fear remain.  

It is in this context that the author of 1 John invites the people to remember their beginnings.

It is often in times when conflict rises the the surface, or when deep change surrounds us that we begin to ask- “How did we get here?” “Where did this issue come from?” “Where did we come from?”

This is John’s sweet spot. 

The gospel of John begins with beginnings:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

So too, The author of 1st John begins with beginnings: 

“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, looked and and touched concerning the word of life.

And to chapter 4 verse 7- 

Out of this word and life of God- bring the beginnings of love. Love comes from God. God is love- and all who love are born of God share love—

Our beginning is in Love. 
The energy of Love, from God, radiates within us and passes through us- the great life force. Perfect love casts out fear and division and brings healing and life, thriving relationships and thriving communities. We know this love. 

1 John reminds the people in the midst of conflict to let go of divisions and return to love- because they are made of God’s love and are called to share that love- those who love God- must not hoard or control- but must let that love flow freely to all. 


This is a timely message in a week fraught with division, fragmentation, violence and pain. My Facebook feed has been filled with on the ground stories of uprising in Baltimore- 

Uprising and riots across our country and here in Denver are bringing to the surface centuries of scars and open wounds. Youth are crying out as frustration and hopelessness leads to violence and anger. Mothers crying- conflicted in caring for their children- and wanting real justice, real opportunity. Safe communities, jobs that bring possibility, homes that create space for thriving. The complex realities of our broken system are unavoidable as buildings burn and peacemakers and protesters march arm in arm.

In this time of conflict- pundits, politicians, news reporters, blogger- and you and I— are reflecting on the beginnings of this crisis- this racial divide in the country and communities that we love. So it seems in my first week as your summer preacher- that we have no choice but to explore the light realities of racial division…

This week I attended a presentation by the author of a book called ‘Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class. I gathered with people from diverse experiences to learn about the roots of racism in our society and political foundations as a country.

The thesis of the book and presentation is that racism hasn’t disappeared, but has rather adapted through coded language and assumptions. Words like thug, welfare, inner city, illegal alien, Sharia law, ’real America’ conjure images that we all know- without using blatant racism that would be  immediately called out.

This language and stereotyping is used by those in power to fuel division— as this division itself benefits those seeking money and power. The vast majority wind up making decisions, voting, and choosing our lifestyle in ways that eventually harm our own best interest- because we are so bought in - consciously and subconsciously - to the narratives of division and superiority.

Some may have thought the racial divide was in the past- that we live in a ‘post-race’ society… But it is clear that racism did not die- it has adapted. Policies seeped in racism have left some cities and neighborhood neglected and stripped of dignity, and others with excessive wealth. There is a vast divide in available resources, education, health and support.

I believe we are currently seeing a movement of the Spirit as people cry out again and say “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”


We cry out again, because we all know that division is not a new narrative. Division is the sin of our earliest interactions. The sin we hear of in Bible story after Bible story from Adam and Eve’s turning away, to brokenness and division between the sons of Abraham, in the life of Isaac and Jacob and David. 

Us and Them thinking slips into story after story in our sacred texts and in our own family histories. The story of our country is grounded in taking advantage of and playing on our divisions. The earliest explorers deemed the people who lived on this land as ‘other’ ‘inferior’, less than ‘human’; unknowing of the love of God. Our country was built on the back of the sin of division as we exploited science and religion to say that some people weren’t actually people. We exploited whole people through the institution of slavery and have continued to propagate the same stereotypes- if more subtly.


Somewhere along the way— again and again- we become trapped by myths of division.

We have bought into the false narrative that we are different from one another— that some qualities, some appearance, some level of education, some vocabulary, or skin tone actually makes one person better than another. 

Because the reality is- we love to divide ourselves. To lift ourselves up and push others down. Even us do-gooders like to be just a little bit better of a do-gooder than the person next to us. While we have the best intentions- we still operate in and propagate the system that divides and conquers. One of my favorite bumper stickers reads: “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite”

The myth of superiority, of some deserving the hand they are dealt — is steeply ingrained. 

Superiority in multiple forms has infiltrated our thoughts and our society. And has taken shape in our material reality-- 
in ghettos and forgotten neighborhoods- 
in barios and border towns, 
and in high end shopping malls, 
in enclaves of generations of stored wealth, 
and gated isolated communities.

Our divides are deep and real and inherently intertwined in our personal lives and our communities, in our laws and our global relationships.

—— pause—-

But this is not how it has to be. Before we become paralyzed in despair- let us remember our beginnings. 

You are born of God. They are born of God. We are all born in love.

Now this is not when I will break out singing ‘all we need is love’ - or close with a simplified cliche’ plea that we should all just love each other and get along…

This is far deeper, far more powerful, more radical, and scary- because it requires us each to face the myths of division that are so a part of our reality. To challenge our own assumptions, to speak out when we see the flames of division being fanned by those in power- or even by our friends and family.

In the midst of the life long process of seeking to overcome divisions, 

We can find hope in the radical reality central to our faith- 
God is love. 

Love comes from God- and flows freely for all. 

Love is not a matter of  ‘getting connected’. 

It is a matter of seeing that we already are connected.

We are all made of the same dust, moving through time on the same planet, faced with our own problems, each with hopes and fears. 

Our core connection of God’s love makes all superficial divisions of skin color, age, gender, sexuality, looks, or money irrelevant.

This means we are to be like gardeners creating an environment that allows water to move freely from it’s source. 

We must make way for the free flowing connectedness of God’s love. By confronting and removing removing obstacles of fear, 

rooting out divisive language and stereotyping, 

working tirelessly to build just economies and fair laws.

We must let go of hurtful ways that block our awareness of our ultimate connection to one another through God’s love.

For when we do— everything changes. 

Remembering that Love comes from God, freely, to all is the first step to naming lifetimes of broken systems- false beliefs in superiority- false divisions based on fear and ego. 

Internalizing the call to love our brothers and sisters invites us to truly live into the interconnected web of life- grounded in God’s love for all. 

May it be so.