Monday, September 29, 2008

"A Wolf at the Table" by Augusten Burroughs

About a year ago I read Burroughs' "Running with Scissors," a memoir I found so disturbing I disliked reading it, yet could not put it down. "A Wolf at the Table" is, in some ways, a prequel-memoir, focusing more on Augusten's relationship with his father, a philosophy professor who had two faces: the kindly professor he showed when out, and the alcoholic, affection-depriving socio-path he was at night and at home with his family.

Burroughs does a good job retelling what it was like growing up; perhaps a little too well. He has a command of language and detail that almost borders on being autistic or Asberger's-like (his older brother was autistic). Clearly, he is a man of a very high IQ.

God rears his head on pp. 135-136. Burroughs writes that he "prayed often and prayed hard," not making a steeple with his fingers, but by making his head "empty,hollow", believing God was a "watchful, interested presence" in his life. For him, God was a friendly voice that asked questions and existed as "The Correct Answer inside my chest." He compares his faith to those of The 700 Club who call up asking for favors, money, miracles. Burroughs writes "Why did these people have to call a television show to ask for favors, if God was always with me, even when I was alone in the woods?"

Later, on pages 160-163, Burroughs father catches him praying. He is not kneeling because "kneeling is for people who aren't friends with" God. His father, an ex-minister, asks why he is praying, reminding his son that he is much to old to believe in God.

The book can be a quick read, depending on what mood one is in. It's also a harrowing, frightening read. I would recommend it to people who knew what it was like to grow up in a home in which they did not always feel safe or in which there seemed to be mysterious incidents that seemed real yet dream-like at the same time.

I especially likes the ending when Burroughs admits he was living a two-faced life as well, living in alcoholic squalor as an adult while portraying professional success to the outside world.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hosea 14 for the October 2008 issue of "Network News"

Hosea 14 for October 2008
by Rev. G

The Psalms tell us to look towards nature to learn about God’s glory; I like to look towards nature to also learn the truths about life. For example, manure makes things grow, pruning makes things bloom, and some plants thrive in the sun while others need the shade. In other words: “manure happens” but it is often the bad things we experience that help us to grow into who we are; sometimes in order to bloom we need to let go and get rid of the things that hold us back; and while some partners need lots of attention to be happy, others do better with healthy distance and space.
Perhaps the best source of my nature inspiration comes from the lake my apartment complex is built around. Last year I wrote about the all-male group of ducks that gathered there. This year something similar, yet different, occurred.
For about a week there was a group of ducks that gathered by the water . I’d pass them on my morning walk. What was unusual was that a lone goose sat with them on the grass. We have geese during obvious moments of the year, but never before had I seen just one goose sitting amongst a dozen ducks.
I found myself anthropomorphizing the lone goose, and in the process identifying with it. Here was this one goose in the midst of these ducks; so much alike, but yet oh so different. Was it welcomed as part of the flock, or just tolerated? Did it feel lonely as the only one? Was it aware of its difference from all the others? Did it hang out with the ducks in the daytime and in the darkness of night fly off to some hot spot or support group for others of its kind?
Seeing that lone goose in the midst of the ducks made me think about myself and my journey as a gay man in a straight world, and as a gay pastor in the church. Like so many, I’ve been able to do it, knowing I am different, and yet in some ways the same. But seeing that goose made me face a sad reality that exists with my spirit: that it’s lonely being the only one who is gay in a group of people. It’s lonely being the only gay person I know of in my family. It’s lonely being the only gay person I know in my apartment complex.
Let’s face it, my experiences as a gay man is different then non-gays. Unless if I adopt, or become a foster-parent, I will go through life not knowing what its like to have a child. Holding hands with my boyfriend has to be done quickly, carefully and in locations that are safe. For now, a wedding announcement can’t be placed in the paper, and people I don’t know get to vote for what rights I may or may not have. And to be among people who are most like me, I need to enter a smoky bar, or drive north into Grand Rapids or west into Saugatuck or be pro-active in arranging a get-together of LGBT friends.
I am that goose, sitting by the lakeside in the early morning, amongst all the ducks who are busy resting, primping and socializing. I am grateful that in most of my life I have the ability to be honest and open about who I am, and to be welcomed by family, friends, parishioners and neighbors; but I also carry a bit of sadness and world weariness because sometimes I feel as if I am the only one, that “my kind” aren’t always near me.
Seeing that lone goose made me realize just how heavy that burden can be, so today I give that burden up to God and share it with all of you. During this month, which features National Coming Out Day, may God bless whatever loneliness you are feeling; may God continue to make it so that even in our differences we can feel as one.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wanderings for Sept 28, 2008

Greetings everyone. This Sunday we resume our sermon series on the book of Genesis, which we left off with last year. This Sunday we look at Genesis 25:19-34, featuring the family of Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob. Interestingly enough, it has ties to last week's scripture, Matthew 20:1-16. That scripture was about the workers in the field, and how the last hired received the same reward as the first. This weeks scripture is about how God works against social conventions and uses the second born to bless the families of the world, as opposed to the first born, as would be expected. That God chooses Jacob over Esau anticipates the gospel affirmation that "the first shall be last, and the last first." (Matthew 19:30, 20:16, Mark 9:35, 10:31, Luke 13:30). This is a concept Walter Brueggeman talks about in his commentary on Genesis. What does this mean for us? What does this mean as Christians, to believe in a God, and understand God to be one who does not follow popular conventions, who chooses to upset the preconceived way of doing things, who basically thumbs his nose at everyone by choosing "what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing the things that are" as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 1:28? For me, it means letting go of the notion of always having to be the best, the most popular, the best dressed, the best looking, the richest, the smartest, the cleverest; to let go of these things so i can be of value to God, my friends, and the community. It means letting go of all these things so I can be who I am and to care more about appreciating the vessel I am so that God can use it to do what God wants and needs to do. Perhaps by letting go, and letting God, the truer blessings will come to be. I hope you all have a blessed day and week. Peace, Pastor G

ANTM cycle 11 episode 4

Well, I called it last week, didn't I? Isis was let go. But not only her, but Hannah as well. Now, only two of my favorites remain: Sheena and Annaleigh. But did you notice how Isis was willing to teach Hannah how to walk the runway even though Hannah had pushed her in the hot tub two weeks before? And how the girls let Isis know "you're one of us." And how cool (and smart) was it for Jocelyn to pick Sheena and Isis to do the photo shoot together. Jocelyn owned the shoot and has hints of Beyonce. And did you catch the phone call Isis had with her grandfather who encouraged her to embrace "the goddess" she is? In the end, we can all learn a lesson from Isis, who was told by the judges "You're coasting with nothingness because you are afraid to stand out." If Isis went for the gusto and stopped worrying so much, she could have easily made top five. I wonder who is to go home next week.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Givenchy Code by Julie Kenner

Yesterday I finished a fun piece of romantic trash called "The Givenchy Code" by Julie Kenner. The tagline is "Cryptography is the new new black." Consider this book a chick-lit spin of The Davinci Code with a New York locale and lots of fabulous designer names.

Kenner has created a fast based book full of wit, smarts, action and romance. The "sole" of the book appeared on page 80, when our protagonist, Mel, a Givenchy shoe-lover, allows her grief to overwhelm her. She is caught up in an all too-real game of cat-and-mouse in which she must figure out a series of codes, and an assassin who's hunting her, in order to survive. In the process, an ex-boyfriend is killed and Mel crumbles in front of Stryker, who plays the role of bodyguard. "I slumped off the chair and let him cradle me as I cried. I cried out of fear and frustration and grief. I cried for Todd and everything he'd lost. I cried for myself and everything I might lose. And I cried for this man, who, for whatever reason, has shown up to help me."

It's a fun book, as these books usually are. But I have two main gripes. I felt there was no real ending, as if the book was all window shopping but no purchase. And the author combines first and third person narrative, which does not always work. I enjoyed Mel's voice and the whole book could have been first person, or first person from Styker and the assassin's point of view. Smartly, Kenner addresses this issue in an 'interview" she conducts with herself at the book s end.

Would I recommend this? Yes, for beach reading and for those who enjoy puzzles and fashion.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wall-E and Hancock

My pals and I have been going to Woodland Theater to catch up on all the films we have missed. Last week we saw Wall-E. Can I tell you I cried three times. I heard this movie was good, but I didn't believe it was until I saw it. For a cartoon about two robots falling in love, it has more heart, emotion and soul then other films I've seen. And the themes it tackles! Ecotheology! Corporate culture! How, if we are not more careful, humans will evolve into large, bulbous "things" with cankles who have no shape, are carried everyone, eating everything in shake form and communicating not person to person but screen to screen! Ultimately, though, Wall-E is a love story about how he wants nothing more then to have someones hand to hold. And I blubbered like a baby. Bravo, Pixar, bravo.

Last night we saw Hancock. I already knew what the surprise was, but it allowed me to enjoy the movie even more. What I liked was the notion that Hancock was born to be who he was, and he could not run from it or deny it. I felt as if, for that moment, that the film was putting into words what it means to be truly called to be a minister, pastor, whatever. Good acting. Fun script. I'm not much for action-adventure, blow-em ups, but this was good, partially because it actually addresses just how much physical and financial distress a real live superhero would create.

And the scene in the jail. How funny was that in a "oh no you didn't" way.

Sermon for Sept 21, 2008 Matthew 20:1-16

September 21, 2008
Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16
Sermon Title: "The Unfairness of God"
Rev. G
Let me tell you a story: A man dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates.
St. Peter says "Here’s how it works. You need a 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I’ll give you a certain number of point for each item. When you reach 100 points, you get in."
"OK," the man says, "I was married to the same woman for 50 years, never cheated on her, not even in my heart."
"That’s wonderful," says St. Peter, "That’s worth three points."
"Three points?" he says. "Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithes and services."
"Terrific!" says St. Peter. "That’s certainly worth a point."
"One point?!?...I started a soup kitchen in my community and I worked in a shelter for homeless veterans."
"Fantastic, that’s good for two more points," he says.
"Two points!?!!" the man cries. "At this rate the only way I’ll get into heaven is by the grace of God."
"Bingo!" says St. Peter. "100 points. Come on in!"...
...Ever wonder why Jesus was killed? People will talk about the reasons why Jesus died for us, but just why was Jesus killed? After all, wasn’t he a nice, warm man with a big heart who healed people and shared meals?
What was it about him that was so disturbing that people felt the need to call for his death? What could he have done or said that was so upsetting people decided to nail him to a cross?
For starters, Jesus told stories; parables as they are often called, and more often then not these parables which Jesus told totally turned the world upside town, challenging conventions to the point of angering and offending its listeners.
Take for example today’s readings. Words can not describe just how disturbing this story has been for people throughout the ages. Not one, or two, but every single theologian I read this week discussed just how upsetting this scripture is.
Steve Patterson, a professor of mine, says this parable leaves one slack jawed. Thomas Long calls it fracturing and most challenging of all. Marguerite Schuister says it is "calculated to offend". Fred Borsch says the story makes one angry. And Eugene Boring calls it "deeply disturbing."
Those are all awfully strong words to describe a story that is ultimately about the grace of God, the amazing grace we so often and so lovingly sing about.
What is it about this parable that can elicit so many strong responses?
Basically, it’s a story that plays against our own sense of fairness and justice, our own finely honed understanding of punishment and reward, and our own egotistical stance that if we were any character in the story, surely we would be the first in the field...
...There is an aspect of Christianity that has always bothered me; actually two aspects. The first is the severe focus on being rewarded in the afterlife: folk who appear to be controlled, shaped by the notion that they want to get into heaven.
We all know people, don’t we, whose every utterance, every act, every moment of volunteering or evangelism is bred out of the need to make it into heaven. But faith based on wanting to go to heaven isn’t faith: it’s self-centered fear.
But there is another aspect of Christianity that has bothered me even more: the notion that there are those who will make it into heaven and the notion that there are others who will burn in hell.
Why is it some Christians feel the need to compare and contrast, label and separate who they think is going to glory and who they think will be left in total damnation, where they will spend eternity being punished for their sins?
Even more bothersome, for me, is that there are folk who seem to get enjoyment over who will go to hell, and the laundry list they use to pass judgement and decide who gets there and who doesn’t!
I don’t like those kind of lists. They scare me.
Why is it that part of our human nature is to judge the sins of others and deem their sins worthy of eternal punishment, while completely ignoring our own sins or thinking ours can not compare to the sins of others.
And who gets the right to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell? It’s such a dangerous game.
A mass-murderer seems to be a shoo-in. But how is a mass-murderer different from a president who sends thousands of young men and women off to fight a war? And how is he different from a CEO of a company that puts plastic in milk?
How is the CEO different from a manager who cuts corners by ordering subpar materials that results in the sinking of a ship? And how is that different from a mother trying to save pennies by purchasing her goods at the dollar store where items where produced in a sweat shop?
Why does someone who has committed adultery get the right to condemn someone who has stolen bread to feed their family?
Why does someone who overeats get to point to a druggie and say they have a problem?
Why does an ex-cocaine addict get to decide who gets the electric chair?
How can someone condemn you for washing your car Sunday afternoon, but its Ok for them to sneak out Sunday night to hang up their laundry?
Where does it begin? Where does it end?
Is there anyone so righteous enough that they even think about throwing the first stone?
Of course not. We are all sinners. We are all flawed. All imperfect. All not worthy of any kind of reward.
Yet, we all read and hear this scripture and get upset that the last called to work in the field gets the same pay as the first. But we should actually rejoice.
See, the truth is that almost none of us fit the criteria of being the first shift workers, or the second shift, or even the third shift. Many of us are the workers who have been fortunate to squeak in, be invited, and given the days pay.
We are all, each and every one of us, recipients of grace. God’s good grace. God’s amazing grace.
The grace that knows no bounds, that knows no understanding, the grace that is extended to all, each and everyone one, from the oldest to the youngest, from male to female, from those born into the church to those just making their way in.
And that grace is what Jesus is talking about.
This parable is a parable about grace. It’s a parable about a landowner who is not so worried about the crops or output or finances, but a landowner who is worried about the workers.
The landowner goes to the marketplace where the poorest of the poor stand and says "Come and work for me." The landowner comes back to where the poorest of the poor are still standing and says "Come work for me." The landowner returns, even as if looks as if the day is about to end, and says "Come work for me."
And the gift he gives, the reward he shares, is the same for all. He grants each and every one grace. Grace that says you are forgiven. Grace that says you are welcome. Grace that says you are loved.
Obviously, the ones who were hired last are the most happy. How long they waited. How idle theie life must have seemed. How scared and worried they must have been.
To be called was a gift itself, to receive a days worth of pay a sheer blessing, nothing less.
The ones called first? Obviously they are a bit upset. Haven’t they worked longer, worked harder, been there from the very start? Why should they receive the same as the others? Where is the fairness of it all?
But the story is not about fairness. It’s about grace. And grace is grace. It does not come in increments. It does not come in subsidies. It comes 100% or it doesn’t come at all.
God, as Jesus reminded his original listeners, as he reminds us today, is a God of unlimited grace. A God who forgives, a God who blesses, a God who shares.
A God who is unfairly generous.
A God who grants grace to all, no matter how long they work in the vineyard.
And that is good news. It is good news because it reminds us that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace. It’s good news because it frees us from feelings of guilt and doubt about what we’ve done and haven’t done and where we’ll go.
It’s good news because it frees us from wasting time deciding who goes to heaven and who gets left behind.
It’s good news because it frees us from working ourselves into a frenzy trying to please God out of fear, and allows us to work for God because we want to, because we are called to, because we joyfully love to.
We can stop trying to accumulate points and we can stop calculating points for others. We can let go of our anger, let go of our fear, and we can
Be children of God. Be brothers and sisters in Christ. And be all that God has called us to be.
No longer afraid. No longer full of judgment. No longer judges of men.
We don’t have to worry about standing at the gates of St. Peter adding up our points or wasting time adding up the points of others.
But we can be grateful recipients of grace. Amazing and mighty, life giving and loving.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. God has saved a wretch, like me.
All thanks be to the Spirit, moving through us, the Son speaking to us, and the Father who is calling us. Amen and amen

Thursday, September 18, 2008

America's Next Top Model cycle 11, episodes 2 and 3

OK, one of my favorite girls was voted off on episode two. No more "Hey" from her. Episode 2 had a scene where Hannah pushed Isis away from her while in the hot tub. Did you note how in doing so Hannah quickly became the scapegoat for the girls. Here they are, in a house together, competing, missing home, probably scared. Someone had to be the scapegoat. It looked like it would be Isis, but the girls turned on Hannah, accusing her of racism, which may or may not have been true.

Episode three was makeover time. What was up with Tyra's eyes, and Jay Manuel needs to leave the wigs alone and not even try to be the Prince (even if it was Prince Couture). Here is what I found interesting: that Isis is no longer interesting. I see this as a good thing: that a pre-op transgendered person has become, in the editing of the show, a real person, not someone added for extra shock. With that said, I have the feeling Isis has not met her potential and will be the next to go.

Still love Sheena, but not sure if the makeover was right for her.

But you know where I will be next Wed at 8 p.m.

Wanderings for Matthew 20:1-16

Good evening everyone. This week's Wanderings focus on Matthew 20:1-16, perhaps Jesus' most upsetting parables/teachings. Every single reference I used for my sermon uses words like how it leaves a person "slack jawed," its "unsettling", "offensive", "calculated to offend", "the story makes us angry."

If you do not know this scripture, go grab your Bible and look it up. Take your time, I'll be right here waiting.

....Did you get a chance to read it? What is your reaction?

let me ask another question: which group of laborers do you see yourself as fitting into? It's fair to say most people see themselves as part of the first group, it's only human nature. But it takes some pretty big hubris to assume we are the first or even second group. No one wants to believe they could possibly be part of the last group.

But let's say you are part of the first group. And perhaps you feel its unfair that the last group gets the same wage, after all, you worked more.

But I invite you to reread the scripture again.

Why weren't the second and third group working to begin with? And those idle people who were hired at the last hour, why were they not working? Look at the words they use "Because no one has hired us."

let me ask you this: if you are a day worker, who only gets to eat and feed your family if you are hired out that day, which would be harder: to spend all day working in the cool morning, hot afternoon and cool evening, or standing around the marketplace, during the cool of the morning, hot afternoon and cool evening, wondering if you will be hired/able to eat/feed your family, watching and knowing that with each passing hour the likelihood is less and less likely?

Have you ever played a sport in school? have you ever been picked last for a team? who has it harder, the person picked first or the person chosen last?

This scripture is an upsetting one: it turns over what we have come to understand as fair and right, just and appropriate, and makes us have to rethink about the radical freeness of God, and the amazing grace God bestows on everyone.

But this scripture is also a cause for joy, as it teaches us that we are all worthy of grace, and of receiving that grace, regardless if we were deemed the fittest workers to work all day, or were the ones who no one wanted to hire, wondering what our outcome will be.

May God and God's grace bless you all this week and weekend.

Peace, Pastor G

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sermon for Sept 14, 2008 Matthew 13:24-30

Sept 14, 2008
Scripture: Matthew 13:24-30
Sermon Title: “Weeds and Clouds”
Rev. G

Childhood is full of lessons learned. Some of the lessons are delightfully experienced: kitty cats are soft, this we learn because we run our hands across their fur; snow is cold, this we learn because we laugh and giggle as we create snow men and ride sleds down the hill.

Some lessons are painfully experienced: kitty cats have sharp claws and teeth, this we learn because we get scratched after yanking their tail; stoves are hot, this we learn as we cry out in pain after reaching out to touch it while momma is making a meal.

One of the saddest lessons we are learn is the difference between a flower and a weed, because to a child’s mind all plants are beautiful and full of life. Dandelions push out of the earth, breaking up the green of the lawn with their yellow splendor, then turn into white-wish makers that we can blow upon; purple bluebells line the walkways to the lake and the Grand River, saying welcome and this is the way; tall and proud sunflowers burst open in radiance, following the morning light, feeding the squirrels with their seeds.

What child hasn’t thrilled at walking outside, picking wildflowers along the way, giving them to mom or dad as a homemade bouquet. If the children are young enough, and the parents kind enough, the response will be “How beautiful” and they are placed in a vase for all to see.

But inevitably someone, at some time lets slip, “Oh honey, those are weeds.” With those words the child’s reality is altered and things that were once seen as precious and unique are now labeled as something derivative and negative.

What makes something a weed, what makes something a flower? Why are rose bushes with their prickly thorns that draw blood seen as more desirable then dandelions that add color to the world and provide wishes, even if just imaginary?

We could get into the horticultural differences and dictionary definitions, but for today I like to propose that what makes a flower a flower and a weed and weed all comes down to perception, for perception is everything: perception shapes how we see the world, perception creates and reinforces reality, perception influences how we act and feel.

If you believe a dandelion is a weed, then it’s a thing worthy of being ripped up, destroyed, and poisoned. If you believe a dandelion is a flower, then it’s a thing of beauty and grace; worthy of carrying our dreams.

A flower or a weed? It can all come down to perception.

Let me share a recent experience of mine. A few weeks ago I went out for a bike ride. I rode from my apartment down to Clyde Park, then north on the Kent County Trails, along the river, towards the zoo. After an hour of riding and resting, I made my way back home, away from the zoo, back along the river, south on Clyde Park, until I came to the intersection at 28th street.

The light just turned red, so I stood on the corner, watching the cars pass by. Everything seemed grey and a bit bleak: the buildings on each corner not much of a view, liter on the ground, nothing but black road, brown brick and the exhaust of passing automobiles.

I looked at the pedestrian bridge that crosses over 28th. The light was still red, and with nothing to lose, I decided to walk up and across the bridge; perhaps, if I moved swiftly enough, I’d be on the other side before the light turned green.

No such look, for it takes longer to walk up a flight of stairs with a bicycle on your arms then it does for the light to turn, but when I got to the top of the bridge and looked out at the was well worth it.

Standing on top of the bridge the whole world changed. Yes, I could still see the black of the pavement, the brown of the buildings and still smell the exhaust of the passing cars. But I could also see so much more.

Much, much more. I could see as far west down 28th as my eyes would allow. I could see as far east of 28th as my eyes would allow. Instead of seeing just the four corner buildings, I could see all the buildings, all the shops, all the stores: the McDonald’s M, the sign for Grand Buick Pontiac, the thrift store, Vanderveens.

I could see the cars, the vans, the motorcycles, the buses. I could see them coming and going, turning and waiting.

And I could see the clouds. Beautiful, voluminous, white puffy clouds that sat in the sky like pillows waiting to be rested upon. Large, soft clouds that covered the blue of the sky, a sky that went on and on and on without a hint of smog or pollution, clouds that spoke of possibilities and dreams, hopes and...heaven.

Not caring about the time or the changing of the lights, I remained up on that bridge for some time, thankful for the view, and the reminder that perception is everything, and sometimes all we need to do is climb a little higher.

That time on the bridge was, for me a God moment. It allowed me the ability to see it all, or to see much more then just what was on ground level, altering, if even for just a moment, my perception of reality.

During most of our lives we see things as humans often do: what is immediately in front of us, and what is immediately behind. When things are great they are great, when things are bad, they are bad. We seem to only see, remember and recall what is only happening now, forgetting so easily what has happened before, and unaware of what will come to be.

But that is not how God sees the world and our situations. Because God has been there since before the beginning, and God will be there after the end, God is able to perceive things as they really are and as they ultimately will be. God, while present with us in the moment, is constantly working and moving beyond that moment, striving to make all things work together, bringing goodness and mercy to light.

God doesn’t just see the present, but God sees the past and the possibilities of what is to come. Like being on that bridge, it was no longer just about four corners of the street, but it was about the street and the stores, the east and the west, the sky and the clouds, the coming and the going.

We, as a church, as a church that is celebrating Rally Sunday, are at a turning point; in fact it seems as if we are always at a turning point. But this turning point seems somehow more real, more crucial.

We are at a point of staying on the ground or moving higher. We have experienced the gift of new members joining, but also of familiar members leaving, disappearing or dying. We have seen an increase in community events, but we have also witnessed a decrease in congregational participation. We have heard a supply of new, fresh ideas, but we have also heard from people who wish we could go back to doing things the way they were.

We have seen an increase in individual giving, but a decrease in our savings account. We have noticed a surge in community recognition, but not enough people know who we are. New folks are contacting us for pastoral care and help, but not all of them are walking in through our doors.

And this creates three sets of perception that exist within our church. Those who look at what is growing and call it a weed and are standing on the four corners of the street. Then there are those who are looking at what is growing and calling it a flower and are standing on the bridge looking out at the endless cloud filled skies. Then there are those who are somewhere in the middle, not sure what to call the plant they see, standing on the stairs, not quite ground level, but also not quite seeing total view.

Today, I would like to invite you to join me and to join the others who are standing on the bridge, who are looking at what is growing and calling it a flower. I invite you to take a chance, to be daring, to place a foot upon the stairs and climb up to the top of the bridge.

In invite you to step out on faith and to begin altering the reality you see to the reality God is seeing, the reality God is creating, the reality that God knows we are capable of.

I once read that the difference between a church that dies and a church that grows is that a dying church believes its best years are behind them, a growing church believes the best years are yet to come.

Which way of thought do you fall into? What is it you believe? What is it your spirit tells you?

In conclusion, I invite us to welcome God into shaping our perception; to take us up to the bridge so we can see not just the street and the stores, but the skies and the clouds. And I invite each and every one of us to believe and to act upon the belief that the best years are not what came before but the best years are yet to be, shimmering and waiting to be discovered.

Not just for the sake of ourselves, or the sake of the church, but for the sake of our children.

For the sake of Stormee and Destiny, for Gabe and Emily, for Jimmy and Talon, for the sake of Leah and Isabell and Vanessa, for Alexandra, for the sake of Austin and Kayla, for Bella, for the sake of Brooklyn.

For the sake of our children, for the sake of their children’s children, for the sake of all the children of God, let us look beyond what we think are weeds, let us look beyond what is just in front of our face, but let us look up, towards the sky, towards the clouds.

Let us look upon our future as God looks upon us all.

Are you willing to climb up on the bridge with me?

All thanks and praise be to Spirit that brings the fresh winds of vitality into our lives, to the Son who teaches us how to love and for God who sees all and sees beyond.

Amen and amen.

Wanderings for 9/14

Wow: something must be right when the Wanderings are actually on a Wednesday!This Sunday's scripture is from Matthew 13:24-30. It is another one of Jesus's parables. Here, a landowner sows seed of wheat; at night someone else sows weeds. They begin to grow, and the landowner's servants ask if they should pull up the weeds. The response of the landowner is "No, if you pull up the weeds you'll uproot the wheat. let them grow then during the harvest the reapers can gather and separate them."In essence, the landowner is saying "Wait." "Be patient." And "trust."Often times, when people preach or read this scripture, they focus on who are the weeds and who are the wheat, but as one writer states "Central to this story is the householder's patience." The servants are so worried about the weeds, but if they act too hasty, they can disrupt and kill everything around them. Instead, they are asked to trust the landowner and be confident that he knows what is best.Have there been times in your life in which overreaction or a too swift reaction actually created more problems then before? Have you ever had a moment where your "flight or fight" impulse took over, and it was for the worse?One lesson we can gather from this week's scripture is that it is often good to take our problems first to our "landowner", speak about what troubles our heart and then listen for what the word will be.And sometimes the word is along the line of "No," "patience" and "wait".May you all have a great day,Pastor G

Wicked, Wizard and Wonderful

Well, it has been a week: a wonderful wicked wizard of Oz week.

It began by reading "Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" by Gregory Maguire. It's the book that the Broadway play "Wicked" is based on. It's one of those books that starts off strong, then drags, then picks up, then comes to an end oh so quickly. It's easy to tell that Maguire loved writing this witty, naughty, deeply intelligent book, but there are parts that I felt went on far too long and were unnecessary, and then important key parts (like the Witch sewing wings onto the monkeys) that came too quick with little to no explanation. For me, this book explored the spiritual concept of forgiveness (spoiler alert, stop reading here if you don't want to know the end). The Witch wants nothing more then to be forgiven but is refused that reality, and so she is shocked and taken back when Dorothy comes not to kill her, but to ask that she forgive Dorothy for accidentally killing her sister. The Witch literally dies because of forgiveness.

Then I read L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." It's a delightful tale that differs from the movie and Wicked but its amazing to think he created this, out of nothing. The Wicked Witch appears here for only one chapter and she is indeed very wicked. The spiritual part came at the end, when Dorothy discovers she could have used her Silver Shoes to carry her back to Kansas. But Dorothy and her traveling companions realize that if she had done that, they never would have met; the Sacrecrow would have passed his whole life in the field, the Tin Woodman would have stood rusted till the end of the world, and the Lion would have been a coward forever. Dorothy admits she is glad to have made such good friends, but shew is no ready to go home. This reminded me very much of the scripture that says "All things work together for the good of God for those who believe."

Finally, I sat and watched "Wizard of Oz" for the first time in over a decade, and like a child I was enthralled. This is, I think, the perfect movie. The pacing, the cinematography, the songs, actions, the use of the time piece to add tension, and the obvious studio sets which added to the fantasy element. Here, the spiritual aspect was all about home: Dorothy and her companions wandering through a wilderness where good and bad took place, but all the time wanting to return to the place she loved, with the people she loved, to the place she called home, not with a small h but with a capital H.

On a side note, as an adult, I watched the opening scenes with new eyes. Dorothy, as far as we know, is an orphan, living with her aunt and uncle. In a way, Toto is all she's got. So when Ms. Gulch takes Toto away it's a really big, separation deal. Dorothy is having her family ripped away from her.

All in all, all three works of art are their own entity, bringing their own gifts and insights, a testimony to the wonderful gift of creativity God gives to us.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

"The Fighting Temptations"

Yeah, so I am a few years late in catching this one, but I got to see it at the right time, when my "soul" needed it the most. It's basically "Sister Act 2" set in a country church, but who cares when the music is good and the filmmakers/actors lovingly poke fun at all the things that make church folk who they be, from being slain in the spirit to zealous over dedication to by-laws to the sounds of gospel. My favorite part: the end credits when Melba Moore, Beyonce and Angie Stone strut down the aisle singing to all God's children that it is time to come home. I could watch that seen over and over and over again, and I have. This is one movie and soundtrack I need to go and buy.

America's Next Top Model cycle 11 episode 1

OK: I think this will cycle be my favorite one. Unlike last cycle there are a lot of girls I like right away. Sheena and Isis are the top two. And the two Jay's! You know it's going to be an interesting show when Ms. Jay is more butch then Jay Manuel, who had the best line of the episode, simply by stating "Cotour!"

But let's talk about Isis. I think she is a ground breaking reality-show contestant who is not there for mere explotation. I think she is real and her story will be a part of the LGBT community's further march towards acceptance.

Did you notice the element of baptism in the show? The house the girls are staying at has a pool, and Isis makes the choice to go swimming. "This is the first swim I had as Isis, as who I really am." Shortly afterward, when the girls ask her what it is like to got through the process of being a girl, she uses a variation of re-birth language, saying that it is like going through puberty all over again.

What is interesting is the girl who is uncomfortable with Isis uses the fact that she came from a "good, traditional family" as the reason why Isis would get hurt if she walked down her street. In other words: being good and Christian becomes the reason why her family and friends can kill or hurt Isis. Let's see how the dynamic will play out between these two women. But so far, the show is "Fierce!"

"The Santeria Experience" by Migene Gonzalez-Wippler

I had read this book years ago when my best-friend and her boyfriend where practising the religion of Santeria. I fell in love with this book and had the chance to reread it again this summer. The first time I read it I was pre-seminary and still searching. I was intrigued with Santeria's combination of African and catholic spirituality and its focus on the saints. I read the book almost as a "how-to." But this summer, when I reread it, I realized it was more of a book about one woman's journey into her own spirituality and she remains very honest throughout. Migene embraces the mystery of Santeria while coupling it with her knowledge of other religions, psychology and her understanding of Jung and his notion of "shadows" and the destinies we create ourselves. One of the striking characters in the book is Maria, the family maid who cared for Migene and introduced her to the world of Santeria. Through Marie comes the appreciation for nature, for God and for all those things we do not understand. The book balances the line between idolatry and ritual, respect for the known and the unknown. Of the saints who I was most "drawn to" where Yemaya, Chango and Oshun. I would recommend this book to anyone who was willing to have an open mind, who feel that their own religious beliefs are strengthened and enhanced when introduced to the ways others believe and worship.

Reflections on Matthew 18:15-20

This Sunday's Scripture is from Matthew 18:15-20. Jesus says that whenever 2 or more people are gathered in his name, he will be present. This has been a very familiar scripture in my spiritual/worship life. I have attended worship services and support groups in which there have only been 2 or 3 folk, and the leader will turn to this scripture, and I have often discovered that sometimes when there are only 2 or 3 people it is as if it was pre-ordained by God, for one person will have so much to share/talk about that they benefited from having all that time to focus on themselves, and in that process, welcome God's healing and care. Sometimes too may folk bring too many spirits, agendas, issues, creating unrest and conflict, whereas sometimes a smaller number creates a sense of unity, a place of healing transformation and safety. How good to know that Christ is present regardless if it is two people gathering together to pray, discuss or worship, or if there are 50 people, 100, 500, or a thousand.

May God bless you this day and all week.

Peace, Pastor G


OK, OK: I just finished "Twilight" by Stephanie Meyer, and I just don't get it. Long, boring, drawn out, so so so talky. And so cheesy. I can't stand the way Edward and Bella talk. It's as if every statement is a thesis with a reason why, a reason why not, and then finally all rationale is ruled out by their notion of love for one another. Bella always needs to be saved. Edward is perfect beyond perfection, and the only diriving points of the book is when will it be official that Bella knows Edward is a vampire, and I'm sorry, 200 pages of waiiting is too long. And then the main conflict comes from a character who just appears and exists for no other reason then provide oomp to the world's longest short story. I mean, really: give me a red pen and I could have edited this book down to a tight 100-200 pages.

What I did like was Jacob the werewolf. Whereas Edward plays verbal games with Bella, Jacob tells it as it is. When Jacob appeared the book "sparkled." I also liked Carlyle's story and the seen in the sun.

For a book written by a Mormon, with an apple on the cover and a biblical quote in the beginning, it is suprisingly free of much religious/spiritual undertones. But there is one part that got me thinking.

On page 308 Bella and Edward talk about where vampires come from, in which Edward states: "Where did we come from? Evolution? Creation? Couldn't we have evolved in the same way as other species, predator and prey? Or, if you don't believe that all this world could have just happenedon its own, which is hard for me to accept myself, is it to hard to believe that the same force that created the delicate angelfish with the shark, the baby seal and the killer whale, could create both our kinds together?"

To which Bella delicously states "Let me get this straight-I'm the baby seal, right?"

This one passage opens up a great discussion into creation and the nature of God and the environment. But, alas, I read this book quickly, not to find out what happens, but so I can finish it and get it out of the way, so I can read a book i have really been liking "Wicked." But more on that later.

"Twilight?" Try "Twi-NOT!"

Sept 7, 2008 sermon Matthew 18:15-20

Sept 7, 2008
Scripture: Matthew 18:15-20
Sermon Title: "2 or More"
Rev. G
Just recently I was having one of those days, or should a say one of those weeks.
You all know what I mean.
I was feeling alone, although I was surrounded by people. I was worried about finances although I have more money then I’ve ever had before. I was unsure about anything I was doing, although I have come further then I’ve ever been.
Missing friends, family; feeling as if the summer went by in a blur without a good tan, although I am darker then most people I know.
One of those days in which I felt I didn’t even matter. I was sad. Lonely. Lost.
Everyone feels this way from time to time, but I’m beginning to think that perhaps pastors feel it even more. After all, part of our make-up is to be sensitive and super-aware.
But its also part of our make-up to speak words of hope, to provide a spiritual foundation for others when the floods enter into their lives.
So, it can be confusing to have those moments, and those moments can come with feelings of guilt and shame because shouldn’t a pastor know what to do about such times in their lives?
When a pastor has one of those days, you think we would immediately turn to prayer, scripture, meditate, but that’s not how it’s always for me.
I may talk to God, I may glance over at my prayer books, I may think about picking up the Bible, but the truth is I am stubborn; so I often turn inside, lay on the couch and watch reruns.
I may text or e-mail a friend, allow negative thoughts to momentarily take hold and create a false reality that is far from what God wants for me.
Fortunately, after some time (be it a few hours or a few days), I am broken and humbled enough to do what I should have done from the very start: take it to God in the ways that are most healthy and healing for me: reading scripture, journaling and being still in God’s sight.
When I had that bad rash of days a few weeks ago, I felt the need to be bold. I ended my prayers by telling God to have someone I care about call me that day.
I finished my prayers and wondered who it would be. Who was God going to have call me to help heal my brokeness, to shed light on the dark parade that was marching on inside me?
Some time later, I was feeling a bit more relaxed. I sat outside, watched the sun set. The phone rang. I assumed it was a friend coming to save me. Instead it was a non-member of the church I had been providing spiritual care to.
This person was feeling upset and needed someone to talk to.
This person, feeling lonely, stated "I wish I had 2 or 3 people to hang out with so I know I’m not alone."
That took me a back. Here I was, feeling alone, wanting God to have someone call me, and here was someone calling me so they didn’t feel alone.
This person’s call was as if the Christ that dwelled within them was reaching out to me so the Christ that dwells within me could reach right back. And it reminded me of today’s scripture.
In today’s reading Jesus instructs his people that "Where 2 or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."
This is a well known verse, often used when a small gathering of people are present. But it is not an entirely new notion. Jewish writings say that whenever 2 or more gather to study or discuss the Torah, the Shekinah, or Divine Presence of God is there.
Here, the notion is taken a step further by stating that whenever 2 or more people gather in Christ’s name, Christ is present. Not symbolically, or metaphorically, but actually present.
That’s how Matthew understood the nature of church: that it wasn’t just that we gathered to worship Christ, but when we gathered Jesus was actually in our midst.
Now, 2 people doesn’t seem like a lot does it? In fact, it sounds quite reasonable, and reassuring; and I have wondered why there is just the need for 2.
And my thoughts come to this: that we all have a Christ who dwells inside of us. Not like a ghost, or in possession of us; but as a reality of all that we experience.
And that Christ that dwells within us is made up of two parts.
Within all of us is the Christ who heals, and the Christ who is in need of healing. When we reach out to another either in assistance or in need of assistance, those two elements of Christ become one.
Allow me to explain.
Within us lives the Christ who is wounded. These are the aspects of our soul that experiences the same things Christ experienced.
Feelings of fear and worry about our future, as when Jesus heard that John was killed and he was next. Feelings of loneliness, as when Jesus went into the garden to pray and the disciples were unable to stay awake.
Feelings of betrayal from a loved one, as when Jesus was betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter. Feelings of humiliation, as when Jesus was spat upon and made to carry his cross.
Feelings of physical pain, hunger and thirst, as when Jesus was nailed upon the cross. Feelings of forsaken-ness, when almost all of the disciples left him there alone to die, when he wondered if even God himself had abandoned him.
I believe these are the aspects that makes up one part of the Christ that dwells within us; all those painful, dark human experiences we wish to not face or talk about; those feelings we try to ignore and replace with false smiles.
But that is just one element of Christ, one part of his story, for to focus only on Christ’s pain is to not focus on the real Christ at all.
There is also the other side of Christ, the side that embraces life, faces illness and challenges death. This is Christ, the healer, who with a word, a touch, and a look could make people feel better, whole and loved.
This is the Christ who met people at their loneliest moments and offered them a drink from the deep water, as he did with the Samaritan woman at the well.
The Christ who visits people at their moments of weakness-who comes to them when all they can do is lay down- and encourages them to get up, walk, become active once more, as he did with Peter’s mother-in-law and the General’s daughter.
This is the Christ who is moved with compassion, who looks upon all that is wrong, takes note of what it is we lack, and invites us to sit, talk, and enjoy a banquet of food and drink he has given us.
I believe that both of those elements of Christ live within each and every one of us. So when someone is in pain, when someone is in need, when someone hungers, it is not just them we are reaching out to, but it is the Christ that dwells within them that we are reaching out to.
And when we are the ones who are in pain, when we are the one who is in need, who hungers, it is the Christ in others who reaches out to us to heal, provide, and feed us.
It is the Christ in them reaching out to the Christ in us, and the Christ in us reaching right back to the Christ in them, and in the process, both are healed.
And between those two people Christ is present: the one who is reaching out and the one who is reaching back. The whole, complete, the hurt and the healing Christ becomes real.
And we rediscover that the loving presence of God is present and alive, and for that moment we have the ability, the strength, and the right to go on.
In conclusion, when that person contacted me a few days ago, I had asked God to have someone call me so I could feel better. And that’s just what God did, although not in a way I had ever imagined or planned.
But by having two lost and lonely souls connect in the name of Christ, Christ not only became present, but Christ became both the wounded and the healed, the broken and the whole. And his name became maginified and glorified once again.
It is a lesson I treasure and hope to remember.
All thanks and praise be to God who answers our prayers in ways we can not imagine, to the Spirit that moves us in right directions and to the Son who heals our woundedness for his names sake.