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January 2008
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March 2008

"Surprised by Hope'' A new book by N.T.Wright

I have just read a new book by N.T.Wright called "Surprised by Hope." I think it is a very important book and now I am going to study the book chapter by chapter.

"For years Christians have been asking, if you died tonight, do you know where you would go? It turns out that many believers have been giving the wrong answer. It is not heaven."

Do I have your attention?  This line caused me to read the whole book.

Award-winning author N.T.Wright outlines the present confusion about a Christian's future hope and shows how it is deeply intertwined with how we live today. Wright, who is one of today's premier  Bible scholars, asserts that Christianity's most distinctive idea is bodily resurrection. He provides a magisterial defense for a literal resurrection of Jesus and shows how this became the cornerstone for the Christian community's hope in the bodily resurrection of all people at the end of the age. Wright then explores our expectation of 'new heavens and a new earth,' revealing what happens with the 'second coming' of Jesus. For many, including many Christians, all this will come as a great surprise.

Wright convincingly argues that what we believe about life after death directly affects what we believe about life before death. For if God intends to renew the whole creation--and if this has already begun in Jesus's resurrection--the church cannot stop at 'saving souls' but must anticipate the eventual renewal by working for God's kingdom in the wider world, bringing healing and hope in the present life.

Lively and accessible, this book will surprise and excite all who are interested in the meaning of life, not only after death but before it.  (From the front cover of the book)

N.T.Wright is one of the world's top biblical scolars. Wright taught New Testament studies for 20 years at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford Universities.

I have been challenged by this book and look forward to learning more. I would enjoy it if several would read the book and we could then get together

I ordered the book from It was about $16.00.  Charlie Powell

A Poem About the Cold Weather Shelter

Carol Buell, KC's Poet Laureate, sent this note:

Monday night I slept over at the Cold Weather Shelter and was very moved by how cordial almost all of the guests were and saddened as well by all of it. I wrote this poem.

Homeless Shelter -- Old Barn Church
Columbia, Maryland
February 2008

The lofty-ceilinged barn
Is sheltering the poor,
Keeping them dry and warm
In stone walls heavy and secure.

A night or two, a week,
A place to lay the limbs,
A place to lay the head,
A moment's bed,
Keeping out the chills.
The fear of future dims,
The ache in hearts a moment stills.

All of us this moment seek,
When, scared and lonely, we are caught
In sheltering arms and brought
A brief respite from the storm,
And so we give each other
The courage to go on.

Love, Carol Buell

Notes from the Cold Weather Shelter

This week, our church is hosting Howard County's "Cold Weather Shelter"--the overflow shelter for the area, hosted by a different church each week during the colder months, and administered by Grassroots, our area's crisis counseling center. What this means is that there are around 25 men and women, 5 children and 1 infant living in our church building at the moment, sleeping on foam mats on the floor, eating breakfast and dinner, watching TV, taking a shower, and generally doing life. It makes for an interesting week.

Last night, my daughter's Brownie troop was in charge of making bag lunches for everyone. We assembled them at one family's house, and then seven 8 and 9 year old girls and about 5 parents brought them to the church. Before making sandwiches, I sat with the girls and talked a little about why people might be homeless, and what we can do to help. I've had this talk with kids before, and I began as I usually do by asking, "If, for some reason, you and your family could no longer live in your house, where do you think you would go to live?"

I ask this question in order to help kids think about their "social safety net" and how important it is. So, most of the time, kids talk about staying with their extended families or their friends. Then, I can point out how much we rely on each other, and how we need to become the extended family of people who don't have those connections for whatever reason.

Last night, a number of the girls did talk about staying with family, with their friends or with their parents' friends. But the conversation took a slightly different turn that I expected when the first girl to answer my question said quite thoughtfully, "Well, in the winter, I think we would go stay in the Cold Weather Shelter. In the summer I think we would be alright sleeping outside, or staying in a tent." Her mother, who was standing next to me, looked a little shocked at the idea of their family of five living outside, but the girl didn't seem particularly anxious about it. Then another Brownie suggested her family's plan would be to "live in the woods and build a log cabin for the winter." That got another girl going on how she had visited Lafayette Park in DC and seen people sleeping on park benches there. She had given one of them the fifty cents she had on her. The other girls nodded in approval.

I was intrigued. My plan had been to highlight the things that prevent homelessness, but instead these girls jumped right to imagining themselves as homeless, living in a shelter, in the woods or even on a park bench. It's not a bad way to build empathy. When we brought the lunches to the church, all the girls were disappointed the kids weren't "home", but had gone to the library. As we drove back home, we passed the central library, and one of the girls pointed it out. "That's where the kids are now," she said, peering out the window. "They're probably doing their homework, or playing on the computer." She clearly was imagining herself in their situation.

I wish we could have experiences like that every week, every month. There are plenty of places where adults can volunteer to help homeless or poor people, but very few places for kids to do so in a direct way. And going to a shelter or a meal program is not the same as meeting and serving people in your own church, which in many ways is like your own home. I love to see people from KC just hanging around and talking to the shelter guests--everyone seems relaxed and at ease around each other. Our care for each other feels more natural in such a setting. It feels familial, friendly. It feels like the beginnings of a social (and not just an institutional) safety net.

Fourth Sunday in Lent

1 Samuel 16: 1 - 3
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5: 8 - 14
John 9: 1 - 41

How many times do we feel a nudge in a direction that seems impossible?  Our response is usually something like, "Surely, God, you cannot mean that I should do that???" or "I've never done anything like that." Or our personal favorite, "What would the (neighbors, boss, family, fill in the blank) say / think?"  Sometimes it is a dramatic - job change, a geographic change, or a lifestyle change. Sometimes it is more mundane - saying no to the kids, stopping to talk to a stranger, taking a different route home from work.

The texts this week point to the experience of being nudged (sometimes pushed) in dramatic directions, of heeding call even when it seems unbelievable, of accepting the unexpected, and allowing that God leads people into amazing places.

Samuel is called to anoint a king, and has to rely on God to point to the right one.  Now Samuel had already done this once, and it is easy to imagine he hoped he was done with that task, especially since anointing a new King would mean Dethroning Saul, the first King. Picture the scene, Samuel sort of hesitating as each of Jesse's sons pass before him, waiting for a poke or a prod or a whisper in his ear, "This is the One."  And imagine how his expectations are uprooted as each son passes and God says, "Nope."  But Samuel hangs in there, and he keeps listening to God even though the message is counterintuitive. It's interesting to remember Samuel's humble beginning: he was born in answer to Hannah's deeply faithful prayers.  Hannah promised that if she can only have a son, he will be set aside and raised is strict observance of the law, consecrated.  Samuel is a part of a line of people that learned in different ways what it meant to follow the Movement of God.  This is God - Yaweh - a tangible voice to be heeded.

The psalmist comforts the reader with words that many of us know by heart. God is leading me in right places and when I know that and accept that and lean into that, I am OK.  These are such beautiful and comforting images.  Imagine for a moment what it feels like to have your Soul comforted while laying in Green Pastures by Still Waters.imagine what it feels like to know you are under the complete protection of Someone who is watching over you.  This is a different view on the same idea of trusting God.  Whereas Samuel is trusting God from a place of uncertainty, the Psalmist is describing what it might mean to trust someone from a place of complete and overt Protection.  This is certainly a world-view and a theology of God as Superhero and Great Protector..however you might feel about that personally.

In the gospel this week, so much is unexpected.  So much is God-given. (This is a great passage to discuss with children, because it is ripe for their imaginations.from mixing mud with spit to Arguing with Authority...WOW.) We are introduced to a man, who, for some reason or another, has no vision.  In his culture and tradition, such a condition would have been a reflection on previous generation's sins.  His community might have passed Judgments on what he or his parents had done wrong to "deserve" such an affliction.  Along comes Jesus, who with some spit and some mud wipes away this man's blindness.  And on the Sabbath, of all days.  Essentially, Jesus wipes away the burden of this man's life.  And in their society, his doing so is a sin because of the day of the week.  The Pharisees are stunned. Here is a man born blind whose sight is restored (a sinner whose sins are "wiped away?") by a man who is saying outrageous, counter cultural things...and doing it on the holiest of days.  At the end of the story we see the man saying, "I don't know what happened or how it happened.I just know that before I could not see and now I can."  He did not expect it, work for it, and maybe he didn't deserve it..however, before he could not see, and now he could.

The letter to the church in Ephesus takes the concept of following God in to unexpected places and turns it in to a bit of a coaching session.  Rather than giving an example of what it looks like to take chances and follow God, in this instance scripture offers us some direct encouragement and commentary of why it is a good idea.  The fruit of light is found in all that is "good and right and true." Now, we just learned in the Hebrew text and in the gospel that what is good and right and true might NOT be apparent to us in our context. Hmm.if we are attuned to God, the light exposes the Truth with a capital "T."

Those nudges can make us uneasy.  It may help to know how man  go before us, nudged and prodded in directions they never imagined.  And when we open ourselves up to the experiences into which we are nudged, we grow and stretch and become.  We participate in ongoing creation if we have faith or if we dare.

+It is easy to find folks willing to offer advice like "Let Go and LetGod" or "It is All in God's Hands"; however, how do we prepareourselves to really live in to this lifestyle of following God where we feel God is calling us?
+How does that make our lives look different?
+Does it free up emotional space for us or does it create more anxiety?

I give myself completely to you, God.
Assign me a place in your creation.
Let me suffer for you.

Give me the work you would have me do.
Give me many tasks,
Or have me step aside while you call others.

Put me forward or humble me.
Give me riches or let me live in poverty.
I freely give all that I am and all that I have to you.

And now, holy God - Father, Son and Holy Sprit -
You are mine and I am yours.  So be it.

(A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition
Adapted from The United Methodist Hymnal, #607 )

Hiddur Mitzvah: Doing Things Beautifully

This past weekend was a busy one at KC, with a full-day Lenten retreat on Saturday and two worship services, a mission trip training and a class on evil on Sunday. There's a lot to ponder on Monday after a weekend like that. The depth of reflection, insight and wisdom of the KC community continues to amaze me. But today I'm not just thinking about what people said or wrote. I find myself reflecting on the beauty of what some people did.

When I arrived at the church building for our retreat on Saturday, Rebecca had already been at work, setting up a number of "stations" with tools for meditation. One of the first things that I saw was a "senses table". On it were things that were meant to delight each of our five senses, including a quitely burbling tabletop fountain (with an invitation to listen), a bowl of anise seeds (with an invitation to taste) and a bouquet of fresh basil (with an invitation to smell). The whole table was set up so beautifully--it had the quality of a thoughtfully arranged still life.

Downstairs, Bonnie and I had created a simple, three-circuit labyrinth on the carpet using three different kinds of tape. We did in on Friday, which was a snow day for my three kids, and I had just grabbed every kind of black tape I could find in our basement. Some of it stuck better than others, and we ran out before it was completed and filled in the missing parts with blue chalk, which showed up fairly well on the carpet. It wasn't pretty, but I was in a hurry to get home, so I was satisfied once it looked "good enough". When I came back on Saturday, Bonnie had fixed the whole thing up with thick black duct tape which really did stick to the floor. She had straightened out our crooked parts, set up candles around the room, and managed to make the whole room beautiful.

On Sunday afternoon, it happened again. Harriett and Ken were leading a training for those of us who are going to Louisiana for a mission trip in three weeks. The whole training was done with a lot of thought and insight, but one of the things that impressed me most was that the had set up lunch on the table with a green tablecloth, bright yellow napkins, and colorful Mardi Gras beads spread between the platters of cold cuts and rolls.

In each of these situations, someone put extra effort into making something beautiful. And in each case, it really wasn't necessary that they do so. It would have been perfectly fine to just put the lunch meat out on the table on a paper plate and leave it at that. No one would have complained, and I don't think anyone would have complained if the tape-labyrinth has been sloppy or if no one had arranged a sensory meditation table. But the fact that someone put thought into those things, made an extra effort, really touched me.

Why? It's not just that these things pleased my sense of aesthetics. It's deeper than that. For me, Rebecca and Bonnie and Ken and Harriett's extra effort had the feel of "hiddur mitzvah", a Jewish concept that doesn't really have a Christian equivalent. Hiddur mitzvah is a phase that comes from Exodus 15:2, "This is my God and I will glorify him." The Hebrew sages interpreted the call to "glorify" God as an invitation to carry out God's commandments (mitzvah) in a beautiful way. In this way, we show God that it's a joyful thing to observe the commandments. We're not just trying to do the bare minimum to get by. We're not just doing it because we'll be in trouble if we don't.

The idea of "hiddur mitzvah" shows up in some wonderful ways in Jewish tradition. For example, sometimes the Hebrew letters in a manuscript are decorated with delightful little lines like little buds growing out from the top. Beautiful silver kiddush cups, candlesticks and menorah are another part of this tradition. It's a mitzvah to light candles at the start of Shabbat, but it is even more wonderful to observe that commandment in a beautiful way.

It's easy to lose sight of this value when you are busy, and almost impossible to uphold when you feel put-upon. If the request to do something feels like just "one more thing" you have to cross off your already too-full list, you do what you need to do, no more. I'm well aware of this dynamic, and of the internal muttering "you should be glad this got done at all." I've put many a meal on the table for my family with exactly that feeling.

I feel no need to make my life as beautiful as Martha Stewart's, and to make every meal a gourmet one. In fact, in our culture of consumption and excess, I often feel the call to pare down, to do things more simply, to reuse or repurpose instead of buying something. But I want to be sure to keep this other value in mind as well. I don't want to just give God--or my family, or the church--the bare minimum. It is a gift to God to do something beautifully.

What Music Evokes

Dan and I took a trip to Boston last night. Not literally--in truth, we only drove down to Annapolis to hear Peter Mulvey and Kris Delmhorst at the Ram's Head. But as soon as Peter started playing his guitar with the bass string tuned way down low, his finger flying, his head back and his eyes closed, as soon as he opened his mouth to sing, we were back in Boston.

As I've written before, different times of life have their soundtrack, and so do different places. Boston's melody line is sung by a band of young, folk-ish singer-songwriters who find plenty of performance spaces, not just in clubs and coffeehouses, but on the street corners in Harvard Square and on just about any subway platform. The church I served in Somerville, MA, had a coffee house the first Friday of every month. The hour before the featured performer was open mike, and if you could stand sitting through it, you could hear the next Tracy Chapman back to back with a guy who sang songs he wrote ten minutes earlier accompanied by his boom box.

Peter Mulvey played at our coffeehouse one night, and since I lived in a parsonage right next door to the church, it was my job to open up for him in the late afternoon and help him set up his amps and speakers. Then he had time to kill, so he accepted my invitation for a bowl of chicken and parsnip soup with my family. He was good company, and thanked me for the soup by dedicating a love song to Dan and me that night. Even better, he remembered both me and that song, and when I'd see him playing in the subway later in the year, he would often play the song again. So last night, I wasn't really sitting in Annapolis listening to him play. I was standing on the Davis Square subway platform with a baby in a backpack and a toddler pulling on either arm, letting the train pass so I could hear one more song.

It's good for me to remember how music can take us back in time, often to the sweetest parts of our past lives. This coming Sunday, we're going to sing one of my all-time least favorite hymns in worship, "Rock of Ages". The lyrics of the hymn (in my humble opinion, of course) manage to be both obscure and objectionable. The song reminds me of funeral homes, but at our Worship Task Group meeting it became clear to me that it reminded Charlie, Nan and Sandy of home. Rock of Ages isn't about being "saved from wrath" for them--the words don't really say what this song is about. It's really about church suppers with covered dishes and sheet cakes. It's about picnics at the lake and the closeness of families sitting in pews in country churches.

But what if I don't have the same associations with a song that someone else does? Sometimes, the song just has to be abandoned, no matter how sweet the memories. Sometimes we can keep the tune and "fix" or change the words. But another thing we can do is share the story behind the song--not so much the story of its author, but the story of where the song takes you, the scene where you find yourself in your memory as you hear the song played. Then, we're not just sharing a song with each other. We're sharing our lives, and claiming a piece of our history as nourishment for today.

Music has such power--if only we were wiser about how to use it to build community! I'm reading an incredible book right now, The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. It tells the story of a British doctor's work to build peace in nineteenth century colonial Burma. The story is told that this officer and his party were once ambushed in the jungle by bandits. Instead of running from the arrows being shot at him, the doctor stood still and took out a flute, and then played a simple Burmese tune. The ambush stopped, and the bandits then travelled with the party as protectors.

"What was the song?" the piano tuner asks when he hears the story. The teller responds, "a Shan love ditty. When a Shan boy courts his sweetheart, he always plays the same song. It's nothing, rather simple, but it worked like a miracle. Carroll later told the soldier who told me the story that no man could kill one who played a song that reminded him of the first time he had fallen in love."

The Spiritual Discipline of Deep Rest

Our Worship Task Group meeting last night began with several members of the group explaining, somewhat apologetically, that they had gotten worn out recently and needed to rest. The comments reminded me of an off-hand comment that a woman I met at a retreat once made. We were "checking in" about our spiritual lives, and when it came to her turn she said, "I have mostly been devoting myself to the spiritual discipline of deep rest."

I was a bit shocked. I had never thought of rest as a spiritual discipline. The very word "discipline" seemed to me to imply something that was hard to do, something that took effort. Rest, as I understood it, was what you did in between episodes of doing hard things with great effort. For example, you drive along on a highway and then you pull over at a Rest Stop, and there you take a break from driving. So it is with me. I spend the day pushing to get everything done and then I fall into bed exhausted, and do my best to get some rest so that I can start running around again in the morning.

But that woman's words stuck with me, and I thought about them for the rest of the retreat. There was something about them that rang true with me. For one thing, it does take effort and intention for me to rest. I can always think of something more to do, so taking time to be quiet, to breathe deeply, to give a friend or a family member my full attention requires a conscious decision to step away from all my doing for a time. For another thing, I recognize that those times when I do make a conscious effort to rest have a different quality than the rest that I take when I'm totally exhausted and couldn't possibly do one more thing.

What if we all committed ourselves to the Spiritual Discipline of Deep Rest? In order to do so, we would have to value rest--and not just work. We would have to decide at the outset of the day, the week, the year, that one of the things we are going to make time and space for is rest. We would have to think carefully about what helps us to rest, deeply. Collapsing on the couch and watching television can be restful, but if we have an intention to seek deep rest as a spiritual disicipline, I'm not sure TV would be a big part of our lives. I think sleep would be, though. And listening to music. And staring up at the stars.

Why apologize for needing to rest? It's not weakness; it's not failure. Why not celebrate rest as part of our spiritual lives? Why not invite others to rest, right along with us?

Third Sunday in Lent

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

If you touch a hot stove, you get burned.

If you spend more money than you make, you go in to debt.

If you stand in the rain, you (or your jacket) will get wet.

If you don’t have water in the desert, you will die. 

It seems that there are consequences to our actions. Some people go so far as to imagine that every action has some sort of consequential (if not equal and opposite) reaction—a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Columbia which eventually causes an Avalanche in Austria.

One question that seems to bubble up this week is whether or not God is subject to the same rules of logic and society and human relationship to which we are bound. Can we assume that the Action = Consequence logic works with God as we might observe it working in the world around us?

This week we are presented with several examples of biblical logic, If / Then statements, and examples of actions and consequences. Not all of those consequences seem logical in light of our own experiences or understandings and beliefs.

In Exodus we see Moses in a space where he is pretty consistently questioning his call out of slavery. These are Israelites who have not yet received the Ten Commandments from Yahweh, and the rest of the group is not as confident as Moses because none of them have actually had the chance to speak with God yet. Right before this scene, the people had been desperate for food and suddenly manna and quails appeared to feed them. They are early in their time in the wilderness and they arrive in Rephidim (which means “resting place”). It seems they are still expecting a comfortable journey out of slavery and a quick and expedient resolution to their problems. And so they blaze up with complaints about their thirst so loud and angry (“testing and quarreling” in the text) Moses is afraid they might stone him to death before it is over. So he prays to God for help with these people and God intervenes and provides them water from a stone. The people gripe and God comes through for them again, or so it seems. (Notice the Elders got to see God….at least God says he will stand in front of them on the rock.)

Does this mean they had God on a string? Is this how we are to relate to God? We make an angry pleading request and God relents?

When we read Psalm 95 we see a writer who, looking back at history through his own experience and the experience of Israel projects that the Testing and Quarreling of the Israelites came with a price. The Psalmist believes that because of their quarreling and testing of God, that generation did not enter in to the Promised Land. He emphasizes the importance of only trusting God and never testing God.

The assumption seems to be that we as humans have God at our beck and call, any time we test God, God will respond AND there will be consequence to our testing.

In the story of the Samaritan woman at the well we see another application of this logical, Action = Consequence scenario. At first, the woman is caught in the cultural assumptions about how she and Jesus are from different backgrounds and their society places expectations on how people of each gender will or will not act. She assumes because she is a Samaritan woman and he is a Jewish man, he will not talk to her. She assumes because he has no bucket, there is no way he could offer her any Water. She assumes that water from the well is all that is needed to quench thirst. The Disciples assume that it is only physical food that would offer Jesus (or them) the nourishment necessary for life. Jesus offers the Samaritan woman different provisions, not in response to her complaint about what she has, but as an alternative to what she has.

And in Romans Paul again constructs this entire section based on assumptions of how We understand human relationships to work. He knows that for him, it would be difficult for a human to die for another righteous person, much less an unrighteous one. And so he extrapolates that because he (or you or I for that matter) would have a difficult time sacrificing ourselves for other humans that might be sinful or ungrateful, God would have the same difficulty; and as a result, this should make us (as human recipients of the sacrifice) all the more grateful.

As American society, we seek rational outcomes. We look for cause and effect relationships. We strive to develop skills and abilities that enable us to achieve specific things. But the recorded experience of Israel – which informed the life of Jesus Christ and his teachings – didn’t often play out in neat cause and effect scenarios.

When reading the lectionary for any week, a key question is what ties these verses together. One theme this week is our expectations of action and reaction and God’s response. Another theme is how we respond to provision. A third might be how the readings differ in perspective on human relations with God.

This weeks’ scriptures need to be wrestled with. They don’t fit our logic structures in tidy ways and they raise fascinating questions for us.

  • When does God respond to our cries for help?
  • What is the appropriate response for God’s provision?
  • Do our physical needs trump our spiritual needs?
  • What other themes surface for you as you read?

O Lord my God,
teach my heart where and how to seek you,
where and how to find you.
Lord, if you are not here but absent,
where shall I seek you?
But you are everywhere, so you must be here,
why then do I not seek you?…
Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height,
for my understanding is in no way equal to that,
but I do desire to understand a little of your truth
which my heart already believes and loves.
I do not seek to understand so that I may believe,
but I believe so that I may understand;
and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe I shall not understand.


Second Sunday in Lent

Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

Because I said so….

What child hasn’t heard those dreaded words? And really, among parents, grandparents, babysitters, etc. reading this, who hasn’t uttered those words…at least once?

Because I said so.

It is a familiar answer to questions that begin with “Why?” Sometimes it’s an impatient answer, an answer given as the “last ditch” effort on the tails of any number of reasonable, logical explanations. Or sometimes it is the answer that comes first in an effort to end any further questions.

It’s no disgrace to admit that for adults, even those who have read the bible over and over again, this is a book full of things that “just happen” - things that don’t seem to have a logical explanation…or at least not an easy-to-grasp, rational explanation. Things whose best answer might be “because I said so.”

In the readings for this week, people are faced with challenges to the expected, to what was really “knowable.”

Sarai, Abram’s wife, is barren. In the Genesis passage for this week, God calls Abram to journey to a new land. In exchange, God promises to bless Abram, to make of him a great nation. WOW. In this ancient tradition, to be childless was “the end of the line.” God, while asking Abram to make a journey of faith, is also telling him that he will continue his family line. Now the text doesn’t give us any of Abram’s internal dialogue, we only know that he went.

The Psalmist writes with great enthusiasm about God who is present for us when we need help. He praises God who keeps us in our comings and in our goings, ensuring that we are safe from any harm that might come our way. There doesn’t seem to be much question about God’s support or protection in this Psalm of praise.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he reflects on the ancient story of Abram and Sarai (Abraham and Sarah after God enters covenant with them and Israel). He is working through the concept / question of salvation by faith or salvation by works with the church in Rome.  Guiding them through some basic questions, he reminds them that God promised Abram a nation, and in spite of some wrong turns and some weak faith, God provided to Abram what was promised.

In John’s testament, a Pharisee named Nicodemus comes to ask a few of his own questions of Jesus. Questions are a good way to find out more information or to clarify understandings (which is one reason why the answer “Because I said so” is so frustrating!). Nicodemus seems to be having some trouble wrapping his arms around the idea that God has a bigger plan for Jesus. He is used to being a guy who has the answers. Nicodemus is a part of a religious system that does not leave a lot of room for doubt. He is struggling with believing what he cannot see and touch. He’s having a hard time accepting that he cannot “know.”

Most of us encounter things that we cannot “know” regularly on our faith journey. Most of us keep going even when rational explanations cannot be found. It’s at times like these, when we are faithful and attuned that the answer, “because I said so” seems good enough. We learn we have to trust that God calls us in to places we must go…..and, if we spend enough time moving in the direction of God, we will find all of the answers we need.

  • Last week, Adam and Eve were told by the serpent that if they ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, their eyes would be opened, and they would be like God. Did that really happen?
  • Are answers to our questions always satisfying?
  • If it did, would there be any difficulty understanding God?
  • What questions do you have/have you had when you feel/felt God calling you to a journey?


   Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the hills-- from where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps
Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.



Songs Nobody Knows

There are few phrases in the English language that make me more tense than "Here's a song everyone knows!" As soon as I hear that, I am prepared to feel like a nobody because I don't know the song that everyone is about to join in on.

I had that experience, most vividly, at the party that followed my installation as Minister at Kittamaqundi. There were a couple of "special guests" at the party, a female vocalist and a pianist, brought in to provide some entertainment. They did a quite respectable job on a few jazz standards, and then the singer said, "Here's a song everyone knows, so please feel free to join in!" She then started in on a song that I had never heard of before but it seemed like every single person in the room knew. It was "Don't Fence Me In", which, I found out later, Roy Rogers sang in a movie in the mid-1940's. Needless to say, I wasn't born then, and as I sat in that room of singing people, I really felt the generational divide between me and the KC community. (I'm happy to say that community looks a bit different two and a half years later.)

But to my great surprise, the opposite thing happened at the Second Saturday show at KC this past Saturday. Ron Holloway brought up Meritxell Negre, a singer from Barcelona, Spain, together they performed a couple of Negre's original compositions (beautiful, by the way). Then the singer said, "Here's a song everyone knows. Absolutely everyone knows this one!" I braced myself, but then immediately recognized the opening chords to "Give Me One Reason" by Tracy Chapman. It's on Chapman's album "New Beginning", released in 1995, the year my twins were born, a year when we spent a lot of time inside, listening to music. I remember the song well and Dan and I sang our hearts out Saturday night.

When the song was over, I could hear people at the tables behind us and across from us asking each other, "What song was that? Who wrote it? Tracy who?" Funny, I thought everyone knew it.

Music is so generationally identified in our culture that it is very hard to find songs that "everyone knows" in a group that has even a little bit of an age mix. This is probably even more true in churches today than ever. Songs that people my age sang in summer camp or at Intervarsity meetings in college are considered "new" to people who grew up singing traditional hymns, but they seem so dated to me it's hard to muster the energy to fight for the inclusion of these "new" songs. But if we sing only music written 50 years ago or earlier, worship starts to feel a bit musty and nostalgic to me.

What's the solution? How can we find music to sing together as a community? Well, last night, KC began a 12-week experiment with a possible solution. Jason Reed, our new Walden B. Howard Musician in Residence, says that he is going to help us write our own music--words, vocals, accompaniment, the whole thing. About ten of us (ranging in age from 70's to 8 years old) gathered in Iris' dining room last night with three guitars, one bassoon, one violin, one piano, a hand drum and two maracas. Believe it or not, we composed a song. It was hard to believe it would work, but it kind of did. It's a process that I think we'll get better at as time goes on (if Jason has the fortitude to do this again).

I'm hopeful that somehow in all the racket we made, we stepped into a new future for our church, singing our own songs, songs that until now, nobody knew.