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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year End Musings

~ from Appolo 13:

NASA Director: This could be the worst disaster NASA's ever experienced.
Flight Director, Gene Kranz: With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.

I recently ran across one of my favorite movies on television and as usual hung around to watch the entire thing (commercials and all). The exchange quoted above captures for me the year that looms on the horizon for people who believe in and cling to Divine Presence, Human Dignity, Justice, Mercy, and Love.

In these closing days of 2016 the air is filled with retrospection. I try to remember what my thoughts, hopes, and dreams were this time last year and reflect on how they fared. As with every year there were successes and failures, pride and disappointment, gains and losses, births and deaths, victories and defeats. As with every year, each day was the same yet unique, bringing its own opportunity, potential, challenge, and satisfaction. As with every year, there were “what ifs” and “if onlys.”  As with every year, I spend its waning days bidding farewell while turning toward the threshold of another year, a New Year. And, as with every New Year, what lies in wait are days of opportunity, potential, and challenge.

My prayer for the days ahead is John O’Donohue’s poem In Praise of Fire:

Let us praise the grace & risk of Fire.

In the beginning
The Word was red,
And the sound was thunder,
And the wound in the unseen
Spilled forth the red weather of being.

In the name of Fire,
The Flame,
And the Light:
Praise the pure presence of fire
That burns from within
Without thought of time.

The hunger of Fire has no need
For the reliquary of the future;
It adores the eros of now,
Where the memory of the earth
In flames that lick and drink the air
Is made to release

Its long enduring forms
In a powder of ashes
Left for the wind to decipher.

As air intensifies the hunger of fire,
May the thought of death
Breathe new urgency
Into our love of life.

As fire cleanses dross
May the flame of passion
Burn away what is false.

As short as the time
From spark to flame,
So brief may the distance be
Between heart and being.

May we discover
Beneath our fear
Embers of anger
To kindle justice.

May courage
Cause our lives to flame,
In the name of the Fire,
And the Flame
And the Light. 

Within every perceived "worst disaster" lies the potential for a "finest hour." I'm reminded of the chorus of a hymn I wrote a few years ago:

May the fire of faith burn bright,
May the flame of hope burn long,
Turn our shadows into light. 

And fill our hearts with grateful song.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Seasons Greetings

In my part of the world, the northern hemisphere, today is the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice.  Getting back to its Latin roots the word "solstice" literally means "the sun standing still." There are two times in the year when the earth's tilt toward the sun shifts and when that shift takes place there is a pause. From our perspective it appears as if the sun rises and sets from the same places for a couple of days. Then it appears to move to the north or south, depending on the hemisphere. Therefore on any given solstice people on either side of the equator are experiencing either their shortest or longest day(s) of the year. As we in the north experience our shortest day and the beginning of winter, it is good to remember that half of the earth is having a long day of sunshine as summer begins.

As the earth pauses, perhaps it is a good time for us to do the same. Today is a good day to stand still and contemplate the fullness of creation and the human experience that includes darkness and light, cold and warmth, pain and pleasure, and so much more...

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. 
What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover God has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before God. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.   ~ Ecclesiastes 3

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Contextual Christmas

I did something last week I've never done before in my entire life - I put Christmas lights on a palm tree! Even though this is our second Christmas in Florida, (last year we decorated a traditional inside evergreen tree) I'm reminded daily, as I go about in short sleeves and sandals that my experience of Christmas has shifted. In our Christmas Eve worship last year we sang one of my favorite carols, "In the Bleak Mid Winter," then on Christmas Day lounged by a sunny pool. Instead of chestnuts roasting by an open fire and treetops glistening in the snow, bodies tan on a sandy beach and sunshine sparkles in the waves. As my late bother-in-law Jimmy used to say, "That just ain't right!"
It's all a vivid reminder that life is contextual. We all have our own experiences, perspectives, beliefs, customs, and traditions. 

However, the Christmas story is also a reminder of our shared experiences as part of one human family. In the stories of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus we remember that life will continue in spite of difficult circumstances.  The shepherds call to mind human curiosity and amazement. The Magi stir our sense of wonder, exploration, and adventure. Angels coming, going, and proclaiming tell of the mystery of Eternal Presence sometimes quietly hidden and other times bursting forth in startling ways.

So wherever this Christmas may find you, and whatever kind of symbol you raise, remember The Story is an Eternal Story of human determination, wonder, adventure, mystery, and above all love with us.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


"What is truth?"
~ Pilate to Jesus

"Is it true, is it kind, or is it necessary?"
~ Socrates

"...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
The Apostle Paul

Truth was important to Jesus. Numerous times (over 20) in the Gospel of John he mentions truth as perhaps the essence of his teaching.  On one occasion he tells his disciples, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." (cha.8 vv. 31-32).  On his final night with his disciples he responds to a question from Thomas by saying, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to [God] except through me." (cha. 14. v. 6). And then before Pilate asks him the question quoted above, Jesus says, "For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." (cha.19. v. 37).

The truth of which Jesus speaks has little to do with verifiable realities we call facts.  The truth of the Jesus is an inner knowledge of values and virtues that hold creation together. Truth to Jesus is an umbrella for values like fidelity, compassion, justice, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and love that are lived with integrity. When we know and live these values we know truth, regardless of facts.

In today's world people are using and creating "facts" to manipulate public opinion. More and more we find ourselves in situations where what is being presented as fact just doesn't resonate with what we know deep inside to be the values of truth that Jesus teaches, practices, and invites us to live. 

I'm reminded of the tag line from the TV show The X Files:  "The Truth is out there..."  In our culture today it is more important than ever to seek truth. However, a more appropriate tag for us may be, "The Truth is in here - deep inside each and every heart."


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Moving and Changing

We have spent the last month moving. In many ways it was much more exhausting moving two miles than it was moving from DC to FL last year. It has been a pretty constant process of packing boxes and transporting them by car to the new place over several weeks time.  And since we moved from a third floor walk-up to a ground, single level house this meant hundreds of trips up and down two flights of stairs. Then came the big day when movers loaded up the large items and transported them. We are now "in the door" among boxes and resettling.  Whew!

This process has me wondering about changes in our lives and how we sometimes adapt to sudden change more easily than incremental change. Sure, the old axioms are true that every journey consists of many steps and you fill a bucket drop by drop, but much can also be said for taking a big leap, and diving in.  Sometimes we drive and enjoy the scenery and other times we hop a plane to our destination.

Life for the most part comes to us day by day, moment by moment. By living each moment and each day we find ourselves in different places along life's journey. However there are times when life throws us to the ground or lifts us to the sky and in a blink the world has changed.

Either way life is a process of moving and changing. However change comes, ours is to embrace the steps and leaps we are privileged to take.