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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy Holidays

I'm taking some time this week to relax and enjoy the holidays with family and friends.  I hope you have opportunities to do the same as the year winds down.

The weekly message will be back next week.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fear Not!

I first wrote this short reflection back in the late '90's, but recently pull it out and upon re-reading it and making only a few minor changes found these first words of Christmas still echoing and calling us to better life. 

"Do not be afraid, for see I am bringing good news of great joy for all the people." Luke 2:10 

      "Fear not!" are the first words of Christmas. 
      Years ago my daughters, now adults but then about five and three, were watching television, and had stumbled upon an old episode of "Lassie".  I walked into the room to see the famous collie trudging through deep, blinding snow.  It was a dangerous, fearful scene. 
      The youngest was visibly upset.  However, before I could offer assuring words, her older sister put a tiny arm around her and said, "Don't be afraid. It's just the music."  And she was right.  With the sound turned down, it was just a dog walking through snow. The fear was in the music.
      So, why is there so much noisy fear in the world and in our lives?  For many years now it seems fear has been and continues to be the motivation for much of what we do.  We're afraid of terrorists. People with guns traumatize and paralyze communities and nations.  Seniors are afraid of the rising costs of health care and drugs.  Young people fear they've been sold a bill of goods about hard work and education and cry, "Where are the jobs?"- Not to mention safety nets to catch them when they get old.  Some people are afraid freedoms are being sacrificed in the name of "homeland security" while others will give up just about anything to feel safe. Border fences, gated communities, check points and profiling are considered necessary and common. 
      The stock market rises and falls on fear. Every other month there's a threatened government shutdown. The environment is endangered.  Pension funds have been raped. And don't forget taxes, liberals, fundamentalist, drones, global warming, world economy, pedophiles, snipers, conservatives, illegal aliens, high cholesterol and low libido.
      For God's sake, someone turn off the sound!
      And when the fearful sounds surrounding us fade away, what remains?   Like a dog trudging through the snow, we are simply people traveling through life.
      So, this year why not really hear the first words of Christmas, "Fear not!" Don't be afraid to reconnect with old friends, mend fences with an adversary, wear silly Santa hats, put blinking lights on your necktie or scarf and put folding money in the charity kettle. 
      Don't be afraid to admit failure, confess that we don't have all the answers, or concede that another person's beliefs hold Truth.  Don't be afraid to risk, to love, to live.  Don't be afraid to look at another human being without the noise of religion, racial prejudice, sexual phobias, or ideological bias. 
      In silence, holding out our hands to one another, we are just people walking through life together. And if for a brief moment we can imagine life with the sound turned down.  What do we hear?  Could it be the sound of Peace? 
       "Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright."  Christmas is a time when God puts an arm around us and says, "Don't be afraid.  It's just the music".  
      For all people of the world the good news and great joy of Christmas are the first words of Christmas: "Fear Not!

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness

on them light has shined.

-Isaiah 9 

In the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

-John 1

Every year as days grow shorter and shorter and it gets dark earlier and earlier strange things begin to happen.  We adorn our homes, our businesses, our public buildings, our public spaces, and our places of worship with light.  Lights appear in the forms of trees, stars, snowflakes, candy canes, snowmen, reindeer, and just about any other shape people can imagine.   Towns and neighborhoods have contests for the best lights.  Communities have nighttime parades with light covered floats. Cities outline their skyscrapers in lights. Candles burn in windows and Yule logs glow in fireplaces.

We call it Christmas.   Angels once proclaimed it as “Good News of great joy for all people.”  And the eventual bearer of that Good News shows us the way from darkness to light, a path that begins within each and everyone of us.

Maybe the lights of Christmas are simply kindling for the spark of hope in the darkness of our own lives, warming our hearts, bringing smiles to our faces, and lifting our Spirits.

"You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God.”

-Matthew 5

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


People get ready
There's a train a-coming
You don't need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels humming
Don't need no ticket
You just thank the Lord

        - Curtis Mayfield

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, 
make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 
Every valley shall be lifted up, 
and every mountain and hill be made low; 
the uneven ground shall become level, 
and the rough places a plain. 
            -Isaiah 40:3-4

Getting ready is an activity we spend a good portion of our lives doing.  We get ready for work, plan vacations, clean the house for guests, do research for a paper, train for athletic events, draw plans for a building, outline a speech, - you get the idea.  But, when it comes to our spiritual lives how many of us really take time to get ready.

Advent is a time for getting ready, for preparing our lives in order to experience the Presence of God in the world.  One idea I've come to appreciate and try to keep in mind is that God is eternally present.  This simply means God Is - always and everywhere.  The constant of our spiritual lives is God - the variable is us.

So, how do we prepare?  The popular song based on an old Spiritual says, "You don't need no baggage
You just get on board. All you need is faith."
  Our scriptures say by leveling things out and finding equilibrium in our lives, in other words - relax, slow down, be still.

It just so happens that during Advent as you get these weekly messages on Wednesdays there is also an opportunity for you who are in the DC area,  some "getting ready" time on Wednesday evenings at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church.  Tonight, Dec. 7, at 7:30 we have some special guests joining us for our time of music and meditation.  Cardinal Trio, three graduate students at Catholic University, will be sharing their music on piano, cello, and violin with us.

If you really want to experience God's presence in your life, why not take one hour tonight and "get ready".  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Waiting and Listening

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence — Isaiah 64:1-9

Everybody wants to rush through transition like it’s a bad root canal.  But transition is a threshold. It’s a sacred life appointment—the crossing from one world to another.  There are promises, revelations, and messages during this time. You will not escape yourself here. You will not avoid your deepest questions.  This is a blessing. – Tama Kieves

I’m not sure you’ll find a better description of the season of Advent than the above quote from Tama Kieves. Advent is a time of shedding the old and waiting.  It is a time to embrace dormancy.  It is a time to detach and listen, not so much to the clamor of the world but to the silence in our souls.  The great irony of our culture is that we have turned it into one of the most hectic, pressurized times of the year.  

So, Advent comes around every year to remind us to take time and make room in our lives for the transformative Presence of God.   But how - how do we do this and not become Scrooge-like monks?

Here are three suggestions: 

First, turn off the TV, put down the newspaper, and give the Internet a rest.  Try going at least one day a week, more if you can, without the bombardment of media.  Create some room for your own thoughts and feelings and not everybody else’s.

Next, take fifteen minutes each day to be still and quiet – no Bible verses, no mantras, just listen to your breath.

Finally, if you are in the DC area, I invite you to join me and others at Capitol Hill Presbyterian on Wednesday evenings during Advent at 7:30 p.m. for an hour of music, silence, and reflection – an hour in the middle of the week to pause and pay attention.  Our first gathering is tonight.  If you can’t get to CHPC then set aside a similar time for yourself and even invite others to join you.

These three things seem very simple and they really are, but they won’t be easy. You’ll have to be intentional, you’ll have to give up something else, and you may even have to make yourself do them. 

But, if you do, the heavens just may tear open and you will experience the Presence of God.

(from the sermon “Absence, Apocalypse and Anticipation” given at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church on Nov. 27, 2011.   Listen to the entire sermon here.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


"Give thanks with a grateful heart…"

This phrase is the beginning of a chorus we sing most Sundays in our congregation at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church.  We sing it as a response to our giving of tithes and offerings.  An underlying assumption in this line of thought may be that one can be thankful without gratitude or vice versa.    

I tend to think and believe that they go together as the old song says, "like a horse and carriage".    We just seem to not give or receive the full benefit of either without both.   To me it's gratitude that gives grounding and particularity to thanksgiving, while thanksgiving rises above the common place of our lives into the mystery of God's abundance.

So, as we all pause this week, and especially tomorrow, to raise our broad prayers of thanks may it be with hearts overflowing with the particulars of genuine gratitude for the people, places and events of our lives.

Have a Happy Grateful Thanksgiving Day! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”     Luke 6:38

For the past several years around this time of year an anonymous donor comes forward in our congregation at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church and hands me a hundred dollars in one dollar bills to be given to the congregation along with the request to use their dollar, along with some of their own if they wish, to help someone else. 

It all started several years ago when I did the a similar thing with the children of our congregation during the children's sermon.  Our anonymous donor thought it would be a good thing for adults as well.  I added a way for people to share their stories on a blog and, as they say, the rest is history.

Last Sunday we again passed the plates and instead of putting money in, those in attendance took out a dollar to be used in helping others. 
The blog is online again and waiting to hear just how much good can begin with one dollar.

So, if you were in worship last Sunday - let's hear from you!   If you weren't, I invite you to join in this wonderful act of generosity by taking a dollar(s) of your own, helping someone else and sharing your story.

Here's the link to tell us your story of generosity.    I hope to hear from you soon!   

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Be intent on action
not on the fruits of action;
avoid attraction to the fruits
and attachment to inaction!
    Bhagavad-Gita 2:47

I just finished two classes at the Servant Leadership School of Church of the Savior here in Washington, DC. One class was on bringing God into tough conversations and the other a study of the the Hindu sacred text the Bhagavad-Gita.

On the final evening of classes two learnings, one from each class, converged in a way that spoke to me.  In the tough conversations class we learned that one of the seats of anger and resentment in our discourses with one another is our inability to let go of the things we can't control, meaning just about everything except our own thoughts, emotions, and actions.  The other learning is reflected in the above quote from the Bhagavad-Gita, one of many references in the text to relinquishing attachment to the outcome of our desires and actions.  In another place in the text we are told: 

A person who relinquishes attachment
and dedicates actions to the infinite spirit
is not stunned by evil,
like a lotus leaf unstained by water.

Relinquishing attachment,
people of discipline perform action
with body, mind, understanding, and senses
for the purification of the self.
    Bhagavad-Gita  5:10,11

What would happen in the conversations, discourses, and relationships of our lives if we practiced this art of detaching our actions from their results in ways that give those around us the dignity of their own perspectives and us the freedom from the frustration and stress of trying to control things we can't control?

Of course, this makes me remember what Jesus says about letting go of things we can't control, and I'm reminded of his words from the Sermon on the Mount.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? … strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.   So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."
    Matthew 6:25-34

I use to scoff at the simplicity of that bumper sticker slogans:  "Let God and Let God" However I'm beginning to appreciate the depth and breath of its wisdom.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


When you're smiling
When you're smiling
The whole world smiles with you

When you're laughing
When you're laughing
The sun comes shining through

But when you're crying
You bring on the rain
So stop your sighing
Be happy again

Keep on smiling
Cause when you're smiling
The whole world smiles with you

Larry Shay, Mark Fisher, and Joe Goodwin

"Why are you smiling?"  The woman standing next to me on the curb one morning last week asked rather suspiciously.

" I wasn't aware I was smiling. " I said, then continued, "Besides, it's hard not to smile on a beautiful morning like this."

"I guess your right."  she conceded with a shy grin.  "Even  if I do have to work."
And the words were hardly out of her mouth when she added, "But at least I have a job."

"Now there's something to smile about." I added.

A big smile filled her face as the light changed and we walked off on our separate ways.

Smile!  Someone may be watching you!  And it makes you feel better too. 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone.           Philippians 4:4-5

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

God Passes

The year’s at the spring, 
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven; 
The hill-side’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His [sic] heaven-
All’s right with the world!

I know it's Autumn, but the clear cool mornings of late have reminded me of these classic lines from Robert Browning's dramatic poem "Pippa Passes".  The poem is about a peasant girl, Pippa, who during the course of a day passes through the lives of several people who are in places of conflict and tension, reminding them of the good and virtue in the world. 

I first heard and learned these words as lyrics of a musical arrangement sung by a children's church choir I was in.  I remember walking along by myself to school on a cool, crisp, sunny, blue skied morning.  Wearing a new pair of Keds, my lunch sack in one hand, books in the other, and a ball glove hanging from my belt, I passed through a meadow still damp with morning dew and filled with wild flowers.  I sang those words at the top of my voice, and I wonder to this day if anyone but God and me heard them.

One of our old church hymns says, "There's a wideness in God's mercy..."  It's true - regardless of what is going on in the world or our particular lives, the sunrise, the hillside, the dew, the lark, the snail the thorn, and even stormy skies are always witness to and reminder of God's Eternal Presence.

"...And God said, 'It is good.  It is very good!'...The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God's handiwork... do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear... Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet God feeds them... neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus..."      Genesis, Psalms, Matthew, Romans

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"The Things That Are God's"

The nature of God is a circle of which the center is everywhere
and the circumference is nowhere.  (Empedocles)

Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away (Matthew 22:19-22).

This little story about a coin and taxes is not really about taxes.  As the Pharisees try to trap Jesus into saying something either treasonous or blasphemous, Jesus takes the opportunity to turn the tables and remind them of some things they already know.   Any good Jew of Jesus' day, not to mention a Pharisee, would know the multitude of teaching in scripture that makes it pretty clear who owns what between the emperor (whether Pharaoh or Ceaasar) and God.   For starters how about the primal creed of Israel, the Shema:  "Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One." (Deuteronomy 6:4).   When God is One, how can there be anything else?  Remembering this, all they can do walk away in silence.

We too are reminded that everything is God (or better in God), even, and especially, those things claimed in the illusion of ownership by nations or individuals.  We can divide creation and it's resources all we want, but regardless of how we do it, the truth remains: "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;"   (Psalm 24:1)

What would our life look like if we started treating everything as if it were in God?    Would we think differently about our natural resources and use them more wisely, seeing them as a gift rather than a right or entitlement?   How would our relationships change if we began to recognize the presence of God in every other human?  Could we even begin to let go of the concept of ownership through generous sharing of all things including our own lives?  

Let's go into the world today and look for God, or better yet, prepare ourselves to be surprised at where God finds us and we discover ourselves in God.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


"A new type of thinking is essential if mankind [sic] is to survive and move to higher levels."  Albert Einstein

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."  Romans 12:2

The basis of all human activity is thought.  Communication, interaction, imagination, creativity, joy, sorrow, pleasure, pain, and even basic bodily functions - all begin in the brain.  The world we live in is the result of how we has individuals and as humanity have been thinking.  If we look around and see scarcity, fear and violence then guess where it's coming from?  And knowing where negativity and pessimism come from is the first step toward doing something about them.  If Albert Einstein and the Apostle Paul are right, what the world needs today is a shift in the way we think.

Last week I ran across "The Optimist Creed" in a publication.  It was written in the early 20th century by Christian Larson and eventually adopted by the organization "Optimist International" as its creed.  It goes like this:

Promise Yourself...
  • To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
  • To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.
  • To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.
  • To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
  • To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.
  • To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
  • To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
  • To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
  • To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
  • To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.  

The Apostle Paul again put it this way:  
"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.  Keep on doing the things you have learned, received, heard and seen... and the God of peace will be with us."  Philippians 4:8-9

Want to change the world, or even your little corner of it?  Maybe this wisdom from Einstein, Christian Larson and Paul is a good place to start.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


What better time, I ask, could there be to begin a weekly meditation called "One Eternal Presence" than the week of World Communion Sunday.  Last Sunday the Spirit of World Communion was moving at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church.   Church School was teaming with activity: the adult class wrestled with Middle East peace, the toddlers in the Wee Believe class were up and down the stairs (and later literally all over the chancel platform during their time in worship), Godly Play was happening with older children, and rice and eggs were being cooked in the Washington Seminar Center kitchen (more coming on that). 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

2011 Sabbatical

By the grace of God, with the support of the wonderful people of Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church, and through the generosity of the Lily Endowment, I am on a sabbatical for the summer of 2011.  My family and I will be doing some traveling to some great destinations that will hopefully offer time and space for reflection and renewal to all of us.   I'll be in and out of DC between trips so if I happen to see you on the sidewalks of Capitol Hill it's OK to speak and visit.  Otherwise, I'll try to keep you up to date via this blog on our whereabouts and some of my thoughts and reflections.  For each segment of the sabbatical I'll create a separate page accessed by the menu on the left sidebar.   

The sabbatical begins at Ghost Ranch, NM, decompressing and letting the idea of what's ahead for the summer sink in. Later in June, Peg and I will spend a week in California at Tassajara and Asilomar retreat centers.  Then in July we're off to London for three days before fulfilling a longtime dream of contemplative days on the isle of Iona, Scotland.  In late July and early August, Peg and I will actually be able to take a couple of long weekends regionally.  Then in mid-August our entire family looks forward to lazy days on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.  I'll wrap it all up with my traditional week at Montreat, NC, with my dear and long time friends from seminary days.  And before you know it, Labor Day is here and I'll be back - but not too soon!
At CHPC,  things are in capable hands with Rev. Juli Wilson-Black as our Temporary Supply.  I know you can look forward to some imaginative and thoughtful worship and preaching.  The Session has a Congregational Care plan in hand for pastoral needs that may arise and I'm sure our super staff will function in a way that you'll hardly know I'm absent. 

I especially encourage you to participate in the two seminar weekends with John Thatamanil and Walter Brueggemann.  These are amazing opportunities for our congregation and community to interact with world renowned scholars.  All the information you need, including registration forms for both events, is on our CHPC website.

Of course I would be remiss not to give thanks and gratitude for the generous grant we received from Lily Endowment that makes all of this possible.  I hesitate to mention individuals because so many  have done so much to make this seemingly impossible adventure a reality, so I simply say thank you to all for all that you do and continue to do for our congregation, our community, and the world in the name and Spirit of Christ.

Blessings and Peace to All,