I Thought of My Sins and Laughed…

Yeah. That line surprised me too. Let me explain…

My kids don’t like to clean, very few people do. I tell them every day to clean their rooms, and every day they tell me they are all clean. When I check, the rooms look pretty good…and then I look under the bed, or in the closet, or behind the door. The big things are gone, but there are a lot of little things left to do that have “conveniently” been left undone. They nervously laugh when I point it out (or they cry), but they can’t do the things they want to do until it the job is finished.

In the Anglican tradition, there is a formal time for public and private confession before the Eucharist, or Communion. It goes something like this:

“Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.”- BCP

            I got through the public confession fine. It was during the private confession that I broke down and then laughed. It wasn’t an unrepentant laugh. And no, I am not going to drop any bombshells here…it was the most repentant laugh I have ever had.

Through my tears, I realized that I often confess wrongly. I have all these big things I think I am supposed to be sorry for or resisting; but its the little things that often drag me down into the mire. They sneak in, and sneak out and I am none the wiser. Then, I am facing down this haughty or prideful attitude and wondering how that built up so quickly. It didn’t, it grew over time and took a lot of watering.

So when you find yourself in the middle of prayer and you can’t seem to get anywhere. It may not be the big things keeping you from connecting with the Creator of All. He just may be pointing out the big pile you left building up in the corner.

 

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Bend, Be, Bring…

It’s been a few weeks since the 2017 Intersection Conference. My family and my humble home were all in the same place and no worse for the wear. But I feel changed. It has taken me some reflection, but I wanted to share what I brought back home and have been trying to put into practice.

Bend to the Gospel of Jesus

I love to read but many of us would agree there are an overabundance of books, beyond the Scriptures, trying to tell us how to follow Jesus. Jesus was pretty clear about who He was, why He was here, and what people who follow Him should look like.

The other stuff is fine, but ancillary. What I need is to keep Christ first and foremost before me. He goes way beyond rubber bracelets that end up in a trash bin, and lasts much longer than the latest Christian trend.  God came in flesh and modeled it perfectly. It is impossible to bend Him to my view or my will, I am to be bent to His will, His end, His purpose.

Be Present and Faithful

Socializing and breaking bread with others is not a problem for an extrovert; but trying to pray a form of the epiklesis , and calling upon the Holy Spirit to be present in all my interactions with others has been mind blowing in two ways: a) there have been some really cool conversations that have happened in the past few weeks, and b) all of my conversations that would normally just be toss aways have not remained untouched.

Bring the Eucharist With You

I grew up partaking of the Eucharist in a much different way than I do as an Anglican. This is not to throw shade on any other Christians, but I was taught to take the Lord’s Supper very seriously, but not for any spiritual reason other than I might die if I wasn’t respectful (no I am not kidding.) It has taken years, but now, I see how not only is the presence in the Eucharist real, but it is a holy and joyful time. It’s almost a party with all of its pomp and circumstance. But that is just the start.

During the conference, we were challenged to not just come up and take the Eucharist for ourselves; but to carry its meaning into our daily lives. For me the message, as I walk away from the celebration, should resound with: “The Lord is Risen”, “God is Real”, “God brings real peace and healing”, and  “God loves you so much He was willing to go to the extreme to save you.” These are some of the “good gifts” I carry away from the Table.

Just like the Holy Apostles, following Jesus changes everything. I know it changes me.

(A Personal Note: Thanks to Bishop Todd Hunter, Dr. David Fitch, Kris McDaniel, and Chris Sorensen for the inspiration…any original thought in this belongs to them.)

Out Like A Lion

Funerals, at my age, are thankfully not a regular occurrence. But ,this year, the day after Thanksgiving; I found myself standing over an open grave. The sun was bright, there was a slight, cool breeze; and my old, friend’s casket shone like a new dime just waiting to be found.

William and I had met after a band I was in lost its bass player. He was older than most people in the band but brought years of experience, a lot of wisdom, and an infectious laughter.

He was very supportive to me as a musician and songwriter…always being honest, but alway encouraging. He compared me to people I had never heard of, and I looked them up. The delayed compliment was good for me…these people were amazing, and I had to wait and find out how good William thought I was. On the flip side, I was a horrible band leader. And it took William and a close friend of mine to set me straight.It was more than humbling and honoring, it was life changing.

When I heard he had passed, my heart fell for just a moment; and I realized that William would be the only person NOT sad at this news. He had suffered a lot in this life: health, relationships, and just plain human brokenness; but his faith had always carried him through. His “death” was for William, his first day of real life.

There were a lot of sad faces at his funereal, but there was a lot of laughter as well. This was the day William had looked forward to all of his adult life, and I will be forever grateful to him for showing me how to live and how to prepare to live again.

William, and I know you are there, pray for the rest of us left down here.

Showing Up…

The alarm went off early. I don’t mean earlier than I set it to…however 5:40 am is early. It was still dark, but I found my shoes, washed my face and stumbled down two floors to a vast church made of stone. A few dark clad monks, and a few guests, had taken their places in a wooden ,choir loft and faced each other. Statues of King David, Moses, and John the Baptist floated above our heads, and seemed to be watching us with keen interest.
A the sound of a bell, we all stood and faced the stained glass of the church and began prayers. All the Psalms were chanted; most of the prayers were sung and this small group of people “joined with angels and archangels” in the worship of YHWH.
Each verse, each prayer, each note had significance for me. Forgive me for being so easily distracted during such a beautiful moment…but I started looking at the faces of the monks as they sung. Some were old, others young…and each had a different emotion going on. Many had just come in from doing other chores, and some had already been praying well before I had even turned over that morning. But they showed up.
It didn’t matter if there were 5 monks or twenty, 2 guests or 100. These men would have shown up to worship. They are committed to it as their vocation; but it is not a mere job to them. There is no audience, there is no applause, there is no emotional appeal…there is work and prayer (“ora et labora” as they would say).
Soon, beautiful harmony was interrupted by time. The abbot prayed for the world, for those here, and those departed…he prayed for you and me. We all stood faced the Sun once more as it shined through the stained glass, and bowed to each other as we processed out. It was time to move on to do more work, lift more prayer, and then pursue more worship… maybe all at the same time.

Letting Go Again

Its been years, but I remember very vividly sitting up in my bed with a name on my lips. It was a name that was usually preempted by an expletive (or at least followed by one).

The wound was real, the pain was constant; but I was finally tired of it wearing me out. I could not sleep, or even rest. The person was living “rent free” in my head; and I would still bet ,to this day, they never even gave the hurt they caused a second thought.

The very next impression, was to do something I had heard about all of my life…but never applied :”Bless those who curse you…” (from Luke 6:8). That was all I heard. It was simplistic and , to me, stupid. But at this time, I was willing to try anything.

In tears, I spoke the person’s name, without a curse. I prayed good things to happen to them. I prayed for God to bless them. I prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill them and their family. I prayed for hope to be given to them. In short, I prayed for them to receive all of the things I thought they had taken from me.

And you know what? It didn’t work.

Just like most medicine, it takes more than one application. Every time I would think of them , or their face, or what they had done to me personally… I prayed all of those things again. Over time, I was able to forgive; but it is rare to ever truly forget.

The wound never went away, and it is still tender on certain days; but now its just a scar.  A scar is a place of tenderness that reminds you of what you shouldn’t do again, or allow to be done to others.

Its my prayer for you today that you let go. It is never easy, and the medicine doesn’t work the first time…but eventually your beautiful scars will just be stories to share as you help in the healing of others.

 

Coffee Inspiration for Today: “El Milagro” @ Seeds Coffee Company in Homewood, AL

 

Its 6:01…

As I arose this morning, I was slightly startled. It had been my full intention to go to an Easter vigil last night; but when I settled down, I passed out. I fully wanted to experience the anticipation of Christ’s resurrection again with some of his more recent followers.

If your life is anything like mine, it is full of those little increments of having to get things done, the ups and downs, the serendipitous surprises and the not so cool let downs. There are successes, failures, some amazing friendships, and some agonizing betrayals. You have days where it is a joy to breathe, and then there are others that you are like Job of Uz…and you curse the day you were born.

But there is something, something way down in those of us who hold on to hope. We know that life is not supposed to be this dark. The world is not as it should be. We express that in our art, our music, the way we raise our children, and even the way we vote. We all know, somehow, that the world is not right…we ,as a species, have gone off the rails. Hope is dead. Love is gone. Truth is silent.

Maybe it was not too different for those who saw Christ crucified. Their dreams were dashed as another “messiah” was killed. Their friendships and relationships were betrayed, as many  of his followers scattered to the winds…and some outright denied they even knew him.

It must have been a very long night, and there must have been many tears shed. They had seen him publicly destroyed, they knew he had been buried, and that his body was being guarded.

And then morning came…and Hope lived, Love was eternal, and Truth was speaking again.

It is now 6:23 am; and I pray this day, above all others, gives you hope for the rest of the year.

He is Risen!

 

A Small Cloud

As the priest walked by, incensing the icons, everyone in the room slowly shuffled in a clockwise direction to follow him. We did not make much noise since we were standing on large rugs; but I could feel the entire congregation move, slowly.

Prayers for my friends and family flowed quite easily, though tearfully, but I had been having my other prayers stick in my throat: forgiveness for my own recent bout with anger ,and seeking to forgive others was really scraping across my lips. Though I try to love my neighbor that was not the emotion I was feeling. That is why I was there, surrounded by all of these windows to Heaven, or “icons”. I needed help in praying.

I won’t try and prove anything to you; but in the past few years it has become apparent to me what Hebrews 12 hints at and what I hear every week in the liturgy at my church. When I pray or gather in worship, I am gathering with the saints that live, have passed on, but also with “angels and archangels” before the throne of God. My preferences, my likes, my fears, and my passions mean so little in such an assembly.

Prayers are often thrown up into the air like “lawn darts”: we hope they hit in just the right spot; but we definitely don’t want them to affect us. We run, we stay distracted, and there is so little time to be silent, to reflect, to listen.

I left that night, from St. Symeons’, feeling a renewed sense of awe. Not only had I gained help in praying those difficult prayers (something I carried with me), but I was refreshed. Sometimes we have to get the whole family together to pray alone.

benchMany Blessings…

E

Out of Gas

I was out of gas…spiritually and literally. I was on the mend spiritually somewhat, having spent time with a mentor in prayer and confession; but I still could not make it to my next appointment. So I pulled in to a  Seven Eleven to grab some fuel.

As I was filling up I noticed, what I call, a Wanderer, working on her truck. Her dog was guarding the truck, her
“Need Help Please” sign was leaned up against a gas canister, and her floppy hat was flapping while she filling her radiator with water. A man was standing over her, speaking to her with a smile on his face. I couldn’t hear the conversation, but she was annoyed and he was happy.

“Thats a bit one sided.” I thought.

Not too long after I noticed them, the man walked off and she walked towards me. I clinched a little, knowing how this conversation normally starts and ends: “Can you loan me a few bucks?” with me normally saying, “No”.

She actually snuck up on me and was squatting on the other side of the gas pump.

“Excuse me.”

I barely heard her.

“Excuse me, sir, could you help?”

I didn’t want to be dragged into this.

“Excuse me sir, could you spare a gallon of gas?”

Then I turned, “what’s up?”, I asked.

“Can you spare a gallon of gas, I am trying to get away from the guy”

“Why, what’s going on?”

She looks up at me, “He won’t stop telling me about Jesus, its really annoying…”

I laughed.

“Sure I can help,” I said as I put some gas in her can.

“What’s so funny?” She said.

I smiled, “I’m a pastor”.

She looked caught, and I was still laughing.

“Thank you.” she said sheepishly.

“No problem, have a safe drive!” I said as I drove away.

Looking back, I needed that as much as her. We can tell people about Jesus over and over and over, and it can be annoying. What matters most is whether we love like him. And, personally I felt a little fuller spiritually by helping fill someone else’s tank.

Still makes me laugh.

Finding the Gospel Again, In Northern California…

Sausalito, CA is where I found the Gospel…again. I was part of a worship gathering, focusing on art, and there it was. A display of black and white photos, bound in a book; sitting next to an open Bible. For the life of me, I cannot remember the passage, but I think it was open to the 23rd Psalm. Each black and white image was a visual interpretation of a line from the Psalm. It was beautiful!

Standing there in shock, it was if my world was coming together again. I had always been led to believe that only other words , or at most words set to music, could bring the Scriptures, the stories, the Gospel to life. It was a lie at most, but at least poor information.

Since then, I have been introduced to Eastern icons, and other, more focused, religious art. “Art” , for some (iconographers, esp), would be almost a profane description of these “windows into heaven”; but for the newbie “art” is the best word. It at least describes the innate beauty one beholds when standing in front of an icon.

God made us with 5 senses. It is a shame that most of the time we use only one or two of them when we worship him. Get out there and learn more about the new and ancient traditions of the Church. Make sure to use not only your ears, but your eyes…and even you hands and nose (incense works nicely).

Sausalito is where I found the Gospel…again. Fortunately, I took it with me.

The Prince and the Pauper?

Traveling wears me out a lot more than it used to. However, it is rare that I don’t meet people “along the way”; and learn a little bit about myself.

Once as I was traveling, I met two beggars. Both were from the same background. One was handsome and had it all, the other was a nice looking guy, but suffered from a severe stutter.  The first I will call Prince, the latter I will call Pauper.

We were discussing life, casually, at different times . Prince told me about his life, and how he had it all; until one day a decision changed his life. He no longer had everything, but was having to live “hand to mouth”. He never said it, but he seemed angry at God for allowing all this to happen. His decisions, his life, his situation…not his fault. Everything he told me about his current life, was good, and most average people would have begged for still having it so well. However, no matter what was said…he was angry.

The Pauper, when asked about his life…never mentioned his ailment. Never complained; and everything that came out of his mouth either Blessed God or encouraged others. He even took a moment to speak into my life, pray for me, the Stranger, and to challenge me to pour into others.

The Pauper was the only real royalty I ran into that day. May God continue to pour out his blessings on him, as he pours into others.