LENT 2B: Religiosity on Life Support

Lectionary Text:  Romans 4: 13-17 (18-25):
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,  as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

In our pragmatic 21st century minds, sometimes it is much easier to grasp at the obvious and to make that the basis of our belief.  But, as Paul reminds us, if our whole faith system depends on nothing more than adhering to the set of laws or interpretations that have been laid down by those that came before us, what good is faith?  Remember that faith is about relationship.  The law is not bad.  In fact, it’s usually a necessary construct to help us understand, to help us point to that which we believe.  But it is not the end all.  It is not the God who offers us relationship.

Now, that said, I personally struggle with those who profess to be “spiritual and not religious”.  Really?   For me, it’s a little like traveling without baggage, which can mean that your not weighted down and are essentially free to do what you want, but, chances are, at some point you’re going to find yourself virtually unprepared for what you encounter.  To put it another way, how many of you really want to go to dinner with someone who always leaves their wallet at home?  They may be fun to talk to and all, but is that really the way we live?

There is a story told among Zen Buddhists about a nun who one day approached a great patriarch to ask if he had any insight into the Nirvana sutra she had been reading. “I am illiterate,” the man replied, “but perhaps if you could read the words to me I could understand the truth that lies behind them.” Incredulous, the nun responded, “If you do not know even the characters as they are written in the text, then how can you expect to know the truth to which they point?”  Patiently the patriarch offered his answer, which has become a spiritual maxim for the ages: “Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?” (from a commentary by Daniel G. Deffenbaugh, available at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=3/4/2012&tab=3, accessed 27 February, 2012.)

Now I don’t think Paul would in any way dismiss religion or even the rules.  He’s just reminding us that they have their limitations.  They are not God.  In fact, it is easy for them to become idols of worship in and of themselves (and last I read that was frowned upon!).  But they have their place.  They provide a systematic way of at least attempting to understand something that, in all honesty, really makes no sense to us.  (And, to turn it around, professing to be “spiritual and not religious” actually has a good chance of becoming a religion in and of itself.)  An authentic faith, it seems, is one that weaves what doesn’t make sense into understanding, laughter into prayer, and a grace-filled encounter of the Divine into our everyday life.  It is about both transcendence and meaning and, on a good day, the weaving together of the two into a Holy Encounter with the Divine Presence that it always in our life. 

You cannot practice religion for religion’s sake.  That would certainly be the death of your being.  You need to somehow breathe life into it.  That’s where spirituality comes in.  But spiituality cannot stand alone because it has nothing on which to stand.  Together they are religiosity on life support—a practice of faith, an embrace of the faith community, a recognition of one’s call to help and serve others, all with the Spirit of God, the life of your being, breathed into onself. 

G.K. Chesterton said to “let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair”.

On and on…continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, on this seventh day of Lent, think about the rules that you follow in your life and in your faith.  Which of them give you life?  Which of you them do not?  Let go of those rules that do not give you life, even if they are the “untouchable” ones!  It’s not about rules; it’s about life! 

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,



It is often said that Lent is a journey within, a pilgrimage into the very depths of oneself to reflect honestly on where we are and where we need to go.  I think that is true.  But it could also be said that Lent is about being without and doing without for this practice too is incredibly soul-exposing.  It’s also completely foreign to anything to which we are accustomed.  After all, we are a collecting and using people.  We are overfed, overfurnished, overdriven, overworked, overspent, overdressed and, often, overexposed.  We do not know how to do without.  We do not know how to be without. And so, if you’re like me, you buy more books on how to do Lent, how to do without during this wilderness season.  (Because, after all, you can never have enough books!)  But what we’re really called to do is to learn to do without.

I saw a feature on one of the morning news shows the other day about nomophobia, one of the newest phobias.  The claim is that if you can’t be without your cell phone for long periods of time, then you may possibly suffer from nomophobia.  According to a survey 70% of women and 61% of men live in fear of losing their phone or not having it available when they need it.  The survey found that people check their phones 34 times each day and 75% of those polled have used their phone while in the bathroom.  Warning signs include obsessively checking for your mobile device, worrying about losing your phone or being without it, never turning it off (you can turn it off???) , and being anxious if you lose reception.  In all seriousness, though, I have to admit that this is me.  I don’t think that I can do without my cell phone.  But, really, surely there’s an “app” for that!

But, seriously, I don’t think the message of Lent is necessarily to deprive ourselves of what we need or even what we think we need. God doesn’t necessarily call us to live some sort of stoic life that it totally devoid of things that we enjoy.  The created world holds too much beauty for that to be the case. But it is true that we surround ourselves with the things that define us.  And, hopefully, that’s more than a bunch of stuff.  So perhaps Lent is more about realizing what is important and affirming what it is in your life that you cannot do without, realizing what it is that defines you.  And all of that is within.   And I’m betting that the list is a lot shorter than any of us think it will be.  Think about it.  What could you do without?  Really?  You can’t let that go?

Richard Byrd once said that “half the confusion in the world comes from not knowing how little we need.”  Lent is not about adjusting what we have; it is not about deprivation; it is about perspective, about determining what it is in our life that we cannot do without and then taking it deep within.  Think of it as clearing away the clutter to make room for what is important, to make room for what it is that defines you.

OK, no one ever promised that this would be easy…continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, on this sixth day of Lent, think about the one material thing in your life that would be the hardest to do without.  Now take a sabbath from it.  Just a sabbath–a seventh of the day.  Go without it for, oh, about 3 1/2 hours today.  

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,


Well, I found this very interesting…I did find the button on top of the phone that shut the whole thing off.  And when I turned it back on, there was, of course, the familiar apple logo on it.  Have you ever looked at that?  It’s an apple with a bite out of it.  And, get this, the bite is about 1/7 of the apple.  Like I said, it’s not about deprivation, just perspective.

LENT 2B: Identity

Octavia Spencer accepting the Oscar for Best
Supporting Actress, February 26, 2012.

Lectionary Passage:  Genesis 17: (1-3) 4-7, (15-16):
As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.   I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

This passage is the story that establishes Abram’s identity.  He would become Abraham, the “father of many people”.  And Sarai, his (sort of) doting and laughing wife, would become Sarah, the “princess of many.”  Abraham and Sarah now have a new identity, an identity that comes from this established relationship with God.  This is what it means to be a covenant people.  In the Jewish tradition, this is the establishment of the identity of a people, the establishment of a covenant people.  God has done a new thing.  Nothing would ever be the same again.

Identity is a funny thing.  With whom do you identify?  With whom do you align yourself?  What are the relationships in your life?  How do you see yourself?  The idea of a covenant connotes an agreement.  But, more than that, it implies a relationship.  This was not some sort of holy “to do” list that was given to Abraham.  God never told him what he had to do to be accepted, to be part of the covenant, to  part of the people, to be “godly” (oh, I hate that word!…”like God”…are any of us really “like God”?)   God never gave him a list of beliefs to which he had to adhere to be part of the covenant community.  (Hmmm!)  Once again, the covenant was not about right living; it was about relationship.  God claimed Abram and Sarai as children of God and their life was never the same.  And then God renames them.  Their names mean something–father and princess.  The new names are symbolic of the new relationship into which they enter.

I looked up the meaning of my name.  “Shelli” (not spelled that way–it is NEVER spelled that way!) is actually a derivative of the Hebrew, Rachel–“ewe, female sheep, little rock, rest, sloped meadow.”  (So, Sarai becomes a princess and I am a sheep that rolls down a small hill and goes to sleep!)  Like I said, identity is a funny thing.  We hold tightly to the way we envision ourselves, to the image that we’ve created.  And then God comes up with the most ludicrous thing, like being the father or the princess of many (or maybe a sheep that follows down a gently sloping meadow! Hmmm!).  It’s just laughable.

We actually didn’t read the part where Abraham laughed.  He laughed because it was far-fetched and downright ludicrous.  But then, when you think about it, most of God’s promises are.  And then when he told Sarai the whole preposterous scenario, she also laughed.  So, do you think it was disbelief or nervousness or something else that brought laughter?  We in our 21st century boxes probably think it a little irreverent. After all, would you dare laugh at God? Well, good grief, don’t you think God is laughing at us sometimes? Perhaps laughter is what brings perspective. It brings humility; it brings a different way of looking at oneself. Laughter is about relationship.  Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “Humor is the beginning of faith and laughter is the beginning of prayer.”

Abraham laughed. Sarah laughed. And I’m betting God laughed. (You can just imagine the inside joke between the three: “This is going to be good. No one will ever believe this could happen.” You?  Sarai?  LOL!!!–for those who don’t text, it means “laugh out loud”!) Maybe laughter is our grace-filled way of getting out of our self and realizing that, as ludicrous and unbelievable as it may be, God’s promise holds and, more than that, holds something for us–a new identity. Maybe it’s our way of admitting once and for all that we don’t have it all figured out, that, in all honesty, we don’t even have ourselves figured out, that there’s a whole new identity just waiting for us to claim. In this Season of Lent, we are called to get out of our self, to open ourselves to possibilities and ways of being that we cannot even fathom. Go ahead and laugh. It’s probably incredibly ludicrous…and it’s only the beginning.

Now I know that many of you are amazed that I can write this through my sleepy-eyed disposition at 4:00 in the morning.  Well, the truth is, I POST these at 4:00 in the morning while I’m beginning my last hour of shut-eye.  So, as I write this, I’m sort of half-heartedly watching the Academy Awards.  And Octavia Spencer has just won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of a maid in the segregated South.  I have to convess that I never got my packed-in life around to see the movie but on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I sat and read the whole book on my Kindle.  It was about identity. It was about the identity that we have and the identity that the world projects upon us. I mean, think about it, how do those who are oppressed, either through out and out slavery or just socially acceptable oppression (even today!) envision themselves.  What is their identity–the one they have or the one that is projected upon them?  They both matter because they both form us.  But the key is that we are called to be transformed by the identity that God has for us.  So whatever identity that you or others project upon yourself, it is the covenant, the identity that calls us and recreates us that matters.

When Octavia Spencer accepted the Oscar tonight, her speech was not eloquent and it was not rehearsed (Thanks be to God!).  If anything, she was so shocked that she was almost laughing!  She voiced the perfunctory thank-you’s and then she closed:  “I share this with everybody.  Thank you world.”

As laughable as it may be, I pray that my identity will be true, worthy of sharing, and will project not a projected image of what I should be, but a “thank you” to the world.  In this Season of Lent, we, as a covenant people, are called to take a good hard look at our identity, at the way our relationship with God is lived out in our lives.  We are called to be real. 

So, continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, on this fifth day of Lent, think about your own identity.  What is real?  What is projected?  What part of yourself can you share with everybody?  Let go of those things that only benefit yourself.  And take on those things that say “thank you world!”

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,



The Temptations of Christ, 12th century mosaic,
St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice, Italy

Lectionary Passage:  Mark 1: (9-12) 13 (14-15):
He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

And (Alternatively!):  Matthew 4: 1-11:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

The Gospel writer known as Mark doesn’t seem to be that worried about Jesus being tempted.  In fact, he’s almost dismissive of it–acknowledging that it happened but not delving into it too much.  And yet, surely temptation is something with which we can all identify and connect.  After all, it happens to the best of us!  The Matthean Gospel, though, seems to be extremely concerned about it, going into great detail.  First, Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread, to guarantee that he had what would sustain him.  It is the temptation to live with a theology of scarcity, filling and filling (and filling!) our lives with stuff and hoarding what we need that we might always be prepared, always be sustained, always have enough.  Next Jesus is tempted by his need to be validated, his need to be liked.  We all have that.  We want people to like us.  We want people to like who we are and what we do.  And, finally, Jesus is tempted with the American Dream–the desire to be in control, to have all the power and glory that we need.  Jesus was tempted with greed, with affirmation and impressiveness, and with power.  And, to be honest, think what Jesus’ ministry in which he was entering would look like if he had these things.  Think of all the good we could do if we had all the resources we need, if people looked upon has the authority, and if we had the power to change the world. (So, at your next Church Council retreat, maybe that’s, after all, not the best question!)

Now, when you read this, do not imagine a little red man with horns running around disturbing Jesus on his wilderness retreat.  The truth is, that wild and fantastical personification of evil is, in the big scheme of things, a pretty modern (and pretty far-fetched) notion.  On some level, it makes it easier, shifting the blame of our human overreachings and our spiritual shortcomings to something other than ourselves.  Rather, Scriptural writers probably envisioned more of a constructive adversary, perhaps a compelling force of some sort (probably something other than a third party entity!) that would empower us to look at ourselves and our own lives, to look at those things that drive us and center us.  It calls us to an honest reflection of who we are and who we are meant to be.

And so Jesus was tempted.  That’s bothersome for us.  After all, he is the one we look to for the model life.  And if Jesus is tempted, what hope do we have for figuring this all out?  Temptation is an interesting thing.  Think of it as a turn, a fork in the road.  Do we choose to follow our wants, our needs, our desires?  Or do we let them go and follow who we really are called to be?  That’s uncomfortable.  And so, it is easier to blame it on that little red man with horns or, to be totally inclusive, the phantom seductress who wiles her prey into what she wants.  Really?  So it has nothing to do with us?  We’re just pawns on a game between good and evil, between the holy and the ways of this world, between God and this imaginary personification of evil.  Really?

Well, that would neatly wrap it up, wouldn’t it?  But I don’t think that’s the way it works.  I think this very human Jesus (thanks be to God!) went out into this wilderness to pray, to search, to discover who God called him to be.  And while he was there, he was tempted to overreach.  Dr. Albert Outler once said something to the effect that sin is not falling short, but overreaching.  It is not being more human (as if being human, being made in the image of God, could be bad!) than we are called to be, but attempting to be more Divine.  Maybe sin and tempation are about our dabbling in God’s business.  It is about letting ourselves be controlled by greed and insecurity, by the need to be affirmed and liked, and by the lust for power.  (So have you listened to the political rhetoric lately?  I rest my case.) But the truth is, sustenance is short-lived, affirmation and being “spectacular” is really hard to maintain (after all, don’t you sometimes just want to wear your warm-ups and no make-up and sit in the back of the sanctuary?), and, as Lord Acton put it, “power corrupts.”  So, on that note, this passage is not an historical narrative about Jesus’ altercation with the devil; rather, it is a lesson of the wilderness:  Instead of yielding to your fears and your desires, follow that which is everlasting sustenance, that which is gracious and unconditional love, and that which is life-giving.

Jesus wasn’t showing us how not to be tempted or even that temptation is evil.  Rather, once again, it’s about perspective.  We are not expected or called to be anything other than human–nothing less and nothing more.  That’s the lesson that this Lenten Wilderness teaches us.  It’s not about us.  It’s about The Way.  So, where do we find ourselves on The Way?

So, continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, on this First Sunday of Lent (oh yeah, did you know we don’t count the Sundays?), take a look–where are you tempted by greed, by the need to be affirmed, by the desire to control?  Give them up.  Become human–nothing more, nothing less.  (OK, then, just pick one!)

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,



LENT 1B: Driven

Judean Wilderness, near Jerusalem, Israel, 2010

Lectionary Passage: Mark 1: 9-12 (13-15)
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

Jesus was driven out into the wilderness.  First he gets baptized and the Spirit descends upon him.  He is claimed by the Spirit.  And then the same Spirit that claims him somehow compels him to go out into the wilderness alone–no supplies, no map, no compass, no cell phone with that neat little GPS app.  Driven out into the wilderness…You know, I used to think that I understood this wilderness thing.  I used to picture Jesus going out into the wilderness, into the trees, into nature, to pray and commune with God.  Perhaps my idea of a wilderness was somewhat skewed by visions of thick East Texas pine trees or perhaps the clammy sensation of the Costa Rican rainforest.  After all, nature is always a great place to become closer to God.

And then I saw the Judean wilderness, the same wilderness into which Jesus was driven by the Spirit.  I stood there on that mountain with a view of winds and sands and nothingness, the true depiction of forsakenness and despair.  And, standing there, I thought about this image of Jesus going out into the wilderness.  On purpose?  He went on purpose?  This is not a wilderness for the faint of heart and certainly not for one with such a faulty sense of direction as I seem to have.  This wilderness has no trees, no real markings of any kind.  The faint pathways change as the winds blow the sands wherever they want.  Even if one began this wilderness journey with some faint sense of where he or she was headed, the pathway would move in an instant and the traveler would be stranded, vulnerable, with no real sense of direction at all.

So into this vulnerable state, Jesus was driven.  If you read the passage, the Spirit claimed him at his baptism and then drove him into a journey that had no obvious pathway at all.  The mere thought of it terrifies us.  After all, don’t we do everything we can do to avoid the wilderness, to avoid a loss of control, a loss of our sense of direction, a loss of the knowledge of where we are and where we are going. But last I checked, the same Spirit supposedly descended on me as descended on Jesus.  So am I to assume that that Spirit is now driving me into the wilderness?  As one who was also baptized, who also had this same Spirit, am I being compelled to go beyond what I know?  But, I will tell you, I did not plan for the wilderness.  I do not have everything I need.  I need to pack.  I need to prepare.  (I probably need new shoes!)  And so I wait.  But that baptism thing keeps tugging at us.  You know, it’s not really meant to be a membership ritual.  It is meant, rather, to be the driving force in our lives.  It is the thing that drives us into the wilderness–if only we will go.

Contrary to the way most of us live our lives, faith is not certainty or knowledge.  It is not, I’m afraid, a sure and unquestioning sense of where one is going, even, for us seemingly progressive theologians (because we are ALL theologians!), in a “big picture” way.  It is not about being saved from something.  Faith is not about learning or being shown the way.  We are not given a map.  It’s just not that clear.  In fact, it’s downright murky, almost like sandy in the air.  No, I think that faith is about entering The Way, being driven into the wilderness, where one is vulnerable, unprepared, and usually scared to death.  And in that death, in that yielding, in that realization that we’re not really sure where it is we’re supposed to go, we encounter God.  And then in the next instant, the winds will blow the path away and, once again, we are in darkness until we realize that God is still there, not pointing to show us, but walking with us.

Every Lenten season we read of the wilderness into which Jesus was driven.  It is the affirmation that Jesus was not a superhero or a star of Survivor.  Rather, Jesus was driven into the deepest depths of human frailty and vulnerability and, unsure of where to go, found God.  Wandering the wilderness is not about finding your way but rather being open and vulnerable enough that The Way will find you.

So, continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, on this fourth day of Lent, think of those things that you work to control–time, space, people.  Let go of something that you control and be vulnerable, if only for a day.

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,


The promised land lies on the other side of a wilderness.{Havelock Ellis}

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,


LENT 1B: The Harrowing of Hell

The Harrowing of Hell, depicted in the Petites Heures
de Jean de Berry, 14th c.  illuminated
manuscript commissioned by
John, Duke of Berry.

LECTIONARY PASSAGE:  1 Peter 3: 18-22
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.  And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

The faith communities to which this was written did not have it easy.  They were the outsiders–shunned, unaccepted, separated from the only society that they knew.  To put it bluntly, they were living in hell.  So this comes as a reminder that what they are experiencing now is not permanent.  It is not the final word.  New life is just over the horizon.  For the writer of this epistle, this is a sure promise, made real through our baptism.  Baptism here is depicted a recreation, as resurrection.  The whole point is that believers do not need to fear the difficulties and sufferings that are present now.  God has indeed promised something new.  In all honesty, I don’t think this writer necessarily saw baptism as merely a cleansing.  Rather, baptism is a claiming.  We are claimed by God.  We are empowered by the Spirit of Christ.  We are made new.  So no matter what hell we might find ourselves in, there is more up ahead.  God has claimed us.  Each of us is a beloved child of God.  Our baptism acknowledges that and, like the waters that flooded the earth, sweeps us into new life.

In fact, even the powers of hell cannot impede the recreation that is happening all around us.  Now our church chooses to recite the more sanitized version of the Apostles’ Creed but there is an older version that dates back to the 5th century that goes like this:  “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell.”  That last sentence is believed to have been loosely taken from this passage.  We read that Jesus proclaimed even to the “spirits in prison”.  In other words, Jesus descended into hell, into the bowels and depths of life.  And, there, he blew the gates open and the eternally forsaken escaped, crossing the threshold to new life.  In the Middles Ages, it was referred to as the “Harrowing of Hell”.  Now, admittedly, there is little basis for this theology but if death hath no sting, why would hell win?  (And to be honest, there’s really little basis for the notion of “hell” as we 21st century folks think of it.  I think Dante did us no favors. ) If God’s promise extends to all of Creation, then perhaps hell really hath no fury.    

Now this is in no way a lessening of the impact or importance of sin.  We all know that.  We sin.  We try not to.  But we sin.  In fact, most of us are pretty good at creating our own hell.  We plunge ourselves into darkness, into separation from God, through fear, or guilt, or shame, and we struggle to claw our way out.  But even the powers of sin are no match for the promise before us.  That is the whole point of our faith.  So, if we believe that, why is it such a stretch to believe that the God of all, the God who loves us, and who has claimed us, could vanquish all the powers that afflict us, that God has vanquished all the powers of hell?

Perhaps this Lenten season of penitence is not so much a call to grovel at the feet of a forgiving God but rather to faithfully follow this God who beckons us home again to begin again.  Maybe it truly is the harrowing of whatever hell we find ourselves in.  But in order to do that, we have to name our sin and release its power.  It’s part of our story.  It’s part of what we must tell.  And with that, the waters subside and the green earth rises again.  Now, I don’t profess to know the whole truth about this hell thing.  It’s not an issue for me.  But I struggle to reconcile the notion of a place called hell with this God who offers eternal mercy and grace and forgiveness, with this God that wants the Creation to return so badly to where they belong, to enter into a relationship with the Godself–so badly, in fact, that this God would come and walk this earth just to show us the way home.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  Hell definitely exists.  But perhaps it is our creation, rather than God’s.  Perhaps our faith will show us that the gates of hell have already been removed and that all we have to do is walk the way toward life.  Let this Lenten Journey be your Journey toward Life.

So, continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, on this third day of Lent, think about those things that create your hell.  Is it fear?  or shame?  or guilt?  Is it the need for everyone to approve of you and like you?  Whatever it is, let it go.  Make room for that which gives you Life.

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,


At the center of the Christian faith is the history of Christ’s passion.  At the center of this passion is the experience of God endured by the godforsaken, God-cursed Christ.  Is this the end of all human and religious hope?  Or is it the beginning of the true hope, which has been born again and can no longer be shaken?  For me it is the beginning of true hope, because it is the beginning of a life which has death behind it and for which hell is no longer to be feared…Beneath the cross of Christ hope is born again out of the depths.  (Jurgen Moltmann)

Grace and Peace on Your Lenten Journey,



LENT 1B: Reordering Chaos

Lectionary Passage:  Genesis 9: 8-13 (14-17)
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you,and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:  I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

OK, so I’ve dusted off my little greenish translucent marble thing and it’s sitting here beside me.  According to what I told the world in yesterday’s blog, this is supposed to remind me how much I’m cherished by God.  So why do I feel like I’m drowning?  Why do I feel mired in chaos?  Why do I sometimes wish, just for a moment, the world would stop?  Enter…the ark.  I wonder how I would fare on an ark.  I used to like sailing–the wind in my hair, the sun on my face, the coolness of Galveston Bay when the sun on my face got to be too much, and the smell of fried shrimp and hushpuppies as we sailed back into Kemah.  But, somehow, I’m thinking it looked different.  Personally, it sounds pretty chaotic to me–howling elephants, uncontrollable zebras (I hear they’re not that well-behaved), and a vast array of odd amphibious creatures that I don’t even know.  Good grief, I can barely handle one 85-lb. black lab that eats Bibles, puts the throw pillows underneath the cushions on the loveseat, and turns down the covers on the bed and burrows underneath them before I can get in.  Chaos seems to abound whether or not you own an ark…

This passage is actually the end of a really long story that most of us know.  You know…Noah gets wind (pun intended!) of one of those severe weather warnings and is told to pack up the ark with all the earth’s animals and then he and this holy menagerie sail around until the rain stops and the water subsides.  And then they begin to load off the ark.  Who knows what they would find?  And, finally, God speaks.  God makes a promise.  This will not happen again.  In fact, the earth will be made anew.  All of creation will be made anew, recreated.  Chaos has not been wiped out.  It has been reordered.  It has been recreated into life.  It’s not a new Creation as in a DIFFERENT one .  God doesn’t erase the chalkboard and begin rewriting history.  Rather, God takes what is there and makes it new, gives it life.

So why does chaos abound?  Why is life still sometimes filled with darkness and despair that almost chokes it away?  Why does my greenish translucent marble thing even get dusty at all?  Maybe it’s because if life were easy, we’d never look at the rainbow.  You see, this story is not about the ark. It’s not about the flood.  I don’t even think it’s about human sinfulness or chaos.  It’s about the promise.  God stretched a bow across the darkness to remind us that it is hope and life, rather than sin and darkness, that are the permanent reality.

In this Lenten season, we will often find ourselves surrounded by darkness.  We may find ourselves mired in despair.  We might somehow turn up on a road that we never intended to travel.  In fact, sometimes we find ourselves in hell.  But these are never the final word.  Even when tales of a place called Golgotha begin to swirl around us, there is always something more.  When we come to the end, God will be there to beckon us into the arms of grace that we might begin again.  God has promised recreation.  But, you see, we have to let go of the chaos.  And maybe THAT’S the point of this Lenten journey.

So, continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, on this second day of Lent, let go of chaos.  Spend 15 minutes (just 15 minutes!) and sit down and listen to the sounds of Creation being recreated.

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,

Not only is another world possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. (Arundhati Roy)

Grace and Peace on Your Lenten Journey,