The Sacred “And”

The Creation of Adam [Humanity], Michelangelo, segment of The Sistine Chapel, c. 1512
The Creation of Adam [Humanity], Michelangelo, segment of The Sistine Chapel, c. 1512
This Week’s Lectionary Passage:  2 Corinthians 5: 16-21

16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Paul starts right off acknowledging Jesus as both divine and human.  That in and of itself is hard for us.  I mean, we like the idea of Jesus coming and walking around in our midst, giving us a much clearer way of understanding what it is we’re supposed to be about.  We like the idea of what sometimes seems to us to be a sort of “semi-human” leading us around and in some satisfactory way “proving” to us that God really does exist.  We like the idea of having someone to emulate.  But, see, Jesus is not a textbook or proof of God’s existence or even a super-hero that we can aspire to be like.  Jesus is fully human, that fully-developed image of the Godself in which we were all created.  Jesus came not to start a religion or even a belief system; Jesus came into our midst, Emmanuel, God With Us, that we might, finally, become human.

But in order to be fully human, in order to become this New Creation about which Paul writes, we have to let go, have to open ourselves to the Divine pouring into us, filling us.  The New Creation is not a denial of humanity.  The coming of God’s Kingdom into our being does not mean that we will become Divine; it means, rather that God’s Spirit, the essence of the Divine will pour into our lives and make us fully human.  St. Athanasius of Alexandria (4th century) supposedly claimed that “Christ became human that we might become divine.”  Now that used to bug me a bit.  It even bugs me when someone refers to another person (or themself!) as “godly”.  I don’t think of myself or anyone else as “like God”.  I actually believe that God pretty much has a monopoly on that way of being.  And yet, if Jesus had NOT come as human, as one of us, then God’s Spirit, the essence of the Divine, would have remained pretty removed and unapproachable for our limited capabilities.  Perhaps Jesus came as human to show us how to open ourselves to the Divine, how to leave room for this pouring in of the sacred and the holy into our lives, how to relate to a God that was never really removed and unapproachable at all. 

The statement says that Jesus came as fully human and fully divine.  The two cannot be separated; otherwise, humanity is removed from God and the Divine remains aloof and inaccessible.  But together, intertwined, eternally connected with a sacred “and”, we become fully human.  We become the one that God created us to be.  We become a new creation, reconciled to God.  We become righteousness, become sacredness, become the essence of God’s Spirit.

So in this Lenten season, be fully human.  Open yourselves to the Spirit of the Divine pouring into your life.  Embrace the sacred “and” of you and God together, Emmanuel, God With Us. 

Grace and Peace,


Open Table

Lectionary Passage:  Mark 7: 24-37
To read this passage online, go to

I love being a United Methodist.  I probably take what could be considered an almost unhealthy sense of pride in the fact that we believe in an open table, that we believe that the Feast of Holy Communion, the Eucharist, is not “Methodist” but is instead an open table to which all are welcome.  It sounds good.  It makes us sound like a community in which one would want to be.

But this week’s Gospel reading begins to make us squirm a bit.  After all, we look to Jesus for this model of open invitation, for the depiction of compassion and mercy to which we all aspire.  And then we read this.  I mean, really, is he calling her a “dog”?  Now, with apologies to Maynard, my four-legged roommate, this was NOT a nice thing to say.  And yet, remember, Jesus understood his mission (in fact, EVERYONE understood his mission) as Messiah, the one promised to the chosen people.  Jesus’ mission was to the people of Israel.  There was nothing bad or closed-minded about that; that’s the way it was. So does that mean that this passage depicts a turning point, a veritable transformative moment for even Jesus?  Well, that’s bothersome.  After all, if Jesus needed transformation, where does that leave us?

Well, really, did we think that Jesus was just plunked down on this earth in ready-to-wear form?  After all, remember, he was human, “fully human” we are told.  Transformation is part of our humanity, being transformed is how we become fully human, fully made in the image of God.  It is how we become who we are supposed to be.  Maybe that was the point.  Maybe Jesus was not pushing us at all here, but leading us out of the box that we have built, leading us to who God calls us to be.  Maybe Jesus was showing us that even well-meaning and well-constructed boxes are meant to come crashing down when the time is right.  And the time was right.  This was not a diminishment of Jesus’ power; it was an expansion.  At this moment, the mission began to move and God’s Kingdom began to spread beyond the tight shores of the Galilean Lake and into the Decapolis region.  The Kingdom of God was at hand!

God cannot be contained.  Perhaps this story was Jesus’ realization and affirmation of that very notion.  After all, if Jesus experienced transformation, we are called to do the same.  Once again, Jesus takes a cultural norm (actually several of them!) and turns them on their ear.  It was his awakening to a new reality.  And it was the impetus that pushed the morality police known as his Disciples right out of the box with him.  The walls crash down, the table is set, and all are invited.  Come and feast with your Lord!

But it’s still a hard Scripture.  I mean, really, who did this foreign nameless immigrant think she was?  She was the voice, a voice for all foreign nameless immigrants that dare to claim their crumb at the table, that dare to go where God calls.  You see, the table is really open–not merely to us but by us.  We are the inviters, the ones transformed by relationships with “them”.  What do you bring to the table?  And who do you invite to sit down with you and share the bread and drink the cup?  Who belongs in the Kingdom of God? The Body of Christ given for you. The Blood of Christ poured out for you. And you and you and you and you and you and you and you…..Well, you get the idea.  Did we think this was about us?

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28: 19-20, NRSV)

Grace and Peace,


Protecting Our Identity

Who are you?  No, I mean really.  Who are you?  Most of us live lives that demand that we take on numerous roles.  For me, I am a pastor, a preacher, a friend, a confidante, a counselor, a teacher, a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a homeowner, a sometimes-writer, a reader, a cook, a lover of antiques, a lover of history, and, right now, a human companion and purveyor of food and treats to one dog that I adopted on purpose and another one that twelve days ago accidentally adopted me (does anyone want a really cute dog?).  And those roles are just the tip of the iceberg.  It gives new meaning to “meeting yourself coming and going”.

The articles and advertisements for protecting one’s identity seem endless nowadays.  It’s the new danger in our world, the chance that someone might steal who we are, that we might somehow lose ourselves.  And so we shred and we cut and we lock and we watch.  We do everything to keep who we are intact. And yet, we find ourselves searching for who we are.  Isn’t that interesting?

God created each one of us.  We are unique, full of gifts and graces, most of which we haven’t even tapped into yet.  Each of us is a child of God, with the ability to become fully human and the desire to connect with the Divine.  I think that God actually envisions something for each of us, that God somehow created us with an idea of what the best of each of us is.  But we’re not children of the Stepford clan.  We are not pre-programmed robots that God wound up at the start and then pushed us down the road with enough battery juice to get us to the end of the road.  No, God’s vision of Creation was much more nuanced and much more beautiful than that.  Somewhere along the way, God decided to instill the notion of free will in us, the wherewithal (if, sometimes, not the ability!) to choose–to choose right from wrong, to choose one road or another, to choose to be one role or to be something completely different.  God gave us life and  envisioned what that life could be, envisioned our identity.  But how we get there is completely up to us.

Maybe this life of faith is about protecting our identity, then–from the world, from all those voices that beg for our time or our money or our attention, and, most of all, from ourselves.  Maybe learning to walk this life of faith is about figuring out how to protect our identity, walking that journey of becoming, losing, recapturing, and becoming again that Being that God envisioned us to be from the very beginning. It’s hard.  So, in this Season of Lent, as we strip away all of those encumbrances that pull us away from ourselves, as we try to find the way back to who we are, maybe it’s not just about becoming someone else, but protecting who we are in the first place.  So who are you?  No, I mean, really.  Who are you?
On this eighteenth day of Lenten observance, make a list of all your roles in life.  Which ones drain your existence?  Which ones give you life?  It’s a good thing to think about once in awhile.

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,


And I’m serious…anyone want to adopt a dog?

Honing Desire

Pantokrator (Jesus Christ) Icon,
St. Catherine’s Monastery
Mt. Sinai, Egypt

 In this Season of Lent, we hear a lot of talk about journeying and pilgrimage as we come closer to who it is we are called to be, as we come closer to a “oneness” with God.  What exactly does that mean, though…a “oneness” with God?  Now I have to tell you that when I hear someone refer to someone (or, even worse, themselves!) as “godly”, I really just sort of cringe.  Really?  You think you’re like God?  I don’t think so.  We are not called to live a “godly” life.  I hate it when people talk like that.  We are not called to be Divine.  We are called to be Human in the fullest way that there is.  I think that’s what Jesus was trying to show us.  I doubt he would ever depict himself as “perfect”, as unblemished.  He was Human.  That was the whole point.  Jesus came as God Incarnate not to show us how to be Divine but to show us how to be Human. 

But, that said, Jesus was “fully Human”, even as this Christ was “fully Divine”.  The life of Christ was the most human that any could be–SO human, in fact, that it was a life of open and intentional surrender to what is at the very core of each of our beings, to the very image of God, the Imago Dei, the imprint of God that exists in each of us.  And that image, that imprint, is what makes us want to be with God, compels us to follow this Way of Christ.  In the deepest part of each of our beings is the innate desire for relationship with God.  That is what it means to be fully Human.

So perhaps this Season of Lent is one in which we hone our basic desire, the desire that is the core of everything, the core of our being.  Maybe it is that desire that drives us on this journey of faith.  Or maybe, just maybe, the desire for God itself IS the journey.  Maybe a fully-tuned, fully-calibrated desire for God is how we are made perfect in Christ.  I don’t think the point of this journey is to “find God”.  I’m pretty clear that God is not lost, that God knows exactly where God is.  The truth is, I think whether or not I’m aware, God is here, always, just loving me.  God’s desire for relationship with me is so incredibly strong that it begins this journey of faith.  But the journey unfolds as I realize my desire for God.  Being “made perfect” in Christ does not mean becoming without blemish; it means becoming “fully human”; it means desiring the God in which we live and move and have our being.  This faith journey is not about finding a lost God but rather desiring and seeking a lost humanity, an image of God, the very imprint of God in ourselves.

       On this twelfth day of our Lenten observance, give up trying to “find” God or trying to “deserve” God.  Give up desiring to be perfect in this life.  And take on the deepest desire for God that you have ever known.  What does that look like?  At its best, it looks like Jesus.

Grace and Peace,


Whose Deeds and Dreams Were One

We live in a society that separates.  So much of our language is based more on notions of “either / or” rather than “and”.  We talk about either “this” political party or “that” political party, either “conservatives” or “liberals”.  We talk about either “this” way of doing religion or “that” way of doing religion (and I guess, that, too, is somewhat loosely based on “conservatives” or “liberals”).  We talk about either the “haves” or the “have-nots”, the “legals” or the “illegals”, the “rich” or the “poor”.  And through it all, we talk about the “secular” and the “sacred”, the “things of this world” and “the things of God”, the “human” and the “Divine”.

And, yet, we are told that Jesus came into our midst, both human and divine.  There was no separation; rather there was a gathering of all into the Kingdom of God.  This holy gathering is a new creation unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.  And, yet, we are determined to keep it apart.  We are determined to separate ourselves from each other, compartmentalizing our lives and drawing boundaries through our world, through our neighborhoods, and even through ourselves.

God does not call us to be someone that we are not.  We are human, always and forever human.  But until humanity becomes human unity, we are lost.  And so we search for something that we know God can show us.  We search for an eternity or a heaven or whatever you want to call it “out there” when our eternity waits for us here.  God came into our midst, both human and Divine, that the two might come together, that what we do and who we are will join.

Ever Sunday morning, we profess that we believe in the holy catholic church.  We are professing that we believe and indeed that we desire unity, a universal church not created out of sameness or conformity but out of love and respect for each other and for every part of the world around us.  Both diversity and unity live together in this new Creation.  It is a place of “both-and” rather than “either-or”.  It means being part of a world that strives to live in unity.  But it also means recognizing that sometimes we’ll have to live with a little bit of tension as we try to work differences through.  I am clear, though, that even in the midst of those tensions, God is there, walare called to king us through it.  God doesn’t cram anything down our throats and I don’t think we’re supposed to do that to other people either.  William Sloan Coffin claimed that “diversity may be both the hardest thing to live with and the most dangerous thing to be without.”  I think he was right.  Because you see, that diversity is part of this new Creation.  It is part of what is calling us to grow and change and become more like Christ with each step we take.  And when we allow ourselves the opportunity to experience and share our diversity and perhaps even learn from it a little, we gain an experience of God that is unlike anything that we could have gained on our own.

In this Season of Lent, we are called to recognize those things in our lives that are not Christlike, that are not the way that God calls us to be.  It is our calling to reflect on those things that make us less than human.  Jesus walked this earth as a human to show us how to be human, to show us how to bring together who we are with what God calls us to be.

Dear Jesus, in whose life I see all that I would, but fail to be,
let thy clear light forever shine, to shame and guide this life of mine.
Though what I dream and what I do in my weak days are always two,
help me, oppressed by things undone, O thou whose deeds and dreams were one!

John Hunter, 1889, The United Methodist Hymnal, # 468
So, continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, identify those areas of your life that are divided, and give up that division.  How can you reconcile those things in your life into a more perfect and holy union? 
Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,


Sorry, this is actually the post that should have happened yesterday, so I guess you’ll get two today!

Maybe This Night Will Be The Night

“The Nativity”
Lorenzo Lotto, 1523
National Gallery of Art
Washington D.C., USA

Luke 2: 1-14 (KJV) 
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Mary and Joseph have arrived.  The crowds are almost too much to take, pushing and crushing as the couple makes their way through them.  Mary doesn’t feel well.  She really needs to just lie down and rest.  And when you don’t feel well, the last place you want to be is somewhere that is not home, somewhere foreign, somewhere so crowded, so unwelcoming.  They need to hurry.  There is not too much time left. 

They stop at a small inn up on the hill overlooking the shepherds’ pastures down below.  Joseph leaves Mary for a moment and goes to make arrangements for a place to stay.  But when he returns, his face looks frustrated, almost in tears.  He tells Mary that the inn is full.  In fact, the whole town is full.  There is no place to stay.  There is no room.  But he tells Mary that the innkeeper has given them permission to at least go into the stableroom to keep warm.  He’s freshening the hay now.  Well, it will have to do.

You know, I think the innkeeper gets a bad wrap.  I mean, was he supposed to kick someone else out?  And consider this:  This was not the Hilton.  It probably wouldn’t even qualify as a roadside motel.  It was probably just a couple of small beds in the innkeeper’s home.  And first century houses were often just a room or maybe two of actual living quarters anyway.  The second or third room was attached to the house and used to house the animals that were so much a part of their life.  No one in this small town would have owned a large “ranch” estate. The stable probably wasn’t “out back” the way we think.  It was part of the home.  So the innkeeper was possibly, on some level, bringing Mary and Joseph, bringing strangers, into his home. What that means is that the Divine came into the world because someone acted human.  Isn’t that amazing?

So Mary and Joseph entered the stableroom and, surrounded by animals, tried to get some rest.   They could still hear the crowded city outside.  They could hear the Roman guards yelling as they tried to control the crowds.  It made the place feel every more foreign, even more foreboding.  But directly overhead, was the brightest star they had ever seen.  It was as if the tiny little stable was being bathed in light.  So Mary laid down and closed her eyes.  She knew that the time was almost here.  She knew that the baby was coming into the world.

And on this night of nights, into a cold, dirty stable in a small town filled with yelling and pushing crowds, into a place occupied by soldiers, into a place that did not feel like home, into a world that had no room, God comes.  The door to the Divine swings open and God and all of heaven burst into our little world, flooding it with Light and Life.  And yet, the child in the manger bathed in light, the very Incarnation of the Divine, Emmanuel, God With Us, the Messiah, is, still, one of us.  God takes the form of one of us–just an ordinary human–a human like you and me–to show us what it means to be one of us, to be human, to be made in the image of God.

God comes into a world that is unprepared for God, that has no room for God.  God comes into places that are unclean, unworthy, unacceptable for us, much less for the Divine.  God comes into places that most of us would not go, out of fear of the other, out of fear of the unknown, out of fear of the darkness. And there God makes a home.  The Divine begins to pour into the world and with it a vision of the world pouring into the Divine.  This night, though, is not the pinnacle of our lives but, rather, the beginning.  God comes, bathed in Light, in the humblest of disguises immagineable, into the lowliest of places we know, into the darkest night of the soul, that we might finally know that all of the world is of God, all of the world is bathed in the Divine.  God comes so that we might finally see life as we are called to see it and live life as we are called to live it, filled with mercy and compassion and awareness of our connectedness to all the world.  God comes so that we might finally be human, so that we might finally make room. 

Perhaps the world will never be completely ready for God.  If God waited for us to be completely prepared, God would never come at all.  But this God doesn’t need our preparation. This God doesn’t need to come into a place that is cleaned up and sanitized for God.  Instead, God comes when and where God comes.  God comes into godforsakenness, into a world that is occupied by foreignness, where the need for God is the greatest, into a world that cries out for justice and peace, and there God makes a home.  God comes into the darkness and bathes it in light.

The time is almost here.  In just a few hours the door to the Divine will swing open and God and all of heaven will burst into the world.  If you stop and listen, just for a moment, you can hear the harps eternal in the distance as they approach our lives.  Can’t you feel it?  Doors opening, light flooding in, the earth filled with a new vision of hope and peace.  Maybe, just maybe, tonight will be different.  Maybe this is the night that the world chooses peace and justice and love.  Maybe this is the night that the world takes joy. Maybe this is the night when the world realizes that it is already filled with the Divine.  Maybe this is the night when we become human.  Maybe this is the night that we make room.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
(Phillips Brooks)
On this night of nights, give yourself the gift of making room for God.  Give yourself the gift of being human.  Give yourself the gift of making this night the beginning of God’s coming into the world.
Merry Christmas!

Putting On Shoes

God became human.  Well, sure, God can do that if God chooses, but why?  Why would the Divine CHOOSE to become human, CHOOSE to live a life that includes suffering and fear, CHOOSE to live in this imperfect world?  It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  I suppose it’s part of that mystery thing.  And the truth is, we struggle with it.  We try to justify it.  You’ve heard it all before:  “God was the perfect human,” “God was only posing as a human,” or “It was part of God’s plan.”  Really?  God PLANNED to be born into poverty, PLANNED to be born into an oppressive society, PLANNED to struggle, PLANNED to be disliked, and PLANNED to die?  I don’t really know if that was all part of God’s plan or not.  Is it so hard for us to accept that God just CHOSE to be one of us?  After all, part of being human is being subjected to a certain randomness of order, to a life that, as hard as it is for us to imagine, is beyond our control, and to not only the free will of ourself, but also the free will, the choice to do right or do wrong, that others around us have. Being human means that not all of life is a predictable pattern, not all of life is planned.  But, nevertheless, God became human.  After eons and eons of trying to get our attention, God put on shoes and walked with us.

“Incarnate” literally means “taking on flesh.”  It means becoming tangible, real, touchable, accessible.  It means becoming human.  It means putting on shoes. In the book Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr calls it God’s “most dangerous disguise.”  After all, taking on flesh, becoming tangible, becoming real, touchable, accessible also makes one vulnerable and that is incredibly dangerous.  God put on shoes to show us how to be vulnerable, to show us how to give up a piece of ourself and open ourself to the Divine.

The Shoe Heap, Auschwitz, Poland

More than a decade ago, I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz, Poland.  I expected to be appalled; I expected to be moved; I expected to be saddened at what I would fine.  I did not expect to become so personally or spiritually involved.  As you walk through the concentration camp, you encounter those things that belonged to the prisoners and victims that were unearthed when the camp was captured–suitcases, eye glasses, books, clothes, artifical limbs, and shoes–lots and lots and lots and lots of shoes–mountains of humanity, all piled up in randomness and namelessness and despair.  This is humanity at its worst.  This is humanity making unthinkable decisions about one another based on the need to be in control, based on the need to be proved right or worthy or acceptable at the expense of others’ lives, based on the assumption that one human is better or more deserving than another.

And yet, God CHOSE to be human.  God CHOSE to put on shoes, temporarily separating the Godself from the Holy Ground that is always a part of us, and entering our vulnerability.  God willingly CHOSE to become vulnerable and subject to humanity at its worst.  But God did this because beneath us all is Holy Ground.  God came to this earth and put on shoes and walked this earth that we might learn to take our shoes off and feel the Holy Ground beneath our feet.  God CHOSE to be human not so we would learn to be Divine (after all, that is God’s department) but so that we would learn what it means to take off our shoes and feel the earth, feel the sand, feel the rock, feel the Divine Creation that is always with us and know that part of being human is knowing the Divine.  Part of being human is being able to feel the earth move under your feet, to be vulnerable, to be tangible, to be real, to take on flesh, to be incarnate.  Part of being human is making God come alive.
In this season of Advent, give yourself the gift of being human, being vulnerable, and knowing the God who is Divine. Take off your shoes and feel the earth move under your feet.  God is coming!  The earth is beginning to move!

Grace and Peace,