Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday Prayer for 12/20/11

Dear God;

These days are dark.
The morning comes late and the night comes early.  The rain gives hints and clouds have settled in like the achy chill in my bones. 
Everything seems muted.  Voices and music all play through cotton. 
I don’t feel quite awake but can’t seem to sleep enough, either.
My arms, my legs, my thoughts feel heavier.  My cheeks even feel weighted down.  There is a dull, weightiness.

There is a dull, weightiness with sharp edges;
A droning on like lazy, stinging bees
A hissing like drunken, angry snakes
A shouting voice that becomes calmed into a disparate chant (ENVIRONMENTENVIRONmentenvironmentenvironment…)
I find myself laughing, but sarcastically.  I find myself complaining about things that don’t matter.  I find myself offended too easily.  I find myself losing myself.
Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy

Emmanuel, please…  Please, oh, please...  Help me find myself.  Help us find us, again.
Help us.
Find us.

Splash that mountain cold Jordan water in our face to help us wake up and shake it off and let out that kind of head-shaking mountain cold Jordan water shout.  Then, may we stretch and stomp and feel that

May there be songs that have hope flowing out of them and that turn even that dried out pile of dreams in to seeds, again.
Help us to laugh and light candles for light and warmth and may we shine and shine and shine and shine and shine and shine and…

And, when that sun comes, again may we
whoop and
that the darkness did not overcome it and may we
whoop and
at the changing of the seasons and
may we plant and
may we grow and
may we love and
may we know, deep in our bones (with the same sort of heat of the sun that heals the chill),
That, everything – EV UH REE THING - is gonna be alright.
That we can help MAKE everything alright.
That, everything is gonna be alright.
Every thing.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Christ the word in flesh born low,
Praise Holy Spirit evermore;
One God, Triune, whom we adore…



Thursday, December 15, 2011

On Colleagues Getting Punched in the Face (and Non-Violence) [12/15/11 Writing]

I've been struggling with writing today's post ever since I heard of the police beating of the Rev. John Helmiere last Monday evening at the Port of Seattle protest.  This protest began as a solidarity event with Occupy Oakland after the violent crackdown on that encampment.  It became an action that sought to highlight the negative impact current shipping practices and policies have on workers and the environment.  The unions involved, although in general agreement, did not officially endorse the action.  This was why I didn't attend.  That said, many workers from the docks honked horns and gave a thumbs-up in support.  The union - as an organization - may not have been able to strategically support this action but many of the unionized and non-unionized workers did.

John is a good colleague.  We live in the same neighborhood of Seattle.  He's a solid theological thinker with a well-nuanced understanding of what is just and unjust.  He is gentle spirit who is passionately compassionate.  He is a well-rounded leader with a strong, faithful, discerning center. He's starting a church down here (Valley and Mountain Fellowship) that has these values at its core.  He decided to participate in the protest because of the issues the protest was focusing on.

The protest had two different foci locations that different protesters chose to support.  In and of itself, the part at the main gates was very successful and the port was shut down.  There was also a group at one of the less prominent entrances that became, clearly, more confrontational.  The police presence at this station was larger and the situation became increasingly tense.  Protesters set up a blockade in the middle of the street.  The mounted police were called in, to; a sign to many of the protesters, due to previous experiences, that police were preparing to use more physical tactics.

John had initially participated in the first protest group and, since the port was declared "closed," was heading home when he saw and heard the chants of the second group.  He walked over to see what was happening and, when he saw how tense the situation was, he decided he was called to try and help keep it peaceful.  With his clergy collar on, he stood between the police and the protesters with several others.  They linked arms.  He was yelling out words of peace and leading chants of peace.  Many of the protesters were joining in with their voices.

What happened next is all a blur, as it frequently is in moments like this.  Its not exactly clear who did what first.  The protesters were getting corralled into a smaller and smaller space and, on the police-side, pepper spray began to fly and at least two concussion grenades were tossed among the protesters.  Some protesters threw items that seemed to be near by at the police (some accounts say wood, concrete, flares and rebar).  There were also one or two bags of red paint thrown at the police.  Again, it's really not completely clear who did what first, here.  Each side seemed to be expecting some sort significant confrontation from the other side, so it came.  11 people were arrested.

John was one of them.  However, how that took place is one of the most troubling parts of all of this.  First, one of the officers he was standing in front of hit him in the throat - a little above his clergy collar - as he was chanting words encouraging peace.  As he was recovering from this, an officer grabbed him and threw him to the ground (it's not clear with any of this whether this was all done by the same officer or a different ones).  As John was face down on the ground with his arms immobilized, a police officer began to punch him in the face.  John wasn't resisting at this point and, again, immobilized.  Eventually, he was cuffed, lifted up by an officer who took him to the police van and then - over a period of 12 hours - transported to a holding cell then a county facility.  His multiple requests for medical attention were ignored until he was able to get the attention of a nurse who just happened to be walking by.

I wish more of you reading this knew John.  It's shocking that this incident happened to somebody.  It's a little more shocking that this incident happened to somebody leading chants encouraging everyone to remain peaceful.  It's a little more shocking that this incident happened to somebody leading chants encouraging everyone to remain peaceful while he was wearing a clergy collar.  And, for those of you who do know John, this isn't just somebody.  He's one the kindest people you could ever meet.  The fact this happened to John is one of the things that makes this incident the most shocking of all.  I’m not saying he’s a saint or anything but, well, he’s definitely got some saintly qualities.  Pray for him, if you would and read his account of this, too.

I have been trying to get my head and heart around all of this.  I’ve moved from being shocked, to being saddened, to being angry, to being pensive and then, well, back to being angry again. 

I’m still probably stuck a bit on angry and some of that second round of anger is with myself because I was, well, shocked in the first place.  This is the third incident in less then three months of a clergy colleague in Seattle being the object of some sort of police violence.  Two colleagues (in full vestments) were pepper-sprayed in November and, now, this.  There have been regular stories from local Occupiers of police over-reaction, violence, harassment and escalation.  During the four years I’ve been here, the Seattle Police Department has been accused of brutality several times (including the shooting of a Native American local artist) and is currently being investigated by the Department of Justice.  I’ve heard many, many anecdotes from people in my neighborhood – particularly people of color – who have talked about their maltreatment and harassment by police. 

Yes, I know that most police officers are good, helpful, respectful and work really, really hard to act appropriately and, in many cases, compassionately.  I have had the honor to interact with many more good officers than not.  The problem is the dangerous subculture of permissiveness and expediency that seems to protect many violent and intimidating actions by some police officers as a justified privilege of a police officer instead of a rarely utilized responsibility.  This is not helped, at all, by the degree to which officers are overworked and under-supported.  On top of that, they are being given weapons and tools by the Pentagon that are specifically for use in war against an enemy.  This increases a “citizen as the enemy” mentality.  Add to that the passing of a law that allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens.  Mix all that together and the police subculture of permissiveness and expediency becomes increasingly dangerous.  Its police subcultures like this that can be used for the foundation of police states.

None of this is diminished, of course, by the small subculture of protesters who seem to be willing to use violence against the police or others who disagree with them.  I understand the anger, there.  I’ve felt it, thought it and been tempted by it at different points.  Although there may seem to sometimes be short-term effectiveness in such actions, these sorts of actions generally tend to be a long-term failure.  Even when violence is used in anti-dictatorial revolutionary movements, the end result is usually a system that is very similar in its dictatorial methods as the outgoing one.  Violence used by any one group or persons – instead of being an action that ends further violence – clears a path for more violence to emerge.  It actually tends to expand and strengthen overall systems of violence.

Non-violence exposes systems of violence and refuses to give these violent systems and actions more energy and justification for their actions.  If John had been a participant in any of the violent aspects of this demonstration, the response by many would have been that the actions of the police were justified regardless of who was perceived to have started the violence.  John’s non-violent actions and words expose the violent subculture that exists and – as this story emerges - is making a way to confront remove energy from these systems as opposed to clearing the way for, still, more violence.

As I write this blog, I’m clear how much of what I write are words I need to hear.  This self-talk reminds me of my commitments, my responsibilities and my role, as a person of faith and a pastor.  Within the United Church of Christ (UCC) Statement of Faith, it says this (addressed to God):
“You call us into your church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be your servants in the service of others, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ's baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.

You promise to all who trust you forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, your presence in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in your realm which has no end…”

In the UCC Statement of Mission it names these points as our responsibility:
“To hear and give voice to creation's cry for justice and peace;
 To name and confront the powers of evil within and among us;
 To repent our silence and complicity with the forces of chaos and death;
 To preach and teach with the power of the living Word;
 To join oppressed and troubled people in the struggle for liberation;
 To work for justice, healing, and wholeness of life…”

In our baptismal vows we are asked:
“ Do you promise, by the grace of God, to be Christ’s disciple, to follow in the way of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work of Jesus Christ as best you are able?”

There have been times I’ve wondered, on many occasions, whether non-violence is the only and best way to live out these commitments.  I’ve read about other more violent movements and talked with folks who have been involved in them.  Although I have often been impressed and sometimes inspired by the courage of some of those who chose to take such actions, I’ve yet to be convinced of its long-term effectiveness as a tactic (more recent readings of the brilliant Gene Sharp and the Gospels has only made this clearer).   The more I study, the more I pray, and the more I see non-violence lived out, the more deeply I have come to think and believe that non-violence is the most effective and most faithful way to love out that promise to “resist oppression and evil.”

I am still angry.  There is plenty to be angry about.   In addition to exposing the subculture of systemic violence that showed its face at last Monday’s protest, John’s non-violent action helped expose my infection by these systems as well.  May we all be brave enough to seek out healing and live in to a better way.  God bless the Rev. John Helmiere for helping clear that path to a better way for us.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday Prayer 12/13/11

Dear God;

So, it being Advent and all, I just finished reading the story about the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and telling her about Jesus.  At the risk of overstepping, I’d like to suggest that you consider having a conversation with some of your angels. 

Now, granted, I don’t get how the whole “angel” thing works in the first place.  I really don’t understand:
a)   What they are (Are they the spirits of those who died as popular culture suggests?  Some kinda special heaven-ish creatures as the bible suggests?);
b)   Why you need them (If we go with the premise that you are all-powerful, what do you need them for, exactly?);
c)    Or what it is, exactly, that they do (Warriors?  Choirs?  Guardians?  Messengers?)

When I’m around folks who talk about angels a lot, I get a little nervous.  This is not an idea that’s been a part of what I believe.  I mean really believe.  I tolerate these conversations in a way that verges on the edge of being patronizing (OK, sometimes more than “verges”).  I, generally, think its sweet but, I don’t need (nor want) cute angels; a pastel tinted faith; or a collectible-based outward sign of an inward grace.  God bless those that do.  Amen.  I like grit.  Its where I find traction.

Still, I have no idea what to do with the people who give an account of what they are sure is a clear encounter with one of those grittier angels.  These stories seem to rise up out of difficult, life-threatening moments.  These are the stories of a person who appeared, helped and then could not be found to thank.  These are the stories of the angel as a helpful trickster.  These are the stories I more than tolerate; I respect them.  I have no question that this was a holy moment for the teller of these stories and hearing these stories brings me in to some sort of holy zone, too.  These holy, rough edged, not-ever-cute angel stories told in quiet voices touch me.  I like these kind of working-class angels dressed in unkempt uniforms who speak with voices salted by a full life; strong beyond strong; gentle beyond gentle; loving beyond loving; and present at the exactly right moment.

These are the angels I wish would appear to every child facing starvation; to every abused woman; to every drug addict on every corner; to every person contemplating suicide; to every person lost in any kind of wilderness; to every refugee trying to make a new start; to everyone who has to run away from anything; to…  The inconsistency of angels makes it hard to believe in them. 

(Granted, “inconsistency” is at the heart of one of our most frequent fights, too.  I get upset with what I see as yours.  You get upset with what you know are mine.)

So, God, I don’t get angels even though I believe in the people who tell stories of them.  I am – at best – an angel agnostic even though I think they are, basically, a good idea in need of improvement.  To that end, back to that suggestion I started off this prayer with.  Really, one suggestion in particular…

If they exist, you might want to talk to your angels about their tendency to start off with the phrase, “Do not be afraid.”  Although I appreciate the gesture, any statement that starts of with phrases like this or “OK, I don’t want you to worry…” or  “I have some news that isn’t as bad it seems…” etc. is really not all that helpful and tends to create the opposite effect that is intended. 

Just tell the angels not to worry too much about our being afraid.  Its what we do.  At those moments we are, its more important for us to know we’re not alone.  Especially when we can’t be there for each other (and if you could help us with this, too, that would be great) the presence of an angel would be awesome; just to be there.  That’s the kind of angel I think we need the most.

Thanks for listening.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

12/6/11 Tuesday Prayer

God of Mary the Teenager,
God of the Let-Down and Lowly,
God of the Filled-up Hungry and the emptied rich;
We have been waiting for you.
We have been longing for you.
We have been hoping for you.
Some things are not quite right.
This world of ours is off-kilter - spinning all wobbly – and it seems like some
are falling
The impoverished are being flung off in to the outer darkness as others laugh at the spectacle of it all.  Children are choking on the air.  Greed is being celebrated as a Darwinian virtue.  Love is being criminalized.  We keep finding new ways to be violent.

Why should we complain, though? Where is our thankfulness?  We are here, in this safe place, right? We are here, in this safe place, right?  We are here in this safe place, right?  It is safe here.  We are fed.  It is safe here. We are safe with these fences around us, right?  They are here to keep others out, right?  They keep out the wildness.  They keep us safe, like cattle.

Much safer than a world where God is held in belly of some teenage girl with, likely, brown skin and, likely, dark hair who is, likely, poor.  Much safer than a world where God scatters the proud and deposes the powerful and calls this “mercy.”  Much safer than a world where God seems so small you need a soul like a magnifying glass to make God bigger.

Oh God, help me. I am so impatient and so tired.  Fling open the cynical squint of my eyes in the midday and, then, help my fearful eyes close in the middle of the night.

“Be not afraid,” you say… 
I am finding this difficult, I confess…

Help me look in to the eyes of that pregnant, teenaged girl and be in awe of her certainty; her assuredness; her excitement.  Help me to sing along with her like it’s a lullaby; like it's a hip-hop rhyme; like it’s a protesting, marching chant.

“FOR THE MIGHTY ONE HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR ME!!!!!!!”  May I yell it like one of those deep belly yells that makes my throat ache.

(For the Mighty One has done great things for me…) May I whisper it over and over again like a mantra.

And, then, maybe…  Just, maybe…

Justice will roll down like


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christ In The Desert Fall 2011

12/04/11 Lord's Prayer

(Almost 20 years ago, I used to do a weekly email that sent out an alternative liturgy for individual practitioners of Christianity and small groups.  One of the elements that was part of this liturgy was an interpretation of the Lord's Prayer.  I've started doing this every Saturday for this blog.)

Loving God and parent of us all whose presence is about more than place,
We call out to you by many names, all holy.
How can we help make this world into the world you hoped for?
How can we best be the people you hoped for?
How can we merge sacred dreams with daily realities?
May we be always able to celebrate that we have more than enough; in fact, may we know that we have so much that, through us, other's prayers for daily bread can be answered.
We ask for forgiveness for those times we don't "get it;" those times we do wrong; those times we give way to self-righteous anger; those times we don't share.
Help us not be so enamored with revenge or ego that we don't share forgiveness with others, too.
It is not always easy to do the right thing. Please help us do the right thing.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


(This week's writings are all scheduled to be posted while I'm away on retreat.  I ask for your prayers and patience.  If you ask a question in your comment, know that I won't be able to respond until I return.  Peace!)


Hope is not an easy chair. It is not that pair of comfortable shoes that always feels right. It is not the "There, there" that comes with a pat on the shoulder or a hug. It is not white clouds in the sky or a gentle rain.  It is not a guarantee, a promise or certainty.  It does not feel like we want contentment to feel.  It is not that flower that always appears in the spring.


I wish it was. Life would be so much easier if it was; simpler, too.  There may be those who call this hope but they are mistaken.  Like cheap grace isn't really grace, this cheap hope isn't really hope. I don't use this next word often but it seems appropriate here: Alas...


Hope is that rickety-scratched-up-no-brakes bike that, surprisingly, makes it through city traffic and potholes.  It is that pair of hiking boots that look to be all used up but aren't, quite.  It is a shaking finger in the face; a kick in the ass; a push.  It is dark storm clouds over a baked desert that's forgotten rain.  It is tenuous, a question, and uncomfortably persistent... And fragile.  It can feel like something that it is flirting with grief.  It is like that weed we have tried to uproot again and again and again and then, every spring, it appears seemingly stronger than before: a green, leafy, viney taunt.


We come to admire it

and love it

for it's



Tuesday, November 29, 2011

11/29/11 Tuesday Prayer (inspired by Isaiah 40)

One:  "Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God."

Many:  May we not become so comfortable, that we are not able to accept the discomfort that sometimes comes with comforting others.

One:  We may sometimes be people we did not expect to be;

Many:  Go places we need did not expect to go;

One:  Give more than we expected to give.

Many:  May we pray through those moments of discomfort;

One: May we trust through those moments;

Many: May we love through those moments;

All:  And, ultimately, may we find the deep comfort that can only be found in God's holy gifting of hope.  Amen.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

11/26 Lord’s Prayer

(Almost 20 years ago, I used to do a weekly email that sent out an alternative liturgy for individual practitioners of Christianity and small groups.  One of the elements that was part of this liturgy was a weekly interpretation of the Lord's Prayer.  I'm going to try and do this every Saturday for this blog.)

God of us all who is within us, among us and between us,
Help us to know more of who you are.
May we know your presence here,
May we know your hopes for us today,
May all ground be known as holy.
May we have enough of what we need.
Help us to know what it is to be forgiven and
Help us to be generous with forgiveness, too.
Help us make the right choices for the right reasons and
Help us make right wrongs, too.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Anxious Advent

I’m having a bit of an impatient and anxious entry in to Advent.

There really is no way to separate the ideas of "waiting" or “preparation” from this season.  There are good reasons for this, of course.  We live in a world that is overfull with harried hurrying; self-righteousness busyness; and increasingly interrupted opportunities for simply listening, paying attention and praying.  This is something I've written about and preached about every Advent since I've been ordained (and a few times in between).  I think most pastors end up drawing from this well at some point or another.  I believe in this message.  It's an important one.  It goes along with "taking one day at a time," "trusting the process," etc.  I believe this.  I know it to be true.

And yet, there is a side of all of this that has been feeling less and less true.  There is real and legitimate urgency in these days.  We are treating those things we know almost like secrets; afraid to say what we see for fear of looking foolish or being controversial.  Our economic systems are falling apart.  We know it.  Those whose jobs count on votes or reducing economic anxiety in order that we'll buy or purchase more are wrong. 

Climate change is real and we have crossed the line past where environmental collapses can be prevented.  The state forester is saying one third of our Washington State trees areat risk of dying because it no longer gets cold enough during winter to kill some of the insects that threaten these trees.  Those involved in estimating the insurance industry’s risk recognize that they no longer can because weather events have become so severe in the last few years as to make previous models barely usable.

The church, our beloved church, has frequently seemed to be spinning its wheels, too.  It's almost as though we keep smoothing out the ice with the hope it’ll give us traction. 
  • ·      We want community and peacefulness so badly that we aren't as honest as we need to be with each other.
  •      The lack of all kinds of diversity in our churches is not OK.  In age diversity, inparticular, we're failing. 
  •      We want to grow but are frequently afraid to do anything that remotely looks like evangelism and seem embarrassed to be people of faith.  There is a huge difference between "shoving our beliefs down someone's throat" and, for example, talking about how our faith and church make our lives better; even make us happy. 
  •      There are frequently undercurrents of tension between clergy and lay members of our congregations.  In times when the resources of energy and money are diminished – and the status of the church or those related to it is, too – there is an emerging culture of blame and guilt inserting itself in to these relationships.

And, well, we’ve known these days have long been coming.  We have long been warned our economic system wasn't sustainable.  The warnings of environmental collapse have been coming for more than 50 years.  There has never been a time in my ministry that there weren't voices speaking to the days we're facing in the Church.  There are really no surprises here, at all.  Maybe we didn’t believe them or maybe we’d heard these things so many times they seemed more like fiction than truth.  Maybe we just assumed that, in these last moments, we would somehow figure it all out and everything would be worked out.  Maybe because it was we just didn’t want to admit we’d been wrong.  We knew these days were coming.  We were told to prepare for them.  We waited for them.

Now comes the annual waiting and preparing season of Advent.  Even though the idea of waiting is important, it’s also dangerous because not everything should be waited on.  As far as preparing?  It doesn’t matter how much we prepare for something if we don’t recognize when those preparations need to be utilized.  Sometimes it seems as though we in the church have taken the “waiting” and “preparing” in the story of Christ’s birth and combined it with a brand new period of “waiting” and “preparing” so that all we are doing is “waiting” and “preparing.”  Yes, it is important to be prayerful, centered and peaceful.  No doubt.  These practices are an important check in a world that is not full of these things.

However, the Advent story is not just about waiting and preparing for what’s coming but God’s invitation to join in holy work, now.  We sing “Come, O Long-Expected Jesus” but the Christ we know has already come and invited us to join together and set people free.  We have already heard those angels on high and the cry of the shepherds for jubilee.  As climate change has an increasing effect, it is more than midwinter that’s looking bleak.  For God’s sake, a silent night is never a holy night when it is the cries for economic justice that are silenced or drowned out by commercial after commercial that con us in to believing that going in to debt is somehow an investment in our happiness.  And, finally, the faithful will not come unless we begin to be more faithful to the movement-building Christ who lives among us than we are to our sometimes seemingly propped up traditions, buildings and institutional life.

As I write this, folks who are part of the Occupy movements are getting lambasted for the drug usage and unemployed in their camps when, in reality, these camps are sometimes the only places where those addicted to drugs and the unemployed homeless were able to find some sort of shelter and community.  As I write this (the day after Thanksgiving), news is coming across the wire of 24 people being injuredtoday in shopping related violenceacross the country (my guess is no one will call for an end to Black Friday because of violence at shopping sites).  As I write this, the oyster beds of the Pacific Northwest are in danger because the oceans have become increasingly unable to support life.

So, I’m having a bit of an impatient and anxious entry into Advent.  I would be lying if I said I was exactly clear what to do but I think we may have wrung out all the grace from waiting and preparing that we could.