Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Tuesday Prayer for 11/3/15: Praise

Inspired by Psalm 146

One: Let us dig down deep into the depth of our souls and find that place waiting to be free. Let dare to be the thankful, grateful, joyful people God invites us to be.
Many: I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
One: Let us dig down deep and and set free the power, hope and love that no person, system or authority can imprison forever. May we let it loose to share good and may we dare to do good.
Many: I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
One: God’s freedom is God’s gift. Chains will break and fall. People will be fed with food and friendship. Minds will be opened with creativity and commitment.
Many: I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
One: No one will be forgotten. No. One. Will. Be. Forgotten.
Many: I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
All: Amen.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

PNC Wildfire Updates (8/28/15)

Dear sisters and brothers:

Last week, we sent out a call to prayer and let all of you know about a fund we established for Those effected by the wildfires. Please keep those prayers coming for all those effected. Windstorms and possible lightning are predicted to roll through today and tonight...  If you or your church would like to, you can send a check to our offices (325 N. 125th St. Seattle, WA 98118) with "Disaster Relief: Washington" in the memo line. If you would like to Donate online, you can go to our website (www.pncucc.org) and click on the "DONATE NOW" button to do the same. Even though the memo line says "Washington" these funds will first be used within the bounds of the Pacific Northwest Conference (Washington, North Idaho, Alaska).

Over the last week, I've been part of a few conversations to begin to determine how we might be able to help (including conversations with ecumenical partners; communication with our national offices; communication with our own Disaster Response Ministries coordinator Rev. Ken Coleman; and a conference call with several of our clergy on the east side of the mountains last night).  A few ideas are emerging. Forgive a long email but the hope is that by putting out more ideas here, we might find the places we can best respond. As you will read, the potential responses are as fluid as the situation itself.
  • Material needs: There are some organizations that are already doing great work supporting those who have been most directly effected by these fires. At this point, they're all saying not to send any donations of materials like clothes, sheets, etc. At this point, they have more than what they need. If this changes, we'll hear about it.
  • Service needs:
    • The call for skilled volunteers to fight the fires in Washington ended today. They have more help that they need which is wonderful.
    • There is some need for places where farm animals can be housed. As we have more information about this, we'll share it or if you know more about this, please share that information here in a reply to this list.
    • Air quality concerns came up for every church that was on the eastside call.  We discussed one particular possibility and a question came up after the call:
      • a) We wondered if our churches might be places where appropriate air quality masks and a one page information sheet about dealing with poor air quality could be shared. If you are a medical professional with expertise in respiratory issues and would be willing to help us think this through, please email me or call me directly at 206-725-8383 .
      • b) What if we helped those who might be most vulnerable make their homes more resistant to smoke penetration? If you have expertise or experience in this, please contact me.
    • As far as long term recovery efforts, some of our ecumenical partners who have experience in local fire recovery have been contacted to see if we might be able to join them in their recovery work.
  • Pastoral needs:
    • The threat of fire, the ever present reality of smoke, and the possibility that these weather patterns may "the new normal" is causing significant stress. On the phone call last night, we discussed putting together some sort of training for clergy so that they can be a resource for members of their congregations and communities. If this is an area of expertise for you, contact me. If you are aware of a helpful resource, please share those resources here.
  • Advocacy work:
    • There was also the recognition on the phone meeting that one important response to these fires is increasing our advocacy work related to climate change. Among our churches, we already have great relationships with faith based organizations such as Earth Ministry and FAN that are involved in this work. There is interest in expanding this work.
    • We also are part of a denomination that has long been involved in environmental justice work. In fact, there is an UCC Environmental Justice Training coming to our Camp N-Sid-Sen October 7th-9th. If you are interested, there is still time to register.
There are some other things under consideration, too and, as those develop, I'll be happy to share them.

Please continue to pray both for those effected by these fires as well as for God's guidance in helping us discern how to best respond.


Rev. Michael Denton
Conference Minister
Pacific Northwest Conference


The United Church of Christ

Visit my blog: Thoughts and Prayers...
*Please note, I take sabbath time from Sunday after church through Tuesday morning.  I'll respond after that time.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tuesday Prayer for 8/25/15: Burning

Dear God of the not Burning Bush,
Of Sacrificial Flame,
Of Pentecost Fire,
We are living in the midst of burning and of smoke.

The land thirsts for water and everything has become kindling.
The storms bring a fire setting spark
As well as a wind that both stokes the flames
And sends embers into the air

like seeds.

The flame burns that which is of the just and the unjust, alike.
The smoke fills the lungs of the just and the unjust, alike.
The ash covers the just and the unjust, alike.
The reddened sun beats down on the just and the unjust, alike.

It does not break us but
It wears us down.

Yes, this fire destroys and makes way for creation.
The destruction part is very hard.

It bares down and screams and roars and charges right at us
In a rage. There is no gentleness to it.
This is not river but a flood;
This is not a breeze but a tornado;
This is not a tide but a tsunami and
We are in its way.

Our will and the weather have conspired.
It burns what we have built.
We have prepared the fuel for the fire
With the hope it would never burn.
We mourn this big burning and what it does
While we burn millions of small fires
And, sometimes, deny their effect.

Right now, there is this burning...

May we find a way to be
God's blessing for those
who have lost so much.

God bless the firefighters
Who risk their lives
Protecting what we have gathered.


Friday, July 24, 2015

The Horrifying Cost Paid for the Removal of One Flag

Almost a month to the day that nine people were murdered by a white supremacist, lone wolf terrorist in South Carolina, a confederate flag flying over that state's capitol grounds was lowered and moved to their historical archives. It was removed by an honor guard in a service of solemn prayers, contrite speeches and live media coverage. Governor Nikki Haley spoke and said:

“It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state.”

There was a part of me that was relieved. The flag debate dominated the headlines for days. The longer it went on, the longer my own discomforting white liberal embarrassment continued.  Once the vote happened, it felt like "the days of cringing" were finally at an end. Whew.

One step closer to a freer, more just and colorblind America...

Or not. 

I recognize that removing this flag is no small thing but the value of its removal has been grossly overinflated. The vote was far from unanimous (94 to 20) and took almost a month of debate. It was taken down by an honor guard with more pomp and circumstance that some visiting presidents have received. This was a symbolic act that, realistically, will have little impact on most people's day to day lives. The damned flag will still fly. Just not there.

I keep doing the math and its clarity horrifies me. There were nine African American church members who were killed during a church service. Among them were several ministers, a librarian, a new college graduate, a college administrator, a pastor's spouse, trusted community elders, a coach, a church sexton and a state senator. They were all loved by the families and communities they loved and served. The nation and the world generally seemed shocked, horrified and appalled. The President condemned these murders and spoke at the funeral of one those slaughtered. There was already the growing, strong and mobilized Black Lives Matter movement that had the ability to quickly integrate the fight against the flying of a confederate flag and loan it momentum. 

Yes, the removal of this flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol was a win but I keep doing the math. It took the death of these nine as well as years of actions and strategies to make this one significant symbolic action happen.

Dear God. By that same math, what's it really going to take to end - or even just reduce - legally justified racist practices? How widely spread does suffering have to be to bring the societal discomfort level up to a point that change is insisted on? When moments make the problem clear we default to symbolic actions. When movements try and make it clear, the movements are critiqued and blamed for somehow causing the pain.

One of the most repeated quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer is:

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…”
Considering the removal of this one flag as the answer to this particular act of white supremacy based terrorism is cheap justice, an effort at cheap reconciliation, and an effort at cheap atonement.  The fact that the removal of a flag is being lifted up as somehow equal to the cost of 9 lives and years of activism makes it clear, in horrifyingly stark terms, the incredible amount of work and the number of lives it is going to take to change anything in any meaningful way.  
The horrifying reality is how many deaths it’s taken to get a significant number of people to really pay attention - with more than a shrug of the shoulders and a shake of the head - about police brutality against African Americans, alone.  Think about it. It took graphic pictures of dead bodies being left in the middle of the street, videos of people being beat, videos of people being choked to death, videos of people being shot dead by police - and brutality against thousands of people whose names before them whose names we’ll never know - for police brutality to get significant national and international attention and even then, as the Sandra Bland video illustrates, it continues.  

What, in God’s name, is it going to take to begin to address discriminatory hiring practices, intentionally underfunded educational systems, biased criminal sentencing, etc.?  What, in God’s name, is it really going to take to begin to address similar and worse experiences for other racial ethnic groups? What, in God’s name, is it going to take to meaningfully address the victimization of those with mental illness? What, in God’s name, is it going to take for us to address a financial system that needs impoverished folks for it to function?
The Black Lives Matter movement has been critiqued by many for pushing too hard, too loudly and too insistently. As the cost paid for the removal of one flag has become clearer, it’s also becoming clearer that, compared to what will really be needed, the most recent actions have been tame.
Many of those who are part of Black Lives Matter movement gather this week in Cleveland and my prayers are with them. When I say that I am not talking about cheap prayer in the same type of the cheap grace mentioned above.  The late Walter Wink wrote of prayer in his book Engaging the Powers:

“Prayer is rattling God's cage and waking God up and setting God free and giving this famished God water and this starved God food and cutting the ropes off God's hands and the manacles off God's feet and washing the caked sweat from God's eyes and then watching God swell with life and vitality and energy and following God wherever God goes. When we pray we are not sending a letter to a celestial White House, where it is sorted among piles of others. We are engaged, rather, in an act of co-creation, in which one little sector of the universe rises up and becomes translucent, incandescent, a vibratory centre of power that radiates the power of the universe. History belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being.”
This kind of prayer is a commitment. 
Let us pray...

Friday, July 10, 2015

"...leaping and dancing before the Lord." : Tuesday prayer for 7/14/15

Inspired by 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 and other things
From http://www.dancingphysicist.com/venn-diagram-of-my-life/

Dear God:

I used to dance.

I remember a time when I was 14.  I was at some sort of dance and everyone else was around the same age - a beautiful gathering of the awkward. We all started bouncing. We all jumped up and down in the closest we could get to unison. We were all smiling and laughing and sweating and impressed with ourselves for doing something wonderful. We smilingly speculated if the floor might collapse (under the weight of all that joy). We were charismatics.

When I was in college, it was not unusual that I was the first person out on the dance floor. It was the late 80’s so I wore a lot of black and the music seemed angsty but was really delicious for those of us who were so relieved that someone had figured out how to put our own angstiness to a beat. As was the time, my feet would move out of the beat and my body would move with it. It was a dance resiting dance and I loved it and could do it and it felt honest. It was mystical and secret.

Then, I forgot how to dance.

I don’t know what happened. I can’t name one particular moment or another when I stopped.  It was like I was injured or something. My head became too heavy for my body to carry and I felt pressed firmly into my seat; my feet melted into the floor and became the same as it. I look at dancers now and can feel what they are doing but can’t do it. Once in awhile, a dance will emerge but then it’s noticed and I notice and then it ends.

Yesterday, I came home from work and music was playing. Our two and half year old yelled out, “Daddy! Daddy! Come dance around the table!” and I walked up the stairs in to our apartment to find my two beloveds running/marching/dancing around our dinner table. I did not think. I did not think. I was pulled into the whirlpool and we all laughed and smiled and sweated in the summer heat.  There were berries on that table; a water bottle; a random fork.  We could have lit the candles.

A prayer would be sung later before a meal of summer corn; chard from the garden Lauren tends; meatballs; and cold, white wine.

Food would fall on the floor;
Water would be poured on the table;
Small hands would smack the spilled water with divine exuberance.

The water splashed on my face and I remembered.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Rachel Dolezal and the question of privilege...

Obviously, the story of Rachel Dolezal is still emerging and there will be more to know. I've been to a couple of her workshops and they were really good. I've been to one of her gallery displays and found it moving. She's done good advocacy work and I have hopes something good will come out of this moment. Some of the conversations that are already emerging around race and identity will be important.

The problem is around her accountability. I can't imagine a African American person or community saying to me as white person, "Hey Mike, what we really need for you to do is convince people you're African American then teach Africana studies at a local university; chair a police accountability committee addessing racial discrimination in the criminal justice system; and head up a local branch of the NAACP." That lack of accountability would make this appear to be a deception emerging out of a sense of privilege regardless of her intent.

Although I grieve this moment, I still respect her and will be praying for her as she goes through the process of being held accountable for her actions.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Tuesday Prayer for May 26th, 2015: 137

From The Guardian


At first it was an abstraction.  An impossible number in some ways. A ridiculous number.


The sound, the roar, the explosion of 137 bullets being fired from 13 guns at a car with 2 people inside.  


I imagine there were voices lifted in horror and anger and rage and, afterwards, a fading echo of all this bouncing off the walls around this schoolyard; overwhelming the echo of children’s laughter and exuberance.



Their dark, beautiful skin being exploded by bullet after bullet. Hands being lifted to try and shield their faces and their bodies as bullets passed through those hands like nails.


Knowing they were being killed and not believing they were being killed. What were their final thoughts as, through they shattered windshield, they saw the outline of a figure standing on the hood of the car?  Did they hear all of the 15 shots he fired right at them? Did they see the 15 flashes of light from his gun?


When the officers searched the car. When they saw these bodies, mangled and torn. When they found no gun. When the horror of what had happened crept up like bile in the back of their throats.


When family members and friends heard that those they loved had been killed. When they were told they had run from the police. When they mourned those who had been mangled.


When the justifications began. When the lying began.


When the truth was told. When the rage began.


When the lies were chiseled into stone.


When hammers were brought out to break that stone.


What assumptions made this couple run from the police?


What assumptions made the police keep shooting?




Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tuesday Prayer for 4/14/15: (Ghost)

Dear God:

It is easy to see Jesus in those people who are most like me because
I can see their flaws, clearly, and the intentions behind their hopes.
They are mine so
I know the intentions may be good (and
I know there is another side to every good intention.
I know there are hidden motivations that move faster than I can turn my head towards them).

Sometimes, I can see Jesus in those who are different from me and
sometimes that vision becomes
clouded and
I look for Jesus in them (until the point
that I see my own image reflected in their eyes
and then begin to serve that Jesus
made in my own image).

(Then, there are those I am afraid of.

They walk in to the room and,
they may say, “Peace,” and
they may say, “Why are you frightened?” and
they may say, “Look at me” and

I am too frightened to see this Jesus
even as they eat with me and say
words of assurance.

I am afraid of this Jesus so, all too often,
I back away,

Like I’m seeing a ghost.)


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday Prayer for 3-31-15: Always Again

Dear God:

I remember one of those times I was holding my head in my hands.
My heart was in my throat and beating so fast it was making it difficult to breathe.
My heart was beating so hard it felt like it was rocking my body.
I had failed.  
I had failed, badly.
My failure had caused other people pain and I was so sorry and so ashamed and it was so clear that any sense of worth was spilling at my feet like loose change.

I could talk about how things got better. I could talk about how important that moment was. I could say all these things but,
what is also true,
is that, well…

We are all time travelers of sorts and these are times we visit everyday. As I remember this one, my heart leans towards the places it was at this moment and starts to do some of the things it did. These moments are not in the “was.” This moment is always with me.
Lent comes when it comes. Its not just forty days once a year but a part of
along with sabbath and Easter and funerals and baptisms and all these other things that mark the times as broken and beautiful. Lent comes along and we are at the table as our love and our betrayal and our failure and our hope and our pain share bread and wine in the presence of genuine belly laughs and smiles forced around gritting teeth.
This, we find, is what wholeness is. Healing becomes integration.
This is the truth that sets us free and defeats the fear of death eventually (though not forever).

I remember one of those times I was holding my head in my hand and, then, taking a deep breath. I remember sitting up, looking around and sighing. I remember looking up, stretching my back, tipping back my head, placing my hands on my knees, and getting ready.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tuesday Prayer for 3/17/15: Deathly

 Inspired by John 12:20-33

From http://pixgood.com/empty-space.html

Dear God:

As the sun starts to remain in the sky just a little bit longer every day,
Lent comes along and says,
“Not yet. Not quite yet.”
So, in spite of the light, I settle down into the darkness and am reminded that

I will die,
I will fail and
I am human.

And then come the questions;

What will I do with this life?
Will I live and wonder as fully as I can?
Will I be faithful and loving enough to risk failure over and over again?
Will I roll around in my humanness and

I settle into the darkness; drawn away from all those shiny things that call me like a moth to the flame. I settle down into the darkness and feel my own heartbeat, hear my own breath and smell my unwashed skin.  I settle down into the darkness, leaving other things behind, left outside this Lenten space. I settle down into the darkness of “the less” as room is made for so

I will die,
I will fail and
I am human
and for now,
I will live,
I will risk and
I am.

I am.

I am.

I am.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesday Prayer for 3-10-15: How can I say thanks?

Inspired by Psalm 107

Dear God:

Someone once told me that its almost impossible to begin to understand the Psalms until after you have turned 34.  The idea was that you had to have been desperate enough
and hurt enough
and have had screwed up enough
to understand that the Psalms were more than dramatic hyperbole;
that people could feel so low that being lifted up


I am coming up on 47
(and I remember thinking 40 was the age people stopped being happy and fun)
and one of the parts the Psalms teach that I still struggle to live with is gratitude.  

I have had grace wrap around me like a blanket.
I have love in my life almost everyday.

I rarely attribute these things to God in a real way. I prayed for them, even.
The Psalmist sings - sings - about what God has done. I do not but,


I want to.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Thursday post for 3/7/15: No justice? No passing the peace.

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

This is how Lent begins.  We have the opportunity to be marked with ashes and these words.  We’re reminded that we have this life - this one life - to pray and serve and to live fully.  We have the opportunity to reflect on how we get in the way of living in to this faithful life.  We’re reminded that we’re called to make sure that we don’t get in the way of our sisters and brothers having the same opportunity, too.

It feels as though Lent started early this year.  Even though the problems exposed were far from new, the events in Ferguson, Missouri reminded us how far we are from the kin-dom of God.  We have a political, religious, economic and social system that was initially built to perpetuate the values of those who were white, heterosexual, Christian, American and male supremacists though enslavement, genocide, economic oppression, religious oppression and social engineering.  Its a system that establishes a supremacist ideal of logic, beauty and physical ability that considers those who don’t match up as insane, ugly and physically deficient.  Its a system that is so weak in its initial premise that it requires forced or underpaid labor to uphold it.  Its a system that only sees the value of what is natural in the profit it can bring.  It is a system that incarcerates, tortures and sometimes kills those who won’t serve it’s ends; those who rebel against it; those involved in crimes it does not authorize; and anyone who comes close to threatening it.

I walk in to Lent knowing that I am complicit.  No, I’m not always conscious of how I’m complicit but that’s a form of privilege, too.  No, I’m not always the most direct perpetrator of the most heinous of these actions but - through my taxes and the way I spend my money - I have funded them.  No, I don’t speak in favor of any of these actions - I frequently speak against them - but I’ll sometimes choose the comfort of an even more deafening silence.  No, I didn’t start these systems but I am frequently willing to receive the benefits these systems dole out.

These systems are the children of the systems that conspired to torture and kill Jesus.  This isn't all of what Lent's about but its a large important part of what Lent's about.

I know that for many people, giving something up during Lent or doing something differently is an important part of living into Lent.  Sure, for some folks these practices resemble New Year's resolutions more than anything else but I also recognize that for many others giving up something - also known as fasting - is a deeply moving spiritual practice.  Even for those folks choosing to do something different for Lent its a choice to make room for God or deeply living into our humanity.  Both practices set aside things filling up our lives so that more room can be made for a practice of experiencing God and listening to God's leading.

Many of our churches have within their worship services a Prayer of Confession followed by the Words of Assurance and then the Passing of the Peace.  What if, for the rest of Lent, we used the Prayer of Confession to focus on our complicity with systems of oppression and fasted from the Words of Assurance and the Passing of the Peace?  What if the time normally used for these things was used for sharing ways people can resist these systems or to drill down more deeply into one aspect of these realities?  What if white churches reflected on their complicity with racism?  What if affluent churches reflected on their addiction to money?  What if this time was left as an aching space in which instead of asking for God's assurance, we ask for God's help?  What if this was an act of protest by churches to reject comforting words when so many are in need for us to be partners in liberation? We would fast from assurance as a reminder that too many are never assured.  We would fast from passing the peace as a reminder that for too many, peace has been denied.

Within church tradition, one way Lent was recognized was by not using the word "Alleluia" during worship; a word that celebrates God's presence.  Some churches even have a service during which they "bury the Alleluia" and Alleluia doesn't return until Easter.  Fasting from the Words of Assurance and the Passing of the Peace would be inline with this tradition.

This fast wouldn't exclude giving comfort to those who are suffering or sharing peace with those who need it.  It would be a way to, corporately, recognize we have a long way to go and need Christ's help to get there and living in to the spiritual discomfort.

Think about it.  Pray about it.  Try it. No justice?  No passing the peace.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tuesday Prayer for 3/3/15: Fiercly

Inspired by Psalm 19

Dear God:

I remember the first time I saw the Grand Canyon.
It was a full moon on Halloween.  We came through the forest and, suddenly, there it was; all dressed in grandeur and awe; darkness lit by silver.  I did not believe it.  It was far too big.  It was far too wide. With the thumb and index finger of my right hand I pinched the skin on my left.

I remember another time when Ron talked about the stars.
Several of were laying on the desert floor and he talked about immensity and time and distances.  My two hands held on to the earth as I leaned out into the universe and looked around.  It kept me up that night.  It was so big and we were so small and, still, it didn't make that moment any less important.

I remember holding my son.
It was awhile after he was born and the fact that I'd had something to do with this life in my arms really started to sink in.  This was life right there in my arms and it was delicate and strong.  I studied his eyes and he studied mine.  They were wide open and infinite.  It didn’t matter that there were billions of these; this one precious child.

And there was that day I felt as though I was in the womb of God.
That day I felt You seeing the beauty and awe in me.
That day I felt You seeing me in the vastness of the universe but still important.
That day You, as Life itself, reminded me I was life itself.