Staying Connected

I am in that between space. I have one foot in Israel. I am getting posts from our pilgrim group. I am walking by the icons and art that I bought there to remind me of the trip. I still have vivid images of sights and sounds. A piece of my heart is there. And frankly, I am still a little exhausted.

And yet here I am, another tremendous Christmas celebration in the books, my grandson playing trains in my family room, the remains of the roast a soup cooking on the stove. My house is clean, and I am getting ready to go to Chicago and Indy to see the rest of my family. Life keeps hurdling forward at breakneck speed, and I want to be present to all of it.

How do I stay connected to the Holy Land? How do I pray? How do I hold on to the mystery and awe, the heartbreak and the urgency? Because this was not another continuing ed workshop that got me through a few sermons and thoughts of some new programming. This was a past and a present struggling for a future. Part of it my past, who I am and what I believe. Jerusalem is now mine, along with millions of others.

I don’t know the answer. Life doesn’t stop. So a new question is, how will I be changed and what will that mean in my life? That seems a worthy thing to pray about for now.

Have a Hopeful Advent and a Peaceful New Year

Sure, I love giving and getting presents. I like the good cheer at the Holiday and of course being with family. I love the office parties. I love all of that, but also there are other aspects of Christmas that are important to me, the memories and reflection of the year gone past. I often these feeling are accompanied by feeling gratitude for God’s blessings. With this there is the beginnings of a sense of renewal, a new hope in the air.

I start to see the possibilities for a better world, one more at peace then the year before. Not perfect peace, that takes time, just more peaceful. I beginning to hope for less hate and more love in the world in the coming months. I become expectant of the good in people, giving them the benefit of the doubt, with optimism, hope., and seeing the better nature of ourselves. These things I will seek out.

Sure, I will still get angry with others this year, but maybe I’ll lighten up a bit more, have more patience. Sure bad things will happen along with the good things, I’ll try to focus more on the good than the bad.

Maybe if we all did a little better next year the world will become a little better, and the year after that, and after that. It only takes one step at a time to change the world and a whole lot of love.

Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year.


Iyad’s Cousins

I am back from my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I wanted to blog with you while I was gone, kind of an accompaniment to the trip. But truly every time I tried to write something I had technical difficulties, which led me to believe that maybe God was saying to slow down and pay attention, to just be. I will be unpacking the events and emotions of this trip for a long time to come. Here is my first reflection.

I spent some time last night when I got home, and again this morning, unpacking stuff. I confess I bought a lot of stuff.  But here is how it went, we would get off the massive tour bus to go somewhere, and our guide, Iyad, would say, here are some of my cousins, they have good things at good prices, it would be great if you would help them. We all knew by the end that most of the people who were there certainly knew Iyad, but probably weren’t related.

But at the end, just as we were getting ready to get off the bus, after he had told us what to do and where to go, the time we were supposed to be back, or whatever was important, he would add almost under his breath, help them if you can, it might be all they have for their supper tonight.

It was the off season (the weather was great, cool and sunny), and there were not many tourists around (everything was cheaper). For us that meant no lines, quick service, great prices, and no heat exhaustion. For the venders, many of whom handcrafted their items, many of whom lived in isolated places, that meant there were fewer people to sell to, less chance of making enough money to feed their families.

So we bought things. My family and friends will have a good Christmas this year. We bought because the items were beautiful and represented the Holy Land. We bought because we imagined having to return home to hungry children. We bought knowing that was our role, to stimulate the economy for people in need. I wonder in this holiday season, when tourists are at home and travelers are few, what will happen to Iyad’s cousins and their families. Because in my Christian life, they are my cousins too.  It is just one of the many things I will be praying about this Christmas season.


I think I am re-entering normal life with some dignity after my pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  My laundry is done, my bills are sent, my kitchen is cleaned. I am reasonably ready for Christmas, with most details taken care of. And while I am not over jet lag, I don’t think it is dangerous for me to be behind the wheel of a car.

I wrote my Christmas morning sermon this morning. Not a bad effort, filled with a good mix of archeology and hope and personal responsibility. You know, it’s Christmas. You want to be peaceful and hopeful and celebratory. So I tried to write something to that effect.

But I am haunted by something that I chose not to mention. Bethlehem. The scene of the birth of our Savior, of the shepherds in the field and away in the manger is surrounded by a wall. It is a wall built for political reasons, and keeps the people of that town essentially in prison. There is a house that is surrounded on 3 sides by the wall. To enter or leave the city you have to pass through a checkpoint, and armed soldiers determine if you go or not.

You see, the thing I am not ready to preach about yet is occupation. There are people in Israel who are not free. And if anything helped me to understand better the life of Jesus and the disciples, it was this experience of occupation, listening to the voices of those who are not free but long for freedom, who are not treated fairly but long for justice.

I do not live that way. I am reasonably free. I can mostly say what I want. I can come and go without restraint in my own country. But Jesus could not. And neither can the people of Bethlehem. I am not yet sure what to do with that, how I will preach it, or what will come of my efforts. But I had to say it, to acknowledge the fact. Bethlehem is surrounded by a wall, and this reality changed me.

My Thought on God

I do not know why I am writing this. I grew up un-churched. As a young man and teenager, I considered myself an atheist. I guess, I started seriously considering the possibility of a concept of some sort of god when I was in college. It was a time of discovery in science, “Punctuated Equilibrium” in evolutionary biology, “Catalytic RNAs” in molecular (fundamental) biology and articulation of the “Big Bang” in Physics that set me on a re-evaluation of ‘God”. I also read some quotes from Einstein, about his think on god, as being non-anthropomorphic, and a need for a more transcendental view of God. As life goes on and personal experiences accumulate one depends their relationship with existence. One discovers the limits of their own understanding, especially scientists do. I have met many believing scientists, but none of them literalists in biblical interpretation. Like I, I believe they believe that the true wonder of the scriptures lays in the interpretation, the stories the metaphors

In my opinion, the thing that links Science and serious Theology together, forever, is that they both seek fundamental truth about existence. Like two sides of the same coin, they both are seeking the same and each is equally valid. The corruption of the world builds false a conflict between the two. We must all seek truth for that truly touches the divine.

I remember when I started to entertain the concept in God. It was sometime when I was single and working in the summer to put myself through college. I was on the top of Lookout Mountain outside of Denver Colorado one weekend (all my friends had girlfriends and I did not). My thoughts turned to, why are we all expected to believe that God is human like? God is well beyond that, more fundamental, more profound, deeper, all embracing… ‘That that gives everything existence’, a loving power.

It started there, as for the rest, it is a journey I am still on.

Advent Musings

I like Advent, it’s one of my favorite church seasons. A time of waiting for Christmas and so much more. The Advent hymns, that we get to sing only at this time of year, seem to me to have a quality of austerity about them, perhaps because they are ancient, some going back to Latin and Greek. Sung for centuries, they link us with the early church, reminding us that we are part of a 2000 year old tradition of people trying to understand the full meaning of this season, of waiting for light in darkness, waiting to celebrate Christmas, but also waiting for Christ’s return, for the salvation of creation. But at any time Christ is near, waiting for us to awaken to his loving presence and invite him into our lives. Just as the window at St. John’s, The Light of the World, shows, he is there, waiting for us to open the door so he may enter and live in our hearts.

Advent Reflection for December 3rd, 2017

I have been wondering lately if hope is a privileged emotion.  I came to that question through an interracial dialogue with our campus ministry students. The question which was to wrap up a rich and honest session of sharing was “where do you find hope”? The white students all had answers, perky hopefulness. The African American students were silent.

Hope is a spiritual discipline that is rooted in action. So I stand with the prophet Isaiah, who we hear in the first reading today—“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains will quake at your presence!” I want to engage that mighty God who “works for those who wait for him.” I want God to fix our broken world.

And yet I know that the possibility of hope for all people comes in my “staying awake”, as Jesus provokes us in the Gospel of Mark. I have to be present to opportunities for justice, for actions that make hope possible for all. Hope is not just for Christians, just for white people, just for me. And I can’t be careless or cavalier about it. I have to be responsible for the hope I can generate.

And…I can’t function without hope. I need it in order to get up every morning. So I am not willing to let it go. Instead, I pray to be worthy of it, and to do the work for hope that God gives me to do.