Apeirogon by Colum McCann

A fitting novel, especially in this time of continued struggles between Israel and Palestine and the talk of further annexation by Israel. My trip their earlier this year helped bring the book to life as I could picture many of the places that McCann writes about.

McCann weaves together a wonderful story based upon the true events in the lives of Rami, a Jewish Israeli, and Bassam, a Muslim from Palestine. Their lives come together as their young daughters are killed in the ongoing violence between factions. It is a story of how one can overcome death and loss.

Apeirogon is a beautifully written novel that leads the reader on a journey into the lives and struggles of families seeking peace and the end to occupation. The details that McCann writes invites the reader nto the timeline of the story as it spans the life of current day Israel. It is a must read!

The Green Good News by T. Wilson Dickinson

How do we connect God’s creation with with the thought of empire that seems to take the front seat more often than not in the world? This is nothing new, as Jesus came preaching about the exact same thing. Dickinson takes an in-depth look at what it means to truly follow Christ today and how we can live out the “Green Good News.”

Utilizing scripture and the radical way of Jesus, Dickinson leads the reader to look at scripture in new and exciting ways that brings it to the heart of the gospel. He is not afraid to call out the “empire” that we find ourselves today and states, “we must lose some of the “peace” and “prosperity” that the empire of wealth has promised.”

He includes an in-depth discussion on food-systems and how they have been shaped by the society live and how they are much different from what Jesus had in mind. This leads to the theology of sharing food at the table and the deep relationships it can create. This book would make a great addition to a church book study and shared among colleagues.

Thanks to Speakeasy for providing the opportunity to review this book.

Whole Identity by Dr. Jerome D. Lubbe

Just when you are wondering how many more books about the Enneagram can be written, Dr. Lubbe presents Whole Identity: A Brain-Based Enneagam Model for (W)holistic Human Thriving. While the Enneagram is centuries old, the recent rediscovery of it in the past century has led one to a deeper knowledge of the self and how one interacts with others.

Whole Identity looks at the Enneagram in a neurological way that can connect more people to the wonders of its ability to find one’s true self. Dr. Lubbe states, “The goal of this work is to foster physical, mental, emotional, and relational health for the purpose of spiritual well-being by increasing self-awareness and practical application via the Whole-Identity Model.” He explains the science and how it works within our brains and like the majority of resources on the Enneagram, he walks through the nine types of the Enneagram and presents a SWOT analysis on each one, along with some exercises to strengthen or get more in touch with that type.

This is presented much like a research paper, yet it is very easy to read and for those that have studied the Enneagram for years, could be a nice addition to one’s library.

Thanks to Speakeasy for the opportunity to review this book.

a riff of love by greg jarrell

Jarrell’s book, A Riff of Love, reads like a melodic tune that touches your heart and empowers you to reach out to others with love.

He speaks to what it means to be in a loving and caring community that has the best interest of all its members in consideration when making decisions. The chapters are arranged like different tracks on an album and to see community at work in the divine within those communities is moving.

His book is also a call to action to be in the community and be with those that live in the community. When writing of preparing for a funeral, he addresses the neighborhood and the churches role. He writes, “The Christians, they worship a dead man come to life on Sunday morning, but cannot bear to be with the dying and broken-hearted during the week. This is a Broken Windows Theology–in America, the churches do things to the poor, but they cannot bear being with the poor.”

What a call for us to come to terms with who we are as a church and even more so, a church in America. May we learn from Jarrell what it means to live in community through being the hands and feet of Christ.

Thanks to Speakeasy for the opportunity to review this book.

The universal christ by richard rohr

“How might the notion of Christ change the whole equation? Is Christ simply Jesus’s last name? Or is it a revealing title that deserves our full attention? How is Christ’s function or role different from Jesus’s? What does Scripture mean when Peter says in his very first address to the crowds after Pentecost that ‘God has made this Jesus . . . both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36)? Weren’t they always one and the same, starting at Jesus’s birth?

And so Fr. Richard Rohr lays out his premise for one of his most transformational books yet. He says that he is slowing down and in the waning years of his life, however, his writing of the last few years has been an eye opening experience into his walk with Christ from the time he started the journey.

Some will say that Rohr encroaches on the edge of universalism in this newest venture, and yet, is that necessarily a bad thing? To encounter a loving God that loves all of creation, which God has created? While discussing other religions, his focus remains true to the Gospel and what Christ means to all of humanity through that lens.

I have been sitting on this book for some time now and not sure why I had waited so long to finally pick it up to read. Rohr brings his experience as a Franciscan Friar to the table in much of his discussion and he brings as greater understanding as to what it means to be Franciscan in the world today.

When we make Christ about us and how Christ interacts for us, we discount the greater world. The world is an entire ecosystem that is called to work together in harmony. Yet, that is where we fall short as humanity. Rohr states, “Unless we find the communal meaning and significance of the suffering of all life and ecosystems on our planet, we will continue to retreat into our individual, small worlds in our quest for personal safety and sanity. Privitized salvation never accumulates into corporate change because it attracts and legitimates individualists to begin with. Think about that.”

The reader is invited into a deeper reflection as to what God means and ultimately who Christ is in their life. It is an invitation that elicits prayer and meditation. It is an invitation that is much needed at this time in our society.

rest in jesus

July 5, 2020

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

These are the last few verses of today’s gospel lesson from Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation. This scripture comes at a time when many of you may be on vacation and amid Independence Day celebrations. While celebrating freedom, have you thought about the rest that you have longed for and the ultimate freedom that can be found in Jesus Christ?

As we move past this Independence Day, and the unusual nature of the holiday this year, many of you are probably already looking at your calendars and wondering what is on tap for the week coming up. It is difficult to fully rest like Jesus invites us to do. To take a deep breathe, and fully sit in the presence of God is difficult. Why, because it has been ingrained in us that we must be busy, and if we are not, then we are not being useful of our time.

What is your typical response when someone asks you, “how’s it going?” My guess would be that a lot of the time, our response is, “I’m busy.” We may then run off a list of those things that we are so busy doing. While many of those tasks may be important, I doubt that few require our immediate attention and we could afford to stop and rest. It is even possible for you to delegate to someone else a task that may not necessarily be completed by you. Once again, we run into the conundrum that we know how it should be done and thus want to do it ourselves to ensure that the task is completed properly and to our satisfaction. Thus, this endless cycle of being busy never ends, because being busy means that we are being productive. Or so, many would like you to think.  This does not even consider the constant way our brains continue to function and keep us up and thinking at all hours of the day and night. I have heard stories that this has become an even greater issue during this pandemic. I know that I have had my own struggles.

Amid a holiday weekend, and for those looking forward to vacation time, these verses from Matthew’s gospel this morning bear permission to simply rest in Christ. It is a message of welcome from Jesus to let us know that we are not alone. Resting in Christ can happen anytime. We do not have to be on vacation. We do not have to be alone. We simply must be willing to let Jesus bear our burdens that are too much for us at this time. While Jesus takes on our burdens, he invites us to take his yoke from him. Are you ready to take that yoke?

“What do you expect when you come to Jesus? Someone who will say you are ok just the way you are? Someone who invites you to follow in a way of love and to give up security, comfort, power and prestige for the sake of God and neighbor?[1]” Jesus never said following him would be easy. Peterson’s translation resounds deeper, “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” In taking Jesus’ yoke, we receive his presence and teaching to guide us and lead us from now to eternity.

As we celebrate Independence Day, Jesus offers us a freedom of his presence. It is a freedom that can envelop our entire being and does not mean we are free from work, but from burdensome labor that steers us away from a life in Christ.

Jesus invites us to rest in God’s grace and mercy. It is here that we are transformed in our living as we turn toward Jesus and live out the gospel. It is this unforced rhythm of grace that we long for and is available to us if we just slow down to rest in Christ.

[1] https://www.pulpitfiction.com/notes/proper9a

Welcoming Christ

June 28, 2020

Matthew 10:40-42

“Whoever even gives a cup of cold water…”

In 2016, a movement began at an ELCA congregation in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Jessica McClard launched the grassroots mini pantry movement, when she planted the Little Free Pantry Pilot, a wooden box on a post containing food, personal care, and paper items accessible to everyone all the time no questions asked. She hoped her spin on the Little Free Library® concept would pique local awareness of food insecurity while creating a space for neighbors to help meet neighborhood food needs. Little did she know the impact that it would have just four short years later. There are nearly 1200 registered locations on the mini pantry website, which includes locations in 6 different countries. Grant it, these are just the registered ones. Perhaps, you have seen the mini pantries around Richmond. Near the beginning of the pandemic we have found ourselves in, the Richmond Lions Club installed four mini pantries to provide for the community.

“Whoever even gives a cup of cold water…”

In the gospel lesson this morning, Jesus concludes his instruction to the disciples before they are sent out to proclaim the Good News. Jesus has welcomed the disciples into his sphere of influence and now he engages with them to instruct them into not only welcoming others but also being welcomed by others into their homes and communities. When Jesus speaks of welcome, he also implies that they should receive and be received. Whoever receives you, also receives Jesus.

This is a powerful reception into being connected with God and the start of a relationship that will grow over time. Jesus welcomes us in first so that we can hear the Gospel through various means. We can hear it at church. See it out on the street. Experience it in the words and compassion of our friends and neighbors. All these avenues have their foundation in Christ.

As humans, we make this difficult.

Somewhere along the way my studies, I learned the word, Anthropocentric. For those of you that may not be familiar with it, it means putting the human person at the center, the end all be all, of what we do. When we focus on ourselves, we begin to love humankind over and above God. Examining the predominant culture in the United States, we live in a highly me-focused culture. It is an anthropocentric worldview that dominates our thinking and actions. We have a desire to be in control of everything and it is difficult handing it over to God or any other type of authority figure. When we come at things with an anthropocentric worldview, we let our pride, ego, self-doubt, and the like keep us from connecting with each other except in self-interested ways. When we read scripture then, we can let our own bias get in the way of truly hearing the word of God. We carry this bias so closely to our hearts at times, it makes it difficult to open ourselves up to welcome and be welcomed by others.  

Jesus brings us an open invitation to be received into his love freely with nothing required on our part. This is something as Lutherans that we should be fully aware. When Martin Luther was reading Romans, he came to the epiphany that the grace and mercy of God is a gift and we are welcomed by Christ in this way.

Christ then invites us to be transformed by that welcome as we are received into a deep loving relationship with the Trinity. And, just as Jesus prepared to send the disciples out to welcome and receive, we are sent out to welcome and receive others in our communities. As we are received openly in Christ, we too should receive others openly without any expectations on our part for something in return.

This welcoming can be difficult in times when we have been isolated. Yet, we are also living in the twenty-first century with the gifts of technology to share the gospel in new and exciting ways. Just as people are welcomed to the little pantries, we can welcome others to hearing the Word of God and sharing the love of Christ.

Who have you brought a cup of cold water to these past few months?

Jesus is with you

June 21, 2020

Matthew 10:24-39

If your first impression of this gospel lesson is similar to mine, you will find yourself asking, “What are you talking about Jesus?” This is a tough lesson this morning as we make our way from Pentecost into the lengthy days of summer. Many of us are exhausted from the last few months of uncertainty and adjusting schedules. We want to be uplifted, and Jesus tells us of all of these seemingly bad things that could happen.

Let’s take a step back. If you recall last weeks gospel lesson, Jesus prepares to send the disciples out into the surrounding neighborhoods to share the good news. He tells them, “You will be hated by all because of my name.” (10:22). That sounds unwelcoming and uncomfortable, while at the same Jesus tries to reassure. Where is our safety net that will catch us when we fall? The disciples had to be hesitant going into the unknown, much like we are today.

Shortly after we moved to Richmond, my son discovered Landslide Skate Park in Macomb. We have even ventured to Canada to find a skatepark. For those of you that have seen skateboarders or scooter riders, they can do some awesome tricks with a lot of practice. There is risk involved and you need to have the courage to repeatedly fail until you land that perfect move. A lot of skateparks have ramps with a foam pit at the end so that you can practice your aerials without having to worry about landing on the hard ground.

Even with the foam pit to provide a soft landing, you have to break through the hesitancy and the butterflies of nerves. As the first disciples were sent out to spread the gospel, Jesus knew that it was not going to be easy and that there would not be a foam pit to catch them when they fall.  

The first twelve are sent out to proclaim the good news with the warning that they will stumble. The gospel they are sharing is new and it will not be easily accepted by many and Jesus does not expect it to be. Do we at times bend to the will of the people by making the gospel more palatable so that we don’t ruffle feathers? Sometimes we must examine why we do things the way we do. Do we make it comfortable for our ourselves?

There are no easy steps to take when being bold to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Jesus says, he comes with a sword; not to bring peace. Once again, another strong verse that makes us wonder what Jesus is talking about. What do you mean, Jesus? I thought you were about love and reconciliation and now you are saying you come with a sword. Didn’t you tell Peter to put his sword down in the Garden of Gethsemane?

This sword Jesus speaks of is not literal. It refers to the fact that are actions in following Jesus will make us cut ties with lesser loyalties. It may bring us to disagreements with family. However, in following the gospel and by holding true in our faith, it will bring us to a greater relationship with Christ.

Jesus not only sees us in the neighborhood, he also is present in hearing us in our discomfort. When we stumble and fall, Jesus is there to catch us. The full verse from what I read earlier is, “You will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures until the end will be saved” (10:22). In a way, Jesus is our foam pit to catch us when we stumble and fall when doing our best to follow and share the Good News. Jesus is present to comfort us and tells us, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid for standing firm in your faith. Do not be afraid to step out into the unknown with courageous steps to share God’s word and love. Do not be afraid, for Jesus is with you.

In the neighborhood

June 14, 2020

Matthew 9:35-10:8

We are shaped by our experiences and what we choose to watch, to read, and who we socialize. Sometimes we have a choice in this and other times we do not. For example, I did not have a choice of the family I was born into or the town I grew up. I did, however, have the choice as to what I watched on television and the voices I read and listened. Before I got hooked on Nickelodeon and MTV, I remember anticipating being able to watch the Bozo Show on WGN and many of the shows on PBS.

As a young child one of those shows was Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I have been excited about the resurgence of Mr. Rogers over these last few years so that children today can hear the good news he shares. Mr. Rogers has that persona about him that draws you in. The truth that he spoke, and his actions revealed a character that was uncommon to come by in person. He was generous in all he did and he reflected the heart of the gospel. He spoke to the importance of the neighborhood and knew that we must live in relationship with everyone, stating:

“All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors–in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.”

This is the message that Jesus wants to share with his disciples and ultimately to us this morning. Jesus goes about preaching and healing in Matthew’s gospel and wants all to hear the good news that he is not only preaching, but the good news that comes through the healing of the bruised and broken. This is the good news that rings true in every time and place.

Unfortunately, in the midst of the struggles and the brokenness we encounter, we fall into despair and can lose our faith. When things do not happen the way we expect them to we get frustrated and angry and look at anyone to blame, and this anger can easily be turned toward God. The chaos of our time wears on our energy because there is a lot of intensive work to do. We are not going to simply go back to the way things were before COVID. I pray that we are not going to go back to the way things were before the #BlackLivesMatter movement. There is much work to do here and much work to be undone that has been ingrained within our beings as Americans for over 400 years. It is easy to lose sight of our path to follow Jesus when there are so many conflicting voices, when the one we should be turning to is the Word of God found in scripture. A Word that comes to the harassed and helpless, the broken and struggling, the confused and aimless.

Jesus comes into the neighborhood with compassion for all of God’s creation and he wants all of creation to come to know him. His compassion first reaches out to those that are harassed and helpless. Those who at anytime in history have been considered nobodies by those that wield power. He comes to a creation that feels they have no shepherd. He sees them where they are and lets them know that they matter. In those words, “I see you,” there is a compassion that brings and bears so much.

While we may not feel like the harassed and hopeless right at this moment, there may have been a time that you could have considered yourself in that camp. There are for sure times that we struggle and sense our faith being challenged. In these times, Jesus is with us, and he sees us. God meets us where we are. God meets us in our neighborhood to walk with us and unveil a compassion that is revealed through Christ and neighbor.

I love the language of The Message translation that I read, because it reveals the Word of God in new and exciting ways. To know that Jesus comes to our neighborhood is personal. In the first chapter of John, we hear, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14). Once Jesus moved into the neighborhood, he became one with them and saw them. What does it mean when we say Jesus saw them?

It means that he does not prejudge or categorize. It means he comes with an attitude of compassion. We may see that those around us are being harassed and are helpless, but that does not mean a whole lot to us by just witnessing to it. To truly see them, Jesus experiences what it is like to be the harassed and helpless, ultimately to the point of his death on the cross. For us to truly see our neighbors is to talk to them and listen to their experiences and not discount the words that are coming from their mouths. To engage with our neighbors brings a greater sense of community.

We are not limited in who we engage. We are invited into this time, especially with black and indigenous people of color as they grieve and mourn and are fed up with 400+ years of oppression. We are invited into this time to hear the voices of our neighbors that have been affected by COVID, whether it is by the virus itself or the loss of income and the other effects. We may not always agree, but that should not stop us from seeing them.

Once Jesus comes into the neighborhood, he prepares to send the twelve out to share the same good news and heal those that are harassed and helpless. This is not initially about evangelizing the world. This will come later. First, Jesus is calling on his disciples to revitalize the people of faith. He wants to see the church in his neighborhood renewed.

First, we must go out into our neighborhood and share a sense of renewal for the love of God. As we go among our sphere of influence, we can continue a movement that Jesus began when he first entered the neighborhood. We can begin to see people with compassion and listen with empathy. As Mr. Roger says,

“Listening is where love begins: listening to ourselves and then to our neighbors.”

Where and who are you choosing to listen today?

The Holy spirit draws us together

May 31, 2020

Acts 2:1-21

For those of you that have been on Facebook for some time and post pictures, you have most likely had memories of years past pop up. During this time of staying home, that can be both delightful to celebrate past events as well as discouraging, wondering when we will be able to gather as a community under one roof. I have been reminded of my daughter’s graduation from high school last year, as well as my graduation from seminary eight years ago through such Facebook memories. When I see pictures of my daughter’s graduation, I grieve for those seniors this year that were not able to have the same experience and even wonder what it will look like next year for my son’s graduation. At this point, there is a lot of uncertainty.

The early church experiences much of the same uncertainty, wondering “what do we do now?” What are we supposed to do now that Jesus has left? For fifty days the disciples have been asking these questions and keeping pretty silent. Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus ascends. Ten days past that, we find ourselves here on the Day of Pentecost. It was on that first Pentecost after Jesus ascended that the disciples and all 120 gathered together were filled with the Holy Spirit and sent out to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit empowered those first followers to go out and share the Good News where they were called. There was an openness in the early church as they listened to the Holy Spirit. They operated in a dynamic and fluid way which led to reaching out to everyone in ways in which the Holy Spirit guided. It would be later in the church that structure became of greater importance. Since then there has been an ongoing struggle in the church as we listen to the freedom of the Spirit, which sometimes speaks counter to the established structure.  

The Holy Spirit is a powerful mystery, which takes center stage on Pentecost, by echoing through the city with the sound of rushing wind. The draw of the Holy Spirit was powerful to compel 120 people to gather with bated breath, waiting for what was next. The Holy Spirit empowered each person present to speak in a language not their own and allowed for one another to understand.

Perhaps the most powerful part of this story is that Peter is given the courage to preach. Yes, that Peter. The same Peter that was so eager to follow Jesus that he continually kept sticking his foot in his mouth when he should have just listened. The same Peter that Jesus, while responding to his second guessing, told him, “Get behind me Satan.” That same Peter that fell into the lake when he attempted to walk on water, following Jesus. That same Peter that denied Jesus three times prior to Jesus’ crucifixion.

It is that same Peter that is emboldened and drawn in by the Holy Spirit to then preach the Good News to the masses that were drawn together. Following Peter’s first sermon, we are told that those who welcomed his message were baptized and became followers of Christ. They numbered nearly three-thousand people. Imagine what Peter would have posted on his Facebook page from that day!

We long for similar gatherings today. Yet, we are like the disciples waiting for that first day of Pentecost. We are uncertain of when we will gather. However, that does not stop the Holy Spirit from calling us to action today. There is a unity of drawing everyone together on that day of Pentecost. The Spirit is calling us to the same unity.

A unity that could bring us together and heal the brokenness of the world. In the brokenness of how we care for our neighbor, sin runs rampant. The most visible signs of this in the recent months has been racism in our country. We still live in a divided country where people of color are treated differently. It is hard to overcome hundreds of years of such racism when it has been embedded in the fabric of our country. The senseless killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, as well as countless others, have magnified this sin that runs rampant.

It is the Holy Spirit that calls us to action on this Day of Pentecost to reach out in love and encourages us to walk with our siblings, not against them. It is the Holy Spirit that calls us to action to embrace our siblings and tell them that we see and hear them. It is the Holy Spirit that reaches beyond all time and space to raise up collective voices to speak with love and not hate. It is the same Holy Spirit that comes to our siblings in Minneapolis, Detroit and Brunswick, Georgia. It is the same Holy Spirit that reaches out to the other side of the globe. It is the Holy Spirit that draws us together. This is the Good News. How is the Holy Spirit drawing you in, in this time and space we find ourselves?