Sunday, February 22, 2015


Saints come in all shapes and sizes. St Paul called members of the body of Christ - Saints. So, we know he did not have perfection in mind because he also did not mince words when he described the very real qualities of the body of Christ he knew and worked with. We have this myth of sainthood. This fantasy idea of what we think a saint should be. A saint should be someone who stands out for his or her spiritual life. A saint should be revered for his sainthood. She should be saintly, an icon of the Christian life. He should be on a pedestal often a pastor, missionary or full time Christian servant of some kind. Mother Theresa comes to mind although she would have been the first to deny that status which is a saintly quality. Saints are best known from a distance because familiarity tends to diminish sainthood. Saints are human and that is where we have the most trouble. It is hard to hold our ideas of sainthood when we have to deal with real human beings. Humans are human and we don't always get it right. I am thinking of Frederick Buechner's memorable portrait of the 12th century saint, Godric. Like St Augustine, Godric was aware of his sins and sought penance for them. On the isle of Farne he encounters the Holy Man, Cuthbert, who hears his confession and pronounces his forgiveness and prays for him. Even though Godric claims he heard no call, and came to Farne by chance - Cuthbert knows of Godric's calling. "Godric, your sins are forgiven thee, go now and do good for there is no good a man does in this world, however small, but bears sweet fruit though he may never taste of it himself."

The film, St Vincent, stars Bill Murray as a Godric type saint. He does good while looking bad. People misjudge him all the time and the boy he babysits after getting to know him says, "you are a sad, sad, man." You wouldn't know Vin was a saint by looking and he would not ever say he was aspiring to be one. Yet, by the end of the film, you might find yourself rethinking your ideas of sainthood.

Tonight Hollywood awards itself with it's idea of the best of it's business. We like this idea of awarding ourselves for the best in all areas of life. We do it in sports, and business and we even try to do it in the Church. We make saints out of humans and we put those we honor for spiritual greatness on pedestals. But, there is something about saintliness that is hard to pin down. We might know it when we see it but we might just as easily miss it. It is hard to be humble and know it. We admire Mother Theresa but she knew her spiritual struggles and we might have too if we had served with her. The point may be that she chose obscurity and our admiration of her saintliness did not seem to change her.  "Be content with obscurity, like Christ... none of this going off and doing your own thing... and put on love, it is your all purpose garment. Never be without it", The Message, Colossians 3.

Buechner defines a saint this way: "In God's holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints." They are not easily seen. We are too likely to judge by appearances and first impressions. They are not seeking the limelight. They may not even be aware of what they are doing. Their clothes may be out of fashion even shabby but as you get to know them they are wearing love.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday. I went into Jacksonville for a noon service of ashes. It was an informal, self guided tour of the sanctuary with four stations set up for meditation. One had a pot of dirt; one had a bowl of water; one had candles and one had a crown of thorns. There were readings at each site and then a place to meditate in the center of the sanctuary. When I was ready our pastor was there to put the ashes on my forehead in the sign of the cross. The ashes were more like a black paste which made a noticeable cross right in the center of my forehead. I had decided I would fast for lunch because I was at church but I wanted to stop for coffee on my way home. What do I do about the ashen cross on my forehead, I wondered? What will people in the coffee shop think? Will it seem silly? Or will it be a witness? I don't know if many people, Southern Baptists or Seculars know what Ash Wednesday is so they will probably think I didn't wash my face this morning. Then, I wondered if Jesus words about letting others know you are fasting when you are was applicable to this stop for coffee. Will some people think I am showing off my piety. That would not be a good thing to do especially on this day of humility. So, I left the ashy cross on my head and ordered my coffee and I don't think I created any sort of a scene. In this hipster coffee shop it could have been a tattoo. I kept it on all day until my wife got home from work, took one look at me, and said, what is that on your forehead? It was said in her - now what did you do - voice.

After I got home, while she was still at work, I made some bread and chocolate chip cookies.  When I sampled the chip laden dough, I was stricken with the thought that I had broken the fast! Sheesh, I could not even make it through the afternoon without eating something, I scolded myself. That's why I don't fast much; I'm not good at it. Spiritual disciplines are like that. They can set us up to fail. Or, we can set ourselves up to fail. When my wife got home I told her I couldn't even fast right on ash Wednesday. She asked, isn't the point of the fast not to eat so you can devote time for prayer and meditation? I guess so, I said. It looked like I had gotten hung up on the finer points of the law a couple of times. Like Israel, so God gave Isaiah what we call chapter 58 to preach to them to ponder.

On the final station at the service today there was another description of a fast. It was similar to Isaiah 58.  It was written by Christine Sine and is from the book, Journey Into Wholeness, which is available through Mustard Seed Associates.

It said:
We have chosen to fast,
Not with ashes but with actions.
Not with sackcloth but in sharing.
Not in thoughts but in deeds.
We will give up our abundance.
To share with the hungry.
We will give up our comfort,
to house the destitute.
We will give up our fashions,
to see the naked clothed.
We will share where others hoard.
Free where others oppress.
And heal where others harm.
Then, God's light will break upon us,
We will be called repairers of the broken walls,
Welcomed at God's banquet table.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Funny feet

I was reading the account about Jesus washing the feet of his friends which is found in John 13. I read it a bit differently this morning after thinking about what Joan Chittister says about humor in her book of reflections on Ecclesiastes. The Last Supper is a very serious event in scripture and our re - celebrations of it are the most somber parts of our worship services. Laughter would seem to be out of place. Chittister reminds us of the place of laughter in the Bible (remember Sarah's belly laugh at a serious word from God!) and suggests that several of the stories Jesus told would not have been heard without cracking a smile ( the woman who badgered the judge til she got what she wanted). So, I was thinking about this as I read John's report about the Last Supper. If humor is often based on the unexpected happening, how unexpected was this scene! Jesus, the master, taking the place of a servant and shedding his cloak to get to work on his disciples dirty feet. Feet are funny, at least my wife thinks mine are. Can  you see Jesus making a wise crack about Peter's toe fungus? Humor gets to the point; no one expected Jesus to do what he did. He turned the ceremony upside down. Did he have fun with it? Is it ok to have fun, serving others? Isn't laughing with some one a way of serving them? The biggest laugh was on the disciples because Jesus told them that now they would do for each other what he had done for them. None of them had ever thought of washing Peter's feet or any of the others, had they? That would have seemed foolish before Jesus did it for them! Now, the joke was on them. And once they got the joke - "now that you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" - it went a long way toward shaping their community to be like Christ.

Valentines day

The movie everyone is talking about based on the books everyone talked about is out for Valentines Day. The buzz is that tickets are selling fast especially in the Bible Belt! The books sold millions of copies even though it was uniformly reviewed as bad writing and the movie's script is no better. But then I guess if you go to the movie it is not for the well crafted dialogue. The scene that is mentioned in reviews and shown on film clips is one in which the woman is tied up, handcuffed and blindfolded for the entertainment of her love interest. Love means never having to look your valentine in the eyes when you say I Love You!

Yesterday as we shopped at Winn Dixie after returning from a long trip up north we checked out behind a man who knew how to treat his valentine right - the old fashioned way. He was no billionaire by the looks of him. Yet he shelled out big bucks for the roses, chocolates and wine. Something to go along with I Love You and I bet they gazed into each other's eyes as they sipped the wine together.

I hope you take some time this Valentine's Day to be with the one you love. Take a walk together, talk together over a glass of wine or cup of coffee and look deeply into each others eyes and say I Love You.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Mom's time

We are spending the week with my eighty something year old mother in snowy upstate New York. We kid with her that we are on "grandma time". She moves very slowly. We linger over coffee at Tim Hortons (a place she loves to go) for an hour. Lunch may take an hour and half.  Dinner with prep and clean up easily three hours. It takes some getting used to. A trip to the local grocery store is a marathon in slow motion. She likes to look at things. She needs little and could not remember a list if she had one but she buys a few things. She likes to get out. She likes to have people with her. She likes to talk about her life. She nods off as we watch season one of Downton Abbey on dvd telling us later she got the gist of it.

I've been reading Ecclesiastes this week. I have shared some of the wise writers observations on aging with her. She nods in agreement. She knows what the writer means. Better than I although I am understanding more I think. Joan Chittister refers to the way Ecclesiastes sees life as fluid. Life is lived in seasons not in a straight line so it cannot be grasped and it's not a product to be perfected or improved upon. It is lived in one season to the next; it comes out of nowhere. We learn as we go - not to fight it or complain about it or try to change it: the meaning of it is found in the present moment. Life is not lived with a measuring stick in mind. How are we doing compared to what. Letting go is wise and we don't count up losses.

I have been trying to engage the present more. Today is what we have, a gift from God. Being where we are instead of where we are going or where we have been or thinking about what we could be doing if we were not here. Being "here", Chittister observes, may be the secret to living fully, living well. It takes a lot in this culture that is so much about what's next; we miss often what is right in front of us. While we are waiting for life, it passes us by.

The writer of Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything under heaven. This week we are in Mom's time. It is our time, too. It is good to be here, together.