If you hate injustice, tyranny, lust and greed, hate these things in yourself.                 Gandhi

It feels sometimes as though we are consuming ourselves.

I read last week that the state of Minnesota is considering harvesting trees from state park lands to sell at the market to bail us out of financial woe.

I read this morning that cuts are being made to health care for the poor in our state.  They will be shifted to private health care in order for the state to cut its costs and while surely cuts must be made we know beyond a doubt that many will fall through the health care cracks.

Schools are fighting for survival, infrastructure is unraveling and the words being traded across public airwaves are hate and fear speak.

And most troubling to this mother’s heart is this report from my daughter.  In checking her voice mail upon entering her work day, she heard on the recording the sound of automatic gun fire.  Just that.  Just that.

She works for NARAL.  She works with an organization that works to insure that all women retain the decision-making power over their own bodies.

Evidentally the work of her organization inspired someone to spew the deadly sounds of hate and fear into her office and most fearsomely, into her heart.

How do we, as a people grounded in a movement insistent upon care for creation, get honest about the health and honesty of our own hearts? How do we root around and name the resentments, fear, injustices and tyrannies that lurk in our own hearts?  Once found, how do we exorcize them, making room for the cultivation of belief in a peace that generates life?

Rather than grinding the seed corn of our future, we are called to mulch the soil of that which we tend first and foremost:  our own hearts.  From such tending, the future of creation is made verdant.

Rather than consuming ourselves, we choose to grow grace and peace and hope, assured that there is enough for all:  enough compassion, enough food, enough care, enough.

We choose.

living waters

Today in worship we will share Living Water, one with the other.

The text is the story of how it was Jesus found himself in conversation with a woman outcast in her society.  He asks her to share what she has:  a cup of cold water.  She does, and because of that elemental sharing, she becomes a part of the movement of freshening we’re trying to remember is our own.

Rob Bell has written a book asking why it is the “church” writ monolithic has become so enamored of the notion of hell fire and damnation.  It’s a book that is causing a ruckus in circles theological.  It’s a book I like very much.

I’m in the first chapter, but already I know I have met a compatriot who mourns, as do I, the ways that the Christian church has become more about barbed wire and less about living water.  The message of love gets lost, both within our churches and in the ways the church is perceived in the arid world around it.  Who would want to be a Christian, he asks (and we know this question oh so well) when the church and the Living Water it seeks to share seems almost gleefully judgmental and the withholding of juicy good seems to be driving motivation?

The story we will encounter this morning has to do with seeing the holy in each; in outcasts, in the lonely, in the society-assures-us-is-damned and in our very selves.  It shares with us, does this encounter between the Samaritan woman at the well and Jesus, the ways that grace is elemental and human encounter conduit and the cellular cry for holy communion real.

So we will offer it, one to the other.  And we’ll seek to live it, this way of sharing the Living Water of Jesus.  The burble of life is meant to be taken into our bodies and sung through our souls.

We’re tired of living parched.

not here

I have heard tell of people soaking in the splash of seed catalogues as a reminder that the earth is capable of soft.

As for me, it is the REI catalogue that wings my imagination.

I got my dividend check in the mail yesterday and it has sparked a delightful run on summer thoughts.  I page through the catalogue wondering what kind of gadget simply must be mine.

Maybe this year is the year of the new tent.  Every year I take teens into the Boundary Waters.  We have a great crew of adults who know the rhythm of it all and together we make village together on the edge of the big wilderness.  Last year began a yearly tradition of taking a group of women in.  It is yet another excuse to be on the water in the midst of wild.  Creation is teacher and therapist, both.

For years I have wanted my own tent.  I’ve borrowed Cooper’s (this is love, to allow another to borrow their tent) for years.   It’s a fine tent, but for a long time there has been a longing for a tent of my own in which to dwell for a time.

So the REI check and catalogue have me examining tents.  What color, what style, what weight; what matters?  I know before too long I’ll be at the store clinching the deal.

And in the meantime, I am no longer in the midst of winter.  I am setting up camp in some impossibly beautiful site,  savoring coffee and sparkling water and the reassuring zip into the tent of my dreams after a day spent living in my body.

It may be spring/winter outside, but inside, I have canoe paddle in hand and I’m off on adventure.

Not a bad dividend!


Otherwise – Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed on two strong legs.

It might have been otherwise.

I ate cereal, sweet milk, ripe, flawless peach.

It might have been otherwise.

I took the dog uphill to the birch wood.

All morning I did the work I love.

At noon I lay down with my mate.

It might have been otherwise.

We ate dinner together at a table with silver candlesticks.

It might have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed in a room with paintings on the walls, and planned another day just like this day.

But one day, I know, it will be otherwise.

from Otherwise, 1996 Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minn.

It is snowing in Minneapolis.  Dumps of fat flakes follow the rain and sleet of last night. 

I am at work, interfacing with the world via computer and the crafting of worship.  Outside my window are grave stones in a cemetery that holds the body husks of church members and a cloud of witnesses engaged in living in ways beyond my ken.

There is this day.  This day to savor coffee and pancakes bursting with blueberries prepared by my favorite in-home chef.  There is this day to  laugh at the primal scream bubbling in me provoked by this March snowstorm.  There is this day to put my heart to thinking about the living water we are offered every day we are given to live and thirsty we are and slake our thirst so often we do not.

Some day it will be otherwise.  Some day we will not have the great gift of being vexed by snowflakes.

But this day, this day the call to presence sounds louder than the call to whine.

It certainly has been otherwise.

death by paper cuts

Someone once said that the practice of ministry is like death by a thousand paper cuts.

It was belly laugh material, that quote.  It was belly laugh material because it hit a spark of true deep within.

The world is a changing.  In the midst of the changes going on around us, the role and function of local church pastors is changing as well.  It is a challenging time to be a church leader, because the needs of the job today often disappoint those who have a vision of what the ideal church pastor of the past was called upon to do.

First and foremost, pastors have to be gifted organizers.  In a culture where most couples are both working outside the home and the claims upon time and energies is seemingly relentless, churches have to figure out how to mobilize volunteers in ways that bless.  We are run by the members of the church.  Increasingly church members are stretched overly so keeping an organization alive that relies upon the passion and gifts of volunteers is no small trick.

Secondly, the financial realities are relentless.  Running a building, supervising and funding staff and program are clamorous challenges.  In an age when the gospel of scarcity is being pounded into our beings, lifting a vision of the good of giving to an organization designed to give itself away is full-time must.

Thirdly, remembering why we exist takes spiritual discipline.  The interpersonal jabbing and squabbling that happens in Bodies is sometimes demoralizing.  Perhaps the greatest place of heart ache for me is the demeaning and denigrating of what is without helping to create what could be.  It’s a lot easier to sit on the sidelines lobbing in criticism than joining in to build a vision that transforms.

After church on Sunday I was exhausted.  It wasn’t the preaching and conversing and worshipping that got me.  It was the paper cuts.  One at a time, comments thrown my direction are easy to slough off.  But collectively?  Collectively the effect was an oozing pastor desperate for Sabbath.

We are doing transformational work at our church.  Transformation asks us to move into a different way of being and on most days that movement hums in the very air we breathe.

On other days I become aware that my own spiritual practices are not optional.  Moving into a new day and being church in a new day requires naming of paper cuts, conversations about how to facilitate healthy communication, and a goodly and endless sense of being grounded in grace.

We get to do this thing called church.  It is gift.  It is messy.

It doesn’t have to be fatal.


Yesterday I got an email that held my day.

It was from one of my spiritual sisters.  She is a Benedictine nun living in community at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Indianapolis.  What she told me was this:  she was praying for me all day.

Sr. Mary Luke is a visionary.  Knowing that clergy women are an often desperately lonely and challenged people, she worked with others to create a program called “Women Touched by Grace”.  Through the program, she brought to the monastery for a span of three years a group of clergy women from throughout the United States and Canada.  While in the lap of community, our lives were changed.  We came to know that we were enfolded in that thing we name often and long to experience more:  grace.

One of her Lenten practices is to hold each of the women she has enlivened.  That number is now fifty, since after watching thirty of us open to the light of love, she offered the experience to another group of clergy women.  Applications are now being taken for the third unfurling of good.

Yesterday was “my” day.  All day, I was aware that in the chapel of Our Lady of Grace, my name was offered.  Even more powerfully, I was aware all day that in the heart of a woman who is light to me, I was bathed and blessed by the intentions of a sister.

Life feels so often a place of shards.  Headlines would have us know that the steady shatter of God’s vision for creation is relentless.

Not so.  Yesterday, Sister Mary Luke prayed for me.  Today, I arise filled with awareness that the Word became flesh and dwells among us that we might know knitting of soul and hope.  We are not alone.  We hold the world in the imaginations of our hearts and in the care of the Holy.

We participate in healing each time we reach into each other with tidings of great joy:  you are not alone.  I am praying for you.

love roast

Watching my children unfold is like opening the best present ever imagined.

They zig and they zag and sometimes it feels like there isn’t room enough in me to hold worry and love.  The stretch that is parenting is excruciating beauty. And, it has grown me more fully than any other adventure.

What I am loving on this day is our children’s humor and tenderness.  We have gotten to that stage in life together where parents and their foibles are fair game for the art of the roast.  Our children pick up the pieces of goofy and fine that their parents are and have at with gusto.  This is a good thing.

It’s a good thing because in the house I grew up in, it was fully against the unwritten rule of family to move into the honesty that goes with good roasting.  We had a family joke (or was it a joke?) that if our mother told us to jump in front of a car then by golly we ought jump.

I’m seeing a different dynamic with my children.  While sometimes I WISH I could command and jumping (not in front of cars but in the directions I think are best) would happen without question, I seem to have participated in parenting children who are willing to check in with their parents on questions of direction but are not driven by parental commands.

This is good.

And, I think that the more mature their parents are becoming (please God I hope this is so) and the more we as parents are able to take ourselves less darn seriously, the more room there is for flat-out great fun at our expense.

I really like our children.  They are, each one of them, seeking to use the good that they are to build good around them.  They have a network of good people who hold and challenge them, and best of all, they are appreciative of the gift that is good loving.

I don’t get my mother mitts on them near often enough, but I watch their exploits via Facebook and texts and phone conversations and they make me laugh and they make me know that miracles are real.

God knows what they will come up with next in the living of their days.  What I know is that they are solidly fine, funny, and unique creatures who somehow came my way.

Amazing, that.


big boom

I was driving my guy to the emergency room this morning (he is fine) when I got a call from a church member.  Since I was intent upon my wifely task, it took me awhile to figure out who was calling and what it was that was going on.  I could tell there was anxiety in her voice and I worried that she had health emergencies in her family.

No, that wasn’t it.  What it she was worried about was that five blocks from our church, a major gas leak sparked a major explosion.  She was concerned about the safety of folk at her church.  She wanted to make sure that we were alright.

I called the church right away and they had heard nothing about it.  Thankfully, the explosion was contained to the one site.  Thankfully, in a very busy commercial area, no one was hurt.  The odds of an explosion and geyser of flame leaving no victims is wonderment.

We live in a time of enhanced awareness of mortality.  Radioactive waftings from Japan, tsunamis gulping lives and infrastructure crumbling are realities.  We are no longer able to blithely go about our daily lives sure that the catastrophic won’t touch our lives; it does.

So what are we to make of all of this?  Well, for this woman given assurance that her husband is safe from harm on this day, the need to hold and savor beloveds is great.

What we are given in life is the relationships into which we pour our love.  Being able to enter church and poke my head into a St Patrick’s Day party (complete with cloggers!) hosted by our elders and attended by our day care was almost sacramental.  Watching our choir director at the organ console while the new pipes are being tuned was assurance that while explosions are real, so too is the voicing of praise and belief in the power beyond chaos.

We build in the midst of crumble.  It has always been so.  During these days when so much around us feels tentative, we get to tend the foundations of our world by loving fiercely and crafting with heart.

The church got many calls throughout the day.  People reach out.  They care.  It matters.



Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

One of the small groups at church is exploring the beatitudes; the series of blessings Jesus lays out as part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.

The “purity” word is a loaded one.  It has become so nuanced with the things that our culture has taught us are un pure – namely, the expressions of body sexual in nature.  So two great things – sex and the concept of purity – get marred in one fell swoop.

As with most things, it’s bigger than our containers, this notion of purity.  Purity of heart has to do with honest reflection and willingness to turn and come to know ourselves in the company of the Holy.  A great line I ran across lately seems to say it all:  “Everything you are, God already knows and loves”.  So why work so creatively at dodging both self and God?

Tonight, I was in the presence of  hearts purely shining.  We gathered for Lenten contemplative worship in the chapel.  We are embracing a Benedictine-type service of Word, prayer, silence, and communion.  It’s only half an hour in length but oh, the opportunity to share the sound of silence together in the shine of candles is holy gift.

The world is swirling around us with messages of fear and wrench but for a time we opened our seeking-to-be-open hearts to our gracious God.

Blessed, indeed.

soul song

This Step


around the middle of your life


you understand that

it is not the destination.


Nor is it what is waiting

where the road turns next.


It is the step that you are taking now,

or maybe what has stopped you.


It is this soft light, sifting

through the leaves,


the red-winged blackbird

calling from the mountain ash.


It is the secret whispered

in this breeze…

this breath.

Deborah Cooper

One of the gifts of crafting worship at RUMC is choosing a poem or bit of soul song for the front of the bulletin.  My hope is that the words chosen will dance well with the text for the day, creating deeper soul nestle.  I also hope that sometimes those bulletin covers make it to the vaunted place of proclamation:  the refrigerator of parishioner’s homes.

The poem above was written by a Duluth poet; a woman near in age to my own.  It speaks so powerfully to me because I am in the midst of that mid-life assessment of all that is and it is one wild ride.

I am always looking for thought companions and guides on the way.  One of the books that has reappeared in my life is “The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Midlife” by James Hollis.  It is a gentle and powerful speaking of the sometimes tectonic plate shifting and readjusting that mark this middle passage.

It is good and holy work, this being present to what is.  Hollis writes that “the Middle Passage presents us with an opportunity to reexamine our lives and to ask the sometimes frightening, always liberating question:  “Who am I apart from my history and the roles I have played?”…(it is) a rite of passage between the extended adolescence of first adulthood and our inevitable appointment with old age and mortality.”  Eventually, through the hard work of jettisoning the societal and parental teachings that have kept us from knowing our full selves, we discover that “I am not what happened to me.  I am what I choose to become.”

Well, no easy work, that.  While preaching Sunday, I reflected on the invitation that Jesus gives us to be “born again”.  In some sense, the work of the Middle Passage is to allow fullness of life, rebirth, and newness of being.

We aren’t alone in our labor.  We partner with the Holy; a midwife longing for the emergence of our good.  If we are wise, we find partners who remind us to breathe and trust this new life and its emergence.

And please God, we remember to savor breath.  This breath.

The welcome of wisdom and the song of soul.