Category Archives: Theology

Daily Sustenance

Give us this day our daily bread.

What’s the difference between a want and a need? What is necessary for a life well lived and loved? This question is all wrapped up in a request for daily bread – not daily five course dinner in a mansion, but what is necessary to sustain life and a roof over my head.

This is playing out in a larger sense at the moment, as I decide what to bring to a new (and temporary) home and what to leave behind. I want to bring what will make a fruitful, faithful life possible; I want to leave behind what distracts and hampers that life. I don’t want to waste this opportunity to let go of what is unnecessary and what doesn’t really matter.

Lord, help me discern what daily bread is, and what it is not. And help me pack accordingly. Amen

[For more on this, click Noonday Prayer Service above.]

Our

Officiant and People: Our Father, who art in heaven

If you look through the New Testament, the word saints is only in its plural form – no singular saints, just a collective. This is different from the honorific Saint that is bestowed on a select few whose very human essence scattered the love of God like a prism flings light. Christianity, like its mother Judaism, is a communal affair rather than a singular pursuit.

The collective shows up again in the prayer Jesus left with us. Our father, not my father or your father. God isn’t the personal property of a single person, even one praying this prayer in solitude. God gives life to everyone, and everyone is claimed as a child of God’s love.

Our means I can’t exclude those I’d prefer to exclude, and they cannot exclude me. We are in this life together. We come before God together, even when we don’t, can’t, or won’t admit it.

What a powerful reminder, in the middle of whatever activities the day brings, that I am not alone – unique, beloved, but never alone.

That goes for you, too.

[For more on the Noonday Prayer service, click above.]

Have mercy

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

Kyrie Eleison is the Greek form of this prayer for mercy. It’s often sung, which adds weight to the request. It’s a three-fer, guaranteeing that it can’t be skipped over as easily as a single plea might.

Have mercy, dear God, for my inability to love you, myself, or anyone else as well as I could or should. Think kindly of me when I don’t offer kind thoughts to others. Help me in my weakness and in the limits my humanity brings.

Have mercy as I pray. Have mercy when I cannot or choose not to pray. Grant that I may have mercy on others because you have so freely and often granted yours to me.

Amen.

Center

Where is the center of the sea? Why don’t the waves break there?

Donde esta el centro del mar? Por que no van allí las olas?

[Pablo Neruda (Sara Lisa Paulson, trans), Paloma Valdivia, illustrator; Book of Questions; New York: Enchanted Lion Books, 2022]

Ocean currents are amazing and mysterious. Surface movement in any direction is balanced out with deep currents going in the opposite direction – and all kinds of movement happens between. Since waves break upon shores, could there be a location where the deep currents are breaking – unseen by our human eyes, at depths beyond our reach?

In Orthodox theology, one of the images for God’s love and creative power is a procession; love and life begin in the Creator, flow through the Spirit and Christ, and out to the farthest reaches of creation. All things receive life and love from their center in God, like waves breaking on the shores of our very being.

If I stick with the wave metaphor, could it be that there is a deep, unseen current that returns even my tiniest offerings of love to the source of all things?

Recalling the Light

When a prisoner recalls the light, is it the same light that illuminates you?

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice were the words Paul wrote from prison. Rejoice in the light, wherever it finds you; rejoice in the Lord, even in prison. Rejoice.

I guess the answer to Neruda’s question depends on whether the prisoner recalls light as overcoming darkness, and whether those of us who live in light-bathed freedom are aware that we could find ourselves in a darkness that doesn’t end when the sun rises.

[For more information, click Neruda’s Book of Questions above. Better yet, buy the book.]

Coffee Wars

It does not insist on its own way. I Corinthians 13:5, NRSV

[For the full text, click I Corinthians 13 above.]

The coffee pot was moved back to the corner, and thus began the battle…

The church kitchen had been a disorganized mess for years, so the youth group took it on as a way to contribute to the life of the community. Cupboards that hadn’t been opened in years, much less emptied, were given a thorough scrubbing; what was broken or dangerous was removed; what was left was cleaned, organized, and labeled. The walls were degreased and repainted. It took hours, but the transformation was spectacular.

One of the best things: the coffee station had been relocated to a space near the service window. Everything was within easy reach, and it made coffee hour so much easier for hosts and guest alike. The youth group did the honors that first Sunday after the reorganization, hosting the coffee hour and revealing the new kitchen.

The grumbling started within hours. How could the teens change the kitchen without asking (they had permission from the church leaders)? How could they toss things out without permission (only broken and expired things were thrown away)? What right did they have to change anything?

The next Sunday, the coffee pots and machine had been moved back to the corner by persons unknown, recreating the old set-up. The youth, assuming someone didn’t know about the new place, moved it again. The next Sunday, it happened again. And again. And again. Finally, the youth gave up. Their hard work and best intentions had run into a communal unwillingness to change. The coffee making status quo was restored, but the damage was significant: the youth no longer believed that their efforts or their presence were welcome.

I doubt the adults who moved the coffee pots were intentionally causing damage to the teens of the church. I’m almost positive that there wasn’t a conspiracy intent on rejecting and dismantling the gift of time and effort given by the youth. This was just a typical knee-jerk reaction, a reclaiming of turf, an exercise of power. I wish the adults had asked themselves this question:

What is more important: keeping things the way I want them or honoring the gift offered by others?

The true and most disturbing question: what would have been their answer?

I Am Nothing

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

[For full text, click I Corinthians 13 above.]

Let’s assume I have good intentions, and my wishes for prophetic powers, perfect understanding and knowledge, and abiding faith are all answered. All I lack is love – meaning good things for others and sacrificing to bring them to fruition. I could still do so much good if I don’t use my gifts to harm, couldn’t I?

Doubtful. Not because I couldn’t accomplish amazing things, but because I’ll miss the point and purpose of those amazing things. Intelligence, knowledge, accurate prediction, and belief aren’t enough. Add them all up, and they still won’t give me the one thing I need: wisdom.

Wisdom assumes love – it’s why there are evil geniuses but no evil wise women and men. If I perform miracles without love for every living thing, I’m likely to manipulate others rather than invest in their uniqueness.

Wisdom recognizes limitations. Amazing abilities take their toll if fueled only from personal resources. The well runs dry eventually because no one is meant to live outside loving relationships with God and others. A car with an empty tank cannot fulfill its potential, even if it’s a top-of-the-line model.

Without love, I would be destroyed by my own abilities, a null and void self – nothing. God being gracious to everyone else, whatever I did manage to accomplish would bring blessing. God being gracious to me, creating me to be something rather than nothing, the wish wouldn’t be granted in the first place.

And So It Begins…

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 

Words have the power to shape reality, pointing us to what is good and holy and staring us in the face. Words have the power to maim reality, and wound all that is good and holy and seeking life. What I say to you and about you, what you say to me and about me – these words matter.

As I write, the airways are full of words and the Ukraine full of violence. A string of words from a powerful leader, words without love or thought for the lives that will be lost and damaged, has put this whole world on a dark path. The noise of gongs and the crashing of cymbals, the whistle of bombs and report of gunfire are in that string of words without love.

What words can I say or write? How can I speak a quiet word of love in the cacophony of loveless syllables? Without love, my words will add to the destruction – no matter how beautifully or cleverly I craft them.

I best watch my tongue and do my best to speak love in this time that most desperately needs to hear it.

Love Letters, Old Style

Origami heart, last steps…

Valentine’s Day decorations are still up in windows, on shelves, and in the 75% off aisles of Target and Market Basket. Yet, less than a week beyond the day, it all seems a bit half-hearted and tattered. If love is strong, such things are a nice extra, but not necessary; if love is not strong, even extravagant trimmings can’t fill the void.

It’s a truth we all know but don’t often say aloud: love has to be more than a fleeting feeling and a paper doily heart. It’s time for something constant and substantial, something strong enough to steady our feet and grow us up.

It’s a letter that was never meant to be reduced to romantic love, no matter how often it is read at weddings. It’s Paul’s letter to an entire community that was playing the Whose gift is best? game. As we view Valentine’s Day in the rearview mirror and move forward into Lent, let’s take another look at this old, old-fashioned love letter from Paul…

 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.

It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophesies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.

For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully even as I have been fully known.

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

I Corinthians 13, NRSV

The First and the Last

Readings: Psalm 90; 2 Samuel 7:18-29; Revelation 22:12-16

“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay everyone according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolators, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star.” Revelation 22:12-16, NRSV

[Revelation is an example of apocalyptic literature – a graphic and larger-than-life depiction of the end of everything. It is a genre written for those in dire situations, who are already living in calamity. It is gospel, good news, for the oppressed because it offers this truth: there is nothing that prevents us from returning to the God who created us and loves us.]

All that is comes from God, from the first moment of creation through this very moment. That includes you, me, and everyone else. There is no one who didn’t come from God’s loving, creative act; there’s no one who won’t return to God’s loving embrace. It’s the here and now that seems to be a place of separation – from God, each other, and the earth itself.

Most of us, not all, are not living in a living hell that cannot be changed no matter what actions we take. For us, Revelation’s stark images and larger-than-life metaphors don’t give comfort because they aren’t written for us. But they can spur us to act for those living in those dark places. They also remind us that God is the last word as well as the first – our end as well as our beginning.

Jesus, show me how to trust in you in this space between the first and the last. Amen.