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This year during Advent in my morning gatherings we are considering the texts of Advent/Christmas where God speaks…. through the extraordinary, through human relationships and how we can continue to listen to the voice of God in the mania we find ourselves in at the close of 2016. As I have begun to consider the texts from the Psalms and the Gospels that I have chosen for worship, I have collected thoughts, stories and commentaries so that their assumptions about the scriptures could sit and stir in my soul.

This morning, I opened up my the Christian Century magazine, the November 23rd issue… and read the article from the Publisher this morning before I delved into Advent 1 sermon crafting. It blew me away.

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This is for all of you who cannot seem to stop posting about the news. Who have nothing else to note in a world that is wrought with amazing things and awful things. Take note:
 
“Alain de Botton… (author of THE NEWS: A USER’S MANUAL) believes that in contemporary culture news has largely replaced religion as ‘our central source of guidance and our touchstone of authority.’ The news–not scripture, tradition, or inspired ritual–informs how we handle suffering and make moral choices. A desire to know what’s going on all hours of the day and night actually makes us more shallow than we may want to admit.”
 
I love these words. I hate our obsession. And I abhor my timeline right now, riddled with hate speech (all sides), negative views (all sides), and general malaise. I say: TURN IT OFF and start exercising! Make an ornament or two for someone. Go volunteer at an animal shelter. Go play bingo with some elders. Reconnect with the Divine in all things… and I believe joy will find you. I truly believe that nothing is impossible is God.

I’m preaching from Isaiah 65 this week. It’s a lectionary text, so I didn’t “choose” it to sway us towards something after this election cycle. It is one of my fave texts and garners such a vision for us to be captured by.

Look! I’m creating a new heaven and a new earth:
    past events won’t be remembered;
    they won’t come to mind.
Be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I’m creating,
    because I’m creating Jerusalem as a joy
    and her people as a source of gladness. –Is. 65:17-18, CEB

Martin Luther had a great response to people asking him if he thought the end was near. His reply? “Plant a tree.” In other words, invest in a hopeful and life giving future, even though those about you may seem to be working towards destruction.

So, my prayer for the coming days, is not a lament, but a call to hope.

Creation-Caster, we find ourselves star-gazing at the expanse of the universe, lingering in its light.

As we choose to be in a posture of love and life:
may a grander vision capture us,
may a sense of adventure move us,
may a new heaven and new earth envelop us so that we become the bearers of mercy, justice and peace.

Surprising God, we turn to You, expectant in our hope.

Amen.

I know this post is going to put me into some very hot water. I’ve been muddling it over in my mind all weekend and now it’s 3:14p on Monday and since it won’t go away….

Maybe you listened to NPR this weekend. Or watched FoxNews. Or hey, even read the CNN ticker line. If you did, you couldn’t escape the number 5.  And if you are super savvy in the social media world, you were captivated by the CIA ‘live tweeting’ the events of 5 years ago.

Why? Well, it’s been 5 years since Osama bin Laden was found and killed (if you missed it go here.) The world’s most hunted and wanted man… gone with the shot of a sniper rifle by the elite special forces.

I think what has bothered me the last few days is the celebration of it all. I know he masterminded acts of evil. I know. I know that countless lives have been taken and altered because of what this man stood for and ordered. I know that, too.

But I’m just itchy about “celebrating” his death, and it seems a bit odd to this Christian pastor chica. I’m sad.

I’m sad we’ve spent gazillions of dollars in war. I’m grieving the numbers of persons who have been maimed physically and mentally because of terror and war. I’m perplexed at how our news cycle wants to sanitize horror into a celebration. It’s all a bit much for me.

Instead I am waiting with the expectant hope for a story about how these last 5 years have meant more women in the world are reading. Or maybe a story of how disparate faith groups come together to pray for peace. Or, hey, I’d even take a short spot or some white space with the simple phrase: LOVE ONE ANOTHER. The stories are out there, true, but you have to know where to look. These stories certainly don’t take the headlines these days.

5 won’t leave me be. 5 is the most important number to our news cycles, and the most frightening to me. Countless studies have been conducted of late at the effects on our mental health by the continual cycles of violence we are exposed to. More and more work is being highlighted on how violence will only increase violence. As a pastor, I’m concerned. No, that’s not true: I’m horrified.

As we continue to see some downward trends of faith-based community gatherings where I believe we reenact joy and hope in the midst of our everyday lives, where will people go? What will they do? Where will they find alternate sources of love and life? One author I rely on Todd Henry encourages us to take in the best of what feeds our creativity, and I would go further to say that we need to surround ourselves with life-giving messages of information to create a new pattern in our world.

I don’t want to be an alarmist… okay, maybe I do. Maybe it’s time that we begin to flood our personal blogs, our Facebook pages, our Twitter feeds, our Instagram handles with joy, hope, mercy and love. I know I am going to try to take the challenge to do so.

Mar 8

Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev pause near a portrait of Pat NIxon during a tour of the White House in this file photo from December 9, 1987.

With the passing of Nancy Reagan, many are discussing her role in world policy for peace. During the Cold Years, enough cannot be said about Nancy’s continual work with President Reagan to make peace with Russia. Even when we feel the impossible will never come to pass, these two women (although not fond friends), proved that dreaming big is important for us all. You never know what you might achieve.

“An evasive eye is a sign of trouble ahead, but an open, face-to-face meeting results in peace.”

Scripture Reference: Proverbs 10:10, MSG
Image Credit:  SW/BM/Reuters

Mar 7

The importance of pruning grapevines every year cannot be down played. Pruning encourages not only the grapevine to grow, but for luscious grapes to form. The goal is to remove 90 percent of the growth from last year. This way, the vine channels its energy into new growth and reinvents itself each year.

“‘Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.'”

Scripture Reference: John 15:4, THE MESSAGE

Photo Credit: Suzanne Castle

Mar 6

Michelangelo Buonarroti, the greatest of the Italian Renaissance artists, was born on this day in the small village of Caprese in 1475. Michelangelo worked until his death in 1564 at the age of 88. In addition to his major artistic works, he produced numerous other sculptures, frescoes, architectural designs, and drawings, many of which are unfinished and some of which are lost. He was also an accomplished poet, and some 300 of his poems are preserved.

In his lifetime, he was celebrated as Europe’s greatest living artist, and today he is held up as one of the greatest artists of all time, as exalted in the visual arts as William Shakespeare is in literature or Ludwig van Beethoven is in music.

“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.”

Scripture Reference: Psalm 139:13-16, THE MESSAGE

Image Credit: David from Michelangelo in the Accademia, Florence, Suzanne Castle

Before Destruction:

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After Destruction:

Mar 5

The Christian monastery  Mar Elian was captured this summer  when ISIS militants captured the Syrian town of al-Qaryatain near Palmyra. This monastery was dedicated to a 4th-century saint, and it was an important pilgrimage site. It was also known to shelter hundred of Syrian Christians, fearing persecution and death.   ISIS posted pictures of the destruction on Twitter.

“Yet you, God, are sovereign still, always and ever sovereign. You’ll get up from your throne and help Zion— it’s time for compassionate help. Oh, how your servants love this city’s rubble and weep with compassion over its dust! The godless nations will sit up and take notice —see your glory, worship your name— When God rebuilds Zion, when he shows up in all his glory, When he attends to the prayer of the wretched. He won’t dismiss their prayer.”

Scripture Reference: Psalm 102:12-17 THE MESSAGE

Image Credit: AFP

Mar 4

Nasa astronaut Scott Kelly is the only American to have spent 340 days in space! In addition to his research and experimentation, he captured his unique view of the Earth and gave us this startling image taken on one of his sunrise in space.

“[God] will spread out righteousness for you as a sunrise spreads radiance over the land; [God} will deliver justice for you into the light of the high sun.”

Scripture Reference: Psalm 37:6, THE VOICE

Image Source: Scott Kelly, Nasa

Mar 3

The world premiere of Georges Bizet’s Carmen had its world premiere at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on March 3, 1875.  Today, it is one of the most popular operas in the standard repertoire, but this opera faced many obstacles in even reaching the stage, let alone becoming a success. With a libretto based on a story that many considered too salacious for public performance, Carmen was roundly denounced as immoral by critics even before its score had been completed. The title role was rejected by the opera divas of the day, and the theatre manager wanted rewrites of the bloody storyline set in Spain. Bizet himself did not live long enough to see Carmen gain acceptance as an operatic masterwork. He died of a heart attack at the age of 36, just three short months after Carmen had its world premiere.

“God lifts me high above those with thoughts of death and deceitthat call for my life. I will enter His presence, offering sacrifices and praise. In His house, I am overcome with joy As I sing, yes, and play music for the Eternal alone.”

 

Scripture Reference: Psalm 27:6, THE VOICE

Image Credit: Bizet, G. (1880) [Seguedille from the opera of Carmen soprano or tenor]. Schirmer, G., New York, , monographic. [Notated Music] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/sm1880.20508

Mar 2

On this day in 1961, President JFK established the Peace Corps. During the 1960s and 1970s, thousands of Americans—especially young people—flocked to serve in dozens of nations, particularly in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Working side by side with the people of these nations, Peace Corps volunteers helped build sewer and water systems; constructed and taught in schools; assisted in developing new crops and agricultural methods to increase productivity; and participated in numerous other projects. Volunteers often faced privation and sometimes danger, and they were not always welcomed by foreign people suspicious of American motives. The program continues to function, and thousands of Americans each year are drawn to the humanitarian mission and sense of adventure that characterizes the Peace Corps.

“Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God.”

Scripture Reference: Matthew 5:9, The Voice

Photo Credit: JFK Presidential Library