23 November 2011

Meditation: "Thankful For What?!"

What do we have, brothers and sisters, that has not been given to us? All is grace. All is given. Who gave me this hand? Who wiggles these fingers? Who created these eyes which I cannot explain or understand? I cannot even make this hair grow. It is all gift. From beginning to end, everything is grace, everything is given.

--Richard Rohr

Dear Friends,

In honor of Thanksgiving, I share this short video (produced by the great folks at "The Work of the People"). It's a humorous parody of a tradition many families observe on Thanksgiving Day that goes something like this: "Let's go around the table and have everyone name something they are thankful for."

For me, this video is a reminder not to slip into superficiality as I consider that for which I am thankful. And, even more, it's a reminder that, ultimately, all my gratitude and thanks ought to find its way to God, the source of all goodness and blessing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Blessings, Jeremy

13 October 2011

Meditation: "Staying Connected to the Source"

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. --Psalm 42
The fulness of life is in the hazards of life. --Edith Hamilton

Dear Friends,

About six weeks ago I did something foolish. I headed out for a run on a Friday afternoon on a scorching hot day. It was in the upper 80's on this particular Friday. Actually, going for the run wasn't foolish. I don't mind running in hot weather. What was foolish was not thinking about where I would have access to water along the way.

As I headed out, I felt really great and thought I might go farther than the 3 or so miles I intended to run. And so I altered my route accordingly, not taking into account the need for water. But it didn't take long for me to realize that I was going to be thirsty, very thirsty, before I made it home. This is when I began kicking myself for venturing out in the heat so cavalierly and even pushing myself to go farther than prudent given the weather.

As I've thought about this, I recognize that this is how we approach life at times--occasionally with unfortunate results! Sometimes we go rushing into life, full of our plans and ambitions, without remembering that we need to stay close to the source of our life, to that which nourishes and sustains us. We can rush forward so quickly that we aren't always mindful of our limits, of ensuring that our path will pass near to sources of God's life-giving Spirit. To put it differently, sometimes we can get too far out in front of God, and then the thirst hits! It's good to push our limits, to steer away from complacency. (I heard someone say this morning that the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth!) We shouldn't fear to venture boldly into our lives. God is with us! But it can also be very wise to pace ourselves and be intentional about connecting with God the source and wellspring of our life.

Interestingly, on this run I passed by the homes of four people from my congregation. As thirsty as I was, did I stop to ask for water? No, I toughed it out and ran all the way home before I had any water to drink. I may have reached my goal that day had I simply asked for help. I'm confident water would have been offered, a symbol for God's nourishment and sustenance as I ran my race.

May you move through your days near to and connected to the source of your life--God. And when you venture forth into something new, may you have the grace to seek God's help--in whatever form it presents itself!

Blessings, Jeremy

01 September 2011

Meditation: "Where It's OK to Not Be OK"

"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." --Matthew 11:28

"Religion...has tended to create people who think they have God in their pockets, people with quick, easy, glib answers... If the great mystery is indeed the Great Mystery, it will lead us into paradox, into darkness, into journeys that never cease." --Richard Rohr

"People are people through other people."
--Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Dear Friends,

Sometimes I wonder why I have anything to do with the church. I imagine this may be a shocking statement, given my line of work! But I look around me at so many others of my generation who have drifted away from the church, or have never had anything to do with it in the first place, and it makes me wonder: Why am I different? Why am I here, deeply involved in the life of the church?

There are lots of answers to this question, but right down at the bottom of it all I think one reason is this--I experience God in community with other people, especially people who also desire to experience God. And yet, what I desire is a community with a particular character to it, a community:
     where people can be real with one another,
     where people can authentically be who they are,
     where relationships and people are more important than rigid rules or strict doctrine,
     where there is mutual care and encouragement,
     where God's grace is palpable,
     that supports those who are earnestly striving to be faithful to the way of Jesus.

At it's best, the church is all of the above and so much more. And because I have at times experienced this kind of community through the church, and because I feel called to help the church be this kind of community, I am a "churchy" guy.

This YouTube video, produced for Back to Church Sunday, prompted the above reflections and in a very simple, but powerful way, reminds me of some of the reasons why I am involved in the church (some of you may have already seen this on my Facebook wall):

A community of people where it's OK to not be OK, where God's grace abounds, where forgiveness is experienced, where doubts and questions are welcome, where people can be who they are (not who the world expects them to be)--this is what I desire in a church. And, with God's help, striving to foster this kind of community of faith is a big part of what being a pastor is all about for me.

Wherever you are in this world, my hope for you is that you find a community of faithful people who receives you as you are and invites you to join them in a journey of relationship with God.

Blessings on you,


26 July 2011

Meditation: "Remember Who You Are"

Then Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." --Luke 22:19

Before his death, Rabbi Zusya said, "In the coming world, they will not ask me: "Why were you not Moses?" They will ask me: "Why were you not Zusya?"  --Martin Buber
Dear  Friends,

I've taken up running again. Over the last month, I've actually managed to get out 2-3 times a week to run about 3 miles each time. And it has felt great! But something else has happened, too, something unexpected. I've remembered who I am. Or, less dramatically, I've remembered an important part of who I am.

I've been running on the middle school track so that I can record my running pace. I used to think it was boring to run around in circles on a track, but lately I've really been liking it. The first time I ran on the track, memories came flooding back to me. The smell of the sun on the track surface, the sight of the lane markings, the muscle memory of running on the inside lane--all of it brought back memories of running on the track at my hometown high school in Pennsylvania. I was on the track team and spent a lot of time on that track. I recalled the excitement of running competitively in track meets. Sometimes at night, after finishing my shift at a fast food joint, I'd stop by the track and run 3 or 4 miles before heading home. Somehow, these memories touched on deeper remembrances, too. They stirred that youthful dimension of my heart (even as I close in on 40!) and reminded me of things that I cared about then--many of which I still care about today. After each run, as I cool down, I have this sense that, "Yes! This is what it feels like to be me."

It can be so hard in either the hustle and bustle or the humdrum ordinariness of each day to remember who we are--what we care about, what is important to us, what we think God is up to in our lives, what it feels like when we are most who we are. That's why it is so important to do something that we love to do--something that helps us reconnect with who we really are, who God created us to be. It's different for all of us--running, creating artwork, hiking, writing, reading, playing sports...whatever. If it is an activity that helps us to remember, then God is in it, too, because of course God is the ultimate source of who we are.

In worship we regularly do something that helps us to remember who we are in God. One of the most fundamental practices of Christians is to share in Holy Communion (or the Lord's Supper, or the Eucharist). For Christians, when the bread is broken and shared, we are re-membered as God's people. It is a moment when we recall who we are as people seeking to be faithful to Jesus Christ. We are reminded that Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. We are reminded that Jesus did not resort to violence, but instead called on his followers to sacrificial love. We are reminded that Jesus did not come to cast people into hell, but instead opened his arms wide in a welcoming embrace of grace.

Running and receiving communion. These days, they help me to remember who I am and who I am in God.

What helps you to remember who you are?

Blessings on your week,


12 July 2011

Meditation: "Looking At Your Horizon"

Peter answered Jesus, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him...
--Matthew 14:22-31

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation...
--Psalm 25:4-5

How can God direct our steps if we're not taking any?  --Sarah Leah Grafstein
Dear Friends,

It has been a loooong time since I have posted on my "Tenacious Grace" blog. I find that my muse for this ebbs and flows over time. Hopefully it is starting to flow again! If you have a topic you'd like me to pray over and ponder, and then write about, feel free to send it along!

This summer I've been teaching Miriam (my 6 1/2 year old) to ride a bike. It's slow going, mostly because she only has the patience to stick with each session for 10 minutes or so. Even so, it is exciting to see her gradually gain confidence as well as her sense of balance.

As I've been working with her, I find that there are three instructions that I have to remind her of every time. First, sit in the middle of the seat--don't lean to the side. Second, hold the handle bars tight and keep them straight. And third, look out ahead of your bike at where you want it to go and not down at your feet on the pedals.

It's that third instruction that has a deeper meaning to it that goes beyond riding a bike. It's so true that sometimes in my life I do a lot of "looking down at my feet." I get so caught up in the daily tasks of my personal life and ministry at the church that I don't always remember to look up and fix my gaze on the horizon of where I wish to go. It takes a certain amount of spiritual intentionality to "look up" and orient ourselves to our hoped for future so that we don't end up going in circles or crashing off to the side in the bramble bushes!

It's a little scary for Miriam to look up when she rides because she feels like she needs to keep track (with her eyes) of what her hands and feet are doing. But when she trusts that they are doing what they need to be doing (without her watching!) then she rides beautifully and confidently along the path. If she happens to look down, and falters and is about to tip over, I'm right there to grab the seat and steady her.

As a person of faith, I trust that I can look up and out and cast my gaze toward my hoped for future horizon. But even more, I trust that it is God who will direct my feet, who will lead me in the way that is true and righteous. When Peter steps out of the boat, with his eyes up and fixed on Jesus, he can walk on water! But when his fear creeps in, when he gets distracted by the wind and the waves, and he looks down (so to speak), then he starts to sink. But of course, Jesus is right there and immediately reaches out with a steadying hand.

In the midst of your daily life, I pray that God gives you the grace to boldly "look up" at where your heart most desires to go. And then I pray that you will trust God to lead you that direction.

If you happen to look down or lose your balance, know that God is there, ready to catch you in God's never-failing grace.

Blessings on you,


PS I must give credit to my friend and colleague John Tucker who spurred this reflection in devotional I heard him give in early June.

16 February 2011

Meditation: "Super Bowl Ads and Right Relationship"

"Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in all of you?" --from Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth

"A relationship with God is the true identity. After all, we are modeled after him, and he's our Creator." --John Maurer of Social Distortion
Dear Friends,

I watched most of the Super Bowl this year which is not something I typically do. But given that Pittsburgh was playing in the big game and I am originally from the 'Burgh (and grew up in Pittsburgh in the 70's when the Steelers were rackin' up the Super Bowls), I just had to watch the game.

Except, at the end of it all, I kind of wished I hadn't. And not only because the Steelers lost this time around.

It wasn't the game that depressed me as much as the advertising. Okay, yes, a few of the commercials made me laugh. But with my two children in the room (one is 2 1/2 and the other is 6), I found myself repeatedly asking them to look away from the screen while guns blasted or explosions roared or inappropriate sexual situations ran rampant--all trying to sell a product. And then there were the commercials that reinforced tired and infuriating gender and racial stereotypes as well as twisted ideas of what "relationships" look like (this last comment was prompted by this blog by Michel Martin). If my kids saw these ads over and over again--and I never talked to them about what they have seen--what on earth would they learn?

Okay, I will admit that we rarely watch commercial TV in our home. We don't have cable. We get our TV from an old-fashioned antenna on the roof. We are tuned into PBS 95% of the time. They rarely see scary images of violence or steamy sexual situations. When it comes to TV, it's all "Cat in the Hat" and "Super Why!" at our house. I know the day will come when we can no longer shelter our kids from the sex and violence of TV, but we aim to hold it off as long as we can.

In the midst of all this, I've been pondering something called "right relationship". For me, "right relationships" are characterized by respect, mutuality, patience, generosity, love--and never violence. They are relationships where there is authenticity, honesty and, when needed, forgiveness. I believe that these are the kinds of relationships that God desires for us and that Jesus affirmed in his life and teaching. These are the kinds of relationships that I hear Jesus encouraging us to pursue in, say, the Sermon on the Mount in chapter 5 of the Gospel of Matthew.

And so all of these advertisements that I encountered--with their glorification of violence and objectification of bodies and twisted messages about relationships and sexuality--collided with this idea of "right relationship" that's been circling around my heart and head lately. And I felt very sad that for so many people what they see on TV has become the norm, instead of that more sacred norm of the blessing and beauty of "right relationship."

As I think about my girls growing and learning, one of the things I most desire for them is that they absorb at a deep level what a healthy, mutually respectful, loving relationship looks like. I want them to understand that violence is not something to glorify. I want them to know, deep, deep down, that they are beautiful in every way.

I want them to know the blessing of "right relationship" because that is God's desire for them, and you, and me.

And we all know that they won't get that from watching anything on TV--especially the commercials.

Blessings on you,


PS By the way, I am not an overly puritanical person. I am not categorically against more mature themed content on TV. I just wish it wasn't broadcast when children are likely to see it. I think we can only criticize to a point those who produce the trashy stuff on TV because, let's face it, if people didn't watch it, they wouldn't produce it. Most criticism of Hollywood points the finger right back at us (the "us" being the American public).