Church Stuff-More or less

Does the church make sense or do we make it too hard for people to come in? I think yes and yes and the task then is to make it easier. Maybe for someone out there, this will be the case. I write as a Lutheran (or, perhaps a Lutherpalian) although I might seem out of the mainstream from time to time. That's okay, isn't it? Let's blog on.

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Location: Northport, Long Island, United States

Contrary to what Google will tell you, I have been blogging for several year, right here. Look for Churchstuff-moreorless. life was a hell of a lot easier when you could talk to someone to get help. Now, you can't do it on the telephone, you can't do it on the internet. Life was easier and made more sense because people actually cared. Now they will screw you as quickly as they will help you. Unfuck the world.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wednesday's Devotion from Epiphany

Luke 4.41 Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah. (NRSV)

Why is this stuff so hard? Why is it so hard inviting people into a relationship with Jesus, inviting basically good people. Is it really true that we don’t wait until we get sick to seek to be made better? We should really know better.

When people learned what Jesus was capable of doing for others, they came to him to be made better, to be made whole. Not just basically good people but even basically bad people, too. But, Jesus couldn’t be fooled. He fixed the good people and shut up the bad. The good were fulfilled and the bad were sent away empty handed, empty hearted.

We try to be good, we understand ourselves to be basically good, and we tend to know a good thing when we see it. So, it is no surprise when it comes to Jesus, the goodest of all, we want to keep him all to ourselves. Fortunately, Jesus will have none of this, nothing to do with us if we want to be selfish, even if it means going to a deserted place. I’d like to think it upsets himself so much that he needs a time-out, some quiet time by himself. Probably so he doesn’t tell us what he really thinks of us. At least he doesn’t just tell us to shut up.

Stir us from the quiet, deserted places of our lives so that we, too, might proclaim the message. Amen

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday's Daily devotion from Epiphany

Verse: Luke 4. 24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. (NRSV)

Devotion: This encounter seems to start off pretty good. Folks in the synagogue actually seemed impressed with “Joseph’s son.” “Wow, listen to this guy! Who’da thunk it?” Other reports aren’t quite so kind. You almost hear the sarcasm in their voices. It was, indeed, an awesome task, preaching to those who “knew him when…”

I think this account affects us more than we know, more than we might like to admit. We never stop having encounters with those who “knew us when…” I think we like to use it as an excuse, an excuse not to talk Jesus with people we know or with people who we think might have “known us when…” Yet these are the exact same people with whom we ought have this conversation. Why, then, are we so hesitant, even unwilling, to talk Jesus, to invite people to get to know him, to bring good news to the poor?

I think we avoid, even fear, rejection. Rejection by a stranger is a never-mind, a shrug of the shoulders but when rejection comes from those who knew us when-that hurts. Or so we think. But, in the end, we need not be afraid for it is not us who are rejected but God. Sometimes, God, who “knew us when…” can really make us uncomfortable.

Dear Lord, we know you call us into relationships and yet we are very shy to do so. Be with us when we go to bring good news to the poor that they, too, might be amazed. Amen

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

She turned 17 today, born midway through my tenure at my first parish in Pennsylvania. A couple of years later she thwarted my attempt at growing tomatoes, eating so many off the vine that she won't eat them today. Not longer after that we moved down the road a bit, and I started catching her eating again, this time behind the altar, helping herself to communion wafers. I am sure she recalls always being a communicant in the church, and so it should be. She was maybe six when she baptized the family pets, carefully reciting the words which she had heard me offer over so many. When I was installed at that Baltimore congregation earlier that year, she was my acolyte and her reception of communion soon led to an uprising among her congregational peers.

She was nine or so when I could no longer deal with her mother's alcoholism and now has had to deal with it on her own, unwillingly, ever since. When she was 14, I sold my house in Baltimore to move back to NY to support her as best I could even though I live daily with the knowledge that I'm not able to do enough for her.

On days when little else makes sense, I think of her and find the strength to push on. Despite it all, she maintains a 90 average in school and has been talking about college since the school year began. So, maybe, we will be on the move again.

I never knew how much my life would change seventeen years ago but it has and I am the better for it, for her. I thank God daily for her, for my Rachel Anne.

It’s 2009. Do You Know Where Your Soul Is?

I invite you to read this interesting op-ed piece by Bono. I thank fellow blogger Kimberly Winston for alerting me to it. I hope that you, too, find it important.

My morning devotion from Epiphany

John 17. 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (NRSV)

Devotion: Some well-meaning (I hope) folk think that the word “one” means identical. I suppose that there is some truth to that, but not in the way that they mean. They think that it means that we should all agree in every jot and tittle. It is as if all Christians should become super-Lutherans. I think Jesus has a much bigger picture in mind. Jesus envisions a community of individuals, independent thinkers and doers who are one in commitment.

Each of us comes to full relationships with God and each other in our own ways, in our own time. As different as you and I are, so is our path. Yet, each path ought be leading in the same, one direction. That is where Jesus’ “one” comes into play. We ought be about the business of helping each other, each in our own way, come closer to God, and in that way, closer to each other.
I invite you, as part of this devotion to read these partially familiar words:

Prayer: We do wish, dear God, to be one. One with you and one with each other. Help us to respect our differences and though we remain unique, make us one. Amen

Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday's morning devotion

John 17.3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (NRSV)

Devotion: Much has been said, written and contemplated, over the years, about heaven and hell. I long ago gave up thinking of these as physical places and came to the conclusion that they were, instead, spiritual ones. Heaven is to truly know God. To be one with God. Hell, on the other hand is not to know God, to be separated from God.

Some people consider these places as the “afterlife” and I believe that there is truth to this. I also think that they are part of the present life. “Pie in the sky, by and by” and the “here and now” are not necessarily separate and distinct things. They can be but they can also be part of a continuum. Not isolated but part of a growing, ongoing process.

We know God only through Jesus. Jesus has put a human face on God and has made it possible for us to truly know God through the work of the Holy Spirit. I believe that God has always desired this relationship and now it is finally, fully possible. The question that remains is whether or not we wish to bring it to fruition.

Prayer: Day by day, Oh Dear Lord, Three things I pray: To see thee more clearly, Love thee more dearly, Follow thee more nearly. Day by day. Amen

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wednesday's Daily from Epiphany

John 15.8-My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and be(come) my disciples.

Wait a minute. What's this mean, Jesus? You picked each of us. You called us by name and invited us to follow you. We've been discipling all along, we thought that was what it was all about. You called our names out and we followed. We hung out with you, we listened to every word you said even if we didn't really understand them. We even usually got the answers to your tricky questions right.
So, Jesus, you mean to tell us that getting baptized, hanging around in church all the time-or at least occasionally-isn't what discipling is all about? That there is someting more?
Oh. It is not enough to be called, to be set apart. It isn't enough to listen to your words and try to understand them. While the bearing fruit is a bit confusing, we should all be about the business of living like all of this really mattered, as if it made a difference. Bearing fruit must be like carrying out your ministry, sharing it with others, and calling them to learn what we have learned all along but really haven't put to use.

It is not enough, Lord, to know you, to listen to your words unless we live lives that glorify your life in ours. Help us to be fruitful. Amen

Monday, April 13, 2009

My daily devo from Epiphany

John 14. v1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me."

Have more comforting words ever been spoken? I think not. Jesus said these words to his friends just before his arrest. Somehow, I think he said them not only for their benefit, but for his own as well.

I think Jesus was very human in his last days, even if those around him didn't fully understand. Jesus had some very real feelings that have often gone overlooked, or at least glossed over. Jesus knew that the disciples would be distraught and traumatized at his death.

Jesus says these words to us too. Life is full of uncertainties. We don't have the luxury of being present with Jesus in the way the disciples were. But Jesus is present with us, as he was present with the disciples, helping them to carry on. We have the written record and the faith as the Spirit give us to understand it.

It was rough at first, but they did it. With the help of Jesus, we can too.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Victory

Regina caeli laetare, alleluia.
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia.
Resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluia.
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

O queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia,
for he whom you were worthy to bear, alleluia,
is risen, as he said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Maundy Thursday

Today is an under-appreciated festival in the life of the church--or at least it has become one. In the hurried world in which we live, there is an anxiety to get from Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem to his Resurrection one week later. Many churches will be sparsely populated despite the best efforts of clergy to remind their flocks of the importance of the Holy Triduum.

I think that it has to do with the fact that we are loathe to take responsibility. We wish to lock Jesus in some time continuum and do not see these days as anything more than a week in the life so long ago.  It happened then and there, once an for all, a long time ago. We fail to recognize our own participations in these events, we fail to see ourselves present in these events.

Holy Week, the Holy Triduum is here and now. Jesus continues to try and enter into the Jerusalem of our hearts. We are there, even if only onlookers, shouting our hosannas with the rest of the crowd and then very quickly going about our business. As though there is time, as though there are more important things left to do.

Yet, at one time or another, we are there. We are present. We play the roles of all of the characters in this Divine Drama. Today, Maundy Thursday, we need to recognize that we are, indeed, Judas, and that Jesus, failing to live up to our expectations, is being betrayed by those who claim to love him best.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Morning's devotion

John 12. 35Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. (NRSV)

John begins his Gospel by acknowledging Christ as the Light which darkness couldn’t overcome and here, as we near its end, Jesus picks up on the theme. Even though Jesus is no longer physically present in our world, his light remains. His light remains but the darkness still struggles to overcome it.


I write on the 41st anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. He, too, had something to say about light and darkness. Dr King opined that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” They may have killed the man but they have not silenced him.


There are passages which come to mind concerning the approaching night. Paul exhorts us to work “for night is coming.” In all too many ways that night has been here, has always been here. Jesus uses the theme of light/darkness in several parables. All too often, we live and act as there is no light. We fail to remember that no matter how dark things might seem, the light remains if we indeed look for it. They have killed the Man, but they have not put out his Light.


Daily Prayer: Shine, Jesus, shine, shine your light so that we can see through our present darkness. Enlighten our spirits so that the darkness of our souls might be overcome. Amen

Monday, April 06, 2009

This morning's devotion from Epiphany

John 12. 16His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. (NRSV)

They say that hindsight is always 20/20 and our common experiences would probably confirm that. I have always been jealous of those who got to spend quality time with the flesh and blood Jesus. Similarly, I have always wondered how dense they were to who he really was. Yet, in hindsight…

Unfortunately, I fear that I would have been no better. All too often, I fail to recognize Jesus when he comes to me in human form. Of course, as Mother Teresa reminded us, he often wears such “distressing disguises.” Still, there is a really big part of me that believes I would have appreciated him the first time around.

I suppose that, for many, Jesus was in distressing disguises even then. He didn’t fit their preconceived notions, he didn’t measure up. They looked for ways, for excuses, to ignore the reality in front of their noses and, in the end, they killed him because they just didn’t understand.

I am hard pressed to think of a time when the Pharisees got things right. If the world had truly gone after Jesus, things would be a lot different. If people today actually went after Jesus, things would be different today.

Forgive our stubbornness and our facility in creating you in our own images. Show yourself to us, dear Lord, that we might finally, once and for all, understand these things. Amen

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palm Sunday Poem


Alone I weep, and lost, in hurt and pain.
My dreams seem shattered; mind's lamp flickers low.
I blame myself, but how am I to blame?
No grand design to build, nowhere to go.
The world turns its uncaring eye away.
I live or die: 'twill not be written much;
And as the sleepless night brings troubled day,
I long for crumbs of comfort, human touch.
Yet soon is Easter, and my thoughts now turn
To One Who, palm-applauded, still rode on:
His face set flint, as all His love did burn:
A cross awaiting, for God's only Son.
And as my tears descend, as winter rain,
I know Love lives, and I shall love again.

David John, Oxford, England.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Remembering MLK, Jr

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom. 

A right delayed is a right denied.

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent. 

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. 

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. 

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.

Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. 

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live. 

Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?' 

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. 

Pity may represent little more than the impersonal concern which prompts the mailing of a check, but true sympathy is the personal concern which demands the giving of one's soul. 

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But... the good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" 

The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows. 

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. 

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Even better than gummibears

The Parliament in Sweden has finally come to the conclusion that same sex ceremonies are indeed tantamount to marriage. If you hear it on Faux news, it has to be true, right? The Lutheran Church has been blessing same sex ceremonies since Dec 2006 and now I guess that they can officially call 'em marriages. What will it take before the US responds appropriately to ensure the civil rights of all of its citizens?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

 John. 105They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” (NRSV)

I was watching some sheep the other day, from afar. I didn’t have time to see if Jesus was right about them. I believe he was. I have a tendency to take him at his word.

Sheep have been given a bad name. We think that they are stupid. We classify people as sheep who seem, in our estimation, to blindly follow anyone who comes along and whispers their name.

Jesus, as usual, puts things in a proper perspective. He is the Good Shepherd to whom the faithful sheep respond. They have learned to recognize his voice.

We people, on the other hand, are easily distracted. We will wander off after the first glitz that comes along because it is superficially attractive to eye or ear. In doing so, we forget or ignore the voice of our Good Shepherd and we are the worse for it.

Fortunately, wooing sheep is an ongoing concern of Jesus. He knows that even the best of sheep will be distracted but, in the end, sooner or later will return to the fold because all other Shepherds are tried and found wanting.

Lemmings, I am told, will run off willynilly and pitch themselves off cliffs. Better, I think, to be a sheep.

Forgive us, Jesus, when start to hear the voices of other shepherds. They have tasty treats, but only you feed us with the Bread of Life. Clear your throat and perk our ears that we might be reminded to follow you alone. Amen