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<light candle>

1: We light a candle for lives lost—for laughter cut short, voices that will never again be heard; for hugs unraveled by death. We light a candle for a broken future—made incomplete without loved ones lost.

2: Rev. Clementa Pickney

3: Cynthia Hurd

4: Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

2: Tywanza Sanders

1: Ethel Lance

3: Susie Jackson

4: Depayne Middleton Doctor

2: Rev. Daniel Simmons

3: Myra Thompson

1: May light perpetual shine upon them.

 

<light candle>

2: We light a candle for American dreams deferred. For insufficient funds in the bank of justice…for our worst selves denying our greatest promise as a nation.

 

<light candle>

3: We light a candle for Charleston,

4:McKinney

2: Baltimore

1: New York

3: and Ferguson—cities without innocence now known by the malignant refusal of the few to see the compounding value of all.

 

<light candle>

4: We light a candle for Dallas. Racism has grit in Dallas. Racism has claimed lives here. Racism has claimed dignity here. The swollen flow of racism through this state threatens to overflow the banks of our well-divided districts.

 

<light candle>

1: We light a candle for Dylann Roof—a shooter who was not born to kill, but pulled a trigger thirty-nine times.

4: thirty-nine times!

1: We pray that this is not the end of his story.

 

<light candle>

2: We light a candle of solidarity. We do not stand alone. We share the same light with millions who came before and many millions who walk after us on the march to a promised land yet unseen, long discussed but that already extends long arms of life and hope into our present reality.

 

<light candle>

3: We light a candle for the church.

1: The blood that now stains the wood panel floors of the church call out to God.

2: The blood that has far too often run in the streets now runs in our churches.

4: We can no longer hide behind our pulpits.

3: We light this candle to poke at privilege, speak hard truths, be less complacent as a church ablaze for the God of justice whose patience wears thin with those who ‘proclaim peace, peace when there is no peace.’

 

 

<light candle>

4: We light a candle for ‘Emanuel’

3: which means ‘God with us’

4: in prayer that God will, indeed, be with us in this time. God does not shy away from tragedy. God is not intimidated by bullets or bombs. God is not deterred by those who insist white privilege isn’t real. God is with us.

 

1: Most importantly, we light all of these candles for hope—as a sign of rebellion against the darkness that threatens to consume us. For the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not, will not, can not overcome it.

I’ve been dabbling with spoken word poetry, on stage and in sermons. Here’s something that I tried out in both places. I’m still new to this so it needs work, but some folks asked for it…so here it is. 

Wisemen Generation

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We like to put Bethlehem in a box…and then take it out once a year. Bethlehem is a “good neighborhood”, made of felt board and figurines. It is a delicate place that demands a delicate ritual. We unpack Bethlehem with our fingertips, piece-by-piece. Bethlehem is predictable. The characters are always the same and the story never changes.

We bring Bethlehem home because, in some sense, Bethlehem stands for home—or at least our ideal of what it should be. Adoring parents, abundant gifts. An angel showing divine approval while looking down from above. Bethlehem is stable.

But this is not the Bethlehem of the Bible and this is rarely the home of our lives.

Bethlehem is a Biblical bus stop. It’s a spiritual transfer station where one finds God an moves on. No one stays in Bethlehem.

David slays Goliath and goes north to Jerusalem.

The shepherds return West to their flocks.

Wise men go East.

The Holy Family flees south.

The price for staying is the death of innocence that far too many have paid.

Bethlehem makes warriors out of runts and gods out of babies.

Bethlehem is made more of blood than of plastic.

Figurines don’t shit.  Babies and donkeys do.

But still, Bethlehem is beautiful and it is necessary.

Bethlehem is where you go to find God…and then GO because you can’t spell God without “GO” and I’m pretty sure the “D” doesn’t stand for “dump your ass here.”

As I look over the Bethlehem box in my living room, I wonder, who are we in the home for God?

We, in this room, are not the bored shepherds, falling asleep on their staffs. We’re not dirty enough, not oppressed enough, not nearly poor enough to have God show up in our back yard.  We are not frightened by angels  because we’re too entertained to hear them.

We are wise, or at least educated. It takes a star to catch our eyes, but when our eyes have been caught it is easy to reel us in and here, here is the power of the wise men generation, the potential power of us.

We are the generation who leaps so that we can look at the view.

We put all our eggs in one basket and count them as chickens in waiting

We run with scissors because we know that someone needs them now (plus we’ve got shit to do and it’s not that hard to protect yourself from scissors).

We go on road trips to anywhere because the trip is what we remember

and that goes for life too: it’s the trips we remember because it’s easy to laugh after a fall—except when it hurts…that’s when it’s easy to cry. Yes, it’s the trips we remember.

Our generation knows that all who wander are not lost and that the lost might not be if they just wandered around a bit.

The world has forgotten that the wise leave home, chase after stars and set their sights high.

The wise are civil in their disobedience to authority but disobedient nonetheless.

The wise lose home and find themselves.

So maybe Bethlehem stands for home after all—or an improvised home for those of us who find home on the road.

Bethlehem stands for home in the face of homelessness, and home in the face of God.

epiphany

People sometimes ask me what it means to be a community curator at a place like Union. Thank God, it includes going to stuff like this:

It smelled like sweat, lady shampoo and Barefoot Wine in a basement theater of Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University as Ten Bitches (no, they weren’t all women) took the stage on the last day of classes at midnight. Their goal:  present 30 plays in one hour, selected in random order by the audience. Also they wanted to surprise, break down the 4th wall, dance, laugh and draw mustaches on everyone in the audience.

The show was light and fast. As soon as one play ended, audience members shouted out the number for the next. This breakneck pace kept a bunch of stressed out, ADD college kids engaged. The plays varied but were consistently creative.  #12, The Grinch, featured Cindy Lou and the dog, Max, bedside to a hospitalized Grinch. A doctor enters the scene to deliver the bad news: Grinch isn’t likely to make it because of the complications caused by his heart growing three times its normal size. #28, Basement Dancing, invited everyone up on stage to dance to an audience members favorite song. Actors interacted with crowd members throughout and the audience sometimes played unscripted roles that built upon the evening. During #24, Free After Ten, an actor said, “I need a new man,” prompting a guy in the audience to shout, “amen.”The Grinch

The banter cut quickly during #8, Ledge Talk  (brilliantly written by Mei Mei Pollitt).  In fact, the room went silent. A brave actress stepped onto stage, wearing nothing but bra and boyshorts. She sat on a ledge, with a man standing off at a perceived distance. “What does it do to you to see so much flesh” she asked the man or maybe the audience. The two actors raised questions about commitment, sexuality and God. This led to the only awkward moment of the night—not because things got serious. The room needed a dose of serious to break up the train of frivolity. The awkward moment came when the actors shouted scene and no one wanted to shout out another number for the next play. They just wanted to applaud or wipe away the unexpected tears.

I’m not an SMU student, but I help run Union, a coffee shop nearby to SMU and some of the actors for Ten Bitches are regulars. They show up at Union’s events and it seemed right to show up at theirs. I came to Ten Bitches to support some friends. I left with insight into the weird subculture that is The Meadows School of the Arts.

These students instinctively know how to take care of each other. There’s no extra credit or graduation awards for putting on a performance like Ten Bitches and a Stage. They filled the stage on the last day of classes to do for their fellow students what theater does best—Sabbath. Ten Bitches gave fifty students the chance to breathe, laugh, dance, celebrate and mock the world that threatens to define them.

If you hear rumors of ten bitches taking the stage again, grab a friend, wander around the basement of Meadows until you find them and enjoy what the bitches have to offer. You won’t be disappointed.

10 Bitches and a Stage

ImageLast night I had the honor of offering an opening prayer at La Cena, an All Saints Feast put together by Cafe Momentum and House of Plates. Here’s the prayer that I wrote. Please feel free to use it for churches or other celebrations (churches may want to substitute “today” for “tonight”)

 

 

Tonight we remember the saints

And give thanks for the way they shaped us. May we mold the world according to their witness.

Tonight we remember the saints

And give thanks for the way they loved us. May we reflect their light, long after their lives have slipped into darkness.

Tonight we remember the saints

And pray  we be remembered like them. For this fleeting flesh will not last, but the fossil remain of our work will surely linger and give shape to the coming age.

Tonight we remember the saints

And savor their memory as we do this meal. May we be nourished by this food, nourished by their memory so that we might serve the world in a way that brings light to darkness food to hunger courage to victim flesh to bone water to thirst life to death.

Tonight we remember the saints

and give thanks to God, the giver of death.

Tonight we remember the saints

and give thanks to God, the giver of life.

Confession # 1: I Crash Landed the Plane & Thought No One Noticed

Tuesday’s sermon was great. I was super excited about it because the kuneo planning team (‘kuneo’ is the name of our worship gathering) had come up with some really great insights into our surrounding culture, plus we had a super sexy title:

Jesus Wants to Save You from the Zombie Super Apocalypse

Things were going great…we had congregational participation and laughter.  Our conversations around zombies revealed some of our greatest fears and weaknesses as a society and as individuals. All of us (including myself) recognized things from which we need to be saved.

I remembered the convicting words of my friend, Maria Dixon-Hall in a recent blog rant. I decided, I am going to proclaim that Jesus saves. I am going to own the fact that I need to be saved just as much as someone who’s life is obviously in shambles. My brokenness is much more hidden than this guys

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, but it’s just as real. I need Jesus to save me because I can’t do it on my own. So I told everyone to spend some time acknowledging the parts of their lives that are zombie-esque, choose to live differently and, if it seems overwhelming, trust that Jesus can save you from the zombie-infected parts of your soul. 

Here’s the problem: 

  1. I never explained how Jesus saves us
  2. I never offered guidance on what people should do to get Jesus to save them
  3. Although I did expand people’s understanding of salvation to include being saved from very real practical realities TODAY and not just far off salvation after people die, I essentially defaulted to a Christian cliche that “Jesus will save you” as if that statement makes sense on its own.

I thought it was a good, inspirational landing, but in actuality I hit the tarmack so hard that the baristas had to scrape people off the ceiling who had failed to fasten their seatbelts. 

Confession # 2 : Sometimes the Church Acts Like the Producers of LOST

(warning: LOST spoilers)

I will always be annoyed at the people who made the show LOST. They started the show with some really good ideas and then decided that they would let the story write itself. They didn’t know where they were going…and that was okay with me. I think it is cool to create a universe and see where it takes you–whether you’re telling a story, writing a TV show or theologizing. This is what’s not okay with me: LOST fell apart at the end. The producers knew it, the actors knew it and good God, almighty, the audience knew it too. But here’s the great sin: they spit in my coffee and called it sugar!  LOST pretended like their crazy storyline made sense (it didn’t…come on, unless the lights in my parent’s pool are magical, an icy wheel that combines light and water shouldn’t be able to create rifts in the space-time continuum of the universe) and with a smug look on their faces, pretended like the ending was their plan all along. Image

This is crap: “ha ha ha, all these flash sideways (what the heck is a flash sideways, BTWs) are from the afterlife. It all makes sense because no one knows what happens in the afterlife so it doesn’t have to make sense. Thank you for watching our program for 6 years.”

At the end of my sermon, I pulled a LOST. I said stuff like “Jesus saves” as if that makes sense in and of itself. But it doesn’t. I ought to respect the intellect of my congregation enough to acknowledge that. I ought to be honest enough about my own shortcomings as a theologian to acknowledge to the room that I don’t know how Jesus saves us and I don’t really know what it means.

I get all sorts of self-righteous and dismissive of churches that throw out our own theological constructs as if they make sense…and I did the same thing.

Confession # 3 : I Need Honest, Smart People to Help Me Become a Better Preacher …(the Church Might Need Some Honest, Smart Critics to Help Her Become Better Too)

Thank God for people like Rachel, Jonathan, Robert, Jennifer, Katie, Michelle and Shane who went with me to grab a drink after worship. They loved me, were honest about the places the sermon connected and then owned the hard landing. Here’s the really magical thing about these people who I absolutely adore: they didn’t just talk about the hard landing. They entered into dialogue with me as we figured out, together, how we could have smoothed out the landing. We set up the flight simulator and they jumped into the cockpit with me. Instead of throwing out this notion that “Jesus saves” instead I could have ended with any of the following:

I don’t know how Jesus saves, but I do know that God saved the people in the Bible from zombie-like influences of wanton greed, mass consumption, violence, ignorance and more. I’m just crazy enough to believe that God the stories in the Bible can help save us too. I’m hoping that we can figure it out together.

OR

If you have zombie infections in your soul, I know that Jesus has something to offer because Jesus has something to say about our warring madness and violence as a society. Jesus has something to say about our materialism. Jesus has something to say about our wanton consumerism. Jesus has something to say about our willingness to blatantly ignore the needs of others in order to pursue our own wants. There is salvation in Jesus’ words and wisdom!

OR

I know I’ve thrown out this concept that Jesus saves. And I know we’ve all heard it. And I know that none of us probably really know what it means. In the next several weeks, we’re going to explore the practical ways that Jesus saves and see if we can get a better understanding of what it’s all about. 

Confession # 4 : Pretend Perfect

I was going to sit down tonight and write out the sermon (I still plan to do so), but what stopped me in my tracks is that I planned to fix the ending, without qualification or confession. Instead I wrote this blog. Hopefully, I’ll find time to post the sermon later. I want to be honest and transparent in my preaching. 

I told Rachel Bryan, tonight on the phone, “if I ever throw something out there like that again, call me on it–but don’t wait an hour. Call me on it in worship. Maybe we can figure it out on the spot instead of at the bar a couple hours later.” Praise God that she, and others like her, will be brave enough to do so. 

Luke 19:28-40

Yesterday morning, I was proud to stand with my two sons, one of my daughters and thousands of men. We stood around city Hall because Mayor Mike Rawlings called upon the city of Dallas to end a culture that allows for Domestic Violence.

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As we gathered around city hall yesterday morning, I was struck by the similarities to Palm Sunday. Palm fronds were replaced by rally towels, though we waved them above our heads, fronding, to similar affect. Like on Palm Sunday, we demanded a change in the culture of oppression and violence. We forget, too easily that Palm Sunday was a grand political protest. It began on the Mount of Olives (where all political protests and militaristic invasions took place in Jerusalem) and the words of the people invoke revolution. By invoking the words of the prophets they call Jesus, Messiah, and call for a new era where justice is only ever overruled by mercy and never corruption.

Palm Sunday was a protest.

Yesterday morning, like Palm Sunday, was a day we believed in the power of people to radically change a culture by the sheer force of their common purpose and shared conviction. In a day before non-violent resistance, Palm Sunday was a peaceful protest against violence. Like it was yesterday.

Dallas Cowboys stood in front of their crowd, and said, ‘I want Dallas to be known not by its 5 Super Bowl Championships but as the city that has made the greatest difference in affecting a change in a culture of domestic violence.

I was inspired. But I was also sad. One of the prophecies of Palm Sunday came true.

“Rabbi, tell your disciples to be quiet,” some of the Pharisees tried to reason with Jesus-talk the crowd down from their dangerous proposition.

Jesus response: “if they are quiet then the stones themselves would shout.”

I was sad yesterday because it was not the church that called 10,000 men to end domestic violence. Sure, the church participated and provided some of the best speakers, but it was the Mayor and the Dallas Cowboys that provided the real leadership and the City of Dallas who will lead the charge.

“If my disciples are silent, the rocks themselves will shout out.”

I am disturbed by the fact that 1 in 4 women will be victimized by partner violence by the time they are old enough to graduate college.

I am disturbed by the fact that 13,000 cases of Domestic Violence were reported in Dallas last year—that’s 35 a day and, by the way, it is just as prevalent in that park cities as it is anywhere else in Dallas. DV does not know race or socio-economic status.

But what really pains me is this:

Statistically, church members are just as likely to be abusers and victims.

Sunday, is the most common day for Domestic Violence to occur.

There is a direct correlation between the score of the Cowboys game and hte number of domestic violence calls.

I know that we have been silent and I know that the stones themselves are rising up to speak because if the United Methodist Church had addressed Domestic Violence these statistics wouldn’t hold!  And so the stones themselves are speaking out.

The passion story is more than a story of salvation and sacrifice. It’s a cautionary tal

e of a church that Jesus foretold and the disciples lived out.

 

(The Duck Church)

At the rally yesterday, one of the best speakers was a preacher whose name I,unfortunately, cannot remember, He told a story that floats around pastors from time to time. It’s about Duck Church.

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There was once a town full of ducks who waddled everywhere. One Sunday morning, they waddled into church and heard an inspiring sermon from Duck Matt Gaston. He told them three important things.

1) Remember that you are ducks.

2) Know that ducks have wings

3) You were made to fly!

The duck congregation went crazy. Duck Richard Hearne shouted loud amens throughout and the congregation was visibly stirred. Duck Damin Spritzer played a beautiful piece on the pipe Organ and the duck choir quacked along with a song so beautiful that many members of the congregation closed their eyes and felt like they were flying for the first time.

At the end of the service, many ducks shook wings with Duck Matt and thanked him for reminding them that they are ducks with wings who are called to fly.

And they all waddled home.

The story of duck church is the disciples’ Passion story. The “multitude of disciples” were all fired up talking about the power of God and the new kingdom of peace and by the end of the week Jesus is left standing there, looking around. “for all of his acquantances” the scripture says—not just the close friends but even down to the acquaintances—stood at a distance.

We have been blessed to be a blessing, but far too often we just act blessed.

I feel like I’ve spent far too much of my life arguing and working on issues over which we, in the church, easily disagree. I’m from NJ, so arguing is in my DNA, but I need to find ways to get past that. What if we spent that time working, really working, on the issues over which there is unity and there are a great many issues in our world over which we find unity!

No one in this room believes it’s a good thing to abuse women and children. Even abusers have remorse over their actions, which is part of why the cycle continues.

I don’t think anyone in this room is okay with the fact that someone dies of hunger-related causes every 7 seconds in the world.

I don’t think anyone in the church is content with the fact that many people find suicide their best option.

I think we would have a hard time finding churches that support bullying in our schools.

And yet so many great ills in our society continue in the face of a silent church!

 

(The Sirens)

I’ve always been intrigued by Greek mythology. One danger, in particular, always struck me: the sirens. The Sirens sat on a rock through some oceanic pass that offered a deadly shortcut. The sirens were beautiful sang a song so glorious that sailors would steer their ships towards the sirens, wreck the ships on unseen rocks and were then gobbled up by the sirens. There were only two ships who successfuly navigated the sirens.

One was Odysseus. In a time crunch he had to pass by the sirens. TO navigate it safely, he stuffed wax in the ears of his sailors, blindfolded them and tied himself to the mast of the ship.

The other was Orpheus, a musician, who simply sat at the bow and played more beauitful music.

Odysseus’s way is the way of the stones

Ours is the way of more beautiful music

Orpheus

(So the Stones Don’t Have To)

So I say, let us raise our voice so that the stones don’t have to.

Let us raise our voice for love because safe sanctuaries are not enough, we cannot rest until our homes are sanctuaries for love.

Let us raise our voice for education so that little girls grow up knowing that the men who love them cannot strike them.

Let us raise our voice of manhood, so that little boys grow up, knowing that

real men don’t resort to violence,

that real men hold their brothers accountable and

that gentleness is not the opposite of manliness.

Let us raise our voice of justice because silence is the friend of oppression.

Let us raise our voice so that abusers might lower theirs, choosing to give up control

Let us raise our voice so that the children of Dallas never have to stand in the way of their father’s fist, so that families don’t have to lie about their bruises, so that abusers don’t speak in code as a way to warn their spouses that they are out of line

Let us raise our voice so that abusers might find wholeness, pride and acts of repentance that lead to redemption.

Let us raise our voice for gentleness now but let us not just speak about domestic violence.

Let us raise our voice so that the children in our schools never live in fear of a bomb, a gun or a fist.

Let us raise our voice so that those who feel there is no way out will know that there is always hope in Jesus Christ.

Let us raise our voice to shout down the demons of suicide, the demons of loneliness, the demons of hopelessness because our music is far more beautiful than anything the demons have to offer.

Let us “lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty!”

I don’t want to wait for the stones to sing about it, the mayor to write about it or congress to incentivize it.

Let us raise our voice for community now!

Palm Sunday is a day of revolution and Jesus is looking for recruits!

(The Promised Land)

I see Paige Flink, director of the Family Place, here. Wouldn’t it be great, Paige, if, on some Easter Sunday, we are able to walk out together and board up the doors of the Family Place? Not because funding has run out but because our mission is accomplished.

Wouldn’t it be great if our kids didn’t fear going to school anymore?

Would’t it be amazing if suicide no longer marred our society with unseen scars?

Then, maybe then, once we have accomplished great work on these matters about which we agree, perhaps we will have worked together enough to work better together on issues about which we are not yet on one accord because once you’ve worked with someone, once you’ve sweat side-by-side with someone on soemthign that matters you see them in a new way.

(Adding Days and Minutes)

But this is a tall order. The scope of the work to be done is great and can paralyze.

What if, in our life time, we were responsible for adding hours—so that domestic violence only occurs once a day in Dallas instead of 35 times a day?

What if, in our life-time, we were responsible for making it every 30 seconds that someone dies of hunger, instead of every 7 seconds—a difference of 512 lives / hour?

Or we could remain silent. We could “stand at a distance” as the disciples and the women who followed Jesus did. It will not keep God from working. “Even the stones will shout out,” Jesus says.

“The moral arc of the universe is long and it bends towards justice.” The fix is in. We know how the story ends. God does not need us, but God wants us—to hasten the day when the last wound is inflicted, when the last bruise heals, when we meet down by the riverside and study war no more, when the last drop of blood has been shed, when the savior does not have to die.

This is why we wave our palms.

This is why we sing this day—so that world won’t have to wait…so that God won’t have to raise up the stones.

This is my review of The Hunger Games for the United Methodist Reporter. It will appear in the printed version next week.

Rather than dull the social commentary for mass consumption, Director Gary Ross sharpens the edge of the popular teen novel, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins in the screen adaptation that boasts $155 million domestic in its opening weekend. Those who watch The Hunger Games looking only for action, a compelling story and solid entertainment will not be disappointed. This is offered to the audience in spades. Though the film is rife with social commentary, it does not get heavy-handed. Instead it drives the story in ways more apparent in the film than in the book. Though die-hard fans of the popular book series will see this and other differences between the book and movie, none that radically change the storyline. Most will likely find them acceptable or even positive shifts.

The Hunger Games begins with a look at poverty in Collins’ dystopian future—the home of Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) in one of twelve poor districts that provide raw materials, goods and services for the politically dominant Capital population. The visuals of poverty do more to set up the contrast of poor and rich than the written word ever could and Ross takes full advantage.  We witness Katniss hunting in off-limits woods. She’s skilled with a bow and uses these skills to help feed her family. Soon it is revealed that this is day of ‘reaping,’ when a boy and girl from each of the twelve districts is selected by drawing to compete in a competition to the death—the Hunger Games.

While district residents dread selection, those in the capital relish the Hunger Games for its spectacle, drama and entertainment. The sickening reality of entertainment at the death of children is held up consistently through the movie. When Katniss’ twelve year-old sister is selected for the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to compete instead. Here, again, director Ross takes advantage of film in a way that books fall short. At the selection of children for the Hunger Games, a representative of the capital announces them triumphantly, expecting applause. The revolt of the district’s silent response is aurally stunning while their faces silently scream for revolution. Katniss is soon whisked away to the Capitol with Peeta Mallark (played by Josh Hutcherson), a boy we later learn has had a crush on Katniss for years.

After training, interviews and various demonstrations, twenty-four children are placed in a futuristic, forested coliseum. Director Gary Ross, actors Jennifer Lawrence and Lenny Kravitz (who plays Cinna, Katniss’ stylist) do an incredible job conveying the fear felt by Katniss Everdeen before being thrust into the arena. I felt the fear and anticipation in my body—along with, I presume, the rest of the theater. After an excruciatingly exciting countdown, the children are thrust into the game and after each other.

The violence is shown in quick motion, with minimal blood and gore. It spares the audience from being overwhelmed until you think for two seconds about what is being portrayed. The knowledge that this is a depiction of children killing children was enough to make me shift uncomfortably in my seat. This, I’m sure, is a part of the filmmakers’ intent: to set the audience continually ill at ease.

The Hunger Games continually asks questions of its audience. The director offers especially poignant challenge after the death of one of Katniss’ allies. While rising up from the now lifeless body of her young friend, she looks accusingly through the camera to the audience as if to ask, ‘does this amuse you?’ Director Ross and author Collins challenge the ways we are entertained by violence while serving up plenty of portions. It became clear to me that if I were to truly listen to the message of the movie, I should stop watching. And yet I don’t…I can’t because I am held captive—revealing something about myself that I perhaps don’t want to see. The Hunger Games continually walks an interesting line—critiquing questionable norms in our society while simultaneously pandering to them. I believe that this irony is intentional—and brilliant.

Because it seems to foreign and absurd, the alien costumes and strange appearances of the capital residents and impressive technology helps us to identify with the district heroine, Katniss Everdean. She becomes the heroine that we all root for and with whom most audiences will identify. This, too, offers an ironic twist for wealthy audiences who are far more like capital residents than those of the district. In the course of the book and movie, I caught myself co-opting Katniss Everdean as if her story is my own. I’m honestly not sure if this is a good thing or not—but it seems like a very “capital” thing for me to do in the The Hunger Games world.

I stepped out of the movie theater at the North Park Mall, situated in the Highland Park neighborhood of Dallas—one of the wealthiest in the world. I’m surrounded by botoxed men and women, shoppers wearing outfits that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. There are more blonde women than could be normal anywhere outside of Sweden. Makeup, expensive jewelry, plastic surgery and ignorance or indifference to the real plight fo the poor surround me. I am a member of a society reminiscent of the Capital in The Hunger Games. Not many movies encourage that level of reflection and realization. The Hunger Games is a must-see for anyone who wants to stay current on contemporary culture or speak to the questions raised by this well-executed movie.

Here’s a quick Easter post: it’s a nod to my favorite Easter sermon ever preached…okay my second favorite one (the women telling Peter is probably the best). I wasn’t there the day it was preached for the first time, but I’ve heard it repeated and I love it. Enjoy!

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful, bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed death by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
Hell was in an uproar because it is mocked.
Hell was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
Hell is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
Hell is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

St. John Chrysostom … Constantinople~400AD

It never ceases to amaze me that a 1,600 year-old sermon can continue to inspire. Perhaps that’s why it’s read every year in many Eastern Orthodox Churches. Sadly, I know far too many pastors who are no longer inspired by the story of Holy Week–who have lost their sense of wonder at the resurrection and who are so attuned to the end of the story that they no longer struggle with Good Friday and pause in silence on Holy Saturday. Whenever I need Easter inspiration, I turn to Chrysostom. Maybe that’s why the Eastern Churches use it–like a fail-safe. If the pastor can’t come up with the power of the resurrection AT LEAST the congregation gets to share in the blessings of Chrysostom’s words.

It’s easy for me, as a young pastor, to be critical of pastors who have been in ministry for a long time and are no longer blown away by the story. I wonder if I will be like them. I wonder how some of them stay freshly in love with the Holy Week story year after year. I hope that I can be like the latter.

In the Blink of an Eye

A prayer for the 10th anniversary of September 11th, led by four voices

1: In the blink of an eye, a mangled torrent of steel, jet fuel and earth ended hundreds of lives.  Our nation opened its eyes once again to tragedy.  And we wept.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer.

 

2:  In the blink of an hour, thousands more would die.  People who showed up for work at a desk.  People who showed up for work, on a plane.  People who showed up for work on the back of a firetruck, never to return home.  They made one last phone call, said one last prayer and their eyes were closed.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

3:  In the blink of a day, tens of thousands flocked to scarred remains of earth, broken shards of buildings.  Churches opened their doors, restaurants opened their tables, donors opened their veins and their wallets.  The world opened its heart.  Humanity’s best reflected light in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  Covered in ash…covered in shock…covered in grief, we were all the same…and the world opened its eyes to hope.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

4:  In the blink of a year, we were at war—twice.  Revenge tangled with justice…confusion tangled good will…hatred tangled hope.  In some ways, we offered peace.  In some ways, we became like those who had hurt us.  We saw the world with blinders that follow injustice.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

2:  In the blink of ten years, we have adjusted to a new normal.  On September 10th, 2001 ,we had more wealth, more confidence, more naiveté, more innocence, more friends.  We had far fewer scars.  But scars, too, are signs of hope—reminders of healing–that life goes on, that the  arc of the time bends towards recovery.  Scars in our memories, in our land and in our skyline remind us that injury and death do not have the last word unless we give it to them.  Scar tissue is resilient, tough and hopeful.  We see the world with renewed hope.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

1:  And so we confess

2:  That we have not loved our enemies

3:  That we have not prayed for them

4:  That we have, at times, become like them

2:  That we have bombed their children instead of feeding them

3:  That our instinct to hate and hurt were in us before we were attacked

All: Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

1:  And so we celebrate

3:  That there is light in valley

2:  That we were able to participate in that light

4:  That the nations of this world struggle towards freedom

2:  That you were not silent on 9/11 and you have not been silent since

3:  That we have begun to heal

All: Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

 

1:  And so, wide-eyed, we look

4:  For a world of hope

2:  For a world of peace

3:  For a world of faith

2:  For a world of love

4:  In the long gaze of God.

All:  Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

A PRAYER in REMEMBRANCE of 9/11

With light, in three voices

Preparation

Set up a table or altar with 100 lit candles (tea lights are easy) and 1 Christ candle in the middle (bigger than the rest).

Arrange for 3 readers.  Position them around the room.

Arrange one acolyte to extinguish candles in the appropriate places.  You will want to line up an additional few acolytes for the last section.

 

 

Prayer

<extinguish six candles>

1:

On September 11th, 2001, 2,626 people died while they began their day at work in buildings so tall they scraped the sky. 125 died in the Pentagon—the only military personnel to die that day.  246 died aboard airplanes that no longer lived in the sky.  Nearly 3,000 lives were lost in a matter of hours. 

2:  For all those who suddenly lost their life.

3:  For all those whose prayers rose up and were suddenly silenced

2:  For those who made one last phone call goodbye

3:  For those who did not have time for that last call or who never got through

1:  For the innocence lost that day

3:  For images that are burned permanently in our minds

2:  For the questions that rise out of the ashes

3:  For all who mourned and continue to mourn.

3:  Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

<extinguish six candles>

2: Since September 11th, 2001, 5,000 American soldiers have died in Iraq and at least 1,700 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan.

1: For the family members of those who have lost their lives

2: For those families that wait with constant fear of bad news

3:  For those families who live with constant anticipation of any news

1:  For those who watch  their friends die

2:  For those who are willing to die for their passion

3:  For those who carry the weight of death

1:  For those who live in fear and distrust, never knowing which un-uniformed civilian intends them harm

2:  For those who live in the shadow of death

2:Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

<extinguish six candles>

3:  Since September 11th, 2001, roughly 16,000 Afghani civilians have died. 

<begin rapidly, but reverently extinguishing candles until only the Christ candle and a few others are lit>

3:  Since September 11th, 2001 countless Iraqi civilians have died at the hands of insurgents and coalition forces.  Conservative estimates place the death toll in the neighborhood of 60,000.  An estimate put together by researchers from Johns Hopkins, Cornell and an Iraqi University place the actual death toll well above 100,000.

There will be no websites with memorials to every victim, nor will there be plaques on walls.  For most will remain nameless in the eyes of the world—only known by the other members of their village as a father, mother, son, daughter, co-worker, friend.

1:  For those who have lost a loved one in sudden death.

2:  For those who have died with no relationship to the cause of violence

3:  For those who have given their lives to a cause they did not want

2:  For those who want the cause but not the cost

1:  For those who held a loved one in their arms

3:  For those who struggle with guilt following the death of the innocent

1:  For all the soldiers who have offered mercy

3:  For the soldiers who have not offered mercy

2:  For all those who have begged for their life

3:  For those who are in harm’s way but do not know it

<begin lighting candles again>

2:  For the church who struggles to find its prophetic voice in the midst of a changing world. 

3:  For Christians, who struggle with questions of conscience and loyalties between religion, ideology and patriotism

1:  For Muslims and Jews who struggle with questions of conscience and loyalties between religion, ideology and patriotism

Lord in Your Mercy

Hear our Prayer

3:  For the leaders of our world

1: For the terrorists in this world

2: For our bishops and the leaders of other churches

3:  for the pope

1:  for President Obama

2:  for Foreign Prime Ministers, Presidents and Dictators

3: for Ban Ki-Moon and the United Nations

2: for the soul of Osama Bin Laden

3: may he rest in peace

1:  For wisdom

3: for peace

2:  For discernment

1: for peace

3:  for restraint

2: for peace

1:  For justice

3: for peace

1:  for mercy and understanding

2: for peace

1: for peace

3: for peace

2: for love   <pause>

3: Lord in your Mercy

Hear our prayer

1: We humbly ask that you would bless us and keep us in the palm of your hand.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

We offer this time of quiet, praying that your mercy would fall upon us.

<wait at least two  minutes…TIME IT>

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer

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