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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

I’m not looking to pick a fight with Republicans or embarrass them.  I’m writing to beg for the lives of people I love.

Even after coming to terms with Democrats on tax bill issues, Senate Republicans continue to block a bill that would provide much needed healthcare for the thousands of first-responders who are dying and suffering economic distress because they rushed to the scene during and after 9/11.  They are suffering because they saw suffering.  They are broken because they tried to pick up the shattered pieces of the World Trade Center and in so doing put together the fractured pieces of the world community.

They helped the military, the FAA, the FBI and law enforcement of every kind.

They helped weeping family members to find closure so that they would not have to hold up pictures of their lost sons and daughters at the gates of ground zero.

They helped one another make it through the most disturbing sights and smells of their lives.

The helped a country and a world see the good that can come…the love that can be revealed in the face of evil.

And Senate Republicans are blocking the bill that would bring them healthcare.

I am not writing to embarrass or point out fault.  I am writing to plead for the minds and souls of firefighters from my congregation.  When the planes hit, firefighters and paramedics from my congregation didn’t hesitate.  They left everything, rushed into New York City and dug bodies out of rubble in the hope that they might find the living.  In the process they saw things far worse than we can imagine.  Do you know how the government knew that the stewardesses on the flights had their hands duct-taped?  It’s because a member of my congregation found a pair of severed hands, duct-taped together that had somehow survived the blazing inferno.  To this day, they suffer from PTSD.  To this day, they suffer from cancer.  To this day, they suffer from lung and heart failure.  On that day–and the many days that followed–they tended to the soul of a nation and offered us healing by their witness.

And Senate Republicans are blocking the bill that will offer counseling as well as medical assistance.

Sen. Kyl criticized Sen Reid’s proposal to work through the Christmas holiday, saying it was disrespectful to Christianity.  As a ordained United Methodist minister, I haven’t figured it all out, but I feel confident in saying this:

Jesus will be okay with it if you work on Christmas Eve to make sure these heroes get medicine.  This is the Jesus who got in trouble for healing on the sabbath!  You have the power to heal.  Don’t hide behind Jesus because you don’t want to use it! By the way, firefighters still work on Christmas.  Paramedics still work on Christmas.  The police still work on Christmas.  Are they disrespecting their faith or living it out?

So here’s my request:  send a note to a Senate Republican and tell them how you feel.  Ask for an answer.  As soon as I post this, I’ll be writing my letters to the two Senate Republicans from Texas.  I hope that you’ll join me.

And please pray this year for those who gave us hope.

To contact Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson:  http://hutchison.senate.gov/contact.cfm

To contact Senator John Cornyn: http://cornyn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=ContactForm

Sometimes the church eats cake batter

I led a devotion this week at the conference office with eight or so conference staff members.  It was a great way to start the day.  After singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel, I stood in front of them and waited.  I just watched the clock while they all looked expectantly at me.

20 seconds passed and my heart was racing.

30 seconds passed and I considered giving up and talking.

40 seconds passed–I seriously can’t take this anymore.

42 seconds passed–AHHHHHHHHH!

45 seconds okay, I’m going to pretend to turn to the scripture just so it looks like I”m not comatose

55 seconds there’s no way I can make it through two minutes

60 seconds “All creation waits, with groaning for the coming of the kingdom of God.”  I spoke!

I hate waiting.  Maybe it’s because I’m from NJ where time is  a much more precious commodity, but I can’t stand to wait.  When I moved to Texas (Fort Worth–where everything moves a little bit slower), I came close to losing it just about every time I went to the grocery store because they check out people talk to me!

‘I’ve got things to do, I”m never going to see you again…I’m sure you’re nice but do we really need to slow things down now so that I can learn that you like dogs too?’

I’m a good cook.  I’m an awful baker because when you bake, you’ve got to get it all ready stick it in the oven and wait.  You can’t check it’s progress, you can’t modify it and fix it to make sure it comes out okay.  You just stick it in the oven and bake.  I can’t do that!  When I cook food, I’m constantly tasting, testing, adjusting and balancing flavors.  Even with dishes that take a while to make, I don’t have to wait.  With baking, there’s no way around it.  You have to wait.

I asked the conference people how they felt while I stood in silence:

  • awkward
  • worried for the presenter
  • calm…it’s the first silence I’ve heard in a long time

WELCOME TO ADVENT

We live in a society dominated by instant gratification.  Some attempts at the instant are trivial: instant soup, coffee, oatmeal–even Mac’n’Cheese.  There’s instant messaging, text messages, twitter and cell phones to help us instantly get in touch.  There are unfortunate expressions of our desire for instant gratification: abundant pornography, excessive debt and various addictions to name a few.

In a society of instant gratification, advent is a time that we embrace the awkward (anyone ever notice how awkwardly awkward is spelled?), choose the silence and worry–worry that things won’t come out right, that we’ve screwed something up.  Advent is a time to worry.  It is a time to wait.  It is a time that is meant to make people worry–especially the powers that be!  It is also a time to hope–a time to look forward to what might be.  It is a time to build up expectations and make room for something new.  Advent isn’t about instant.  It’s about waiting.

Some of the longest waits of my life:

  • 1 minute, 32 seconds…time it took for my wife to walk down the aisle
  • 54 minutes…time the medical team tried to resuscitate the teenager who would lead to my first time telling a mother that her son was dead
  • 3 hrs, 40 minutes…time it to for me to get in touch with one of my best friends after an airplane flew into her office building
  • 6 hrs, 49 minutes…time from when I gave my 7 month-old daughter to a surgeon to repair her heart until I got to see her bright pink skin
  • 2 weeks…time it took from the onset of contractions for one of my daughters until she was delivered (these two weeks were a lot longer for my wife)
  • 10 years, 2 months…time it took for me to go through the ordination process
  • 14 years, 0 days…time for my first real kiss (yeah, it was my birthday)

All of these were incredible waits, but all of them led to an incredible experience.  When I look back, I know that the wait is part of what made them powerful and life-defining.  There was something about the wait that made me value the moment.  How does Isaiah put it?

“The strength of the Lord will rise as we wait”

Abrahm and Sarai waited…Joseph waited in prison…the Israelites waited in Egypt…then in the wilderness…then in the wilderness again…then they waited in Babylon…then they waited for a Messiah and it was good–it was beyond good!

But advent comes into out lives and so few churches wait for Christmas. Instead of birthday cake, we eat batter. Sure, it’s sweet, but it goopy, not fully formed and definitely not ready yet.  Then we show up for the Christmas feast, having already tried the flavor.  We’re still interested in the cake, yes, but less so than we might otherwise.  And the cake doesn’t really come out right–it seems like those people who only showed up on Christmas and haven’t had any of the batter get more out of it than the church-goers.

Imagine the other side.  Imagine if we actually observed advent and the smell of baking cake enticed us for weeks.  Imagine how much we would want to eat that cake.  Imagine how much better the cake would be if it was allowed to form properly.

Christmas is like this too.  The Christmases in my life that have been the most powerful for me have been ones in which I have adopted practices of waiting and preparing and watching.  I pray that I might have the patience this year to once again wait upon God’s time and the church’s time instead of my own.

This baby Jesus doesn't look very comfortable, but at least he LIGHTS UP!

I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but there’s apparently a bit of a crime spree across the US involving baby Jesi (for the purposes of my blog, I prefer to use “Jesi” as the plural form of “Jesus” because “Jesuses” is just too akward).  People actually go around, stealing these little plastic cherubs who herald the birth of a savior!  Do a search for “baby jesus theft” and you’ll get tons of articles about it (my favorite title is Nativity Captivity: Baby Jesus thefts a prank or an affront in the San Diego Union-Tribune).  This wave has been so severe that some precints have installed GPS tracking devices in the baby Jesi!!!  There are companies who now offer churches a free GPS-tracker for their baby Jesus (http://www.prweb.com/releases/lightning/gps/prweb1701254.htm).  A couple things come to my mind…

REFLECTION # 1)  At first I didn’t like these baby-stealers.  After all, they were absconding with my savior.  After a while, though, I started to see that they could be quite noble.  Let me try to take this somewhere:

Every year, most churches begin advent so well.  They hold back on Christmas songs and sing things like O Come, O Come Emmanual and Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus and even Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates.  But then pastors go Christmas shopping and hear Christmas songs in the stores.  The pastor will preach another advent sermon but she or he is quickly running out of advent carols that everyone knows and / or likes.  Then the pastor gets so excited about Christmas coming that (s)he barfs Christmas all over the congregation in a massive pagent of Christmas songs and scriptures.  (S)He’ll probably even tell the congregation “Merry Christmas”  They just can’t help themselves.  And congregations love them for it, because our American, consumer, instant-gratification driven congregations have never been challenged to wait, expect, fast and pray their way to Christmas.  They’ve never waited all the way through advent and so they don’t know how climactic, exciting and amazing that Christmas can truly be!  

Celebrating Christmas in the middle of advent is like eating Spaghetti-Os right out of the can.  Sure, you can do it and it won’t make you sick but they taste SO MUCH BETTER heated up.

This angel may be cute, but she may want to steal your Jesus too!

I wonder…just a little bit…if all these Jesus-thieves aren’t God’s angels.  I wonder if God looks at us and says, ‘seriously?  You couldn’t wait just two more weeks?’  And so, God, like a father taking a cold can of Spaggetti-Os from his child’s hands,  sends angelic vigilanties to snatch the baby Jesus from the hands of over-eager congregations who just don’t know how to work their spiritual microwave. 

To all the baby Jesus thefts out there, I say, BRAVO!  Way to make the church better!  But please, if you could return Jesus on Christmas to the church, we’d appreciate it.  We know that we don’t deserve Jesus, but if you could kindly return him on Christmas, it could be a nice miracle for us.

REFLECTION # 2)  I’ve faced many moments in my life when it was hard to find Jesus.  I never thought of using a GPS.

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