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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

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The latest stage for the debate over homosexuality, religion and culture has taken up to roost in the land of deep fried chicken and I think it’s time we all took a breath. The inevitable backlash against the hype is growing and in the midst of this chicken fried kerfuffle, I’m left wondering…what is God up to in all this?

Dear Democratic and Republican Extremists…

Extremist Democratic city mayors, please stop it. Stop it right now. Since when did the party that encourages civil liberties become the party that bans restaurants because of what their owners believe? Does the owner of a Chili’s have to submit to a personal beliefs inventory before opening in Chicago, San Francisco or Boston? What you’re doing is discriminatory. Shame on you.

Extremist Republican pundits, please stop it. Stop it right now. People boycotting Chick-Fil-A because they disagree with the organization is supports isn’t restricting anybody’s free speech. If people were boycotting the news organization for airing the interview or if they were suing Mr. Kathy (it feels weird to write “Mr.” followed by “Kathy”) for what he said, that would be a violation of free speech. You can protest the protesters all you want, but let’s own up to what this issue is about.

Straining at Pennies

Let’s just be honest about this. Those who have chosen to boycott Chick-Fil-A are people who do no want a portion of a penny from their lunchtime purchase to support causes that are discriminatory against the GLBT community. They aren’t protesting Mr. Kathy’s ideas (well, some might…but I don’t get the impression that’s what this is about). They just don’t want their money to go to something with which they disagree. This is an act of conscious–not an effort to limit someone’s free speech.

Those who do continue to eat at Chick-Fil-A are people who are okay with a portion of a penny going to support causes that are discriminatory against GLBT community. While I do not discount the hurt felt by many in the GLBT community (and I am deeply appreciative of Rev. Eric Folkerth’s blog for raising the ways in which this can be hurtful to many who are GLBT), not everyone who eats at Chick-Fil-A wants gay people to suffer, nor do they necessarily want gay people to be discriminated against. Their brain has just decided (consciously or not) that they are okay with a portion of a penny going to causes that act on the belief that homosexuality is wrong. While I acknowledge the hurt this causes for some folks in the GLBT community, I’ve also seen posts like these from gay friends of mine whom I respect:

I ate at McDonald’s today—not out of protest…I just had a hankerin’ for the best French fries that I can find. If I think about it, my $4.63 went to a lot of places.

  • A couple pennies went to support the 2012 Olympics
  • A portion of a penny contributed towards Brazilian deforestation
  • A portion of a penny supported Ronald McDonald House that affords parents of sick kids the chance to be with their children over extended hospital stays
  • Several pennies went to McDonalds marketing which is responsible for significant increases in childhood obesity, early onset of type II diabetes and Lord knows what else.
  • A couple pennies supported jobs for unskilled workers who will likely cycle out of their job in the next 6-12 months
  • Several pennies went to make really rich people a lot richer while their minimum wage employees are paid a pittance and can barely scrape out a living
  • A portion of a penny went to a potato farmer and his family.

The reality is, all of our purchases have an impact on our world. In our increasingly globalized economy, our money trails grow longer while the world gets smaller. Chick-Fil-A’s decision to provide money to discriminatory organizations is just what has our attention right now.

Our money spreads through the globe–some of it doing good things, others doing bad and sometimes I’m paralyzed by the weight of responsibility that flows out of my wallet. I can’t possibly keep track of it all! Sometimes I just want to throw my hands up in the air, make my own food and live on a commune.

Sometimes I wonder if our efforts to strain at portions of pennies is like straining at gnats. Rev. Frank Drenner spoke of it well on his blog:

There will still be the command of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves, and there will still be folk who question, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer will have nothing to do with fast food.

The Sad Thing

A very tiny percentage of purchases at Chick-Fil-A go to support these controversial organizations.

If McDonald’s announced that tomorrow, 1% of all revenue would support clean water initiatives in Africa or to build Domestic Violence shelters around the world, would we see lines like we saw at Chick-Fil-A?

For all I know, 1% of McDonald’s revenue might already support non-profit organizations. Sadly, I don’t believe we’d see that kind of turnout. Even so, I’m staking my ministry and money (and other people’s money) on the notion that we can call people to something better.

What God is Doing

When I look at this controversy, I give thanks to God–not for one side or the other, but for the debate as a whole. There is clearly a growing desire among people to know where their money is going. People are waking up to the awareness that how they spend their money is both a spiritual and moral matter. Thanks be to God! That sounds like the kind of thing that the church and Jesus can work with! The challenge to the church: can we address this growing sense of financial responsibility and morality? Can we find ways to preach about this tomorrow and engage people with economic spirituality while the spirit is moving?

Shameless Promotion

I’m not interested in straining at economic gnats, but I am deeply interested in supporting businesses that put money to kingdom work. That’s what we’re trying to do with our new kind of new church start, Union—a coffee house that will adopt different causes every quarter with 10% of all revenue (not profits…revenue) going to non-profit agencies that do good things. Good things like:

  • Addressing Domestic Violence in ways that assist children, victims and abusers
  • Helping the homeless in Dallas
  • Eradicating Malaria
  • Rebuilding communities after natural and political disasters

We’re not straining at pennies. We’re talking about quarters and dollars from every purchase. By 2015 we hope to donate over $200,000 to non profit agencies. We’re hoping that Dallasites will consider where they want their moony to go and will choose to purchase their beverages and food at Union.

Every purchase also helps to sponsor ministry with young people in Dallas so that the community can benefit from positive interaction between the established church and surrounding culture.

Union isn’t the first to do this. Newman’s Own, Tom’sand others have taken up such endeavours. I pray that we have more businesses like them where significant portions of our funds can support causes that make a significant positive difference in our world. I pray that Christians can encourage such positive business development so that the marketplace can be a place of justice, of hope and of love.

Union is a new kind of new church start in east Dallas that seeks to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world through outstanding coffee, significant community and engaging causes that make a positive difference in the local and global community.

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.

1)  They both like to sing and write songs

 

2)  Wigs

3)  Roughly the same height (John’s got an inch or two on Gaga)

4)  Stirred up lots of controversy

5)  Their mothers pushed them to be great

6)  They live on the ‘edge of glory’ (glorification)

What else am I missing?

 In ancient times, when someone was mourning or upset—when they were grieving or when they witnessed injustice, they would rip their clothes.  Sounds weird, but that’s what people did.  Why?  It was a way to warn everyone else that they were in mourning.  In some other ways, though, it was an act of exposing yourself to God—to let God do whatever God wants to do with you in this time of hardship.  We need to keep this in mind as we approach the text from Joel:

 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the lord, your God.                  Joel 2:12-13

 The mark we receive this day—the mark of the cross—is a mark of our mortality.  Every blackened forehead now proclaims, “I will die and so will you.”  And that breaks our heart.  And it is supposed to.  Ash Wednesday is supposed to make us mourn, to look around the room and see that everyone here has been marked for death.  It is supposed to make us mourn when we feel the weight of the ashes upon our head for hours.  It is supposed to break out hearts, because sometimes…our heart needs to be broken.  It is meant to remind us, that we do not have unlimited time.  There are some things that need to be taken care of now because we do not know what the future holds. Every one of us is on borrowed time.  We begin our preparations for Easter with a reminder that we, like Christ, will die.  And what are we called to do?  Rend your hearts—tear your hearts and not your clothing.

 When she was only seven months old, a surgeon stopped my daughters heart.  She was born with a congenital heart defect that needed to be repaired, but you cannot operate on a functioning heart.  And so for three-hours, fifty-two minutes, my daughters heart did not beat and it had to be cut open.  The surgeon had to rend my daughters heart so that it could be repaired and function as God had intended.

 This wisdom appears in the Hebrew—thousands of ears before open-heart surgery could have been imagined.  The Hebrew word for rend, to tear,  is Param.  It shares the same root as the word Shalam, which means “to be completed, to reciprocate, to make amends, finish, fulfill, make good” and “peace that is perfect”.  Just as the surgeons had to rend Sylvia’s heart to repair it, so too must we rend our own hearts so that the master surgeon might repair our heart and soul! 

 Throughout Lent, many of us are good at “rending our clothing”—doing the outward things…giving up candy or caffeine or maybe swearing for lent.  But how many of us are good at rending our heart?    How many of us look for surgery of the soul, knowing that it might be painful, that it might be bloody and messy, but also knowing that we find new life on the other side?

 In order to rend our hearts, they need to be exposed.  We have to expose our hearts to God and one another in order to be reconciled in this time of Lent.  To reconcile is to fix, make good, repair, bring Shalam into our relationships.  Fixing relationships, Shalam,  is the ultimate goal of Easter and therefore should be the ultimate goal of Lent.  We must seek reconciliation with our classmates, our parents or siblings, our teachers and our friends.   Now is the time also to fix our relationships with those we have never met, but to whom we owe something.   Most of all, we must seek reconciliation with God. 

 Do you want your heart to be new?  Do you want the hearts of others to be new?  Do you struggle with the fact that you will die?  Do you find yourself caught up in fights with other people—students, teachers, family—that are never really resolved?  Do you carry guilt about something you have done to someone else and never spoken with them about it?  Do you feel resentment towards someone because of something that she or he did to you?  These are my few suggestions this Lent:

Rending our hearts usually comes with scars.

 Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Give up something for Lent that will help someone else—if you give up eating candy or soda or snacks, give the money you would have spent on food to the poor

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Confront your classmate/teacher /family member/brother or sister in Christ about the way you have been hurt.  Take a risk and expose your heart.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Ask forgiveness for something you’ve done or said that hurt someone else.  Don’t let it pass assuming the other was not hurt that bad.  Expose your heart and guilt and you will be free.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Weep, truly weep for those who lie dead in the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan—soldiers, citizens and insurgents.  Think about what their death really means and wait for the tears to fall before moving on to the next news story, the next chore, the next channel.  Those numbers are human lives for which we are all, in some way, responsible.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Weep also for the nameless and numberless many that die of hunger in a world that has more than enough food to eat.  When’s the last time your threw away food?  The numberless many are lives for which we are all responsible.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

And be moved from head to heart, shadow to substance, ritual to reality

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

As you give up something through Lent, take the time you would have spent eating or doing whatever it is that you’ve given up and spend it reading the scriptures.  Satisfy the hunger of your heart for the Word of God even as your stomach hungers.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

And speak up.  Stand up for someone who is being picked on—eat lunch with someone who is less cool than you are—stop gossip in its tracks and don’t count the cost for yourself

Rend your heart and not your clothing

Spend the time with God that you keep putting off to another day.  Attend church, show up at mass, Eucharist or special worship services, come to prayer, come to devotion, come to Jesus, running—walking—dancing—singing in whatever way you can. 

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Because God says that we cannot be healed, we cannot be whole, we cannot be what we are called to be unless we do so.  Until we let our hearts be broken by the things of God, we are still infants to the faith—I don’t care if you’re nine years old or ninety-five years old.  Until you’ve been broken for God, you cannot truly be new. 

Rend your heart and not your clothing.

Let us lay ourselves upon the operating table of the divine surgeon.  Following Jesus means following Him to the cross—a place of death and pain—so that we can find new life!

Why does this guy get a pass on anti-christ signs. He has a big 'O' in his name like Obama and Oprah

In the past two weeks, I’ve had text messages from teens and young adults in my church, asking me about “the end times.”  One of them came home with a nine-page sermon, citing

Oprah and Obama as signs of the rising anti-Christ (maybe he doesn’t like people who’s name starts with the letter ‘O’…Pat O’Reily might be okay, but you know, he’s not, um, from

Illinois).  It’s funny to me how folks who claim to ‘interpret the Bible literally’ try to make claims about when Jesus is coming back.  They seem to have skipped over 1 Thessalonians 5 that talks about Jesus coming like a thief in the night and catching us all by surprise.  Then there’s Jesus himself: “Therefore keep watch, for you won’t know the time or the hour” (Matthew 25:13).  Now some claim that they can still predict, but they have to go through so much scriptural gymnastics to get there that I don’t think they can claim to be ‘biblical literalists’ anymore without feeling at least a little bit dirty.  (example, this guy:  http://www.bibletime.com/faq/thief )

I honestly think that some of these folks are just “keeping watch” and I’m cool with that.  To try to come up with guesses of when Jesus will come just delays his coming.  If we believe that Jesus tells the truth and Jesus tell the disciples (and therefore us): ‘hey…I’m a lot sneakier than you think.  You’ll NEVER guess when I’m coming back”  THEN every time someone guesses that Jesus will return, just keeps him away.  Who knows, maybe he wanted to come back for the last twenty years (who wouldn’t want to miss Pearl Jam), but some guy in Ohio screwed it up by saying, “Jesus is coming NOW…I mean NOW….no, I mean NOW!”

So this is my proposal.  I think it would be cool if Jesus came back.  This is all we have to do.  The whole church has to agree and proclaim that Jesus most certainly will NOT be back on a certain day.  There isn’t enough time left in 2011 to get it in this year.  Hollywood has already predicted the end of the world in 2012, so we have to 2013.  How about June 6th, 2013.  NO!  That won’t work because it has 6s in it and people go nuts over 6s.  How about February 4th, 2013?

Okay, so if everyone could please declare February 4th, 2013 as THE DATE that Jesus WON’T come back.  I think we’ll all be in for a real surprise!  (Plus, I hear that Pearl Jam is on tour next winter…of course Jesus isn’t going to miss that).

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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.

If you haven’t seen this yet, please run to YouTube (do not walk or click slowly because you need to see this lady)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY

Read on if you’ve seen the clip from Britain’s Got Talent 2009.

I’m not gonna lie.  This clip seriously brought tears to my eyes (don’t worry, they were manly tears).  There is a huge lesson for us in ministry in this clip.

It’s easy to judge people based on how they look and how they act.  If I’m honest with myself, I know that I do this sometimes with youth that I encounter in church or beyond.  It’s easy after being in minstry for 10 years to start making assumptions about people and limit the list of people for whom we have great hopes. 

I think, however, that every child of God has a beauty as immense as Susan Boyle’s.  It may lie in a talent (like singing or art) or it may lie in capacity to love or conviction to care for others.  Wherever it lies, it’s our duty as youth ministers and as Christians to dig up that beauty.  When we do so, we see our students as God sees them and THAT makes all the difference.  The people who have impacted my lives the most are the ones who have seen me the way that God sees me. 

I pray that all of us in youth ministry and all of us in the church can remember that our youth groups, churches and neighborhoods are filled with Susan Boyles.  Our task and calling is to see their beauty and look upon them as God would. 

When I write, the clip has amassed 11,000,000 views in 4 days.  Spectacular!

I wrote this litany for Palm Sunday.  I wanted to put something together that tied in Palm Sunday to the Eucharist.  It looks like we won’t use it at my church.  Perhaps you’d like to use it at yours!

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Look to us, Lord.  Look beyond the palms, beyond the pretense and into our souls.

We are hungry.

We realize the brokenness of our economy and value the opportunity to work more now than ever.  We hunger for work and purpose.

We are hungry.

We live in a broken world in which the few have too much and the many have too little.  We hunger for justice.

We are hungry.

We’ve built broken communities in which we far too often do not know the person down the street or down the pew.   We hunger for communion.

We are hungry.

We see broken governments that rise against one another, killing soldiers and those caught in the middle.  We hunger for peace.

We are hungry.

We have broken homes whose peace is shattered by domestic violence but no one hears the sound.  We hunger for freedom.

We are hungry.

We live always in the shadow of death.  Disease and disaster remind us of life’s frailty.  We hunger for resurrection.

We are hungry.

We experience a broken kingdom and sometimes wonder where, God, you are.  So we wave our Palms, shout out ‘Hosanna’ and ‘Messiah’ to the last, great hope for the world, knowing that somehow in this holy mystery, only a broken god can offer hope and transformation to a broken world.  Christ our Passover is coming for us.

Let us keep the feast.

Sometimes I just don’t understand.

In what is supposed to be one of the holiest places on earth, there is so incredibly much injustice, violence and death.

I have been to Palestine and Israel.  I’ve talked to Israeli settlers who sit in well-watered communities with green grass and swimming pools while Palestinians live beneath them with so little water that they are lucky to have drinking water through the week, let alone a shower.  I’ve met with Palestinian refugees–one man in particular sticks in my mind:  his deepest prayer was to have good dreams again, like he did when he was a boy, before he was forced off his land.  I met a Palestinian woman who cried because one of the members of our team said she wanted to purcahse souveniers from Palestinians. 

I’m also good friends with a Rabbi who studied in Israel.  The pizza parlor beneath her apartment blew up one day and human remains were stuck in the tree outside her window.  Before then, she ate there almost every day.  Few things decay our sense of security more than violence in the places we take for granted. 

I have been upset over the painful relationship between Israel and Palestine that seems to me to be nothing short of an apartheid government.  I have been ashamed of my country’s blank check that we give to Israel to do whatever it wants with the billions of dollars that we send them. 

Never have I been more appalled or more ashamed than I am now.

I never dreamed  the depth of indifference to human life that has been exhibited over the past weeks.  It grieves my soul when three hours is the most the government can muster to allow in food and fuel to people who are literally starving to death…when the world’s cries of human rights violations and injustice fall upon the deaf ears of the Israeli prime minister and American president…when the already frail credibility of the United states crumbles with each Palestinian building…when praise to God is silenced in Mosques by American missles fired from Israeli jets…when relief workers are killed, trying to bring food and medicine to a hospital.

The holiness of the Holy Lands erodes before us.

Hamas should not fire rockets.  Israel should not have closed the borders to sever Gaza’s lifeline to the rest of the world.  Hamas should not have instigated suicide bombings or rocket fire.  Israel should not have taken away water supplies.  Hamas should not have…   The list of “should nots” dominates the history of Israel and Palestine since Israel’s modern inception. 

When will the Holy Lands lead the world by demonstrating the way that the world should be instead of just the way it shouldn’t be?

When will the Holy Lands show the world, once again, what it means to be holy?

There are pockets of hope.  Christian Peacemakers Team, Women in Black, Elias Chacour, Foreign and Domestic Doctors–Palestinians, Israelis and worlwide citizens are out there offering hope.  I pray for the day when their story of should prevails over what shouldn’t be.

iREVeRANT Tweets (@ireverant)

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