Ignore the Baby Behind the Curtain

The Baby Bird's head can be seen at the bottom of the image just left of center. Mama Bird is in the
Baby Bird’s head can be seen at the bottom of the image just left of center. Mama Robin is in the branch at the top of the image just right of center. Photo by Tim Graves

When I first approached the tree, I noticed Mama Robin feeding Baby Bird a plump worm. I switched on my camera but I was too late. Mama Bird had spotted me. Counter-intuitively, she abandoned her child and moved to a higher branch. She began to make loud noises to attract my attention. It was as if she were shouting, “Over here! See me! Pay no attention to the baby behind the curtain!” Presumably, this was her way of protecting her youngest.

In a rare moment, Humming Mama stopped moving. Photo by Tim Graves
In a rare moment, Humming Mama stopped moving. Photo by Tim Graves

I’ve observed a similar behavior with the hummingbird nest at my back door. When I open the door,

Humming Mama leaves Tot in the nest and buzzes around my head. When she has my attention, she moves to a branch in the nearby tree. She continues to attention seek until I go back inside.

Neither mother is close enough to me that I could harm them. Their behavior is designed to self-preserve while protecting their vulnerable and weak offspring. Their behavior safeguards the weakest member of their communities.

Maybe we could learn something from the birds.

 ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’ Matthew 25:40b CEB

Is Progressive Theology Elitist?

Is Progressive Theology Elitist?

Kevin Daugherty raises important questions for progressive Christians in “Is Progressive Theology Elitist?” Here is my initial response.

Yes, your worries are warranted. I have heard the argument before that the only path to God is through intellectualism. It was called seminary. Though I do not intend to give up my brain and my ability to reason through things, I am equally (more?) committed to the experience of God that is inexplicable.

In my previous career as an educator, intellectualism manifest in focusing on academics with children to the exclusion of their emotions, social skills, and physicality. The absurdity of this approach is that hungry children or sad children do not focus well on academics.

But God creates us as whole human beings with brains, bodies, emotions, and spirituality. The intellectualism thatunderpins much of progressive Christianity reflects a disdain for the Holy Spirit and the mystery. This approach is as neglectful of the whole Imago Dei as what you term “anti-intellectual” faith. We need to embrace our whole humanity: physical, cognitive, social-emotional, and spiritual. Too much of progressive and mainline Christianity has spent generations seeking to reason to God. In the process we have — as you imply — separated ourselves from the “least of these.”

Though some of my more conservative Christian kindred frustrate me at times, I know that I need them. We are one body. I also know that arguably Jesus and certainly Paul were more concerned about love and pragmatics than systematic theology. To the extent that our theology separates us from anyone, I tend to think it has failed.

It Was Bound to Happen

It Was Bound to Happen

Yes, I’m the pastor. Yes, I’ve been praying the prayer since childhood. Yes, I lead the prayer every Sunday.

Source: http://carson1umc.org/
Source: http://carson1umc.org/

Still, it was bound to happen.

I’ve feared it would and it finally did. I messed up the Lord’s Prayer. And I don’t mean I substituted trespasses for debts forgetting the tradition of this particular congregation. (There are many slight variations of the prayer.) I mean I jumped from the first lines to the end of the prayer. The congregation confused by my mixup, sat in silence and I had to return to the beginning of the prayer to get back on track.

I guess this kind of thing is why I consistently find reassurance from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Writes the apostle about prayer,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27 NRSV

As one who is often called to lead public prayer, the experience of forgetting lines of a prayer so well known is a humbling experience. It is also a reminder that it is not the words I speak but the content of my soul that reaches God. It is also an opportunity to display my humanity before my congregation and give them the opportunity to love me and forgive me through my human flaws.

Altogether, not a bad experience.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Scary Walk: Freedom from All Yokes

Scary Walk: Freedom from All Yokes
Heywood "Snaggletooth" Elsworth III (Photo by Tim Graves)
Heywood “Snaggletooth” Elsworth III (Photo by Tim Graves)

My focus wasn’t on the beauty of the mountains in the distance or the green fields on the other side of the fencing. The crystal blue sky and early morning light were invisible to me. I was scared as the twelve-pound, brown creature darted around in quick sporadic circles on the road and the shoulders.

As we were taking our morning walk yesterday, Heywood, my new chihuahua mix, slipped out of his collar. When he realized he had no collar, he began to run around in “I’m free” circles. Heywood was oblivious to the danger of the rapidly approaching car on the roadway. His unaware joy brought terror to my being.

In our ten-days together since his adoption I have fallen deeply in love with my little friend. I cannot imagine the house without him. Who would join me on my early morning walks? Who would enthusiastically sit and shake both front paws indicating his desire to go for a walk?

I am thankful for the caution and patience of the driver heading into town yesterday. She stopped her vehicle and waited for me to encourage Heywood to come to me. I tightened the collar and carried him until we returned to the relative safety of the side streets in the small eastern Oregon town where we live. From there he walked home, clearly tired from his burst of puppy-energy.

Today I kept a close watch on him. I was stricter about his movements. I stopped and knelt down to him a couple times, held him under the chin as you might a two-year-old. “I am in charge, little man,” I told him in a stern voice. He really does want to please me, he stopped tugging to get into the road, each time I reminded him who was in charge.

I’m not all that different than Heywood. I am sometimes oblivious to the dangers that lurk nearby. Too often I run around in “I’m free” circles forgetting that I need others and the Divine to guide me along treacherous roads. My prayer today is for the wisdom and awareness that I might know when I need help.

Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves.  My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30 CEB

Bread Elevator: A Touchstone

Bread Elevator: A Touchstone

Condon. Photo by Tim Graves

The grain elevator, both metaphorically and literally representing humanity’s need for bread, reigns over the rural skyline. The town of Condon is an oasis in the desert turned vast wheat field. Whether you travel through the arid land from the east, the west, south, or the north, when you approach town the bread elevator is visible. Its presence in town is evidence that our species needs food (and water) for survival.

Recently, I have begun to use it as a touchstone in a new spiritual practice. As metaphorical altar, the grain elevator reminds me that humanity will whither in the field without the divine One. And, so, each time I glimpse Condon’s giant bread box, I pause to consciously feel God’s presence, to say a micro-prayer of recognition to God.

Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.”

Matthew 4:4 (CEB)

Service of Scripture & Prayer (In Empathy & Solidarity with the People of Boston)

Service of Scripture & Prayer (In Empathy & Solidarity with the People of Boston)

Service of Scripture & Prayer

In Empathy & Solidarity with the People of Boston

Condon United Church of Christ

April 19, 2013

The stained glass window at Condon (Oregon) United Church of Christ. Photo by Tim Graves
The stained glass window at Condon (Oregon) United Church of Christ. Photo by Tim Graves

The People Gather

Prelude When Night Becomes Dark (Taize Community)

Call to Worship (Please say responsively)

L: We gather this evening to express our anguish and horror at what our sisters and brothers are experiencing in Boston. Connected as one human family, we feel their fear, their anxiety, and share the urge to hold our children and one another tightly.

P: We are speechless and horrified by what has become of our world and our nation. 

L: Our Lord and Savior, too, experienced grief in our human condition saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. Luke 13:34 CEB

We gather in the presence of friends and neighbors to console one another and to reach across the continent in prayer and solidarity with your people in Boston.

Invocation (Please say together.)

Make yourself known in Massachusetts, in Texas and Florida, in Oregon and every place in between. Heighten our senses that we might focus on your love that transcends evil in this world. Remind us tonight that we are one human family across the globe. Amen.

The People Express their Woe to God

Music In Our Darkest Hour (Taize Community)

Ancient Words of Terror

My whole body is completely terrified! But you, LORD! How long will this last? Come back to me, LORD! Deliver me! Save me for the sake of your faithful love! I’m worn out from groaning. Every night, I drench my bed with tears; I soak my couch all the way through. My vision fails because of my grief; it’s weak because of all my distress. Get away from me, all you evildoers, Psalm 6:3-4, 6-8a CEB

Silent Prayer

Response (Please say together.)

   Lord have mercy upon us.

   Christ have mercy upon us. 

   Lord have mercy upon us.

Today’s Words of Terror

L: We stare at the television, yearning to know what is going on in the East. Our anxiety grows and we wonder, “could it happen here?” We empathize with our those in Boston. while the announcers speculate and chatter.

P: The announcers seek to explain but it is inexplicable how one of our fellow citizens could blow up children and runners. We don’t understand; we’re afraid. We hear the words and see the pictures from our homes. 

L: We went about our daily routines while our kindred were confined to their homes for fear of a young man’s anger. We’re afraid. We feel the terror of a world filled with anger and hatred. Hear these words from Facebook, from a daughter talking about her mother in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

“My mother, who is 81, lives in Cambridge, just a few blocks from Memorial Drive. Some of last night’s events happened near her home. She’s at home, with food and water and is “fine”. But on the phone with her this afternoon, she started rambling about cars that have come down her street sounding funny (one of which she reported to the police), about how it feels like during WWII when there was a neighborhood air raid warden who would come around to check if your black out curtains were letting any light out, about how many suspects there are and where they are (not agreeing with the news coverage). And alot more.

It brings home to me how HUGE a shock it is to have this attack happen. Mum can ramble some, but it was much worse this afternoon – a sign of how this is really affecting her, even though she is safe. Feels a little like the canary in the mine – we are all affected, but it just shows in different ways. Let us all be extra kind to each other, reach out to our Boston friends and family, and remember our elders – who may be having flashbacks to another time of war..…”

P: The safety, the security, and all that we thought was possible within the borders of our great country have once again been shattered by hatred and violence. We weep as children and runners are victims of gun violence and bombs.

Silent Prayer

Response (Please say together.)

   Lord have mercy upon us.

   Christ have mercy upon us. 

   Lord have mercy upon us.

The People Plead for Help

Ancient Words of Pleading

LORD, hear my prayer! Let my cry reach you! Don’t hide your face from me in my time of trouble! Listen to me! Answer me quickly as I cry out! Because my days disappear like smoke, my bones are burned up as if in an oven; my heart is smashed like dried-up grass. I even forget to eat my food because of my intense groans.  My bones are protruding from my skin. I’m like some wild owl— like some screech owl in the desert. I lie awake all night. I’m all alone like a bird on a roof. All day long my enemies make fun of me; those who mock me curse using my name! I’ve been eating ashes instead of bread. I’ve been mixing tears into my drinks because of your anger and wrath, because you picked me up and threw me away. Psalm 102: 1-10 CEB

Silent Prayer

Response (Please say together.)

   Lord have mercy upon us.

   Christ have mercy upon us. 

   Lord have mercy upon us.

Today’s Words of Pleading (Please say responsively.)

L: Enough! Put an end to this now we beg you, God. Enough is enough. We endured 9/11 and said, “no more.”

P: And yet there have been more.

L: Enough! Put an end to this now we beg you, God. Enough is enough. We endured the separation from our sisters and brothers as they fought for ten years in Iraq. We continue to endure separation from our sons and daughters as they fight in Afghanistan. We say “no more.” Put an end to this now we beg you, God.

P: And yet evil continues. Evil is still in our midst. 

L: Children are killed in their schools and at the Boston marathon. Our countryfolk huddle in their homes afraid to venture out. Our children are traumatized.

ALL: We don’t understand.

Silent Prayer

Response (Please say together.)

   Lord have mercy upon us.

   Christ have mercy upon us. 

   Lord have mercy upon us.

God Reassures the People

Words of Assurance

L: Though we live in a world in which it too often seems like evil has the upper hand, our holy texts remind us that this existence is temporary. Our Savior who roamed the countryside, the villages, and Jerusalem teaching and healing was rejected. He was killed on the cross by our ancient kindred.

P: All seemed lost.

L: Ah, but on the third day, when the women went to the tomb they found it empty. Our Lord and Savior lives! The extravagant love of our God is not contained by terror, by fears, or by hatred. The unimaginable and undeserved love of the One overcomes even death.

The apostle Paul writing to the Romans reminds us,

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;

we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39 NRSV

P: Praise be to God!

Hymn Amazing Grace #547

Scripture Psalm 23 NRSV (Please say together.)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

Benediction

Postlude Make Me a Channel of Your Peace

Boston

Boston

Friends:

We often seek out information in times like these. We keep our TVs on, we browse to news websites, and we interact on social media. I suppose it is a way of feeling some sense of control, of making sense of senseless events.
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15:  A runner reacts near Kenmore Square after two bombs exploded during the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon.  (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA – APRIL 15: A runner reacts near Kenmore Square after two bombs exploded during the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
Please be assured that our God, the One who loves with extravagance, weeps for those touched directly and indirectly by the explosions in Boston. God never condones or is part of evil.
I imagine God’s eyes moist with quiet tears at the actions and pain that led one of God’s beloved to perpetrate an act of hate. This is not what God imagines for anyone of us.
As you seek information, please also allow yourself quiet time to be in communion with God. Turn off the TV and computer, light a candle, and pray. If the words don’t come, sit in silence or turn to the prayer Jesus taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be your Name.
Your Kingdom come. 
Your will be done in earth, 
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors. 
And lead us not into temptation, 
But deliver us from evil. 
For yours is the kingdom,
And the power, and the glory,
For ever.
Amen.
May God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. May we each in these troubled times care for our own souls so that we can be the people we’re called to be. Pause. Pray. Hug those around you. Often.
Peace,
Tim

A Glimpse from the Wall

Photo by Tim Graves

I shout,
   I inveigh,
      I accuse the gust,
         the breath that feels so cruel on my neck.

Climbing,
   uphill,
      feeling the pain in each muscle,
         I cry, scream, and weep.

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 25:46b NRSV)

Finally, sitting on wall’s edge,
   I peer down at the waters below.

The very breath of God,
   sweeps across its surface,
      right,
         left,
            east,
               and south.

From the risky rocks,
   I get a glimpse of the sacred directors’ movements,

May I trust the breath that gently encourages us,
   to choose the choreography of love,
      even when we feel but one inexplicable gust.