SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Christian (Page 2 of 6)

Making Home Again . . .

The house embodied for him the general blessedness of his life, which was manifest, really indisputable. And which he never failed to acknowledge, especially when it stood over against particular sorrow.

Marilynne Robinson in Home

It is truly amazing how quickly time goes, and how different life can be in the blink of an eye. We hear this often in times of tragedy, when those affected can’t believe that life has taken a turn. We also hear it in times of struggle when we are trying to make sense of all that is going on around us.

In our life this kind of reflection comes as part of our vocation. Time flies indeed, an in a moment everything can be totally different. Adjusting to the new normal, and settling into it is an important challenge in our lives.

A year ago we were sitting comfortably in our home in Ragley, LA. We had “settled in” living into the patterns of life there and in some important ways becoming a part of the people there, we chose to let life unfold in those ways. Then we came here to Baton Rouge and once again made a decision to “make home again,” to settle in, and become part of the people here, choosing to let life unfold in whatever way it would.

At times it seemed life settling in would never happen, like life as we knew it would conspire against us and not let us change. But we kept at it, we kept living as though this was home and little by little it has truly become that, and quicker than at any other time before.

This year there has been much learning about our life together. Our family has navigated through this transition and we’ve had to learn new ways of living our life. Surprises have come, unexpected realities have surfaced, disappointments have visited us, but we have carried on making home. At each turn we have grown as people and as a family.

This past week we headed on a vacation to Shannon’s grandparents in Kentucky. It was an important journey as Shannon’s mom and dad, brother, and niece, and nephews, traveled up to gather and spend time with “Papa Gene” and “OtherGrandmommy.”

One morning as we were getting ready to head back to the home-place I looked up and saw the sign that said “Home is Where Your Story Begins.” It grabbed my attention as many of those things do and I have spent the last few days thinking about that . . . home, stories, and beginning.

I can venture to say that for us “home” is where we are, together, no matter the geography. Each time our story begins again, a new chapter of the anthology of our life, a continuation, and a new beginning all at once.

It strikes me that this is the way that our spiritual life works also. We must “make a home” again and again in the way of Jesus. At times our own way, our own propensity to sin and death seems to conspire against us, growing in love is difficult work. But we must keep at it, rehearsing our new life, desiring to make life with God our new home, making home in God again. Our story finding a new beginning point, a new narrative, a different center.

As this year of “making home again” comes to a close we look forward to God’s unfolding for us in this new year. We are thankful for what God has done, for the blessings of this year, for the growth in our life together, and for the new home, new friends, and new community of faith that has received us, allowing us to be part of  their unfolding story. There are some things we hope to accomplish in this new year, these are not really “resolutions” as much as they are goal and dreams. We look forward to my sister’s wedding in a few weeks, to Shannon’s return to grad school in the fall, we look forward to celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary in May, and to our continued ministry at St. John’s UMC.

We know that surprises will come, that unexpected realities will surface, and disappointments will visit us. We’ll just keep on “making home,” letting our story unfold, trusting God’s presence and power along the way. I’m thankful that we serve a God who allows us to “make home again.”

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To know more about our journey read my “Reflections on Leaving” series here & my “Pastoring Squyres UMC” series here.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

20111228-142159.jpgThis season I’ve been doing some serious reflection on what it might look like to recover the season of Christmas in my life and in the life of my family. What if Christmas Day was truly the beginning? What if our feasting and merry making built up to Epiphany?

As a family we are actually seriously considering this. As a Puerto Rican with a rich tradition of Epiphany we have been gift giving at this time since our first child was born. But we are now thinking about a serious realignment of our practice to match our theological and liturgical understanding.

Christmas Day would be our first day of feasting, gathering, service, and celebration with prayers, songs, and a daily lectionary helping us mark the days. On Epiphany we would exchange simple gifts to remind us of the gifts that the wise men shared that manifested who Jesus was, that would remind us of who Jesus is for us today.

I wonder how all of this would connect to a community of faith? Daily prayer at the church? Twelve days of service in the community? Twelve days of making the kingdom physically evident in our local communities? I am still thinking how this would look like in the congregation I pastor and if it is even possible to change our long North American practices.

I know that Shannon and I want something different for ourselves and our family. We want our children to be filled with mystery and awe but not from a folk hero but from the Word made flesh (and yes, no matter what anyone says I do believe and have observed our over emphasis of Santa Claus in the church). We want our children to receive the gift of Jesus but not from a saturated tree bottom. We want to remember the story not for nostalgia but for it’s power to still change the world.

I know that we are not alone so we hope to find conversation partners to join us in our desire to make Christmas an important part of our formation in the way of the kingdom.

I wonder if any of you would want to join us in this journey?

The Incarnation: God’s Work of Interpretation – A Christmas Day Homily

"Nativity" mid 12th century mosaic in the Cappella Palatina de Palermo

In an interview on National Public Radio a few years ago Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, director of the movie Babel, spoke of the difficulty with language. He said: “the points of view of life, what means something for you; there is no translation for that.”

Language is complex. We speak every day, sending all sorts of signals to those around us. We take language for granted, not giving it much thought or attention. The words we use and how we use them carry with them not just the information we are trying to convey but also our feelings, attitudes and stories. All of these come through in our everyday, even if we do not realize it.

Because language is complex translation is difficult. Many times I find myself trying to find the appropriate word when translating. In the end translation is always interpretation – the choice of words and phrases have as much to do with the feelings and attitudes, as they have to do with the actual word or phrase themselves. Many times there is no translation/interpretation that can communicate what the other person is trying to say.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us:

In the past, God spoke through the prophets to our ancestors in many times and many ways. In these final days, though, he spoke to us through a Son. God made his Son the heir of everything and created the world through him.  The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. He maintains everything with his powerful message.

Hebrews 1:1-3a (CEB)

It turns out that the incarnation was God’s solution to the problem of communication. God sent the word, the logos, the active, creative, aspect of God-self, in human form. God did this so that we could finally understand the magnitude of his love. This was the only way that humanity could know that we mean something to God. That at the core of God’s identity is creation, so as a creator, God wanted to initiate a renewed relationship with us.

The story of divine-human relationship found in the scriptures is a story of misunderstanding. Humanity being constantly fooled into thinking that God did not care, that God did not know. In the incarnation God showed the extremes that God was willing to go in order to reach each one of us; God taking on our language, our point of view, and our identity.

St. Athanasius in his On the Incarnation, tells us that “it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us.” (29) Our sorry case, our constant miscommunication, our refusal to understand the language of love!

The Christmas season is the celebration of God’s incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ. We celebrate that God broke the barriers of communication and became one of us in order to redeem us. We are made new because God made God-self new. We are able to understand because God went beyond translation and instead transformed God-self into human form – God speaking the language of the created order. In this gracious act God made clear God’s “points of view” and “what meant something” to God.

It turns out that the world still needs to hear about this divine activity. Many in our world still cannot imagine a God who speaks their language. Many faithful followers of Jesus still struggle to recognize their need to become incarnate too, to learn the language of those in need, to practice meaning-making in our world, to become themselves the bearers of God’s being in the world.

Incarnation means that the world is God’s language also, it makes sense that it is for it is God’s own creation. Sometimes in an effort to be set apart the Christian church proclaims a gospel that does not celebrate the beauty of what it means to be human and the gift of the created order. We then settle for a disembodied word, a “spiritual” world, and intangible grace.

The incarnation reminds us that the language of God is embodied, earthy, tangible, accessible and at the same time, Spiritual, mysterious, wonder-full, and awesome!

During this season of Christmas may we become bearers of God’s grace-full language, bearers of the holy, faithful interpreters of the Good News of Jesus, not just what it says but its point of view, what it means for each of us, for

 The Word became flesh
and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
glory like that of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (CEB)

We Are A Thought in God: A Christmas Eve Reflection

This is the Christian’s joy:
I know that I am a thought in God,
no matter how insignificant I may be –
the most abandoned of beings,
one no one thinks of.

Today, when we think of Christmas gifts,
how many outcasts no one thinks of!
Think to yourselves, you that are outcasts,
you that feel you are nothing in history:

“I know that I am a thought in God.”
Would that my voice might reach the imprisoned

like a ray of light, of Christmas hope –
might say also to you, the sick,
the elderly in the home for the aged,
the hospital patients,
you that live in shacks and shantytowns,
you coffee harvesters trying to garner your only wage
for the whole year,
you that are tortured:

God’s eternal purpose has thought of all of you.
He loves you, and, like Mary,
incarnates that thought in his womb.

Archbishop Oscar Romero from The Violence of Love

Nativity with Mary, Joseph and the New-Born Christ by J. Le Breton 1933

As a pastor I have the honor and privilege to walk alongside people at different times of their life. There are times of celebration – baby’s being born, the news of a promotion, graduations, and weddings. Then there are the difficult times, when life seems to be going downhill, when it turns on us and our hearts are broken, when illness takes over, despair comes near, sin and death knock at the door . . .

It is at those times that the good news is most needed.

Christmas in the Christian tradition is the answer to the good news needed in our broken world. It reminds us year after year that sin and death is no longer our inevitable path, the child born in Bethlehem becoming the sign and symbol of God’s purposes for the created order.

Gift giving becomes the reminder of God’s gift of his Son. At its best it should become a catalyst for our difference making in the world. Like God gave us his Son, we then give of one another to the work of salvation, to the world of justice, peace, and hope.

Christmas is most understood by those who long, hunger, and desire for a better day. What a gift it will be to them if something changed, if there was hope after all, if justice would come; as Romero reminds us “God’s eternal purpose” thinking of them.

As we gather in our churches tonight, as we gather with family, around trees and gifts, may we not forget the message of salvation to us and to the world. And may that message become incarnate in us; incarnate – an essential aspect of our identity – so that we can become difference makers in our world.

We are a thought in God so the savior we have been expecting is here!

Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (CEB)

Advent: No End to His Kingdom

"Annunciation" by Lawrence OP

We have been waiting, we’ve been preparing, and we’ve been counting the days. Now we are drawing near, salvation around the corner, I wonder if we are ready.

I don’t mean to be a cynic but I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. I guess to be more specific I struggle with our cultural celebration of Christmas and how, in the lives and practices of Christian people, it has taken over our religious commemoration. I know I am not alone in all of this, and I don’t want to be another religious leader complaining about our cultural Christmas celebration. But I do struggle and I approach these Sundays of Advent with much reverence and care, hoping to hold the space for preparation, reflection, and realization.

Now we enter a final week. After hearing about an end that becomes a beginning, about one who prepares the way, about us not being the light, now we hear how salvation will be made possible:

‘Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.’ Luke 1:31-33 (CEB)

Salvation made possible by one like us and unlike us. By one holy, promised, and whose kingdom will have not end. I needed to hear that this season. God’s kingdom still unfolding, Christ still making all things new, the Spirit . . .

. . . who made Christ’s body in Mary’s womb and keeps re-making the church…is a Spirit that is hovering – in the words of Genesis – over a new creation. –Archbishop Romero

A new creation is dawning: justice, peace, reconciliation, and love still unfolding, still available in the world, no matter how difficult, how distant it seems. Year after year, season after season, celebration after celebration, it keeps on dawning.

And it just so happens that this new creation is birthed through each of us. Each of us transformed by the Spirit, each of us ready to become agents of Christ’s in-braking in the world as we become the incarnation of Christ to our struggling world.

As I prepare for this last week of Advent I recognize more than ever our need for a savior. I am more thankful than ever for Jesus Christ and for Christ’s body the church. I am also deeply aware that there is little that I can do with the cultural celebration, but that I can continue to hold the space in my congregation, in my family, and in my own heart, for the return of the one who will make all things right.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Till then I’ll continue to proclaim God’s kingdom, to call God’s people to the way of Jesus, and will remind myself of the words of Archbishop Romero,  that God’s Spirit is still “re-making the Church . . . hovering over a new creation.”

“No end to his kingdom” indeed!

Advent: We Are Not the Light

A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light.  He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light. John 1:6-8 (CEB)

As a pastor I often remind myself that I have been sent. Although in our tradition we are indeed sent to places of service by the bishop, I like to remind myself that in the end I have been sent to serve and lead by God.

It started long ago when my parents brought me forth and made the claim that I belonged to God. The prayers of a community of faith, the waters of baptism, and the many voices that helped me clarify my vocation. Each of these moments were “sent” centered as these varieties of people helped form me as a fellow “sent” one.

To believe in being sent is easy, what is difficult is to recognize why we are sent. I’ll have to admit that at times I have forgotten. My passion, my dedication, and my ego have gotten in the way. It is almost as if my mantra needs to constantly be “I am not the light, I am not the light, I am not the light.”

We are called, empowered, sent . . . to “testify to the light.”

It is easy to believe that we are indeed the light. How many times have I spoken of My church, My ministry, My calling? It has taken many wise sages in my life to remind me that is God’s church, God’s ministry; God’s calling in my life. These fellow sojourners have called me back to our shared vocation, to our baptismal call, to the light.

Here comes Advent again, getting us down from our high horses, pushing us to recognize our desperate need for God, getting us ready for God’s in-braking in Jesus Christ. Here comes Advent with its call to reality and new life. Here comes Advent with its proclamation of promises to be fulfilled.

This Advent I am keenly aware of our search for answers as a church. We hear the reports, the statistics, and calls to action. Many of our congregations are trying to survive, in the midst of economic uncertainty and a shrinking pool of resources.

I struggle with many of these conversations because at times they seem to be self-serving.  I hear a fear of our “demise” as a denomination, a fear of closing churches, a fear of losing “market share.” Could we say that we are living in the darkness, in the shadow? Could we say that we are groping for our way forward? Maybe a mantra is needed, “We are not the light, we are not the light, we are not the light!”

I pray that John’s proclamation helps us focus our attention to our light proclamation, to reminding God’s people of their God given mission, to tell the world that

“the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light.” Matthew 4:16a (CEB)

Advent: Salvation’s Way Prepared

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Look, I am sending my messenger before you.

He will prepare your way,
a voice shouting in the wilderness:

“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.”

John was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:1-8 (CEB)

Last week I struggled with endings that become beginnings. It struck me that this season of Advent, if taken seriously, could truly prepare us for God’s repeated in-braking in Jesus Christ. Each Advent reminds me of my own need for salvation and the need of the world, of all of creation. The reality of an end, of all that is not right in the world, causes me to pay attention to the ways that God’s kingdom is birthing forth a new beginning; just like God promised.

Soon it becomes evident of how difficult it is to take that step. The narrative of faith reminds us time and time again that human nature prefers the familiarity of slavery and exile to the uncertainty of freedom and home. Those that came to John came to the wilderness, obviously they wanted something, needed something, so they came. “Change your hearts and lives,” he proclaimed. But as this passage nears a close we hear more uncertainty, “One stronger than I am is coming after me.”It is good to know that the way of salvation has been prepared; God’s own initiative at work long before we become aware. The prophetic words from Isaiah were a call to return home from exile. God was indeed making a way, preparing the path, no stumbling blocks would be left, and no excuses could be found. God making it possible, the people of Israel just needed to follow the path.

On Sundays I stand before my congregation with the goal of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Like the writer of the gospel according to Mark, I too recognize that what I am to proclaim has been at work from long ago. The words that I say are a repetition of the great narrative of our faith. Yet each Sunday I am amazed at how difficult it is to recognize our need to walk away from our “slavery to sin and death” into the freedom of God’s grace.

The way has been prepared. Advent guarantees that we know that year after year. The way has been prepared because a way was needed, because we are not to stay in the comforts of exile and slavery, because God wants us to be freed to enter into the work of God’s kingdom.

May this season be a one where we “change our hearts and lives,” a season where we recognize our slavery to sin and death and accept the freedom that God offers to us. May we in recognizing that freedom work diligently by the power of the Spirit to be preparers of the way so that all of creation can experience the final consummation of God’s kingdom as revealed by Jesus Christ; Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

Advent: End Becoming Beginning

Who will put a prophet’s eloquence into my words
to shake from their inertia
all those who kneel before the riches of the earth –
who would like gold, money, lands, power, political life
to be their everlasting gods?
All that is going to end.
There will remain only the satisfaction of having been,
in regard to money or political life,
a person faithful to God’s will.
One must learn to manage the relative and transitory
things of earth according to his will,
not make them absolutes.
There is only one absolute: he who awaits us
in the heaven that will not pass away.

(Archbishop Oscar Romero)

On the eve of what is normally dubbed the “biggest shopping day of the year,” a day we reflect on the many blessings given to us, the economy continues to struggle. We are not alone; our struggles, it seems, are common with other nations in the world. Fear, uncertainty, and suspicion abounds. Many corners of our world are in the midst of war and strife, injustice abounding, power struggles widespread. From whom shall our help come?

The least everywhere find themselves living their everyday. While many others who could make ends meet just a year ago are finding themselves with less and less, with little hope ahead. Some of our citizens out of frustration and anger have taken to the streets to “occupy” places of power. Can we stand aside while the rich become richer and the poor poorer?

Our politicians are in a gridlock. Extremes abound and I can’t see any sign of helpful conversation and a way forward. I wonder if the “common good” will ever dominate our decision making.

This Sunday we’ll gather in the midst of uncertainty only days after many will spend beyond their means hoping to make this season meaningful. They have struggled through early mornings, long days, and crowds of people, all for the chance at the “great deal.”

For so many this is no season to be merry. So many have lost jobs, others have lost loved ones, still others have lost hope. It might be better to skip this all together.

In the church we might be tempted to get on the celebration bandwagon, while ignoring the plight, the hurts, and the reality of so many. We might ignore our own uncertainties, the ways that our ecclesial world is also changing. We could act like no end is needed and jump to the celebration of new beginning but the reality of life speaks to the great narrative of our faith in the promise that only in an end can a beginning be found.

There is no better time for Advent!

Advent comes to remind us that God’s story unfolds towards a renewed creation. The brokenness in our world will not prevail, God’s kingdom of justice and peace will have its last say. In the meantime we wait; we continue experiencing loss, despair, and pain. We continue experiencing ends and wonder if that is all there is?

During these special times of the year, seasons of so called “celebration,” we are more aware of ends experienced. Yet in surprising ways these “ends” can become agents of new life, of renewed relationship, of a transformed world. The story of faith seems to know these rhythms of life: Fruitfulness after a fall, an olive branch after a flood, a journey home after settling as strangers, a child in old age, empowerment after captivity, freedom after slavery, a word of the Lord in a strange land. . .

Here are the words of Jesus from the Gospel for this Sunday:

In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.

Mark 13:24-27 (CEB)

So today I pray for the in-braking of God in our world:

Come once more gracious God, shower us with your grace, and empower us by your Spirit so that we can become agents of your kingdom. Heal our brokenness; bring justice to our world; make love our way of life. Come, Lord Jesus, come make our endings into beginnings, come bring us your salvation!

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I’m excited to be part of the Common English Bible Blog Tour 2011. To find out more please LIKE the Facebook page http://facebook.com/LiveTheBible. You can also follow on Twitter @CommonEngBible #CEBtour

Daddy’s “God” Book

We promised to raise them in the faith . . . I still remember each of them as infants receiving the waters of baptism. I will never forget the promises we made that we would teach them “the way that leads to life.” So from the moment that they were born we have gathered as part of what we now affectionately call our “evening ritual.”

Bath, pajamas, tooth brushing (when they were old enough), and prayer. At first it was a simple blessing as we rocked them in the middle of the night. In those early days the prayers were mostly for us, for strength, for wisdom, for rest! From the beginning we used the prayers of the church, we sang the psalms, said the Lord’s Prayer, and used the ancient antiphon “Guide us waking O Lord, and guard us sleeping . . .”

As our oldest reached pre-school age we began to use the full Night Prayer service (the office of Compline). It became our time together as a family, a powerful way to end our day together. I began to pray Compline as a college student and has been a part of the closing of my day on and off since then, but saying it together has been more transformative than I would have ever thought.

My prayer book sits on the side table in the living room, that way its available for our evening gathering. The other night as our two year old came into the living room with his pj’s on, with his blankie and his George (stuffed monkey) on one hand, he headed straight to the side table, picked up the prayer book and said: “daddy’s God book, pray daddy, pray.” He proceeded to crawl on my lap ready to begin our time with God.

We were surprised. Somehow the rhythms of prayer and gathering were actually forming, shaping, and calling our children. God’s Spirit called upon them at their baptism doing a work in them, reminding them of who they are in light of our story of faith. We made a promise but in the end what is blooming is God’s promise to them, that they belong to God, that sin and death do not have the last word.

It has not always been easy. We have been busy, tired, sick, or just not in the mood. At times we have allowed so many other things to get in the way. But now, over seven years into it, we are grateful that we have kept at it, that we have gathered, that we have rehearsed the prayers of our faith.

Through our children we are learning that our faith is learned. That the way of Jesus is not automatic, that it does not happen, it does not take root, unless it is modeled and practiced. It turns out that learning to love God and neighbor is a lifelong task but that it starts with the life of prayer.

So, we’ll continue to gather around “Daddy’s God Book” and pray that they will continue learning the way of Jesus!

Passion & Possibility: Exploration 2011

How did you decide to become a pastor? I often hear this question as I meet people for the first time, especially young people. For me it was this inner voice that has been part of my life for a long time. So many times I tried to ignore it and walk in different directions. Now as I continue my pastoral work I am more aware than ever about the importance of the practice of discernment.

Discernment takes time, it needs a community, and should help us connect with our inner longings to live out our God given passions.

I am thankful for the community that Exploration builds. It provides the space to struggle with and discern what God might be up to in our lives. We gather from different places, we come with our dreams, visions, and hopes for the future. We come wondering what God could do through us. So many possibilities . . .

Much prayer went into my journey. Now I join many others to pray for you and for all of those who will gather to hear God’s voice at Exploration 2011 in St. Louis, MO, Nov. 11-13, 2011. I pray that God will speak, clarify, and direct. I pray for all the small group leaders, plenary speakers, and the staff. I pray for resources to travel and attend. I pray for leaders willing to make this possible. I pray for the many churches that have young people waiting to be told of their gifts for leadership and for those who have already called their own and are sending them out. I pray for the Holy Spirit to go ahead of us and sanctify our efforts to provide a place where God can be heard, seen, and experienced.

God is calling . . . come and see!

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