February 15, 2022
Rise Like the Sun
by Kaji Dousa
Arise, shine, for your light has come. – Isaiah 60:1a (NRSV)
There are so many forces telling us to keep our heads down, produce, don’t look up.
Because when we do look up, when we pick up our heads and see with our hearts, then: we start to perceive. We ask questions. We resist.
We resist the forces of evil when we listen to each other and care for each other. Not just individually, but collectively. But that requires us to look up. And look out.
For bleakness shall cover the earth (Isaiah 60:2). But for how long?
The prophet is telling us just what we need to do:
Our light has come!
And that light, that light that Jesus shines on this situation is there to show us the only way out of this: that, for the first time ever in this nation, we lead with compassion first.
That sounds so far-fetched. But the truth is that this system cannot and will not hold. Greed for a tiny number of people while the rest of us are left to die will only work so long as we let it.
Arise. Look up.
We can do this.
And this is why I love what I do. Because I see you, I love you, and I see what we can be. You are my hope. And y’all? We can change the world. With the help of God, we shall.
You with me?
Let us rise like the sun, O God, for the sake of your Creation. Amen.
February 16, 2022
by Donna Schaper
For we know only in part … but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. – 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 (NRSV)
When Alec Baldwin came to the Orient Congregational Church to give a talk on spirituality in the light of Covid, he hit a lecture circuit homerun. But then, on that awful day last fall when he accidentally shot someone to death, he struck out.
The police think he has an anger management problem. The paparazzi attack his wife for her last name. He impersonated the President on Saturday Night Live, without mercy. He played a buffoon from high up in Rockefeller Center. He has an edge. When that terrible accident happened during a movie filming, he could only say, “I’m so sorry.”
If we ever get to the bottom of what happened, that will be great. The truth is better than conjectures. Was he set up? Was there foul play? Was it just fatigue or laziness or bad training? Was it all of these things in some kind of toxic brew that would have poisoned anything and everybody near it?
Flannery O’Connor wrote stories about people whose lives devolved to their smallest gestures. Old Mr. Fortune, in a View of the Woods, loves his granddaughter so much that he kills her unintentionally. The young son of a dissolute couple in The River is taken by his babysitter to see a country baptism, goes back by himself and drowns trying to find his new friend Jesus in the river.
Paul assures us we are incomplete. Some things we just don’t know, nor will we know.
We pray for those who already buckled under the stress of life and guns and fame. We pray to be less scared ourselves. We pray to live partially, well. A-them.
February 17, 2022
Best. Party. Ever.
by John Edgerton
The attendants served Joseph by himself, and his brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. – Genesis 43:32 (NRSV)
This dinner party was going to be awkward.
Joseph has been messing with his brothers. And to be clear, they had it coming: these are the brothers who sold Joseph into slavery. But now the tables have turned. Joseph is the right-hand man to the Pharaoh, and his brothers are helpless.
What does Joseph do? Invites them to a fancy dinner party, of course! Because this is a comedy. And no comedy is complete without a fancy dinner party going awry.
The brothers think Joseph is an Egyptian, so they sit apart from one who is truly kin. The Egyptians think Joseph is one of them, so they happily tuck in alongside one they consider an “abomination.”
The charade soon collapses, of course. Joseph reveals his true identity, and goblets drop to the floor alongside the jaws of all present. Then the Egyptians can laugh at the folly of prejudice; their boss is a Hebrew so they have to rethink this abomination stuff. The brothers can laugh in the end, too; mercy allows them to repair the irreparable.
It’s all a bit of a miracle. All from one dinner!
When it’s safe for your community, I recommend a potluck ASAP. Breaking bread breaks down barriers. The wealthiest man in town can still wind up with mustard on his tie. The jittery visitor nursing a hangover can roll up their sleeves and do a few dishes. The youth group kid who doesn’t fit in can carry nine chairs, it turns out.
It’s all a bit of a miracle.
God, could we have potlucks back? Please?
February 18, 2022
Do Not Fret
by Rachel Hackenberg
Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. … Commit your way to God, trust in God who will act. – Psalm 37:1-2 & 5 (NRSV)
A wise friend said to me, “A person who has a ‘good side’ for you to be on doesn’t really have a good side.”
Go ahead and read that again. I have to keep repeating it, myself.
As the survivor of two too many abusive relationships, my default approach in relating to others is a wary one. I’m hyper-aware of people’s motives, the ways people run hot and cold, their requirements (implicit and explicit) for treating me with kindness and reciprocity, their tools of manipulation, the triggers that spark their tantrums or their secrecy or their jealousy. By habit, I walk on eggshells to stay on someone’s good side.
I fret—not so much over the vague “wicked” who are distant from me—but over those nearby who could topple me in their storms. And as I fret, I jealously obsess over how much energy they require from me (or more accurately, how much energy I give to them) to maintain a delicate relationship with their good side.
To my friend’s point: Why?
Why pour time and energy and egg-shell-walking circus tricks onto blades of grass just to appease them until they fade? Why pace and fret and worry and tiptoe through life over those who will storm regardless of anyone’s pacing and fretting and worrying and tiptoeing? Why nurture the “good side” of herbs that are bitter?
Instead, nurture your way by setting it within God’s ways. Pour energy and time into a peace-full trust of God’s refuge. Guard your life, especially if you are in survival mode. Wait with delight on God, rather than waiting with anxiety on weeds.
Guard my time, O Love, that it might benefit your glory. Guard my energy, O Joy, that it might multiply your peace. Guard my faith, O Wisdom, that it might delight in your ways.
February 19, 2022
Keep Nothing Back!
by Marilyn Pagan-Banks
Open up before God, keep nothing back – Psalm 37:5 (MSG)
I recently met with a spiritual director and shared with her my trouble with guilt and worry. Guilt and worry over old sins. Guilt and worry over what I have left undone. Guilt and worry over what is enough and what is too much.
She asked about my prayer life and invited me to add one paragraph each night — “God, please take the guilt and worry. I am turning it over to you. I am trusting you. Thank you, God.” — and envision myself laying it all at God’s feet. Holding nothing back.
What a simple, yet life-giving gift.
Before I left her office, Sister Jean also shared a resource on poetry-prayer exploration, reminding me of the poetry of the psalms and the heart of those who shared them. One style of poetry-prayer exploration might be familiar to many: the acrostic poem, using the first letter of each line in a poem (or prayer) to spell a word or phrase. It was freeing!
Here is an acrostic prayer I wrote while on retreat, responding in gratitude to the work of the Spirit and reflecting on our call to be the Living Word in these times. I invite you to try it—and keep nothing back!
I offer myself to you
Valley of the lilies
I offer all I hope to be
Never forgetting you as the source of love
Receive all of my praise and gratitude
Delivered with joy and dancing
February 20, 2022
by Matt Laney
John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” – John 3:30 (NRSV)
Leonard Bernstein, the renowned orchestra conductor, was once asked, “What is the hardest position to fill?” He replied with zero hesitation:
“Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm, or second French horn or second flute, now that’s a problem! And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”
John the Baptist was happy to play second fiddle to Jesus. He was a virtuoso at second chair. John’s mantra, “He must increase and I must decrease,” is a model for all of us. Less ego, more Christ. That’s the Christian journey.
We put Jesus on the throne, in first chair, not only because he is more deserving but also to keep ourselves off of it. Claiming the throne for ourselves is a recipe for disaster. Our job is to play harmony following Jesus’ lead.
But hear this: even though Jesus is rightly the first fiddle, he had a conductor just as the star quarterback has a coach and the prima ballerina has a choreographer.
Jesus never claimed to be God. He claimed to be one with God. He gave passive acknowledgement to being the Son of God, but he never said, “I am God.”
If we followed that score, this world might start singing a different tune.
Holy Conductor, help me take my cues from Jesus who prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
February 21, 2022
by Vince Amlin
Jesus taught them, saying, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” – Matthew 7:15-17 (NRSV)
The other week at Bethany, we were practicing music before worship. That morning our congregation of 50 was receiving 8 new members, and we were opening the service with the Mark Miller banger, “Welcome.”
“Let’s build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live…”
When we’d sung through it, our music director said, “I love this progression,” and played a couple measures from the song. It landed on this crunchy chord, full of dissonance and tension.
“The deceptive cadence,” she told us. It hung in the air like a question mark, wanting to come to a resolution but refusing.
“That’s the first-time visitors,” our soloist for the morning broke in, “wondering if it’s really true.”
“All are welcome, welcome in this place…”
A little while later, a new family of five arrived. One of their parents caught my eye at the door.
“Are they allowed to sit wherever in here?” she asked, motioning to her kids.
“They’re going to be disruptive.”
“So will mine. I’m OK with it if you are.”
I tried to be reassuring. But those are just words. Easy to speak. Easy to sing. Harder to live.
I wonder how she felt, what she experienced. I wonder if they’ll be back, if we’ll get the chance to show them that it’s true.
Loving One, make us as good as your word.