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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

December's Sky

by Paul Hettinga


Every December sky must lose its faith in leaves; And dream of the spring inside the trees; How heavy the empty heart How light the heart that's full. Sometimes, I have to trust what I can't know…
And so starts Beth Nielsen Chapman’s song “Every December Sky”. It’s a metaphor about death and life, reminding us that in letting go we die to the past giving us the hope of springing forth into new life.

It’s a message that I love in concept but resist in my daily life. I find myself clinging to the old leaves as they continue to wither and die hoping for just a little more, a little longer or thinking that if I just hang on a little longer, it will get better. It isn’t easy to let go for sure! It also isn’t easy to dream of the spring inside the trees when it’s dark, cold, lonely or depressing or even when things are okay, but just not very good.

As the song goes…”Sometimes I have to trust what I can’t know…” It strikes me how little of my life really is turned on trust – relying much more on my intellect, my creativity, my resources, and on my old habits of thinking and doing. Have I lived the last 50 or so of my adult years or instead have I lived 1 year 50 times over? How about my marriage – 42 years or 1 year repeated 42 times? I am learning that I trust most that which I’ve already done, or thought, or believed or previously felt. I trust least in ‘…what I can’t know…”

The cycle of the seasons could teach us much about the nature of our own lives. Nothing is forever and in fact the truth is that too many of our lives are spent in boredom, perhaps because of our fear of letting go, of imagining what could be if only we could let go of that which is actually dying – just not yet.

Take a minute today to ask yourself as I have asked myself; what things do I need to let go of to become all that our creator and Lord imagines us to be?

God isn’t interested in the past of our lives. In fact, I think God can’t even remember it, but we do, and we cling to it, and for too many of us, we die with it both figuratively and finally. Sound a little heavy? Perhaps. But, if you’re at all like me, I pray that we can both have a memory loss for all that plagues us, weighs us down and keeps us from becoming the ‘spring inside the tree’s’ that Beth sings about and that God hopes for us.


Take a minute to watch this You Tube video of “Every December Sky” by Beth Nielsen Chapman and let the message of letting go bring the hope of new life within you. 


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What About Bob?

by Tom Pappas

When I was climbing up the front range of this adventure we call our lifetime, I remember several points where changes were imminent; and I clearly recall saying, “Change is invigorating.” A household move, a change of teaching assignment, the birth of a child, each brought new opportunities and challenges decorated with a sense of adventure.

I am solidly on the back range and sometimes I feel like the “decoration of adventure” is better described as residue. And what I write today isn’t just about me; I am especially hurting for my friend, Bob.

I am one of those graybeards at the big table in the coffee shop that are waiting for tee times or PT appointments that meet for a cuppa once each week. We worship at the same church so we have that among other topics on which to impart wisdom.

Bob is the oldest of our group and most educated. He is dignified and polite. Bob is clever and funny, if you’re smart enough for his wit. He is full of pertinent stories and insights and we all benefit when he talks. Bob is hard to hear because he is becoming frail, his voice is naturally soft, and the barista staff conspires and waits to make their loudest grinding and swooshing noises until they see us leaning in to hear him.

Bob is diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Rarely is it an inconvenience to him or us. But last week it was an issue. 

Bob lives less than a mile from our coffee rendezvous. He drove last week and came in with his cane, fairly bent over and terribly wobbly. During our hour together his physical control deteriorated. Some of us helped him home, of course.

Today Bob spoke to us about gratitude and the importance of friendships. He talked about making decisions about his future and independence that he didn’t want to encounter so soon. It was our concern for his and others’ safety that brought forward as his number one agenda item.

This good man is further down the back range than I am, and he makes a fine example of dealing with change. Being a person of faith, I see Bob being mindful of God’s companionship as he weighs his options. It’s a different way to define invigoration.


As a tribute to Bob, it is my intent to put down the front-range equipment that God gave me to navigate the first half and trust God to show me new tools for the rest of the way. Now, that’s kind of invigorating.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Prayer for Being Other Than Successful

by Angier Brock




What this world needs is not more people who are successful but more people who are peacemakers, poets, lovers of all things.”

Someone said that last week at a conference in the mountains of Virginia. Though I cannot remember which of several speakers is due credit for the words, the thought has stayed with me, and I carried it into the weekend, especially into Sunday’s Celebration of All Saints and All Souls at my church in Yorktown. As parishioners entered the sanctuary, they wrote down names of loved ones who have died. Later, as the congregation made its way to the altar for communion, those names were read aloud. Many of the people mentioned probably had been “successful” in their lives in a worldly way—but success by that definition was not what put them on the list. I thought about the people I had named. Lida, my mother, a stay-at-home mom, Girl Scout leader, pediatric ward volunteer. Bill, my father, a high school principal, gardener, visitor of shut-ins. Joe, an English professor, close listener, poet. Mabs, a college friend, gracious host, cancer fighter.

After the service, I began thinking about other kinds of people the world could use more of. Bird watchers, water conservers, and recyclers. Grandparents (not just biological ones) and godparents (not just ones assigned at baptism). Farmers and organizers of farmers’ markets. Bicyclists and bicycle repair shop keepers. Therapy dog trainers. Artists, dreamers, and dream interpreters. Bridge builders, both literal and figurative. Road workers, and drivers who slow down for road workers. Prayer bead makers, prayer rug makers, and those who pray. Medical researchers and hospice volunteers. Native plant cultivators and people who buy and plant native plants in their yards. Trash collectors, both those who get paid for their work and those who pick up litter simply because they can whenever they are out walking. People who smile when they check out and bag groceries, and people who smile at the ones doing the checking out and bagging (whether the checkers and baggers are smiling back or not). Bell ringers. Storytellers. People who love to sing rounds. And yes, in this week of elections, polling place workers and polling place watchers, the former to ensure that voting equipment is up and running and the latter to ensure that all voters get a fair chance to use it. And oh, yes, politicians willing to work for the common good, and voters to elect and support them.

Those are some of my ideas. Those kinds of people give the world more of what it needs, not by being “successful” but by increasing the pool of faith and light available to the rest of us on our journey. Who would you add to the list?

What this world needs is not more people who are successful but more people who are peacemakers, poets, lovers of all things. Here’s the deal: We are all called to give the world more of what it needs. May we each find ways of answering that call.

© Angier Brock 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Martin Luther and the Wellness Movement

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

The wellness industry is booming, and this is a good thing. It is a part of our calling to care for ourselves in mind, body and spirit.  The food we eat, and the way we exercise are not separate issues from our spirituality.  I am proud that Lumunos is a part of this development. 

But there is an element of the wellness conversation that you don’t see in the ads or hear at the workshops.  This is the part that has nothing to do with glowing skin and white teeth.  In fact, it is kind of the opposite. 

Eugene Peterson expresses it well when he translates the Beatitudes, familiar words from the Bible that begin with “Blessed are the poor in spirit…..”  I am going to add a translation to his translation, substituting the word “well” for the word “blessed:”

You’re well when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re well when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re well when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. You’re well when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. You’re well when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. You’re well when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.  (Matthew 5, interpreted)

We do our best to exercise, eat right, and have positive attitudes.  We try to manage our stress. But sometimes we don’t.  What of our wellness then?
The people that seem most well to me by Matthew’s definition are not necessarily the ones who are the healthiest looking.  Many of them are old with wrinkled skin and yellow teeth.  Some of them are in wheelchairs or are missing limbs. 
But these people I am thinking of have a deep trust in the presence and goodness of God.  They have what Richard Rohr calls a “Bright Sadness.” They know that life is hard and that suffering is real.  But they also know that God is real and trustworthy.  There is a kind of peace and contentment in them that I want for my life.
In the end we cannot ultimately make ourselves well or whole through our own strength or willpower.   As our friends in AA teach us, ultimately we need to depend on a Higher Power. 
It is a different take on wellness, one that doesn’t discount the importance of exercise, diet and stress management.  It just acknowledges that we need something or someone beyond ourselves to be well. 

Martin Luther and the Wellness Movement
This Sunday was Reformation Day, a holiday almost nobody cares about anymore. Amongst other things, it is a day to acknowledge Martin Luther, the ‘Father of Protestant Christianity.’  I am wondering if it should be changed to National Spiritual Wellness Day.
Admittedly Luther is not the first name that comes to mind when thinking about wellness. He was overweight, anxious, and (rumor has it) had some pretty significant GI issues.  Compared to the people with glowing skin and white teeth, Luther falls short of the mark. 

Luther learned the hard way that life isn’t about how hard you work.  After dropping out of law school, he became a monk.  He tried really, really hard to be the best monk he could be.  He drove himself mercilessly, seeking to earn God’s approval.  I am no psychologist or physician, but I have to believe that this contributed to his anxiety and GI issues.

Eventually he fell into the truth that was waiting for him and us all along—God’s grace is a gift, not something you have to earn.  It is free because we are God’s beloved, and there is nothing we can do to make God love us more.  Once Luther figured this out, it changed his life.  He became one of the most courageous and influential people in history, taking on the most powerful institution of his day.   Martin Luther became well. 

Exercise and eat well.  But don’t forget that when you get to the end of your rope, you are not necessarily unwell.  Maybe you are just making room for God. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Choosing to Not Look Away

by Lauren Van Ham


For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,
Do not fear; I will help you.

Isaiah 41:13, NIV

Goodness knows there’s plenty to feel afraid about.  Real or imagined, we receive a steady stream of messages each day that offer huge helpings of fear: the spread of ebola, the stock market, our relationship with other countries, global warming, the state of education, our childrens’ future, the dangers of diabetes, add your fear *HERE*, and on and on.

How do you work with fear?  I’ve been told, more than once, that fear and love don’t comfortably cohabitate; and that, when I’m feeling fear, I should focus on love. 


Focus on love. 

It’s an instructive prompt, for sure; I like the sound of it, but when I’m in the grip of a well-fed worry or fear, sometimes love feels hard to reach.  In Isaiah we read not only read, “Do not fear,” but the follow up, “I will help you.”
Help?  Yes, I accept!  And, as a good parent or skilled guide, God says, “tell me about your fear.”  What is fear exactly?

Last week, I was devouring the words of one of my heroines, Terry Tempest Williams, who in an interview shared, “You know, a good friend of mine said, ‘You are married to sorrow.’ And I looked to him and I said, ‘I am not married to sorrow. I just choose not to look away.’" 

Sometimes, my fear is sorrow in disguise.  It’s a grief I don’t want to acknowledge because it will be hard to feel.  When I take God up on God’s offer to help me, I don’t have to look away.  I can be a little more curious; I can feel the sorrow; I can honor the change I was resisting; I can trust that whatever it is that is feeling so unpleasantly beyond my control and uncomfortably uncertain, will unfold in Divine Order…or it won’t, but I will have God to help me with that too.

As the Autumn winds kick up tropical storms in the South, and as leaves fall and temperatures drop in the North; as the season’s dark skies grow darker, I feel God’s invitation to receive God’s help and to bring curiosity to my fears. 

What, real or imagined, has you in fear’s grip?  Where is your curiosity greater than your fear?


About Lauren: Lauren lives in Berkeley, CA.  She serves as Dean at The Chaplaincy Institute (ChI), an interfaith seminary and tends her private practice as a spiritual director.  You can read Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/

Monday, October 13, 2014

Of Course It Matters -- But, Maybe Not

by Tom Pappas

Last week I sent out 39 individual emails to fairly new members of our church; here are three responses from folks, far younger than me, who I invited to join a 6-week book study.

“Thank you so much for the invite, but honestly I don't even have time to read for fun anymore ha-ha! Maybe in a couple months once my body's adjusted to my new weird hours I'll be able to get involved.”

“Thanks for the invite, but it will not work for me at this time.   I just can't add another thing into the schedule right now (my little ones are 1 and 3).  It does look like a really interesting book though!  I may have to pick it up on my own.”

“Thanks so much for the invitation!  It feels good to be asked.  Right now might not be the best time for us, we are getting used to being first-time parents (our son was born 7-29-14) and our schedule is pretty out of whack.  We would certainly be interested some time down the road though.”

There are common elements, don’t you think? Polite and grateful. Stressed and hopeful.
Their answers caused me to reflect on how it was for me (us) many years ago.

Who among us doesn’t always need to prioritize and choose? Good for us when we use our resources of time and energy in ways that pay off in the long haul. Good for us when we listen well and drill down to the bedrock commitments that make us better, our families better and the world better.

Since receiving the responses I shared above, I have been reminiscing my yes’s and no’s as a person their age and in their position. That was a busy time and it’s possible I sometimes said yes under the guise of, “I will be a better dad/husband/Christian”, if I take that seminar, lead that class, or go on that retreat. I cannot say if that is, in fact, what happened.

Turning back to the present, it is my sincere prayer that my respondents who don’t do the study get full value in not doing it. May they be the best moms, dads and new employees on crazy schedules that they can possibly be.

Also in the present I argue with myself about the merits of supporting the institution and being a team player, or letting others be that person while I take care of what I think is a wiser personal choice. Truth be told, most of the time that I take one for the team, it ends up being worthwhile and I don’t regret it.


Of this I am completely sure. God is trustworthy. Jesus is the finest example of how to live and how to be fully alive. Trusting God offers assurance that God’s will can be achieved with either of two good choices – and don’t we all know stories of God redeeming lousy choices.   

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Prayer for Our Supersubstantial Bread

by Angier Brock

Give us this day our daily bread. How many times have I prayed those words, thinking that “daily bread” meant just that—a day’s worth of ordinary, every-day food for physical sustenance? It reminds me of the Hebrews who, as they wandered in the wilderness, were given manna to eat—but just enough for that day, for manna did not keep longer.  

I can also read “daily bread” metaphorically, so that it becomes an allotment of spiritual sustenance—a kind word, a timely sermon, a song, a glimpse of the beauty of the natural world, or any other experience that offers hope or other provision for facing whatever the day calls me to. In both physical and spiritual senses, the phrase “daily bread” seems straightforward enough.

But it turns out that the Greek word epiousios, which is the word behind the familiar “daily” in most translations of the Lord’s Prayer, is a rarer word than we might think. It appears only twice in the Bible, once in Matthew and once in Luke, in both cases attributed to Jesus in his instructions on prayer. It may have been found one other time in fragmentary writings from ancient Greece—but even that is debatable. And so it is a mysterious word; no one knows what it really means. “Daily” is perhaps as good a guess as any—but it is only a guess. St. Jerome (ca. 347—420 CE) had a different guess. He translated epiousios as “supersubstantial.”  

I discovered all this the other day while reading a book on the history of Christianity, and it stopped me in my tracks: Give us this day our supersubstantial bread? Wow! Really?  

I investigated further. Sure enough, though the internet, I found not only confirmation of what I had read but also various theological discussions about possible meanings of “supersubstantial.” (I confess that as a modern American, the phrase “super-sized” — as in, “Do you want fries with that?” — briefly crossed my mind.) I commend those discussions to you for your own further investigation.  
I also turned to my dictionary. The adjective substantial can mean real, not imaginary; ample, even hefty; considerable in degree. The prefix super, meaning over and above, greater than normal, even excessive, enlarges any word it is paired with. You can mix and match the various meanings to come to your own understanding of “supersubstantial.” 

But no matter what you take it to mean, “supersubstantial” differs from “daily.” “Daily” (which has Old English and Germanic roots rather than Latin ones) refers to frequency and perhaps reliability of occurrence. As far as I am concerned, daily bread is miraculous in and of itself. But it is enlarged ever further by “supersubstantial,” which refers to quality and/or quantity.  

Why had I not known that possible translation before?

And now that I know, what difference does knowing make?

I have just begun thinking about this matter, and I suspect that it is the kind of puzzle with which I could occupy myself for quite some time. Suddenly an old, familiar phrase has, like bread itself, been broken open.   

At the very least, it points afresh to mystery. If something so surprising could be hiding in a single word in a prayer I have prayed for more than six decades, who knows what might come next? And from now on, while my lips are saying, “Give us this day our daily bread,” in my heart of hearts, I will be pondering “supersubstantial.”