Confession at Christmas

December 31, 2012 2 comments


The coffee shop streams with people coming and going this cool December morning on the last day of 2012. The lady to my left works a crossword puzzle. The couple to my right discusses the political anger that seems to abound in our culture. One girl reads her Bible. One couple quietly communicates with hand gestures back and forth, back and forth.  A lady in the corner sits in front of her computer, looking at her iPhone and listening to something (music or otherwise) on her bright red headphones. I love the color red.

Barristas scurry from sink to coffee machine to cash register. All the while swapping stories, sharing smiles and greeting incoming customers. The room buzzes with a white noise that helps quiet me as I read and pray.

The opening sentence in the Daily Office for today reads, “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10, 11)

I sit back and reread these words.

“Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10, 11)


“Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10, 11)

I keep hearing the words from Pope Benedict XVI in his book, “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.” He points out that the angel addresses Mary with the Greek word “chaire instead of the Hebrew word “shalom.” This Greek word means “Rejoice.” Benedict writes,

“Joy appears in these texts as the particular gift of the Holy Spirit, the true gift of the Redeemer. So a chord is sounded with the angel’s salutation which then resounds throughout the life of the Church. Its content is also present in the fundamental word that serves to designate the entire Christian message: Gospel— good news.”[1]

I am struck by the immediacy of the address. The angel address Mary and the shepherds with this immediate command. “Rejoice.” Today, this very moment, heaven has broken into earth. Christ is come. The world is changed. Rejoice! In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Today is the day of salvation!” Today.

This word jolts me awake. For the Good News has come to me here, this moment at Starbucks, in the midst of many movements, I am stilled by the Word that raises my soul to life. “Rejoice!” Even as I rejoice, I hear the call to confession.

“Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor.”

Here is my feeble confession to the Good News that is too good to be true but still is true:

Lord I confess I am dead to the life-shattering news of Emmanuel.

I confess I my ears have been dulled by the distracting roar of my heart’s strivings for vain pursuits and I have failed to hear the Good News.

I confess that I’ve been blinded by lesser lights and I have failed to behold your Glorious Light and my desperate darkness.

I confess that I’ve reduced the coming of our Lord to a distant event in the ancient past or uncertain future, and I have failed to realize that Christ is come today and today is the day of salvation.

I confess that the Good News fails to echo in my soul with the fire of joy, so my joy dissipates in lesser loves and momentary delights.

Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

Fire my soul, my mind, my heart, my body with the news that is ever New and the Word that is ever Present. In your grace, let me hear and respond to this Word Today, to the birth of Jesus, the One who lived, died and rose again. To the Lord Jesus Christ who ever intercedes for me and all creation before the Father in heaven. To the Savior Who is present by His Spirit and is Filling all things to the Fullness of Your Glory.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI (2012-11-21). Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (Kindle Locations 369-372). Image. Kindle Edition.

Image thanks to Avondale Pattillo UMC via Creative Commons.

Categories: Christmas

Night Divine

December 20, 2012 Leave a comment


During Advent we remember that the darkness of winter’s arrival is pierced with the Light of Life. Advent holds together ending and beginning, death and life, dark and light. Yet, this is not a balance of opposites. It is a living hope in the midst of a dying world.

In winter, the world comes undone. Spring’s blossoms have long died away. Icy dark nights overtake autumn’s afternoon. Snow covers the land and trees. This winter wonderland is beautiful…and deadly. Most of us live insulated from this threatening freeze, but the dark, cold night looms near us all.

I know the fear of waking in the death of night. Darkness presses heavy upon my chest. Sickening dread grips my throat and tightens my stomach. The specters of hopelessness haunt me. This present darkness sometimes escapes the witching hours, creeping into day. I wake to a world cringing in yet another nightmare.

Darkness, darkness, thick darkness covers the face of the earth. Whether it is the rage of war, the horror of violent crime, the suffocating poison of unspeakable speech, or the smothering night that grips the soul, darkness can seem more real than light.

Evil, evil, thick evil catches us unaware. Once I casually reached for a music magazine, flipping through the pages in search of the latest album reviews. A story of torture and violence interrupted the search. My pulse quickened. My body tensed. Night’s dread drowned the music.

Why? Why are humans so evil?

That question is dangerous. The prophet says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”[1] Even as we question and wrestle with the horror of evil in our world, we also walk in darkness. The Apostle John says, “The people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. .”[2]

Those who have choked on darkness know a raging darkness within that terrifies more than the darkness without.

This is the great unspeakable truth that Advent exposes. The darkness within. We run from the light. We hide in the dark. Then we look at the evil in the world and question, “Why?”

The line of evil runs directly through the human heart.

Into this darkness, Light shines. Advent celebrates the night-shattering news that God is with us. Christ has come near. We sing of the blessed birth of the Lord in the Holy Night and Night Divine. He penetrates the dark night of human evil. Even the night is not night to Him. The Psalmist sings,

11 “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.[3]

Jesus the Light of the World entered into the dark night of humanity. He exposed evil in us and around us. In His life, death and resurrection, He also overcame it. We wait for the full unveiling of His Light when death will die and the full Light of day will permanently overtake the night of evil.

Emmanuel, God with us, calls us to reveal the Light of His love in the midst of this dark age. Like Peter on the water, we may grow fearful and sink in dark waters. He is Present and we are safe.

Those dark waters make me think of swimming in the ocean with my dad one summer. On our last day of summer vacation, we went down to the ocean for one last swim. The storm clouds threatened on the horizon. My dad was not afraid. We road the humongous waves together. We played in the dark waters. I was not afraid because my dad was with me.

My mom frantically waved for us to come back to shore. As we headed toward shore, the undertow pulled us back. We struggled against the flow. For a moment, the waves threatened and overwhelmed me. I was not afraid because my dad was with me.

The darkness of our world threatens. Evil rages. We want to rage back. Our own echoing rage cannot stop the dark. Only the Light of His Love can overcome the dark. He is Present in the dark. Even as we wait and watch, He is here. Emmanuel. O Holy Night. O Night Divine.

Though the storms of evil rage, He is Present. We can love and even laugh, knowing that the undertow of evil will not overcome the Light of His Presence.

During these final moments of Advent waiting, during these dark hours of winter’s undoing, let us remember that His Light. He overcomes the evil within and the evil without. We follow Him into the dark waters of our world, into the pain, into the hurt, and into the fear, trusting in His Light of Love, Peace and Life Unconquerable.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Is 9:2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[2] ibid. (Jn 3:19).
[3] ibid. (Ps 139:11–12).

Note: Image by Sigurd R (used by Creative Commons permission).

Categories: Advent

Advent Light

December 13, 2012 2 comments


Keeping Advent time seems rather odd in the middle of blinking lights, dancing Santas, and Christmas parades. The time of Advent is supposed to be a time of watching and waiting, a time to listen and contemplate the coming of the Lord.

It’s a bit tricky to juggle watching and waiting while running to work parties, family gatherings and church events. The season of dark yearning seems overcome by twinkling red and green lights.

Once we learn the rhythms of Advent, this frenzy may frustrate. We may long for a simpler time, a quieter place, a season undefiled by secular intrusions. I’m not sure that time or place ever existed. Every age has its distraction. Every heart has its noise.

The desert fathers entered the wilderness only to encounter the deafening roar of their inner chaos. It seems their own noise followed them into the quiet. During the Middle Ages, many villagers spent the month of December drinking and feasting themselves into a frenzy. The wheels of industry whirred throughout eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, virtually ignoring the entire holiday.

The quiet promise of earlier, simpler days is elusive at best.

The heart is restless, and the world wrestles around it. Our desert, our quiet, our place of calm may be in the middle of an ocean of noises. From crying babies to marching wooden soldiers, we may need ears that hear in the messiness of living.

During this call of Advent don’t worry about the noises, the distractions, and the people who celebrate Christmas in Advent or the people who celebrate Stuff instead of Christ. Don’t fret over trying to have an idealized spiritual encounter

Simply ask Him to open your eyes and ears to His coming. He speaks the Word of Life into the midst of a world of death. In the wasteland of our souls, He comes. He builds a highway of holiness. He creates ears that hear, eyes that see, legs that leap, hands that clap, and tongues that sing. He proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor. He declares liberty to our captive hearts. He comes with an avenging sword. He comforts those who mourn. He builds up the ancient ruins. He reveals His glory.

In the messiness and earthiness of our lives, He comes. In our feeble attempts to worship, He comes. In the midst of a distracted and distracting world, He comes. And in His light we see light.

Rise up now and behold. Quickly. For the King is coming and His glory is overshadowing us even now.

* – Image posted by Creative Commons permission from James Jordan (

Categories: Advent

Advent Calendar

December 3, 2012 1 comment


I found an Advent calendar last Saturday. For a brief moment, I breathed the crisp air of a New Jersey morning from my youth. Snowdrifts lined our street. Footprints pounded snow into an icy maze along the sidewalks. Fall vanished beneath the wintry world, and a hidden magic unveiled before my eyes.

The Advent Calendar of my childhood counted down the days to Santa’s appearing. Each window revealed some small token, some promise that Santa would soon be here. Each day, I caught just a glimpse, a flash, a promise that he was coming. And coming soon.

While this may sound strange, I think the Advent calendar functioned in an apocalyptic role. The little windows opened into a promised world, another realm. They revealed something deeper, more wondrous than I could grasp with my eyes or ears.

Apocalypse unveils. Exposes. Reveals. Some times this is good and some times it is bad. Isaiah reveals that Israel is not clothed fine linen but unspeakably dirty rags. Think of Scrooge. The ghosts of Christmas play an apocalyptic role in his life. They open his eye to a world that he has failed to see. They unveil the joys, the suffering, the love, and even the death.

For once, Scrooge sees himself as he truly is: a dead man. The terror drives him to repent.

Advent is a time of apocalypse. As the dark days of December give way to winter’s night, we focus on the light of the coming Son. We are watching and waiting. Like the little windows on an Advent calendar, we are unfolding new surprises of God’s coming each day.

We pray for eyes to see and ears to hear. Like the child searching for magic beneath every Advent window, we are looking for glimpses of glory. Just as Solomon exhorts us to search for wisdom as silver and as hidden treasure, we search for the Son. We look for His unveiling.

The unveiling may be gentle. We might behold our neighbors through the light of His glorious love and realize just a glimpse of the wonder they truly are. We might pause over the simple act of sipping tea and offer thanks for the gracious gifts of our good Lord. We might realize His glorious touch in the people and places all around us. Our hearts might be like a little child as we sense the glory of the Lord drawing near.

But a word of caution: Advent can also be dangerous.

Gentle Jesus also comes with sword. The Prince of Peace may appear in terrifying splendor and a fury of unspeakable glory. When John beholds the wonder, he falls down as though dead.

4 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.[1]

In the middle of the day, in the middle of the hour, in the middle of the moment, the Son appears. When He comes, the sword of His word penetrates our blind eyes and dead ears with the roar of glory.

Opening our blind eyes can be a bit of a jolt. Annie Dillard writes, “If we are blinded by darkness, we are also blinded by light. When too much light falls on everything, a special terror results.”[2] So be warned.

He may come as a gentle breeze awakening us from a soft sleep. But he may come as a trumpet blast awakening us from a death like oblivion. The Son may pierce with His Word and wound with His love. In beholding Him, we also behold our own broken hearts, our own dirty rags. The light of the Son can burn and heal at the same time.

The days of unveiling have come. Let us pause. Look around. Watch. Wait.

[1] The New King James Version. 1982 (Re 1:14–16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
[2] Dillard, Annie (2009-10-13). Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Kindle Locations 341-342). Harper Perennial Modern Classics. Kindle Edition.

Categories: Advent

Zombies for Thanksgiving

November 20, 2012 1 comment

I have a somewhat macabre picture in my mind of zombies stumbling to Thanksgiving dinner. There’s a table full of zombies feasting on turkey, dressing, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. Once they finish the appetizers, they start looking to the host for the next course.

Somehow a little bit Halloween has gotten into Thanksgiving and these “walking dead” keep showing up unannounced with a ravenous hunger.

Zombies do seem to keep showing up everywhere nowadays. They’ve broken free from George Romero’s films and are now showing up in Jane Austen novels like the awfully popular “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” They’re ambling through video games, comic books, social protests and even academic research.

In 2009, Carlton University and the University of Ottowa conducted a mathematical modeling analysis to determine the best plan of action in case of a zombie outbreak. The Center for Disease Control recently utilized zombies for an emergency preparedness campaign. So why not have zombies over for Thanksgiving?

In the modern reinterpretation of the “zombie myth,” these staggering sleepwalkers were once normal humans. Some cataclysmic event or pandemic turned them into human flesh eaters. They cannot stop consuming.

I think the zombies are already here. The walking dead dwell among us.

The Victorian author George MacDonald might say that the “walking undead” dwell among us. In his novel Lillith, he suggests that those who selfishly cling to life are undead. The undead do not yet to know how to live. Only when they die, will they live.

With a deep dose of German Romanticism, the novel follows the dark adventures of the undead Mr. Vane as he wanders across the far side of the grave. At one point, he encounters two skeletons crumbling apart as they argue. His guide, the raven explains that the skeletons are husband and wife. They’re damned to keep grumbling and crumbling until they can fully love and finally dance.

Like those skeletons, we stumble and grumble through the world, dull to wonder and glory and the utter joy of existence. We’ve been lulled into the sin of apetheia (sloth) by busyness, by disappointment, by confusion, by suffering and oddly enough by prosperity.

We can only handle so many blessings before we become bored. The monotony of daily blessings numbs us to the privilege of every breath. So we focus on our discontent while longing for more of the same. Many of us will literally stumble to Thanksgiving in state of ravenous somnolence.

I fear that we’ve gorged ourselves into a stupor. Like the ghouls on film, we can’t stop consuming. We consume news, entertainment, food, sex, ideas, and people. We use up everything and everyone for our pleasure and our misery.

Instead of realizing our uncontrollable urge, we can only realize how disappointed we are. For starters, no one gives us the recognition we’ve earned, and we deserve. We complain about people, about the world, about our families, and about God (even when we claim he’s not there).

We need some sort of shock treatment to jolt us back into the glory of existence.

After almost languishing to death in the fatalistic art scene of the 1890s, G.K. Chesterton experienced a resurrection of sorts. He woke up and was stunned to be alive. In Orthodoxy, he writes, “The world was a shock, but it was not merely shocking; existence was a surprise, but it was a pleasant surprise.” Later, he would write, “Merely to exist for a moment, and see a white patch of daylight on a gray wall, ought to be an answer to all the pessimism of the world.”

By God’s grace, may we know this same jolt! If we are ever to escape the undying urge of self-consuming zombie feasting, we must know this same vital life. St. Bonaventure saw this life poured out in the cross. In love, God pours Himself into humanity in Christ. As a man, God pours his life out completely in the cross. Bonaventure saw this as the unrestrained love of the Son that holds nothing back—not even life itself. The answer to such an outpouring is unquenchable life: resurrection.

The resurrection reveals the Father’s kiss to the Son. The loving act of total outpouring of the Son is reciprocated by the Father in the act of outpouring the Spirit of Life into the Son. This death-life movement is the exact opposite of the zombie that craves human flesh. Instead of sucking life in, God pours life out.

We need a resurrection. We need the life of the Resurrected One. Thus, Bonaventure might direct our feasting to another thanksgiving meal: The Great Thanksgiving. The church calls the communion meal or the Eucharist, The Great Thanksgiving. As we eat the bread and drink the wine, we encounter afresh the unrestrained love of God revealed in Christ.

This is real consuming, according William T. Cavanaugh. In “Being Consumed” he writes, “To consume the Eucharist is an act of anticonsumption, for here to consume is to be consumed, to be taken up into participation in something larger than the self, yet in a way in which the identity of the self is paradoxically secured.” In the Great Thanksgiving, we are welcomed into the communion of death and life.

We taste the mystery of love without restraint. Even as we remember the death of our Lord, we might forget our unrestrained craving. We might know the pain and joy of death and life in one movement.

Like Chesterton, we might be jolted awake from the sleep of the undead. We might discover the unexplainable mystery of being alive. Instead of killing zombies or becoming all consuming zombies this Thanksgiving, we might actually become thanksgiving, pouring out the unquenchable life and love of our Living Lord to the world around us.

Categories: meditation

Reflections on the Shema

June 25, 2012 1 comment

Hear O Israel

4Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [1]

Moses calls the people to attention with the words, “Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Ehad.” To this day, the Jewish people sing these words each day and especially each Shabbat. These words form the heart of Torah. When asked what is the most important  commandment of all, Jesus replies,

“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” [2]

This commandment stands at the heart of Jewish identity and Christian faith.

Christians tend to focus immediately upon the command to love God and love one another. But it is worth pausing before the opening words, “Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Ehad.” The statement is difficult to translate. Hebrew scholar JH. Tigay highlights the difficulty in translating the statement,

…the precise meaning of the Shema is uncertain. The four Hebrew words “YHVH ʾeloheinu YHVH ʾeḥad” literally mean “YHVH our God YHVH one.” Since Hebrew does not have a present-tense verb meaning “is” to link subject and predicate, the link must be supplied by the listener or reader. Where to do so depends on context and is sometimes uncertain. Grammatically, “YHVH our God YHVH one” could be rendered in several ways, such as (1) “YHVH is our God, YHVH alone”; (2) “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (lit., “YHVH our God, YHVH is one”); (3) “YHVH our God is one YHVH.”[3]

He concludes that “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone” is probably our best translation since second phrase, is not focused on monotheism but on the exclusive relationship that the Lord has with his people. Thus, “the Lord alone” may be the best rendering.

Reflecting on this call to attention, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone,” I am struck by the command to hear, to listen. When God creates, he speaks. By his word, he commands the sun and moon and stars to exist. By his word, he commands, the waters to recede and make room for the land. By his command the world is created.

He speaks and the power of Pharaoh is broken over Israel. He calls his people out of Egypt and they come. Nothing can stop the power of his word. At Mt. Sinai, he calls his people, “Hear O Israel.” By his word, these former slaves of Egypt are formed into a community.

Israel is his covenantal name for Jacob. It is a name of promise. The Lord calls Jacob to be a prince of a royal people, set apart unto God. Now after hundreds of years in captivity, the word calls these descendants of Jacob, Israel: the beloved people of God.

We begin with the Lord calling his beloved people to himself. And immediately,  we hear his pledge of love and fidelity to his people. He redeemed them from Pharaoh, and he is leading them to a place of abundance, a wide open space of promised rest. By his word, he is forming them, shaping them into a holy people.

This formation is not an act of force that violates the human person, but rather it is a promise of covenantal relationship that will heal his people. He will bind himself to them, promising his faithful love and kindness. Covenantal commitment shapes the entire story of Scripture.

The call to attention is immediately followed by a repetition of the Lord’s covenant name, YHVH or Adonai (recognizing the holiness of the name, the Jews insert Adonai for the name YHWH). So in one statement, we hear an emphasis on covenant repeated three times: Israel, Adonai, Adonai.

The Creator of Israel is the Creator of the world, and though he is high and holy (over and above the creation), he is present in the midst of his people.

   15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
        who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
    “I dwell in the high and holy place,
        and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
    to revive the spirit of the lowly,
        and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:15 ESV)

    17 The LORD your God is in your midst,
        a mighty one who will save;
    he will rejoice over you with gladness;
        he will quiet you by his love;
    he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17 ESV)

He is not far off. He is not transcendent in a way that prevents him from being present to  his people. He is present in the midst of his people and his creation with love and joy and saving grace.

This Creator God who is also the Lord of Israel is also the Lord alone. He calls his people to exclusive relationship. He is not one of many lords that they might turn to for help. He is not the lord of a particular city or a particular mountain. Though he speaks to them from Sinai now, he will speak to them from the cloud and the fire in the desert. He will speak to them from the tent of meeting. He will speak to them from Mt Zion.

He demands an exclusive relationship with his people. Thus in the Shema, we hear the whole first command. In Deuteronomy 5, we hear an expanded narrative of the covenantal Lord.

“Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. 2 The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3 Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. 4 The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, 5 while I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain. He said:
6 “ ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

7 “ ‘You shall have no other gods before me. [4]

Adonai, the Lord loves Israel. Calls Israel to himself. Redeems Israel from slavery. And calls Israel to an exclusive relationship: “No other gods.” All other gods (human lords and local deities) will enslave his people, dehumanize his people, and ultimately destroy his people. This initial command is not a petty human jealousy, it is the call of a true father to his beloved people. It is the call out of death (and powers that lead to death) and into life.

The true father calls his people. He is present in his call with real power that can lead his people out of slavery (Egypt) and into freedom (promised land). The command to love that immediately follows this call is a command to become images of himself. They are created in his image and in his likeness. Now he calls them (with real power) to become what they are created to be.

Only now can we begin to think about the obedience inherent in the command to love. This obedience is the response of a child to the loving father, and never a condition for the orphan to become a child.

[1] Jewish Publication Society. (1985). Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Dt 6:4–5). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mk 12:29–31). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] Tigay, J. H. (1996). Deuteronomy. The JPS Torah commentary (438–439). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Dt 5:1–7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Categories: commandments


April 19, 2012 2 comments

A few observations made when I was visiting the Vienna Coffee House in Maryville, TN.


I’ve been too busy to notice
the light vibration of tearing sugar packets,
the pattern coffee and cream swirling,
the gentle sound of spoon tapping
against the sides of a warm cup
soothing my cupped hands.

I’ve been too busy to notice
three green glass bottles
full of light and patches of color,
standing on the mantle
beside a cobalt blue jar, and
a plant that might suddenly bloom.

I’ve been too busy to notice
the older man sitting beside the mantle,
chewing gum,
drinking coffee,
reading page after page
of notes scribbled on a yellow legal pad,
and wearing plaid pajamas pants and dress shoes,
with the textured face of a character from
from a Finnish film.

I’ve been too busy to notice
table of wrought iron with
curls to the left
and curls to the right
in way that makes me think of
flowers blooming on a sunny hillside

I’ve been too busy to notice
how the window frames my view,
focusing my vision on brown lines
of a tin roof surrounded by tree branches that
reach out of frame toward light.

I’ve been too busy to notice
the purple molding separating
the pink ceiling from the beige wall,
and the strange spelling of beige,
which I momentarily forgot
until Google corrected my “color baise” to “color beige.”

there’s so much more I failed to notice
like the wondrous shape of noses
the way a smile shines light into the eyes
the familiar sound of laughter in the unfamiliar sound of
two German ladies talking at the rod iron table.

I’ve been too busy to notice
how the marbleized door handle reflects
me and my coffee,
the green bottles, the older man,
the wrought iron table with the German ladies,
the window, and the purple molding.

Doug Floyd, April 18, 2011

Categories: poetry

Jesus on the Margins Retreat

March 19, 2012 1 comment

I’m planning retreat exploring art and faith on May 11-13. This is the first in a series of retreats exploring the relationship between art and faith. This particular retreat explores on art and music that focuses on people at the margins of society. We’ll talk about ways of considering art; we’ll spend time individually meditating on specific songs, paintings or other works; and we’ll also discuss these works in relation to our faith and ask questions about a “spirituality of the arts.”

David Clifton, the worship leader at Apostles Anglican church, will be joining us for the weekend. For over 30 years, David has been working in multiple art forms including music (writing, producing, guitarist) as well as pottery, ceramics, paintings and most recently iconography.

Some of the artists we’ll be exploring:
Georges Rouault, Vincent Van Gogh, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan as well as the work of other artists who turned the spotlight on people who live at the edge. If you have some work that you would be willing to share with the group, we’d love for you to bring your own at as well.

Jesus on the Margins Retreat
Date: May 11-13
Cost: Suggested $100 per person (everyone is welcome, so pay what you can)
Location: Buffalo Mountain Camp and Retreat Center
241 Methodist Camp Road
Jonesborough, TN  37659

The Gospels reveal a picture of Jesus always moving toward the people on the outside. In fact, Jesus becomes the outsider to all of humanity.

Marginal Man

Watching and waiting for his coming.
Finally, He shows up
at the wrong time,
in the wrong place
and in less than respectable circumstances.
The King of the Jews is disappointing and a little embarrassing.

Heaven’s arrow crashes into stony hearts,
The Word made flesh says,
“You must eat my flesh and drink my blood,”
Polite society quietly slips away.
After all, this King of the Jews might damage our reputation.

The High and Holy God
dwells in unspeakable glory,
but he also makes home with the unspeakable ones
and parties with the indecent.
The King of the Jews has a penchant for embracing the
unsavory, unrespectable, and unclean
people we skirt to the edges of our world.

After revealing his glory to Peter, James and John,
the King of the Jews falls from the holy mountain
through the valley of disfiguration
and onto a cross.

He is the suffering servant,
the fool of God.
In his final hours, this marginal man
stands at the edge of all that is holy and true
no angels comfort him,
no friends or family share his pain,
even his Father turns away in disgust.
The King of the Jews bears his crown alone.

doug floyd, April 19, 2003

Categories: Art, culture

Jesus in the Wilderness

February 27, 2012 2 comments

Here is a little talk I gave yesterday introducing Lent in way that keeps the focus on the work of Christ.

Categories: Jesus

Hallowed Be Thy Name

January 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Image by EJP Photo (via Creative Commons)

Some words cannot be said fast. Whether singing and speaking or thinking the Lord’s Prayer, it seems “Hallowed be Thy name” always brings pause. Ha-llowed. This odd word does not want to be rushed. We don’t say “hallowed” very often. This makes sense because the word has to do with otherness. Not the ordinary. Not the common. Rather, the set apart. Specifically, relates to things or places or even people set apart for Temple service.

The articles in the Temple cannot be used anywhere else. They are holy. Set apart. The priest goes through consecration process as he enters to serve in the Temple. He is set apart.

So I’m sitting back at the coffee shop, re-hearsing, re-membering, re-citing the Lord’s Prayer yet again. “Hallowed be Thy Name” almost always brings the prayer to a standstill. In the middle of the common, every day, secular space, I am uttering “Hallowed be Thy Name.”

The Lord dwells in unapproachable light, yet I dare approach Him in the midst of lattes and laptops. I’m aware of the warning from the third commandment, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord Thy God in vain.” Yet here I am praying, “Hallowed be Thy Name” while voices chatter and the Beatles sing “Hey Jude” in the background,

Hey Jude, don’t be afraid
You were made to go out and get her
The minute you begin to let her under your skin
You begin to make it better.

The song reminds me of our longing for restored relationships, and our struggle to make that a reality. Even as the Beatles were singing a song about healing a love relationship, they struggled with their own breaking bonds.

The Beatles mirror the weakness of each one of us sitting here today. It is in my absolute weakness, I appeal, “Hallowed be Thy Name.” I’m lifting up the name, holding it up above me and above all those around me. I may actually be moving closer to the third commandment.

For this command is warning about “bearing the Name in an empty way.” But if we lift up the Name, acknowledging our Lord as the only refuge from ourselves, we might we be bearing the name faithfully. Lifting up our voices and our hearts to the only faithful and true One. Praying “Hallowed be Thy Name’ in the midst of the chatter and the music could be a speech-act of speaking, turning, facing, seeking, longing for His faithful Name to be revealed in our midst. I think of Jesus eating with the sinner Zacheus. The Word Made Flesh, the Holy One goes to eat, dwell, commune with an evil man. In so going, he may be enfleshing Isaiah 57:15,

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
(Isaiah 57:15 ESV)

So even as I lift up His Holy Name in worship, I am asking Him to remember us lowly humans. We cannot stand in a high and holy place. “We cannot come to you Lord. Might you have mercy upon us and come dwell in the midst of fretting and failing, our broken relations and wounded souls? Might you come and sup and heal us like you did Zacheus? Might this little coffee shop be a place of Your Presence and Your Glory for a just a few moments?”

I worship and entreat, “Hallowed be Thy Name.”

Categories: prayer
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