Am I a Christian?

For many years, the easy answer would have been “Of course!”

Now…I find myself wondering just how to answer that question in a way that most accurately reflects my thinking. And it’s difficult.

First of all, let me be clear on one thing. I am a follower of the One called Jesus the Christ. I’m not a perfect follower…and I struggle sometimes with where I sense Jesus calling me to be and what I sense myself being called to do. But I have found in him the best example of the love of the Divine…the way to live with integrity…and the one who challenges me to do the best I can to create a world where diversity is welcomed, where people are seen as individuals and not classes to be demonized, where the worth of all people is seen as paramount–even those who seek to destroy me.

But a Christian? It depends on what you mean by that, especially in today’s political climate.

Many people I see being described as “Christian” hold values and attitudes that I find diametrically opposed to the one whose name they claim. If being a Christian means supporting policies that tear families apart with no empathy…or swallowing values in order to be close to the seats of power…or believing that one skin color is superior to all others…or that the poor deserve no safety net…that the rich are somehow supremely blessed by God and deserve everything they have–and everyone else be damned…that those whose gender or sexual expression is different from my own understanding makes them worthy of being killed…then no, I am not a Christian.

The term “Christian” began as an epithet. Then it became a positive descriptive title…and today, for many, it has again become an epithet. I would like to reclaim its positive values, but I am afraid that is going to take many, many years.

But again, am I a Christian? There’s a wonderful portion in the Gospel of Matthew that–in many ways–gives my answer. But for now…I think I’m more comfortable using an earlier description used by those who followed this path…”followers of the Way”…the way described in the passage below (Matthew 25:31-45 The Message).

“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’”




A prayer for a new year


We stand at the threshold of a new year. The days stretch before us…clean, bright, waiting for whatever we will write on them. That is both an exhilerating and a frightening prospect; will we write things that will support others…bring us together? or will they be filled with division and hate?

There are so many possibilities!

Grant us the willingness to walk in the path you have called us to…a path of healing, of hope, of wholeness. Give us strength to persevere when things and people around us would conspire to call us to take the easy way.

Help us to look at those around us with empathy…to be willing to give others the benefit of the doubt…to listen with open ears rather than our preconceived notions. May we see you in the faces of “the other.”

Most of all, as we move into the future, give us the courage to truly mean this prayer…to live it, not just say words that disappear into the air.

It will not always be easy. But you promise to walk with us–and we claim that promise as we move into this new year.

We pray this in the name of the One who showed us how to live. Amen.

In a stable

Nobody wants to give birth in a stable—
	smelly and dirty…
	noisy with animal sounds…
	nothing private or pleasant.

But maybe that’s just why it happened that way--
	Emmanuel…God with us
		not just in pleasant-ness
		but in the dirty-ness of life.

Maybe we seek you in all the wrong places--
	failing to see you in those who are “other”…
	searching again in Herod’s palace
		when—if we open our eyes--
			we find hope in the stable.

Sunday’s coming…

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t gone through some difficult times in their lives. For some that’s caught up in the loss of a loved one…for others loss of a job…or a faith crisis…or anyone of a myriad of things that can send one into dark places.

About 2000 years ago, there was a community that went through another difficult time. The one they had followed…the one who challenged the status quo on behalf of the poor, the dispossessed, the “other”…this one who came in unconditional love had been taken by the authorities…beaten…crucified…and buried. His followers didn’t know what the future held–for themselves but also for what he believed and taught. Was this the end?

We know the story. We know that his death was not the end–but the middle of the story. We live the end of the story by the way we live. It is our responsibility to keep his teachings and actions alive…to stand with and for the poor, the dispossessed, the “other”…those the status quo would call “less than.”

We know that when they laid him in the tomb…and they went through the dark days of mourning…we know that Sunday was coming…the day of resurrection!

And so, for all who are in dark places…for those who wonder if the church is dying…if there is hope for the future, I would simply say this:

This is not the end. Sometimes we have to go through a time of death in order to come out on the other side into the new life that is beyond anything we can currently imagine. This isn’t to say that it’s easy. It’s not. But Sunday’s coming…!


Advent 4…

I did not get my article posted yesterday for Advent 4…but we are still in that week.

There were valid reasons for my delay. We had extremely cold and bitter temperatures…we had ice and snow…I had a graduation and a nursing recognition ceremony to play for…and our musician at church got sick and I needed to cover (and also take a couple of other responsibilities in the service as well)…

Valid reasons…but also in many ways a response to the theme and focus yesterday.

Our them for Sunday was “Emmanuel: God with us”…and we celebrated the emphasis of love.

“God with us”…God meeting us where we are. But it’s not just God doing that.

We meet each other for ministry where each person is.

Sometimes that means playing the organ for a celebration of a life activity, such as a graduation. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge all the hard work someone has put into that accomplishment.

Sometimes that means allowing someone else to take the time they need to recuperate.

Sometimes it just means being aware of what’s going on in someone else’s life.

And sometimes it’s pretty easy…sometimes it’s not.

Love isn’t particularly difficult when someone is lovable. But when someone is angry…or upset…or smelly…or any of the other myriad of reasons we don’t really want to have anything to do with them, it can be difficult.

But there’s a lovely poem by Christina Rossetti that I think catches up the theme…and the challenge…of this week:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.


Our congregation (Open Arms Community of Christ), in cooperation with GALA and members of the Welcoming Community Network (WCN) held a prayer vigil on the World Plaza at Community of Christ Temple on Friday night, June 17.

While we were not touched directly by the shootings in Orlando, we have many friends who are part of the LGBTQ communities and who have been shaken and made afraid by the shootings.

We recognize that action needs to be taken…that far too often we say “Never again”…but do nothing to make those words real.

However, we are also a people of faith who believe in the power of prayer. And so Friday night, we gathered together…at a place where the world is laid out before us…at a place dedicated to peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit. We hugged each other…we worshiped together…we remembered the names of those whose lives were lost…and we prayed–individually (leaving written prayers on a prayer wall) and as a body.

I was privileged to offer the prayer for the body. These were my words last night, and they continue to be my words today…and for the future.

Oh, God…

There are so many names! So many families left in shock and despair. So many hopes and dreams left in ruins…

And we wonder…what can we do?

We gather together in this place dedicated to peace…healing…reconciliation…as a community in pain. So many have lost friends in the past and had begun to hope that things were changing…only to wake up to the news that hate had claimed yet more lives.

And we wonder…what can we do?

Sometimes what we can do seems so little. And yet, when we do small things with great love, we begin to heal…we begin to reconcile. We hug each other, remembering that you healed people with a touch…Give us faith that we can help bring comfort and healing into bodies and spirits that have been broken by violence.

Yet we wonder…is it enough?

When we are afraid to speak out for justice, remind us that there can be no peace without justice…and that sometimes it only takes one person to give others the courage to speak.

And we wonder…is it enough?

In times like this, it is easy to be filled with anger towards those who bring violence and oppression. Yet you call us to pray for them…and it is in that praying that we see them also as wounded sons and daughters.

And we wonder…is it enough?

Loving God, we pray this day in thanksgiving for those first responders who brought immediate care for the wounded and hurting. We pray for comfort for those who mourn the loss of sons, daughters, parents, lovers. We pray for peace for those who survived…who still see the nightmare of those hours.

And we pray most of all that we will each of us find ways to be peacemakers in our families, our communities, our world. In a time when it would be easy to give in to the toxic visions around us that spawn cynicism, suspicion, and violence, may we choose to live in the reconciling, healing, saving vision of Christ expressed through Christ-centered community…a community where tears are shared when in pain, but also a community where hope can be found…a community that can live in such a way that the day will come when we can say, “it is enough.”

May we be that community, we pray in the name of Jesus the Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Why not music?

I grew up in a generation that seemed to be surrounded by music…classical music. It was in concert halls, churches, movies…and cartoons.

Yes, cartoons.

There are some pieces of music that even now I can’t listen to without seeing the characters…

I didn’t know what the music was at the time, but I recognized it when I heard it in its musical context in concerts or on our FM radio station. And I think that surrounding of us with these pieces gave us an appreciation for music without it being forced on us.

Then things began to change.

I don’t remember what the name of the cartoon was (perhaps a Batman cartoon?), but I remember that there was no music…or at least, none that  I was aware of. Instead, there were word clouds: “Bang!” “Pow!”

It didn’t take long before that became the norm, and music was shoved aside. Not just in cartoons, but also in school as well.

And we’ve become poorer for it.

Music has become an “extra” far too often in schools…something that is first on the chopping block when budgets need to be cut.

And, at least in my own denomination, music–at least classical music–is often seen as something that might be nice but that doesn’t relate well with the “average” person (whoever that might be!). To sponsor a fine arts program? well, if there’s money in the budget, we might be able to do that…but what’s the purpose? Where’s the value?

There have been lots of studies that show that music (and the other arts) help children learn. They help us connect to other people…to the world around us…to the creative parts of who we are.

Music is a language…a language that helps us express emotions and feelings that we have no words for. It helps us connect to the Divine. It is a universal language, even if it is expressed in different forms.

And so…why not music? Why not…in our schools, our homes, our churches?

Music is the voice of the soul