Slipping through the time-stream

When I was in high school, I went into my girlfriend’s house to find her dad standing in the kitchen, looking at the stove.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Waiting for the kettle to boil.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s not going to boil, if you keep watching it.”

I don’t remember his response, but I do know that time is relative.

Eight seconds in a warm shower goes by much quicker than eight seconds on the back of a bull.

Eight seconds spent watching a child under water is much longer than eight seconds hearing a child laugh.

We experience time differently, based on what we’re doing while time passes.

Some people question how God can do the infinite, in infinite time, while still responding to prayers.

Because our own interpretation of time can shift, it may be easier to understand C. S. Lewis’ theory of how God makes time for each of us.

“God is not hurried about the time-stream of this universe anymore than an author is hurried along in the imaginary time of his own novel. He has infinite attention to spare for each one of us. He does not have to deal with us in the mass. You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being he had created. When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only man in the world.” ~ C. S. Lewis

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Facing the Unimaginable

No one in the lynch mob that murdered Walter Johnson was ever convicted.

Government officials tried to save his life by hiding him in the woods when the armed crowd attacked the Princeton City Jail in Mercer County, West Virginia.

Led by railroad foreman Gordon White, on Sept. 5, 1912, more than three hundred people stole a train, cut the telephone lines and set out to avenge an alleged assault of White’s daughter.

The bloodthirsty mob ignored the assertions of Judge J. Frank Maynard and an assistant prosecutor that Johnson was innocent as it dragged him into the dark, autumn night.

Before his bullet-riddled body was cut down from the telephone pole, White’s 16 year-old daughter recanted her accusations against Johnson.

Four or five thousand black Americans were lynched in the United States between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and 1952, the first year on record without a lynching.

According to Wikipedia, “…nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress, and three passed the House. Seven presidents between 1890 and 1952 asked Congress to pass a federal law.” Southern senators successfully stopped the passage of legislation. Local courts seldom convicted white murderers and without federal law in place, federal prosecutors couldn’t bring charges.

White nationalists used public violence and terror to befoul the American dream of tens of thousands of forgotten people. An entire race was terrorized, and nothing was done about it.

Until now.

The Equal Justice Initiative, of Montgomery, Ala., is working to ensure the victims are forgotten no more.

EJI has built the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

A part of the memorial includes the Soil Collection Project, hundreds of glass jars containing soil from the sites of lynchings, each jar labeled with the name of a victim.

Forgotten no more.

EJI has documented 36 African Americans lynched in West Virginia, including Walter Johnson.

We collected soil to remember Johnson’s forgotten life and horrific death.

We traveled the small road out of town, a few miles from where the police department stood, and found a telephone pole that might have replaced the pole that replaced the improvised gallows.

In its place, we left a painted marker and a stone of African malachite, a stone of transformation.

It was a powerful moment, imagining the terrorists who murdered an innocent man in cold blood, their children and grand children living nearby. The fear in the mind of the man who was about the die. The helplessness of the men who risked their lives to save his.

The ghosts of Johnson and his murders blew across the mountainside.

The governor called for a special grand jury to investigate the crime. Between 50 and 75 arrests might have been made, include White, the leader of the mob. But when he was arraigned, 500 people marched on the office of the justice of the peace demanding his release.

A local paper described feelings at a high pitch, predicting “a bloody race war or the lynching of officials may come at any time.”

No one was convicted of the murder.

But Walter Johnson is no longer forgotten.

We remember him.

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Hope – finding abundance in lacking

First Mennonite Church, Richmond, Va., has conducted a bread service the Sunday after Easter for 20 years. Five breads representing five themes are paired with five hymns. I shared this message.

Tumeric Bread: Hope

Mark 6:34-43

34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.”

Feeding the hungry is the only miracle in all four Gospels.

What does this mean?

It means helping the hungry, helping those without, is important. This miracle may be more important than any other miracle in the ministry of Jesus. Feeding the hungry. Helping those in need. Helping others.

In the scripture, the disciples approach Jesus believing they were lacking.

But then Jesus provides abundance.

He gives them hope.

The hope of the Israelites.

The hope of Dr. King for a better tomorrow.

The hope of our neighbors to be treated respectfully and with dignity.

Hope as our bodies weaken, and our spirits grow stronger. Hope when we are sick, on our backs, staring at the sky. Broken.

Broken like the body of Christ.

Broken like the bread.

Turmeric Bread: representing Hope.

Hope follows Jesus into a deserted place, without food for the journey. Hope is going on that journey with 12 empty baskets, and returning with the baskets filled.

Lacking and abundance.

There are times where we feel like there isn’t enough to go around. Not enough to make ends meet. Times when we are lacking. We aren’t good enough. We fall short. We lack what we need. We lack the energy, the faith, the character. We are empty.

Like the disciples we focus on what’s missing.

Like the disciples, we don’t realize there is abundance in God’s blessings.

Where we think there is lacking, God provides abundance.

Where there is doubt, God gives us a way forward.

Where there is fear, God provides strength.

Where there is guilt, God gives grace.

Where there is opposition, God offers optimism.

Where there is regret, God gives redemption.

Where there is fear, God gives us hope.

Christ gives us hope.

My hope is built on nothing less.

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

On Christ the solid rock I stand.

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March for Our Lives – Williamsburg, Virginia, Part 2

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March for Our Lives – Williamsburg, Virginia

Through the heart of Colonial Williamsburg. Literally in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

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March for Our Lives – Richmond, Va.

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To my 4-year-old little girl: Walk Out

March 14, 2018

To my 4-year-old little girl:

Walk out.

Leave. Stand up, and walk out. Lead the way out the door.

Across the country, young people got up and walked out of school, to call attention to gun violence.

When it’s your turn to walk out, I hope you do.

Have the courage to face wrong, to stand up for justice, to speak for the voiceless.

Oppose unjust laws. Demand change. Imagine a better world, and then work towards it. Do what needs to be done.

Risk everything— your money, your feelings, your dignity, your reputation, everything but, God forbid, your life— to do what’s right.

There will come a time when you will be the only one to see what’s right. Be strong enough to be the person who speaks up, when no one else does. Stand up for the weak, the defenseless, the helpless. Be there for others.

Some will try to silence you, with violence, with threats, with very real repercussions and punishments.

Walk out, anyway.

There’s a time for peaceful protest. That time is when you and others say it’s time, not when the system allows it.

People don’t get justice when they wait for permission from people in power. Justice comes when people demand it.

Unjust systems and laws and and people will try to stop you. Hate will try to stop you.

Hate killed King and Kennedy and Óscar Romero.

Hate killed Joe Hill and James Chaney and Jonathan Daniels and Heather Heyer.

Have the courage to step up, anyway. Risk it all, so that others may be free and safe. When you are afraid or discouraged, keep going.

Step up for love and justice and equality and peace.

Raise your voice for the victims.

Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly.

When your time comes: Walk. Out.

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The power of positive thinking. Really.

Positive thinking seldom cures debilitating diseases.

All the prayers in the world won’t regrow an amputated limb.

But how you respond to situations lays the foundation for future situations.

Scripture says the rain falls on the just and the unjust.

How do you react to the rain? How do you respond to difficulty?

Your reaction to situations impacts what happens next in your life.

Life is short and difficult and astonishingly beautiful. Moments of wondrous miracles are intertwined with the mundane. You can look for difficulty or look for beauty, you will find what you look for.

The energy you project into the world is the energy you attract to you.


The video is about seeing the world differently and reacting in a different way. A different way of being. Creating your own environment by focusing exclusively on the energy you want in your life and ignoring everything else.

This isn’t about Prosperity Gospel — that’s unBiblical, unsound and ultimately spiritually destructive. This is simply about responding with a positive mindset.

It’s a basic precept of nature, positive and negative cannot occupy the same space. Protons and electrons are opposite charges, attracted to each other, but not occupying the same location.

Peace and anxiety do not live together in the same heart. One will crowd out the other.

Paul asked the church in Corinth, “what fellowship is there between light and darkness?”

Light and dark cannot exist in the same place.

Too many focus on the negative aspects of the Bible, and are therefore unable to fully embrace the positive. With eyes focused on sin, they fail to see grace. They may pay lip service to God’s love, but fill their minds with thoughts of condemnation.

Too many focus on Genesis 3 and sin, and not enough on Genesis 1 and creation.

If you believe people have a “sin nature,” then you’ll come to expect sin as their nature.

Sin and grace can’t exist in the same thought. We focus on one and diminish the other.

You will find what you look for.

See the world differently.

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Cultural Christians ~ when Christianity isn’t Christianity

A prominent voice in mainstream media is Cultural Christians who care more about the culture than they do about actually following the teachings of Jesus.

You know who they are — sycophant, sympathetic apologists for sexist, racist bigots and patriarchal white men who worship a god of power, not the God who gave us Jesus.

They are enmeshed in politics and use hot button issues to appeal to their base — abortion, marriage, birth control, sex — they claim the issue is morality, too often the issue is controlling women. And gay people. And separating their base from everyone else. They follow a faith that divides rather than unites.

Too many are little more than Cultural Christians.

They wave nationalistic flags, are more concerned about party over people, and speak as though they’ve never read the Bible. (Jesus would oppose executions, sexism, bigotry, bombings and torture, for example.)

Cultural Christians think they “have a relationship with Jesus,” or feel they are doing “God’s will,” but seldom are they called to do things they didn’t already want to do. (This is the actual point of the story of Jonah, for example, which is not a story about a whale.)

It’s curious how the wants of Cultural Christians somehow become God’s wants.

Miraculously, their view on abortion, marriage, birth control, and sex somehow becomes God’s view on abortion, marriage, birth control and sex.

It’s no surprise so many Cultural Christians excuse the blatant, amoral sexism and racism of Donald Trump — they are ignorant of the actual teaching of Jesus and their morality is a moral relativism.

Cultural Christians worship a god of their own creation, a hollow, cheap knock-off of the actual Creator of the universe. Their message of god is whatever suits their politics and bigotry.

They rationalize and excuse un-Biblical behavior among those they support, and ignore true manifestations of faith among political opponents.

Cultural Christians are not Christian. Mistaken and misguided, they demonstrate their lack of true Christian values when they show little regard for the damage they do to the lives of others or the reputation of the Kingdom of God. Cultural Christians project their own biases and bigotry onto the god they create and overlook the God of Creation.

What’s the difference between Cultural Christians and Christian followers of Jesus?

Love.

The message of God, delivered by Jesus is, “love God, love others.”

Jesus followers follow his example and love others. Jesus said loving others is the most important thing.

Bigotry, sexism, racism, and nationalism aren’t how we show others the love of God.

Jesus called out hypocrites who discriminated against others and opposed those who abused power, and then he walked with broken outcasts rejected by the mainstream.

Followers of Jesus stand with the oppressed. Cultural Christians are oppressors.

Jesus is always on the side of the oppressed. Always.

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Initial J: Saint John the Evangelist

Saint John the Evangelist

(Click the image for an extraordinary closeup)

Georges Trubert (French, active Provence, France 1469 – 1508)
Initial J: Saint John the Evangelist, about 1480 – 1490, Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold and silver paint, and ink on parchment
Leaf: 11.4 × 8.6 cm (4 1/2 × 3 3/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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“Jesus wouldn’t help people in need?” What Jesus are you talking about?

I recently saw a comment online that said Jesus wouldn’t help people in need – that he would help people to help themselves.

Just another example of the damage some so-called, self-described Christians do in the name of Jesus — a Jesus of their own invention.

The only miracle Jesus performs in all four Gospels is feeding hungry people in need. (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15)

Jesus didn’t ask them if they could afford to buy their own food, he didn’t means test them, he didn’t teach them to fish, or offer them ‘tough love.’

Jesus saw people in need and helped them.

You’re projecting, if you think Jesus would turn his back on people in need.

Regardless of how people responded, Jesus ALWAYS gives of himself when people ask. People rejected him, and still Jesus gave of himself.

If I thought Jesus was as selfish as some people claim he is, I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him.

Thankfully, Jesus gives of himself, so that others might have life, and have it more abundantly.

Jesus gives us the example of how to give.

Thanks be to God.

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Being intentional and being still

We have a handmade pottery pitcher we use to water plants and add water to the fish tanks or the dog’s bowl.

The unique triangle spout design allows for a steady yet controlled flow of water.

But we have to pour at the pitcher’s pace. If we rush, the water overflows the spout.

The pitcher forces us to be thoughtful and intentional.

We must take our time and focus on the stream of water. A mere thirty seconds and the task is complete, but for the entire time we must remain attentive and intentional. Focused on the singular task at hand.

The pitcher reminds me how difficult it truly is to stay still and do one thing without distracting thoughts, for even a short time.

Taking time to be intentional is always rewarding, because the process itself is fulfilling.

And water doesn’t spill onto the floor.

“Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.” ~ Psalm 46:10

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Fire and Rain and drops of pain

Have you heard James Taylor’s Fire and Rain?

Of course you have. Everyone has.

The first verse is about the suicide of his friend Suzanne Schnerr.

The second verse is about him kicking his heroin addiction, and the third verse is about the end of his band, “James Taylor and the Flying Machine.” The line isn’t about an airplane crash.

There is much pain and suffering in the song, which makes it easy for people to connect with.

We all have loses and regrets.

Imagine singing night after night about some of the deepest pain you’ve ever experienced.

I wonder how he does it. Did the pains heal to scars and the scars grow so thick that he can share the experiences, without feeling the hurt of them?

Recovery programs are effective because they allow people the space to give voice to their pains and hurts. By recognizing and talking out loud about pain and sadness, we release the power of the hurtful hold they have over us.

Perhaps James Taylor reinforces his recovery and releases his pain every night, on stage in the spotlight.

“Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.” – Frederick Buechner

None of us ever gets over pain, we simply get through it, and move forward.

Everyone has seen fire and rain. Everyone carries some sort of pain.

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” — Aeschylus

Fire and Rain
by James Taylor

Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone
Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
I just can’t remember who to send it to

[Chorus]
I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I’d see you again

[Verse 2]
Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus
You’ve got to help me make a stand
You’ve just got to see me through another day
My body’s aching and my time is at hand and I won’t make it any other way

[Chorus]
Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I’d see you again

[Verse 3]
Been walking my mind to an easy time, my back turned towards the sun
Lord knows when the cold wind blows it’ll turn your head around
Well, there’s hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground

[Chorus]
Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you baby, one more time again, now

[Outro]
Thought I’d see you one more time again
There’s just a few things coming my way this time around, now
Thought I’d see you, thought I’d see you, fire and rain, now.

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“For Everything There is a Season”

Sermon for Dec. 31, 2017

For audio of the sermon, listen here:

From the Lectionary for Jan. 1. 2018

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
3:2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3:3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
3:4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
3:5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
3:6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
3:7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
3:8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
3:9 What gain have the workers from their toil?
3:10 I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with.
3:11 He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
3:12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live;
3:13 moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

Today is the sixth day of Christmas.

Just a reminder, the Christian Christmas Season isn’t the days before Christmas, it’s the days after Christmas. The Christian calendar counts the 12 days from the day after Christmas to Jan. 6, Epiphany. Today is the sixth day of Christmas.

Epiphany was introduced into the Christian tradition in 361, six years before the Bible was codified in the current form.

A portion of the Christian Church celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ child on Epiphany. Others commemorate the baptism of Jesus on Epiphany.

Today is the First Sunday of the new Christian year.

And, today, tonight, is also Watch Night.

In the African American community, Watch Night services later tonight commemorate the evening of Dec. 31, 1862, as slaves looked to Jan. 1, 1863, and the implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The idea of a New Year’s Eve service actually is older than Freedom’s Eve, and in fact finds its roots in the Moravian Church and a 1733 New Year’s Eve service held in Germany.

Never one to let a good idea go un-adopted, John Wesley incorporated the service into his denomination. Some Methodists continue to hold monthly evening services, known as “Covenant Renewal Services.”

The Watch Night service obviously took on deeper significance on New Year’s Eve, 1862, when it was more important than any before or since, and the effects will still be observed in black communities tonight.

In 1862, millions of American residents – not citizens, slaves with no rights – eagerly looked to the new year for the promise of hope.

You can imagine their trepidation and excitement. Many of us share similar feelings, in our own ways, as we consider the year to come, 2018, less than a day away.

January takes its name from the Roman god Janus. The dual-headed god of beginnings, endings, transitions and time. Like Janus, all day today, we look back on the year that was and we look forward to the coming year.

I try to take time on New Year’s Eve for self-reflection, to consider the sort of person I’ve been, and the sort of person I’d like to be. Have I been as kind as I could be? Have I been considerate of others? how can I improve? What sort of person do I want to be in 2018?

Today’s scripture reminds us that there is a time for everything. A time to ponder the past, and a time to focus on the future.

In verse 11, it says, God “has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

All time for God is now. Yesterday, today and tomorrow are as one.

Writer C.S. Lewis compares God’s ability to control time to an author’s control of time in a book. God doesn’t move from page to page, day to day, the way we do. God moves outside of time. For God, there is no yesterday or tomorrow. For God, there is only always now.

When Moses meets God, God is introduced as “I Am.” A better translation is “I am becoming that which I am becoming.” God is more than now, God is always, ever-active, constantly in motion, constantly becoming – yesterday, tomorrow and always now.

These words from Ecclesiastes remind us that there is a time for everything. But these words also are a reminder to try to follow God’s example, and be present in each moment, experience the now. Enjoy this moment, don’t worry about the past moment. Pay no mind to the next moment, be present in this moment, this time. Right now.

It’s not easy. We live in interesting times. Difficult days, for many of us.

Some today are glad to see the year end. 2018 can’t get here fast enough. The year has been hard, a struggle. The headlines and news, overwhelming.

Others, are sad to see this final day of 2017. They remember joys and successes, slowly fading to happy memories.

Everyday is a transition, a moving forward towards the unknown of tomorrow.

Finances and romances. Births and deaths. Stressors and pressures.

Distractions from what’s important, sometimes so distracting that we forget what’s actually important.

The world tells us this is important, and that is important. Society says occupy your mind with this idea and worry about that. Our own hearts tell us what’s important. The Creator of Heaven and Earth writes upon our souls the things that are truly important. Make time for this, our hearts say, it is not time for that.

Sometimes we feel conflict in our spirits, because we are living as the world says to live, and not living aligned with God.

The scripture tells us to focus on one thing at a time, when it’s the time to focus on it. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

Today’s scripture reminds me of Psalm 30:5: “Weeping lasts through the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

There is a time for weeping, and a time for joy.

A time to seek, and a time to lose. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.

In the coming year, there will be hard times. There will be difficulties and disappointments. There will be frustrations and troubles.

Weeping lasts through the night…

There is a time to build and a time to breakdown. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

… joy comes in the morning.

The year to come will bring with it untold joys, countless moments of happiness. Celebrations and graduations. Achievements and accomplishments. Growth and gratitude.

Let us thank God for the opportunity to celebrate each season of our lives. To pause and consider the joys and sorrows for what they are, as they unfold.

Let us thank God for the chance to live our lives to the fullest, to be present and fully involved in the great gifts God has given us.

Let us thank God for the year that has past, and the year to come.

Let us thank God, that weeping lasts through the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Delivered at First Mennonite Church Richmond, Dec. 31, 2017.

God of the four seasons. God of the four points of the compass. God of the land and water, the air and Sun, be with us in our celebration and in our time of need. Be present in our lives each season in ways that give us strength and prepare us for the road ahead, in ways that comfort us, and in ways that help us live more connected to ourselves, to each other, and to You, the maker of all things. Amen.

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