Friday, April 23, 2010

The Fabric of Our Lives

Piecing together this week's worship service reminded me of how a quilt is made. Now I'm not a quilter, but I sure appreciate the skill that goes into the design and execution of a quilting work of art. This week we will dedicate a quilt and hangings that are being donated to our denomination's district auction (Westminster, MD on May 1) in which the proceeds support Brethren Disaster Relief. We are also "quilting" together this worship service, stitching in the talents of three people on piano, one on organ, a preacher, worship leader, children leading and participating, and a teacher. The biggest component is that of people participating from the pews.

Worship is a verb and so participating in worship is a requirement or else why come to church? This week will highlight the reality that it takes all of us working together to create everything from a worship service to maintaining the church. Along with the dedication of the quilt we will dedicate the many acts of service that will have been performed the day before because our All-Church Work Day is Saturday. (Please God let the needed rain hold off long enough to get the outside work done.) It may seem a stretch to combine quilting and branch trimming, but I think they are perfect examples of the variety of gifts found in any congregation.

In order to make visible the concept of quilting together our gifts, the children will get to pin together pieces and pictures that represent the many aspects of worship. Thanks to a fruitful Worship Team meeting last night, we have a fun idea of creating a quilt as we talk about the quilt and our many other gifts. Here's hoping it all holds together as well as the beautiful quilts that will be on display.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Moment In Time

I’m certain that the Easter evening meal in the village of Emmaus was a dinner to remember.[i] I don’t always recall what I had for dinner but had I been at THAT supper I would remember even the sounds;
a clay plate being set down on the wooden table,
the low hum of women working in the kitchen and
the delicious smell of baking bread
My memory would be lit by the first candles of evening as they shed light into the growing darkness of the time just after sunset.  And I’m sure I could still hear Jesus’ voice offering the traditional blessing for bread;
“Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam
Ham-o-tzi lechem meen- Haaretz

The supper at Emmaus was a moment forever frozen in time for two men whose eyes were opened to see Christ in the man breaking bread before them.

The famous painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio painted this moment in time twice in his life.
He painted the first one when he was 28 and enjoying a popular career. His life was a success, he had patrons and fame. When you look at this painting you see action in the characters. Arms and hands are spread open in surprise, one man is about to spring out of his chair,
Jesus is robed in red and his face looks like porcelin. His arm reaches out to those around him. The scene is inviting and bright.

The second time Caravaggio painted the SUPPER was 5 years later when his world had turned because his life-choices had resulted in his exile, fleeing from the sentence of death (for taking someone else’s life.)
In this 2nd painting, the emphasis is on emotion, which is seen in the faces of the characters. Each person looks very real. The lines in their weathered faces can be counted. Some are half hidden in shadow yet still show the concentration of discovery and revelation.
Jesus is in a similar pose as in the 1st painting, but only his hand is lifted as if in blessing for the bread. The drama of the moment is expressed more subtly, in a raised finger and a man’s hand TIGHTLY gripping the table.
The room dimly lit. The robes are the color of the dark earth from which Jesus has arisen.

     This second painting is the most powerful, in my opinion. I find it the compelling and sat before it for a long time when I saw the original in Milan several years ago.

     I am drawn into the moment of Jesus’ divine connection. His words appear to captivate everyone in the room from the male travelers to the female servers. Perhaps he has just blessed the bread.
Jesus sits in transition on this resurrection night, paused in between the divine to whom he prays and the earthly with whom he eats.
The artist portrays this moment in time where recognition dawns on those to whom he gives bread. 
     Cleopas and friend, are frozen with the question on their face. Can this be him?  ----
Their eyes open like the dispelling of fog, and he slips away, vanished like the moment.
      “Were Not Our Hearts Burning within us...” they say.

* * *
. . . A moment in time.  A moment when Christ was made visible in the breaking of the bread...

We all have moments when we recognize Christ.  Some are quite dramatic and don’t seem to fit within the explainable circumstances around us.

     I’ve heard many stories over the years.  We need not feel sheepish and uncertain about sharing such mysterious and liminal experiences but sometimes we do feel timid.  We wonder if it is safe to share?
Perhaps because I’m a pastor, there is a sense that I may accept the story, that I just might believe the outrageous idea that Christ has been spotted in the world today...

     I once had just such an experience when I was sure the man standing before me in someway embodied the Christ.  We were engaged in a simple act of putting gas into a car.  I couldn’t see his face at first and when he did turn, I was surprised at the simplicity of his features.  He was just a common man, Yet in that moment, I recognized Christ.

Where have you seen him? the Risen Lord? What moment is painted perfectly in your memory?

You have heard me say I have an incarnational spirituality. I believe we see Jesus in people who chose to follow his way. 
I believe we meet him in the acts of compassion from our sisters and brothers.  And that we offer his presence in our acts of service. 
We bring Christ into the world in the way we love and serve others.
and so we shouldn’t be surprised at the places where Jesus comes near and walks with us.

The times when we recognize Christ are transformative and life-forming. They are moments in time that give shape and definition to the choices of our life.

In the same way an artist decides what scene to paint,
what paints to use,
how to stage the scene and
on what surface she or he will paint, so do we choose how to paint our life-journey.

     For the dedicated artist there are years of schooled preparation long before decisions about a painting are made.

An artist apprentices herself to a master painter.  She learns how to mix paint and make the right choices for color and texture.  All this before touching brush to canvas.  One day she is given a canvas of her own and lifts the brush for the first stroke.

We who have chosen to walk with Jesus are given a fresh canvas for our journey. Even when much of life seems decided by circumstance, WE CHOOSE EACH MOMENT HOW TO LIVE, like the artists chooses the moment in time to portray.

We begin our Christian Journey with a BLANK CANVAS

     Our formation with parents, teachers, and Christian community is our time of apprenticeship and we choose the brush strokes that become our masterpiece.           

Does my work this day need a fine and delicate touch for the small nuances of life?
     Or will wide and BOLD stroke have the greatest impact?
When we are formed as Christians we often choose COLORS that set us apart from other artists as we decide for a different palette of priorities than materialism and choose colors the rest of the world reject.

     Can you think of the times when you chose to color your life with bright, vibrant colors--;         That stood apart from everything else?

Or do you remember when you needed a blended color, one that took in the needs of the people who walk the road with you. 

We have different styles.  It takes a great diversity to represent all humanity’s gifts. – Some choose to paint landscapes and others’ portraits,
Some freeze action scenes and others paint still-life.
even modern art styles such as Jackson Pollack with his unique way of scattering paint onto a canvas, is done with intention and a style unique to the artist and the influences of his life.

Caravaggio’s painting changed as his life was formed by his choices.  He painted the supper at Emmaus in two very different ways.  That first painting is full of bright colors. Later, when he was in a darker place his work reflected his life.

     Sometimes, Our life painting needs illumination from a brighter source that we have within ourselves.
The recognition of Jesus’ presence at just such a time can be as transformative for people near us as it was for Cleopas that evening he walked with the unknown Jesus.

A moment in time where we see Jesus grabs us from the chaos of life.  It stops us in our tracks. A transforming experience may not be pleasant, at least not at first.

 The men journeying to Emmaus had been formed as apprentices of Jesus and when they think he is gone, a question from a stranger that brings the crushing experience back, STOPS them in their tracks.  It was the kind of pain that takes your breath away. . .
Still in this one moment, Jesus joins their journey calls out their experience, even before he is recognized.  And in the telling they are reminded of the hope they found in him.
Even as they are shaken by all that has happened, their intentional choice of generously welcoming the stranger for dinner opens the way for a transformative experience.  And in the breaking of the bread they see Jesus.  (pause)

This moment with Jesus recalled all the commitments these two disciples had made. It renewed their faith and it restored their intention to live in the Jesus’ Way.

We too are apprenticed to the master.
The choices we make paint the picture of our life; a moment in time in the midst of all God’s creation of time. This is YOUR moment in time.

Our choice is to share God’s/Christ’s love with the world. When we do so we paint a transformative moment in time for everyone we meet.

How is your canvas coming? What does the painting of your life look like so far?

The moment that you recognized Christ forms the way you paint your masterpiece.

If you’ve recognized Christ in someone KNEELING before you then you may paint a broad life of service. It may be the work of your life, or the passion of your volunteering.  Christ has formed you into one who kneels before others.

If you’ve known Christ as the one who ENLIGHTENED you; the one in whom all things make sense.  Then you may paint life with the careful strokes of a teacher who lives with the mission of helping others to see what you have seen.  You create opportunities for other’s to be enlightened and to recognize Christ in their own moments of transformation.

If you have grabbed hold of Christ as he calmed the sea that was tossing you from place to place, then your artistic tendencies may be to assure others that the storm they are facing will not overcome them.

If you have heard Christ calling your name and reassuring you of his presence.  Then you may paint a pastoral scene again and again so that other will see and know there is NEVER a moment in which we can be separated from the love of Christ.

These moments in time are all resurrection experiences along the road.

with brush strokes that are
bold and delicate,
               light and dark,
                                colorful and subtle

YOU PAINT LIVES of service, teaching,
                   love and compassion,

And Together they form the MASTER-pieces of our lives.

[i] (traditions differ as to whom the other person was with some saying Simon; not Peter, but the “other” Simon and some saying Nathanael)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Five From Me

I seldom play but I'll give it a go today.

"Here are five questions about packing to go on a trip."

1) Some fold, some roll and some simply fling into the bag. What's your technique for packing clothes?
I roll, at least most things. If I have something fresh from the cleaners I lay it on top of everything I've rolled. The rolling works especially well when I'm only carrying a backpack for a night or two. It sometimes requires an iron at the other end but most hotels have them. My mom said to keep close from wrinkling you should fold the with tissue paper. Sometimes I do that with the ones I'm laying on top.

2) The tight regulations about carrying liquids on planes makes packing complicated. What might we find in your quart-size bag? Ever lose a liquid that was too big?
shampoo, conditioner, makeup, contact solution, and toothpaste. If I'm sure of shampoo at the other end I'll skip that. Often a bit of sunscreen and hand lotion too.
3) What's something you can't imagine leaving at home?
Contact solution and case and my itouch.  Cell phone of course.
4) Do you have a bag with wheels?
Suitcases have wheels, yes. Someday I'd love a lightweight backpack with small wheels too. If I go to Europe again, I'm getting one and packing only it.
5) What's your favorite reading material for a non-driving trip (plane, train, bus, ship)?
Christian Century. It is so nice to take an issue or two and catch up on every article. Then if I'm reading a book, I'll take it along. My itouch also has some books on it, but if I have wifi or time to load a few pages, I'll use the time to catch up on blog reading. The magazine and touch weigh a lot less than a book.

I just download two books at Ooze website to read on the touch. We'll see how that goes. So far I've only read my son's book on it. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I have regained the time to read since I moved to Arlington. No longer do I spend hours per day on the road traveling the 35 miles to work. I actually need to develop a patter of walking to work and not carrying too many books back and forth.

Reading is a gift. I'm not a fast reader like my husband and son who seem able to speed through page after page. I savor each word and don't mind re-reading a sentence to fully understand it. I now read for pleasure and for work. I read for information and to 'escape'. I read blogs to keep up with friends and explore topics of spirituality. I still don't read as much as I'd like to. When I come on a subject that I need or want to delve into, I can set aside "reading time" in my schedule and have some hope of keeping it. It is truly a joy to read again. I realize how much I missed out during years of busy pace and hectic living.

I'll share with you some planned and on-going reading:
Yesterday I discovered the work of John McKnight and John Kretzmann on asset mapping. Thanks to a neighbor, I've downloaded the introductory workbook and may go on to the full book later. You can find more information at

I continue to pick up Phyllis Tickle's The Great Emergence. Perhaps I'll add the Amazon wigit and link this to her book.
My devotional reading includes a book by Rabbi Harold Kushner, The Lord Is My Shepherd. One of the Sunday School classes is using it and although I'm not attending or leading the class, the book is interesting.
You can see my blogroll to peruse others sites. I am often challenged by Lewis Tagliaferre's writings from the Voices of Sedona. You can find some of his writing at I find his take on life and fate a challenge that encourages me to verbalize what I believe. Of course the Christian Century () is always a favorite. This week I have five chapters of Luke to read along with commentaries to prepare for Bible Study on Thursday.

I guess I'd better get reading.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spirituality and Healing

I just did an interview with Monica Thakrar on Spirituality and Healing. Check out the link to the right and look at past episodes for April 7, 2010. See what you think.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hope In A Hole

Surprise, mystery, confusion and amazement were all reactions on the first Easter Sunday. The breaking news was an empty tomb that was it, an empty tomb and uncertainty.
Luke makes a point of connecting the verse about the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee who followed the body to the tomb and saw how it was laid to rest. These were women who had traveled with him. They were part of his disciple band. NOT, apostles, but part of the larger group of disciples. They knew his teachings, they had seen his miracles.
We notice that they went home to prepare burial spices and then observed the Sabbath. There was no resurrection expected. These faithful women return after the Sabbath to anoint the body of the one they loved with spices, fully expecting it to be in the tomb. Instead they find the stone gone and the tomb EMPTY.
Two men in dazzling clothes address them.
“Why do you look for the one who lives among the dead? He is not here, but has been raised.” They are terrified because the situation turns out not at all as they’d planned.
What would you have thought if you had arrived with the women and seen the empty tomb?
We are conditioned to see emptiness as loss.
An empty stadium is a sign of a losing team, or a bad season.
An empty gas tank means we can’t go anywhere.
An empty bowl means the ice cream is all gone.
An empty sanctuary is the sign of a dying church.

The Easter story tells us that from a Kingdom perspective, EMPTY is the potential for new life.
We look into emptiness all the time,
Empty bank balances, empty pages awaiting words, empty cupboards needing groceries,

and we don’t see hope in a hole.< Around the corner on Livingston St. is a big hole. There used to be an old house there. It was covered in mold and moss. The walls and roof were cracked, you could even see right through it in one spot. A contractor came in and tore the house down. Now there is a For Sale sign, “Will build to suit.” When a hole holds the foundation for a new building there is great potential. When the cleared lot is for new homes to be built in Haiti, then the emptiness holds the hope of new life. We are challenged by the resurrection story. It’s not a challenge for belief in what happened. The events before the stone was rolled away remain a divine mystery. There were No recordings, and no eye-witnesses to how it happened. The reports about the risen Jesus differ, he couldn’t be touched at first in John, then he invited Thomas’ touch. In Matthew the women grabbed onto his feet. What is consistent is the astounded reaction of the first people at the tomb. They looked in and saw only emptiness. And they didn’t know what to think. THEN, they were told to remember, to remember what they already knew. One writer said, “the scripture text itself doesn’t describe resurrection, it is a story of an empty tomb and a lesson on trusting the amazing void.”[ii]
“Why do you seek the one who lives among the dead?

We need to remember so we can be re-conditioned for only then can we see emptiness with new eyes. We need to remember what we already know in order to find hope in a hole.
Back before her Washington days, Hillary Clinton tutored reading in Little Rock. In one elementary school she was assigned a young girl named Mary. Mary lived in a tiny house with six siblings, her parents, and an assortment of other relatives who came and went unpredictably. So much went on in the evenings that the child couldn’t sleep through the night. She always looked tired. She was uncomfortable talking and didn’t want to read. Sometimes she just put her head down on the desk and closed her eyes.
Ms. Clinton had trouble holding her attention. One day she asked Mary if she liked to draw. For the first time, Mary’s eyes lit up. Her colored-pencil drawings of people and animals were advanced and rich in detail.
As hard as words were for her, she could communicate through her art.
When Mary was complimented on her drawings, she repeated what other adults must have told her, “They were silly baby stuff.”

Ms. Clinton saw hope in this hole. Altho Mary couldn’t read, she could draw and when encouraged, she might begin to write stories about her drawings and then learn to read them.[iii]
She could be encouraged in what she COULD do and brought through her interest to reading.
But the leaders of the program saw only a hole. “This isn’t an art class” they said, “it’s a reading program.”
Hope or a Hole?
A empty page has the potential to brighten someone’s day when filled with words of encouragement. And an empty bank balance could mean the mortgage has just been paid off and now funds will be available for something new.

(Like the women) We have to remember all that Jesus told us. He came to bring good news to the poor,
release to the captives,
recovery of sight to the blind
and to let the oppressed go free.

It takes the power behind the resurrection to make that kind of change.
We can’t do it, only God can. We can witness to the power that raised Jesus to a new order of being beyond this life, that is more than this life. We can witness to the hope we have found and what God has done in our own lives.
We know what the empty tomb means, it means Christ is Risen, Risen indeed.
If we had looked into that empty tomb before knowing the rest of the story,
What would we have thought?
We probably wouldn’t have known what to believe either. We too might have gone away amazed, astonished and unsure of what had happened and what it meant.

But with proper conditioning, with Remembering and RE-telling the stories of the power present in Jesus and NOW present in his church,
we can look into the tomb and rejoice at the emptiness, because we can SEE the new life to come.
Jesus’ resurrection is a precursor of all humanities’ hope for life, now and later.
In this life and the next, something NEW comes from an empty start.
Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we can see hope in a hole.

[ii] David Ewart
[iii] Hillary Rodham Clinton it Takes A village (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1996) p. 239-240