Category Archives: sin

Love – In Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul # 1




for the sign

to change

step off the edge

For your reflection: What signs in your life have changed, which  call you to step off the edge of certainty and comfortable beliefs?

Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and minds already stuffed with words.

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so, slowly, we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication has achieved the desired effect

Spineless Christians and the Courage to Be

Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.  John Wayne

“Church people are too nice to each other. They need to grow spines,” a friend said to me the other day. My friend was commenting on the surface relationships, which exist in some faith communities, where we all want to get a long at almost any price and work really hard at being nice. A member’s problematic behavior is tolerated, at the expense of developing a healthy community. Neither the deep needs of the member, nor the needs of the community as a whole, are addressed, and both suffer.

Perhaps you have heard someone comment about a member who is overbearing, controlling, or in some other way hard to take, “Oh that’s the way he is. That’s just how he does things. He means well. Don’t take it personally.”

From my vantage point of thirty years of pastoral ministry and thousands of hours spent listening to church members and pastors in spiritual direction sessions, people do take it seriously, when they are run over, ignored, or otherwise misused. They take it very seriously. I have watched new people walk away and never return after a hurtful encounter. I have seen older members pull back and clergy stymied by power struggles. I have observed churches stuck in relational impasses for years.

Why does no one speak up? Why does a church system seem to harbor and implicitly support bad behavior in the body of Christ? Where did we get the notion that following Jesus meant that we were supposed to be nice? The word nice originates in a Latin word meaning ignorant, literally, not + knowing. In its original use in the thirteenth century nice meant foolish, stupid, or senseless. Today nice means agreeable, pleasant, or satisfactory.

Jane Austin captured the tired, feeble sense of the word in this passage from Northanger Abbey:

“I am sure,” cried Catherine, “I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should I not call it so?” “Very true,” said Henry, “and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk; and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything.”

When Christianity is reduced to being nice people, it loses its spine and the energetic power of Christ among us.

Many factors may foster spineless Christians. Maybe I am related to the irritating individual or live with him. Perhaps the person has influential friends, or contributes a lot of money. We keep still, because we are afraid of offending others, or being attacked, or rocking the boat.

 We also may be enmeshed as integral parts of a codependent church system in which we find ourselves manipulated by another. Codependency is a psychological condition, which develops when one’s behavior is controlled or determined by another, who is ill with an addiction to a substance or a behavior.

In such cases we walk on eggshells, work behind the scenes, have parking lot conversations, protect, and placate the person in question, while the system stays stuck. We help perpetuate the dysfunction and become sick ourselves.

Most people do not like confrontation. We shy away from speaking the truth as we see it, because it doesn’t seem safe. Instead we swallow our truth, question our own perceptions, try to make do, and from time to time acquiesce to bullies.

Of course, there are times, when we have good reason to be afraid. And, likewise, there may be occasions, when it is best to not confront someone, who contributes to problems in congregational life. There are times to step back, pray, and wait on the Holy Spirit to resolve impasses. There are times for us to grow in our understanding of ourselves and others. We always will see only part of what is going on, and our particular analysis may be incorrect.

Further, it is important to note that the so-called problem is not with the so-called problem person. The issue is not what we need to do about him or how we can control or manipulate her. The issue is ultimately with us, who are experiencing it. The issue rests with my particular and limited view, and my responsibility and willingness, not to change someone I do not like, but to share my perspective with humility and love in service to the greater community.

My responsibility is to be an expert witness to my reality and experience. Such witness might sound like this: when Susan does this or says that, I feel like this – angry, controlled, sad, hurt, left out, etc.

Such responsible truth-telling with love and humility may open doors of deeper understanding and freedom for everyone.  Fear can grip an individual, a family, or a community in such a way that the fear becomes a lie, which obscures or distorts a larger truth. Such a lie may seriously compromise the mission of a church. Whenever fear and its expression in “being nice,” become a bigger motivator, than love and honesty, something is seriously amiss.

Jesus offered a different answer to a religious establishment and an empire, which used fear, threat of ostracism, and power to control its members. Instead of becoming terrorized, or becoming a terrorist, Jesus “set his face like flint,” as he turned to Jerusalem to look fear in the eye, calmly grounded in a sense of something larger, more loving, more powerful, and stronger than fear, which would sustain him and the whole world with him.

And then he said to those who watched, “Follow me.”

What would the world look like, if we were motivated by faith and love, instead of fear?  The fear response, lodged in the brain stem, is primal and necessary to survival. Yet what does fear motivate us to do – circle the wagons, huddle together, adopt a world view of scarcity, and become rigid, defensive, offensive, and suspicious?  Such postures hinder generosity and imagination. Faith, which requires trust in the unseen, is blocked by fear. Without faith, the flow of the Spirit through hearts in love with God is obstructed.

I am not sure that we know how to speak our truth and disagree without resorting to anger, blame, and attack. I am not sure we really believe there is a common ground beyond our dissent. Deeper truth is revealed as smaller truths are shared with courage and love. Discovering God’s will for our communities requires all parties to surrender to something greater than their individual points of view. We need, both to hear individual perspectives, and to bow to a larger more encompassing vision, which asks something heroic of each one of us; namely, to give up our way, even our lives, for the larger good of the whole.

I believe there are Christians with spines and with the courage to be Christian, who create spaces where the bullied and the bullies, the controlling and those who feel controlled, the powerful and those without power come together in mutual appreciation and surrender to the One beyond fear who offers abundance and sanctuary to all her children.

We all need to hear and be heard, to listen and to speak. The Holy Spirit with her bright wings dwells in the naked soul of each member of the body of Christ. We dare not silence any voice. It only takes a few divinely inspired souls to change the course of history or the climate of a local church.

May we all find the courage to set our faces like flint against the ghostly shroud of fear, which diminishes us and turns our spines to Jell-O.  Then let’s saddle up and head out toward the Reign of God with possibility, love, freedom, and justice for all.

The Prophet Amos Addresses the Legislature

Camden, New Jersey is one of the poorest citie...

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Listen to this, you who grind the destitute and plunder the humble, you who say,
“When will the new moon be over so that we may sell corn? When will the Sabbath be past so that we may open our wheat again, giving short measure in the bushel and taking overweight in the silver, tilting the scales fraudulently, and selling the dust of the wheat; that we may buy the poor for silver and the destitute for a pair of shoes?”
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
I will never forget any of their doings.       Amos 8: 4-7

A new day coming, change breathing fear and conflict down our necks, we bow before the gods of Scarcity and Me First. An old order, feverish, on its death bed, hollers, flails, clutches its bedclothes with restless fingers, and sees leering phantoms rise from its bedpan.

A cry rises up out of Egypt. Here in this land the child of Compassion once found safety from another ruler’s wrath.

“Let our people go!” rings out in Libya. Rulers tremble. Politicians abandon reason and rush to protect their interests. The homeless crowd the streets. The sick are told to leave their sheltered care and fend for themselves. And truth, which finds its voice, its shape, its story, its song in art,

is silenced

as the rich and powerful cling to their gold.

A huge share of the nation’s economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us? $31,244.

Tell them this.

Put down this.

Be still.

Or be stilled.

And Know who I Am.

And know this –

there are rules:

Love, serve, and trust God rather than trusting systems which exploit and destroy life in its many forms.
Take care of neighbors. Welcome, respect, and protect the stranger, the alien, and the orphan. Look out for the weak, children, women, and the elderly.
Don’t kill each other, or steal or tell lies about each other. Don’t be unfaithful to your commitments to each other.
Don’t engage in practices which exploit or prey upon the vulnerable.
Once a week back away from the system of anxious scarcity, production, and consumption. Stop working and rest. Do not allow your life to be defined by endless producing and doing, and no being.

and there are consequences:

I will not forget any of your doings. 


Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46: 10 NIV






With gratitude to the prophets, Joel and Amos, and modern prophet and Biblical scholar,Walter Brueggemann and his book, Journey to the Common Good
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Dying for Love

The moral revival that certain people wish to impose will be much worse than the condition it is meant to cure. If our present suffering ever leads to revival, this will not be brought about through slogans, but in silence and moral loneliness, through pain, misery and terror, in the profoundest depths of each man’s spirit.             Simone Weil

To accept defeat, to accept suffering for love of God and in obedience to God’s will is extraordinarily difficult. Yet such surrender is what saves us. The purification of our intention, the corrections in our thinking, the deepening compassion, and the redemptive power released from the profoundest depths of a person’s spirit transforms, heals, and frees. The church, as the place which could most clearly articulate and live out how to die to oneself, personally and corporately, seems to avoid any direct attention to such a notion. More often we find ourselves caught up in the push and glamour of success, the tasks of survival, and pumping up egos, rather than teaching them how to die.

That I must die to myself and suffer loss and pain and that such a death might be participation with Christ in a redemptive mystery goes against the grain of the independent self reliant spirit and the “me first” character of our times. However, when we settle for slogans, consultants, and committees, we circumvent the opportunity to discover strength in weakness and victory in failure. We build our case on ideology and successful practices, rather than a witness to God and faith. We succumb to a simplistic understanding of God’s saving action in history as winners or losers, and do not know ourselves as active participants in the redeeming of a broken world.

I am not sure why we don’t get this. Christians are a people who bow before a man dying on a cross, for heaven’s sake.

Christians the world over are about celebrate that dying man. They will tell again the ancient story of their God and how he came to be betrayed, humiliated, beaten and nailed to a tree. They will recall how this God, who was supposed to bring an end to their sorrow and oppression, failed miserably.

They will remember, too, how they failed miserably. How they betrayed, abandoned, and killed their God. They will see again how they had got things all wrong, how they had so horribly misperceived the truth with their narrow minds, jealous hearts, and faithless souls.

And they will be astonished by the Grace, which rolled away the stone of their rigidity and fear, and defied their wildest imaginations. What they thought was ruined and dead now stood before them in the bright morning sun and spoke, “Go and tell the others to go to Galilee. They will see me there.”

This was an old story. Calling something names, beating up something, and killing it to take away our pain and anger and sin wasn’t new. For thousands of years, we had been killing things and one another and offering them up to God as a way to set things right, get what we want, and make up for the messes we made.

But this time was different. In their fury and fear, this time they killed God, divinity itself. And Holiness let them. God wore their spit upon his face, their rage upon his back. He opened wide his arms to be penetrated by their malice.

This time God said, “OK. I will show you. This is what it looks like to kill God. This is what it means to see the truth about yourselves. This is how to love.

I am willing to bear the pain of your sins against me and against yourselves. This is what forgiveness looks like. This is what peace costs.”

With that willingness and love their God sucked the poison out of sin. He defused the power and grip of evil on the human heart. He took the hell out of everlasting damnation and gave them eternal life.

And he told his followers to do the same with the suffering in their lives.

Today many Christians wear little replicas of that cross of execution like tiny gold electric chairs or lethal injection needles. They wear death on a string and carry life in their hearts.

For having died with their God, they rise with him. And from the profoundest depths of their spirits flow rivers of living water.  This is what a moral revival looks like.

Everyone who is thirsty, come.

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Smartphone Downgrade

A Cautionary Tale of Lust and Regret

Last November I upgraded my mobile phone. I was two years overdue for the money saving upgrade and I was envious. I lusted after a fancy smartphone, one with which I could check email and surf the web. My brother, sister-in-law, and one daughter all sported iphones. Other friends had BlackBerries. I felt dumpy with my unimpressive phone which only made calls and took photos. I envied my friends and colleagues, pulling out their phones to check their calendars and show them off. I wanted to be smart, “digitally literate,” and able to communicate with “millennials.”

So I picked up Eris Droid at my carrier store. Eris was a fetching beauty, slim, and full of apps. He was young and lively, sensitive and eagerly responsive to the warmth of my touch. And when he flexed his hefty rebate, I nearly swooned.

It took Eris and me a while to get acquainted. He didn’t like that I choose not to use Google for my email. He put up a little fuss and went into a pout about that. His gizmos and whiz bangs were fun and impressive. Yet as young lovers often do, he raised my cost of living with his taste for the internet.

But boy did I fit in!  I could pull him out and watch heads turn. “Oh, a droid!” Eris and I spent a lot of time trying to understand each other, when he wasn’t recharging. Funny how he wore out faster than I did. Then after a few months, I realized I wasn’t actually using most of Eris’ impressive attributes. But I was still cool. And he was in my pocket.

Then in a dumb move I laundered my smartphone along with my jeans. Pulling out the wet clothes, I saw him sitting forlornly on a little ridge in the back my new front loader.

Oh no. And I hadn’t bought the insurance.

I pulled out his battery and buried it alongside Eris in a bowl of rice to dry out. After 24 hours, still no pulse. It was over. No matter what I did, I could no longer turn him on.

Last week I went back to the store, figuring I would just have to go ahead and purchase a new phone. I figured this might cost me a couple hundred dollars. Oh naïve dreamer that I was! To replace my phone would cost five times what I paid when I purchased it, $589. If I choose to cancel my contract and go sign up with a different carrier, that would cost me $300. If I was willing to downgrade (horrors!), I could get a phone like the four year old one I had upgraded from for between $200 and $300. I used a bad word at this point.

To his credit my young salesman, every bit as good looking as Eris and much more alive, was almost as grief stricken as I. He kept telling me, “I am so sorry. I feel so bad about this.” I do believe there was even a tear in his eye. You see we had already compared notes on dogs and learned we both have labs, he a yellow lab named Coach, me a black one named Elijah.

Coach’s master, new on the job I think, had accidentally given me some misinformation. He initially quoted a replacement price of much less than $589 and I had agreed to it. It was, as he was writing up the sale, that he discovered he had read from the wrong column. That would be the column headed, Cost of New Phone for Stupid People Who Launder Them and Do Not Have Insurance.

At this point, between a rock and hard place, inspiration struck. Driving over to the store, I had prayed. At the end of the day, tired and frustrated with Eris conking out on me, my landline not working either, and feeling stressed with finances, I just surrendered the whole sordid affair to God. “Whatever you say, Lord. Let it be to me according to your will.”

Standing before the cheap dull phones, which people normally get for free when they upgrade, but which were going to cost me $200.00, while Coach’s master gamely tried to console me, I thought, “Wait. Why not use my old phone?” I had brought along the pitiful, clunky thing in order to transfer contacts, since they would not be able to get the contacts off my laundered phone. “Can I just use my old phone?” Well, duh, yes. Dumb woman gets smart!

So here I am after a three month fling with Eris, back with my old phone with lowered rates. On July 11, 2011 I can upgrade to an Eris or whatever new phone catches my fancy, maybe even an iphone by then. Or not.


A day or two later I picked up the card my salesman had given me. Turning it over I learned that I can receive a $25.00 credit for every person I refer to the Wanamaker Road Verizon Wireless store in Topeka, Kansas, who signs up with Verizon. Advanced appointment is required. Tell them Elijah and I sent you. Trust me. They will see you get what you need. But be sure to buy the insurance.

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