Friday, February 24, 2017

Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers), a man who inspired millions of children through his PBS television program "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood", once said, “The space between my mouth and a child’s ear is holy ground.” That certainly raises the bar on how adults speak with children!
Holy Ground—those are also the words of God to Moses when he stood before the bush that burned, but was not consumed by fire: remove your sandals, for the ground upon which you stand is holy. 
Holy Ground. 
Sacred Space. 
A Place Set Apart. 
What makes a place holy?  Or a particular time sacred?  For me, the answer to these questions is: God’s grace.  But God does so through the heart we bring and the words we choose to hear and share. God's grace redeems me and causes my heart and head to shift into a posture of gratitude and humility, and my eyes see that everything shines with God's touch. 
In our media-saturated, information-soaked, twittered world, words are flung around casually, carelessly, hurtfully, insensitively.  Words are powerful and yet we sometimes overuse them or misuse them so much that they lose their power.  Words are sometimes like weapons used to cut another down and diminish the sacredness God instills, but they can also be used to reveal holy space, to convey love and blessing, to share Good News. 

A cliché we’ve all heard and perhaps used is “walk the talk”.  In other words match your actions with your words.  Perhaps it’s an impossibility—especially for those who are claimed by grace but are still weighed down by sin.  Yet it is something to which we should aspire.  No matter how difficult it may be we are to bridle our behaviors (and all those feelings that motivate us to act in critical, harsh, anti-redemptive ways) in order to rise to the life of the Word that was and is and is yet to be, the Word that transforms even hypocrites into the real estate of holy ground. 

I encourage you to let the space between your mouth and everyone else around you be holy ground.  We are stewards of our words.  We can use them carefully or carelessly.  And using words as weapons because others do so, is no excuse for those who confess to be reconciled by the One Who is The Word. 

© Stephen Carl

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Face to face is a loaded expression. It could be followed by details of a confrontation, or of deep intimacy, or a great deal in between those two. I was considering how many people I've been privileged to be face to face with in a way that never would happen if not for being a pastor. I have been face to face in counseling sessions, in worship, in weddings, in baptisms, in moments of heartache and grief, in moments of truth, in moments of confrontation, and moments of earnest hope.  I cannot begin to calculate the number of people I have been face to face with in ritual events, such as healing services or Ash Wednesday services or communion by intinction or in prayer at the side of their hospital bed. Though I have fallen far short, I have always tried to say the person's name and make eye contact. In a flash, in a micro-second, in a timeless moment, I have often felt a deep and mysterious connection--not just between myself and the other person, but also of another who brings us together. It's as if, without expertise or planning, we are taken to a place beyond our capacity to discover, and in that place the heart is laid bare. None of the garbage of our lives, for which we are ashamed and remain guarded, is there. It's not that it is undisclosed, it's more as if it simply doesn't exist.
It is a holy moment that occurs in spite of us. It is in such moments that I have looked into the eyes of people whom I know do not like me, who have been critical of me, who have hurt me, and I am forgiven of all the feelings I have had because of my own fears and insecurities and spiritual immaturity. It's a humbling experience to not feel the razor sharp indignation toward the other, but to experience the power of forgiveness in the most indescribable and incomprehensible way.
It is in such moments that I realize that being a pastor isn't mostly about having answers or being theologically astute or even being a leader. Instead it is about being a child who is loved and given the privilege of letting other children know they are loved too, but not in any way that we can earn or even understand. Rather, it is a love that frees us to explore the meaning of love, even in our messy, broken-down ways.

© 2016 Stephen Carl

Thursday, February 16, 2017

To speak ABOUT God is to aim a bottle rocket at the sun. It never comes close to leaving the earth's atmosphere, let alone the earth's gravity. Our words about God are weighted with the mass of misunderstanding and ego-centrism.  Besides, speaking about God is academic.  It addresses more of human conceptions of God, human constructions of God, than it does revelations of God.
Speaking about God is not speaking OF, let alone speaking TO, WITH or FOR God. As for speaking for God, one must be cautious since misspeaking for God is blasphemy; lying and portraying the lies as coming from God's lips.  Not a wise thing to put words or the misinterpretation of words into God's mouth.
To speak OF God requires first speaking WITH God.  To speak of God should flow from the rich river of fellowship one has with God, fully aware that God is GOD and we are creatures of God.  We are created in the image of God and we are loved, but let us not construe this into a chummy notion of a friendship, as if we are on equal terms.
The rich fellowship of being in relationship with God is beyond articulation since words will never explain or capture the truth of being in this relationship.  To even say "relationship with God" is to use a pale shadow to illustrate the bright sun.  This relationship and the One with Whom we have fellowship defines us.  To speak of God is to speak of meaning and the meaning-maker, to express joy and fulfillment and one's beginning and completion.

To believe and speak about God's disapproval is to step upon the sacred ground of judgment, ground upon which Jesus walked to the cross.  To point at anyone and say "sinner" is to elevate oneself above Christ the victor who came not to condemn the world, but to forgive.  Casting blame or judgment is to stand exposed to the brilliance of God's love and say that someone is beneath God's favor when God loves the world.  Who has such privilege and righteousness?
I do not and I know of no mere mortal who does.  For me, my debt to God exceeds any righteous work I can muster.  And it is my debt forgiven that fills me with humility and compassion.  Any judgmentalism that still stirs in my heart is enemy ground not yet surrendered though the war is over and the great defeat has occurred.

© 2017 Stephen Carl

Saturday, February 4, 2017

"The Church of Never Do That"

The members of "The Church of Never Do That"
Never speak in worship or allow idle chit chat
We've posted "The seven last words of church" on our door:
"We've never done it that way before"

The children who wiggle are thumped on the head
"You were told to sit still" the parents all said
Since church is an exercise of will o'er desire
Motivated by images of hell's burning fire.

The purpose of worship was long ago lost
On bottom line decisions of financial cost
So the people who come all dutifully obey
The tradition of praying the same prayer each time they pray

The praying is practiced with ne'er a mistake
A stutter would be tragic for heaven's sake!
And the order of worship has never changed
Since John Calvin approved how it's arranged

The ushers tuxedoed are stationed and trained
To keep out the coffee so the carpet's unstained
The hymns were written in catacombs long ago
And sung sans enthusiasm lest it become a big show

New music or clapping is never allowed
There's plenty of room since there's never a crowd
But the pews are assigned, so stuck in a rut
Each cushion is shaped like it's member's butt

The argument seems airtight for anyone who can see:
"If it was good enough for grandpa, it's good enough for me."
When the Bible is read with the Thees and the Thous
All feign engagement with deep furrowed brows

And the preaching is done with an emphasis on sins
All remain silent with no shouts or "Amens"
New people they want to sit in the pews
To hear their dull version of the Good News

But strangers are a terror, utterly feared
Especially the one with long hair and a beard
But just such a one came every week
To find the lost hearts, his kingdom they seek

Lost hearts aplenty he found in the nave
Hibernating spiritually like bears in a cave
So Sunday after Sunday he'd head down the street
To see who he'd find and who he would meet

Though meet them is really not what he would do
For their name, heart and hurts he already knew
Some members of "The Church of Never Do That"
Wanted what he offered but their courage was flat

Too worried to look religious, too worried to look weird
So they kept their hearts shut to the guy with the beard.
A meeting was called and a motion was made
Where a political ploy was skillfully played

To change church policy to eliminate...change
Since stability is preferred to the new and the strange
The vote was unanimous, well...minus one
That long-hair bearded guy some call God's Son

Some shouted "Democracy rules! There's nothing more to do"
Isn't that Gospel? Somewhere in Matthew?
You may be a member of "The Church of Never Do That"
If you'd defend your preferences in ecclesial combat

And use words like "my church" as if were true
That you atoned and ransomed it with your blood and sinew
The long hair bearded man still comes to that church
Expecting some may begin (heaven forbid!) a spiritual search

Beyond the traditions, the hymns, and their by-law
Where the deepest of hungers and the questions still gnaw
Perhaps they will look through the stained glass scene
Of Jesus declaring the leper was now clean

Where outside the window the world buzzes by
Too busy to slow down, too frightened to cry
The empty expressions and the desperate need
From the diet of death on which they all feed

If "The Church of Never Do That" opened wide
And the people in the pews ever ventured outside
They would find something amazing, too powerful to contain
The message so simple, so pure and so plain

The life and the blessing, the Good News and grace
The people inside forgot in their unchanging place
God never, no never said "Thou shalt not Change"
Nor never has God ever left us estranged

Except when we grip tightly our fear and our pride
Strangling and suffocating, our trust slowly died
Our concrete and mortar so carefully maintained
Our coffers and endowments are slowly being drained

To paint and repair, replace and update
We fret and we fight as we carry the freight
Of deception in believing that we're faithful and true
As we honor our ancestors from 1802.

The buildings we build are not the Church of the One
The church is the people who work till the work is all done
Telling each person regardless of race,
No matter their language or color of face

Showing them kindness and lifting them up
Sharing the bread and offering the cup
So change will happen no matter the rules
For doing the same thing forever is only for fools

Come be part of "The Church of Never the Same"
For it’s filled with the people given a new name
They're grateful and giddy and filled with good news
Going beyond the doors, stained glass and the pews.

They find its a mystery as they let go
When they love their neighbor they're filled with a glow
When the give up their treasures they are blessed and renewed
Something that never happens when we fight and we feud.

And the long-hair bearded man looks on with a smile
As cheeks are turned twice and we go the extra mile
For no one is judged, since that's losing the game
Only loved by the Church of Never the Same

© 2017 Stephen Carl