Tag Archives: life

James 3:1-12

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue– a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

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In Memoriam: Marcus Borg

It was back in 2008 that I discovered a book that would forever restore my faith in God: Marcus Borg’s The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. I had recently made a rediscovery of my own: church. I had been absent from church for many, many years. I had most recently been in attendance at an evangelical mega church, which I stopped attending when I moved out of my parents’ house. The experiences at that church had left a bad taste in my mouth for organized religion (though, surprisingly, the people at that church reject the term “religion” and any sort of organization, even though it is all the same thing).

I had rediscovered church via my neighborhood Episcopal Church. The new rector (priest in charge) of the church had distributed friendly welcome letters to the neighbors, inviting all who sought a deeper relationship with God to join them for worship in a beautiful historic jewel of a chapel with a magnificent pipe organ and a diverse congregation that welcomed all seekers. It sounded perfect. My life has changed for the better since I walked in to that church.

Soon after I began attending the Episcopal Church, my visits to the local book store started to focus more on the Religion & Spirituality section. I remember finding Marcus Borg’s book, The Heart of Christianity, on one of the feature tables. The subtitle (Rediscovering a Life of Faith) stood out to me. I knew nothing of Marcus Borg, but thought I’d give the book a try.

I am forever grateful for the words Marcus wrote in this book. In the book, Marcus makes it quite clear that you can, indeed, be Christian and not believe in many of the things that made me doubt my faith for years. Things like biblical infallibility, and homosexuality as a sin, and not including women in the ministry. Those things just scratched the surface of so many things that made me lose my faith in God. I didn’t want to claim a faith that taught it laid claim to the ultimate truth, and that one had to believe those things in order to be in right relationship with God and to be a true Christian.

In thumbing through my cherished copy of his book, there is one statement that I underlined and noted on the inside cover as particularly meaningful to me. A statement straight from Marcus’s heart. On page 149, Marcus says:

Though of course I would like you to agree with me, I am less concerned with soliciting agreement than I am with provoking thoughtfulness about the way our life together is, and could be, structured.

I think this one sentence really sums up how Marcus Borg did theology. He did theology in a heartfelt, meaningful, genuine way that was concerned more with the dialogue and the questions and the seeking than with answers and certainty and agreement.

It is my hope that the legacy and spirit of Marcus Borg lives on forever in the lives of those of us whom his writings touch. I, for one, will always be grateful to Borg’s witness to his walk with God, and his unabashedly honest understanding of faith, which was never a certainty, and always a journey. Too many conservative Christians have dismissed Borg because of his radical honesty in living out his faith, his rejection of orthodox theology, and his embrace of doubt as an essential part of a healthy faith.

For my and for others’ benefit, I wanted to share a few other meaningful excerpts from The Heart of Christianity that stood out to me, and that I think show just where Marcus’s heart was. I hope that his understanding of God in these words speaks to you like it did to me.

And if [your vision of Christianity] works for you–if it hasn’t become an obstacle and if it genuinely nourishes your life with God and produces growth and compassion within you—there’s no reason for you to change. Being Christian isn’t about getting our beliefs (or our paradigm) “right.” –p. 18

When [the literal versus metaphorical] debate breaks out in my classroom, I say to my students, “Believe whatever you want about whether it happened this way; now let’s talk about what the story means.” The statement applies to the Genesis stories of creation, the gospel birth stories, and the stories of the Bible generally: a preoccupation with facts can obscure the metaphorical meanings and the truth of the stories as metaphor. –p. 54

The Christian life is not about believing or doing what we need to believe or do so that we can saved. Rather, it’s about seeing what is already true—that God loves us already—and then beginning to live in this relationship. It is about becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God. –p. 77

When the Christian path is seen as utterly unique, it is suspect. But when Jesus is seen as the incarnation of a path universally spoken about elsewhere, the path we see in him has great credibility. –p. 119

Marcus Borg, thank you for your honest and radical witness to faith in Jesus Christ. Your witness to honest faith saved my faith in God, and showed me that one’s faith is enriched with doubt and uncertainty. Thank you for your bold words that others shunned, and for your showing me that God and ultimate truth cannot be placed inside of any one religion or definition. Your legacy will live on forever in those of us whose lives you touched and whose faith you helped form. May light perpetual shine upon you.

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Walking the Labyrinth

The spiritual exercise of walking a labyrinth is something I have heard about for years, but never decided to try until today. I’ve visited many, many churches and other spiritual places that have labyrinths, and have stared at them thinking “someday”, but today I actually decided to try it. I am amazed at how focusing it was to my prayer and my spirit.

The labyrinth that I decided to walk was in Jackson, Wyoming at St. John’s Episcopal Church. I’m here on vacation for a few days, and had passed this labyrinth (just off the main street of the town) several times over the last few days. This afternoon, after spending some time with a good book and a cup of cold brew coffee, I decided to divert some time to prayer and to walking the labyrinth.

Before I began my walk, I sat down at a bench on its perimeter. I thought to myself “Hmmm, there are lots of people on the street walking by that might look at me and think I’m nuts.” And I thought, “How long will this take?” The more I sat there and wondered if I should or shouldn’t, the more I thought to myself “Just do it.” I tend to overanalyze everything, and after realizing that, just got up and started.

As I stood at the entrance to the labyrinth, I began with my favorite prayer by Thomas Merton, which begins “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going…” And I decided to use one of my favorite Bible verses as a mantra during my walk…I chose Micah 6:8b (What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?). As I began, I quickly noticed how what I expected to be the path (a very straightforward, predictable path) actually wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I continued saying my mantra. A toddler who had been playing in the grass nearby wandered into the labyrinth. I continued saying my mantra. A few passersby approached the labyrinth and looked at me. I continued saying my mantra. A man came into the labyrinth circle and sat down and watched me. I continued saying my mantra. When I reached the center, I paused, stood still, and thanked God for the moment. I turned around and walked the same path back out while simply focusing on my breathing.

The practice was surprisingly calming. As I encountered the slight distractions along my way, I couldn’t help but think of the symbolism in my everyday life. Every day, distractions can pop up, but I can’t let those distractions get to me or hold me down or suppress my spirit. I must continue to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. It is only with God’s help that I can achieve anything in this world. And it is only with God’s mercy that I can love and be loved in this world. As I continue in my life, my prayer continues to be that God lead me by the right path, and for me to acknowledge that God does not let me face my perils alone.

It’s a beautiful thing, what I feel after having walked the labyrinth. I’m not sure why I ever waited so long to give it a try. It was remarkably centering to my spirit. I look forward to my next labyrinth walk!

The labyrinth at St. John's Episcopal Church in Jackson, Wyoming.

The labyrinth at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jackson, Wyoming.

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Easter 2014 Reflection

This Easter, I have been surrounded by reminders of the Resurrection life. We are a blessed people to have inherited that gift through our new life in Christ. Each Easter, we remember that blessing. After what seemed like an unusually long and cold winter, and a season of renewal and reflection during Lent, this Easter season is greeted by shouts of praise and ALLELUIA to the risen Lord. It is a beautiful, sacred, and grace-filled life that we live in Christ. May that light shine in us always, no matter what darkness or evil may enter our lives. Thanks be to God! Happy Easter!

Christ is alive! Let Christians sing.
The cross stands empty to the sky.
Let streets and homes with praises ring.
Love, drowned in death, shall never die.

Christ is alive! No longer bound
to distant years in Palestine,
but saving, healing, here and now,
and touching every place and time.

Not throned above, remotely high,
untouched, unmoved by human pains,
but daily, in the midst of life,
our Savior with the Father reigns.

In every insult, rift, and war
where color, scorn or wealth divide,
Christ suffers still, yet loves the more,
and lives, where even hope has died.

Christ is alive, and comes to bring
good news to this and every age,
till earth and sky and ocean ring
with joy, with justice, love, and praise.

Words: Brian Wren © 1969
Tune: TRURO, Charles Burney, 1789

Colorful signs of new life pop up everywhere!

Colorful signs of new life pop up everywhere!

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Holy Saturday Reflection (Lent Day 40)

Holy Saturday, to me, is a day in the life of the church of mourning and remembrance of the life of Christ. And, most importantly, it is a day to acknowledge the end of Christ’s life, and yet the beginning of new life to come. It is in death that new, everlasting life begins. Death is not a thing to truly mourn…we mourn for those still on the earth. But we rejoice with those in heaven: the angels, the saints, and all of eternity, who rejoice at the everlasting life that was won for all in the death of Jesus on the cross. So, Holy Saturday is not a day that we mourn for ourselves…or even for Christ. We mourn for those who put Jesus to death…and who still put Jesus on the cross in their ignorance of the unconditional love that God has for all of us in Jesus Christ. We mourn for those who, each day, deny that love that is given freely to the world. Those people who live in darkness without acknowleding or embodying that love…and yet, just around the corner, just a day away, just a word away, is new and unending life. That day of Easter, of the empty tomb, of radiant light, is free for all of creation. It is for those who don’t see it that we mourn. And it is for all of us that Christ died and returns each day in our hearts.

The duteous day now closeth,
each flower and tree reposeth,
shade creeps o’er wild and wood:
let us, as night is falling,
on God our Maker calling,
give thanks to him, the Giver good.

Now all the heavenly splendor
breaks forth in starlight tender
from myriad worlds unknown;
and man, this marvel seeing,
forget his selfish being
for joy of beauty not his own.

His care he drowneth yonder,
lost in the abyss of wonder;
to heaven his soul doth steal:
this life he disesteemeth,
the day it is that dreameth,
that doth from truth his vision seal.

Awhile his mortal blindness
may miss God’s lovingkindness
and grope in faithless strife;
but when life’s day is over,
shall death’s fair night discover
the fields of everlasting life.

–Words: Paul Gerhardt, 1648; trans. Robert Seymour Bridges, 1899
–Tune: O WELT, ICH MUSS DICH LASSEN, melody att. Heinrich Isaac (1450?-1517); harm. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

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Lenten Reflection – Day 30

Peccantem me quotidie, et non me paenitentem, timor mortis conturbat me: Quia in inferno nulla est redemptio, miserere mei, Deus, et salva me. –Choral piece by Cristóbal Morales (c. 1500–1553), video below

While I am sinning every day, and yet do not repent, the fear of death overwhelms me. For in hell there is no redemption. Have mercy on me, God, and save me.

It’s a crazy thing to think about…all of the opportunities we have in this lifetime. All of the beauty for us to experience in God’s creation. Some people live their lives without a second thought of life after death, or about how the decisions they make in this life might affect them, or their neighbor, or the next life. Others live their lives in constant fear, hesitant to go outside of their comfort zones or even to leave their immediate communities. Yet others live with a balance between both of those realities. It is an eery thing to think about all of the opportunities we have in this lifetime…to think that when we die, those opportunities will be gone. What influences how you make your decisions? Do you think about how your decisions affect others, or how things might be in the afterlife?

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Lenten Reflection – Day 29

My faith looks up to thee,
thou Lamb of Calvary,
Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray;
take all my guilt away;
O let me from this day
be wholly thine!

May thy rich grace impart
strength to my fainting heart,
my zeal inspire;
as thou hast died for me,
O may my love to thee
pure, warm, and changeless be,
a living fire!

While life’s dark maze I tread
and griefs around me spread,
be thou my guide;
bid darkness turn to day;
wipe sorrow’s tears away;
nor let me ever stray
from thee aside.

When ends life’s transient dream,
when death’s cold, sullen stream
shall o’er me roll;
blest Savior, then, in love,
fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above,
a ransomed soul!

–Words: Ray Palmer (1808-1887)
–Music: OLIVET, by Lowell Manson (1792-1872)

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