To Our Round and Borderless God (A prayer)

Designer, Creator, most provident God,
As we gather today,
When the days may seem a little too hard,
The grace seems to wane and exhaustion takes over,
When uncertainty is the best we can do,

O Lord, in your round and borderless mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We ask for strength for our community as we are aware of illness, lament, anxiety, uncertainty, and loss.
We ask for the relentlessness to keep showing up.
We ask for reprieve from scarcity.
We ask for rest and for healing.

O Lord, in your round and borderless mercy,
Hear our prayer.

For folks living in Nashville food deserts,
For those who are imprisoned and on death row,
For those who are racially profiled,
For those who labor for unlivable wages.

O Lord in your round and borderless mercy,
Hear our prayer.

For those living in the immanence of violence,
For those who know little of peace,
For those who are losing their culture to globalization,

O Lord in your round and borderless mercy,
Hear our prayer.

For our tired and nearly depleted earth,
For species which will become extinct today,
For the wild space that we will never know.

O Lord in your round and borderless mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Show us, O Lord, how we may return the blessings that you have given us by caring for ourselves, for each other, for our earth.

For your mercy is round and it is borderless.

In this mercy, Lord, hear our prayer.

Amen.

Regarding Wisdom: A Pastoral Prayer

O God, we find ourselves, along with all of creation, made in your image.
We are made in your likeness; image-bearers of the divine.

Knowing this is deeply meaningful and ministerial.

But even with this knowledge, sometimes in the midst of loss, or fear, or especially political, personal, communal, and spiritual uncertainties,

It is easy to forget this image-bearing business.

It is easy to forget that we are not only made in Your image but that You, the source of Wisdom, dwell among, intimately near.

So today, O God,
we ask that wisdom, in all its forms, would not be elusive,
but that it would be readily found. 
We know that it can sometimes be tough to have the wisdom to stop trying or to keep trying.
It can be tough to know when self-care is a must,
It can be tough to know which words would be harmful and which would be helpful.
It can be tough to know one’s worth amongst feelings of inadequacy and shame.
It can be tough to sort out God’s promises among many competing voices.
It can be tough to know how to love someone because love is imperfect.

Oh God of whom, we are image-bearers,
It can be tough to know when to help a neighbor,
It can be tough to know how to give radical hospitality,
It can be tough to know how to stay at the table we’ve gathered around.
It can be tough to know how to care for all of creation,
It can be tough to know how we can make a difference.

Uncertainty and doubt, O God, are more frequent visitors that we would like.
They can be powerful and convincing.
And as much as we want to rush forth with an answer, a solution, a revelation,
perhaps the wait time, the time of parenthesis,
is where we find wisdom.
Wisdom to remember, Oh God,
that we, along with all of creation, are made and held in Your image.

Amen.

Prayer for All Saints Day (Baptist Style)

Oh God, whom we live and move and have our being,
Gather us in as we worship together on this day to remember the Saints.

This, All Saints Day, is full of memories,
Memories that comfort us, memories that inspire us,
and perhaps memories that still hurt a little bit.

With gratitude and awe, we remember today Saints of the Church
who are here in this great cloud of witnesses.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola,
Saint Francis of Assisi,
Saint Mother Teresa,
Saint Oscar Romero
Saint Martin Luther King Jr.,

And what about our Baptist saints,
Thomas Helwys and John Smyth,
Roger Williams,
Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong,
Will Campbell.

Today, we remember and give thanks to you for these saints.
We also remember today the saints in our lives who have gone before us.
These folks who loved us and were dearly loved by many,
These folks who shared their lives with us, and left impressions of love that we remember and honor today.

We celebrate them as we miss them.

Oh God, whom we live and move and have our being.
Dwell with us in this community,
We ask for comfort especially as we miss our loved ones,
But also for comfort during hard days when our bodies are weary,
when our backs ache, and hands are blistered.
May we give each other salve and a good chair to sit in.

As we dwell in you, O God,
we give thanks for this church community of folks who bear each others joys, burdens and pains.

We give thanks for pastors who hands work with love and persistence.
We give thanks for the faithfulness of members of this community,
who give of themselves around this table.

Oh God, whom we live and move and have our being,
thank you for this communion of saints today and for this
communion of faithful and loving folks who gather today to remember those saints.

Amen.

“The Ghost of Tom Joad”

Sometimes, I am certain of little, but one thing that I do know is that folk music tells stories far better than I ever could. Singers like Woodie Gutherie, Pete Seeger, Ani Difranco, Joan Baez and so many more give music to the people by telling their stories of injustice, of struggle, of triumph. In the face of great odds against institutional racism, sexism, violence against bodies, heteronormativity, classism, agism, they have sung in protest. It’s the music that keeps me going because I am reminded that I am not alone, but I am rather in the company of a great cloud of witnesses. For me, protest music is as sacred and sometimes more sacred than hymns. For me, it is holy music.

For that reason, tonight, I wish to share the story of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” written by the great Bruce Springsteen in the mid 90s. He says that it “was an attempt to regain my own moorings” and contains as its final verse the beautiful speech that Tom Joad whispers to his mother at the end of The Grapes of Wrath. He says that “the singer in my song is in search of the ghost of Tom Joad, the spirit that has the guts and the toughness to carry forth and live their ideals.”

I first heard this song when Bruce sang it at Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday party (see above link)… he called Pete Seeger the ghost of Tom Joad and spoke of many of the ways that Pete sung the People’s Music.

So I’d like to read this social justice ballad, this song of lament, this song of protest tonight. And in doing so, I remember and honor all the folks who have sung in protest for freedom.

Here it is:

”The Ghost Of Tom Joad”

by Bruce Springsteen, 1995, Columbia Records

Men walkin’ ‘long the railroad tracks
Goin’ someplace there’s no goin’ back
Highway patrol choppers comin’ up over the ridge

Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin’ ’round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin’ in their cars in the Southwest
No home no job no peace no rest

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody’s kiddin’ nobody about where it goes
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Searchin’ for the ghost of Tom Joad

He pulls a prayer book out of his sleeping bag
Preacher lights up a butt and takes a drag
Waitin’ for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last
In a cardboard box ‘neath the underpass
Got a one-way ticket to the promised land
You got a hole in your belly and gun in your hand
Sleeping on a pillow of solid rock
Bathin’ in the city aqueduct

The highway is alive tonight
Where it’s headed everybody knows
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Waitin’ on the ghost of Tom Joad

Now Tom said “Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I’ll be there
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you’ll see me.”

Well the highway is alive tonight
But nobody’s kiddin’ nobody about where it goes
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
With the ghost of old Tom Joad

Accompaniment

I am constantly amazed at how dis-attached I feel from myself, others, and the earth when I do not live in rhythm with the seasons. The seasons are good teachers for us. They show us that change does come, that beauty –and hardship– is to be found in change. The winter is beautiful, but in a dormant kind of way. The spring is full of life it seems, but still brings a lethal frost. The summer draws us into long, enduring warmth but can overheat us in our epidermal exchange. The fall brings us more vivid colors than we could ever dream up by ourselves, but with the color comes death. The seasons remind us that death is a part of life, for it is as natural a cycle as any; without death, we would not have life. The seasons are reminders of the good gifts that the earth gives: the harvest, the sunsets, the rain, the protective layer of Ozone.

It is good to live into the change of seasons, to tarry with them in their ebb and flow.

All of life is dynamic. It must be dynamic to stay in equilibrium. For if it becomes static, it is dead.

Though there is little about life that is immune to change, relationships of all kinds can ground us to weather the change.

That friend who is ceaselessly present especially when you do not quite know how to go on. That lover who fills you with more joy than you thought possible. That parent, whether kin or by choice, who believes that you can do anything. That sibling whose relationship with you has evolved from rivalry to friendship. That grandparent who tells you stories of your heritage, stories they have lived with courage, joy, pain, and even regret. That neighbor who works to live in community with you. Those colleagues who you spend more time with than some of your family members….slowly, they become family.

It takes courage and commitment to sustain a table conversation with someone that lasts a lifetime. The novelty of the person, however you know them, wears off and so does yours for them. What is left is a deep, sustaining aura that draws you in. Somehow, they sing a song that is similar to your own, if you listen closely enough. “I believe in you”, “I love spending time with you”, “you can trust me”, they sing. They forgive you when your flaws and insecurities fester like gaping, infected wounds and you respond out of the pain. You forgive the same way. You share tables with them on the holidays or at least send loving well wishes.

These folks do not make change any easier or harder; they just commit, whether implicitly or explicitly, to do the change with you. You and they become seasoned travelers together on the journey of life.

I think this is the way that the Creator God designed it to be.

Accompaniment.

May it ever be so.

Hence, I write.

With exhaustion lingering, I am recalling the quote “take action first and let the insight follow.” I have been waiting to blog until I had the energy and space to pen a revelation. Lo and behold, with this modality, I have written very infrequently. So here is a very succinct post to call out the scarcity that I continue to function within; the scarcity that prohibits my creativity is the greatest enemy of all. Hence, I write.

I write of the beauty of my life as it is and the burdens I carry from the enlightenment I receive from Divinity School. Today was beautiful in many ways, one of which being that it was the advent of fall. I could not have asked Creator God for a more beautiful manifestation of Godself than what was displayed today. The wind made itself well-known, but it was a gentle enough wind that I could smell the changing season. The sunlight was equally gentle, allowing me to see the blue sky without squinting.

The day held me gently while I wrestled with the Doctrine of the Trinity, American civil religion, sacrament, and sexism.

Love, life, resonance, passion, an ah-ha moment, laughter — all these things I felt today. It turns out that I actually have little scarcity, after all.

The Other Side of the Bench…

Here we are, at this bench
There is only one bench here to hold us
Its cracked red edges and rusty nails

We are here, exhausted travelers
Needing a place to rest.
Needing each other.

Will we share this bench?
Will we fight over it,
till we both fall exhausted on the ground.

The blisters on our feet,
the smell of our tattered clothes,
give witness to a ragged journey.

Will we claim separate ends of this bench,
or will we lean on each other,
sleeping the sleep of the exhausted?

If we are so connected,
why do we tarry,
in leaning on each other?

Why do we fight over this bench,
when there is room for all?