Friday, December 18, 2015

Praying for a Higher Purpose

More reflections on prayer from E. Stanley Jones.  This is taken from a longer meditation on the implications of John 15:3, "You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you."

"[Jesus] also cleansed prayer.  He found it as magic and mere petition and left it as communion. Prayer was no longer getting something out of God, but God getting something out of us.  It was a pulling of ourselves to God, that, through this higher contact with higher power, higher purpose might be achieved."

I assume that prayer as higher contact with higher power is a widely-shared notion of prayer among United Methodists.  What about the last part?  Do you agree that God's ultimate goal for our prayer time is to use it to get a higher purpose out of us?  Has God gotten a purpose out of you that was higher than personal petition?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Friday, December 4, 2015

COP21:Day 5

A link to the John Wesley sermon, "God's Approbation of His Works"

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

COP21: Day 3

A link to the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

COP21: Day 2

A slideshow of the UM Bishops' creation care message--

Monday, November 30, 2015

COP21: Day 1

In honor of the start of the United Nations convention on climate change, a link to the United Methodist Bishops' God's Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Will COP21 be successful?

A podcast on COP21, the issues involved and the prospects for an agreement.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

COP21 Worship Resources

A collection of worship resources related to the Paris climate talks posted by Citizens for Public Justice.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Loving the Other Side

For those who practice both acts of piety and mercy, who follow a religion that is both inward and outward, who seek both personal and social holiness -- an encouragement to lift our spirits when we fail yet again.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Marilynne Robinson Interview

The author Marilynne Robinson interviewed on the radio show "On Point" hosted by Tom Ashbrook.

Ms. Robinson shares her faith and her understanding of Christianity.  I wish she would have explained how she holds on to hope.  Without that explanation, her experience sounds more like an exercise of human will than the exercise of a spiritual practice.

I haven't found it possible to will myself into a more loving frame of mind or a more forgiving nature. I have found success when I've admitted my inability of change and confessed my need for Christ's help.  After that self-realization and confession, if I surrender to Christ's will, that's when my attitude improves.

In that moment, I stop focusing on what's annoying me (or frightening, angering, or depressing me) and instead start thinking about Christ.  That reminder of who Christ is and what Christ's mission is about, and most of all the connection to the Spirit of Christ that occurs when I surrender and seek help, that's what saves me from myself.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving Prayers of the People

This prayer was offered at last night's Interfaith Thanksgiving service hosted at First UMC, Omaha:

Some of us look like the native people who lived here long ago, so close to this land that their arrival is not recorded.
With them we are pilgrims in this land.
Some of us look like the Spanish, who came in big ships.  They took the land from the natives and thought it was theirs.
With them we are pilgrims in this land.
Some of us look like the English, who also came in big ships and took the land from the natives and the Spanish, and thought it was theirs.
With them we are pilgrims in this land.
Some of us look like the Africans, who also came in big ships.  They did not choose to come, they were stolen from their land and had no freedom here.
With them we are pilgrims in this land.
Some of us look like Asians, South Americans, Middle-Easterners -- people from around the world who come across the oceans seeking refuge and sanctuary.  They have come fleeing famine, hardship, ethnic and political persecution, and war.
With them we are pilgrims in this land.
We grieve the wrongs inflicted on each other and pray your spirit of reconciliation and healing be present as we learn how to live together.  Help us to show compassion and work for justice.  Together with pilgrims past and pilgrims yet to come, we thank you, for who we are, and for what we are yet to become.  

The prayer is based in part on a Thanksgiving litany by Justo & Catherine Gonzalez, "In Accord: Let Us Worship." New York: Friendship Press, 1981, page 30.

Friday, November 20, 2015

God of the Refugee

Matthew 2: 13-14, the holy family receives divine instructions to flee Israel and seek refuge in Egypt--

"13 Now after [the wise men] had gone away, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph, saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to seek the child to destroy him.” 14 So he got up and took the child and his mother during the night and went away to Egypt."

When we welcome today's refugee into our home land, we welcome Christ.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Preparing for COP21

The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21), the annual meeting of countries to discuss climate change issues, will be held in Paris beginning Nov. 30, 2015.  In preparation for these negotiations, President Obama rejected TransCanada's permit request to build a tarsands pipeline through the Great Plains.  The President said in part,
"America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. Frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership and that is the biggest risk that we face. Not acting.
Today, we're continuing to lead by example, because ultimately, if we're gonna prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we're gonna have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.
As long as I'm president of the United States, America's gonna hold ourselves to the same high standards to which we hold the rest of the world.
And three weeks from now, I look forward to joining my fellow world leaders in Paris, where we've got to come together around an ambitious framework to protect the one planet that we've got while we still can."
The full transcript as well as a video of the President's announcement is available here.

Is stewardship of God's Creation part of your church's mission?  If so, how is your church living out that mission?  Here in Omaha, First UMC hosts a composting program and takes part in a community Vigil for the Planet that meets the first Thursday of the month.  COP21 is definitely on our radar.  We are praying for the delegates and hope this meeting leads to meaningful commitments to reduce greenhouse gases.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Mary Oliver interview

Krista Tippett interviews the poet Mary Oliver on the radio show "On Being".

 Wild Geese

 You do not have to be good.
 You do not have to walk on your knees
 for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
 You only have to let the soft animal of your body
 love what it loves.
 Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
 Meanwhile the world goes on.
 Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
 are moving across the landscapes, 
 over the prairies and the deep trees,
 the mountains and the rivers.
 Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
 are heading home again.
 Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
 the world offers itself to your imagination,
 calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting  
 over and over announcing your place 
 in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver 
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver

Friday, October 16, 2015

Prayer as Power Pose

After watching this Ted Talk given by Amy Cuddy, I find myself think of prayer as my power pose whenever I get into position (seated on a cushion, on the floor, legs crossed, eyes closed, shoulders and arms relaxed, hands resting in my lap, in front of a window facing east, feeling the morning light warm me).


Friday, October 9, 2015

A Fathomless Reservoir

Do you ever imagine that deep in your heart
There might be a fathomless reservoir?
Something that's ancient and hidden and pure?
For our country, that's no metaphor.
-Lyrics from "Ogallala Aquifer" by McCarthy Trenching

McCarthy Trenching performed at an outdoor prayer service that was hosted by the church I attend.  A stanza from the song "Ogallala Aquifer" was so beautiful that I had to share it.  (The link above will take you to recording of the complete song.)

Sometimes during prayer it does feel as if I have tapped into something fathomless and pure.  I'm always on the lookout for ways to communicate what a spiritual experience feels like.  If I use the Ogallala Aquifer as an analogy, would that help others to understand what I'm experiencing when I pray?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Confession during the High Holy Days

Confession is where E. Stanley Jones was heading.  After the section on self-examination questions, Victorious Living moves on to a section on confession.

Confession in the Jewish tradition is the topic of a recent On Being interview with Louis Newman.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Easily offended or loving?

John Wesley's first publication, Collection of Forms of Prayer for Every Day in the Week (1733), is part prayer book and part self-examination book.  The book is organized so that a set of self-examination questions prepare the reader for the prayer that follows.  (A sample of the book is available on Google Books.)

An abundance of Wesley-inspired self-examination questions is available on the web for those who are interested.  I've always found the lists to be too long to be helpful.  Possibly something shorter and more pointed would have more of an impact.

I found such a list in Victorious Living (also available online).  I'll let you know if the questions turn out to be an effective spiritual practice.   If you give them a try or if you have a different list, I'd be interested in hearing about your experience.

Here's the list that E. Stanley Jones got from a friend--
  1. Am I truthful?
  2. Am I honest?
  3. Am I pure?
  4. Am I easily offended, or am I loving?
  5. Am I selfish, or am I consecrated?
The fourth question is the one that really gets to me at the moment.  I think this reaction might have something to do with the presidential election season that has just began and that is already starting to offend me.  

I confess.  Yes, I am easily offended by most of the presidential candidates.  No, I do not have a loving attitude towards them.  Christ, if you want me to be loving in this situation, then you will have to work a miracle.  I trust your ability to fix what's broken in me, and I will try my best to react to your gracious intervention in an appropriate manner.

What do you know!  A set a self-examination questions followed by a prayer . . . this list just might have potential.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Contemplative worship

     The link below will take you to a podcast from the radio show The Spirit of Things.
Benedictus Contemplative Church
     The host interviews the priest and members of a church in Australia that follows a contemplative order of worship.  Their weekly worship service sounds appealing, more like a group spiritual exercise than a performance passively observed by an audience.
     Have you heard of the renewal movement of which this church is a part, World Community for Christian Meditation (

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Gather Us In

Our opening hymn for worship this morning was "Gather Us In."  For those of you unfamiliar with this hymn, I found a video of someone playing a version of the tune.  Below are the lyrics to the hymn and alongside that are my reflections and reactions as we sang.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Simone Campbell's works of piety and mercy

Krista Tippett, host of the radio show "On Being", interviews Simone Campbell.  Sister Simone describes how her spiritual practices support her social activism.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Interview: repealing the death penalty in Nebraska

Sharing a link to an interview of Colby Coash, a conservative who voted to repeal the death penalty. Sen. Coash tells the interviewer from the Religion and Ethics radio show that God changed his heart on the issue.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Critical Thinking: a local example

Yesterday, Nebraska lawmakers repealed the death penalty.  Today the local paper profiled one state senator's thought process as he considered the issue from different angles.  It's an excellent example of διάνοιαν as critical thinking.

Hansen: One Nebraska state senator’s long, hard journey from death penalty backer to execution opponent - Matthew Hansen

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust

Post Humus

Scatter my ashes in my garden
so I can be near my loves.
Say a few honest words,
sing a gentle song,
join hands in a circle of flesh.
Please tell some stories
about me making you laugh.
I love to make you laugh.

When I've had time to settle
and green gathers into buds,
remember I love blossoms
bursting in spring.
As the season ripens
remember my persistent passion.

And if you come in my garden
on an August afternoon,
pluck a bright red globe,
let juice run down your chin
and the seeds stick to your cheek.

When I'm dead I want folks to smile
and say, "That Patti, she sure is
some tomato!"
                                                   -Patti Tana

The last line of this poem always makes me smile.  A little humor in the midst of grief combined with an affirmation of life in spite of death, it's much appreciated.  (If you click on the title of the poem it will take you to the poet's website, and you'll be able to listen to her reading of the poem.)

The architect Katrina Spade has an idea that goes several steps beyond scattering the ashes of the dead in a garden.  Click on the last word in this sentence and the link will take you to a podcast of The Current, during which Spade lays out her proposal regarding composting the dead.

My family has my permission to compost me.  I love the idea of turning into earth. Granted, I don't dwell on the bugs and worms part of the decomposition process.  Instead I imagine the final product, the rich, nutrient-filled top soil; so necessary for the flourishing of life. Contributing to that end, even after my end, feels true.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Meditate On These Things

"Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies."  Phil 4:8,9 (The Message)
Heard Dr. Rick Hanson speak on a City Arts and Lectures broadcast.  His story of learning to linger on small, positive moments reminded me of Paul's admonition to meditate on virtues.  The apostle doesn't tell readers how to practice this meditation, so try Dr. Hanson's HEAL method and see if it helps you fill up on God's most excellent harmonies.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fair Debt Collection Practices

The Federal Trade Commission has information on its website about  fair debt collection practices--

Debt Collection
File a Complaint if you are being harassed by a debt collector

If your municipality has turned over your fine to a debt collection agency that then charges you exorbitant interest rates, court costs and legal fees, know that you are not alone.  Unfortunately, many citizens are caught in the same situation.  The injustice of this practice is galvanizing opposition against it, and calls for reform are growing louder.  This is a systemic evil that keeps people trapped in poverty, not an individual failing on your part, and it requires a systemic reform through political action.

Efforts to reform municipal court debt collection practices in Missouri are already underway.  For the sake of the least of these, I pray that these efforts will be successful and will set an example that the rest of the states follow.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Municipal Violations

If you've read John Wesley biographies, then you know that as a graduate student Wesley ministered to those in debtors prison.  That ministry took many forms including preaching, Bible study, offering the sacraments, prayer, and raising funds to secure a prisoner's release.

The US has its own form of debtors prison, and as Wesleyans we can draw inspiration from our founder's example and work with organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center to protect people from excesses fines for minor violations.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

How to Pray

Prayer advice from E. Stanley Jones:

1. First of all, have the prayer hour

Sacredly keep it.  Build the habits of your life around that prayer hour.  Make things fit into it, not it into things.

2. In the beginning of the prayer hour be silent.

Let your mind relax and let it roam across your life to see whether it stops at anything wrong.  If so, tell God you will right it.  Let the first moment be a sincere moral search.  If nothing is shown to be wrong, then, "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God."  We are ready for bold praying.

3.  Bathe your thought in the Word.

God's Word will wash the dust from your eyes.  Then you will see, have insight.  You will get right attitudes through the Word, so you will pray right prayers.  You are pulling your thoughts up alongside of His thought, your purposes up to His purposes.

4. Take a pen or pencil with you and write down what comes to you as you pore over the Word.

That pen is the sign of your faith that something will come.  And it will. Don't hurry through that Word.  Every word is precious.  Pause, assimilate.  When a man hurries through a wood, he sees few birds or animals.  They hide.  But if he sits down and waits, then they come out.  It will be so with you.

5. Take obedience with you into that hour.

You will know as much of God, and only as much of God, as you are willing to put into practice!  For God will answer many of your prayers -- through you.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Prayer: active or passive?

More reflections on prayer from Victorious Living by E. Stanley Jones:
. . . . prayer is not bending God to our wills--it is the bringing of our wills to God's.   When we throw out a boat hook and catch hold of the shore, do we pull the shore to ourselves?  Rather we pull ourselves to the shore.  Prayer does not pull God to us, it pulls us to God.  It aligns our wills with His will, so that He can do things through us that He would not otherwise have been able to do.  An almighty Will works through our weak wills, and we can do things all out of proportion to our ability.  Prayer is, therefore, not overcoming God's reluctance; it is laying hold of His highest willingness.  Those who pray link up with that willingness.   
After reading this passage, I tried to visualize a boat being pulled closer to shore.  I was in a little row boat, and God was using a rope tied to the boat to pull me in to shore.  This wasn't the boat hook image that Jones mentioned.  His boat operator had used the hook to snag a piece of the shore.  I, on the other hand, passively sat in my boat feeling grateful that God was bringing me closer.

The idea that prayer moves us closer to God's will is very appealing.  My hope is that, once aligned with God's will, I would be more willing and able to cooperate with God's activity in the world.  If the kind of prayer Jones described can give me a greater insight into where God is active, then it's worth adjusting my current prayer routine and giving Jones' technique a try.

Identifying where God is acting is a challenge for me.  Often I end up hooking a shore, pulling as hard as I can, and finally arriving only to discover that where I've landed might agree with my plans, but it doesn't coincide with God's plan.

Sometimes it's best to pause, cease my efforts, and check my bearings.  During that pause, if God adjusts my course and pulls me in the right direction, then my passivity was beneficial.  (Admitting that inaction can be good, is an admission I make with great reluctance.)

What does your experience tell you?  Prayer as you reaching out and hooking God, or prayer as allowing God to hook you, which have you experienced, which do you prefer, and which was more effective?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What is Prayer?

In his book Victorious Living, E. Stanley Jones shared this description of his experience of prayer:
". . . I mean that my lesser spirit can come into intimate, personal contact with the Spirit called God, that I can come to a common understanding with Him, can adjust my will to His will, and through the contact can find my personality heightened, enlightened, re-enforced, used.

. . . I have gone to my knees broken, all in, defeated, and have arisen, re-enforced, new and victorious.  Everything within me said I had met God."
This morning I went to prayer feeling overwhelmed with my to-do list.  Prayer did not reduce the list.  It's still burdensome, but its weight is not as great.  I turned to God in prayer, and God pushed back against the stress.  It was as if God gave me a little more breathing room.  Just enough extra space so that I can go into the day with an improved attitude.

Based on my experience, I would add to Jones' list the word "expanded".  Through prayer-contact we can find enlightenment, re-enforcement, and expansion.

May you make contact today.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Loving our Enemies: advice from the Buddhist tradition

This is a podcast from the radio show "On Being".  Two Buddhist teachers give practical advise on how to cultivate a loving attitude towards enemies.  Their advise is more psychological than religious and thus easily translated into a Christian perspective.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

44% of Nebraska public school students are low-income

The report is posted on the Southern Education Foundation website.  The Washington Post coverage of the report is available here.  When you teach on "the least of these" from Matthew 25, this report will provide you with current examples of who the least among us are in American society today.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Relaxed Spirit

Photo by Rev. Dr. Jane Florence.
Some reflections from this morning's Baptism of the Lord Sunday.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

In Praise of the Church Committee

This is a sermon I preached in 2006 on the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost.  The references to the Enron scandal are now dated.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of current scandals from which to choose if you want to deliver a similar message on July 26, 2015.