A Prayer for Super Bowl Sunday

Today is the day on which people in the U.S. consume more food and alcohol than on any day except Thanksgiving. Celebration. Getting together with friends. Being reminded of all that unites us and draws us together… Embracing commercials and commercialism. Bread and circuses are entertaining, and fill you for a little while.

And yet…

Today in Syria the bombs still fall.

And today in Guatemala… the maras.

And today in Yemen… drone strikes.

And today in Nigeria… Boko Haram.

And today in New York City… #blacklivesmatter

And today in Paris… the 19th arrondissement.

And today in Englewood… Hamilton Park.

And today in Kolkata… Songachi.

And today in Rio… Complexo do Alemao.

And today in Freetown… Kroo Bay.

And today in my neighborhood…

Alcohol abuse. Violence against women. Isolation. Systemic violence. Oppression. Marginalization. Oppression. Depression. The search for meaning. Hopelessness. Apathy. Exhaustion.

And into this world we wade – committed to doing the hard work of love, of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of listening, of sharing, of connecting, of reaching out, of listening to those we want to ignore, of avoiding simplistic narratives and attempts to other…

“There is something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.” ~ Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We look for beauty. We notice the image of God in all people. And we search for God in all things. In the darkness… and in the spotlights… with trust that if we keep looking for God, God will find us. And maybe we will find that God has already found us, even before the looking began.

A Prayer for Super Bowl Sunday
~ Walter Brueggemann

The world of fast money,
and loud talk,
and much hype is upon us.
We praise huge men whose names will linger only briefly.

We will eat and drink,
and gamble and laugh,
and cheer and hiss,
and marvel and then yawn.

We show up, most of us, for such a circus,
and such an indulgence.
Loud clashing bodies,
violence within rules,
and money and merchandise and music.

And you – today like every day –
you govern and watch and summon;
you glad when there is joy in the earth,
But you notice our liturgies of disregard and
our litanies of selves made too big,
our fascination with machismo power,
and lust for bodies and for big bucks.

And around you gather today, as every day,
elsewhere uninvited, but noticed by you,
those disabled and gone feeble,
those alone and failed,
those uninvited and shamed.
And you whose gift is more than “super,”
overflowing, abundant, adequate, all sufficient.

The day of preoccupation with creature comforts writ large.
We pause to be mindful of our creatureliness,
our commonality with all that is small and vulnerable exposed,
your creatures called to obedience and praise.

Give us some distance from the noise,
some reserve about the loud success of the day,
that we may remember that our life consists
not in things we consume
but in neighbors we embrace.

Be our good neighbor that we may practice
your neighborly generosity all through our needy neighborhood.

Josh and Melissa

josh and meli

 

Dear Josh and Melissa,

So you’re getting married this evening…

Know that I’m thankful for your friendship these past few years – for small group, and worship, and prayer.  For coffee conversations, and dinners on the patio, and the steady diet of ideas, music, silliness, laughter, and joy…

It’s been a delight to see your love grow – the way you make each other come alive, the spark in your eyes on catching sight of the other.  Praying you hold onto that over the years as your love deepens and matures, and as you continue on this journey together.

Praying your love will create a space for beautiful things to grow, for God’s kingdom to be extended in new ways and spaces…
Praying for patience, for grace, for joy, for laughter…
Praying for protection of this relationship, that you are able to keep God as the foundation on which you build the structure of your life together…
Praying that you are reminded today and every day of all those who love you and have come from near and far to celebrate you, to encourage you, and to support you in your commitment to God and to each other.

You are both loved.

Thanks for inviting others in to celebrate with you today…

Can not wait…  Now let’s get the party started…

A prayer for MLK day

photo (3)



Martin Luther King Jr.

Some of us are old enough to remember
      the balcony in Memphis,
      the sanitation workers' strike,
      the shot that broke flesh,
      the loss of Martin,
            and then the mule-drawn wagon,
                          and the funeral,
            and the riots, the violence, the fear,
                          and the failure.

All of us know the crowd in D.C.
     and "I Have a Dream,"
     the Birmingham jail,
     the broad stream of violence,
       and his steadfast nonviolence
                      in Albany and
                      in Skokie and
                      in Selma.

All of know his awesome, daring speech,
     his bravery, his hope, and his generative word.
And we know the relentlessness of our government
     in pursuit of him
    and the endless surveillance and harassment
                           of this drum major for justice.

At this distance, we have little access
     to how it was then concerning ambiguity
              and fear
              and reluctance
              and violence
              and injustice.

We do not doubt that you have persisted
     even beyond Martin's passion,
     even beyond Martin's brilliance,
     even beyond Martin's fidelity, and
                         his loss.

We do not doubt that through him and beyond him,
     you, holy God of the prophets,
          are still pledged to justice and
                                      peace and
                                      liberty for all.

We remember Martin in gratitude...
                      and chagrin.
And we pledge, amid our stressed ambiguities,
              to dream as he did,
              to walk the walk
              and to talk the talk of your coming kingdom.

We pledge, so sure that your truth
    will not stop its march
        until your will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

From Prayers for a Privileged People ~ Walter Brueggemann

Celebrating Epiphany

Today, January 6, was the last of the 12 days of Christmas – the end of the season of Christmastide. This is the day we remember the visit of the Wise Men from the East, and in a broader sense, the revealing of Jesus to the non-Jewish community and the reminder that the Kingdom of God is open to all, no matter their tongue, tribe, or nation. Brian Zahnd mentions that after the Magi encountered Jesus, they went home another way… And therefore Epiphany is the day that we celebrate the truth that an encounter with Jesus will always lead us to take another way – a NEW way.

At Epiphany, we celebrate once more the birth of Jesus – the gift of newness, the unexpected “thrill of hope” that shoots through us when new possibilities are revealed, new opportunities are before us, and new life springs up where before there was only death. Because of this, we have hope – and we are reminded once more that “He is making all things new…

Walter Brueggemann reminds us of what it means to celebrate this epiphany:

There is a time to be born, and it is now

There is a time to be born and a time to die.
And this is a time to be born.
So we turn to you, God of our life,
                   God of our years
                   God of our beginning.
      Our times are in your hand.

Hear us as we pray:
     For those of us too much into obedience,
          birth us to the freedom of the gospel.
     For those of us too much into self-indulgence,
          birth us to discipleship in your ministry.
     For those too much into cynicism,
          birth us to the innocence of the Christ child.
     For those of us too much into cowardice,
          birth us to the courage to stand before
               principalities and powers.
     For those of us too much into guilt,
          birth us into forgiveness worked in your generosity.
     For those of us too much into despair,
          birth us into the promises you make to your people.
     For those of us too much into control,
          birth us into the vulnerability of the cross.
     For those of us too much into victimization,
          birth us into the power of Easter.
     For those of us too much into fatigue,
          birth us into the energy of Pentecost.

We dare pray that you will do for us and among us and through us
     what is needful for newness.

Give us the power to be receptive,
     to take the newness you give,
     to move from womb warmth to real life.

We make this prayer not only for ourselves, but
     for our school at the brink of birth,
     for the church at the edge of life,
     for our city waiting for newness,
     for your whole creation, with which we yearn
          in eager longing.

There is a time to be born, and it is now.
    We sense the pangs and groans of your newness.
    Come here now in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

From Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth Prayers of Walter Brueggemann

For birth is not easy. It is painful. Frightening. Unsettling. But it is worth it.

May we have the eyes to see that which longs to be birthed in our hearts and in our lives in this coming year, the courage to welcome it, and the grace to persevere…

A thrill of hope…

It’s a few days before Christmas, and I’m sitting at my parent’s home in front of a roaring fire on a dark winter’s night, sipping a glass of wine while listening to Christmas carols, writing and reflecting a little bit on this past year, and taking a break every now and then to mute the music and pull out the guitar and play a little… Tomorrow morning I’ll fly out of Chicago for sun, warmth, the ocean, the Cameron/Miller/Floyd/Smith/Temple clan, family time, and a big heaping scoop of crazy (with sides of laughter, games, pranks, and some of my favorite people in the world). While I love it, it often isn’t the most conducive to reflection, quietness, and solitude… And I wanted to take a few minutes to send out this “newsy-reflective-thoughtful Christmas-y letter,” to update you on life, ask for thoughts and prayers, and reach out to many of you I haven’t touched based with in a while.

This past year has been formative in ways that I never would have imagined – but above all, it’s been a year that has been full of beginnings, of newness, of promise. However, usually things can’t begin until other things end. So while it’s been a year full of beginnings, it has also been a year full of endings – of letting go, of surrender, of transition.

This year began for me when I was living in Philadelphia – at a time when I was trying to discern if the master’s program I was enrolled in was the correct one, and was a part of a sweet community and a life-giving church. Through prayer, listening, and reflection (as well as a healthy dollop of advice), I came to the conclusion that while the program itself was interesting, it wasn’t leading me anywhere. There was no end goal in mind as I meandered down the path, and while that might be OK at some points, I think I realized how staying there would have been simply me looking to stay with the familiar and known rather than to follow the direction that I wanted to go, the direction that I felt God was leading.

At the same time, a serious relationship I was involved in was coming to an end, and neither one of us (but probably more me) wanted to let go of it, even though it was what we had to do. After a complicated beginning, a long term friendship, and 8 months of long-distance dating, we were taking time apart to pray and listen to what we both really wanted, and what (if anything) we felt the Lord was saying to us.

It was a lot of endings to take in a short time.

Yet God was faithful through it all. And as these two things were ending, God was in the process of bringing new things into my life – new beginnings and possibilities – which resulted in a melancholy, confused, bittersweet mess at times.

Some of those new things include:

– beginning a master’s program in mental health counseling at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. This has been a great fit – loving the program, the professors, my fellow students, and am seeing a continued clarification of where I’m headed. At this stage, I’d love to be involved in some capacity working with children and adolescents who have undergone trauma (like many of our friends in Brazil). We’ll see what doors the Lord opens regarding that. And I’d also like to work with cross-cultural workers dealing with transition, adjustment, sustainability in vocation, etc. Trusting that those will come together in the right timing…

– moving into an apartment w/ 4 other amazing, quality guys in Chicago that has been loads of fun.

– feeling a sense of clarity and direction as I pursue something that is life-giving to myself and to others.

– finishing my first half-marathon (13.1 miles) in May.

– finding a new church community that has been a breath of fresh air in so many, many ways.

– connecting with friends both old and new in surprising ways.

– slowly acclimating to mid-Western winters again (I even went for a run this evening in 34 degree weather, and didn’t complain hardly at all!)

– a slow re-discovery of myself – who I am, who I want to be, the things that I want my life to be about, and what that looks like in the context of living once again in the United States.

I feel like in the last few months, I’ve slowly been coming to life again after a long time spent dormant – shut down and hibernating. It’s a great feeling – and there is such a sense of hope that I feel about the coming year, what God has been doing and will continue to be doing… I see his fingerprints all over the place when I stop to look closely, and am blessed, and excited, and hopeful (and honestly, pretty full to the brim of anticipation and expectation to see what it is that God will do next…)

As for the family… Dad and Heath are doing well – spending several months a year travelling and consulting with language programs, and the rest of the time doing so remotely from their home base in Rockford (where they can garden, be involved in our church, and enjoy hot water, electricity, and not having their bank account emptied by criminals in Columbia).

Kaitlyn is now living and working in San Diego as an OR nurse, and seems to be keeping herself busy (mostly with trips back up to the south bay area to connect with people… ok, well, one person really in particular.) I’m excited to spend a little time with her (and him), as I haven’t seen her since August when she was back here in the mid-west for a dear friend’s wedding.

Carly will be missing from our family celebration (boo!!!) as she’s once again teaching English in South Korea – and is unable to get time off to fly over for a couple of days. But she is loving it there for the most part (except for missing her family at the holidays), and has wonderful colleagues, friends, church, and community there that have really made it feel normal and home-like for her to be there. I treasured the adventures we were able to have this fall when she came back to the US for a few weeks.

Jon is back in Hawaii safe and sound (thankfully) after 6+ months of being deployed in Iraq… And I’m excited to sit down with him and play a bit, as we haven’t seen each other since last Christmas.

We’re all doing well though, and are grateful for your presence in our lives… =) more than words can say.

I’m feeling in so many ways the presence of Emmanuel – God with us – the promise that he will be and is present through all of our endings, and through all of our beginnings. And I want to leave you (and me) with a prayer for this coming year – to remind us all to be looking for the new things that are beginning in our lives – for no matter the stage of life we find ourselves in, I believe he is always doing a new thing. Let us have the eyes to see it.

"Help Me to Believe in Beginnings"

God of history and of my heart,
so much has happened to me during these whirlwind days:
   I've known death and birth;
   I've been brave and scared;
   I've hurt, I've helped;
   I've been honest, I've lied;
   I've destroyed, I've created;
   I've been with people, I've been lonely;
   I've been loyal, I've betrayed;
   I've decided, I've waffled;
   I've laughed and I’ve cried.
You know my frail heart and my frayed history -
and now another day begins.

O God, help me to believe in beginnings
and in my beginning again,
no matter how often I've failed before.

Help me to make beginnings:
  to begin going out of my weary mind into fresh dreams,
    daring to make my own bold tracks in the land of now;
  to begin forgiving
    that I might experience mercy;
  to begin questioning the unquestionable
    that I may know truth;
  to begin disciplining
    that I might create beauty;
  to begin sacrificing
    that I may accomplish justice;
  to begin risking
    that I may make peace;
  to begin loving
    that I may realize joy.

Help me to be a beginning for others,
   to be a singer to the songless,
   a storyteller to the aimless,
   a befriender of the friendless;
to become a beginning of hope for the despairing,
   of assurance for the doubting,
   of reconciliation for the divided;
to become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed,
   of comfort for the sorrowing,
   of friendship for the forgotten;
to become a beginning of beauty for the forlorn,
   of sweetness for the soured,
   of gentleness for the angry,
   of wholeness for the broken,
   of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth.

Help me to believe in beginnings,
  to make a beginning,
    to be a beginning,
so that I may not just grow old,
  but grow new
each day of this wild, amazing life
  you call me to live
    with the passion of Jesus Christ."

Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace

I think we are continually being called into new things, if only we have the eyes to see them… may we be able to see the things that call out to us, that move us, that break our hearts, and not hide from them out of fear or uncertainty.

I heard a reflection the other day on Abraham and Sarah – who at the age of 75 and 66, left their country, their people, and their family. They traded that which was known for that which was unknown, and traded certainty for relationship, risk, and trust… They began something new, and out of their obedience and faithfulness, hope flowed and flowered. This is what they heard God saying to them, and this is what he says to us, each and every day:

“Do not be afraid of endings, or beginnings.
Follow me with abandon at every age
with the eager expectation that I can use your life for my purposes.

Risk often…
Never completely settle…
Be different…
Be mine…
And die gloriously,
attaching our story to the good story that God is telling…”

~ via Jacob’s Well (Isaac Anderson – “Birth”)

Believe in the beginning – in the new thing I am doing – in the fresh hope, life, and possibility I have placed in front of you…

Believe, and act, and be free…

—–

Praying that this new year is full of beginnings, hope, life, and freedom in ways that surprise and delight you…

with much love,

Ben