Cuts, Band Aides, and Rehearsing Pain

A couple of days ago my oldest son cut his back while playing outside.  It seemed deep enough to warrant the cut being cleaned out and a band aide.  Now, my son doesn’t deal too well with the thought of pain.  He freaks out if he knows pain might be coming.  He asked if it would hurt when I cleaned it. I told him that it was only water but that it might hurt a little.  He started to freak out and kept on saying, “This is going to hurt. This is going to hurt.”  This seemed like an opportune time for some wisdom.  I said to him, “Don’t feel the pain before it happens. Maybe instead of telling yourself how much this is going to hurt, you should tell yourself that you can do this.”  He started repeating, “I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.”  After we had finished he told me that it didn’t hurt at all.  Funny how that goes. He built up the pain in his head for no reason.

How many times do we feel the pain before it happens?

It’s not just physical pain, but emotional pain as well.  Have you ever just kept on telling yourself something bad is going to happen in a relationship? Have you ever preemptively pushed someone away because you believed they were going to hurt you? Or, pushed someone away because you believed you were going to hurt them? Have you ever avoided potential conflict because you rehearsed how bad it could go?  Have you ever not enjoyed a moment because you didn’t want to be disappointed later? Are you always waiting for the other shoe to drop?

I believe this is a way of feeling pain before it happens.

Brené Brown in her book, Daring Greatly, writes, ““We’re trying to beat vulnerability to the punch. We don’t want to be blindsided by hurt. We don’t want to be caught off guard, so we literally practice being devastated or never move from self-elected disappointment.”

So, while I try to pass wisdom to my children, I have to remember to listen myself.

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I am unable to sing some hymns.

Yesterday we sung Amazing Grace during communion. I’ve sung that song hundreds of times: weddings, funerals, church services, and in my own head. And Today I was reminded of something that I wish was not true.

There are some hymns I am unable sing.

It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I am physically unable to. I get choked up, tears well up in my eyes, my voice goes silent. I can’t sing the hymns. They resonate too deeply in my soul. They speak too much for me and my experiences of joy, pain, and hope.

So, I thought I’d share verses from two hymns that get me every time.

1. Amazing Grace

“Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.”

2. When Peace Like a River

“And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.”

Do you have any songs you are unable to sing?

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C.P.E., Starbucks, and the need for control

While interning as a hospice chaplain (C.P.E.), one of the requirements for ordination, I also worked at Starbucks to earn a little money. This made for some interesting days and nights. Often I would go straight from the bed of a dying person to having to handle customers that were less than ideal.

One day I was visiting a younger man who was dying of cancer. He was declining in health and was scared. He thought an emergency room could help him, but through conversations with his doctor and nurses, I learned that only medication could be adjusted, nothing could in fact be done. I had to tell him that the reason for his decline was because he was dying. It was one of the hardest conversations I have ever had with someone. When I left his room I went straight to Starbucks to start my shift.

Most people that came into my store were great people. I developed relationships with some of them. It was especially great to get to know the parents, kids, grandparents, that all came into the same store.

When I had left my young cancer patient I went to work making coffee. There was a man who came in and was particularly agitated because we did not have vanilla powder at the bar. As usual, I would apologize, explained that we had some on order, and that it should be here the next time he came in. This, however, was not good enough for him. Well, considering the day I had, I had no sympathy left in me. It soon did not become about the vanilla powder at all, but about having power over another. I remained professional but unwilling to cower. He ended up calling the regional manager about this “incident.” I had nothing to fear because I did nothing wrong.

It’s interesting how having to sit with people who are dying and then hearing people complain about vanilla powder puts life into perspective. Both my cancer patient and my customer both wanted to have control over their lives. And both had no control whatsoever.

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Sermon: The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-34)

Sisters and brothers today in our gospel reading we have the mother of all parables. Today’s parable is probably the most widely known, I would bet that most people here could probably recite, at least part it, from memory.

So, to recap, there is a sower that has see fall on four different types of soil. The common understanding, from what I can tell, is that the sower is supposed to be God, the seed is supposed to be faith, and the soil is supposed to be humanity. Are we all on the same page here?

Sower, God. Seeds, faith. Soil, us.

4 Types of Soil

First, there are seeds that fall along the path. Poor seeds never had a chance. Compact dirt that people are constantly walking on doesn’t even make the see have a chance to make into the ground. Even if they did make it into the ground, that dirt is not good for growing anything. Birds quickly came and ate them up.

Some might describe this as people who are hard hearted to the gospel. Faith, the seed, has nothing to hold on to. The Faith has no soil, no community, nothing to help cultivate it.

That is the problem with the path, it get’s trampled by others. It doesn’t even have a chance. I’ve known some people who didn’t have a chance. I’ve known people who were like the path were the seed fell and birds came and quickly ate it up. Jesus says that with this kind of soil Satan comes and snatches it away.

The second one, the second place that the seed falls is on rocky ground. It at least has the opportunity to grow. It at least knows what the soil feel like, even though it’s shallow. This is like a flower growing in the crack on the cement. This is a plant springing forth from cracks in the rocks. They can grow, but, inevitably, they are doomed. The plant grows a little bit, but eventually it hits the rock and can’t grow anymore. The crop can only get so far. Jesus says that these are the people who initially receive the gospel with joy, but when bad stuff comes along, well, their faith quickly whither and dies. I’ve known people who have been like this type of soil.

Well, we move onto the third soil. It looks good, but you don’t know it’s bad because it has had thorns sown with it. It looks like good soils and yet it’s not. The plant grows and blooms and eventually moves forward, but the thorns grow too. The thorns slowly begin to choke the life out of the crops that the sower scattered. Eventually the crop dies because the thorns have killed them. Jesus says that these are the people who care too much what the “world” can offer, allure of wealth desire for stuff. It can chokes the life out of them. I have definitely known people like this soil.

But then, we get to the fourth! The fourth is the good soil, and it produces more than could ever be imagined. It produces more than expected; 30, 60 100 times more than expected. This type of soil produces so much crop that it seems to make up for all the soil that didn’t produce. Interesting.

Thoughts on the Soil

When I reflect on the different types of soil, I think that I’ve known people who were all types. I have known people who were both bad and good soil. I have known folks who were no ready for the gospel or just had other things going on. The reason I know this, is because I have been each type of soil. In my life I can see moments where I can identify myself with each soil Jesus is describing.

It seems to me that the soil is the problem here folks, not the seed, not the sower, but the soil. So, what can be done about the soil. What is the prescription for making the soil better? Well, if you look at the scripture today, it’s not more seed and it’s not more of the sower sowing. No, actually, in this parable, it seems to only give a description of the soil, not a prescription for becoming better soil. Let me say that again. This parable gives a description of the soil, not a prescription for becoming better soil. I am unable to give you a prescription for becoming better soil. I can’t give you any ways that you cannot be like the path, the rocky ground, or the thorny ground, because the parable doesn’t give any advice on how to do it.

It makes me think, since we are not given a prescription for becoming better soil, maybe this parable is not about the soil at all? Maybe in describing the soil, it’s only mean to be a description of our reality? Let me say this again. Maybe the focal point of this parable is not the soil.

The Sower

 If it’s not about the soil than maybe it’s actually a parable about the sower. I didn’t grow up on a farm and have only been to a couple in my life. Farmers know their land intimately. They know what good soil and what bad soil look like. They know when to plant and when to harvest. They have the rhythms of the season down.

But honestly, the sower in this parable seems to be a little off. The sower sows seed everywhere. I can’t imagine any good farmer going out and just scattering seed haphazardly on everything that the farmer sees. I can’t image a good farmer scattering seeds on a path, or in rocky ground, or even among thorns. It’s the farmer’s business to scatter the see where it will grow.

But, really, that’s not this farmer. The farmer is so extravagant, so reckless, so foolish, as to scatter the seed everywhere. Even in places where he knows it won’t grow. He doesn’t judge the ground. He doesn’t decide if it’s useful, he just scatters the seed. He doesn’t see if the ground is worthy. He just does it.

And that, my friends, is what God is like. God loves humanity so much, all of humanity so much, that he did not send his only son to die for a few, but for all. God is so foolish as imagine that God would sow seed where it would never grow and because God loves us so much, God sows it anyway. That is grace. That is unmerited favor. And to us it looks reckless and foolish and we can’t totally understand that kind of grace. But, there it is.

I believe the sower is the point of this parable. The sower is the one we have to look at. We could spend the rest of our lives meditating and being grateful for the extravagant love that the sower has for us. We could spend the rest of our lives trying to comprehend what God’s grace is to all of humanity. The kind of love that God has for us frees from having to judge others. We are free from putting ourselves in the position of God, determining who is a good and faithful Christian and who is not.

Sisters and brothers we spend so much time judging the soil. We spend so much time judging other people and why they are the way they are. We love to talk about the soil. We love to think that we are the good soil and everyone else is something else. This actually is not the way of Jesus. Luther wrote in his explanation of the third article of the Apostles creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” We can’t judge soils friends.

Maybe the world needs a God who is so caught up in scattering seeds of faith that it almost looks foolish. Maybe what the world needs is a God who is so extravagant in God’s love for us that this God would do something so foolish as to die for us. I Corinthians says, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.” Maybe what we need is a little less judgment and a little more grace.

Brothers and sister you are free. You are free to love yourselves and others. You are free to look to the sower who sows liberally, who sows generously, who sows foolishly. Be of good cheer, God has overcome the world with God’s grace through Jesus Christ. There is nothing that you can do about it. Amen.



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Great Expectations

2015 was not the best year for me.  Major life changes disrupted the norms of daily connectivity.  Relationships changed.  Life Changed.  I am beginning to truly understanding, deep within my bones, that my life is not turning out like I expected it to. Maybe I’m not in control like I thought I could be?

So, now that life is not turning out like I thought, what do I do now?  My first goal of the new year is to try and be present to God, myself. and my children. Not necessarily in the particular order. I’m going to work on mindfulness.  So, how does that work?  I’ll let you know at the end of the year.  But the first is trying not to plan too much or to worry about the future.

I’m starting to have some more time on my hands only having my children half-time, so I thought that I might pick up blogging again. We’ll see if this lasts.

I do like to take something on for the New Year. Something fun.  This year I have decided that I want to take on making a few cocktails. The first will be an Old Fashioned. I think I’ll also make a Martini, Gin & Tonic, and a Manhattan. We’ll see how it goes.

All of that to say, I still have hope, faith, and believe in love. I am hope full about the future. I have great expectations about what life will bring.


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I Kicked Jesus Out Of Church

So, I kicked Jesus out of church a few Sundays ago. He was in the form of a woman begging at the door of the church. We don’t often get beggars in the front of our church. He was also in the form of the 4 year-old child next to the woman. Jesus spoke with what I think was a Russian accent and was probably in her 30s. Jesus held a sign that asked for food, money, or a job.

I felt uncomfortable because the congregation shouldn’t be bothered by this woman on a Sunday morning. Didn’t she know that we support all kinds of ministries that help people like her? Didn’t she know that we help the Contra Costa Food Bank? I told her that she couldn’t beg in front of this church. When she said she was hungry I told her to come to worship and come back later during our coffee hour. I then remembered that we have a bin full of food for the food bank. I told her to wait and I would get some food for her. But, I think that I scared Jesus off, because when I came back with food and she was gone. I felt horrible. Jesus, please forgive me for kicking you out of church. I hope you come back.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me. –Matthew 25:40

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Worship Music And Knowing Your Audience

The first time I ventured out of a Roman Catholic church was when I decided to go to a large baptist church right outside of my house.  I remember that the high school age kids had their own worship service aside from the adults.  There were probably 100 kids in the service. I’ll never forget what happened when the pastor took the stage and said, “Let’s begin with prayer.” I, being a Catholic, knew that when you prayed you stood. So, when the pastor invited us to pray I stood up and bowed my head. It took me a second to realize that I, in fact, was the only person standing. Everyone else had their head bowed and eyes closed. I don’t think they saw me, thank God!

I was reminded of this misstep in worship this week during the ELCA National Youth Gathering in Detroit. It seems to me that most of the kids don’t understand contemporary worship because their churches don’t really do it. So, it becomes a semi awkward rock concert.

There was this point during some of the singing that one of the leaders was prompting the kids to just sing praises to Jesus.  She began impromptu singing. I recognized this from my days as an Evangelical.  I remember being led in this during my time in San Diego. Everyone would just start singing a song that welled up in their hearts. I would bet that most of the kids have never experienced this before. So, when she was prompting them, no one did anything.

I don’t want to judge the merits of doing worship that way. I have obviously cast my lot elsewhere.  I do think that it was out of place and made me feel a little awkward. I wonder if there is a way for the music leaders at the gathering to better understand their audience?

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