Tattoo Truths

John 1: 1-18  – The Second Sunday following Christmas – for January 5, 2014

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

The light shines in the darkness...
The light shines in the darkness…

I promise to write the truth, but muddle the facts.

I’ll try, and try is all I can do, to honor the old scripture that inspired me, and the new story that also inspired me.

Scripture (the easy part) first . . . The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. That’s the fifth verse of the first chapter in the fourth Gospel. These are words within the eloquent opening of John. They are more poetry than prose, more theology than history; they are forever an inadequate and yet honest description of, and declaration about, Jesus’ ministry.

I have opened my Bible to this passage on the coldest, darkest days of December, most often near midnight on Christmas Eve. In a sanctuary, dim and expectant, I’ve shared these words with strangers, friends, family and visitors, all crowding the pews, their hands gripping a simple, singular wax candle. They await permission to light that candle and to celebrate the birth of Christ. First, they hear words. First they sing carols. First they squirm, uncomfortably sitting too close to people they’ve never met or contentedly resting on the shoulders of persons they’ve longed to spend these moments with. At some point, as the proclaimer of good news, I’ll whisper enough prayers, quote enough scripture, and finally invite them to light those expectant candles.

One light becomes many; a symbol flickers and expands. If only for a few seconds, with none of us strangers, we will all feel brave enough to believe in the light of Christ that shines into the darkness. Continue reading →

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Jesus Is Getting A Good Deal

Luke 9:51-62  – The 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, June 30, 2013

“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go…’” (Luke 9:57)

And I still can’t imagine following any other path.
And I still can’t imagine following any other path.

In 2007, when I left the church I’d served for nearly nine years, I usually mentioned two reasons for waving “good-bye.”

First, I was spending less and less time with my wife.

Yes, we loved and supported each other. In a typical year, we took vacations, worked on home and yard projects and regularly shared about the day’s events. But an average week meant I was gone for three, four and even more nights in a row—gotta love church meetings! Funerals or weddings occupied many Saturdays. Sundays, which felt like they arrived every other day, saw me depart early and return late to either collapse into a loooong nap or prepare for the next commitment. My wife teaches and so Christmas and Easter were her winter and spring breaks. Not me . . . O Little Town of Bethlehem, Christ is Risen Today!

Paul Dirdak, a clergy colleague in my California-Nevada United Methodist region, once told a curious layperson how busy his day had been. Paul listed the sermons he’d preached, the amount of travel time between multiple meetings at different locations, the phone calls made and received and so forth.

When Paul took a breath, the layperson said, “Well, young fella, I guess Jesus is getting’ a good deal with you today.”

Yeah . . . sometimes it seemed like Jesus always got a good deal with my time, energy, commitment, faith; my day-to-day, week-to-week, Advent-to-Easter-to-Advent world.

Writing was the second reason for my fond farewell.

The seventy plus hours of weekly work consumed all available time for writing. Though I may forever be a pre-published, post-pubescent novelist, I want and need to write. I believe filling in a blank computer screen with sentences represents part of my call to sharing the good news. For the sake of argument, let’s say writing is like a favorite dessert at the church potluck. Church had become a herd of hungry kids just ahead of me in the serving line. By the time I arrived at the desserts section, the homemade cookies and fresh apple cobbler had vanished into teenaged tummies. All that remained was a fork-poked slice of store-bought coconut crème pie. I can’t stand coconut.

There was a third reason for limping away from full-time church. I don’t often mention it; it’s mostly kept in my soul’s secret place. Continue reading →

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Ash Wednesday: Strangeness Abounds

(My lectionary-based reflections are typically posted about two weeks before the Sunday scheduled for the Bible lessons. But with Ash Wednesday this week, I’ve tossed in an essay to honor Lent’s official beginnings.)

ash-wednesday+(from+stanthonyfresno.org)Nobody cares.

Which is not true, since statements with “nobody” or “everybody” (therefore meaning absolutely no one or including every single person) are rarely accurate.

But it’s true enough!

Ah, what does “nobody” care about?

Ash Wednesday and Lent.

Lent?

With Ash Wednesday on February 13, Easter’s official preparations begin. Lent is an artificial creation of the Christian church to help believers “cleanse” themselves before arriving at the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Traditionally this cleansing, this getting “right with God,” has emphasized personal sacrifice.

But it is an artificial creation. For Christians, there are no Biblical mandates to set aside the 40 non-Sunday calendar days before Easter for personal sacrifice. In fact, there’s no real “date” for Easter in the Bible either. And further, note how that second sentence in this paragraph was so confusing? Go ahead, say it out loud:  40 non-Sunday calendar days before Easter. Huh?

Who cares! Who can understand all this add-on junk for Jesus? Continue reading →

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