Love Songs

"I cannot hold up any book and say, ‘Here. This is what I believe.’ I do not know of any church where I would feel at home. But I do believe that what people call God refers to something real… I would even go so far as to say that this God of mine makes demands. To learn, to teach, to engage. To be aware of and respect the world around me. To acknowledge that there are things greater than myself and to be humble in their presence." — Dan Jackson

I spent last evening reading the faith statements….the creeds…of our confirmation class of 2008. These sixth graders have spent the past year getting to know one another, learning to work together, studying the Bible and the history of this tradition and generally learning to be the church. They have served in mission together, gone on retreat, and played tons of games and eaten lots of pizza.

This past weekend they went on retreat and talked about what they ‘believe’. What did you believe when you were eleven or twelve years old? Can you remember? Could you have written it down and then stood in front of an entire sanctuary full of people and read it?  am far from twelve but my stomach starts to get queasy at the thought. But this Sunday that is exactly what they will do.

I can tell you that there are some very deep thinkers in this group. There are also some fine writers and even a politician or two. Some write what they think they should and most all write from their heart. For this moment in time the words they have written will define the day and their enfolding into the community of this church, this time on their terms not just their parents’.

Two weeks ago when Bishop John Spong spoke in our sanctuary, someone asked him what he thought of the Apostle’s Creed. He said he had no problem saying this historic statement, words many can recite from memory. He said he didn’t have a problem reciting these words because ‘creeds are love songs.’ Now there was a statement that stopped me in my mental tracks. Love songs?

I’ve thought long and hard about that statement. I’ve spent more time reflecting on those words than perhaps anything else he said that morning and he made some mighty bold statements. The creed as love song captured my imagination. What might I say I believe to be my relationship with the Holy, Jesus, the Spirit, the church, if I were to think of it as a love song? I might say things like "I believe the Sacred is alive in every cell, every atom, every breath, every thing in ways known and unknown to me." or " I believe following the Way of Jesus is to walk the path of peace and unconditional love, no matter what." or "The church is the place where I come to know and be known in ways that nurture who I am as a child of God."
Or I might keep it simple and say, "I have given myself to the Love of Mystery and there is no turning back."

What love songs are living in your heart waiting to be written? What is your creed?

"The question does not lie with whether or not the Creed is believable. The Creed is about the mystery of life, and its mystery is apparent. The question is whether or not the Creed is meaningful to us, here, now." Joan Chittister, from In Search of Belief



"Earth is a Paradise, the only one we will ever know. We realize it the moment we open our eyes. We don’t have to make it a Paradise-it is one. We have only to make ourselves fit to inhabit it." Henry Miller

If you awake early in the morning and are able to take in the day at its birth, you will see it. This Paradise, waking up, or our human eyes and senses awakening to it. This morning I had reason to not only wake early which is my usual pattern, but to actually walk out into the day. I should say that,In general, most Minnesotans are crabby right now. Yesterday I stood at a soccer game in which I experienced snow,rain, brilliant sunshine and gloomy gray skies….all in the period of 90 minutes. This on-going hostage situation of Winter has us all a little testy.

So this morning as I traveled across the Mendota Bridge which spans the Minnesota River as it meets up with the Mississippi, I didn’t expect to be dazzled. And yet there it was. On one side of me the half Moon stood watch in the blue sky of morning. In my rear view mirror I could see an orangish-pink begin to color the misty horizon. I found myself suspended in the halo of these beacons of night and day. Later as I crossed the bridge back toward the East, the Sun was showing itself……a bright red ball of fire screaming: "Look at me! Look at me!"  My eyes were momentarily drawn away from its brilliance to the sight of at least a dozen wild turkeys, huge and glistening in the oily greenish black way they do, strutting their stuff on the side of a hill. All this before 6:30 a.m.

And so here I was, someone who yesterday said ‘to heck with you!’ at what seems like a god-forsaken land of never-ending gloomy weather. I had essentially ‘broken up’ with this land. Then this morning I was seduced once again by the remarkable beauty, the unmistakable wonder, the never-ending allure, of this world. This Paradise had once again shown up at my door with a bouquet of flowers, fluttering its eyes, flirting with me. I shrugged my shoulders and said, "O.K., you’re right. I love you." And we made up.

If you wake early, that’s what can happen. It might work the same if you stay up late and take in the flirtation of the descending nighttime. But the Sun does have a way to turn your head….and make you fall in love all over again.

"Do I not fill heaven and earth? says God." Jeremiah 23:24


"What I want is to leap out of this personality
   And then sit apart from that leaping-
I’ve lived too long where I can be reached."

Fanny Brice in the musical Hello Dolly! says: "Life is a smorgasbord and most poor fools are starving to death." Her impetus for making this remark is to encourage others to move out of their staid lives, to find the exciting, to take risks. It is a good challenge. I find it very easy to fall into the rut of a routine….make the coffee, read the paper. Why, I even like to read the sections of the paper in a certain order!

Following Fanny’s advice can, however, be taken to the extreme. For me the past few weeks have been a prime example. There have been so many things good going on in my life, in the community, especially in our faith community, that I feel as if I have been standing at the buffet line on a cruise ship…..constant, wonderful, delicious food…. consumed all the time. So much so that one of our community members came up to me Sunday and said:"You have to let us rest now." Of course, he said it with a satisfied smile on his face. All the choices people have been offered have been wonderful, inspiring, beautiful. But it is time to rest. I can feel it. As my mother often said:"It truly is possible to have too much of a good thing."

I was supposed to lead a retreat this weekend with two friends. We had worked on the plans, the material was rich using the simple cup as a metaphor for our lives, emptying, filling, overflowing. We were excited about it and it would have been a delightful experience. But unfortunately there were not enough signed up. Perhaps everyone needs a rest from all the good things that are happening.Perhaps their cups were too full.

At any rate I now find myself with the opportunity to slow down and to ‘sit apart from the leaping.’ It will, I know, take a bit of time to slow down to the speed of life. The weather may add just the perfect backdrop for slowing down, for resting. With the rain falling outside, the temperatures falling, it will create an atmosphere for going within, for being introspective. It may be just what is needed for a perfect retreat, a perfect rest.

In Wayne Muller’s book Sabbath he tells a traditional Hebrew tale. "Rabbi Levi saw a man running in the street, and asked him, "Why do you run?" He replied, "I am running after my good fortune!" Rabbi Levi tells him, "Silly man, your good fortune has been trying to chase you, but you are running too fast."

I am going to take off my running shoes now. I am going to sit down and stop leaping. I am going to watch the rain fall and think back to the richness of these past weeks….and count my blessings. Then I might have a nice nap.

May you have a restful weekend…………………


On Monday evening I was sitting in a meeting listening to a report from the chair of the Board of Trustees.In the course of listing all the many large and small tasks that had been done to maintain a large, aging, yet beautiful building, he said:"The architects facility review addresses concerns about the north sanctuary walls and so crack monitors were installed". My ears perked up. Crack monitors? What in the world are crack monitors? Upon further investigation I was told that they are like rulers glued over a crack in a structure and read monthly to determine whether a crack is changing.

What a concept! What a metaphor! I began to think of all the places where crack monitors are needed. I mulled over the situations that could have been so different if only a crack monitor had been installed before things broke apart. Perhaps most wars would never have started had this stop gap measure been in place.  I wondered if the United Nations has an equivalent of a crack monitor to alert them to times of action…..or inaction.  I thought of some of my past friendships that could have fared better had they had a ruler glued over the hurt caused by an ill spoken word. Perhaps that ruler could have shown the visible change in a precious relationship before the person drifted out of my life.

We move through our lives with ferocious speed, bumping into this, bouncing off that. Sometimes the fact that cracks are forming, growing, hurdling us toward a rent in the tide of our lives goes unnoticed. It is only when bridges collapse or buildings fall do we stop. Then our minds take the needed time to travel back, back and we begin to see that tiny little crevice that could have used some tending.

Where does your life need a crack monitor? How might the attention to the beginning of a problem prevent a devastating outcome? What small ruptures need tending?

I think tonight I may gather together all the extra rulers and glue and begin some important monitoring. Join me?

"O God of new beginnings, who brings light out of night’s darkness and fresh green out of the hard winter earth, there is barren land between us as people and as nations this day, there are empty stretches of soul within us. Give us eyes to see new dawnings of promise. Give us ears to hear fresh soundings of birth." J. Philip Newell, Celtic Treasure


I love learning new words. Over the weekend I happened to either hear or read several times the word "Dayenu", a Hebrew word. It is the title of a song that is sung at Passover celebrations around the world. The song, sung after the re-telling of the exodus story and right before the passover story,is very old and could seem to go on and on for all fifteen verses. But the repetition is really the point. Basically the word dayenu means" it would have been enough for us". The song begins " Had he brought us out of Egypt and not judged them, it would have been enough for us." It continues through the Hebrews delivery from slavery at the hand of Pharaoh, through the miracle stories of manna from heaven and parting the Red Sea, to the various ways of being with God in the world. Each statement outlines the Holy’s loving action ending with the words ‘it would have been enough for us’.

The concept of ‘enough’ is a tricky one for 21st century people, especially Americans.We are generally always looking for the next thing to do, to acquire, to become, to achieve, even in our faith lives. How do we even get our heads around the concept of enough? And to think of the humility that is at the core of this actually very upbeat little song, boggles the mind. To say to God:"Had you given us this precious day and invited us into it….that would have been enough." The words are bathed in a gratitude that is enormous.

Of course the concept of enough is a double edged sword. There are many situations in which we want to scream out ‘enough is enough’. When we see the ways in which people are being tortured, abused, oppressed in Darfur, Zimbabwe, Iran, Iraq, in so many places, ‘enough’ takes on a different meaning. When we see within our own city the devastation of families and homes as the housing foreclosure crisis continues to worsen, we wonder when someone will say, "enough". As United Methodists gather this week for our General Conference, those present will once again lobby and argue over the faithful or improper way to be the church. Some of these discussions make me want to shout ‘enough is enough’. So many situations bring out this side of enough.

But as our Jewish brothers and sisters gather for the Passover Seder, they gather to tell the story of grace that exists in the Presence of God that walks with each of us through history, through faith, through our lives. In singing this simple song they will take a moment to remember and to give thanks for the small and giant ways we are gifted. The underlying message is: all we have and all we are is a gift from the Creator and gratitude and awe are our response. It is a very positive, hopeful way of opening our hearts to the presence of God. May we each add our prayers of wonder and gratitude to this song…….and make it go on forever…….dayenu.

"Enough. These few words are enough. If not these words, this breath. If not this breath, this sitting here. This opening to the life we have refused again and again until now. Until now." David Whyte

Earth Day

It has been said that ‘every day is Earth Day’……or at least should be. I have a vague memory of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.  As a country we were involved in a energy crisis. Fuel costs were rising and more and more people began to see that we could not continue to consume in the ways we had been. We were engaged in a war that did not seem to be making much progress, whatever progress means in a war. There was great civil unrest, college campuses were rife with passion to change the ways things were going in our country. Teach-ins, love-ins, protests, marches…..the evening news were filled with them.

And along came Senator Gaylord Nelson who had long been an environmentalist, working for environmental awareness for nearly a decade.The senator from Wisconsin saw that the movement on campuses, the commitment of those who wanted change and were willing to work for it, provided just the kind of momentum needed to educate people about the threats to our Earth home. The first Earth Day saw more than 20 million people involved in teach-ins, marches, conversations, and lobbying for change. All that without the power of the Internet!

It has always been interesting to me that the church has most often been on the outside of the environmental conversation or even been a hindrance to it. The faithful have most often let the political realm lead the way.  How have we been so timid when the very words we claim to be sacred, those that guide our faith, begin with the story of the Creation of the Universe? Though the church has often come late to the table, we are now engaging in new ways, across theological, denominational and faith-traditional lines. It is good……very, very good.

Everyday is Earth Day. Every day it is our privilege to awaken and place our feet on the ground, this holy ground.  Everyday we walk out into the world, to be fed from the gift of the trees filling our lungs. If we open our eyes we are blessed by observing the miracles of the everyday….birds of the air, flowering plants, greening grass, water flowing from sky to river to lake to ocean. Our main reasons for being here are simple: be in awe, walk gently, take care, pass it on.

"Now we turn our thoughts to the Creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator. Now our minds are one." These words of the Iroquois Nation are a translation of a document that is more than 1000 years old.  We are gifted with many ancient,sacred teachings about our Earth home. We only need read and take them to heart.It is up to us to write the texts that will continue their wisdom into the future. May we have the same courage as Senator Nelson to keep at it until the momentum carries us away.

"God spoke: Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and yes, Earth itself." Genesis 1:28-29 The Message


"If you worried about falling off the bike, you’d never get on." Lance Armstrong

Let the biking begin! It seems the weather is finally nice enough for all the bikers who travel our street as a thoroughfare to places in southern Minnesota to be out and about in their colorful, Italian looking riding gear on their sleek, light weight bikes. I love watching them in the packs in which they travel….slim, determined, on-the-road to somewhere.

This year they have been joined by another biking group…..a group of 6-10 people on varying sizes of unicycles. Unicycles, the trick bike of circuses, being used as a mode of transportation. It is, I believe, a mind boggling flash of creativity. I have now seen them making their way around the circle of Cherokee Park, dodging traffic…or being dodged. On Friday, even in the light rain that fell, I saw a smaller group huffing up the High Bridge, far above the Mississippi River. What a sight!

These bikers are not outfitted in the matching spandex of their two-wheeled comrades. Instead they wear mismatched helmets, baggier shorts and fleeces, and carry backpacks on their backs.They create a curious sight. Is this a group of students or co-workers who have decided to protest the continually rising gas prices and make a scene on their way from one place to another? Or are they a group of would be parade performers simply honing their craft?

Whatever their intention when I see them I am lifted above the ordinary of my day. The unicycle is such a joyful sight…..a regular human being balancing on one wheel, back straight as a rod, focus on the horizon ahead, moving, moving, moving on. It is a great vision of balance, of determination. As someone who has enough difficulty making her way on a two wheeler, to think of traveling with only one seems nearly impossible.

Riding a bicycle is a wonderful metaphor for how we move in the world. If you’ve ever ridden a tandem bike you know that it requires the give and take, the following and leading,the ability to relinquish control you share in any relationship. It can bring out the best, and the worst, in people. I know this from experience. The two wheeled riders who travel in a pack always remind me of grounded flocks of geese as one rider moves ahead to break the force of the wind for the others, always riding extremely close for safety and companionship.

The unicyclists always seem to carry with them a hint of playfulness and joy, as if at any minute they could strip off their everyday clothes to reveal the clown clothes that lurk beneath. I hope they are having as much fun…..even while pedaling up the steep High Bridge… they illicit in me.

What about you? What kind of bike are you riding today? Do you need one wheel or two? Are you able to balance the load of your day while moving forward? Or is today a day when you need the power of someone else pedaling, allowing you to simply be along for the ride?

Whichever it is……remember to wear your helmet.


"Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where they all came from.
Everybody’s worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go when the whole thing’s done.
But no one knows for certain and so it’s all the same to me.
I think I’ll just let the mystery be."  Iris Dement

Earlier in the week I heard this song played on the Morning Show on MPR. It’s a song that is played with a sporadic regularity and always provides an opportunity for reflection…and a little chuckle.I have logged more than my share of hours in discussions/arguments with well meaning people about the subject of the song: Who am I? How was ‘it’ all created and who did the creating? What happens after we die? Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? How do we end up in one place or the other? I, in fact, was engaged in just such a conversation this past week with someone I didn’t really know, over one of the finest meals I’ve ever eaten. While interesting, fun and sometimes challenging, these questions, at least for me, never end in any certainty.

I recognize that certainty is very important for some people and I make no judgment about that. The other day I was sitting in my car next to another woman who had taken a bumper sticker and placed in on the sun visor of the driver’s seat. Every time she pulled the visor down to block the sun she was confronted with the words: Truth is not Relative: Truth is Truth. I was able to glimpse this…upside down…right before she pulled the visor to block the sunshine.I sat in my car after she drove off wondering about the impact of having those words in such close vision. What can that mean to her? What comfort does she derive from those words? What led her to put the words there where they were always in plain view? I pray the words bring her whatever she needs to live a full, healthy life.

As for me, I think I might be more comfortable hanging out with Iris Dement. We could sit around and talk about all the important and ultimate issues of life. We might have tea and mull over the many times we have experienced heaven right here, right now. As for me, I’ve been in heaven at least a dozen times this week. We might also speculate about hell….the times in our lives when darkness and despair was the food of our days. But hopefully we would put on our coats and head to our cars without much certainty coursing through our veins. Instead, we might look up at the night sky and see the sight of the Big Dipper twinkling away or look at the Moon with its haze of the last few nights. Gazing skyward we might smile and know, that for us, Mystery is just fine.

It promises to be a more springlike weekend. As I look out into our backyard, the tulips and the irises are growing despite the seemingly never-ending winter. Their bold green against the dull brown matted grass is a sight for sore eyes. Ah…..Mystery.

Keep your eyes wide open……


It seems I’m supposed to ‘detox’. I may have mentioned that I have this internal rule that if I see, hear or experience something three times, I’ve learned to pay attention. For instance if someone mentions a book I should read and then someone else asks if I’ve read that book and then I happen to open the paper and read a review of the book, I take it as a little nudge from the universe that I’d probably better read the book. It might seem like a goofy quirk to some but over the years it has worked for me.

Over the last several weeks, I keep coming in contact with the practice of ‘detoxing’ your body. I had a conversation with a friend last week who had done this flushing out of all the toxins that get into our bodies through a variety of means. Then I was at a co-op and was confronted with a display of detoxification powders, liquids and educational pamphlets. Finally day before yesterday, while at the exercise club, I saw a brochure from a local chiropractor that provided a checklist of symptoms a person might experience that could be relieved by detoxing. I looked over my shoulder as I picked it up. Is someone trying to tell me something?

Several years ago I started going twice a month to a massage therapist who helps me keep the stress in my life under control. Yesterday as I climbed onto her table I asked her about detoxification. She in turn asked me ‘what I needed to get rid of?" Good question. I then told her about how my hands were cold, it felt like the circulation wasn’t working as well as it should. And then I laid down and finally began to melt into the table as she worked on the stress points in my shoulders, neck, head and finally my very tense arms.
Wow! What have I been trying to hold onto…hold together…..fix…be in control of? As the muscles made their way back to the rightful position and elasticity, my hands warmed up and I felt the tension flow out of my fingertips onto the floor.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had this kind of experience. Coming to a realization of how you carry the stress and worries of your life literally within your body. I know people often carry stress in their back or even in their neck and sometimes in their voice. This stress leads to countless hours of pain, lost work and a less fruitful life. It seems to be a by-product of our fast paced, disconnected way of living.

And so it was with a smile that I opened the paper this morning to read the words of The Dalai Lama who visited Mayo Clinic yesterday for his yearly physical. Go figure….The Dalai Lama comes to Rochester, Minnesota for his health care! Of course, if anyone should be feeling stress right now, I’d say he has good cause. The eyes of the world are watching as China prepares for the Olympic Games and the people of Tibet live under oppressive rule. As the exiled leader of Tibet, he must have much on his mind. And yet when asked about his stress level, his ability to sleep well, he answered: "If there is no solution, why worry? If there is a solution, why worry?"

Maybe that’s all the detoxification I really need. Even though I have only read these words one time, I am paying attention. I just felt my arms relax.

"Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time, for it is not you who speak but the Spirit of God speaking through you." Matthew 10:19


"That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun."  Ecclesiastes 1:9

Yesterday was one of those days that simply flowed….or flew…from one thing to another. As quickly as one meeting would end, another one would begin. There didn’t seem a moment to catch my breath. Ever have one of those days?

It might not have been pleasant had I not started out the morning at a lecture on Process Theology at the Carondolet Center on the campus of the College of St. Catherine. Simply put Process Theology is a way of giving ‘faith to understanding’ that the movement and presence of God in the world is an unfolding, ever-moving, ever-evolving experience.  It is a way of seeing the world as creative, inter-relational, dynamic and open to the future. The first class I ever took on this subject, I had one of those ‘ah-hah!’ moments when I realized that someone much more intelligent and articulate had defined how I saw the world, God and myself. Those moments are rare and so I remember the class fondly. It was refreshing to reconnect with this school of thought and to be surrounded by some very inspiring people.

The speaker was very forth-coming about the problems of process thought to those who have a more classical theology. Questions like: If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, how can God also be ever-changing?  If God is good, why do bad things happen….why is there evil?  These are, of course, questions that have been around for a very long time. Depending on our life experience, our history, our faith tradition, we answer these questions differently.

The writer of Ecclesiastes was partly correct. There are certain life-stories that get played out over and over. The seasons come and go and come round again. There can be a certain ‘sameness’ to how the world works. But there is also this great possibility, this great potential, that resides at the center of each atom, each breath, each seed, each moment, each new day. How a cell chooses the way of health or the way of illness is beyond my ability to understand. How the Sun rises each morning is a miracle. My breath rising and falling in my lungs, my chest, is a gift. And this day, if lived in a Spirit of love and goodness, could have the potential to change the course of my life. Who knows?

Process thought would say that God does but not in a way that has God already having written the script for this day….already knowing the outcome. In this way of being present to the Holy, this well-lived intention toward goodness is more like a dance, a giving and taking, a leading and following, that propels me…you…us….forward toward a more hopeful future, one in which we co-create with God. This way of understanding faith and the Sacred is one that calls humans to a very high level of responsibility which can be challenging yet exciting.

I invite you to give it some thought. How does it fit for you? Does this help you speak of your faith experience, your way of being in the world? If so, I am thankful. If not, let it go.