To view 2022 year’s prose, click here
To view 2021 year’s prose, click here
To view 2020 year’s prose, click here
To view 2019 year’s prose, click here
To view 2018 year’s prose, click here
To view 2017 year’s prose, click here
Dear Vista Grande –
We are continuing our journey through the Hebrew Bible and on Sunday, we made a stop at the minor prophet of Hosea. I shared with all of you how the book of Hosea was a difficult one for me and I couldn’t find my way through my dislike for the premise of the book without some help, so I called a trusted friend and ministerial colleague who pointed me in the right direction (thanks to Jordan, pastor of our neighbor church, Beth-el Mennonite!).
I have been thinking a lot about what it means to have community. For some of us, we may have a circle of casual acquaintances who we know socially or are friendly with but who may not really know us. It’s a smaller group of people that we can call if we need help or when we are struggling – that takes more trust. Still smaller is the number of people who can hold us accountable, gently call us on our stuff, and remind us of who we are. My pastor friend was one such person for me this week and it was a powerful reminder of what it means to be part of a network of care.
This is a tough season for a lot of folks at Vista Grande – we have people in our midst who are hospitalized, recovering from surgery, or facing other health challenges. We have professional struggles and personal struggles. We have grief and impending losses. And those are just the ones we know about from the public sharing in joys and concerns. And all of these are against a backdrop of pain in our city, our country, and across the globe.
Culturally speaking, white Americans have bought into a belief that we have to go it alone. American Christianity (broadly speaking) doesn’t help when we concentrate on personal piety and personal salvation. God’s dream for the world, however, is much more about collective salvation in covenant relationship. Our faith is built on the belief that things are better when we are together, care for one another, and practice a different way of being than the dominant culture – one that rejects violence, hierarchy, and the extraction of labor and wealth.
Part of building the world as it can be is getting in touch with our own needs and vulnerabilities. It is an act of faith to ask for help. That’s where healing happens. In most of Jesus’s healing stories, someone who either was on the social fringes risked vulnerability to reach out to him and Jesus reached back. We can find ourselves in both roles of the story – we can simultaneously be the one who is reaching for help and, in embodying Jesus’s teachings, the one who reaches back and offers support and love.
No matter which position you are in, please know that Love is available to you – the love of God and the love of this community. If I can be of any support, please reach out to me via phone at 303-886-3149 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peace and tenderness to all of you at this time.
Greetings, dear ones –
Just after Elijah’s demonstration of the power of the God of the Covenant in front of the prophets of Baal, he flees into the wilderness, terrified for his life. It is there that he lays down beneath the broom tree and, just when he thought his only option was to die, he receives mystically tangible gifts of cakes and water that revive him.
I am betting I am not alone when I say that I am constantly navigating the poles of hope for the world as it could be and grief at the world as it is. And yet, like Elijah, it is when things seem the most dire and untenable that a sustaining gift miraculously makes itself known. I am able to keep putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to participate in God’s imagination for the world.
I often find this nourishment in poetry, which has a unique power to articulate the deepest longings of my spirit. So, this week, I want to leave you with this beautiful poem by Adrienne Rich entitled Dreams Before Waking. The last stanza is especially powerful.
Peace to each of you this week. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if I can be a support to you.
Dreams Before Waking – Adrienne Rich
the Shadow of a building
they are raising in the direct path
of your slender ray of sunlight
slowly the steel girders grow
the skeletal framework rises
yet the western light still filters
through it all
still glances off the plastic sheeting
they wrap around it
for dead of winter.
At the end of winter something changes
a faint subtraction
from consolations you expected
an innocent brilliance that does not come
through the flower shops set out
once again on the pavement
their pots of tight-budded sprays
the bunches of jonquils still with cold
and at such a price
though someone must buy them
you study those hues as if with hunger
like the day you come home
from work, a summer evening
transparent with rose-blue light
and see they are filling
the girders are rising
beyond your window
that seriously you live
in a different place
though you have never moved
and will not move, not yet
but will give away your potted plants to a friend
on the other side of town
along with the cut crystal
flashing in the window-frame
will forget the evenings
of watching the street, the sky
the planes in the feathered afterglow:
will learn to feel grateful simply for this foothold
where still you can manage
to go on paying rent
where still you can believe
it’s the old neighborhood:
even the woman who sleeps at night
in the barred doorway—wasn’t she always there?
and the man glancing, darting for food in the supermarket trash—
when did this hunger come to this?
what made the difference?
what will make it for you?
What will make it for you?
you don’t want to know the stages
and those who go through them don’t want to tell
You have your four locks on the door
your savings, your respectable past
your strangely querulous body, suffering
sicknesses of the city no one can name
Your have your pride, your bitterness
your memories of sunset
you think you can make it straight through
you don’t speak of despair.
What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing
each other’s despair into hope?—
You yourself must change it.—
what would it feel like to know your country was changing?—
You yourself must change it.—
Though your life felt arduous
new and unmapped and strange
what would it mean to stand on the first
page to the end of despair?
Oct 30 – Nov 4
Beloved partners and friends,
There is a beautiful quotation that has been floating around my social media feed – “the leaves are about to teach us how beautiful it is to let go.” I don’t know about the trees in your area, but the leaves had been hanging on until about two days ago when they all fell at once in a heap at the base of the big tree in my backyard. This time of year is sacred across multiple spiritual traditions and serves as an opportunity to take stock, grieve, and let go. In the Christian tradition, this is in the form of All Saints Day (where we give thanks for those who have gone before us) and All Souls Day (where we commend those who have died in the last year into God’s care).
I was recently put in mind of a quotation from rev. angel kyodo williams, a queer Black buddhist teacher that I respect immensely. She writes in her book Radical Dharma:
“Everything begins by leaving. People always ask about beginnings. We strive after newness, the shiny, the acquisition of possibility. A proxy for our own longing to begin anew on the journey of finding ourselves because we haven’t yet gotten there. What we don’t often ask is, “What made me choose me?” and “What had to end?” and “What got left behind?””
Stewardship season is a weird time to have a conversation about grief. While we often think of the newness and possibility of the coming year, the truth of the matter is that some of the changes as we grow our comfort zone may feel disruptive or even anxiety-inducing. You may be grieving things the way they were before. You may even feel like you don’t recognize yourself, the people around you, or church in these times because it feels so different than it once did. For those who have found VG from another faith tradition, the question ‘What made me choose me?’ may be an especially poignant one.
It may feel like a leap to celebrate endings as rev. kyodo williams suggests we might do. For now, let’s take this season to name them and treat what feels painful with the tender care it deserves. As Psalm 46 invites us, may we be still, trust that God is the God who is everpresent to be our refuge and strength. May we perceive the stream which flows through all of our lives, which makes us glad, even as everything feels like it is falling apart.
If a compassionate ear would be supportive to you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I would be honored to be a companion as you ask these questions of yourself and of God.
Dear Vista Grande –
This week, we observed the Feast of St. Francis, a day set aside every October to honor the more than human world and find our place within it. Poets and theologians from every land and tradition and nation have sought to describe their intuitive knowing – we are part of the web of creation and our thriving is bound up with the thriving of the rest of the world – human and creature alike.
I would like to present you with two poems – one, St. Francis’s Canticle of the Sun and the second, our most recent poet laureate Joy Harjo’s Praise the Rain. Notice what language they use, how they speak about nature and the created world, and what, if any, conclusions they come to. How are they similar? How are they different? What does each have to teach us?
Let me know what your thoughts are!
Together, with all of creation, singing,
Canticle of the Sun – St. Francis
Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessings.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention Your name.
Praised be You, my Lord, with all your creatures;
especially Brother Sun, who is the day, and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
and bears a likeness to You, Most High One.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night;
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.
Praise the Rain – Joy Harjo
Praise the rain; the seagull dive
The curl of plant, the raven talk—
Praise the hurt, the house slack
The stand of trees, the dignity—
Praise the dark, the moon cradle
The sky fall, the bear sleep—
Praise the mist, the warrior name
The earth eclipse, the fired leap—
Praise the backwards, upward sky
The baby cry, the spirit food—
Praise canoe, the fish rush
The hole for frog, the upside-down—
Praise the day, the cloud cup
The mind flat, forget it all—
Praise crazy. Praise sad.
Praise the path on which we’re led.
Praise the roads on earth and water.
Praise the eater and the eaten.
Praise beginnings; praise the end.
Praise the song and praise the singer.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
Beloved of Vista Grande –
We had an experience in worship yesterday that preached my sermon better than I could have hoped to and I want to bring it to you as a point of reflection. There are threads which entwine to weave an incredibly beautiful story that highlights the ‘squishiness’ of a just spirituality and its relationship with any edicts or commandments.
As you’re probably aware, in keeping with the spirit of Acts 2, we have been practicing a ‘two way offering basket’ since May, where people are invited to put cash in if they have abundance and take cash out if they have an unmet need. In worship, whenever I introduce our offering practice, I make sure to say that no matter how someone is interacting with the basket, there is no shame or blame. It is nothing to be ashamed of to have needs in public. In fact, that’s exactly the place we find the face of God and the person of Jesus.
In July, we began a relationship with an unhoused woman named Mickey, who has been a regular part of our worshiping community. If you haven’t met her yet, I would highly encourage you to make her acquaintance and hear some of her story.
A couple of weeks ago, Mickey took all of the money out of the basket. While there is nothing prohibiting this and I am certainly not one to judge, she was uncomfortable with her own behavior and came back to worship this week, having given back a portion of the money and, totally unprompted, publicly apologized to the whole congregation for being greedy.
In my sermon, I referred to the Shema, the command to love God with our whole beings and be in right relationship with our fellows as the “spirit” of the law and the ten commandments as the “letter” of the law because we humans really like our checkboxes to know we’re doing a good job, sometimes. The reality is that being in relationship with God and with one another is messy and “squishy” as we try to figure out how to love each other to the best of our ability.
Though Mickey didn’t necessarily break a commandment or even the rules of the basket, she leaned into the squishiness and some of her difficult feelings of guilt and conscience and, in so doing, modeled for us what it means to be humble, to admit you were wrong, and come back to right relationship with the community. Truly, no words I could have spoken were more eloquent than her wholehearted embrace of the squishiness.
May we be open to the lessons and wisdom which is so freely available to us, especially from those that are so often cast aside – it just might be transformational.
Together in the squish,
Dear Vista Grande –
I mentioned in worship yesterday that I got the chance to spend the weekend with Sikh activist Valarie Kaur, who founded The Revolutionary Love Project, at La Foret. On Friday night, we were privileged to participate in an interfaith experience, where members of the Colorado Sikh community offered prayers and a traditional meal practice called ‘lungor’, which translates to ‘unbroken line’. In their own context, lungor is a practice of feeding the hungry. Everyone sits on the floor and is therefore ‘on the same level’, a radical act in the Sikh founding country of India, where the caste system uses religion to keep people apart from one another.
Though lungor and communion are very different rituals, my understanding of them is very similar – it is a radical act of service that feeds people spiritually and physically, turning society’s ideas of who is in and who is out, who is deserving of love and who is to be thrown away on its head. Receiving such care from the Sikh community was an incredible gift. In the folks I met, I found kindred spirits who are dedicated to service and dream of the same world we do.
In worship, we sang the words “Come on, brothers, don’t get weary. Come on, sisters, don’t get weary. Come on, siblings, don’t get weary, though the way is long.”
I get it if you are feeling weary these days. There are many among us who are grieving and struggling for so many reasons. Rest assured, beloveds, of two things: 1) we are not doing this work alone. There are people we haven’t met yet – and may never even know – who are dreaming and scheming for a liberated world and 2) hope is in-breaking, even when we cannot see it.
This is a community that supports one another – if I can be of any assistance to you in these difficult days, please don’t hesitate to reach out. If the church as a whole can be a support, please let your family of faith know what it can do. It is a vulnerable thing, to ask for help, but it is the only way we break through the terrible isolation.
Deep love and peace to each and every one of you.
Dear people of Vista Grande,
Thank you for allowing me a little bit of time away to rest, rejuvenate, and prepare to launch into our program year. We have some genuinely exciting opportunities ahead of us this year and I’m looking forward to what God has in store for this vibrant community. Keep an eye out for new faith formation offerings and community partnerships in the coming weeks!
As we begin this program year, I want to let you know about a small change in how we pick our scriptures for worship. Over the last several years, we have been using what is called the Revised Common Lectionary – a selection of scriptures which is broadly used throughout mainline Protestant churches and closely resembles the scripture rotation in the Catholic Church. This year, we at Vista Grande are experimenting with another set of scriptures called the Narrative Lectionary, which is designed to tell the story of God’s people through the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) during first semester and into the Gospels and beyond in the spring. I believe it will help us find our place in the ancient-yet-still-relevant stories of scripture and help make our experience of following Jesus even more rich and impactful. Please let me know what you think!
Greetings, dear partners in mission and vision,
Every year, the United Church of Christ designates one Sunday as Just Peace Sunday, a worship service set aside to deepen our commitment to justice and peace in our community and in our world. A group of UCC churches as well as other ecumenical partners organized a vision for this year’s Just Peace Sunday to be focused on the sin of gun violence in our country. Yesterday, in worship, we were joined by Andy Millman, a local faith-based activist out of the United Methodist tradition who has dedicated the last decade of his life to advocating against gun violence. As he noted, this topic is nuanced and often emotionally charged, as the United State’s relationship with guns stretches back to its earliest days and is intrinsically tied to the history of racism and policing.
We read a litany of almost 70 incidents of mass shootings in the United States, highlighting for us just how many lives have been stolen because of this uniquely American problem. As is so often the case when we are asked to look deeply at incomprehensible violence, there can be a feeling of powerlessness. What are we supposed to do? Andy left us with the charge to pay attention – to not let this type of pain become so ordinary that we become desensitized to it. Truly, awareness of what is broken is the first step to beginning to dream of a better world.
There is the Talmudic saying that reminds us that the work is not ours to complete but neither is it ours to abandon. It is important for us to remain present to the pain, even when it’s tough, as well as throw our shoulder in to help lift the heavy burden. We are, however, never doing it alone. There are people who have been engaged in this work for a long time who we can support and learn from, even right here in our community.
As it happens, our sister church in Lakewood is doing an informational session on gun violence and suicide which will teach about what the laws in Colorado are. There is a zoom option available and I would encourage our community to attend so we can be better resourced. The details are included below.
You may also be interested in RAWTools, a local faith-based organization out of the Mennonite tradition who works to take the biblical mandate to turn swords into plowshares seriously by disarming guns and smithing them into gardening tools. You can find them at https://rawtools.org/.
As Andy mentioned, we have a call to be prophetic in this world – that doesn’t mean telling the future but speaking the truth in our present time while casting a vision for a better world. May we be as persistent as the widow (who we will be returning to in a couple of weeks!) in seeking justice, peace, and a world where all can thrive and no one need be afraid.
Dear people of Vista Grande –
In Romans 12, which we’ve spent the last two weeks with, Paul’s writing is short, to the point, and directive. He has definite ideas of what it means to live as a Christian, especially in the face of those people who respond with violence to what they don’t understand. As I was preparing for Sunday’s sermon, it was verses 12 and 13 that really stuck with me:
Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; pursue hospitality to strangers.
These verses remind me of the line in Batya Levine’s song “We Rise” which we use in worship periodically: In hope, in prayer, we find ourselves here.
In many ways, the Roman Christian community was defining what it meant to follow in The Way of Jesus as they went. They were figuring it out real time, with a lot of trial and error. The crux of Paul’s encouragement to them, I believe, is to keep the humanity and dignity of every person at the front and center of decision-making. See people. Love and honor them. See what’s going on beyond the pain that’s driving them to violence. Choose to care for their bodies anyway.
The last several weeks, in multiple ways, we have been called upon to do just that. The guest who has been staying in our parking lot, Mickey, told me that the most painful thing for her is when people just ignore her and pretend she isn’t there. She is okay with rejection. She’s okay with being told no. What wounds her spirit is being ignored.
I have watched this beautiful community step up, connect with people, learn their names, care about their story, make sure they have eaten or have something to drink. Without necessarily consciously realizing it, you are following not only Paul’s advice but also the mandate Jesus made to Peter in the gospel of John: If you love me, feed my sheep. You are following The Way, just as the Roman Christians did – figuring it out step by step, with our own fair share of trial and error. And I am so proud. I got the chance to describe our church to our guest preacher next week and I honestly felt like I was bragging.
That being said, I know it’s a pretty steep learning curve and some of the new experiences can be uncomfortable and you may feel like you don’t have the skills or abilities to companion the people who are finding their way through our doors. We are partnering with HopeCOS and other community partners over the next several months to provide some workshops and conversations to equip us to work with people experiencing homelessness.
The first thing to understand is how much trauma people living on the street are carrying in their bodies. If you heard the fullness of their story, you would weep for the amount of pain they have endured. Trauma literally rewires our brain and makes even well-meaning people seem like a threat. The lunch and learn on September 17th will be a conversation facilitated by Zach Davis, who has worked with the houseless community professionally, about trauma informed care. It’s a first step in building our toolkit as we continue to lean into loving our neighbors as ourselves. Please make plans to attend, if you feel so inclined.
Blessings, dear ones. You are doing it. You’re walking the talk. And God is meeting us where we are to equip us for the good work ahead.
Dear people of Vista Grande –
As I shared in my sermon yesterday, Peter is one of my favorite Biblical characters because I think we get to glimpse his humanity the most. He’s brave and bold and brash and angry and faithful and loving all rolled up into one – kind of like each of us at our best, our worst, and somewhere in between, where we usually hang out. The story of Jesus (and briefly Peter) walking on the water is a place we get to see this pretty clearly. When all the other disciples were huddling in the bottom of the boat and afraid of ghosts, it was Peter who recognized Jesus and took the leap of faith to go and meet him out on the water.
In her beautiful essay We Were Made for These Times, author Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes of seaworthy ships. It’s well worth the read, if you haven’t had the chance. This paragraph, especially, leaped out to me this week:
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.
That jives with what I understand Peter as doing – he was no stranger to taking risks, loving fiercely, messing up, and admitting when he was wrong. It was because of that commitment to what Brene Brown would call ‘whole heartedness’ that he became the rock the church was built on.
Taking all these things together, I look around our church and I see people committed to living outside the boat. There have been events in recent weeks which have beckoned us out of our comfort zones and pushed us to live into our values of welcome, kindness, community, and justice. And it’s a stretch not to let the fear, anxiety, and discomfort win. Sometimes, like Peter, we’ll feel like we’re drowning. But our Teacher is outside the boat and we are consistently aimed in His direction, trusting God’s hand will be there to keep us from sinking. Leaping, walking, sinking, and reaching are all part of what it means to live a life of authentic, hopeful faith.
Thank you for being Peters. Thank you for being YOU.
With great love,
One of my favorite things about reading the Bible, though, is allowing the writers and characters to be human and trying to imagine what was going on in their bodies, minds, and spirits. On Sunday, we spent some time with Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul can be a complicated figure – it feels like people either love him or hate him and, fairly or not, a lot of the current state of Christianity is laid at his feet.
I get curious, though, about him as a human. Though his language is really dual and black-and-white, I find that I can empathize with him. In Romans 8, we get to witness as he grappled with his spiritual loneliness and his deep desire to live a Christian life as he understood it. The idea of wanting to be adopted and feel like you’re a part of a family, chosen or otherwise, is one that deeply resonates with a lot of people.
Paul calls the community of believers ‘the first fruits’ and he is hoping the first taste of the world as it could be won’t be the last. He sees what’s possible when all people feel loved and included and names the world-changing possibility it brings with it. He describes having hope, even when he can’t always see the way clearly.
Hope is one of those words it’s hard to pin down – what exactly does it mean? Is it the same as optimism? Is it some Orphan Annie belief that ‘the sun’ll come out tomorrow”? Believe it or not, there is actually scientific research on what hope actually is! And the answer is somewhat more scrappy and down to earth than you might expect. Dr. CR Snyder describes hope in three parts: Goals, Pathways, and Agency. In other words, what do you hope to see? What are the paths to get there? And do you believe you can have an affect?
Our church talks a lot about what we hope for for the world. And, just like the community of believers Paul bore witness to, we are seeing it inch closer to that dream little by little. In our little corner of the world, the ‘first fruits’ are starting to become more obvious and, honestly, it’s really exciting.
It couldn’t happen without YOU. Thank you for the ways you tend and invest in the hope. There’s something special growing at Vista Grande and it’s because of you. Thank you.
In grateful expectation of our shared future,
Beloved Vista Grande Community,
In worship yesterday, we spent some time thinking about the Parable of the Sower. Undoubtedly, this is a familiar story to many of us. We know about the seed scattered on the road, amidst the rocks, alongside weeds, and finally in ‘good soil’. If I have learned anything from those who tend the earth, though, it is that what counts as ‘good soil’ depends on what you want to grow and what we call a ‘weed’ is entirely subjective.
I take my cues from Dr. Amy Jill-Levine, a Jewish scholar of the New Testament, as I wrestle with this story. The Gospel of Matthew’s editorial addition which tells us exactly how we are supposed to understand this parable artificially limits the art form of the parable. More like poetry and word puzzles, parables are supposed to be slippery, evading simple explanations and asking us to engage with them deeply so we can glean the hidden gems of wisdom folded into them. Engaged from this direction, this parable leaves us with more questions than answers, which is exactly how it was designed.
As I inexpertly tend my garden, I have had to learn a lot about soil. What you are hoping to grow dictates what counts as ‘good soil’ and even good soil can get depleted if we don’t actively care for it by letting it rest and returning important nutrients.
And isn’t that like our spiritual lives and our life together? We are faced with the question “what do we want to grow?” as a community and then tasked to make sure the soil is a good match. Our faith tradition calls us to both contemplation and action, stillness and movement. We often focus on what it is we have to do to live a life of faith, which is important! But we can’t forget that rest and ‘laying fallow’ is sometimes the best thing to ‘do’.
Just like tending to the earth, traveling the path Jesus calls us can sometimes get complicated! The important part, though, is relationship – relationship with the earth, with one another, with ourselves, and most especially with God. We learn so much that way!
It’s a blessing to be tending this soil with each of you. Peace to you this week.
With dirty hands,
Greetings, all –
As you are probably aware, this last week has been a tough one in our nation as Supreme Court decisions which impact many marginalized people’s lives and livelihoods were made public. We lifted up the blows to our Black and brown and queer siblings, as well as the classist impacts of striking down President Biden’s proposed student debt relief plan. I will be accountable and say that I missed another breathtaking blow to human rights- the denial of indigenous people’s, specifically the Navajo nation’s, right to water.
In worship, we spent time brainstorming what our prophetic message needs to be in this moment, with the Bible in one hand and our newspaper (newsfeeds?) in the other. We gave voice to our righteous indignation, our fear, and our abiding hope for the world as it could be.
I mentioned a post-World War II poem by Martin Niemoller in my message, which I am copying here:
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
Though the categories Niemoller names may not be the only ones we resonate with today, the sentiment still stands. Especially this week, as our country celebrates its founding, it is imperative for us to know our history and the various groups of people who have been and are being ‘come for’ – indigenous people, Black and brown people, queer and trans people, women, the homeless, the working poor, and more.
Jesus’s words in Matthew 10 are bracing but, in a weird way, encouraging for our weary souls which long for the world as it can be. We are more precious than sparrows and the hairs on our head are all counted. That fact remains, even in the face of the relational turmoil which comes from choosing to ‘pick up our cross’ and stand with the crucified among us. Borrowing from the famous passage in Romans, nothing can separate us from the love of God, no matter what.
May we hang onto that truth as the going gets tougher for us and those we love. Thank you for lifting your voice. Thank you for speaking out.
In love and solidarity,
Jun 26- Jul 1
Good afternoon, Beloved Community –
This note is coming to you a little later in the day than normal because I have spent a significant portion of today at the courthouse, bearing witness to the Club Q shooting trial. Preaching on Jeremiah yesterday, holding space for people at the courthouse, and contemplating the end of this Pride Month, plus the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising is a poignant mix and, I’ll be upfront, my heart is heavy. To put an even finer point on it, in the broader United Church of Christ, Sunday was Open and Affirming Sunday – a worship service set aside to celebrate those faith communities within the UCC that have explicitly proclaimed their support for and full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people.
Jeremiah 20 refers to “something like a fire shut up in my bones” that the writer is “weary from holding in”, even though they are exposing themselves to “reproach and derision all day long”. If that isn’t a metaphor for being LGBTQIA+ in this country, I don’t know what is. And yet, there are brave souls who choose to come out in this environment anyway because we are compelled to. Not to do so erodes something fundamental and foundational – the very bones of who we are.
In preparation for our discussion on ecotheology, I read a book called Refugia Faith by Debra Rienstra. Refugia are pockets of protection within an environment that guard biodiversity through a disaster (think the lee of a rock or under a fallen log). It is from these places that, after a storm or forest fire or other natural disaster occurs, new life springs forth. When I call our church a ‘pocket of resistance’ where we practice the world as it could be, I am talking about being a refugium in the face of the disasters which face queer people, Black and brown folks, women, people experiencing homelessness, and more. In the face of the newly called National State of Emergency for LGBTQIA+ people, who we are as a church is necessary now more than ever.
More often than not, I end my sermons with gratitude for each and every one of you. I couldn’t be prouder of this community, which loves so fiercely and gives of itself so fully to those who need us. This week is no different.
Happy Pride, dear ones!
This last weekend was Pride in Colorado Springs, a beautiful celebration of the worth, dignity, and joy of LGBTQ+ lives. It was a poignant time, filled with much laughter and dancing but tinged with the grief and shadow of the attack at Club Q a little less than seven months ago. Overall, it was an incredible weekend and highlighted for me why we do what we do as Vista Grande.
A person and person hugging on a street Description automatically generated with low confidenceI want to tell you the story of Dana, a trans woman who was watching the parade. As I was walking by, waving my bi pride flag, Dana stepped out to the edge of the sidewalk and said “Is one of you the pastor?” I said “I am!” She asked me for a hug and thanked me for showing up – she was from North Carolina and had never even dreamed that she would see a church march in Pride.
This is a glimpse of the world as it should be – connection, healing, and the opening up of more possibilities for love and relationship in the world. This picture is only made possible because we are who we are as a church and because we are invested in our siblings enough to publicly and proudly declare we are on their side. Thank you all for your witness, which began long before I ever joined the staff. Though I’m the one hugging Dana in this moment, you are the ones who continually set a table where she is welcome.
I have so much gratitude for Kayan, who worked to pull together several UCC churches to march in the parade. We were joined by our siblings at Black Forest, Church in the Wildwood, and (for the first time EVER!) Broadmoor, alongside First Congregational in another parade spot.
Though this has been a weekend of immense queer joy, we know that a world where our trans and queer siblings are safe and secure still requires our attention and intention. Let us continue to throw our shoulders into the work of building up the world God imagines.
In joy and determination,
Happy Pride Month, Vista Grande!
This week, we are asked to imagine the world as it should be. At the end of Acts 2, we get a glimpse of what the first Christians were trying to do – make a world that didn’t exist yet. Jesus had taught them that it was unconscionable for people to be hungry, without shelter, or deliberately placed outside the bounds of society. His whole life and work was a testament to the fact that another world was possible and he charged his followers to continue doing the work to make that world a reality.
June is a special month because it holds the fierce love and deep courage of two overlapping communities – our LGBTQIA+ siblings and our Black siblings. The story of the early church as documented in Acts is the perfect complement to these celebrations of freedom and revolutionary imagination. Though unique, both celebrations highlight turning points in history where human dignity was upheld and the world got a little closer to what it should be.
In worship, we found pockets of the world as it should be even within the difficulty of the world as it is. We found hope and strength and beauty. In many ways, I feel that the church is a place where those pockets can be fostered so they can grow.
We introduced a new practice to worship which we will be maintaining – we have not been actively collecting an offering since we returned to worship in October of 2021. We are bringing it back but with a twist. Just as the Acts 2 church strived to meet the bodily needs of its members, so will we. Those who have the means are invited to give out of their enough-ness. But, instead of the offering plate being a one-way relationship, we are also inviting those who are living with financial scarcity to receive what is necessary to meet their need. In this small way, we are creating a pocket of the Kin-dom in this world and honoring those ancestors of faith who came before us.
In so many ways, we are already creating the world God dreams of. May this Pride month help us imagine and deepen our commitment to the creative work of God.
1 Peter 3 is a difficult chapter in scripture because it encompasses some of my least favorite verses in scripture (you know, the ones about women submitting…) but also has some really beautiful insight into what it means to take a stand for what you believe in and the way you live your life. Verse 13 reads “Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?” I absolutely wish it was that simple…we are all aware of the harm that people are suffering just because they want to live and love or even just exist in this world. The answer to the writer’s rhetorical question is “Well…someone might…” and the rest of the passage is spent grappling with the reality of suffering, even if you’re doing good.
The writer of 1 Peter asks us to be ready, be gentle and respectful, and maintain a clear conscience. Those are tall orders, especially when it feels like life and limb are at stake. That maintaining a clear conscience piece is important and one we don’t spend a lot of time talking about. Once, when I was anxious about an action I took and its possible consequences, a friend asked me these two questions: “Was it aligned with your values?” and “Did you betray yourself?”
Those two simple questions help us reframe what is in our integrity. It can be hard when so many of our Christian siblings are telling us we are doing our faith wrong and should be ashamed of ourselves. That sort of peer pressure has the chance of pulling us out of our integrity. I know there have definitely been times where that’s been the case in my life! I’m sure I’m not alone in this…ast least, I’m hoping I’m not!
But that’s where being ready and staying gentle and respectful comes in. It takes practice. Spiritual practice. We know what our integrity is, how we got to where we are, and we know what direction we’re heading next. It takes alignment, self-knowledge, and trust in each other and in God.
So, my questions for us to ponder with the writer of 1 Peter this week are these: What pulls you out of your integrity? How do you know when you’re not acting in alignment? How do you stay in compassion? What do you need to be ready?
I’ll be wondering along with you – these are lifelong questions! And they don’t have simple answers!
Greetings, Vista Grande!
In the early Christian church, the time between Easter and Pentecost (April 9th and May 28th this year) was set aside as a special time of discernment. In the legends of King Arthur, all the Knights of the Round Table came home from their quests for Easter and were sent out again toward their new calling on Pentecost. It is a holy time, where the Spirit is moving and gathering Herself to be poured out on Pentecost, the holiday we celebrate Her arrival.
In John 14, there is this little verse where Jesus states that his disciples will go on to do even greater things than he was able to accomplish. He has faith in his disciples and faith in us to keep bringing the Kin-dom of God to life in our context. That’s a whole new way of thinking about our relationship with Jesus – not as someone we have faith in but as someone who has faith in us! In more than one way, it’s graduation season!
Kayan offered us the charge to “get ready” for the next chapter of our life as a church. In many ways, we have been preparing for these days for a long time. This liturgical season supports that endeavor, creating fertile soil for transformation in our individual hearts, minds, and spirits, and in our community as a whole.
May we pay attention and get ready for the next chapter.
In hope and expectation,
Happy Monday, Vista Grande –
We spent some time with the story of Ezekiel and the Dry Bones – if you were in worship, you may have been humming the song…”dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones”. I was definitely thinking of it all week!
Ezekiel was a prophet to the Israelites while they were in exile in Babylon. As you might remember, the Babylonians had kidnapped all the dreamers – all the prophets, scribes, artists, poets, and musicians – and taken them to live in bondage in a foreign land. Ezekiel rose up as a prophet about five years into this 70 year captivity. In chapter 37, he was given this vision of the field of dry bones and told that it represented the people of Israel. Where Ezekiel could not see any possibility of life, God restored flesh and breath and promised it would be the same for the Israelites.
Thinking about this text last week put me in mind of this poem – Good Bones by Maggie Smith.
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
I hope you’ll excuse the cuss word in favor of the message of the poem. It’s what it means to be an Easter people, isn’t it? A resurrection people? To believe that even amidst all of the terror and hopelessness and difficulty and grief that there is yet still something beautiful here. The good bones of this good world are worth investing in. As Christians, it’s our job to find all the places new life is peeking through and point to it and say, even though we are fully aware of all the destruction, ‘…and, yet…life.” and then work to foster that life with a fierce tenderness.
This place could be beautiful. You could make this place beautiful.
Good morning, Vista Grande –
This week, in worship, we spent time on the Road to Emmaus and what it means to travel in relationship with Jesus and one another. One of my favorite verses of that scripture lesson (Luke 24) is verse 32. Were not our hearts burning within us?
In my professional development last week, the trainers introduced me to the concept of “following aliveness” both individually and in a group. In their framework of working in groups, following aliveness helps groups figure out where their energy is and discover the most exciting possibilities. What moves you, gets you going, pushes you to act, brings you joy? These are all ways of following aliveness – the key is that it’s something you feel in your body and say yes to, which makes it different than following the roles we’ve been assigned, the things we feel we ‘should’ do, and living up to societal expectations.
I wonder if that’s something like the “burning” the disciples felt in the presence of Jesus. Did they feel a little bit more alive in a way that, when they looked back, they could recognize? What would have happened if they’d been able to follow the “burning” within them? How would our story, as individuals and as a church, be different if we could?
This week, my invitation is that you start to pay attention. Do you feel a burning within you? Where do you feel most alive? What happens when you follow it? I have a suspicion, it may be a path toward deeper relationship – with God and with one another. Let me know how it goes and what you experience and we’ll start to build a picture of what’s possible together.
In the promise of abundant life,
Happy Easter, dear people! He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
It feels like we’ve crossed a threshold, doesn’t it? Most days, when I take my chihuahua mix for a walk, I notice what has started to get different. I see a few spots of green here and there where there has been only brown for months. Check out the ends of bush twigs and you’ll see buds of new leaves appearing, though not quite open yet. The world is ripe with possibility, an aliveness that is becoming palpable with each passing, warming day.
My favorite gospel account of the resurrection (which doesn’t get used in church too often!) comes from Mark. In its original form, it stopped after verse 8: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Then, over the years, some well-meaning editors added both a short version and a long version which make the story line up a little better with the other gospel accounts of the resurrection and would feel more familiar to us.
I like Mark, though, because it feels the most honest. Terror and amazement feels about right when faced with something as unprecedented as resurrection. I can just imagine the disciples gathered in an upper room together, faced with the enormity of what an empty tomb means, and having to sort out just what their next step should be. I imagine them looking at each other and saying “Okay…so now what?” The season between Easter and Pentecost (now until the last week or so of May) is dedicated to that question: Okay, so love and life have won over deathdealing forces which want them extinguished. We have newness and possibility. Joy feels like it just might be possible. So, now what?”
One thing that all the gospel texts ask us to do is be present. To wait. To watch. To be with. To pay attention. To ask questions. To wonder. To imagine. Cultivating these skills helps us catch resurrection when it makes itself known to us, just like the new slivers of green making their appearance these last few weeks. Sometimes, resurrection is subtle but no less present.
This week, I want to leave you with one of my absolute favorite poems – may it lift your heart and turn you toward the illimitable springtime resurrection.
i thank You God for most this amazing by ee cummings
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
May the ears of our ears awake and the eyes of our eyes by opened to resurrection all around.
Apr 3 – 9
Greetings at the beginning of this Holy Week, Vista Grande –
Rivaled only by the span between Christmas and Epiphany, this is the time of year where the heart of the Christian tradition is fully apparent. There is a rhythm to this week which has great wisdom in it and yet, for so many of us, it’s easier to skip right from Palm Sunday to Easter without engaging in the ups and downs of the journey in between.
Palm Sunday starts on a high note. It’s also known by another name – the “Triumphal Entry”. Rather than the triumph of a warlord over another faction of soldiers, the triumph here is the magic that happens when the margins are placed at the center and relationship, humility, and love have their say. It is the quintessential message of Jesus’s work and ministry and, in this story, Jesus is at the height of his popularity – there is a better way of ordering society than one based on military might and the “law and order” which is usually a mask for those with power to protect their power.
Jesus rides this wave and, for the first time, takes the fight right to the seat of power through his act of civil disobedience in the Temple, which challenged the ways that religious elites were exploiting the poor people in their midst and entrusted to their care. It showed the shaky foundation of this type of power for what it is. Acts of imagination and resistance send coins flying and usher in new possibilities for relating to one another and to God which aren’t based on extortion or hierarchy.
Obviously, power isn’t going to relinquish its hold without a fight, though, so Jesus became a target of the religiopolitical system he was challenging, leading the chief priests to search for a way past the solidarity he had built. As is so often the case, the money was the temptation to break ranks and Judas chose his own personal financial security rather than the people power which comes when we band together.
So this is where we’ll pick up the story on Thursday…in the intimacy of a chosen circle of closer friends which is so important to sustain us as we battle systems of power and oppression. A shared meal. The “maundy” or “mandate” to go and do greater things than Jesus accomplished in his lifetime. The pain, trauma, and hopelessness that comes when everything falls apart and it appears that everything we’ve worked for might be all for naught.
It’s can be a difficult place to stay, but that is the invitation this week. To stay. To be with the pain. To refuse to skip to the happy ending. It’s been 2000 years, though, so I’m going to trust this isn’t a spoiler…
No matter how hopeless it seems, life and love always win.
May we trust this fully as we travel through these days together. Come join us on Thursday at 2:30 and 6:30 to engage further with this central story of our faith.
Mar 27 – Apr 2
Happy Monday, Vista Grande!
Something I hear often from all sorts of people going through something painful is, essentially: “If I think about this, I’ll never stop grieving/worrying/hurting/etc. so it’s best for me not to think about it.” We keep moving forward, as fast as possible, hoping that what hurts won’t catch up with us. This protective, perpetual motion is a barrier to entry for the spiritual practice of stillness. If we get still, all those feelings come for us, so we make sure we are always on the move. On some level, we’re afraid of what’s waiting for us in the wilderness of our own heart. Poet John O’Donohue says it this way in his piece “For One Who is Exhausted, a Blessing”
At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.”
Notice his words “at first”. Throughout each of the wilderness stories, we’ve encountered people who experienced rest, nourishment, grace, companionship in and among the fear, grief, and temptation in their wildernesses. In the gospel of Luke, it’s actually Jesus’s time in the wilderness that prepared Jesus for his public ministry. The wilderness is a vast place and, the more time we spend there (such as Jesus’s 40 days), the more we experience of what it holds for us – the painful and the sublime, the unexpected sustenance and the opportunity to face our fears.
“Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone Until its calmness can claim you. Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Gradually, you will return to yourself, Having learned a new respect for your heart And the joy that dwells far within slow time.”
Read the rest of his poem here.
Something beautiful happens in stillness, if we can abide with the pain long enough to befriend it. God meets us there and offers us a depth of relationship with ourselves and with Godself that can sustain us. Pain isn’t actually a barrier but a portal. Above all, that’s the secret of the wilderness.
This week, I hope you find moments of stillness and the courage to meet yourself there. If any of these stories have taught us anything, God is awaiting. If I can be a companion to you, please feel free to let me know.
Mar 20 – 26
Good morning, Vista Grande!
In worship yesterday, we spent some time thinking about Jonah. Jonah, who got swallowed by the big fish because he didn’t go where God was calling him. Jonah, who preached destruction but who couldn’t find it in his heart to relent (even though God did!) when the people of Nineveh. Jonah, who sat on a hill outside the city (that’s a metaphor!!), waiting for the destruction that never came.
Jonah is a case study in high horses. In his heart, there isn’t room for the possibility of behavior change or a return to right relationship. He would rather be the “protagonist of reality”, making himself the hero of his own story and placing himself at the center of the universe. A gift from my background in 12 Step recovery is the popping of this particular bubble. As it turns out, in most of our interactions, the world doesn’t break down to victims and villains and most of us dance over the line of sinner and saint multiple times a day. Like most things, it’s not an either/or but instead a both/and.
Together, we used our ‘sanctified imagination’, as invited by Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, to envision an end for Jonah’s story, which terminates somewhat abruptly with God saying, essentially, “Nineveh matters to me.” and leaving Jonah to….do what? Continue to sulk about it? Maybe. But maybe he gets what God is trying to tell him. That grace abounds and transformation is possible for you, for me, for Jonah, for everyone.
In worship, we planted the seeds of what we want to nurture held in the biodegradable cups of what it is we want to let go of. When I was purchasing the supplies, the guy at the checkout said “Oh, you’re planting something!” I said “Yeah, now is the time for it!” He balked, saying “Not until after Memorial Day if you want it to survive!” and I responded “Yes, but now is the time to start.”
So, my friends, the invitation is to start. As with most things on this journey of faith, it doesn’t have to be perfect or right. It just has to be true. And you just have to start. May we find a little more spaciousness and a little new life this week as we make the shift from winter into spring.
Mar 13 – 19
Greetings, beloveds, at the beginning of a new week.
At this point, we are about halfway through our Lenten travels through the wilderness. In each of our stops along the way, we have seen God’s companionship and provision to those who are driven out into the wild unknown. Elijah’s story, chronicled in 1 Kings 19, is similar but has an important variation.
Elijah is running for his life after a dramatic standoff with the priests of Ba’al which leaves Queen Jezebel enraged and promising to kill him. He is running on empty in body, mind, and spirit and crawls beneath the shade of “a solitary broom tree” telling God that he’s ready to die. He’s got nothing left to give, no reserves of strength to draw on. He is spent in every meaningful sense of the word.
If you’re resonating with Elijah, the story has a very specific encouragement for you. Rest. Rest twice as long as you think you need to. Have a snack. Drink water. Most importantly, though, rest.
On a whole, Americans have a pretty bad relationship with rest. It makes us feel guilty. We put it off because there’s just too much to do and the items aren’t going to cross themselves off our list. Or, maybe even more insidious, we think we have to earn the right to rest, like it’s some kind of reward for working hard.
In reality, though, rest is necessary. Studies bear out that it’s integral to our health by lowering our blood pressure and allowing our bodies to repair. And, in Elijah’s case, it was after a double-helping of rest that he was able to discern where God was…not in the earthquake, wind, or fire, but there, in the quiet.
My suspicion is that a lot of us know how Elijah feels. There’s prophetic stances to be taken, such as holding the District 11 school board accountable. Black and brown folks and queer folks know what it’s like to have a ruler coming for your life. We are fighting, running, and, just like Elijah, tired down to our bones. If this describes you, my invitation is to make time to rest. You deserve it because you are human. The world won’t end if you take time for quiet. In fact, you might just meet God. For more information, check out the work of Tricia Hersey and The Nap Ministry.
Take a nap, my friends. It will do you good.
Mar 6 – 12
Happy Monday, Vista Grande!
We are continuing our exploration of “What Happens in the Wilderness” by spending some time with the Israelites in Exodus 16. At its core, the story of Exodus is a story of liberation, where the Israelites were freed from the slavery, abuse, and hard labor they endured in Egypt. In a miraculous series of events, they make their way out of Egypt and even evade the pursuing Egyptian army when Moses parts the waters of the Red Sea. We pick up the story after some of the proverbial dust has settled and the reality of what they’ve done sinks in. They are hungry enough that they start to regret their decision to leave enslavement…at least in Egypt they had three square meals!
I can empathize with the Israelites. They left everything behind in a mad dash for freedom, placing their trust in God and taking a huge leap of faith. I imagine this point in the story felt a little like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff after Roadrunner and getting halfway across the canyon before realizing he’s running on air. Unlike the case of Wile. E. Coyote, though, a miracle happens. Just when they thought they would starve, God ‘gives them this day their daily bread’ and it’s just enough to make it through.
In lots of ways, it feels like we’re in a pre-Manna-and-Quail moment these days – in our personal lives, the church, and as a country. The systems we have been taught to trust are failing us and maybe even falling apart but we’re not quite sure what is going to arise in their place. It’s a moment characterized by both possibility and anxiety. It’s wilderness time and, like the Israelites, it can feel tempting to retreat back into ways of relating that are harmful. It’s tough to trust we’ll get our needs met if we don’t! It’s a strange, imaginative grace that provides weird but nutritious food that will see us all the way to the promised land.
As a spiritual practice this week, I invite you to keep a lookout for the grace of ‘weird food’ which sustains you this week. What are the unexpected graces that remind you of God’s nurturing presence in your lives?
With you in the wilderness,
Feb 27 – Mar 5
Good people of Vista Grande,
We’re on our way! We have embarked on our journey through the season of Lent and all the stories of “What Happens in the Wilderness”. There will be plenty of twists and turns on this trek and I know enough about God to expect the unexpected.
Speaking of ‘the unexpected’, thank you for welcoming Rev. Jenny Smith into our midst yesterday and giving me and Ethan the chance to take a little bit of rest. She told me a little bit about her adventure with her rental car and how you all both came to her rescue and were flexible about the format of the service! I am so grateful for the warmth of your welcome and your adaptability when something goes awry!
Recently, I have been thinking about how, at the root of the word “wilderness” is the word “wild” – something untamed and free. It’s not usually something we associate with the word ‘peace’, and yet poet Wendell Berry offers us a glimpse of how they might go together in his poem ‘The Peace of the Wild Things’:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I wonder how Hagar felt about freedom, peace, and grief, as she feared what her life and her child’s life might be. How do you feel about them? What are your thoughts as we reach this first outpost in the wilderness?
Strength and peace for the journey, my friends.
Greetings, Vista Grande –
Over the last several weeks, we have been taking a look at familiar aspects of faith that need our attention as we seek to figure out what it means to be a progressive Christian today. In worship yesterday, we spent time exploring the word ‘prayer’. It’s a simple word but it has several meanings and, for lots of us, a whole lot of baggage attached to it!
Those tender spots in our faith life – the ones that we want to reject or that make us feel uncomfortable or maybe caused us pain – those are the paradoxical gateway to new life. It takes a lot of courage to look closely at them but when we do, God is waiting to broaden our horizons and surprise us with what we find.
I joked about being the ‘designated pray-er’ pretty much no matter where I go. I’m going to spill my secret though…I don’t have any extra special words or a direct connection to God. When I pray in front of you, all I’m doing is pouring out my deepest and most fervent hopes and dreams for us as a community and us as a world. And you can do that, too. I often tell folks in Bible study who are practicing praying in front of people this: It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be true.
Saying yes to the invitation of being true but not necessarily good can be freeing…it allows us to show up imperfect, without a polished product in hand. If you’ve ever done something you’re not great at but that you think is really fun or gives you joy, you know the feeling I’m talking about! You are allowed to explore, try, fail, try again, and discover within your spiritual practices. How else are we supposed to build a trusting relationship with God and with one another?
Take this poem entitled Praying by Mary Oliver as a potential companion this week as we experiment with prayer.
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Blessings in your experimenting, dear friends!
Happy Monday, Vista Grande!
We have spent these last several weeks wrestling with the things that seem like a “given” in our faith tradition. What is our image of God? What’s the Lord’s Prayer? What are these Beatitudes and why do they matter? Yesterday, we talked about what the Bible is and some different ways of being in relationship with it.
Lots of us grew up with the song “The B-I-B-L-E” (yes, that’s the book for me!) or even heard the acronym “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” but now those definitions or relationships with scripture don’t fit very well anymore. So what do we do with it – if it’s not an instruction manual, it’s not completely historically factual, and there’s some really messed up stories in it, how are we supposed to make any kind of sense of it?!
One well-meaning option is “we take the Bible seriously but not literally”. On its surface, this feels like it might give us the out we’re looking for. We don’t have to believe in a 6 Day Creation or a flood that literally wiped out the whole world except 8 people…but we can still study it and find value in it!
That gets us pretty far but not quite all the way. There ARE parts of the Bible that I take literally. Verses like Micah 6:8 – “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?” Or Luke 4: 18 – “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because God has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of God’s favor.” Matthew 25:40 which tells us that whatever we do to care for the least of our siblings is care rendered to God. I take these passages, plus some others, extremely literally and try my best to live according to their teachings!
And so, our relationship with the Bible stays complicated. Some passages are literal instruction, some are parable, story, and myth. Lots are life giving, some need to be set down as barbaric and unconscionable. All of it, though, requests of us our attention. When we look for it, we can see the silver thread of God’s heart for humanity winding its way through the pages of our Bible. So we start there, in the places we catch glimpses of our Still-Speaking God, trusting that “still yet more light and truth will break forth from God’s word.”
Let’s dive in together, my friends, and see what new life is still within these pages.
Jan 31 – Feb 6
Greetings, Vista Grande –
Our annual meeting was on Sunday and if you haven’t gotten the chance to read our annual report, I highly suggest you do! This last year has been full of change, growth, and ongoing commitment to being who God has called us to be in northern Colorado Springs. We keep living out our mission, taking each next step in faith and trust in our God.
If you haven’t checked them out yet, take a look at our core values as discerned by the executive council:
- Connecting with the Divine
- Engaging in community
- Fostering diversity
- Embodying our values
- Leading with care
Throughout this next year, as we chart a course through the unknown and step out in faith, these will be our North Stars. And the best thing is that we are already doing it in large and small ways, together and individually! This year, let’s continue to deepen our commitment to each of these values and see how it transforms us.
We couldn’t have gotten here without the wisdom and guidance of an amazing Executive Council team. Please extend great gratitude to Kayan Cross, who served as moderator, and Dana Zimmerman, who served as treasurer as their terms came to an end on Sunday. Their leadership has been transformative and has gotten us to where we are today! We welcome Dave Lee as moderator and Matt Spencer as treasurer and look forward to the impact they will have on our church as leaders and guides.
There are great things ahead of us! These days are full of possibility and wonder and I am truly honored and excited to be on this journey with you.
In faith and in hope,
Good morning, Vista Grande!
In worship yesterday, we spent time with the most well-known Christian prayer. It’s called by several names, including the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’s Prayer, and The Disciples’ Prayer. Though many of us are most familiar with the traditional Protestant version, complete with ‘arts’ and ‘thous’, there is a rich tradition of reinterpretation and rewriting that can illuminate familiar words and offer a different perspective on their meaning. Check out this one from the linkNew Zealand Anglican Prayer Book or this one from the linkqueer, anti-racist liturgy collective enfleshed. They are both the same and different, rooted in the tradition of the Jesus Prayer and unique to the writer who penned them.
When it comes time to speak this prayer every Sunday, there is an invitation in our weekly bulletin to “use whatever version speaks to you.” It’s an invitation to exercise your theological freedom and individual connection to God while also honoring the traditions we came from and the faith that we share. The relationship between us as individuals and our synergy in community is truly at the heart of our denomination’s theology. You are allowed to question. You are allowed to re-write. You are allowed to doubt and struggle and discern how you fit into God’s story. It’s baked into how our church works! But, as Uncle Ben says in Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility” – each of us is also responsible for figuring out what it means to be followers of Jesus in our church and broader community.
For those folks who didn’t make it to worship (or who need a little extra time to write!), we spent time in worship writing our own versions of the Lord’s Prayer. How would you say it in your own words? If you are willing, please email your prayer to me at email@example.com. I would love to collate these prayers into a Vista Grande prayer book so we can hear the heart of one another’s faith more clearly and truly pray together as Jesus taught each of us, uniquely.
My prayer for all of us this week is that we receive “what we need in both bread and insight” and loose the bonds of guilt and shame which keep us isolated from one another.
Blessings, dear ones, and may God’s kin-dom come.
Greetings, Vista Grande!
In worship on Sunday, we spent some time thinking about different metaphors for God and how each of them helps us understand a different aspect of the Divine’s character. In her book Called to Question, Sr. Joan Chittister describes religion as an arm pointing at the moon. It’s important not to mistake the arm for the moon itself! For the last two millennia, people who practice Christianity have had deep, life changing experiences with the Divine. Lots of times, though, we’ve mistaken the container for the experience and tried to catch that moonlight in a box as if to say “if you do things exactly like these other people did them, you’ll be able to see the moon, too!” So much strict doctrine and harmful theology comes from the desire to trap moonlight in a box.
Thankfully, our God is bigger than that! The journey of faith is an invitation to travel through this world and find God everywhere – from intricate flowers to the glow of the sun on the mountain to the energy we can feel but not see to the vastness of the universe to the face of our siblings who are suffering. God is everywhere, waiting to greet us and teach us something new about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in this time.
There are lots of ways of knowing God and, at the same time, God defies being boxed in. It’s a paradox that invites us into wonder and holy mystery. Your word pictures are different than mine because of our God-given uniqueness. The trick is being spiritually mature enough to allow something to be different without calling it wrong or bad.
This week, I invite you to play around. The list of metaphors we used in worship came from a resource called “Millions of Metaphors for God” – it’s a website that uses a word bank to create a four-part name for God. In a quiet moment, I urge you to go to the website and read the metaphor for God it generates for you. What did you learn about God from that metaphor? Spend some time journaling or thinking about that question and let me know how that goes.
As always, I’m so excited to be part of the mystery and wonder of a life of faith with each of you. Blessings on your seeking this week.
Epiphany blessings to each of you, friends!
Epiphany is one of my absolute favorite church holidays. The story is larger-than-life, featuring a star that defies scientific understanding, viciously terrified rulers, sumptuous gifts and, at its core, the dreams of God which guide the way through an adventure of a journey which takes twists and turns no one could have predicted.
I can’t think of a better way to start a new calendar year…we’re only 9 days in, so we get to still call it new! Who knows what this coming year will hold? Joy, new life, weddings, deepening fellowship, good food, and travel partner with grief, anger, tragedy, funerals, hospital stays, and disappointment to create the map of the year. It’s one we only get to read by looking backward and recognizing just how much we have journeyed through.
The gift of the Epiphany story, though, is that no one ever traveled alone. The magi traveled together and God guided them by going ahead of them in the form of the star and being present with them in their dreams. As we have for the last several years, we received our Epiphany star words to guide us and shape our dreams, both individually and together as a community.
As a church, our star word for this year is “HOPE” and I couldn’t think of a better theme for this year we are traveling through together. May it guide, strengthen, and surprise us again and again in the coming months.
If you didn’t receive a star word, you can get one generated for you at this link:
Or, if you’d like a physical one, I can either bring you one or mail it to you. Either way, I encourage you to let your word companion you through this year and witness how it unfolds in your life.
May God continue to guide us, through this week and beyond.