Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Not only did U2 surprise everyone by releasing Songs of Innocence yesterday, their 13th album, but now it appears that there will be a SECOND album in the not to distance future, Songs of Experience!!!

That's from a letter to U2 fans posted a short time ago on where Bono basically re-introduces the band after the long hiatus between albums. In addition to talking about today's album release, he says we can expect a second album (while also admitting that he's said that in the past):  
"We're collaborating with Apple on some cool stuff over the next couple of years, innovations that will transform the way music is listened to and viewed. We'll keep you posted. If you like Songs of Innocence, stay with us for Songs of Experience. It should be ready soon enough… although I know I've said that before…"  
You might recognize the titles from your high school literature classes: There's a famous book of poetry by William Blake called Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

Been listening threw my work today to Innocence:  this is epic work....

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Who do you say that I am?"

(This sermon is inspired, in no small part, by David Lose's awesome weekly gift to preachers, "Dear Partner in Preaching" found on his " the Meantime" blog.  Lose created and wrote "Dear Working Preacher" while he was at Luther Seminary.)

It is arguably the most important question for us to answer, whether we are 1st, or 21st century Christians:

Who do you say that I am?

"(Jesus) is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

This was Peter’s answer in Matthew’s Gospel.  And here, they get high marks from Jesus.

But what do these words really mean for Peter, the Gospel writer, and those who read them? 

That isn't necessarily clear...

We have certainly tried to explain them.  We have this big Creed that we say every week together:  words that have been worked over by important people in the Church’s history.

These words are well and good for our weekly ritual, in part because they encompass so many possibilities in their potential understanding.  Perhaps they do indeed best explain who Jesus is.

But even if we use Peter’s short version:  “You are the Messiah:  the Son of the Living God”,
What do we really mean with these words?  How would we describe what they mean?

Who do you say that I am?

…another way of saying that, is this:
What do you believe about Jesus?

If I was required to avoid theological language:  if I was not allowed to use any words that required further explanation, I’d make these two statements about Jesus:

—-In Jesus, I see God’s love for the world.

—-In Jesus, I see what is possible through God.

David Lose essentially said the same thing, but in a more classically preacher sort of way…as he self-admits...with “lots of words”.  He wrote:

“I think Jesus is God’s way of showing us how much God loves us and all people. God is so big that I think we have a hard time connecting with God. And so God came to be like one of us, to live like one of us, in order to reveal just how God feels about us. In this sense, Jesus revealed God’s heart, a heart that aches with all who suffer depression and think seriously about ending their lives, a heart that is upset and angry when a young black man is shot dead for no explicable reason, a heart that is torn up in grief at the desperate situation and violence that rips apart the land we’ve named Holy, a heart that loves us like only an adoring parent can and so not only wants the best for us but is always eager to welcome us home in grace, forgiveness, and love. 
But it’s more than that, too. I think Jesus also came to show us what’s possible. And so rather than give into the threat of disease, Jesus healed. Rather than surrender people to demons, Jesus showed compassion. Rather than let people starve because there’s not enough to go around, Jesus fed people who were hungry. Jesus refused to be satisfied or limited by the status quo and invites us to do the same, because if Jesus’ life and death show us how much God loves us, Jesus’ resurrection shows us that that love is more powerful than hate and fear and even death. Jesus shows us, in short, that God’s love wins.”

I think David’s words are extremely well said.  But the question, again, is not what some theologian, your priest, or even what The Church or The Bible says about Jesus.…

It’s Jesus saying to you:  “Who do you say that I am?”

What do you believe about Jesus?

If you use Biblical words like Messiah…or theological claims like “Son of God”…or other deep metaphorical language...that’s fine.

But if you're using those kind of words...layered with generations of symbolism...what do you really understand them to mean???  How would you explain your answer to those with no concept or history of these words?

What do you believe about Jesus?

So, here’s your challenge. 

Come up with a sentence or two that describes what you honestly believe about Jesus.

Then use those words…your confession…to shape the way you live your life in the days that follow.

Be honest with yourself, even if it doesn’t exactly match what Peter says, or what we say in the Creed.

But take heart, and be kind with yourself as well....

This isn't a test you can pass or fail.

And Jesus doesn't ask the question for his sake:  seeking praise of him or God.

Instead, the words you come up with have the power to continually transform your life, and those around you.  As Lose wrote, your words "...are ones of power that will help root us in the love and possibility that Jesus offers." 

“Who do you say that I am?”

What do you believe about Jesus?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tragic news of Robin Williams’ death

I came home from the movies last night, unaware of the news that Robin Williams had taken his own life.  There are a number of news reports (and more will follow) about his challenges with addiction and depression:  and it is my sincere hope that it will raise awareness, and people will seek and find help in their own lives.

Williams is often thought of primarily for his remarkable manic and rapid-fire comic style, but is career is filled with movies that are fertile grounds for the intersection of pop culture, religion, and ethics.  Dead Poets Society and The Fisher King are two that I’ve led conversations on, but Awakenings, Good Morning Vietnam, and the obvious What Dreams May Come would also work quite well.

Good Morning Vietnam, to me, is actually still underrated because Williams' historical (and hysterical) monologues tend to dominate our memories.  But in addition to lots of laughs, the movie was a striking look at Vietnam, and explored how wars were censored (no “real news” allowed, less people might be reminded that there was a “conflict” going on), relationships were challenged, and real heartbreak in the midst of a war zone.  The use of Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”, set with the images of the war, is among the most powerful use of a classic song in a movie (and forever challenged and changed the way I heard the song).  I am always struck at how I'm laughing throughout the closing words, when all of a sudden, I find myself crying.

Dead Poets Society is most likely my favorite Williams movie.  The movie challenged the point of education (create rule followers, or people who will think for themselves).  It brilliantly used Walt Whitman and other classic poets to connect with the promise and passion of life, the message to “seize the day”, and “contribute your verse”.

The contrast of the two leading students and roommates, the outgoing, passionate Neil, and the quiet and reserved Todd, was central to the story.  Williams chemistry (as Professor Keating) with the young actors was essential to showing their character's growth as human beings.  As Todd was pulled out of his shell by Keating and Neil, Williams shows just the perfect amount of subtle worry that Neil is not be honest with his father.

And of course, Neil isn’t.  And it leads to his suicide.

The actor Kurtwood Smith (in a phenomenal performance) is the kind of strict unyielding father you love to hate in movies.  But every heart breaks when he cries out “Neil!!!  Neil!!!  Oh my God!!!  Oh, my son!!!” 

The cascade of profound loss and consequence the suicide has in the film is so real and immense.

I can’t help but lament that Williams could not remember the power and message of this movie, and that he wasn’t able to translate it to the profound loss people now have over his suicide.  Depression is a powerful force that can isolate the strongest of people.  

O ME! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; 
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish; 
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?) 
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d; 
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me; 
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined; 
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life? 
That you are here—that life exists, and identity; 
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.  
---Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

I trust that Williams is at peace with God, as I pray for his family and friends who now mourn and find ways to carry on.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.