Archives for December 2014

An Advent Journey: When God Became Small — Day Twenty-Three


2 Samuel 6:12-19, NRSV

Then King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before theLord; and she despised him in her heart.

They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord.When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

This is a fascinating selection for Advent, don’t you think? A time of great celebration in David’s reign — the return of the ark to the people of God. And in these short verses, we see two distinctly different responses to that great event:

David danced with all his might. . .


Michal despised David in her heart because of it.

I so want to be a mighty dancer. I do! But too often, I think I’m actually more like Michal, holding judgment in my heart and too much disapproval.

I wonder if Michal knew how she was shutting off her heart. Because that’s what judgment and disapproval do — they shut off our hearts. David offered what he had — his own body and his deep sense of joy and fulfillment. So what if it wasn’t ‘seemly?’ So what?

We fuss around an awful lot sometimes. About really dumb things. Maybe this Advent, I can let go of some of that fussiness and take a few tentative dance steps just because God is good.

Oh, Lord. Forgive my foolishness. Because that interior frown, that sideways glance of disdain — those are foolish. Truly. Help me to embrace all of who I am, and all of who others are, no matter how they dance. And then help me to spin out of that embrace for the sheer joy of it, and to dance with all my might because of how good you are. 



An Advent Journey: When God Became Small — Day Twenty-Two


Hebrews 1:1-4, NRSV

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Again today, this passage is a particular favorite of mine. “In these last days. . . ” God speaks to the world through a son. A son who is heir to all, through whom creation happened.

And who shows us who God is. Exactly who God is. A mirror image, a complete reflection of who God is, what God is like, ‘the exact imprint of God’s very being.’

This is amazing. THIS IS AMAZING. This is what we say we believe, it’s central to our understanding of who we are as followers of Jesus . . . and yet . . . And here, that ‘yet’ has a much more melancholy feel to it, doesn’t it?

I don’t think we live out what we say we believe. At least, not fully. If Jesus is the true image-bearer, then what we see in him cannot contradict what we say we see in God. And I guess that means that God is on the look-out for the lost, the least, the littlest, the last. Because that’s what Jesus did, that’s who Jesus was.

God is not interested in our power structures, our organizational skills, our decisions about who’s out and who’s in because Jesus wasn’t.  

And, friends. . . that is earth-shaking. Truly.

Oh, Jesus. Oh, Yahweh. Oh, Spirit. Sometimes I think I play you off against one another in my head. And yet, your word tells me that Jesus is the real deal, the whole enchilada, the perfect picture of GOD. Help me to reach for the hem of your garment, Lord, every single day. Because I need to remind myself that you walked these dusty roads with us and that you broke every stereotype, every preconception, every human understanding of who God is and what God is about. Hallelujah!

An Advent Journey: When God Became Small — Day Twenty-One


Mark 9:9-13, The Message

Coming down the mountain, Jesus swore them to secrecy. “Don’t tell a soul what you saw. After the Son of Man rises from the dead, you’re free to talk.” They puzzled over that, wondering what on earth “rising from the dead” meant.

Meanwhile they were asking, “Why do the religion scholars say that Elijah has to come first?”

Jesus replied, “Elijah does come first and get everything ready for the coming of the Son of Man. They treated this Elijah like dirt, much like they will treat the Son of Man, who will, according to Scripture, suffer terribly and be kicked around contemptibly.”

This little snippet of a passage comes at the tail end of one of my favorite gospel narratives: the transfiguration. I love that story for lots of reasons — Jesus glows (!!), three of the disciples are chosen for some extra revelation (and they don’t get it, at all), and most of all? Because Jesus has a very rich, personal encounter with God the Father, who encourages him on the cusp of his coming suffering, who tells his closest followers that Jesus is the one to listen to, the one worth following.

And then, Jesus says the words that I’ve highlighted here: don’t tell anybody! 

Don’t tell anybody? Are you serious? We’ve just had the experience of a lifetime and we cannot talk about it?

But apparently, that isn’t what troubles the disciples here. Oh, no, they’re kind of caught up in the details — the gnarly, religious details. Why do the scholars say . . .

Oh, Lord, deliver me from religious nit-picking!! Help me to stand in awe of who you are, to be blown away by why you came, to stand gap-jawed at your glory. 

And then, let me tell somebody about it, okay?

How I wish I could have been there for this one, Lord! I love reading about it. But there are days when I could really use a heavenly visitation, you know? Please give me the wisdom to know when to speak and when not to speak. And when it’s time to talk, will you help me find the best words? Thank you!

Getting Better & Better: A Book Review — In the Heart of the Dark Wood







An Advent Journey: When God Became Small — Day Twenty


Acts 3:17—4:4 , NRSV

“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. 

Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.’

And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

An interesting choice for Advent, this sermon of Peter’s. And the phrase that stands out to me in this reading is one about refreshing.

Refreshing from the presence of the Lord. 

What do you think of when you read that word, ‘refresh?’ Immediately, water comes to my mind. Water to drink, to bathe in, to swim in, to spray into the hot, dry air. Water.

I don’t think it’s an accident that Jesus talks about himself as the water of life. But I’m not sure I think about that image in terms of refreshment very often. And maybe I need to! Because refreshing is what we all need. Regularly.

In the midst of tedium, of children screaming, of too many things to do and not enough time to do them, of tense relationships, of physical suffering, of our own brokenness and sinfulness — we all need to be refreshed.

So I’m glad that Peter chose to use this picture that day, that his famous sermon to all those people gathered there in Jerusalem contained a reference to ‘times of refreshing.’

Because of Jesus.

How blessed we are to be the recipients of your refreshment, O God. Thank you for forgiveness, for the ongoing work of the Spirit in us, the One who transforms us bit by bit into people who look like Jesus. 

Getting Better & Better: A Book Review — In the Heart of the Dark Wood


Well. If you would like to read a thoroughly captivating story and are willing to do NOTHING else for about 24 hours, have I got the book for you.

This is the third in what I hope will be a limitless series of stories about Mattingly, a small town on the edge of the dark woods. And each one has gotten progressively more entrancing and intriguing. You can start with number one (reviewed here — and this is the book where the recurring phrase/idea “God has sharp edges” first appears) or number two (check it out here) or with this amazing story. 374 is a lot of pages, but this book is the very definition of ‘page-turner’ — and I mean that in the very best way.

This is a story about two children who are far more grown-up than many adults I’ve met. Allie is on a pilgrimage, ostensibly to find a plastic nativity piece that has blown away in a storm and she asks her best friend, Zach, to go with her.

But Allie is searching for far more than a Mary statue; she is looking for her mother, who disappeared in a gigantic windstorm almost two years before. And Allie has never been the same since. During the time that they are looking, all kinds of fascinating things happen to these kids. Both of these kids. They learn about life, they learn about fear, they learn about themselves.

And, as extra incentive for you, the story is set during the week before Christmas. I tell you, this is the PERFECT book for you to read (You can click here to order your own copy.)


How often do you read a novel with this many dog-ears? With language that is rich and evocative, characters that are fully fleshed out and easily accessed, and a plot line marked with just enough magic to make it memorable, this is one grand adventure. I promise you will read it from beginning to end as fast as you can and then, breathe a deep sigh of satisfaction when you turn that last page.

Here are just a few samples of beautiful description, thought-provoking reflection and sometimes astounding insight into the deepest things in life: faith, family, love:

“Maybe we just gotta believe,” Zach said.
“How do we do that?”
“I don’t know. Believing’s not something you do. It’s something you are.” (pg. 80)

“There was a strange peace to that part of the woods, almost a gentle pulsing, and Allie let the stillness fill the cracks inside her.” (pg. 86)

Allie, on her estrangement from God since her mama’s disappearance: “I think God’s more like the moon, just sitting up there in the sky, watching what all’s going on. This is just a TV show to Him. . . I figure it’s best to ignore Him. Maybe then, He’ll ignore me. God finds out Momma sent word, He’ll do all He can to stop me.” (pgs. 162-163)

“As as Zach ran, he prayed that he didn’t have to wear a hat to be a man, that instead it meant doing for others even what you most feared. Not because he was strong and brave, but because he loved. Because in the end, love is the most powerful magic of all.” (pg. 300)

And to end this little jaunt through those pages, this last one, which is a favorite of mine:

“Everyone was lost somehow, turned around in their own darkwood, looking for something that would help them to go on. Everyone just wanted to find their way home.” (pg. 237)

Reading this wonderful, wonderful story will help you get there. 

I can hardly wait for the next installment!


I received an advance copy of this book and was asked to write an honest review. This is me, being honest!


An Advent Journey: When God Became Small — Day Nineteen



Psalm 125, The Message

Those who trust in God   
  are like Zion Mountain:
Nothing can move it, a rock-solid mountain
  you can always depend on.
Mountains encircle Jerusalem,
  and God encircles his people—   
always has and always will.

The fist of the wicked
   will never violate
What is due the righteous,
    provoking wrongful violence.
Be good to your good people, God,
    to those whose hearts are right!
God will round up the backsliders,
    corral them with the incorrigibles.
Peace over Israel!

Ah, I do love the mountains. Almost as much as I love the coastline. And here where we live, we get both. Our home is on the downward slope of a mountain foothill and two miles further down the road, the ocean awaits.

This picture showcases our backyard view – one that I enjoy every day, maybe especially as the sun begins to set, turning the nooks and crannies shades of pink and salmon, even lavender.

Those mountains are steady. They are huge and reassuring and call forth all kinds of good images for me. The one used by the psalmist in today’s text is one that is especially dear to my heart: God encircles his people like the mountains encircle Jerusalem.

Somehow, having actual mountains to look at helps me to remember this truth. When we went ‘college shopping’ with our daughters, our eldest became distinctly uncomfortable when we drove by a UC campus that was located on a plain. “I could never go to school here,” she said. “I would feel untethered.”


Thank you, Lord, for being our tender tether, for encircling us with your love, grace and power. When I begin to gaze out at the world, looking for who-knows-what beyond the peaks, help me to remember that you are the one who encircles me. You are my tether. Thank you.

And Advent Journey: When God Became Small — Day Eighteen, Third Sunday


Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, NRSV

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;

to proclaim the year of theLord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;

to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

They shall build up the ancient ruins,
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

Where I live, oak trees are a protected species. If you must remove an oak tree from your property for any reason, you are required to plant ten others. We love our oak trees in Santa Barbara County!

And I am so glad we do. Because when I drive over the rolling hillsides that surround this town, I think of this verse when I see these grand old trees scattered around the countryside. I want to be like an oak tree, a righteous oak tree, displaying the glory of the Lord.

Do you?

Help me to be one who builds up, who repairs, who provides for those who mourn. I love that the opening verses of this chunk are the ones you read out in the synagogue, Jesus. That you chose Isaiah to proclaim who you are and what you’re about. Because Isaiah says it well — you gave him rich words and images to use. And I am grateful. Thank you!

A Prayer for the Second Sunday in Advent

I wrote this prayer for community worship in 2009. And then I folded it into a small, home-copied book of community prayers that I gave as gifts to the members of our congregation when I retired at the end of 2010. Periodically, I am going to publish those prayers in this space. If anyone wishes to use any of them in worship, just let me know. Please do not print and distribute without written permission from me. Thank you.

DSC03573 Advent 2014

We had just listened to the beautiful song about Joseph, “A Strange Way to Save the World,” written by Mark Harris.


“A strange way to save the world,” indeed.
If we’re really honest with you and with ourselves, Lord God, we don’t completely ‘get’ what you’ve done for us in the coming of Jesus.

We get pieces of the puzzle, and we celebrate joyously what our limited imaginations can grasp.

But we, too, can easily join the chorus of,

            “Why him?”  “Why here?”  “Why her?”

And I, for one! (and probably many others in this room might join me in this) I am very often one to second-guess what angels have to say!

I try, and fail, to wrap my mind around

            the mystery of the incarnation,

            the mystery of salvation,

            the mystery of faith itself,

and I second-guess everything … a lot!

It sometimes seems like a highly visible, high and mighty, fully-grown military leader extraordinaire might fill the bill as savior a whole lot better than a red-faced, squirming, squalling very needy, tiny baby,
who makes his grand entrance on the scene
     with no one but animals and shepherds 
     and dirt-poor parents for company.

And when my second-guessing takes me down that particular road, it’s time for me…
     to stop, to slow down, to step back,
     to breathe in and breathe out, and be still.

Still enough to hear your voice of love through all the garbage in my head.

Still enough to allow your Holy Spirit to re-capture my imagination.

Still enough to remember that You are God and I am not.

To remember :

            that you always do things in unexpected ways,
            that you continually confound those who are wise in                           their own eyes,
            that you choose to make yourself visible in
                                             the weak, the lost, the little, the least;
                       that you are not in the business of taking over the world by force;

            you are in the business
                  of wooing your human creatures
                  in ways that are subtle and strange, surprising and mysterious.

And for that, we most humbly say, “Thank you.”
And for that, we most humbly ask, “Woo us, O Lord.”

For we’re here in this place today, God, to say that
            we need a Savior, we need a healer,
            we need a companion on the way.

Many of us are dreading these days ahead –
            we’re missing people from our family circle, through illness or death or divorce;
            we’re struggling with illness and pain ourselves;
            we’re tired of the overhype and the overkill;
            we’re broke and we’re frightened about the future;
            we’re struggling to find our place in the world and we don’t quite know where to put our feet next;
            we’re facing into exams and papers due and not enough time or energy to do any of it;
            we’re facing the harsh reality of aging, failing bodies and we yearn for heaven.

We’re a mixed up, crazy bunch here, Lord.
And we truly don’t ‘get it’ a lot of the time.
BUT – we deeply desire to get YOU.

Through all the questions and all the wrestling, and all the sighing and all the wondering – we want you.

We want you to be – in us and through us – the God who surprises people with grace.

We want you to be – in us and through us – the God who welcomes the stranger with words of hope and peace.

We want you to be – in us and through us – the God who comes to us as one of us, tiny and squalling, poor and needy.

The one who cries tears of compassion over our lost-ness.

The one who heals our diseases and feeds our souls.

The one who lives a fully human life,

            and dies a fully human death,

            and who is resurrected by the power of Divine Spirit,

and who will come again to bring justice and mercy where justice and mercy are due.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!  Amen.

An Advent Journey: When God Became Small — Day Seventeen


Habakkuk 3:13-19, NRSV

 You came forth to save your people,
    to save your anointed.
You crushed the head of the wicked house,
    laying it bare from foundation to roof. Selah

You pierced with their own arrows the head of his warriors,
    who came like a whirlwind to scatter us,
    gloating as if ready to devour the poor who were in hiding.

You trampled the sea with your horses,
    churning the mighty waters.

I hear, and I tremble within;
    my lips quiver at the sound.
Rottenness enters into my bones,
    and my steps tremble beneath me.
I wait quietly for the day of calamity
    to come upon the people who attack us.

Though the fig tree does not blossom,
    and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails,
    and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold,
    and there is no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will exult in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    and makes me tread upon the heights.

When this passage came up in the daily lectionary, I nearly wept with gratitude. It is one of my favorite favorites. Despite everything that is wrong, hard, painful, grievous — despite everything —

yet I will rejoice in the Lord.

Oh, that I might stand tall and sing with the prophet. That I might raise my hands to heaven and shout these words! YET. Just three letters, but so powerful, poignant, game-changing. 

Yet. . .

Of Lord of the ‘Yet,’ help me to be a person who clings to that ‘yet,’ who believes — soul-deep — that you are good, faithful, present. . . no.matter.what. Thank you for these words, for this declaration of trust and commitment, even in the bleakest of circumstances. Thank you for Habukkuk this Advent.