Horses Speak of God

I’ve seen horses change lives. I’ve seen books change lives. A book about horses that reminds us to “sit centered and deeply” in God is sure to foster miracles.

In Horses Speak of God: How Horses Can Teach Us to Listen and Be Transformed, author Laurie M. Brock (and her horse Nina) demonstrate the importance of nurturing faith with our whole selves — in mind and body and spirit, in work and play and relationships. Like horseback riding, our lives and our faith require ongoing reflection, a willingness to listen, and the humility to stay engaged. When we neglect these spiritual disciplines, horses (among other friends) remind us:

“Relax your grip.”

“Work with me.”

“Try again.”

It could be a horse making its opinion known to a rider. It could be God nudging any one of us. The message could tell us something about our posture in the saddle … or about our fears in life. The experience might be a pleasant canter … or a hard fall.

In all, through all, is life. In all and through all is holiness.

Whether you ride or walk, love horses or prefer a nice indoor plant, Horses Speak of God is a beautiful book that will gently invite your self-reflection and encourage your spirit to (re)attune itself to God’s leading.

Go easy.

Trust the discomfort of unlearning and relearning.

Give up a little bit of control.

And let the intuition of horses teach you the good news of God’s mysteries.

(For more from Laurie Brock, follow her fabulous blog.)

Summer Music: Soulrocker

MFS.Soulrocker.R04.submittedThe album of my summer is most definitely SOULROCKER, the new release from Michael Franti & Spearhead, the globally-conscious, awareness-provoking, justice-crying, love-believing artist & band that have been the creative soundtrack of the Gospel for me since I was first introduced to their music during seminary.

“Soulrocker,” as the album jacket defines it, is “one who lives from the heart, with compassion for all, and possesses a tenacious enthusiasm for music, live and the planet.” The album has all of the great Franti/Spearhead hallmarks of “soulrocker” spirit: a woke examination of injustice in its many forms & places, a determined love for all life & creation, a knack for singing right to the heart of things, and an infectious spirit that cannot be kept from dancing.

Longtime fans of Michael Franti will find delightful hints of previous albums and tracks hidden throughout SOULROCKER: references to rude boys, a new take on “I Got Love For Ya” (All Rebel Rockers 2008), and — at least to my ear — echoes from the rhythmic track of “I Wish That I Could Be You” (Love Kamikaze 2005) undergirding “Do You Feel The Way That I Do?”

SOULROCKER is a pick-me-up album:

“Shine your light until the break of dawn,
and shine your light if you’re all alone.”

It’s a fall-in-love album:

“There’s not a worry in the world
when I’m rollin’ with you girl.”

It’s a standing-in-the-need-of-prayer album:

“There’s a part of me that always
needs to pray; there’s a part of me
that wants to run away.”

It’s a lament-the-world album:

“I’m hearing all the time about another Brother
leaving life far before his time.”

It’s a change-the-world album:

“Could you ever give more today?
Or could you give a little
to help love find a way?”

It’s also, with the surprising but artfully-infused addition of techno, a dance album, quite likely to inspire hip-swaying and hand-raising whether in the kitchen or the car or the club.

From start to finish, SOULROCKER is an album that grounds and uplifts my spirit as Franti is always able to do, for which I’m especially grateful this summer. I commend it highly for your summer too — or winter or spring, or vacation or workday. Check it out!

Citizen: An American Lyric

citizenThe image of a sweatshirt hoodie on its cover should provide a significant clue as to the stark portrait painted in Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine, but the book’s pages and words are so smooth that you might be lulled into an imagination that the reading will be easy, gentle.

It is not.

Citizen is unequivocally beautiful but not gentle, like the most exquisite love song capturing the precise, bleeding pain of a broken heart. With literary deft and through vignettes of time & space, Claudia Rankine tells the truth of daily Black citizenship in the United States.

“All our fevered history won’t instill insight,
won’t turn a body conscious,
won’t make that look
in the eyes say yes…”
(pg 142, Citizen)

The microaggressions, the daily violences, the very construct of spaces that declare your life to be less than life, and the interior dialogues of one person navigating such experiences: these are the lyrics of Citizen. The book should be required reading for whites who struggle to understand (or think they already know) the racialized landscape of the U.S. and the dynamics of so-called white privilege. Required reading to listen to the pain — just listen, without the rush to white tears or white heroism or white defensiveness — to a story of citizenship that was not meant to be citizenship.

“The worst injury is feeling you don’t belong so much
to you — ”
(pg 146, Citizen)

Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press 2014) is a necessary and poignant collection of essays, and was named Best Book of the Year by NPR, the New Yorker, the Boston Globe, and many others.

On the bookshelf: “Christ Beside Me, Christ Within Me”

I fully expected to like the new book Christ Beside Me, Christ Within Me: Celtic Blessings by Beth A. Richardson, because I already admire Beth’s writing, blogginginstagramming, and editing.

christ-beside-meWhat surprised me is the tangible impact of this slight, beautifully printed book on my spirit: slowing my breath, deepening my delight, increasing my attentiveness. Beth’s book is not just another collection of prayers; it’s an invitation to recognize and be blessed by the pervasive presence of the Holy within all of life.

The blessings of Christ Beside Me, Christ Within Me are pastoral, wonder-full, tender, and encouraging. They are written for varied life occasions — for mornings and evenings, for seasons of change and seasons of struggle — and intended to be picked up, poured over, held onto, shared, savored, even memorized when our spirits need a blessing to ground our living. Even more: these blessings are written in such a way that readers will find themselves inspired to craft their own blessings for everyday moments and special occasions.

Beth’s original prayers and blessings are set alongside stories of her grandfather and of ancestors who carved out love & life across continents, through wars and the Great Depression, with trust in God’s grace. The stories provide the poignant reminder that blessing — from God, from one another, from the earth — is personal; it’s everyday and hard-working, it’s whole and it’s gracious.

Christ Beside Me, Christ Within Me is not a book for your bookshelves. It’s a book for your bedside table to encourage morning and evening gratitude. It’s a book to keep next to your favorite coffee mug for those moments when you sit in quiet struggle with life. It’s a book to use with your journal as you write your own blessings. It’s a book to inspire your camera (or camera phone) to capture the beauty of everyday grace. It’s a book to bless your daily living.

Preaching Epiphany

So Christmastide has ended, the Star has been followed, and Lent is bearing down on us in one month.

The richness of the season of Epiphany (from the Twelfth Day of Christmas through Transfiguration Sunday) — also the first days of Ordinary Time in the new liturgical year — can be easily lost in the wake of Advent/Christmas hype and in the sobering preparations for Lent. But there is good news still needed from preachers during Epiphany and beautiful stories to unpack in the pulpit: magi & miracles, water & witness, sacred moments & transformative insights!

For last-minute planners and creatively-exhausted preachers, a few sermon series to suggest in encouragement of your preaching during the Epiphany season. The following outlines assume that Epiphany itself (January 6th) has already been celebrated, but for those who will celebrate Epiphany on January 10th, these series can be adapted & adjusted as needed.

Revelation in Community (on the Revised Common Lectionary’s New Testament readings), calling us to understand & celebrate God through community

star4January 10 (Acts 8:14-17): The gifts of others in multiplying & confirming God’s presence among us. “Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

January 17 (1 Corinthians 12:1-11): There is One Source from whom our diversities flow and One Spirit binding us together. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

January 24 (1 Corinthians 12:12-31a): In Christ, all belong to one body and one community, but more than that: all are necessary for the body and the community to reflect Christ. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.'”

January 31 (1 Corinthians 13:1-13): In the context of community, 1 Corinthians 13 becomes less a cliched reading for weddings and more an examination of how we behave together as part of Christ. “Love does not insist on its own way.”

Optional: Presentation of the Lord (Hebrews 2:14-18): A certain humility is necessary in & for community, remembering that Christ came not because we are perfect but because we are human. “He did not come to help angels but the descendants of Abraham.”

February 7 Transfiguration (2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2): Those who belong to Christ are audacious & courageous in seeing Christ in one another. “All of us with unveiled faces (unlike Moses) see the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror.”

A Child Shall Lead Them (on the Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel readings), celebrating Jesus’ youthfulness & imaginationstar2

January 10 (Luke 3:15-17, 21-22): “You are my Son, the Beloved.” We forget sometimes that Jesus was someone’s — and Someone’s — son, a child who was loved and scolded and watched over and nurtured. Most often we think of Jesus as a teacher, as the Word Made Flesh, as our guide, as an authority … in short, as an adult. How might we follow the Child differently than we follow adults?

January 17 (John 2:1-11): Like most children — and many adults — Jesus needed the occasional reminder to take care of his responsibilities. Jesus’ retort to his mother Mary “What does it concern me?” sounds remarkably similar to an eyerolled “That’s not my problem,” when in fact there are very few problems that genuinely are not “ours” in this interconnected world. So with Jesus and with humility, we remember to pay attention to the wisdom of others.

January 24 (Luke 4:14-21): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The maturation of youth includes seasons of certainty and determination, characterized by the conviction that their lives must matter in the scheme of the world and by the boldness to make it so. Jesus lived with a similar decisiveness, unwilling to make compromises and unconvinced by the cynicism that some of us concede to in adulthood.

January 31 (Luke 4:21-30): “Doubtless you will say, ‘Do here in your hometown the things that we heard you did at Capernaum.'” While recognizing the limits on his ministry in Nazareth, Jesus simultaneously tested those limits by naming them aloud in the synagogue, to which the people responded not by saying “Please try to do what you can among us” but by driving Jesus to a cliff. Are we (and how are we) naming and testing the limits of ministry & faith?

Optional: Presentation of the Lord (Luke 2:22-40): “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many, and to be a sign that will be opposed.” Childhood — like faith — is full of ups & downs, scrapes & bruises, doubts & thrills. Jesus does not guarantee us an easy life or journey of faith, though with Simeon we hope to glimpse the glory of God’s salvation.

February 7 Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36, 37-43a): “You faithless generation, how much longer must I bear with you?” So often we cannot see what Jesus sees: healing, release, return. So often we cannot see who Jesus is: wholly God, holy Wild, simply Brilliant. On Transfiguration Sunday, we don holy imagination and childlike faith to believe what we have not yet had the courage to believe.

The Wisdom of Praise (on the Revised Common Lectionary’s Psalms), a challenge to sustain a spirit of delight in the glory of God from the first sighting of the star to the mountaintop transfiguration

star1January 10 (Psalm 29): Do not fear what is God’s, but give credit & praise because all is God’s. “The voice of the LORD strips the forest bare, and all in his temple say, ‘Glory!'”

January 17 (Psalm 36:5-10): We are known and held secure within God’s love. “With you is the fountain of life.”

January 24 (Psalm 19): The heavens understand what we cannot fully grasp, yet still we seek it: the knowledge & fear of the LORD. “More to be desired are they than gold and sweeter than honey.”

January 31 (Psalm 71:1-6): God is our confidence and our calling. “Be to me a rock of refuge…for on you I have leaned since birth.”

Optional: Presentation of the Lord (Psalm 84): The lost and the weary are found in God’s presence; those who trust in God find delight and renewal. “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”

February 7 Transfiguration (Psalm 99): Rejoice and be in awe to confess the strength and magnitude of God. “Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!”

Practicing Discipleship (on the Narrative Lectionary); the Narrative Lectionary has its own energy as the stories continue to follow Jesus’ ministry, yet a theme of discipleship lessons can be additionally traced during Epiphany

star3January 10 (Mark 2:1-22): LAW & LOVE. “Why does he eat with sinners? And why do his disciples not fast like the disciples of John and of the Pharisees?” In discipleship, we are challenged to hold together law & love, discipline & grace, tradition & creativity, and to keep our understandings of faith in constant conversation with the needs of the world.

January 17 (Mark 4:1-34): DISCERNMENT. “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!” Through many parables, Jesus reminds us to live with discerning hearts: for there are seeds that we will have opportunities to plant and seeds that we will have opportunities to harvest; likewise there is wisdom that we may discover and wisdom that will never be revealed to us.

January 24 (Mark 5:21-43): FAITH. “Do not fear, only believe.” Two stories of healing go to unusual length to portray the humanity, the despair and the sorrow, of the woman with hemorrhages and the leader of the synagogue (the former unnamed, the latter named Jairus). Jesus’ words to Jairus in 36b suggest that the opposite of faith is not disbelief but fear.

January 31 (Mark 6:1-29): AUTHORITY. “He called the twelve and sent them out, giving them authority over unclean spirits.” The question of who has the authority to influence whom threads together the dramas of Mark 6 and is a relevant question for our own discipleship. A girl’s dance persuades Herod, the commissioning by Jesus empowers the twelve, and the disbelief of his hometown stymies Jesus’ ability to perform miracles.

February 7 Transfiguration (Mark 8:27-9:8): FOLLOWING. “What will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” The fierceness of Jesus’ words in Mark 8 reminds us that following Christ is not a simple work, not a quick path to glory, not a set of easy answers. Even those who walked with Jesus and knew him best were continually surprised and made frequent missteps in their discipleship.

Blessings for the preaching and the living of these days. May the Epiphany season be full of rich insights and beautiful sightings of the Holy!