Friday, July 25, 2008

Favorite Things

Went through my ITunes "purchased list" this morning (cursorily) and picked my favorite songs (below). I will probably add other favorites (songs, books, food, games, tv shows, movies, etc.) to this list. For now, here are the songs I have picked as "five stars" from ITunes. It seems to me that selecting our "favorites" is a way of understanding ourselves and others better.


  • We Shall Overcome -- Joan Baez

  • Over the Rainbow -- Karaoke version

  • No Place But Texas -- Willie Nelson ** (lyrics below)

  • Both Sides Now -- Neil Diamond *** (partial lyrics below)

  • It Is No Secret -- Elvis Presley

  • Always On My Mind -- Willie Nelson

  • Forever and Ever, Amen. -- Randy Travis

  • I Came to Believe -- Johnny Cash

  • Believe -- Josh Groban

  • Belief -- John Maher * (see lyrics below)

  • The Closest Thing to Crazy -- Kate Melua

  • Battle Hymn of the Republic -- Morman Tabernacle Choir

There are a number of contradictory emotions and beliefs expressed in these songs. I am coming to believe that the need for us to strive for consistency in our lives (as a means of achieving integrity) is highly overrated. Honesty and loyalty should not be diminished, but as circumstances in life change, one must be open to embracing new perspectives.

Striving for consistency (e.g., "holiness code stuff") leads to living in denial (or conscious hypocrisy). Our existence is filled with settings in which we are multi-polar, impure, contradictory. Neil Diamond's song "Both Sides Now" tells me of the ways our "conformity-urges" constrict our growth and expression. Humbly, we find freedom as we embrace the illusions of life--which somehow synthesize our experiences.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

*Lyrics "Belief" by John Mayer

Is there anyone who Ever remembers
changing their mind from The paint on a sign?
Is there anyone who really recalls Ever breaking rank at all
For something someone yelled real loud one time

Everyone believes In how they think it ought to be
Everyone believes And they're not going easily

Belief is a beautiful armor But makes for the heaviest sword
Like punching under water You never can hit who you're trying for
Some need the exhibition And some have to know they tried
It's the chemical weapon For the war that's raging on inside

Everyone believes From emptiness to everything
Everyone believes And no ones going quietly

We're never gonna win the world
We're never gonna stop the war
We're never gonna beat this
If belief is what we're fighting for

What puts a hundred thousand children in the sand
Belief can Belief can
What puts the folded flag inside his mother's hand
Belief can Belief can

** Lyrics "No Place But Texas"

God painted the bluebonnets in the fields
By a tough little scrub oak on an East Texas hill
And he plucked the star from a lone star sky
And he put it in the twinkle of a cowboy's eye

The wide open spaces he made wild and free
Texas as far as any eye can see
And he made her sons grow tough and strong
They still cry when they hear a sad song

No place but Texas
Would I ever roam
No place but Texas
My home, sweet home
No place but Texas
My home, sweet home

When I die I hope they bury me
By the Pedernales River 'neath a white oak tree
Where I can see the longhorns graze
And the cactus flowers blooming in the morning haze

No place but Texas
Would I ever roam
No place but Texas
My home, sweet home
No place but Texas
My home, sweet home

*** Lyrics: "Both Sides Now"
Rolls and flows of angel hair,
Ice cream castles in the air,
Feather canyons everywhere,
I've looked at clouds that way.
But now they only block the sun.
They rain, they snow on everyone.
So many things I would've done
But clouds got in my way.

I've looked at clouds from both sides now,
From up and down and still somehow
It's clouds' illusions I recall.
I really don't know clouds at all.

. . . .

Tears and fears and feeling proud,
Say "I love you" right out loud.
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way.
But now old friends are acting strange.
They shake their heads and say I've changed.
But something's lost when somethings gained
Living everyday.

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall.
I really don't know life at all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Election 2008

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Monday, July 14, 2008


This sermon was preached at Boerne First United Methodist Church on Good Friday, March 21, 2008.

I was reading on the internet a review of a movie earlier this week when I came upon a warning, in bold print. WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD. What they meant was they were about to tell me the way the movie came out. So if I didn’t want to know how the story ended, I shouldn’t read any more. Knowing how the story ends, takes away from the suspense and emotion of the movie.

I think the same can be said for the passion story.

I have heard it said that we cannot experience the ecstasy and joy of Easter, unless we experience the pain and despair of the crucifixion.

It is an basic part of our human make-up that we try to avoid pain and we seek out pleasure. But it is also true that healing and growth often require pain and sacrifice.

So, tonight, let us listen to the testimony of some of the principle actors in the Good Friday events. We will hear from them as they speak to us on Saturday---the day after the crucifixion, the day before what we call Easter. So at that point, they did not know about the Resurrection

We know that the Jewish day began at sunset. So, “Friday” actually began on our Thursday evening. It included the Last Supper and ended at Sunset the next day.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Our first witness is Peter:

“This is the worst day of my life. First, Jesus wanted to wash my feet and I wouldn’t let him. Then I begged him to wash my feet. I had a hard time knowing what was expected of me. Then Jesus asked me to pray with him when we got to the garden. And, of all things, I fell asleep. The next thing I know the Temple Guard is there, arresting Jesus. I was ready to fight them off, but Jesus said no. Then, early in the morning (or very late last night) I said I didn’t even know him. --- not once, but three times. I was so scared. I wish I’d never been born. And I ran away and hid. Then they killed him on a cross.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And hear from his mother, Mary:

I worried so much for him, especially those last days. There had been times in his life when our family felt like he was going too far. We tried to help him, but he wouldn’t listen. When he created that ruckus in the temple, earlier this week,I think that was the last straw.
So today as I watched him dying on that cross. I felt like I was dying too. I wish I could have taken his place. My heart has been crushed. I loved him so, and now he is gone. Any mother knows how I feel.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Then there was the Roman soldier:

I never wanted to come to this country. And when I got here I was appalled to be assigned to execution squad. Once, my son was terribly ill, and having heard about Jesus, I asked him to heal my son. And he did. That is why I find it so hard to understand why these people wanted to kill Jesus. I watched as my men whipped him. I saw him struggle as he went to Golgotha. It was incredible. Here he was, seemingly despised and hated by everyone, and he asked his Father God to forgive everyone. Then the earth began to move from under my feet, and the sky was covered with a blanket of darkness. I was surprised when I heard my self say, “Surely this is the Son of God.” And then he died.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We call this Good Friday because we see all these events with Resurrection Eyes. But Resurrection eyes can see the risen Lord, only with the cross in the background.

As I heard someone say earlier today, “We know how it all turned out.” So for us the horrible things that happened on that day are more easily accepted. We may want to minimize the suffering of Jesus. We may want to run away from that cross and hide, like his disciples did. But we cannot; not if our salvation has any real meaning.

So here, on this night of all nights, may we meditate and give thanks for the overwhelming sacrifice of love which Jesus give to us.

We call this day Good Friday, because what Jesus did this day and every day of his life, was to erase the condemnation of sin from each of us.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Freedom of / for / from religion

In South Carolina one can now purchase an automobile license plate bearing the emblem of a cross with the words "I believe" embossed on the bottom of the plate. In my own church Sunday, the congregation said in unison (during the call to worship) "our nation was founded as a Christian nation". I take offense to both those expressions and discuss my reasons below.

Some evangelicals tout the United States to have been founded as a Christian nation; yet, nowhere in the founding documents (Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, etc.) is Jesus Christ mentioned. We do have freedom of / for / from religion in this great nation, and I, as a Christian minister, am proud and grateful that we are a secular "republican-democracy" instead of a state-sponsored theocracy.

I know of no religious group which would want a theocratic government dominated by some religious viewpoint other than their own. That is the key reason for rejection of any tinge of state-sponsored religion.

The assumption by most zealous religious groups is that the rest of the population shares (or ought to share) their own perspective. But in the real world, even the seemingly universal Christian statement "I Believe" is open to controversy. The emerging progressive Christian movement holds that a transforming relationship with God is more important than creedal beliefs.

So, can one order a South Carolina license plate which says "I relate"? To take the
argument even further, will other religous perspectives be allowed on the state-issued licenses? The star of David? The crescent? The words, "Hail Mary, full of grace"? Or even "I don't believe"?

Jesse Helms is quoted as saying that when religous critics espouse "freedom of religion" they mean "freedom from religion". While he may have meant that to be a derogatory condemnation of the "non-religious", I find truth in his statement.

While I will defend anyone's right to their own peculiar religious expression, I cherish deeply the protection that I am constitutionally guaranteed to have freedom from the imposition of "their religion" on me. The tyranny of majority religions being forced on minority perspectives presents itself as a sad and despotic stain on freedom's flag.

In the latter part of the 19th century, Methodism was so popular in the United States, it is said, that a movment wanted to delcare it to be the Church of America. As a Methodist, I am extremely happy that idea died away (I am sure my good Baptist friends also agree).

The choice to express, or to refrain from the expression of, theological / religious tenets in this nation must be vigilantly guarded against the efforts of the well-meaning but zealously self-righteous ones who seek the sanction of government.