Lectionary(A), 7.23.17: Psalm 86:11-17 & Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.

“Lord give me an undivided heart…”  I find myself praying with the psalmist that I might worship God alone, not commit the idolatry of trying to worship God and my own comfort.  I find myself praying  that I might possess love alone, not love diluted by  judgement of self or anyone else.  I wonder if that kind of undivided love and undivided worship might be the same thing?   Hoping to find my way out of  what I interpret as humanity’s “original” and most destructive sin, I change the psalmist’s adjective “undivided” into the verb un-dividing. “Lord, give me an un-dividing heart.”  A heart not willing to divide people into categories of  “good” or “evil”, “worthy” or “unworthy.”  For I believe this dualism  prevents us from truly worshipping the one who created all.  I think this is why Jesus, the Lord of the harvest, tells the workers to cease and desist.  “You can’t tell the weeds from the wheat.  Stop! In your zeal you will destroy both.  You will surely hurt other people, but the life most uprooted will be your own.”

Trying to identify “the weeds” robs us of wholeness.  Rather than giving us the justification we desire, our constant judgement of others makes us more unsure of our own identity.   What we see and criticize in others often only intensifies our own self-doubt as we are forced to deal with “the weeds” we would rather not see in our own lives.   Obsessing over “the weeds” also prevents our own lives from growing and blossoming.   Instead of being grounded and reaching upward, we grow sideways pointing at the other plants, eventually becoming as warped as we think they are.

Caught up in our toxic patterns of “dividing” and judging, we often take the next illogical step of thinking that we  are the ones tasked with pulling “the weeds.”  We exclude.  We ignore.  We shun. And shamefully, we do so in the name of Jesus.

What reasoning, even in the realm of parabolic analogy, makes us think our role could be both wheat and weed puller?  How is it that we can believe that we have that kind of divine wisdom, authority, or responsibility? Anytime we do this we are forgetting our role in the story.   We are playing God…and not very well.

So what is God really like?

On a warm spring morning, a man surveys the green expanse of his back yard.  After hours of tilling, fertilizing, and watering, he can’t help but be exasperated at the weeds sprouting up in his otherwise perfect lawn.  As he contemplates a morning of pulling each and every alien plant out by the roots, he’s interrupted by a little girl’s laughter.

He shouts, “Stop! Don’t do that! If you blow on that dandelion they’ll spread all over the yard!  That’s a weed!”

“No, Daddy!” his daughter cries,”It’s a flower!”

After a few minutes of gentle debate, the little girl finally says, “I don’t care if it’s a weed…It’s so pretty!” and resumes her giggling and twirling around in clouds of fleecy, airborne, dandelion petals.

Is the God you worship like the anxious man futilely attempting to eradicate every single weed? Or is your God like the little girl dancing around, understanding that the dandelions are technically “weeds”, but delighting in them just the same?

Anne Lamott writes, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Even when our judgements don’t reach the point we would call “hate”, I believe you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out God judges all the people you judge ( yourself included) in all the same ways you do.

I ‘m done trying to pull weeds. I don’t have the time or energy for that and even if I did, without the weeds I would’t much left to call a yard…


Northwest Passage: Washington photo gallery

You may be thinking, “It’s been a while since Drew and Jenny have blogged.” And you would be right.  We haven’t shared many updates about Washington, because…well… we have been having too much fun in Washington.  We hope these photos and the short captions will make up for the thousands of words you have been missing.

Capitol Lake and the Puget Sound

Capitol Lake and the Puget Sound

WA state capitol

WA state capitol

Boats at Budd Inlet

Boats at Budd Inlet, we lived in a house right behind there up on the hill.

Oly from my kayak

Oly from my kayak

Our church, "Emmaus House."

Our church, “Emmaus House.”  It was in the old parsonage on the church property of First Baptist Olympia.

Turkey Spaghetti night

Turkey Spaghetti night, every Tuesday for community time.

Our friends Carrie and Gary

Our friends Gary and Carrie

The Nash's

The Nash’s

Drew leading worship

Drew leading worship on Saturday night at Emmaus House.

Our fearless leader: Pastor, "Pappa" Mark

Our fearless leader: Pastor, “Pappa” Mark at the church softball league game.

"Oly" from our place during Lakefair

“Oly” from our place during the annual Lakefair festival.

Stay tuned for updates from our trip back home #eastboundanddown

People watching and Jesus paintings

"Head of Christ", Warner Sallman, 1940

“Head of Christ”, Warner Sallman, 1940

Baggy striped PJ’s.  A white beaded rosary necklace.  Messy hair, sunglasses and a backpack.”Oly” fashion never ceases to amaze me.

Cut-off  jeans, chains, lumberjack beards, piercings, tattoos, a rainbow of hair colors. Outdoorsy people, hippies,hipsters (the distinction of the last two depending on frequency of showers, length of hair, and tightness of jeans), homeless, and a few professionals.   I see it all in this delightfully eccentric little town.

I don’t know why I fixate on this woman.  Perhaps its her appearance at the 4th Ave. Tav during a slow moment of the nil-nil world cup final.  Perhaps its the 2nd IPA.

Three hours later I walk past Jesus.  I intentionally make eye contact as I run back and forth bringing  bags of  food, toilet paper and toiletries to those who line up in the fellowship hall during the meal.  Jesus is sitting at the table with his disciples.  A table filled with food and large glasses of wine.  His brown hair flows around his milky-white, smiling, face like a Disney prince.  He is well dressed and looks like he would smell like your Grandfather’s Old Spice.

Each time I pass the painting I take a deep breath hoping to tap into his compassion and love.  Feeling good that for at least a few minutes of my week, I am doing exactly what Jesus asked.  Taking care of those called “the least of these.”

I think Jesus would especially enjoy giving out makeup, hair dye, and nail polish.  I think he’d smile knowing that even dogs and cats were getting something to eat.

“Can I help you?”  I ask, flipping my note pad to the next page. “I need mouthwash, toothpaste, snacks, and canned food. Thanks!”

My jaw dropped as I looked up to see the woman from the bar.  The woman I had judged.  The woman whose clothing I had laughed at earlier.  I walked down the hall humbled, ashamed, grounded.

People watching is all fun and games until you remember that she is a child of God… Jesus in his more distressing attire.

Why do I automatically assume that Jesus is on my side of the table?  Jesus was just as smelly, dirty, and disheveled as anyone at tonights meal.   He was only rarely the host, mostly relying on the hospitality of others. (What color hair dye do you think Jesus would have asked for?)

When we forget Jesus was poor we forget Jesus.

Jesus in the receiving line forces us to rethink our position in the transaction.

Those of us  intent on giving have to let go of the status that comes with that.  We must take the person before us seriously.  We have to make eye contact.  If we do that we can’t help but make conversation and joke and believe that he or she has something to offer.  We have to look and listen and pay attention.

As I hand her the bag, her boisterous  “God bless you,” rings in my ears.

Lord, help me to take hold of that blessing.


Dizzy Children or Learning to Worship Again

"Tree Grace", Makato Fujimura

“Tree Grace”, Makato Fujimura 1998.

My church is messy.

A seven year boy old debuting original rhythms on the drums.

A young girl loudly offering random thoughts.

Children stampeding down the hall.

Distracting, frustrating…an infringement on “my time” with God.  I can barely concentrate on singing the first hymn.

We broke for coffee and the leader struggled to bring us back together.

Our groups started with the questions and ended up somewhere else entirely.

But as we sang the last song with bread and cup lingering on our lips, God cut through the clutter.

One of the children started to dance, and then another, and then a third.  Joyful little dervishes  lost in the music, giggling as they spun out of control and teetered into the arms of their parents. Without knowing it, they reminded me of what worship is all about.

In God’s eyes we are more like these little children than the put-together adults we pretend to be.

We are just as distracted.  Just as unsettled.  We sit calmly in our chairs with our thoughts and feelings running wildly like the kids through the house.  We insist on our agendas, but more cleverly.   We open our mouths to speak, but often avoid the real answers.

And sometimes we dance.That moment when we let go and allow ourselves to be caught up in the presence of God.  And perhaps She smiles like we all did on Saturday night when the children started spinning.  

We dance when…

we vulnerably share our hurts and hopes

listen long enough to recognize the song we are singing harmonizing with the notes of our lives

we tear off a satisfying hunk of bread and let the juice dribble down our chin, realizing that God is our sustenance.

It doesn’t happen every time.  It often only lasts a moment.  But this is why we gather every week to engage the practice of worship together.  Giving God the chance to cut through the chaos, mixed emotions, and garbled motivations that we all carry with us.

As the children danced around, I felt God wishing I would let go of my idols of neatness and routine.  I felt God nudging me to surrender my notion of worship being about me (and my preferences).  I felt God opening me to understanding that worship is about “us” and the spirit of God that blows through us like the wind blows through the trees.


Genesis 21:8-21: Hagar’s Cry

A Proper 7: Genesis 21:8-21


“Hagar”, Jean Michael Prosper Guerin, 19th Century

I’ve always found the story of Sarah and Hagar extraordinarily unfair, cruel, and troubling, but also filled with surprising hope.

It’s one of the biblical stories that makes me wonder about the goodness (and seemingly lack thereof) of the God we see in the Old Testament.

Sarah can’t have children and so she gives her slave girl to her husband as a concubine.

When Hagar does what she has asked, well really forced to do, (have sex with Abraham and conceive a baby that she must give away)Sarah erupts in jealousy and makes Hagar’s life so miserable that she runs away.

Hagar should  have never gone back.  And she probably wouldn’t have if she did not hear God’s messenger calling to her.

Promising her that she would have a son that God’s blessing would fall on, but more immediately telling her to go back to a toxic, abusive, situation.

In today’s text, Sarah decides to kick that Egyptian woman and her “wild ass” of a son out of the house.  Abe rightly vetoes, but then God lets him off the hook, telling him not to worry about it.

While Abraham’s household celebrates with a feast, Hagar and Ishmael wander into the wilderness with scant rations.  As Abraham and Sarah laugh (Isaac literally meaning, “he laughs/will laugh”) in the wonder of their baby boy, Hagar tearfully leaves her son to die under a tree.

Why would God let this woman suffer so much at the hands of the one he would use “to bless all the nations of the world?”

This is a valid question, one that understandably de-rails many from claiming faith in a benevolent divine being, and keeps the rest of us up at night.

But in the same story we see a God that is remarkably inclusive, progressive, and loving.  When I say progressive, I don’t mean it in the modern sense as a synonym for liberal, but as a way of affirming a God that is out in front of us.  God’s concept of justice, and practice of mercy being literally beyond the grasp of our comprehension.

Hagar is the first person and certainly the first woman in Hebrew scripture to be visited by an angel.  She is the first person to have the courage and wisdom to name God! As an Egyptian slave girl she receives a promise only rivaled by that of God to Abraham.  God hears her cry (Ishmael meaning, “God hears,” or “God may hear”).  God shows her the well that would save her life and the life of her son.

God spoke to, heard, and blessed this outsider.  God honored God’s promise to make a nation from her descendants.  Hagar is honored by our Muslim brothers and sisters as the wife of Abraham and the mother of Ishmael…in some sense the “mother of Islam”.  Her desperate search for water is ritualized in the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), by a symbolic retracing of her run by pilgrims.

Whether or not you agree that God blessed Ishmael in the same way God blessed Isaac, I believe that it would only enhance our spiritual lives to lift up Hagar as an example of faith.  She demonstrated remarkable perseverance, wisdom, and strength.  She was open to the voice of God when everything in her circumstances tell us she shouldn’t have been.  God embraced her, when everything in our exclusive logic says God shouldn’t have.

Admittedly this is complicated.  It opens up all kinds of questions about Israel, Islam, and “God’s plan”.  It forces us to grapple with Sarah’s cruelty and Abraham’s cowardice. It requires us to rise above our “us vs. them” logic.

But more than this, the story of Hagar is a ray of light streaming into our dark circumstances,,pointing us to a God who makes a way out of no way.

Whispering to us that we are never completely forgotten, never all alone, never left for dead, whatever our circumstances may be.


Psalm 8: A Hiker’s Thoughts on “Dominion”

Trinity A: Psalm 8

As I tramped up the rocky, semi-snow covered trail, I heard rustling ahead.  My heart pounded and my breathing grew more intense as I moved closer to take a look.  IMG_3172.JPG

20 feet away was a fleecy, but fiercely horned, mountain goat.  I stood at a safe distance, waiting for it to move so I could continue.  I’ve had similar moments watching a mama bear guard the tree her cubs were climbing in the Smoky Mountains, or gingerly moving around a rattlesnake sunning itself on the Appalachian Trail.

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”

The more time I spend in the woods… climbing mountain ridges, staring up at century old trees, standing on jagged peaks…the more deeply I understand the psalmist’s question.


Once we get out of our secure, well-landscaped, city grids it is easier to understand that we are not the center of the universe.  

This is terrifying.  God created a world that is dangerous and demanding.  Our lives are fragile.  One wrong step, change in the weather, or wildlife encounter away from death.  But something within us also drives us to take risks and push our limits in those parts of the world that are clearly out of our control.

“Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.  You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.” (v.5-8)

Even with all of our advances in technology, these verses sound hopelessly naive.  If you have ever  spent a dark twilight throwing bear bags or tried for a season to grow a meager patio garden “dominion” seems out of reach.  Even more puzzling is the use of this word in the context of the dangerous lives of our nomadic, agrarian, ancestors.

My Old Testament professor explained that the Hebrew word for dominion (and in Genesis 1) is very different from our modern understanding of the word.  Far from “domination,” it should translated as something more  like “skilled mastery.”  Learning to find sustenance by respecting the delicate relationships of creation.

A healthy fear of the natural world allowed early humans to respect the wildness of animals, weather, and micro-organisms, and to express gratitude when harvest emerged.  Humility wasn’t just a virtue, but a necessity of survival.   Our fear fueled by scientific advancement and consumerism has pushed us into a different kind of “dominion”.  Unable to cope with the danger and uncertainty of the world, we have done everything in our power to take control.

Divorcing verse 5 from verse 4, we’ve hunted Buffalo into extinction.  Blasted tunnels through mountains.  Dammed rivers.  Drilled for oil and dug for coal.  Genetically engineered crops and fed cows growth hormones.  Built bigger and more sophisticated structures,and paved over the dirt.

Admittedly, some of this was necessary.  We produce more food.  We live longer, safer, more convenient lives.  But survival has turned to lust.  Dominion indeed, but what have we lost? And what have we really gained?

Our neighbors in the “global south” understand more than we do (yet) that our safety and security is an illusion.  Because of the consumption of the west and “developing” nations, they struggle to find fresh water and fertile land.  They catch fewer fish and lose ground to the rising oceans.  They face more extreme heat and more destructive pests.

Perhaps what truly makes us “a little lower than God”, is our ability to rediscover the healthy fear that our ancestors had of the world, restraining our use of force and technology to manipulate it.    Perhaps it is the ability to find the courage to live within the boundaries of natural processes, co-creating with God rather than trying to be God.

If we could learn to live within our limits maybe  there would be reason for all creatures to recognize the name of the Lord as majestic.

Until then, I think more of us should go hiking…

A Pentecost Reflection

Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21

"Holy Spirit Coming",He Qi.

“Holy Spirit Coming”,He Qi.

We sat in a circle fidgeting,  staring at each other.

The question: “What is your dream?”  Cutting through the multitude of voices from the other groups, I heard the words, “Social justice…world peace…ending racism.”  The perfect answers.  Of course we should all want those things.   It is also the response that almost guarantees that your listeners will reverently nod and not probe too much into your personal space.  They certainly won’t share anything afterward that might sound selfish.

Only able to take a few moments of awkward silence, our group began to speak. “To build  a building at camp for our church to use.”  “For my children to be happy and successful.”  “To live in community.” “To write a book.”   “I don’t know…this is a hard question.”

It was a hard question.  Most of us were grasping to find what to say and then carefully, timidly, sharing with the group.  These were all great dreams, but it felt more like we were trying to pass an exam than telling each other what we most wanted in life.

It wasn’t any easier when we were asked what our dreams were as a community.  A few people spoke, but mostly there was strained silence.

I can’t help but wonder, “Has the church forgotten how to dream?”

Intoxicated by the Holy Spirit, a motley crew of fisherman, tax collectors and women dreamed that Jesus’ death did not kill his presence or his movement.  That God was within all of us.  That grace and forgiveness carried the day.  That the rich and poor could share with each other.  That God spoke all the languages of the world.

The most radical dream was this:

God’s vision was not something that could be fully-known  today to be passed word for word to the next generation, but a reality that would continue to develop in surprising, shocking, unexpected ways.  That God would continue to create, expanding our imaginations,  infusing us with new ideas and new ways of being in the world.

Is this what your church looks like?

Sometimes we embrace the newness and creativity of God’s sustaining presence.  Sometimes we sneer with the teetotaling heckler, “Y’all sound like a bunch of drunks.”  But most of the time we don’t respond at all.

It’s hard to dream new dreams with a shrinking budget, waning attendance, and a building that has grown too large.  When the millennials walk past your steeple to the hip warehouse church down the street.

It’s hard to dream new dreams, when you fear that you will be dismissed again.  Derisively called  a “liberal” or told that you are “compromising” with the culture.  “That’s a beautiful idea, but what’s our return on investment?”

It seems damn near impossible to dream new dreams, when you have been hurt so many times before when things didn’t work out.

And so we focus on survival.  We fixate on filling our own needs.  We fear risk.

But in doing so we miss out on the vitality and energy of The Holy Spirit in our midst.

 In doing so our souls, and our communities gradually die.  

I pray for a church that is willing to put faith in it’s dreams.  To be “wrong.”  To “fail.”  To start without having everything figured out.  To be carried by the unexpected blowing of the spirit without needing to know where it will land.

I pray that we will be intentional about practicing dreams.  Sharing our hopes.  Vocalizing the visions that God gives each and every one of us.  And taking these things seriously. Letting them shape who we are and what we do in reckless ways.

As Bishop John Shelby Spong explains,  “The church will die of boredom long before it dies from controversy.”

No Words: A poem


Mount Si, 5/30/2014.

No words

Just breath

Just breeze

Just birds


Quiet without. Quiet within.

The silent wisdom of the mountains.

Soaring above.  Pointing beyond the highway.

Transcending the “Emerald City” skyline.

Making me feel small, but centered.

Insignificant, but empowered.

Acts 17:22-31: Not far from any of us

Leonoard Porter, "Saint Paul Preaching on the Areopagus" 2010.

Leonoard Porter, “Saint Paul Preaching on the Areopagus” 2010.

Easter 6: Acts 17:22-31

To some, Paul’s speech at Areopagus is the “touchdown football spike” of religious debate.   “You’ve got it all wrong building these statues. Let me tell you what God’s really like.”

The King James translator falls into this camp, using the phrase, “too superstitious”(v.22),  while virtually every other translator chooses “extremely religious”(NRSV) or “very religious”(NIV). Most commentators explain that Paul is not complimenting the Athenians but employing biting irony or strategic flattery.

But it’s also possible that Paul meant what he said, genuinely impressed by a people earnestly seeking God.  Before speaking, he “carefully” immersed himself in the traditions of his audience (v. 23). In his argument he uses biblical theology and stoic philosophy to speak his truth while building common ground(v.28-29). Paul’s interaction with the traditions of the Athenians not only gave him a fresh way to articulate his message, but potentially enhanced his own appreciation of God’s work.

He starts by explaining that the God of Israel is the same God grasped for in the Parthenon.  Not a people-specific God, but the God of all peoples. For Paul, the veneration of the  statue indicated that Athenians were in tune with this mysterious reality whether they knew it or not.  But it also indicated they had taken their groping for the divine too far.

Our Judeo-Christian history is complicated when it comes to this.  Towers that rise too close to the heavens and golden calves are off limits, while  a bejeweled box and an ornate temple that symbolize God’s dwelling are blessed.  Icons of Mary and other saints, give many a powerful human vehicle to connect to God, while others find this practice heretical.  Traditional churches spend millions on the soaring architecture of stained-glass sanctuaries, while start-ups think it is more Jesus-like to meet in storefronts.  Some pulpits stand in the shadow of the cross and the American flag.

The line between idolatry and piety is subjective, and whatever your definition, easy to cross.  We are all “groping” for something  more”real” in a world where faith means believing in what we can’t see.

Paul brilliantly builds on this impulse to talk about the incarnation.  God came close to us in a man from Nazereth.  Someone living and breathing that we could talk to, eat with, touch, and see.  God answered our desire to fashion God in our own image, an image we can comprehend, by putting on flesh.

Not Far from any of us.

Not just “not far”, but not even fully external.  Paul paraphrases biblical and Hellenistic tradition to proclaim we are God’s descendants.  Made in God’s image and likeness.  In the other lectionary text for this day Jesus explains of God’s spirit, “he will be in you.”

If we want to see God, we should look to Jesus.  We should look no further than the works of God’s hands.  Each other.

Paul manages to articulate the unique message of the gospel, without sacrificing the bond of our shared humanity.

A valuable lesson for our pluralistic and ultra-confrontational world.

Honesty, Love, & The Church

We say honesty is the best policy… but is it?

We don’t tell “bold-faced” lies, but how many half-truths, deceptions, and misdirections do we employ in our words and our silences?  How much of our selves really make it to the surface?

“The truth will set you free,” says Jesus.

“and miserable,” we add with James Garfield

The word sincerely literally means “without wax.”  It originated in a time when sculptors used this malleable substance to fill in scratches and gashes, hiding the mistakes they feared would lower the value of their art.

Plastic surgery, clothing, makeup, carefully engineered social media profiles, guarded relationships, professions of faith that feature incomplete versions of our true selves.

We hide behind wax.  Making conscious choices that become existential instinct.

Eventually though, the sweltering heat of our circumstances leaves us exposed; wax pooling on the floor like the veneer of our comfort.  We are seen.

Ironically, this is a good thing. The unexpected key to marriage and really any relationship worth having.

The more I try to hide my true assumptions, feelings, and fears (those that I fear will create separation), the more separate we become.

The more vulnerable I am(even if I know that what I say may hurt her feelings), the closer we become.

Intimacy is messy. Dangerous. Sacrificial. Liberating.

Jenny and I are learning to be brutally honest with each other.  It has allowed us to experience the best and worst of each other.   It has exposed the ways we agree and disagree on some of the most important things in life.  It hurts and it heals.   Truly loving someone means accepting and celebrating who they really are.

Reflecting on this, I can’t help but lament the state of “love” in the church.

Scripture  frames our communal relationship with God in the terminology of marriage,  and it is no accident that many of us contemplate divorce…especially millenials, doubters, and skeptics.

We  move gingerly within the church or avoid it completely.  They desperately want us, but expect to remake us in their own image.   Most congregations claim to be open-minded but have unspoken (or spoken) theological or social lines that cannot be crossed (even temporarily).

Unfortunately we have equated agreement with membership.   Many of my friends (and respondents in national polls) remain silent about their true beliefs in church because they fear rejection.

Unsurprisingly, a growing number of Christians, feel more comfortable, more alive, and more connected to non-Christians than those who share their pews.

For the body of Christ to flourish we need to learn to risk authenticity.  Authenticity in our beliefs.  Authenticity in our doubts.  Authenticity in love.

This doesn’t mean changing our beliefs, but changing the way we hold them: Acknowledging that they are dark windows into the nature of God’s movement from which we are constantly gaining more vision, rather than microscopes that seem to show the whole specimen.   Affirming that God is so mysterious that we are unable to see the whole picture without those who stand beside us (and without those who disagree).  There will be misunderstandings, fights, and breakups, but these are the growing pains of any healthy relationship

It is only in the difficult “knowing” of  honest relationship that we can move  faithfully into the love of God together…even if that takes us to a place we never planned to go.