Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Imagine


For the third day of Christmas (December 27, 2015), we (First Presbyterian Church, Lewisburg, TN) had an interactive embellishment of the Nativity/Birth story, as an invitation for us all to find our way to Bethlehem AND find the manger-born messiah in our own lives. 

Click on the blue link below to experience an audio-visual rendition of the sermon. 

"Imagine"


What Would it Be Like...

Lighthouse Museum, Sodus Point, NY

to choose worship,
  not because it's
    the only game in town,
      or because it's
    what we've always done,
  or because it
makes us feel good,

but because, in spite of
  and through the deepest parts
    of our brokenness,
      worship both opens us to
   and opens to us
the unfathomable gift of grace?


© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Friday, December 25, 2015

Breaking Loose

Photo by Ben Padgett

When all hell breaks loose, and you’re there in the middle of it – maybe even doing a lion’s share of the unleashing – it’s mostly signaling the continuation of this thing called life. Chaos and rage are breaking loose because they’ve been inside you, and those around you, for too long. Their most likely source is a lie of some sort that you’ve been doing your dead-level best to transform into truth, as if the falsehood of it could somehow be painted or polished or glued into its mirror image.

If you’re like most of us, a big part of the lie comes from someone else’s expectations, not just for how you should live, but even for who you are. The vitriolic flow is as necessary as the double-boiler’s steam valve, but it’s when and how and where you vent that determines whether the eruption becomes a step toward catharsis or a lather-rinse-repeat of self-and-other-destruction.  A deception that is particularly powerful and destructive is the notion that our own joy and life’s purpose are codependent with others – that we must be and behave in certain ways to make others happy, and we need them to be and behave in specific ways to make us happy.  No one is created for this.

No matter how long and hard you’ve tried, and how many faces and facades behind which you’ve hidden, the lie of who you aren’t will not happen. It wasn’t meant to happen. You received this unreal expectation from someone who came before you, who received it from someone who came before them. If you’re like most of us, you’ll end up passing it on to those who come after you, until you find ways to be healed – holy places to set it down and walk away.

If you’ve ever driven a vehicle too fast down a partially flooded road and hydroplaned, you know that helpless feeling of spinning, sliding, and careening, completely out of control, toward who-knows-what. If you’re like most of us who’ve done this before, you remember the sick feeling that seems to last forever as time warps into slow-mo. Now, every time rain starts pouring as you’re driving, you instinctively slow down, because you don’t want to experience chaotic free-float again. Emotional maturity is about learning how to avoid interpersonal hydroplaning by slowing down our reactions, so that we can differentiate between truth and falsehood.

A critical part of life’s spiritual journey is learning who we are, which often begins by discovering who we aren’t. Once we’ve peeled away enough of the crusty layers of who we’re not, God has a way of revealing who we are; a way of letting us catch glimpses of our created giftedness and enoughness. The difficult, and yet also the potentially beautiful part of life arrives, over and over, when who we aren’t shows up in our children. It’s probably not who they are, either; but they’ll have to find that out for themselves. Beauty’s possibility lies in recognizing the not-ness for ourselves, and relinquishing its – and our – hold on us and our children. Apology is a necessary beginning, but dual release – letting go of our self-blame and other-expectation – is the path toward hope.

Years ago, when a fight was brewing between two young men on the basketball court, one of them refused to escalate the pushing and shoving into punching. He backed away and, with anger seething, said repeatedly, “I’m better than this!” In this kind of situation, which had turned into a brawl on more occasions than I would like to remember, this young man was reminding himself and the rest of us, “This is not who I am!”

Here are two “slow down and breathe” questions:
  • Is this an unrealistic expectation for me or someone else – a false-self-image passed down through the generations by rogue emotional/spiritual DNA – from which I can back away, that I can disown, and from which I can terminate negative power and energy?
  • In this situation, how can I best express love and make freedom’s room for both myself and those I love?

 Like most roads worth taking, this is a day by day, hour by hour, conversation by conversation journey for which there is very little reliable mapping data. We make this road by walking, by making mistakes, by rerouting, by putting one foot in front of the other, by speaking one word behind another, and by taking one breath after another.

A number of years ago I wrote a funeral prayer for friends who were grieving the loss of a mother and grandmother – both the loss of her life at the end, and the loss of love they had experienced through the years. Here’s how that prayer concluded:

Now you are free to accept
all she gave for what it was intended;
also free to watch everything else drift away;
because in the end – hers and ours –
love is the scale upon which all are measured,
grace, the final measurement itself.

I pray that you’ll find your way to this path more often than not; that you’ll reach the next rest area before exhaustion’s whisper becomes a shout; that you’ll see grace and enough in both yourself and those you love.


© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Another Star


You used to live in a place
you called home, because
it was filled with things
the world couldn't steal:

dreams, stories, time
suspended by love's clock,
and that wonderfully strange
beast we call family.

   But time left anyway,
   and people departed, too;
   the former marching forward;
   the latter dancing away
   toward their own hopes.

   Now, your lives are intersecting
   again, but at different roads.
   You didn't pack everything,
   but most of it seems
   to be here anyway;

   not exactly the same
   as you remember,
   but woven with grace nonetheless.

When you close your eyes,
and darkness is all
you can see, remember this:

The magi found messiah because
they were willing to have
their night journey lit
by another star;
one they'd never seen before.

You don't need gold
or frankincense
or myrrh to join them.

All it takes is a place
in your heart for
starlight to shine.
 
by Deborah Denson

© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Dear Santa

We've spent centuries compiling our Christmas wish lists; material possessions at worst, sentimental feelings most other times. If you really have any spiritual connection to Nicholas of Myra, whose life continues to spark generations to saintly and unselfish behavior, would you please help us reconnect to that same kind of divine gifting?

When the greed and hoarding of Commercialmas have been outed as losing propositions, wearing us out more than preparing us to receive your Christmas gift, we struggle to find a path leading to our created purpose. We can light the candles, more of them each week, but winter’s darkness still seems to have the upper hand. We think about full sanctuaries, growing church rolls, and overflowing offering plates; but we don't often consider how our lives and our community would be transformed by grown-up faith put into action, by grace unfettered.

We have a long history with Jonathan Edwards’ "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" sermon; but, for the most part, we have turned it into nothing more than a “Get Out of Hell Free” card. Maybe it’s time to hear a "Grace Breaking-Out and Breaking-In Despite Angry Christians" sermon. 

We’ve had a little too much of the jolly old man who spends his time like an elf on the shelf, judging naughty and nice indeed, but failing to see the faces of hunger and need. Despite the catchiness and cuteness of the song written about you, we don't need another list-checking naughty or nice eavesdropper in our lives. Guilt and shame are ready to pile-on at every corner. What we need is a tangible reminder of grace; an invitation to accept God's love, not because we're behaving and earning and deserving that love, but because we were created from love and for love. THIS is the gift that will generate spontaneous gratitude, joy, and service in and through our lives. 

Would you invite us, Saint Nicholas, to reach out to those for whom December and the holidays are a dark and foreboding season because the people they’ve always had around them at Christmas are no longer here, either taken away by death or maybe even divorce?

Would you teach us compassion for those whose holiday memories – childhood and/or adult – are a living hell filled with remembrances of violence or emptiness or gaping need? Will you show us how to be present to their pain, not by amping-up the seasonal cheer, or by throwing food and clothes at the “problem”, but by listening, by sitting, by caring?

Would you give us the grace to be a Christ-like presence, both in the lives of those who won’t receive any wrapped presents under the tree, as well as those who will be inundated with material additions to their houses, all the while still starving for a spiritual morsel and a place to call home?

We are struggling to be innkeepers for any sort of nativity this Christmas season, as people fleeing their homes and home countries are showing up in droves, seeking hope and reprieve from a pervasive violence over which they have no control. But our fear and anxiety, successfully fueled by terrorism’s explosive hate, seems to have prompted us to declare that, not only is there no room in the inn, but the stable is too near our own families to allow anyone access, even to the pig trough.

Would you fill our stockings with courage this holiday season? Would you expose all xenophobia and immaturity in our religious practice, and wrap the kinds of sacred questions with which we so desperately need to wrestle? Would you leave the gift and courage of your Holy Spirit under the tree, and give us courage to unwrap her whisper?

You know we love the baby, and even the manger, but it's the grown-up Jesus we struggle to follow, and the risen Christ by whom our comfortable way of life is threatened. Give us a hunger for the bread of life and a thirst for living water, so we might grow into gentle souls who receive and reflect love, allowing unmerited grace to ingress and egress through all the cracks of our own brokenness and the brokenness of our world.

Sincerely,
Hungry Church

Photo by Jennie Jenkins
© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Thursday, December 17, 2015

fUNDAMENTALISM

Photo by Joe Stephenson

When "ism" wends its way
onto the end of a word,
you can pretty much count
on things turning ugly.

   Be it crony or secular or
   any other idea about life's
   larger purpose and plan,
   ism is one set of conclusions too far;
   it is idolatry's back door.

      There's really nothing wrong
      with seeking a return to basics,
      but the addition of ism 
      builds a fortress around
      and a pedestal under a particular
      and limited set of elementals.

      It declares my necessaries
      to be THE necessaries, and
      if you disagree in the slightest,
      it declares you persona non grata.

   It becomes its own monotheism,
   fully justified in defense at any cost,
   including the destruction of life itself;
   sometimes literally, but
   often culturally and relationally.

There is no room for God
in fundamentalism,
for the fundamentals,
as they are narrowly defined,
become their own enthroned deity. 


© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Gape

Photo by Jennie Jenkins

When your mouth is open,
you're mostly repeating
what you already know,
and learning anything new
is nearly impossible.

When your ears are open,
you can hear something new.

When your ears and heart are open,
you can become someone
you weren't when your mouth
was the only thing gaping.


© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Seeing

 
Somewhere Along the Blue Ridge Parkway
There lies, deep within
the human heart -- yours,
mine, and everyone else's --
a vision and desire
for how life is supposed
to be lived;

images of connection
without coercion,
dreams of enough
without competition,
hunger for community
without uniformity,

thirst for intimacy
without betrayal,
hope for understanding
without judgment,
longing for love
without condition.

All this is within us;
divine spark planted
before we were born.

There is but one impediment
to our bringing this vision
to life: fear.

Fear is a liar.

That is why so many stories
of divine encounter begin
with the holy plea,
"Fear not!"

Now is the time for us
to live from the deep places;
to rise up to the grace
for which we were created.

© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Good News


If grace is merely something
that God, alone,
can participate in,

      and those who espouse
      to follow a risen savior
      have neither responsibility
      nor opportunity to see it
      reflected in their daily lives,

   then we, as Christianity's
   professed witnesses,
   above all others, are
   to be pitied, for ours

is a life of despair,
if not deceit, that fails
to reach others
with good news.


© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Breathe


That smothering thing,
no matter how much
we wish it to be,
just isn't love, is it?

      When you breathe more deeply,
      and at a pace that oxygenates your spirit,
      you're in Love's neighborhood.

As the flight attendant says,
"Be sure you secure
your own oxygen mask
before trying to help
those around you." 

© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Friday, December 4, 2015

We Forget


We remember the water-walking,
crowd-feeding, demon-casting,
disease-healing, water-to-
wine-making, dead-raising Jesus;

and when we compare all of that
to our feeble and obsessive attempts
at keeping ourselves alive
and out of harm's way,
it's easy to reach despondency
and even disbelief.

   But we dare not forget
   the two greatest miracles
   available to us every day
   in this precarious bag
   of tricks we call life:
presence and listening.

When we practice table-sitting,
   meal-sharing, story-listening,
      being there willing to care,
         the gift of resurrection is
            as palpable as it was
               in the Easter garden’s first light.

It's the stories we share
that lead us out
of our entombing wilderness
and weave us together
into a vibrant community of hope.

© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Afraid


          Fear demands an illusion
        of total control, drawing us
      in upon ourselves,
    ever-tightening the circle
  of wagons until our world
becomes a tiny pen, and

      we completely lose sight
    of our beautiful placement
  in the universe's intricate
and sacred mosaic.

        Terror often rules the night,
      slinking under darkness' cover,
    tearing down what daylight builds,
  provoking panic, squeezing 
security, scattering sleep.

        But let his insanity out
      of the cage at high noon,
    and we'll no longer need
  to dread a coming hell because
we'll already be dying in it.

        When fear is your guide,
      everyone becomes
    a potential enemy,
  safe becomes a place
that ceases to exist,

      the vulnerability
    of knowing and being known
  becomes the luxury
we can no longer afford.


© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Economics


Mammon wasn't a random temptation
Jesus plucked from the sky.

It's one of the most powerful
seductions known in human history.

The accumulation of material wealth
has a way of erasing all memory
of its source, convincing us
it belongs to us and us alone,
and always has.

In every circumstance for which
we are sure we know
the true answer and path,
we'd do well to examine whether
our economic interest is clouding
our perception of reality.

It's a truth that
just might set us free. 


© 2015 Todd Jenkins 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Blackened Friday


The year’s end is growing
nearer than near,
as the retailers succumb
to their one greatest fear:

What will happen
if, dreadest of dread,
our columns of numbers
end the year in bright red?

If projections we made
for how business will grow
turn out to be bogus,
where will we go?

If the limits on spending
hold out through and through,
how can we continue?
What will we do?

The craftiest marketers
have developed a game;
it’s quite unimaginative:
More of the Same.

More stuff in the aisles,
more ads on the air,
more hours to open,
frenzy everywhere!

Open the stores
earlier than early;
create mob mentality,
customers quite surly.

Forget about families,
make employees show up.
Turn a profit with volume,
while the turkey throws up.

Hijacking Thanksgiving;
on the profits we’re betting.
We’ll rename the holiday:
Have a prosperous Thanksgetting!

Remember “Good Friday”
preceding resurrection?
This one’s the opposite:
Blackened Shopping Insurrection.

What can we do?
What’s our reaction?
What gift does love bring  
in our speech and action?

How ‘bout we let grace
flow wild and free
onto retail employees
we know and see,

making tangible acts
of thanks and giving
to brighten their day,
with our words and our living?

If you go out on Friday,
make your purpose clear:
you’re there not to buy,
but to spread peace and cheer.

And if you stay home
with family and friends,
find a retail employee,
and give hope to their kin.


© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Monday, November 23, 2015

Beginning of Advent


'Twas the beginning of Advent and all through the Church
our hope was dying — we'd given up on the search.
It wasn't so much that Christ wasn't invited,
but after 2,000-plus years we were no longer excited.

Oh, we knew what was coming — no doubt about that.
And that was the trouble — it was all "old hat."
November brought the first of an unending series of pains
with carefully orchestrated advertising campaigns.

There were gadgets and dolls and all sorts of toys;
enough to seduce the most devout girls and boys.
Unfortunately, it seemed, no one was completely exempt
from this seasonal virus that did all of us tempt.

The priests and prophets and certainly the kings
were all so consumed with the desire for "things!"
It was rare, if at all, that you'd hear of the reason
for the origin and meaning of this holy-day season.

A baby, it seems, once had been born
in the mid-east somewhere – the first holy-day morn.
But what does that mean for folks like us,
who've lost ourselves in the hoopla and fuss?

Can we re-learn the art of wondering and waiting,
of hoping and praying, and anticipating?
Can we let go of all the things and the stuff?
Can we open our hands and our hearts long enough?

Can we open our eyes and open our ears?
Can we find him again after all of these years?
Will this year be different from all the rest?
Will we be able to offer him all of our best?

So many questions, unanswered thus far,
as wise ones seeking the home of the star.
Where do we begin-- how do we start
to make for the child a place in our heart?

Perhaps we begin by letting go
of our limits on hope, and of the things that we know.
Let go of the shopping, of the chaos and fuss;
let go of the searching, let Christmas find us.

We open our hearts, our hands and our eyes,
to see the king coming in our own neighbors' cries.
We look without seeking what we think we've earned,
but rather we're looking for relationships spurned.

With him he brings wholeness and newness of life
for brother and sister, for husband and wife.
The Christ-child comes not by our skill,
but rather he comes by the Creator’s will.

We can't make him come with parties and bright trees,
but only by getting down on our knees.
He'll come if we wait amidst our affliction,
Coming in spite of, and not by our restriction.

His coming will happen-- of this there's no doubt.
The question is whether we'll be in or out.
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock."
Do you have the courage to peer through the lock?

A basket on your porch, a child in your reach.
a baby to love, to feed and to teach.
He'll grow in wisdom as God's only Son.
How far will we follow this radical one?

He'll lead us to challenge the way that things are.
He'll lead us to follow a single bright star.
But that will come later if we're still around.
The question for now: Is the child to be found?

Can we block out commercials, the hype and the malls?
Can we find solitude in our holy halls?
Can we find hope, keep alert, stay awake?
Can we receive the child for ours and God's sake?

From on high with the caroling host as he sees us,
He yearns to read on our lips the prayer: Come Lord Jesus!
As Advent begins, all these questions make plea.
The only true answer: We will see, we will see.

©  1994 Todd Jenkins