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prayer: 3 characters

Praying can be a challenge. Sometimes my words seem inadequate, limp and deflated as soon as they hit the air, never fully able to carry the whole of my heart and mind and body. This week, I came across a few stories which gave me a fresh outlook on prayer. Maybe they will do the same for you. Here is the first one.

Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, an organization which provides support and training for former gang members, tells the story of Andres, a young man who was abandoned by his mother when he was nine. Andres was homeless for two years and then entered foster care, after which came gang involvement and detention. Finally, Andres showed up at Homeboy Industries and entered their program. Andres began to meet regularly with a therapist and one Monday, the therapist brought in a box of crackers for the young man who was always complaining about being hungry. Andres was stunned.
"You mean ... you think of me ... when you're not here?"
The therapist nod…
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As I write this, I am sitting in my office which is now also my bedroom, my closet, and a storage space for various musical instruments, all my throw rugs, and two extra mattresses. We are renovating our upstairs bathroom, so my household is in upheaval. Furniture is pushed into corners, huddled in tight clusters. The living room has sheets of drywall leaning against the wall. The floors are covered in brown paper. There is a plastic curtain surrounding the construction site. Bare wires, naked plumbing pipes, exposed insulation, skeletal wood framing, and rough sub-floors are all part of the decor. Along with a scattering of power tools. There is also noise, plenty of noise, all day long. And workmen regularly interrupt me to inquire about the main water valve, the breaker panel, access to the garage, size of fittings, moving something to another location, or getting a glass of water. They also like to parade past my desk to carry in construction materials or deposit waste on the bac…

praying with Jesus

When you search for images of someone praying, you see a lot of this: person with hands folded, head bowed, eyes closed, on their knees, with a Bible. Interestingly, their mouths are usually closed. However, conversing with the Creator is so much more than the standard pictures suggest.

I recently finished Eugene Peterson's book, Tell It Slant. In the latter half of the volume, he deals with the prayers of Jesus. As I was reading, I realized that for much of my life, I have seen prayer as a task, a responsibility, a job, a burden, a required discipline for all who claim to follow Jesus. But Jesus never presents prayer like that. When his disciples make the request, "Teach us to pray," Jesus starts off with, "Our Father..." He makes use of the inclusive pronouns "us" and "we." Instead of giving the disciples a task, Jesus invites them to join him in what he is doing: communing with the Father. Perhaps prayer is not so much a spiritual discip…


Prepare the way of the Lord.

These are rather familiar words in the Christian tradition. In the gospels, they refer to the ministry of John the Baptist, a prophet proclaiming the coming Messiah, but the original context is a promise of deliverance found in Isaiah 40.

"A voice is wailing,
'In the wilderness, get it ready! Prepare the way; make it a straight shot. The Eternal would have it so.
Straighten the way in the wandering desert
to make the crooked road wide and straight for our God.
Where there are steep valleys, treacherous descents, raise the highway; lift it up;
bring down the dizzying heights.
Fill in the potholes and gullies, the rough places.
Iron out the shoulders flat and wide.
The Lord will be, really be, among us.
The radiant glory of the Lord will be revealed.
All flesh together will take it in. Believe it.
None other than God, the Eternal, has spoken.'" (Isaiah 40, The Voice)

This section of Isaiah (chapters 40-48) was written during Israel's e…

practicing peace

What is peace? We talk about Jesus being the Prince of Peace, a peaceable ruler of a peaceable kingdom, but what exactly does that mean? What does it look like? And how do we participate in it? We may associate peace with a lack of conflict, or being free from burdens and constraints, or stillness, or wholeness, or agreement.

I will not try to define peace here, but simply offer 14 snapshots (scripture, story, litany, reading, song) to consider. I invite you to engage with each section by taking a moment to meditate on it, paying attention to the words and ideas and images which stand out to you. In the scripture verses, I have highlighted the words that relate to peace, just to give a focal point. I invite you to enter into peace.

1. "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace will never end.
He will rule with …

Names of Jesus

We find many names for Jesus in the witness of Scripture. There are names which Jesus gave himself (Son of Man, bread of life, good shepherd, the way, the truth, the life, etc.) and there are names which others bestowed on Jesus. I want to look a little closer at the latter. We find three of them in the account of his birth in Matthew 1:18-23. Here Jesus is identified as the Messiah (v. 18), Jesus (v. 20), and Immanuel (v. 23). In the Hebrew culture, names did not simply identify or distinguish a person; they expressed something about their character and nature. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Hebrew Bible contains more than sixty names for the God of Israel (Names of God).

Names also reflected the time or context into which a child was born. Though Jesus was given a rather unremarkable first-century Hebrew name, it reflected the prophetic cry of the people at the time. The Jews were longing for God to intervene, to rescue them from Roman occupation and oppressive circumstan…

Where is Jesus? Part 2

I sometimes think: if I had been living in the first century, I would have been an eager follower of Jesus of Nazareth. But I am not so sure. The gospel accounts reveal how hard it was for people to reconcile what they imagined the Messiah would be like with the rather unremarkable son of Joseph. Even the disciples were often unsure about the identity of their teacher, especially when things went horribly wrong during the Passover celebration. Before they could really grasp the severity of the situation, Jesus was arrested and executed. Not surprisingly, most of them scattered. Jesus was gone. His death - a public, ignoble affair - dealt the final blow. Their loyalty was now a cause for mockery. Their constant companion for the past three years was no longer with them. Or so they thought.

In the thick of all their disappointment and grief, they failed to see what Jesus had been trying to show them all along: that the Messiah came to serve and to love, even when it cost him his life. …