Thursday, March 27, 2014

Media Connections for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Our stories for this week are stories of seeing--two of my favorites (okay, I have a lot of favorites, but these are definitely among them!)--1 Samuel 16:1-13 and John 9:1-41, which can be read here--and I strongly encourage you to give them a read, so that hearing the story versions of them on Sunday (and engaging the connections below) can be even more meaningful.

When I was reading the stories for this week, the first memory that came up for me was of our Music and Arts camp back in 2011, when our kids memorably acted out the story of Samuel anointing David--the youngest of all his brothers, one everyone overlooked--to be king. I went back through the archives and found these great pictures of the "brothers" lined up, "Samuel" anointing "David," and the Spirit descending on young David. There is power in telling the story ourselves, with our own bodies!

I also connected these stories quickly to a song I listen to a lot when I feel like I am having a hard time seeing the world and others as God sees it--a song that is really a prayer. I encourage you to give it a listen--"Give Me Your Eyes," by Brandon Heath:

If you're into poetry, here is a lovely and thought provoking offering from David Whyte's book Songs for Coming Home, entitled "The Opening of Eyes"(1984):

That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.

It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.

It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.

Finally, I came across a really wonderful quote from late 19th century French artist Paul Gaugin: "I shut my eyes in order to see." As you consider what this might mean, try engaging a couple of famous works by the painter below. What do you see in these? What do you see in them when you shut your eyes?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Media Connections for the Third Sunday in Lent

Our texts for this Sunday as we continue to explore God's story together are Exodus 17:1-7 and John 4:5-42, which can be found here.

Again, this week's blog will feature some media connections from around the web that might help you begin to delve into some deeper meaning in this week's texts, both of which revolve strongly around themes of water, thirst, and God's provision.

First, this really interesting modern envisioning of the encounter between Jesus and the Woman at the Well by Dinah Roe Kendall, and a slightly older rendition of the story of Exodus 17 by one of my favorite painters, Marc Chagall (another version he created of this story will be part of our bulletin art this week):

A long-time favorite song of mine, "Share the Well" by Caedmon's Call, inspired by the band's travels abroad in India and Ecuador and in particular the way they witnessed groups of people sharing resources--particularly water, drawn from community wells in many places today just as it was in the time of Jesus.

Finally, a great organization that addresses water needs in forgotten areas of the world is Watering Malawi. Explore their website, and read some facts they share about what they call "water poverty" in the world below.

A white-tailed deer drinks
from the creek;
I want to drink God,
deep draughts of God.
I’m thirsty for God-alive.
I wonder, “Will I ever make it—
arrive and drink in God’s presence?”
-Psalm 42:1-2, The Message

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Media Connections for Second Sunday in Lent

Our texts for this second Sunday in our Lenten journey of connecting our stories to God's story are the stories of Abram from Genesis 12:1-4 and 15:1-6, and of Nicodemus from John 3:1-21. You can read the text to these here.

First, shameless plug:  Join us tonight as we begin our new Lenten book study of John Indermark's Genesis of Grace. At the church at 7pm--come even if you don't have a book!

Second, the new curriculum for which I am privileged to write has a very cool feature called "Media Connections." Each week, we provide for suggestions for teachers of ways they can use different forms of art and media to help children and youth engage the story from a different angle, or that can help them enter into the story more deeply. Finding media connections is honestly one of my favorite parts of writing sessions, so I thought that I might try offering you some media connections to our lectionary passages here on the blog--things you might want to look at, listen to, or ponder to begin opening your heart and mind to the stories you will encounter on Sunday. 

So here are some offerings for this Sunday, where we will look at two stories of people who encounter God in the darkness of night.

Consider these two modern art echoes of our stories: Peter Teekamp's "Old Man and Baby" and Richard Hook's "Jesus and the Businessman," alternately called "Jesus and Modern Day Nicodemus":

The wonderful Andrew Peterson song "In the Night," which though it does not name either Abram or Nicodemus tells the story of many others who lived through the darkness of night in scripture and connects their stories to ours:

The Night, written by 17th century poet Henry Vaughan and inspired by John 3:2:

The Night

      Through that pure virgin shrine,
That sacred veil drawn o’er Thy glorious noon,
That men might look and live, as glowworms shine,
         And face the moon,
    Wise Nicodemus saw such light
    As made him know his God by night.

      Most blest believer he!
Who in that land of darkness and blind eyes
Thy long-expected healing wings could see,
         When Thou didst rise!
    And, what can never more be done,
    Did at midnight speak with the Sun!

      O who will tell me where
He found Thee at that dead and silent hour?
What hallowed solitary ground did bear
         So rare a flower,
    Within whose sacred leaves did lie
    The fulness of the Deity?

      No mercy-seat of gold,
No dead and dusty cherub, nor carved stone,
But His own living works did my Lord hold
         And lodge alone;
    Where trees and herbs did watch and peep
    And wonder, while the Jews did sleep.

      Dear night! this world’s defeat;
The stop to busy fools; care’s check and curb;
The day of spirits; my soul’s calm retreat
         Which none disturb!
    Christ’s progress, and His prayer time;
    The hours to which high heaven doth chime;

      God’s silent, searching flight;
When my Lord’s head is filled with dew, and all
His locks are wet with the clear drops of night;
         His still, soft call;
    His knocking time; the soul’s dumb watch,
    When spirits their fair kindred catch.

      Were all my loud, evil days
Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark tent,
Whose peace but by some angel’s wing or voice
         Is seldom rent,
    Then I in heaven all the long year
    Would keep, and never wander here.

      But living where the sun
Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tire
Themselves and others, I consent and run
         To every mire,
    And by this world’s ill-guiding light,
    Err more than I can do by night.

      There is in God, some say,
A deep but dazzling darkness, as men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
         See not all clear.
    O for that night! where I in Him
    Might live invisible and dim!

Finally, try counting the stars in this magnificent photo by NASA:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Beginning Our Lenten Journey

Last night, for Ash Wednesday, we began our Lenten season as a congregation by journeying through six stations for reflection. In keeping with our Lent theme of "This is Our Story," these stations invited us to engage the story of scripture and claim it as our own. I am indebted for the overall idea of this and a couple of the stations to, but I wanted to share the stations here for those who were not able to be with us last night. May they guide you into deeper thoughtfulness and reflection as we begin this pilgrimage together towards Jerusalem, the cross, and the bright light of resurrection morning.

READ: Deuteronomy 6:2 and Matthew 4:1-2
Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart...
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights...
Today we begin the journey that is Lent, a forty-day season before Easter (excluding Sundays). During this time, we follow the example of Jesus who was led by the Spirit to spend forty days in the wilderness before he began his public ministry. There Jesus fasted and prayed in order to learn what God was calling him to do. He walked in the footsteps of the Israelites who wandered not just 40 days but 40 years in the wilderness before entering the land God had promised them. Why might time spent in the wilderness be such an important theme throughout the story of scripture?
Trace your finger slowly through some sand, making a path through it. In what way are you moving through a wilderness? How might these 40 days of a Lent be a time for you to listen for God's call? What promises are you waiting to see fulfilled?

READ: Joel 2:12-13
Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
Lent is traditionally seen as a season of penitence and returning, which may be why this reading from Joel is part of most Ash Wednesday services. Old Testament scholar Esther Menn writes that “to “return” in Hebrew means literally to “turn” around, to change one’s direction by halting the walk away from God and beginning the walk toward God. The “heart” in Hebrew anthropology is the site of deliberation and commitment. Turning to God with one’s whole heart therefore involves changing one’s mind, reconsidering one’s actions, and orienting oneself entirely toward God” ( These words from long ago are challenging as we prepare our hearts for this season of turning.
From what do you need to turn? About what do you need to change your mind? What acts do you need to reconsider? Write or sketch these things on a paper heart. Then, “rend your heart” (tear it) as a symbolic act of confession and expression of your desire to return to God.

READ: Jeremiah 18:1-6
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me: “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done?” says the LORD. “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”
At times sin is described in the Bible is as a “hardness of heart.” Do you ever feel that your heart is hard, that it is inflexible, not pliable, judgmental? Do you keep your guard up in your relationships with others and/or with God? What would it look like this Lent for you to let your heart rest soft and moldable in the hands of God?
Take a piece of clay. Warm it in your hands and knead it until it becomes pliable. Give it a new shape – perhaps a small bowl which could symbolize receptivity to God and to God’s forgiving love, or something else that has meaning to you. Let it serve as a reminder of your openness to God’s reshaping this Lenten season.

READ: Psalm 51:10-12
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Just as we often spend spring cleaning our houses to rid them of cobwebs and make them ready to receive gifts, so in Lent we take time to examine our lives in preparation for our encounter with the risen Christ at Easter. Are there closets where you store past resentments? Is there a sink full of dishes with the residue of negative behaviors? What would it look like to clean these up and out?
Dip your hands into the water in the bowl on the table before you. As you do so, reflect on what your life could be like, thoroughly immersed in God’s love. Take a clear stone with you as a reminder of God’s cleansing love.

READ: Lamentations 3:19-23
The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; God’s mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning--great is your faithfulness.
The author of Lamentations spends much time lamenting (hence the name!) the world’s afflictions and his own. Only one thought gives him or her peace: the steadfast love of God. The knowledge of God’s unshakable love, even in the midst of trouble, is finally the grease which makes the squeaky wheel of lamentation fall silent. It is that which makes it possible to go on, even in the worst of circumstances.
Dip your finger in oil and smooth it onto the back of your hand. As you do, reflect on the parts of your life which are stiff and squeaky – places where you are stuck, places which cause you to lament time and time again. Consider how the love of God might come into these parts of your life, renewing and making them usable in a way they have not been before.

READ: Genesis 3:19
…you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
There is evidence that the practice marking the face or body with ashes on the first day of Lent began in the 6th century. At first it was done only by people required to do public penance for notorious sin before being restored to the community. Then clergy began to try to comfort and encourage these penitents by submitting themselves to the same public mark. Eventually, all began to wear the ashes as a sign of their need for restoration.
For our spiritual ancestors, the people of Jewish and other Near Eastern cultures, wearing ashes was a sign of mourning and lament. Ashes were usually associated with sackcloth,  the clothing worn to mourn the death of a beloved or to lament a personal or communal disaster. Humans are the only species we know is capable of contemplating their own death, yet few of us do. Ash Wednesday challenges us to reflect on our own shortcomings and our death so that we can truly embrace life.
Dip your finger in the ashes and make a cross on the back of your hand or your forehead. Press firmly. Reflect on the gift of life over death symbolized by the cross. Know that you are dust, and indeed to dust shall you return; yet in all things, in your coming and going, in this life and the one beyond, the God who makes all things new is with you and has marked you as God’s own.