Thursday, August 24, 2017

The greatness of the United States of America

O beautiful for pilgrim feet 
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat 
Across the wilderness! 
America! America! 
God mend thine every flaw, 
Confirm thy soul in self-control, 
Thy liberty in law! 

                                Katherine Lee Bates 

The United States of America is a great nation! “Conceived inliberty and dedicated to the proposition that all [people] are created equal,” America’s greatness lies far beyond economic and military power. The greatness comes from the all-but-impossible American dream. Our nation is great when we strive for our ideals while recognizing that we have NOT realized them, yet.

The United States of America is flawed. Indeed, every human enterprise is flawed. Most of us would like to fix the flaws we see in our country. We do not agree on what are flaws and we differ on solutions. Some would like to deny the existence of flaws, believing that to acknowledge flaws is unpatriotic in some way. Some see flaws and live in despair, especially when we fail to live up to the American dream. Many believe that nothing can be done about the injustice and ungracious arrogance of their fellow Americans. Others see flaws very clearly, believing they have the answers.  I often wonder whether those who know all the answers understand any of the questions. Often those “answers” create to deeper flaws or promote discord. Perhaps the questions are most important.

With Donald Trump as President, these questions beg for answers:
  •     Will we still seek the American Dream, or abandon it?
  •     Will we continue to believe our American ideals, or surrender them to pettiness and self-serving political demagoguery from all sides of the political spectrum?
  •     Regarding our nation’s problems, will we look for blame or will we do the hard work to solve them, by seeking a consensus of as many stake holders as humanly possible possible?
  •     Will we think in terms of winners and losers, or will we look for win-win-win solutions to the challenges we face?
  •     Will we waste time talking about “making America great again,” instead of lifting all Americans to share in the American dream? Isn't America already great?
  •     Will the tired, the poor and the oppressed still find hope in the American dream, when the leaders of today pass the torch of freedom to the next generation?

I hope that we will choose to keep the flame alive for our children and their children and grandchildren.

I invite you to think with me about the challenges before us as a nation and how to build the consensus we need to find solutions. Can we collectively find a vision to be the great nation we are meant become?

Katherine Lee Bates prayer expresses the challenge before us, “America, America, God mend thine every flaw.” As a truly great nation, we do have more that unites us than divides us.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


Yesterday, I started a new adventure. I retired from active ministry. I cleared out my list of church projects and removed all the "next actions" needed to accomplish them. I had already turned in my church keys the day before.

There are a few unfinished tasks that I will complete in the next few minutes. Then I will be ready to take a serious look at my "personal" projects and review that full notebook the I have of "someday maybe" projects.  Though I am in good health, I realize that my life will not be long enough to do everything.

Right now, my most important tasks are to visit with my wife Ruth and to reflect upon those basic things that are important to us.  That reflection will allow me to release the baggage that I have accumulated over the years, and will free us for the next portions of the journey.

Isn't it amazing how much clutter we accumulate in our houses and in our emotional worlds?  I am not really in a hurry to "throw it all away." My questions are really these: "What does it mean to me and to Ruth? Is it important enough to us to keep? If not, who can we give it to? Or, is it really something to toss on the ash heap?

Yesterday I started a new adventure. God alone knows where it will lead!  I look forward to watching it unfold.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Intentions and Actions

Years ago, when I began growing my beard, I did a survey. When anyone asked or commented about my beard, I would ask them, “When does a man who needs a shave become a man with a beard?” My favorite answer was “the moment a man decides not to shave so that the beard begins to grow, he becomes a man with a beard.” Even if it is the moment before the shaving equipment is put away, whenever the decision is made, he is a man with a beard.
Isn’t it in that moment when we set our intentions to accomplish something that things begin to really happen? I like the question David Allen poses in his book, Getting Things Done, “What is the desired outcome?” Our intentions help us clarify our answer to David’s question.

While intentions are the starting point, they are not enough. Action is what drags them to reality. The results may come slowly. Yet, once we really decide upon our intentions and the action begins, nothing stays the same.

On the other hand, action taken without clear intentions is usually just busy work.

As individuals, we may set our intentions mentally and “just do it.” We get our desired outcomes without spending a lot of time pondering about intentions. When other people are involved, it is not so easy. Even when we think we “all” agree, we usually see some things differently.

During this interim time at Glen Echo Christian Church, the Visioning Committee is charged with leading the congregation in discovering the vision within the hearts of our people in a way that the way forward is clear. Please note: Its task is not to make up a nice vision for the church. Its task is to lead the congregation in discovery.

In September, the Visioning Committee in co-operation with the Elders will be inviting the whole congregation to gather in homes to explore how God is calling us into the future and what we intend to do about that call. That sharing of input by all the people will form the basis for the further work of the Visioning Committee in helping us clarify our vision of the future.

Ultimately, the Committee will have a written report that can be the point of reference for choosing action. More important are the vision and the intentions in the hearts of the people of Glen Echo Christian Church. Please pray for God’s leading as we discover them together.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Finding our way

“If we do not change direction, we will end up where we are headed.”
Old Chinese Proverb

The proverb is reassuring, IF the direction is toward the desired destination.
The proverb is a dire warning, IF the direction is any other.

So, how do how does a congregation like ours know its desired destination? How does it know that it is on the road that leads to there?

First, recognize that a healthy skepticism helps when anyone talks about what God wants. (See I John 4:1.) It is easy to mistake our self-centered notions for the will of God. It is also easy to talk about God’s call and then try to sell some concept that has nothing to do with God. That mental “bait-and-switch” happens so easily in our minds, doesn’t it? So a good healthy skepticism is in order. However, knowing our destination allows us to begin with our results in mind.

For any congregation, which is serious about following Jesus, the Holy Spirit has already planted the details of its call in the hearts of the people. Discerning that call begins with affirming what is good in the life and witness of the church. It includes recognizing God’s gifts, both spiritual and physical. With that foundation, listening to the vision God has written in the hearts of His people becomes a joyous experience. Listening to both the fears and the dreams opens the entire church to pray for a deeper discernment.

Did you know that a visioning committee is at work at Glen Echo Christian Church to lead such a process? Its task is NOT to plan something more for the church to do. Rather, the task is to engage everyone in discovering God’s purpose. When it is finished, the committee will have a written report. The real value of their work will be in what is evoked from the hearts of the congregation. You will know when the committee has completed its task, because those who read or hear or talk about the vision for the future of Glen Echo Christian Church will respond, “Yes that is what we are about! Let’s do it.”

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Why go to church?

Why do you go to church? What motivates us to get up on Sunday mornings and attend worship together with other members of our congregation?

If we sat down together and freely discussed our motivation, we would discover a wide diversity of answers that show how God is calling to each of us. As we talked further and more deeply, we would discover that at a deeper level most of us share a common desire to become closer to God. The words we use to express that yearning for God might be different, but we’d be telling about our common humanity.

As we become confident in God’s love and salvation for us, there is a point when we realize that church participation is no longer about winning the approval of God or other people. Nor is it about earning “Extra Points” or greater rewards. So why do we continue to go to church and why is it important?

Bob Davenport shared his answer to that question with me the other evening. With his permission I share it with you. He said,The reason I go to church is gratitude.”

On the surface, that may seem to be an overly simple answer. However, when you think about it, isn’t thanking God one of the most important things we ever do?

As we gather in worship the thanksgiving we bring has other ripples throughout many lives. Gratitude through worship keeps the spark of our own faith alive. It sets an example that encourages others in their quest for God, and creates a space in which all may grow in serving God through serving others.

When worship is viewed through the lens of gratitude, we no longer ask “What did I get out of this service?” Instead, we ask, “How will my participation honor God as I worship among the Lord’s own people?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Unfinished Business

It’s not the things I’ve gone and done I’ll regret or be ashamed,
But the things I did not say or do, because I was afraid.
Carrie Newcomer, folk singer

Unfinished business is anything in a relationship that is not resolved. It can be as simple as hearing that a friend is interested in a hobby that interests us and resolving to talk with them about it when the opportunity occurs. Or it can be as complex the apology that you intended to make that never happened and now is no longer possible for some reason.

I do not remember how I was first introduced to the concept of “unfinished business.” I am grateful for the insight into relationships that the concept has provided through the years. Most of us have quite a lot of unfinished business in our lives. In fact, it is really a normal part of life because we are limited in the amount of time available to us. The only way to avoid it is not to care about anything. I am not willing to pay that price.

Unfinished business becomes a problem when we deny it or fear it or allow it to stress us. The resulting regrets or guilt can leave us stuck and unable to move on. Much unfinished business could be resolved if we gave ourselves permission to say to others, “I have some unfinished business with you.” And then share the common interests or concerns. Our lives would be richer. We’d know more about one another. And celebrate our common interests.

It is more difficult to resolve unfinished business, when the other person is no longer available for us to talk it through with them. There are many reasons why the other may not be available, such unfinished business can be resolved, if we are open to releasing it. Some people are blessed to be able to release this type of unfinished business through prayer and meditation.

Most of us need a trusted friend who can help us talk it through until we find closure.

What unfinished business in your life holds you back from being the person God calls you to be? Are you talking to the people who can help you complete it? Are you praying for God’s guidance in finding closure?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Regarding Hospitality

The visitor to the monastery commented on the hospitality received during a week-long stay, “I am so impressed with your hospitality. I could not have been treated more graciously, if I had been Jesus himself.”

“I am delighted that you noticed,” replied the monk, “for you see it is our desire to treat each guest as if that person were, in fact, our Lord. We realize that it is possible that any stranger at our door may really be Jesus. To some extent, Christ is present in every guest.”

The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matt 25: 40)

Living into the faith and hospitality of that monastery is never easy. It takes courage to overcome our fear and become hospitable to the stranger at our gate, who might just do us harm, instead of good. Does hospitality demand that we take just any foolish risk that comes along? Probably not! However, many of us hold back in fear of things that do not matter in the long run, when we could reach out a helping hand.

Hospitality requires trust. You and I are not strangers to trust. Our entire civilization is built on trust. Who of us worries that every building in which we live and work is going to collapse? Instead, we trust that the architects and builders have done their jobs properly. We trust the food we eat will be wholesome and nutritious. Could we ever travel by car, if we didn’t trust other drivers to stay on their side of the road?

In his book, Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen describes the journey from hostility to hospitality as one of the three movements of the spiritual life. Hostility is born of fear. Hospitality grows as we learn to trust ourselves and to trust God’s presence.

Learning to entertain the presence of the holy in our lives, challenges us to move beyond our fears and to be open to the possibility of God’s presence in the stranger at the gate. Who knows when that person might be Jesus?