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That Sinner of a Pope

He was Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Now he is Pope Francis.

In his first interview after being elected, he said, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition (of who I am). It is not a figure of speech.”

St. Paul wrote, “All of us have sinned, everyone has. We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23,24)

Thank God that’s not the end.

For a long time I’ve thought we ought to include a chance for us to address this in worship. In my case it sounds like this: “Hi, my name’s Joe, and I’m a sinner, saved by God’s grace in Christ.”

Jorge and I — sorry, forgot — Pope Francis and I are sooooo on the same page.

Gratefully so.



Magdalene: Let Go

[PLEASE NOTE: this is the third in a series, so if you haven’t read the first two simply scroll down and you can easily catch up]

When the woman caught in adultery shows up the next day, the teacher who has saved her life becomes “a book too difficult to read”:

So, I thought I had to become more than I was, more than

I’d been.

but that wasn’t it. It seemed rather that

something had to go. Something had to be let go of.


 — Patty and I have great memories of the music of pianist Keiko Matsui. She has said that one of her primary gifts as a musician and a composer is knowing what to leave out.
You and I face those same challenges all the time. So, what is there that you might “leave out” as Keiko says and that has “to be let go of” as the Mary in these poems says?

Magdalene: Grace, Even When We Fail

[PLEASE NOTE: this is the second in a series, so if you haven’t read the first one simply scroll down to yesterday’s blog and you can easily catch up]

Amy Frykholm continues — 

As the book moves from “Before the Beginning” to “End (no end),” grace appears as a series of never-ending invitations. We are invited into silence, into careful observation, into self-examination, into empathy, and into love. Even when we fail at any or all of these ventures, we are invited again.

— God’s grace, imaged as “a series of never-ending invitations.”  Can’t think of a much better image this side of eternity, can you?

How many of those “never-ending invitations” have you had?

I’ve lost count; too many to track.

Just glad Christ hasn’t lost track of me!

How about you?

BONUS: When the News is Bad…Again. This Time, Manchester, England

In the wake of the bombing in Manchester, England at an Ariana Grande concert, I commend to you this reminder from colleague Rev. Scott Weeks (April 20, 2016*) —

How do you deal with unrelenting violence and discord?

The best response, of course, is letting headlines spur us to action, such as the Rosa Parks incident inciting the civil rights movement. Good news comes from bad news when passions and resources mobilize opposition to evil.

Many times, though, things are beyond our action. The bad news, other than consciousness-raising, just lingers overhead and casts its shadow over the day.

It’s in such times that another tactic is in order.

Jesus told a story of an “enemy” sowing weeds in a field of wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). When the weeds grew along with the wheat, the workers asked the owner if he wanted them pulled up. He said no, since that would also pull up some wheat. Rather, let all the plants grow. When the wheat is ripe for harvest and can be stored in a barn, that is when the weeds can be dealt with.

This takes patience, which I don’t have. I’d want to extract the weeds immediately, and a bit angrily.

But Jesus seems to be telling me to change my perspective. Look at the beauty of the crop instead of persistently fuming over the weeds. A power greater than mine will take care of the thistles.

What’s jammed into our faces daily are pictures of weeds marring the landscape. Violence and tragedy seem to spread without restriction. 

Maybe we need to remember that, at the same time, there is still quite a bit of beauty in the world, quite a bit of “wheat” that can go unnoticed if we transfix ourselves solely on the weeds.

Sometimes that’s difficult for me to remember. You, too?


Magdalene: Seven Devils

Amy Frykholm recently reviewed Marie Howe’s book, Magdalene: Poems, for Christian Century magazine. She wrote —

One of my favorite poems that mixes contemporary and ancient versions of Magdalene features her attempt to give an account of the seven devils that had once plagued her:

The first was that I was very busy.

The second—I was different from you: whatever happened to you, could not happen to me, not like that.

The third—I worried.

The fourth—envy, disguised as compassion.

The fifth was that I refused to consider the quality of life of the aphid,
The aphid disgusted me. But I ­couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The mosquito too—its face. And the ant—its bifurcated body.

Ok the first was that I was so busy . . .

Magdalene is every woman—with contemporary, devilish plagues. She cannot even conjure up the presence of mind to complete the list and keeps starting over, as if interrupted by the bleeping of her cell phone, drawn back to the demons she had sought to be rid of.

— It’s safe to say that not only is “Magdalene is every woman” but she’s every one of us, women and men alike, “with contemporary, devilish plagues.”

What’s one way you could do what Psalm 46:10 says to do? Quick refresher: Psalm 46:10 says to “Be still and know that I am God.”

What’s just one thing you could do…or maybe one thing you could stop doing…to be still and know?

Just one.

Start with just one. Or stop just one thing.

Because one is do-able.

Just one can create time and space for living into Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”



“Then I Rest in All That’s Right”

He did not fail to confess,

but confessed freely,

“I am not the Messiah.”

John 1:20

“He must increase,

but I must decrease.”

— John 3:30

Joel Hathaway, Alumni Director of St. Louis’ Presbyterian Covenant Theological Seminary, recently wrote this and sent it to me on my birthday. It’s stuck with me and blessed me. With gracious permission I share it with you today —

My Soul unto Thee: A Prayer 

If you grow short, then I’ll grow long—

imagine all that will go wrong:

you’d grow less, while I grow more,

and act out deeds I should abhor.

So I’ll grow dim, let you grow bright,

for then I rest in all that’s right.

— Loud AMEN here, how about you?



BONUS: The Rainbow, all the way from Scotland

“What does the Body of Christ look like in the light of the rainbow?”  — The Rt Rev Dr Derek Browning, Moderator of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, in Edinburgh, 5.21.17