Physically Present

Settle in. Embrace the present. Rejoice and give thanks for what is. Recognize and celebrate the blessings that are here and now, the overflowing of the cup, rather than the pieces that seem to be lacking or missing or just out of view.

It seems that my physical strengthening – and even simply being more physically active swimcapgogglesand engaged with my body – also leads to greater sense of contentment. I’m feeling more grounded in my body, literally more physically present. As I push myself physically, which has not historically been part of my life, I’m feeling more engaged with the world, and more at home and at peace. It is a great affirmation of the Synchronous Life model I’ve been developing, and my own experience of engagement with it.

I’ve been so focused on the life of the mind and the spirit for years, and experience myself and my world mainly through internal mental reflection and conversation, which seems one step removed from the immediate, visceral reality of my actual experience.

So my hope is that without reducing or denegrating these manifestations of life, I am growing into a more wellrounded, grounded and balanced person. Part of me wishing that I’d done this 20 years ago, but then quickly moving beyond that to simple gratitude that I’m doing it now – returning again to the present.

When I look in the mirror I feel a bit like a photoshop project caught mid-shift – When the
computer fades or morphs one image into another, and in that facemorphinbetween stage that’s neither what was nor what is becoming. It also kind of feels like my old face is photoshopped onto someone else’s body. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ripped and don’t expect to be (mostly because I can’t envision having that kind of time to work out) but my body shape is actually changing. And I look and feel younger too, which is nice.

I’m also aware from past seasons of swimming that exercise helps me sleep better, and have less back pain. My core is strengthening, which is provides an additional kind of physical balance and improves my posture. Better posture and more sleep lead to improved circulation and mental acquity.

This process has required effort on my part. I have needed to overcome mental and emotional barriers to the idea of doing an open water swim. I have needed to overcome the physical and mental lethargy of not exercising. I have had to receive the challenge from my best friends to join them in a ½ Tri Relay as an invitation to renewal and transformation, far more than the physical test it will certainly be. I have needed to process through the relationship between contentment, complacency, and comfort. I have needed to exchange the discomfort of complacency for the discomfort of effort, which has moved be, surprisingly, deeper toward contentment. As a dear friend reported from someone else, “When you get to be our age, your body is going to hurt from something. You can have pain that results from being out of shape, or choose the pain that comes with puhsing yourself physically.” As I said, I’m not someone who has had a habit of regular disciplined exercise in a way that challenged me physically. This new commitment to a physical discipline is also seeming to shift the way I experience and think about the other facets of my life. Again, even though I know this and teach it, I have still been caught off guard by my own personal experience of it.

It is one thing to talk about and help others understand the essential integration of body, mind and spirit. It is quite another to experience a shift personally, within myself, and sense that it is more than it appears on the surface to be. This shift is presenting itself to my consciousness as an emergence of something previousy unknown, something new. Where it leads I do not know, and unlike my pattern in the past, I’m becoming increasingly comfortable with not knowing where the road is leading. My joy now is found in simply embracing what is, leaning into it even when it is a bit uncomfortable.

Jesus transforms our familiar places

Sermon Notes for 041016
Title: Jesus transforms our familiar places
Text: John 21:1-19     Also: Acts 9:1-6

Jesus meets us where we are, as we are, but does not leave us or the place unchanged.
When we encounter the resurrected Christ, we will be transformed, if we don’t run away.

The notes below are prepared in advance in a process of reflection on the text.
They do not represent a manuscript of the sermon.

Listen to the sermon audio here.


Jesus transforms our familiar places.

Where do you go, in reality or in your imagination, when you feel lost and don’t know where to turn? What are your safe places, your happy places, your sanctuaries? Where do you feel most comfortable, most at home?

For the earliest disciples, one of these places was on the water, in their fishing boats. Here they knew what to do – so well they didn’t even have to think about it. You know how it feels to get into that zone where muscle memory takes over and your subconscious can guide you while your conscious mind takes a break from everything? This is what happens when we drive down the highway and realize we don’t remember the last 10 miles. Often it is engaging in some kind of physical activity – gardening, yard or house work, a hobby like playing an instrument, painting, wood working. So there is a physical location, and often an activity of some kind. And there are the relationships that exist (or not) in these places and activities. The people you know, with whom you work or play, with whom you share memory, story, history.

When we don’t know where else to go, we go there. How often do people journey back to their childhood homes, in person, in memory, and in dream, to rehearse, recall, and relive formative moments? “Perhaps,” we think, “the people, places and activities that formed me once will re-form me now that I’m feeling dis-integrated.”

Encounters with Jesus, and with the God we encounter through him, can be disorienting. They can dis-integrate our self-understanding and the values that provide a foundation for our lives. The messages around and within us say to build walls and separate good from bad. God says all that I have made are good. We are taught to distinguish friend from enemy – to love the one and hate the other. God says to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us. We behave as though we can, should, or must perform with righteousness and perfection so that God will love us. God says that we are beloved because God made us, and that any good actions flow from within us out of this reservoir of knowing we are loved.


And our world tells us Y.O.L.O.  – You Only Live Once! Get everything you can here and now, because this is all that counts. God tells us that death does not win, that life and love are bigger than death. We live in fear. And the Risen Jesus invites us to live in hope and faith instead.

Disorienting, indeed.

And so we go fishing, because we don’t really know what else to do. We stay busy, doing what we know, what is comfortable and feels concrete and solid.

And today’s story tells us this is absolutely OK, because Jesus will come and find us there.

It also says that Jesus will not just leave us alone. Jesus will transform us, and our familiar places.

The 4 resurrection encounters between Jesus and the disciples occur in familiar places. First Jesus appears to Mary Magdelene among the tombs where they had laid Jesus’ body. Mary thus becomes the “Apostle to the Apostles”. Next Jesus appears behind locked doors in an unspecified but familiar home (perhaps the home of the Upper Room in Jerusalem). Then eight days later Jesus appears to them there again, this time with Thomas present. And the final story takes place in Galillee, at the Sea of Tiberias where Jesus first met Simon, Andrew, James and John at their fishing boats and called them to follow him and become “fishers of men.”

All three locations were places of comfort, places of history with Jesus and with one another. They were the places that these disciples might be reminded of their previous encounters with Jesus and the way things used to be.

What are those places for you? Where might you go to remember the way things used to be? What places represent and remind you of your previous encounters with Jesus? Perhaps it is a church campground. Or your childhood church home, or your grandparents’ house, or even here, in this very space. When you arrive in those places, in this place, are you transported to an earlier time and suddenly surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses? Do you see, hear, smell and touch the familiar and have your faith undergirded and your heart comforted during times of distress because of the great heritage and legacy that enfolds you?

IF so, then you understand what the apostles were doing. They were going back to what they knew. Even after they encounter the risen Jesus twice, these guys still don’t really know what to do with themselves, so they, perhaps in stereotypical guy fashion, go fishing.

Let’s pause for another moment and consider this.

These are people who have journeyed with Jesus for three years. He has been in their homes. They have heard and believed his teaching. He has given them power over forces of darkness – power to support healing and transformation in the lives of their neighbors. They witnessed his crucifixion, saw his body laid in the tomb, and now have met him, touched him, eaten with him risen from the dead. And they go fishing. Granted, many a true angler will say that few places bring them closer to God than on the water, focused and attuned to the rhythms of nature. Be that as it may, I don’t think this is what’s going on here.

They have yet to capture (or be captured by…) a vision for their future life and ministry together. And in the absence of a new vision, they just keep doing what they’ve always done. In their previous relationship with Jesus, they were accustomed to him leading the action, and then delegating specific assignments to them. “OK, Peter, I want you to go north, while James and John go south.”

They lacked not only the vision, but the power and the organization to carry out the vision. They had not as yet received the Great Commission about which we read in Matthew 28. They do not understand themselves to be empowered to take initiative in bringing the kingdom of God about which Jesus preached so frequently and for which he taught them to pray. They are still relying on Jesus to initiate and guide all of the work. The Holy Spirit’s anointing, though mentioned by Jesus in John 20:22, has not yet fully come upon them.

In some ways we may be like these disciples just a few weeks after Easter. We have had experiences of Jesus. He has taught us and led us, but we are not sure how to take the initiative. We lack the confidence to forge ahead, trusting that God’s power of resurrection and transformation will be available when we need it. We have celebrated, rejoiced, and worshiped the risen Christ, and now we so easily slip back into our old familiar places, with their activities and relationships still intact.

But the good news and the bad news is that Jesus transforms our familiar places, and the activities and relationships we know there. Jesus does not leave us alone once we have given our lives to him. He makes these old places new, and in the process seeks to make us new.

Perhaps we are like the disciples in another way. We return to the old and familiar, but things don’t work for us the same way anymore. Now that we have encountered the Risen Christ, we simply aren’t able to go back to the way things used to be. We are different, and we now recognize that the world is different, even if we don’t quite know what to do about it. We cast our nets like usual, but catch nothing. Jesus has ruined us for the old ways of being and doing. They no longer satisfy as they once did. The familiar places are transformed, because we are transformed.

And now what? I wish there were three simple steps we could take that would put things back in order. We won’t go back to how things were. The past is gone, never to return. What we do have is practices that can put us in a better posture to receive what God has for us next.

  • Keep showing up. That sounds simple because it is simple. As we saw earlier, it is ok and good and right to return to those familiar places, just don’t expect things to be as they once were. Which brings us to practice #2.
  • Open your heart and mind to something new, or to doing the old things in new ways. If we keep expecting the old ways to work, we will continue to be disappointed. Jesus calls us to something new. He proclaims, “I make all things new!”
  • Do some new things, even if they don’t seem to make sense, or even seem silly. This story represents the second time in the gospels that these professional fishermen had worked all night but caught nothing. Along comes Jesus, who is not a fisherman, and tells them, “Try casting your net on the other side.” Try the opposite of what you’ve been doing. Try it upside down or backwards. Risk failure. Risk looking foolish.

We find ourselves on familiar ground, doing familiar things, but not getting the results we need or want. We look around and realize that though we may not know fully how to walk forward into the future, we cannot go back to the past. That is at times unsettling and even scary, which is why we return to the familiar places. The risen Christ will meet us there. He will meet us here, and he transform our familiar places, and us along with them, so that we can work together to usher in God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, right here in our own communities.

Lent – the original mud run

As I was out in the community yesterday offering ashes, I was struck by the wide variety of facial and body-language responses of the people who seemed to notice my presence. The least common seemed to be a knowing recognition and appreciation of why I was there – to offer a companioned experience of renewal to those who might desire it. A subset of these people actually came over and engaged me in conversation, some of them requested and received prayer and the imposition of ashes.

Ash WednesdayFar more common were the variations of folks who didn’t really seem to get what I was doing, even though I had a sign that clearly stated the offer —

I did not ask any of them about their thoughts – It seemed important not to insert or impose myself into their worlds any more than I already was by my mere presence and posture. Even so, I couldn’t help but wonder.

Granted, the mall or a metro station are not where one typically looks for experiences of forgiveness and renewal. Transformation may be sought many places and in many different kinds of experiences, but there was definitely a disconnect for these folks.

I thought about the work of Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile, two scholars from Harvard Divinity SchoolHow We Gather. Their research took them into relationship with an array of leaders in new expressions of community designed to foster and facilitate individual, community and social transformation. CrossFit may be the most well known manifestation of this “new” trend in “non-religious” community formation. In the process, Angie and Casper identify six recurring themes that these gatherings have in common with religious expressions of community. As with religious groups, all six are not emphasized equally, and some are ignored completely. These six themes are:

Community  ~  Personal Transformation  ~  Social Transformation
Purpose Finding  ~  Creativity  ~  Accountability

HWG- six themes

How We Gather, Angie Thurston & Casper ter Kuile, 2015. p8

As I looked hopefully on the people around me, those with smudged foreheads and those who wondered why I didn’t wash my face, it occurred to me. People are always searching for journeys of transformation. And often these journeys connect us with the earth in one way or another. Some people walk the Appalachian Trail. Others walk on hot coals with Trever McGhee. The journey will include at least 4 elements:

  • It is both a solitary and communal act – As the person making the journey, it is you against the elements. And yet you are also surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” who have traveled the road before you, or are on the journey with you now.
  • It is an arduous process – The journey includes various forms of pain (physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, mental) and deprivation (going without some creature comforts, or even things typically considered essential).
  • It is transformative – The participant expects to be changed in some way – perhaps to prove to oneself an inner strength, a mastery of the elements, the mind or the body.
  • It leaves a mark – Often the mark is some form of dirt or ash. The road takes its toll, and the marks are a kind of badge of honor for the wearer – and perhaps a cause of bewilderment for the disengaged onlooker (“You people must be crazy…” is a phrase often spoke of or at those who make such journeys.)

And then I realized – Lent, beginning as it does with Ash Wednesday – is the original Mud Run. The Mud Run meets all four tests listed above, though it is certainly briefer than the AT or Lent.

mudrun 1Lent is a journey of transformation, marked with the initiating challenge to runners “You are dust, and to dust you will return.” Perhaps things like the Mud Run exist because the way church has offered transformation journeys over the recent centuries has lost meaning and power for many people. Perhaps the church, without coopting (ripping off) the culture’s innate creativity, might take some notes. As Angie and Casper have demonstrated so capably, the culture will create responses to the very real human need for such journeys, whether inside or far beyond religious communities.

One other thing. The people who make such journeys in the wider culture – they really seem to be enjoying themselves, individually and together, despite the pain and deprivation. Personal sacrifice does not result in misery for these folks. I’m reminded suddenly of Jesus counsel to his contemporaries for how to undertake their own Mud Run disciplines:

16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others (Matthew 6)

Wherever your journey of transformation takes you, may you have companions by your side, and all the provision you need. And may you be truly different at the end – more fully yourself, and more fully alive.

Fawkes Ash Wednesday


Ash Wednesday is a reminder that we all have a Phoenix inside us. Periodically we need to be consumed by an inferno that burns away everything temporary and fleeting.

And then in time we reemerge from the ashes, new, fresh and ready to take on the world.





Yet at this stage we may be frail and vulnerable, needing the nurture and care of mentors and a community that provide safe space in which to try our wings.

In the process we may even discover that our tears have cleansing and healing powers.







The Blessing in Christ’s Triumph

Christ humbled himself and was exalted by God.
Jesus’ triumph came not by his own strength,
but through weakness and frailty and death.
Likewise, in our weakness God’s strength is revealed.

Object Lesson: Follow The Leader

Text: Philippians 2:5-11  Also: Isaiah 50:4-9a

The Blessing in Christ’s Triumph”

What successes, what triumphs, does God ask of us and promise us?

We have read the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (John 12:12-16; Mark 11:1-11). Though the scripture texts do not use the phrase, the church has come to call this event in Jesus’ life “The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.” We have also heard Paul urge us to have the same mind as Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5-11), an invitation to weakness, submission, humility (and perhaps even humiliation?). So just what kind of triumph is this? In what way is Jesus victorious in this event, and in the things that follow? And finally, what would it mean for us to do likewise, to have “the mind of Christ”?

He does not “win” anything or “overcome” anything visible.

There are no external measures of “success” to be applied.

Of course we know by faith that Jesus triumphs over sin and death on Easter Sunday morning. In Philippians 2 Paul makes clear that the victory was not won by Jesus, but by the Father, who raised him and exalted him. There IS a victory, a triumph over sin and death, but do they really belong to Jesus? This victory is accomplished THROUGH him, but not BY him. But perhaps that is what we are talking about after all. If so, what is there from which we may learn and which we can emulate?

I wonder if Jesus’ triumph is not much more human and direct than that? Recall how in Mark 8 Peter is affirmed when he proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, and almost immediately chastised when Peter suggests that Jesus should not suffer and die? (Mark 8:27-38) Jesus then proceeds to tell the disciples and the crowd that if they want to be his disciples, they must: “…deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (v34). Again, it is at first difficult to see the triumph in this.

The triumph, I think is in Jesus (and our) willingness to set aside the normative definitions of success, effectiveness, victory. Jesus certainly knows how earthly kings are made, History is replete with the stories and Jesus has witnessed it enough times in his own life. Kings are made by seizing and holding power through any means necessary. Kings hold power over others by fear and coercion and violence. Some believed that God would counter this system with even greater divine power that overwhelms, so they clung viciously to their earthly kingdoms. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Mt 11:12).

In response, Jesus did not take up weapons of war. Jesus did not gather the wealth of the world for his campaign and control. Jesus adopted the symbols of the coming Messiah – entering from the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4) humble and riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). All Israel expected that the Messiah would come in power, that somehow the reference to the donkey was perhaps some kind of ruse to distract and confuse the occupying force, lulling them into complacency till he should wield his great sword and cut off their heads.

Would it surprise us to learn that Jesus himself wanted to follow such a path, that Jesus wanted to be the warrior king with battle ax, mace, sword and bow with fiery arrows? If he was fully human, as our faith suggests, and tempted in every way that we are, as the writer of Hebrews indicates, then this very thought welled up within him. (Heb 4:15) We see something of this in his cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple. (Mark 11:12-25) Jesus is certainly filled with a righteous anger that bursts forth.

Perhaps Jesus’ triumph this day is in not calling down all the powers of heaven and casting the mountain of Jerusalem into the sea, as he tells the disciples they can do by faith through prayer. Jesus triumph is in not exercising the power he has. It is in resisting violence as a solution. It is in resisting (again) the invitation to exaltation.

Jesus faced these same temptations in the wilderness after his baptism. Mark does not enumerate them, but we learn from Matthew and Luke the nature of their severity, their seduction, and Jesus’ triumph. (Mt 4; Lk 4) Something in Jesus must have been drawn toward power and glory, or these would not have been temptations. It could not have been said that Jesus was “tested”. So Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is the moment when glory and power are his for the taking. It would have launched his political career. Instead he seizes it as the opportunity to demonstrate the way of God’s kingdom: The last shall be first and the first, last. The way to true LIFE is through death. The way up is by first going down. “God’s grace is sufficient for us, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)

The triumph? Jesus triumphed over his own inner desire to receive what was being offered to him – a false and temporary reward. Jesus had been steadily cultivating and practicing this Way. He fasted and prayed and studied and worshipped. He allowed himself to be tested in small ways, continually building up his own resilience, training his spiritual muscles to respond in the right way when the time came.

He was also wise and strategic. He understood that arriving in this way would stir the energy and enthusiasm of those who longed for something different, even if they did not like his methods. As this zeal swelled, it would reach a crescendo. It would not be the Mount of Olives torn in two, but the veil that separated people from God. Jesus understood that to accomplish his goal, to see the Spirit of God let loose, death conquered and the church birthed, Jesus would have to resist all the earthly wisdom that suggested he should seize control. Only because Jesus triumphed in these clearly human ways was God’s plan to triumph in divine ways made possible.

Similarly for us, God still chooses to work in and through frail humanity to accomplish divine purposes of redemption and reconciliation. It makes no earthly sense, but Paul is right. If we want to be successful in God’s eyes, and in the work of God’s kingdom, this will only come through our own humility and vulnerability. This does not mean meekness – there is nothing meek in Jesus’ cleansing the temple. It does mean that power is not ours to hold, but only to exercise on behalf of others. We stand with others when they are attacked, but do not defend ourselves when they attack Christ at work in us.

What does the mind of Christ look like in us, on the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry? It means that we say no to opportunities to gain or wield power for our own benefit, or power over others even for the greater good. We do not advance the Love of God in the world by dominating or excluding others. We do it by loving them, which means seeking their good along with our own, and believing that God will honor our sacrifice and fill our weakness with power.

** Sermon preparation reflections for 032915

Some cultural references…

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