Beautiful Kidneys, or a Way with Words

you-have-a-way-with-wordsThis morning we drove to the other side of town while it was still foggy out; I had an appointment for an upper abdominal ultrasound. After many years on methotrexate, my blood work began reflecting elevated liver enzymes last summer, and my new-as-of-last-week rheumatologist wanted a closer look.

A very nice technician took me back into the depths of the outpatient center and began the study.

“Take a deep breath, as deep as you can … Hold onto it … … … … Breathe. Excellent!”

I found the repetition reassuring. While I cannot control the medical “grade” I receive, at least I know that from a behavioral point of view, I cooperated to the best of my ability, held my breath as long as asked, and over and over received the affirmation, “Excellent!” A+, right?

It was a complete upper abdominal ultrasound, so it took a while. Just when I was feeling more relaxed, the technician had to press a little harder to get her angle, and I coughed. And coughed. And coughed. The student observing was sent for a cup of water. I half-sat up, awkward, in dishabille. The technician never lost her calm, good-natured expression. We began again, and I was asked to roll toward her.

That’s when she asked what work I do. When I answered, her face flashed recognition; she said, “I’ve heard you preach, at Saint Thingummy’s! I remember that sermon; it might be the only sermon I’ve ever remembered. It was about the ocean.”

I tried to remember the sermon while maintaining focus on breath held and released. “Excellent!”

She asked if I would allow the student to take some extra pictures, as part of her training. Of course, I said. “She has beautiful kidneys,” said the technician to the student. “Why don’t you get me xyz measurements?” She left us alone.

Beautiful kidneys. I guess that’s something.

The technician returned to walk with me out to the waiting room. “Was it,” I asked, “about being knocked over by the waves?”

“Yes,” she said, “my husband remembers it, too. You have a way with words.”

So do you, excellent technician. So do you.

Only love can do that

I’m in the strange-for-me position of being out of the pulpit for the foreseeable future, and at least for now, I am attending my wife’s church as a worshipper.

Yesterday, in the first session of a wonderful and thoughtful Sunday School on Peace, Reconciliation, and Forgiveness that includes all ages from 6th grade to Senior citizens, we were asked to share in small groups the names of people we thought of as truly good. I was proud of The Boy when he named Martin Luther King, Jr., then saddened to hear a trusted adult respond, “He was good, but he was not perfect.”

Now, this was going to be the further point of the discussion – we are all in need of God’s grace, as the Presbyterian Confession of 1967 was used to illustrate – but I felt frustrated that an adult would administer that kind of corrective to the one student in our group. No one questioned any other suggestions.

When the full class shared answers, The Boy whispered to me, “Don’t say it. Don’t say it.” My heart hurt.

img_0055Later, as we sat in our pew before worship, he picked up the bulletin and saw the quote on the cover. He pointed out the words and the name to me and said, “I wasn’t wrong!”

No, son, you were not wrong.

We went on to read portions of the Letter From Birmingham Jail as the Confession and the Statement of Faith, alongside a text from Luke reminding us that the hometown crowd tried to throw Jesus off a cliff.

Thus it has ever been with prophets, even the 6th-graders.

This guilty peace (a prayer for pastors)

this-guilty-peaceHoly One, even before the day begins, I can picture them in the congregation:
The hopeful ones who (sort of) want me to say something, anything;
The watchful ones who worry I will stir up trouble;
The angry ones who wish I would open the door wide with my words so they can finally throw me out through it.
Most of the faces I see look like mine, Lord.
We share a common face, a similar skin tone, a style of life and personal economy. We live in the same town and see only the small reality we seek to preserve, send our children to the same school, shop in the same stores, root for the same team.
We can handle difference if it comes one person at a time, extend ourselves to welcome one family, but more feels like too many.
I picture them in my mind, frustrated by their collective will to keep a peace I fear does not please you.
Even here I hedge. I keep this peace, this guilty peace.
Embolden me, Lord, to make a different kind of peace, a peace that honors you, a peace that is inconvenient and disruptive and real, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

In this New Year (a prayer for pastors)

Holy One,

In this New Year,
work through us,
in the hopes we share,
In the stories we tell,
in the efforts to get it right,
in the remembrance of our baptisms.

graceIn this New Year,
sustain us,
when the beloved elder dies,
when the faithful family moves,
when the angry email arrives,
when the hope we held vanishes.

In this New Year, console us,
with the voice of your love,
with the power of your mercy,
with the light of your truth,
with the gift of your grace.


Make us chain-breakers (a Christmas prayer for pastors)

chain-breakersHoly One,

The stars may be shining
as we head home
bleary-eyed tonight,
some of us to wassail alone,
others to search for the
Triple A batteries,
or sleep briefly, alarms
set for worship tomorrow.

Keep us focused on
things that matter,
letting go of
imperfect orders of service,
secular piano solos,
descants on our nerves,
parking lot traffic jams,
and attendance numbers.

(It’s a Saturday night.)

Give us prophet’s voices,
unafraid to speak your truth
even when it hurts,
even when it hurts us.
Make us chain-breakers
and peace-makers
on this holy night,
every day and night.

We pray in your name,

At the end of the wick (a prayer)

The end is coming.
Darkness lies on the earth,
our batteries run down,
gas gauge in the empty zone,
printer flashing “low ink.”

The longest night draws near.
The news is unreadable.
We turn off the television,
or change the channel,
tune the radio to music.

The candles burn lower.
At the end of the wick,
we pray for fuel,
to be Your change in the world.
Burn in us, O Love!