Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tree mural is coming to life

It's a work in progress, but I wanted to share a glimpse of what I've been working on for the last several months. The mural is located at First Lutheran Church in Jamestown NY and has been a community effort of the True Sisterhood Jamestown group. It is a rendition of the seasons of a year represented by a tree and landscape scene that changes within the piece.
 It's to help depict the Sunday School theme of, "Growing and known in Christ.
 Thank you for all your help team TS. We are 90% done!

By Easter week this project will be complete! Stay tuned art friends...

Time for beautiful things

For the first time in forever I was home from worship because I was under the weather. I'm resting and doing some fun internet wandering finding some lovely music that met me where I was today - in my jammies, drinking lots of fluids and cuddling with my dog, Aggie.

I came across two bands I'd not heard of before: The Rend Collective (Experiment)  and Gungor. If you follow the link to Rend you'll find the song "O my soul" (it's time to look up) that got this thinking all going to result in a long-needed post here.

I had intended on talking with the children this morning about playing the game "I spy" during the children's message. This week's lesson was about a blind man who was healed and able to see the world for the first time. The questions I was going to ask them was, "What do you think was the first thing the previously blind man saw when he regained his sight? How do you think he felt suddenly seeing the world?

The truth of the matter is, we all carry blindness with us.

There are beautiful things all around our lives, but we are often short-sighted in seeing and being grateful for them.

We just need to have our vision restored to see the beauty.

The first video posted above is the performance of Gundor's - "Beautiful things". The one I post below is a clever fan work to emphasize and help the hearer "see" the message of this song.

"You make beautiful things out of dust."

God has made you beautiful -
even in our blindness.
God had made beautiful things out of dust...

It's time you knew you were beautiful and loved.

Friday, January 31, 2014

True Sisterhood: Breaking and Rebuilding

This week the True Sisterhood group in Jamestown met and we tested out a art/prayer/project from my friend Lynne. We have also been reading Laura Truax's book "Undone" and had come to a place where this hands on project fit perfectly. We did our best to " Ring the bells that still ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack - a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."(Anthem by Leonard Cohen).

We broke clay pots. We wrestled with re-gluing the broken pieces. We laughed, encouraged, and cheered one another on. We rebuilt. We painted. Here are some pictures of our project where we embraced brokenness and discovered beauty.


Beautiful Mess

Beauty from brokeness

Works drying

Definitely not perfect 

Exposed rough spots




Sharp edges

Superman's house - Fortress of Solitude


Happy Heart

The only kind of proverb or wisdom that I’m used to getting in addition to my Chinese food is the tiny paper that comes out of a fortune cookie. At the end of the meal we ceremoniously hold up the tray of cookies and carefully choose the cookie. We bite into the cookie to reveal the fortune that is tucked inside of it. Then we read our fortunes out loud and ponder how they could come true. Often we save each fortune to decorate the bulletin board at home.
Wisdom - it seems, is something we all are hungry for.

“You can be skinny and you can be pretty, but you have to feed a happy heart.”
When I first heard these words, my first reaction was confusion. All I had been trying to do was pick up some Chinese food for dinner, but in addition to my order and fortune cookie, I had been given a personal proverb from the cook. 
This conversation with the cook had started when I had asked specific questions about how the dish was prepared. “What sauce is it served with? Can you go light on the oil? Can I have chicken instead of beef?” and my final request – “No rice, thank you.”

With each of my questions, the woman who was preparing my food continued to smile at me. She looked amused at my fretting over oil until she could hold back no more and exclaimed:

“You can be skinny and you can be pretty, but you have to feed a happy heart.”
In that moment, I realized that while the cook was talking about the dish she was preparing for me now, she also was talking about something bigger, lasting and spiritual. Her words held wisdom for the present moment as well as in the future.
Beatitudes a form of wisdom writing and found all throughout literature. In Jesus day they were commonly used and would have been statements about general human virtues. These statements generally would “declare certain people to be in a privileged, fortunate.” (NIC, 176) Other words to describe beatitudes could be: “content, happy, well-off, peace, well-being and blessed by God.” (NIC. 176)

“You can be skinny and you can be pretty, but you have to feed a happy heart.”
Whether or not the cook knew it, her words fit the description of being a literary beatitude. The wisdom that I took away from her was this… there are many things we may want in life, but a content – happy – well off and peaceful heart, is one that needs to be fed. Humanity is obsessed with external beauty, but real contentment comes from nurturing the heart.
Getting to the heart of the matter is wisdom we all are hungry for.

The beatitudes listed in Matthew 5 are great examples of general human wisdom literature, but they also are problematic because they speak opposite of common wisdom. Listen for a moment to Matthew 5:1-10 as found in the Message. Allow the different paraphrase to help you hear the beatitudes text anew:

3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

Wisdom can come from unexpected places, (like cooks at Chinese Restaurants) as well as take some thought to unpack. The Beatitudes call us to be more aware of our need for God than anything else. Unpacking meaning and wisdom from the Beatitudes can be difficult for a few reasons:

      1. Changes in the meaning of language: Our current understandings of words like poor, meek, hungry are an obstacle for grasping the meaning of the Beatitudes.  However, the intended meaning of these words was to point to our great need, reliance we have for God in our lives.
It is in our trust and dependence for God that we receive the blessing of peace, comfort, and mercy.

  2. Who is being addressed? We read the Beatitudes to be spoken to an individual, but they are addressing the whole community of faith. “Not every member of every congregation can claim to be meek, merciful, and pure of heart, but the beatitudes are addressed, not initially to individuals, but to the whole faith community”. (New Interpreters Commentary Matthew, pg.181)
It is impossible to live the beatitudes alone. It is only by God’s power and work through Christ that the community of faith lives in meekness, mercy, and purity of heart.

  3. We think we are in control: We are used to buying, learning and getting to a goal by following various, “Philosophy’s of life”. It is unsettling but true that, “Christianity is not a scheme to reduce stress, lose weight, advance ones career, or preserve one from illness. Christian faith, instead, is a way of living based on the firm and sure hope that meekness is the way of God, that righteousness and peace will finally prevail, and that God’s future will, be a time of mercy and not cruelty.  (New Interpreters Commentary Matthew, pg.181)

It is God’s responsibility to vindicate the world and our responsibility to hope in and follow God.

“You can be skinny and you can be pretty, but you have to feed a happy heart.”

So many times I try to fill in my own “Can” statements. It’s like I’ve gone shopping for meaning and purpose without knowing where to find it. “You can be successful or wealthy or beautiful”.

But the happy heart knows that it source of strength does not come from itself, but from God.  The happy heart knows it can only “be” when God fills it up. Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic and nun from the 14th century, penned this response on how God’s fills us up…

     You must learn to understand that all your deficiencies, even those that come from your past sins and vicious habits, are part of my loving providence for you, and that it is just with those deficiencies, just the way you are now, that I would love you.
Therefore you must overcome the habit of judging how you would make yourself acceptable to me. When you do this you are putting your providence, your wisdom before mine. It is my wisdom that tells you, “The way you are acceptable to me, the way I want to love you, is the way you are now, with all your defects and deficiencies.
I could wipe them out in a moment if I wanted to, but then I could not love you the way I want to love you, the way you are – now.” (Undone, pg. 73)

The beatitudes remind us that God’s ways are different than our ways. We will not find contentment in things. We will not find peace in accomplishment. We will not find the wisdom that we long for in and of ourselves. For the present and the future – God is our source of wisdom, blessing and hope.

I’d like to take some liberty with the Chinese Proverb given to me earlier this week because I want it to be clear that it is through Jesus that all blessings are given.

“You can be content and you can be at peace, but only when you let God fill your heart.”

God’s blessing is for today, tomorrow and all eternity – that is a promise. The beatitudes call us to hear Jesus’ blessing to live together as a community of faith and surrender our wisdom in exchange for God’s wisdom. Happy hearts are ones given to God and filled with a purpose that can’t be stolen or bought. May you be content, may you be at peace, and may you allow God to fill your heart.

Heavenly Father,
Thank you for your blessings for today and in the days to come. Help us to always rely on you and share in this community of faith. Fill us with the hope, peace, mercy and love – that only comes from you.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Join the Jesus Dojo

In the last year or so, my nephew Eli has been taking karate lessons at a martial arts school. When he goes to class he wears a special suit called a Gi and has even earned two different color belts as he’s grown in his skill. Eli has learned all of this by going to class, looking at the sensei (teacher) to see how to practice the exercises and he follows his teacher’s instructions.  Over time Eli showed he had a gift for endurance. When other students were getting tired, he still had energy to burn. Each student in his class excelled in different ways. Some were good at jumping high, kicking, and rolling. Have you ever been in a class like this – what were you good at?

In John 1, we have a chance to look, see, follow and come along with Jesus as he becomes the teacher to new students. Just like karate students, we all have God-given gifts. In addition to gifts like running, jumping and energy you also have spiritual gifts. Some examples of spiritual gifts are: wisdom, faith, or knowledge. You have gifts! How are you going to use them?

Imagine that it’s a warm summer day and you are relaxing in a pool of crystal clear water, or happily body surfing over the  ebb and flow of a lake, or slowly floating down the lazy river at a water park. The sun is shining, the water is warm and the day is perfect.

As you float along, you suddenly hear the blow of whistles and an announcement that everyone must leave the water. The sun is setting, the lifeguards are going on dinner break or the park is closing for the day. While the water remains inviting, it’s time to go. If it were up to me, I’d stay in that body of water until the lifeguard came to get me. I’d soak up every last moment of floating with my ears just below the water to muffle all sounds of the world.

However, it’s time to get out of the water. It’s time to open my ears and eyes and get up on my two water-wrinkled feet and walk back into the world of dry land.

In chapter 1 of John’s gospel, Jesus and the first disciples were moving from the waters of baptism to walking the journey of living as teacher and students on the road of discipleship. The promises of God that were given in baptism would travel with them, but it was time to hit the road.

Our gospel reading is filled with many names to describe Jesus and also shows the calling of his disciples to action.

The disciples are called to: Look, come and see, and follow.

As you listen to this message, allow yourself to consider what description of Jesus you are looking for. What Jesus do you need today? Will you come and see? Jesus is not only calling to the disciples in John 1, but each of us. It’s time to hit road. As Jesus walks with us, let’s LOOK, COME and SEE, and FOLLOW.
LOOK - Who is Jesus?

In John 1:29-42 we learn a great deal about who Jesus is. Jesus is given many different names to clarify whom he is, by whose power he acts, and what his new role is in public ministry. In verse 29, 36 he is called the Lamb of God: the one who takes away the sin of the world. In verse 34 he is declared the “Son of God”, to show his authority comes from God the Father. Verse 38 refers to Jesus as “Rabbi” or in our definition – teacher. And in verse 41, he is called “Messiah” in order to fulfill prophecy and emphasize that he is anointed by God.

As Jesus begins his public ministry, he is defined by many names and roles. These definitions help his followers then and now to better understand who he is as well as meet the various needs humanity has of God. The vastness of titles in John 1, “suggest that to insist on one name for Jesus is to miss the fullness of his identity.” (New Interpreters Commentary, pg. 533) Consider the fullness of ALL Jesus is: Messiah – anointed one, Son of God - holy, Rabbi - teacher, Lamb of God – sacrifice.

It is because of Jesus and all of his names that you and I have been named beloved by God. We have a name and purpose because of all Jesus is.

COME AND SEE – Who are we?

Our lives have forever been changed because of the work of Jesus on the cross, but our relationship with God does not stop at being saved. Jesus could have accomplished his work in ministry without involving people, but he choose to call people to help him in the work of serving God and others.

One of my favorite authors, Mark Scandrette, is the leader of an intentional Christian community in the San Francisco area. He and his fellow community members intentionally moved into the mission district to live as a community of faith. Their desire was to learn who they were in Christ and live as Christian community in the world. Mark says,” The struggle for meaning among people of faith, at its root, has to do with our collective understanding of what “good news” is and how to live into that “good news”. (xviii, Soul Graffiti, Scandrette) A part of that struggle is reflected in the name they have given to their church learning space. What we might call Sunday school class, they call “Jesus dojo”.

Think back for a moment about my nephew Eli taking karate. The place that you learn karate is called a Dojo. If we think about learning about God from the perspective of karate, Jesus is our sensei (teacher) and the church is our Dojo (classroom). Just like a karate student learns from looking at their sensei, we can learn how to follow God by looking at Jesus. We take our lessons by engaging in scripture, worshiping God and serving others in mission.

Just as Jesus called Phillip, Andrew and Peter to “Come and see”, he calls us to our Jesus Dojo to come and see as well. Jesus understands that his disciples need a tangible example to follow. In order for us to follow Jesus, we need to come and see first. It is in this coming and seeing that we gain better understanding of who we are in Christ. Our gifts to serve others are revealed in the hands on practice of our faith. Just as Eli discovered his gift of endurance at the karate dojo, we discover our gifts when we engage in our church community – or as Mark would say, our Jesus Dojo.

FOLLOW: Where are we going?

There is a song that reminds me of my love of water – remember how I hate to leave the beach? It goes like this:

Well I went to the water one day to pray. Don't you know that God's gonna trouble the water. And my soul got happy and I stayed all day. Don't you know that God's gonna trouble the water.

Wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water – God’s gonna trouble the water.

For a long time it bothered me that this beautiful spiritual song about water had to include trouble. Our baptism is an amazing gift from God. It was so important that Jesus, the messiah, rabbi, Son of God and Lamb of God; demanded that John baptize him. In John 1, Jesus is baptized one day and the next he calls disciples to follow him and hits the road. Jesus does not stay in the water. Jesus knows that while the water is the start of his ministry, it’s not his destination. The road is where Jesus and his disciples are called to go.

The song “Wade in water” reminds me of my desire to stay where I’m comfortable, but it’s time to hit the road. I’d often like to: stay in the water and pray all day; but the water is stirred up – troubled – and moving. The troubled water is a reminder that I need to move as well.

Yes we can thankfully remember the water of our baptism, but we are called to walk the road with Jesus.

We are called for a purpose – John prepared the way for Jesus, Jesus prepares the way for his disciples, and his disciples prepare the way for humanity. It’s time to hit the road.

Remember what we learned from our karate metaphor:
Jesus is the sensei and the church is the dojo where you learn to use your gifts. You are a beloved disciple of Jesus – you have a gift and a purpose.

It’s time to get out of the water. It’s time to LOOK, COME and SEE, and FOLLOW Jesus as we hit the road together.

Heavenly Father,

Help us to look to see who Jesus is. Show us what discipleship is as we come and see where Jesus is in daily life.  Remind is that you are with us as we follow after Jesus. Challenge us to invite others along to look, come, see and follow Jesus too. AMEN

Thursday, January 09, 2014

A writing project is starting to take shape - The Best of Uphill Idealist

For a long time I've considered developing a collection of writings from the last 12 years (really? YES!) of into a cohesive book (also in a Kindle format for easy download). So, with some trepidation and excitement I'm beginning on the sorting and organizing stage of this project. There is much to consider,but I'll be filling you all in bit by bit as things develop. I may even use Kickstarter as a means to expedite finding resources to help with printing costs. Upon first steps, I'm already amazed at the sheer quantity of writing that has taken place over this period of time. (2004 had 200 pages alone!) At this point, it looks like there will be at least three volumes in this project - but I hope to have the first one available by summer of 2014.

Thanks to all the 18,679 readers that visited Uphill Idealist in 2014 and to all the readers before. This would never have been possible to even consider without you.

If you are interested in ordering a copy or have favorite posts you'd love to read in "The Best of Uphill Idealist: Volume I", please let me know and comment below.

Upwards and onward -


Wednesday, January 08, 2014

A Hercules inspired poem for January 2014

On Tuesday morning I was inspired by the recent cold, blowy and frigid weather to write a little poem/prayer. I hope it warms your heart and puts a smile on your face. (By the way, remember to wrap that beautiful mug up in a sweater and hat!)

Keep the heat in my house - keep us warm like a

 mouse. Keep the heat in my house today.

May the pipes freely flow - despite the cold and snow. 

May those pipes freely flow all day. ( and night)

Not only for me, but all people let this be, not only for 

me today. Heat, water and shelter for all humanity, for

 all humanity I pray.

Stay warm folks - and happy 2014!