Finding a Light

We just came home from watching the newest Star Wars movie. No spoilers, but if you like the rest of the series, you won’t be disappointed with the last chapter of it.

I noticed before the trailers were even over that this was a bifurcated crowd; people like us who have grown up with Star Wars, and kids who weren’t even born when the first film came out. In fact, I realized on the way home that it’s possible that their parents might not have been old enough to go to the movies in 1977!

At its heart, the Star Wars movies, at least the plotlines, are all about identity. Who are we, and what part of our family story and lived experience will we choose to claim?

And in this season of Chanukah and Christmas and Kwanzaa; festivals of the light, we are reminded that the work of spiritual people is to bring light into the world. But how?

Star Wars: Skywalker suggests that even the elders have to wrestle with their identities. The saga is about the second generation, but woven into it are the stories of leaders who reflect on their choices, their secrets and their role in a world that has radically changed in their lifetimes. Who are we to be now? Generals at the frontlines? Sages to whom others come for advice? Change agents with much less to lose now than in our youth? Standard bearers for the old ways of life and the old battles? Just when we might have thought that we could continue living the way we have for years, the world presents new challenges, or at least old challenges with new options.

Our light sabers might have been relegated to the back of the closet long ago. We might not think that we would be called upon to fight the old evils seemingly made quaint by technology. It seems to me that we of the Star Wars generation are still trying to figure out our identity, believing that we should be bringers of the light, but not at all sure how to do it. We are no longer young enough to backflip ourselves out of danger. We know that the Dark Side has many faces; not only shiny black masks, but also the shining faces of our neighbors and friends, and occasionally, our own face in the mirror. We want to be optimistic about the future, but we no longer believe that just wishing will make it so.

And so, at the “gate of the year”, when we once again consider resolutions and new leaves and fresh starts, we are also faced by the same quandary we faced in 1977. Who are we, really? What is real about who we are and what mark we will make on the world? What can we dare to dream? And who are we called to be now, given what we have done and seen, given our successes and failures and hard won self-knowledge? What light will we bring?

(The special effects are awesome, too. But you knew that.)

In Another Tongue


In our denomination’s hymnal, The New Century Hymnal, the classic Sunday School favorite “Jesus Loves Me” was included, for the first time since the UCC had published a hymnal. It seemed at the time of publication, that surely everyone knew “Jesus Loves Me”. For many of us, it was the first song we learned, even before the alphabet song. Now twenty years and many cultural changes later, I am glad that it’s in the hymnal so that we can teach it to a new generation.

I learned from Wikipedia that “In 1943 in the  Solomon Islands, John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 was rammed and sunk. Islanders Biuku Gasai and Eronana Kum who found Kennedy and the survivors remember that when they rode on PT boats to retrieve the survivors, the Marines sang this song with the natives, who had learned it from Seventh-day Adventist missionaries”.

Probably because JLM is such a Protestant icon, the publishers chose to print the lyrics in ten languages other than English. The only other version with which I am really conversant is Spanish. Translations are never exact, and translations of songs should never be literal, or they are un-singable. The Spanish translation of JLM ends with “faithful friend”; a rather different concept from “they are weak but He is strong”.

Reading another translation of this hymn helped me see it differently. In truth, the concept of Jesus as a faithful friend is exactly what was conveyed to me  when I learned them as a toddler in English. It wasn’t the words, but the comforting feeling of having Jesus near, which the Spanish text captures.

Having a second or third language gives us a window into another culture, another way of looking at the world, and formulations of truth that stick with us, in a way they do not in English.

If you do read another language, even imperfectly, I encourage you to read the Scriptures and some of your favorite hymns in that language, to see what is to be learned about the text from its formulation and cadence and images. And if English is your second tongue, you might read through some familiar hymns from your childhood and see how they seem different.

God speaks to us through all means possible to remind us that “yes, Jesus loves me”!

I was captivated by these young women singing “Jesus Loves Me” in Chinese!

Prayer for Advent 4C


Hail Mary,                                                                              BVM icon blue

You who believed the word of an angel

You who stood fast in the face of whispers

You who bumped uncomfortably over the hills

You who gave birth far away from your family

Full of grace                                                                     Chinese Madonna                                         

Full of questions

Full of eagerness

Full of love

Full of God

The Lord is with thee.                                                        Madonna and dove

Emmanuel – God with us

As close as breathing

Never far away

At the bedside and in the jail.

Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Modern Pieta

Blessed are those who mourn.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Blessed are the merciful for they will obtain mercy.

Holy Mary, Mother of God pray for us sinners,

Pray for the lost

Pray for the unforgiven.

Pray for the haughty.

Pray for those who cannot open themselves to love.

Now…                                                                                      Madonna and crane

In this moment

In this time of strife

Just as we are

Before we lose our courage.

and at the hour of our death.

With those who have lost a love.

Native American madonnaWith those who have lost a dream.

With those whose lives are imperiled.

With those for whom death is near.





Jerusalem icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary
 Our Lady of Peking, China  John Lu Hung Nien
Black Madonna,  Kathering Skaggs
American Pieta, Michael Owens
Sunshine Mother And Child  Shijun Munns
 Native American Icon, Father John Giuliani

August 11

Proverbs 16: 18Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. 19It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud. 20Those who are attentive to a matter will prosper, and happy are those who trust in the Lord.

The issue of pride is a difficult one for our tradition. On one hand, humility is certainly a virtue. But for those who have been told all their lives that they are not “good enough” because of some physical characteristic, this proverb doesn’t encourage a healthy self-image. More helpful perhaps is verse 19, which is not so much about who you are, but what you choose.

What has been your experience with “a haughty spirit”? What does it mean to you to “trust in the Lord”?

August 4

Proverbs 11: 24 Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. 25A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water. 26The people curse those who hold back grain, but a blessing is on the head of those who sell it. 27Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to the one who searches for it. 28Those who trust in their riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like green leaves.

Money and power. They were as important in the Ancient Near East as they are today. And this mystery – why do some people seem to make money with ease, while others can’t seem to ever get ahead? There is inequality of resources, of course. Some people are born with the proverbial silver spoon. But that doesn’t completely explain it. Here the writer of Proverbs is suggesting that generosity begets wealth. Whether finances or spiritual wealth is meant is not clear from the passage. 

Do you believe that being generous will increase your wealth? How do you explain the inequalities in society?

August 3

Proverbs 11: 10When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; and when the wicked perish, there is jubilation. 11By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked. 12Whoever belittles another lacks sense, but an intelligent person remains silent. 13A gossip goes about telling secrets, but one who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a confidence. 14Where there is no guidance, a nation falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

Well, in this week of claims and counter-claims in and out of the court system, the issue of who tells what to whom is paramount. History tells us that a city can be overthrown by the mouth of the wicked. And the early Christian church struggled time and again with false claims made about Jesus himself, about the apostle Paul, and about the female leaders in the growing Christian movement. But the question raised in the last verse is perhaps the most interesting; how large and diverse should a leadership team be? We have struggled with this issue at the national setting of the United Church of Christ*, and most local churches have discussed it as well.

How do you build an effective team, either in your career or your civic life? What characteristics are important in a team of “counselors”?

If this idea intrigues you, or you are currently building a team, you might want to read:

*The proposal at the last Synod to collapse a number of UCC leadership structures and corporations into one (popularly called Unigov).

August 2

Proverbs 10: 17Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but one who rejects a rebuke goes astray. 18Lying lips conceal hatred, and whoever utters slander is a fool. 19When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech. 20The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the mind of the wicked is of little worth.23Doing wrong is like sport to a fool, but wise conduct is pleasure to a person of understanding. 26Like vinegar to the teeth, and smoke to the eyes, so are the lazy to their employers.

There is much talk in this passage of “instruction” or “rebuke”. The sense is of correcting the path of an animal or a parent teaching a child. As adults, we might not have much experience of “instruction” from someone else. This passage also makes clear that the writer believes that economy of speech is a virtue.

From what or whom have you learned an important lesson recently? To whom do you look for instruction? Do you agree that the “prudent are restrained in speech”?

August 1

Proverbs 9: 6Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” 7Whoever corrects a scoffer wins abuse; whoever rebukes the wicked gets hurt.8A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you.9Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still; teach the righteous and they will gain in learning.10The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. 11For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life. 12If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it.

The theme of the “scoffer” is all through the book of Proverbs. The Hebrew word means someone who is arrogant, who pokes fun at notions of virtue, and who is “puffed up”. We have probably all met that person. Clearly, from this passage, that is not the personality of the one who is wise.

How does one “lay aside immaturity”? What role have scoffers played in your life? Were you one? Have you been affected by one?

July 30

July 30

Proverbs 6:16There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that hurry to run to evil, 19a lying witness who testifies falsely, and one who sows discord in a family.

I don’t think that there is any difference between things that the Lord “hates” and those that are an “abomination”; this is a common poetic device in Hebrew. But note that none of these is about “purity”; eating the wrong food, or sleeping with the wrong person. These are characteristics that break the bonds of community.

What are the actions and attitudes that sow discord in our community? What are the actions and attitudes that sow discord in the church?

July 28

Proverbs 6: 6 Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways, and be wise.7Without having any chief or officer or ruler,8it prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest.9How long will you lie there, O lazybones? When will you rise from your sleep? 10A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, 11and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want, like an armed warrior. 12A scoundrel and a villain goes around with crooked speech, 13winking the eyes, shuffling the feet, pointing the fingers, 14with perverted mind devising evil, continually sowing discord; 15on such a one calamity will descend suddenly; in a moment, damage beyond repair.

This vivid image has been used by many parents, employers and preachers! The fear that “poverty will come upon you like a robber” is very real for many people.

What experiences formed your work ethic? Who comes to mind as you read this passage?

And for another take on work, this song: <>