Thoughts & Prayers #thoughtsandprayers

27858878_10213809622647640_8079980319398774411_nA phrase that has become a trigger if ever a phrase has. Thoughts & prayers. Meaningless to some, a knee-jerk response to others and more powerful than any action to still others.

People, including myself, have become increasingly frustrated by what is rapidly becoming a pathetic platitude in response to a horror like a mass shooting. It is being seen as useless because after so many mass shootings one wonders at the point of prayer.

A cynic would say “just imagine the number of shootings if people weren’t praying” and such a person should be shouted down for the sheer stupidity of such an argument.

The question remains – what is the point of prayer? Why bother?

The writer C.S. Lewis once said “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me“.

The brilliance of what Lewis is saying here cannot be understated.

Prayer does not change God. This is a theologically sound statement given the nature of God verses the nature of us.

There are many types of prayer throughout scripture but they can boil down to two types of prayers – asking God to intervene and do something concrete in the world and prayers of expression that bring to God our hopes, fears, anger etc. not unlike the proverbial patient speaking from the couch to the silent psychiatrist only to get up afterward and thank the doctor for their help when they haven’t opened their mouths.

As with all things biblical I look to Christ as a model and an interpretive lens through which I read and seek understanding.

Prior to his torture and death in the garden of Gethsemane Christ prays – he very specifically prays that God would allow this pain to pass him by but “your will be done not mine”.

In essence it would seem Christ is praying that God would cause a thing not to happen. The result of the prayer would seem to be that nothing happens and Christ dies but in reality what happens is that Christ is emboldened through prayer to face what is to come.

God was not changed. Christ was.

The essence of prayer in light of the fact that Christians see themselves as Christ on earth is that prayer does not magically bring God to earth to do the things we are incapable of doing. Rather prayer is supposed to change us that we might do the very things we are asking, hoping, wanting God to do.

Sadly much of this has been lost on modern Christians who have fallen into the trap of believing that prayer is a magic charm to compel God to do what we do not have the courage to do.

This causes people to immediately respond to tragedy by saying “sending my thoughts and prayers to you” and it rightly triggers many to respond “shove your thoughts and prayers up your ass“.

When faced with such anger the average person of faith will often simply and patronizingly respond that “they simply don’t understand and believe in the power of prayer…blah blah blah...”.

When you pray that God would feed the hungry, clothe the poor, visit and heal the sick and imprisoned, comfort those who have lost loved ones, do something about gun violence – these prayers are to enable a change in YOU that you might go out and DO these things as Christ would do them. Not to sit at home and say “well I’ve done my part – I prayed!

James 5:13-16 says “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Notice that the sick are to ask the elders for prayer and anointing with oil. It does not say “pray quietly alone and anoint yourself with oil“. The sick ask for prayer so that the community can know they are sick and they can use oil (as was part of the medical practice in those times Christian or otherwise) as a healing balm. Today if a man came to me I would pray and anoint him with science and modern medicine. This would be keeping with the spirit and intent of the verses. It is not a lack of faith in the power of God, it is faith in the power of God to change you and do the things.

Then you run headfirst into verse 17 –

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

After reading countless commentaries, re-reading the verse a thousand different ways and praying 🙂 you come to realize a trend in scripture that is witnessed here in this verse – God intervenes to do the things we cannot do. God does not intervene in the things we can do; in the things we should do; in the things we MUST do.

The endless streams of what feel like unanswered prayer to resolve the gun crisis tell some that there is no God. It tells me one thing – this is our problem to solve. Not only that, it is a problem that can be solved if the will existed to do so.

Whether you are atheist, agnostic, or a person of faith we can all find common ground on this point – the gun crisis in the United States can and must be resolved by people. No amount of praying is going to cause God to magically intervene and fix the problem – this is not faithlessness but an accurate reflection of scripture.

By all means remember and act on the words of Philippians 4:6 which says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

But in doing so remember also WHY we pray and WHAT our responsibility is – to become Christ here on Earth and DO what needs to be done seeking to bring about the kingdom of God not in metaphor or in some suicidal desire to see the world destroyed and remade by God.

What about children dying of inoperable cancer? Why does God ignore these things and allow them to happen? Let us read John 11:1-44 –

“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

To the original question – what about children dying of inoperable cancer? Why does God ignore them? We cannot say. Again, some would say – it is because there is no God and we cannot argue with them. Christ can speak and answer the why for Lazarus – for the rest of us – we cannot. In this we are not Christ.

Remember that sometimes there are things we cannot do and things God will not do.

There is no comfort to be found in these moments and to seek and try to provide it is not only disingenuous but dangerous. How dare we speak out of our own fear and faithlessness into a vacuum left by God in people’s lives?

Sometimes we must live in the discomfort of the silence and simply be a presence while people rage and weep at us, the world and God; as they should; as is their right. It is not for us to presume to take this away.

One final word.

Stop trumpeting your wonderful thoughts and prayers to the world. Stop tweeting them. Stop facebooking, hashtagging and instagraming them. Stop it. It pisses people off and for good reason according to Matthew 6:1-13 –

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.


I Have a Cousin

I have a cousin.

In fact I have many cousins – most of whom I grew up with during my childhood years when we were entangled in our parents comings and goings. We spent a lot of time together when we were younger –

Tammy, Tracy, Gordie, Connie, Cathy, Paul, Jamie, Jeremy, Adam, Kelly, Kenny, and Karen. You get the idea. Cousins are like distant siblings. They understand you a little better than average because they come from your mum’s siblings…they understand some of your crazy, some of your uniqueness.

I have a new cousin.

I learned this last night.

Let me explain.

A couple of years ago you might remember I learned through a DNA test I got for Christmas that my father, who I never met, was a Jewish man. That’s the most information I have to date. Mum’s memories of that time were not great. Jewish man, maybe his name was Roger. Not too helpful.

Anyhow I have been uploading my DNA test results to databases online in an attempt to find relatives and was recently contacted by a genealogy consultant helping another man going through a similar process.

It turns out this man is my first cousin. Our fathers were likely brothers. This is a HUGE leap forward in my quest to learn more about my father and my Jewish roots.

Ironically my cousin never knew his father either so we are, for the time-being, the blind leading the blind.

Still it is an enormous step forward in the quest. I will keep you posted.

in the absence

in the absence
of a particular,
spectacular, expertise…
i just write with my stick in the dirt.

in the absence
of a beautiful,
rhythmic, rhyme –
i just write love, or sad, or joy, or hurt

in the absence
of a gilded (guilded?) braided voice,
wound into the chorus
of the official, poetic, gleaming glitterati
i just scream or sing or simply pervert

Attend. Accept. Act. Sermon for January 28, 2018

Sermon based on a reading of John 3:1-21

Behind the depressing silence of the sea, the silence of God …. the feeling that while men raise their voices in anguish God remains with folded arms, silent.”

These words, expressed by the character of Jesuit priest Sebastião Rodrigues, in what is one of my favorite books, Silence by Shisaku Endo, (which you should all read if you get a chance) – these words speak concisely about one of our great struggles in faith – the struggle to hear God…the great fear that God is not listening and the even greater, unspoken fear as to why that might be the case. The struggle to know how to act when God appears silent and most importantly perhaps the greatest fear of all – that God does speak, and the struggle to know how to react when this happens.

In order to try and understand these things we must learn to attend, accept and then act. If we can learn to do this enough we might even come to anticipate. These are the things I want to talk to you about today.

Growing up my mum thought I had trouble hearing.

I would be watching Bugs Bunny, Spider-Man or G-Force or some other cartoon on television and she would ask me a question: “Peter? Peeeeeter? PETER!?!?”

Nothing. No response. It was as if I was deaf.

She was so seriously concerned about my ability to hear that eventually she made an appointment for me to see the audiologist.

I went to the audiologist and they sat me in a sound proof room, put headphones on me and told me to push a button whenever I heard a tone in one of or both of my ears. I randomly pushed the button but mostly ignored it. Eventually the audiologist spoke into my head and said “Peter – I know you can hear these tones.” Which scared the heck out of me because I had no idea he could speak to me, which led me to wonder what other powers he might have. Magically after that my hearing got better.

You see I actually have excellent hearing – I just consciously chose to ignore my mum. I heard her speak. I suspected that she wanted something from me and so my strategy was that pretending not to hear her would make her stop speaking. I was not attending to her.

One of the definitions of “attend” in the Oxford Dictionary is “to pay attention to…” and another is “to wait upon”.

In the reading from John 3 today we are confronted by Nicodemus. Nicodemus attends but he does not listen and so he does not understand. Nicodemus is very much like us in many ways. He means well. He seeks out Christ. He asks questions of him but he does not understand and he does not pay attention…at least not in a way that can lead to understanding.

As a Pharisee he represents the teachers of Israel, those that historically seek out God’s wisdom…those who are supposed to attend to God’s Word that they might gain insight and provide insight to Israel and through Israel to the world. In all of this Nicodemus also represents the kind of relationship Israel has with God…a relationship not unlike our own…often inattentive except when sudden need arises. At other times self-defined. But if all of this seems slightly negative in one thing Nicodemus shines – he is seeking God out but he is ill-equipped to understand what God-in-Christ is trying to say.

Christ is not revealing new information to Nicodemus – he is saying the same thing that God has said again and again – “if you wish to be saved only I can save you, you cannot save yourselves” – in response Nicodemus can only say “How?” again and again. It is as if God is speaking a language Nicodemus cannot understand.

Even though Nicodemus sought out Christ he is not fully attending to his words and so cannot move forward…he cannot accept and he cannot act.

In the Old Testament God calls out to Moses from the burning bush atop the mountain in the desert and Moses simple response is “Here I am”. Earlier in the Old Testament God said to Abraham “Go” and he went. Of course there is wonderful Jonah to whom God said “Go…” and Jonah went but in the opposite direction.

I can identify with Jonah. Israel could identify with Jonah and most of us, I dare say, can identify with Jonah. In the instance of Jonah he is in fact attending on God. He is attending enough to understand what is being asked of him and so he acknowledges the request but he cannot accept it. God has asked Nineveh to basically “cut it out” – the “it” being the various and sundry ways Nineveh was being disobedient. Jonah would prefer not to warn Nineveh because Jonah would prefer Nineveh not be forgiven but rather blasted to oblivion. It’s a little like a parent telling an older sibling to ask their young sibling to come to dinner and the older sibling deciding it would be much more fun if their sister or brother starved instead. Jonah has decided what God should do and does not agree with God’s offer of grace, preferring judgement instead.

Like so many who seek or claim to hear God, in the end, Jonah can only hear his own desires.

Perhaps the most beautiful example we have in scripture of the process of attending, accepting and acting in response to God is found in Luke’s account of Mary, the mother of Christ. Mary, who by most accounts would likely have been a young teenage girl is confronted by God via his messenger Gabriel who essentially says to her “Guess what – you are going to become pregnant and your son will be the saviour or Israel and the saviour of the world through whom God will work all that he has been telling Israel about for the last 1,500 years or so.

Imagine this for a moment. We would not blame Mary if she got up and ran away screaming or burst out laughing. Instead we are presented with a thoughtful person who models what it means to attend or wait upon God. One who is in a ready state to hear and know the difference between her own imagination and God. She asks questions just like Nicodemus. “How can this be?” demonstrating that we can question God – a God who welcomes questions and this is modelled in many other places in scripture.

Then, upon hearing the answer to how, and still likely in a state to not understand (not unlike Nicodemus) it is enough for Mary that having attended upon God, acknowledging God’s word to her, she accepts what she has heard and is prepared to act as her response outlines in Luke 1, verse 38 when she says

““Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

This is our model, perfected in Mary, seen in Noah, and Abraham, and Moses before but not so succinctly as we find in Mary.

Now when I ignored my mum I was a child. Over time, as I came to know and understand her; as I came to love her as a person coming into their own and not simply a child’s love, those silly games of pretending to not hear her and not understand her went away. Now when she would ask me to go to the store for her I never responded with “let it be with me according to your word” I would go because over time I learned to attend to her…which in this sense is code for coming to love and respect someone as a result of living deeply in relationship with them. I strive for the same thing with my wife and with my children. It is the same with God.

It is difficult to hear the voice of one we do not spend a lot of time with. It is more difficult to accept and act on that voice – particularly when that voice may be asking us to act in ways that terrify us. The voice that asks us to do terrifying things like to give sacrificially; to think less of ourselves and more of others; to heal the sick; to visit and bring hope to the imprisoned; to forgive. These are very difficult things for us because our nature is one of self-interest.

Sometimes, like Nicodemus, even after we have gotten to the place where we can seek God and hear God’s voice we find that what is being asked of us is too difficult because we lack the trust to move in the direction we are being asked to go. Like the rich young man in Mark 10:17-22 when he speaks to Christ and asks –

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Sometimes we do everything right – we attend upon God and we specifically seek out guidance for our circumstance and hear God’s voice but what is asked of us frightens us and only the deep trust that rises out of an exceptional relationship would allow us to move forward.

We come to know God in prayer; in God’s word; in attendance to God’s creation…and as Christ relates in Matthew 25:34-40 –

‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

You see the key to what we have been talking about is not so much obedience (although that plays a role) as much as it is being given the opportunity to participate with God on any of the numerous things God is doing in and around us and all over the world every moment of every day. We are not helping God so much as seeing opportunity to let God help us as we draw near, as we attend, accept, act and, eventually, anticipate.

The opportunity to be a part of the ever emerging new creation that God ushers in, in big and small ways. In terrifying and in mundane ways. When we take the time to come know God enough, when we regularly and out of habit attend, accept, act and anticipate God’s nature it becomes easier to move ahead in the frightening ways that make us want to close our eyes, because we have come to trust.

Like Mary this path can lead us to a place where we can glimpse what God is doing and say in response “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

– Amen.


we went downtown for pictures once
the dirty and the dark alleys of a small town
though not so small as some
we were bohemians – or so we thought
pinhole cameras and black and white
and me along for the ride
wondering how the gritty, wet asphalt
would feel on my tongue

days gone by or bygone maybe
and i never saw the pictures
and i wonder how they turned out
what would i see?

every time

every time is the last time;
every time is the first time;
there is no end to the beginnings;
there is no beginning to the ends.

creeps in this petty pace eh?
creeps in from day to day eh?

and we are head down
plowing furrows through the days.

and we are head up
averting eyes from each and every gaze.

it and every thing is distraction
good and bad and in between
a spectrum of evasion until…





A Terrible Thing

“When you surround the enemy Always allow them an escape route. They must see that there is an alternative to death.”  – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

It is a terrible thing when you present a people with one option – die.

If a people is left with a choice like this you can be sure they will choose the manner of their death and it will not be easy on the oppressor.

You can also be sure that even the perception that there is no alternative but death is the same to the oppressed as the reality.

If a people choose to fight and kill against all odds as if they have no alternative one must ask if they have been put into this position…it is not a choice in their minds…the only choice, as has been said, is the manner of their death.

What drives a people with an outrageous force to torment a people with a fraction of their strength? There is less logic here than in the response of the doomed. One could say that paranoia and a kind of terrible institutional insanity created by a past too horrific to remember might be at play.

Nevertheless it is surely an evil thing to seek the destruction of another.


so many shades and shadows
of people past and passed to miss;
so many lights of now gone lives
just shadows now on this Christmas.

and so yes my heart is larger
for having had them sail with me;
still i feel quite a but smaller
i am faithless when i cannot see.

now in the growing cacophony of light,
in the crowd of voices singing squalor;
i cannot but feel lost sometimes,
i cannot but feel smaller.