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Musing 10.23.20

Why are you cast down, my soul,

Why groan with me?

Hope in God; I will praise God still,

my savior and my God.

Psalm 42:6

For several weeks I have asked my soul that question. It is not difficult to answer. The election ugliness continues, and November 3, doesn’t promise to be the end of it. Congress continues to be intractably divided. Cable news continues to be angry. COVID continues. Instead of abating, it increases. Schooling continues to be chaotic. Families continue to be stressed. Murders in our city continue. There is ample reason to be cast down and groan.

This verse can be read as an FAQ. The first two lines are the question. The last two are the answer. The question is easy to ask. The answer, hope in God, is hard to accept. It seems simplistic and naïve. It can be dismissive and facile. When I read the psalms, I tend to think that the lines are read with no time gap. I assume that the psalmist moves instantaneously from question to answer; there is no pause. Asked and answered. Next question, please. Reading it that way does justice to neither the question nor the answer. It may have taken the psalmist hours, days, or weeks to answer the question. He/she probably wrestled a long time with the question. Why would we think that the psalmist didn’t struggle as long with being cast down as we do? A quick answer in matters of faith is too often a shallow answer.

We need to take the time to explore our groaning. Much of my groaning comes from leaving God out of my troubles. I try to solve them by myself. This makes me a practical atheist. What I wrote in the first paragraph is realistic and true, yet it omits God. If I omit God, I don’t hope in God. If I omit God, I don’t’ praise God. If I omit God, God cannot possibly be my savior and God. If I omit God, something else will be my savior and god. To include God opens my eyes to what is praiseworthy. It sets my feet on a different road. It expands my resources for support. It places my life in the hands of the one whose love is stronger than death.

Musing 10.2.20


You may have picked up by now that I am a big fan of the Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann.  He began each of his seminary lectures with a prayer.  Fortunately, a former has collected them in Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann.  This prayer was offered 44 years ago yesterday.  It strikes me as still fresh and pertinent.

[God], You are the voice we can scarcely hear

because you speak to us about dying and suffering,

and we are impacted by so many voices

that have to do with power

and competence

and success.

We do know that you are the voice that gives life,

that you are the voice that opens futures to people who are hopeless.

We are a part of a hopeless people,

because the other voices eat at our hearts,

and we are immobilized

and we become deaf.

So we pray for new ears.

We pray that your voice may be more audible to us,

that we may be able to sort out the death-giving

from the life-giving voices among us.

We pray in the name of Jesus,

through whom you have spoken

in such inscrutable ways.


Musing 10.9.20


“Lord, what is Your will for my life in this matter as it relates to Your will for our church at this time? What do You want to do through me as it affects what You are trying to do through our church?"

This prayer is in the Commitment Guide for King Avenue’s “Coming Together for Transformation” campaign. I hope you are aware of the campaign and have been reading the literature that you have received at home and is available online at kingave.org. Please take 30 minutes now to read about the campaign. I hope you plan to attend one of the information meetings this week. In the coming weeks, as we approach Commitment Sunday on November 15, I’ll write about why I am committed to the campaign and am enthusiastic about it. We have numerous committees working on some aspect of it. This morning our consultant told me there are over 100 King Avenue members working on it. Wow! It is exciting that they have such energy.

Now to the prayer which you’ll receive in a mailing soon, if not already. The tendency in these campaigns it to go quickly to the money. The campaign is really about our future. Will our building continue to be a facility through which God works? Will we be equipped for the new ministries to which God calls us? Will we be in a position for God to work though us? Our concern for our building as a site for future ministry and our concern for future ministries reaching out of King Avenue go before money.

This prayer asks me to see my money and resources not so much as cold cash but as a warm spiritual concern. This prayer turns money into a spiritual issue. Our use of money has always been a spiritual issue; the prayer just makes us aware of it. How I spend my money is indicative of what God is trying to do through me. How King Avenue spends its money is indicative of what God is trying to do through our church. My spending is not only about giving to King Avenue. The question is, “What is God trying to do through me on whatever I spend my money?” The prayer reminds me that God is a player in my use of money. And that affects my relationship to God. Often, we think of prayer, Bible study, fasting, and worship as faith formation. The use of money is also faith formation and reflects how our spirit has been shaped.

“Lord, what do You want to do through me as it affects what you are trying to do through our church?” is about money, but it is about more than money. It is about our time, relationships, space, community, justice, speech, and talents. What is God trying to do through me is again about not only what I do in relation to King Avenue, but also what I do outside my King Avenue relationship. You may say that is all encompassing. It is. It is loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

“Lord, what do You want to do through me…as it affects what you are trying to do in my marriage, in my family, in my neighborhood?” The next time I am in conflict, anger, turmoil, unforgiveness, judgment; it would do me well to pray this prayer.

I think it is extraordinary that God is trying to do something through me, us, King Avenue. We are incredibly important to God. We have been using the image of a formation of a clay pot for the campaign. We have, as Paul writes, this treasure in clay jars (II Corinthians 4:7). God has mission and ministry in mind. We are the ones God asks to be in mission and ministry. God is trying to work through us to open doors of sanctuary, to create new avenues of ministry, to equip Christians for discipleship, and to lead reconciling ministries.

As regards the comprehensive campaign, we don’t start with boilers, bricks, mortar, stained glass windows, or livestreaming. We don’t start with money. Those are the means to an end which is ministry. We start with prayer. “Lord, what do you want to do through me as it affects what you are trying to do through our church?” The campaign and our commitment begin with this prayer. Before you click off, spend 60 seconds praying this prayer.

Hope you are safe and well.

Musing 9.25.20


Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary!

Praise God in his fortress, the sky!

Praise God as suits his incredible greatness!

Praise God with the blast of the ram’s horn!

Praise God with lute and lyre!

Praise God with drum and dance!

Praise God with strings and pipe!

Praise God with loud cymbals!

Let every living thing praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

– Psalm 150

Each day read a psalm as part of my morning devotions. I march through them from beginning to end. When I reach the last one, Psalm 150; I return to the beginning. You may have guessed that I recently finished and started over. The psalms are prayers of lament, petition, warning, instruction, thanksgiving, anger, manipulation, and exhortation. Psalm 150 is pure, unadulterated praise. The only commandment is to praise.

It strikes me as prayed by someone who is energetic, aware, and appreciative. The writer senses that all is well in God’s world. It focuses on God’s goodness and encourages others to experience God’s goodness. This is a person full of love and hope. It is a person who is glad. She is a person who probably has said on more than one occasion, “I am glad for you.” She delights in the joy of others. This is a person focused on God and neighbor. We might even say that she is devoted to living for God and neighbor.

This is a hard psalm to read in a monotone; it is read with an enthusiasm for life and God.
For this person, faith is not primarily duty to God, but gratitude for God. Action flows from this gratitude. Music plays a significant role in her life. Maybe she was a musician. What she is skilled at she uses to praise the Lord. This determines how her gifts are used. She must employ her cymbals to praise God. She has to do something in order to praise. How would a teacher have written this psalm? An accountant? A gardener? A student? A carpenter? It is kind of psalm which any of us could write.

Praise the Lord!

Praise God with the hammer and nail!

Praise God with saw and lumber!

Praise God with the level and tape measure!

Praise God with clamp and chalk line!

Praise God with beautiful buildings!

Let every living thing praise Lord!

Praise the Lord!

For years, I have not regarded Psalm 150 as that profound. In these days I think it may be the most profound psalm. Praise of God is what draws us out of our doldrums. It calms our anxiety. It lessens our fears. It raises us out of our funk. We shift our focus to God and neighbor. We concentrate on using our gifts.

Try writing a psalm like Psalm 150 this week. I would love to read what you come up with.

Hope you are safe and well.

Musing 9.18.20

“We have to decide how to live in the present so that those in the future will be grateful for us.”

That is a terrific quotation! One of you sent it to me this week as something I said in a sermon several years ago. While I don’t remember saying it, I hope I did. I am certainly glad it was remembered by one of you. I hope the sermon that Sunday was short because a lot of words around it would be a distraction.

We live in such a way as to make the future better. Among the behaviors the quotation calls forth is sacrifice. Sacrifice is sometimes confused with investment. Investment is to give up something in the present so that I get a blessing in the future. Sacrifice is to give up something so that someone else receives the blessing. For example, my pension (not a bad thing) is an investment in that I forego pay in the present for a blessing in the future. If I take that pay and give it to my grandchildren that is a sacrifice. Or if, in the future, I give a portion of my pension to my grandchildren; I have turned that investment into a sacrifice. We talk of Christ’s sacrifice, not his investment. We talk of faith as sacrifice, not investment.

Frederick Buechner writes that “to sacrifice something is to make it holy by giving it away for love.” That too is a terrific quotation. If what I sacrifice is given in love, it is made holy. I could give it to manipulate; I could give it grudgingly. If I give it in love, it is made holy. Who makes it holy? I would say God does, but I have worked with God in making it holy. Elsewhere in his writings, Buechner defines holy as that which has God’s mark of goodness upon it.

This is amazing. Just think of what we may help God make holy by giving it away in love. Things, clothes, money, food, time, space, ego, pride, control, self-righteousness, I wonder if the world seems less holy because I have refused to give something away for love. Then I wonder if it feels disconnected and lonely because I have not sacrificed. Of course, the point is that we can help make the world holier. As we think of what we may sacrifice, it is worth thinking of the recipient of our sacrifice. That is a giant clue to what or whom we love.

When I think of my grandchildren, I hope they will be grateful for me. I’ll also feel good for I have acted for love. I’ll know I am capable of love. People who sacrifice in the present for the future are certainly visionary. They are also blessed in that they are hopeful. Hopeful people are not hope-less. They see something for which to live. They believe in the future. They are God’s co-workers. Paradoxically, they discover that through sacrifice, they become more. It is a good way to live.

Hope you are safe and well.

Musing 9.11.20


Since the mailings about King Avenue’s exciting Comprehensive Campaign were received last week, many of you have asked me about the relationship of our church with the United Methodist denomination because of the incompatible stance against LGBTQI persons and inclusive churches.

In short, the significant difference is the January 2020 announcement of the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.

I recognize that this announcement may have gone under the radar for many due to all of the distractions this year has posed, but because of this Protocol, it gives me the confidence to recommend the re-starting our Comprehensive Campaign which is so needed for our future ministry. While it’s been on our website, I should have been more aggressive in drawing attention to this.

As a quick review, the actions of the special General Conference in February 2019, were not hospitable to LGBTQI persons and inclusive churches. The inclusive One Church plan was rejected in favor of the “traditional” plan which prohibited ordination of LGBTQI members, banned churches and clergy from celebrating same-sex weddings, and the “incompatible” language of the Discipline was retained. Penalties for performing weddings were severe with forfeiture of credentials for the second offense. The Trust Clause would be invoked for churches which desired to disassociate from the denomination. This could entail the forfeiture of all local church assets including property and monies.

Here’s the big difference.

What has changed with our denomination for King Avenue to revive its Comprehensive Campaign? Again, in early January of this year, a diverse group of traditionalists, centrists, progressives, and bishops announced the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. I encourage you to visit our website kingave.org and click “United Methodist Proposed Separation” on the home page. All the details of the protocol are there in several articles. I’ll summarize the highlights.

  • The United Methodist Church remains intact and allows those to leave who desire to do so.

  • The traditionalist churches would be allowed to leave and form a new Methodist denomination.

  • This new denomination would be given a $25 million gift to help it form.

  • $2 million would be escrowed to help other potential new denominations form.

  • A local church affiliating with another Methodist denomination “pursuant to the protocol” would keep its assets and liabilities.

  • There is an immediate abeyance (moratorium) on all complaints, charges and trials against LGBTQ clergy and clergy who perform same-gender weddings.

  • To support communities historically marginalized by racism, $39 million would be allocated over eight years to strengthen Asian, Black, Hispanic-Latino, Native American and Pacific Islander ministries, as well as Africa University. Of that total, $13 million would come from funds the separating traditionalist denomination chose to forgo.

  • The pension plans of The United Methodist Church would remain in place for all current clergy and lay employees, even if they affiliate with another Methodist denomination under the protocol.

  • After the 2020 General Conference, set for May 5-15 in Minneapolis, there would be a special General Conference for the remaining denomination. “The protocol also references a plan which calls for a special general conference of the post-separation United Methodist Church. The purpose of the Special Session would be to create regional conferences, remove the current prohibitions against LGBTQ persons, and to repeal the Traditional Plan.”

  • The protocol has now been endorsed by seven major advocacy groups that have often been at odds with one another: The Confessing Movement, Good News, Mainstream UMC, Reconciling Ministries Network, UMCNext, Uniting Methodists, and the Wesleyan Covenant Association.

  • The signers of the Protocol agreed to honor the moratorium on trials until it was passed. Bishop Palmer is a signer and has honored the moratorium.

All of the above gives me great hope for King Avenue’s place in the future of the United Methodist Church. We would stay within the denomination and keep our assets. The “incompatible” language would be stricken. LGBTQI persons would be fully included and eligible for ordination. Weddings would happen. Charges and trials would be over.

The Protocol was to have been voted on at the General Conference this past May. Because of Covid-19, it was postponed until September 2021. So, we are in a holding pattern. Yet, I take great hope of its passage because of the diversity of persons who produced it and the groups that have endorsed it. They seldom reach agreement. Unlike in the past, the opponents come committed to the same proposal. I strongly believe it will pass.

Musing 9.3.20


Several weeks ago, I preached on God’s speaking to Moses out of the burning bush. Moses asks for God’s name, and God responds with the four-letter word, YHWH (Exodus 3:13-15). My understanding of the word used is that it is a verb form. Those four letters are translated a variety of ways, “I am,” “I am who I am,” “I will be who I will be.” There are numerous instances in John’s Gospel in which Jesus refers to himself as “I am.” I am the Light of the World; I am the Bread of Life; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus identifies with and is God – God is the verb form.

Verbs are different from nouns. Nouns are solid, substantial, fixed. Often nouns are things we can control, manipulate, and use. I can pick up a stone, put it in my pocket, and carry it around. I take it out when I need it and put it away when I don’t. I am in charge. Verbs are a bit different. Verbs are hard to control. They are action; they are being. I can sometimes control life, but can I control “live?” Verbs are alive, dynamic, free. They are hard to predict; they grow; they change. Nouns are things; verbs are events. Typical English sentences begin with nouns; things are what is important. Typical Hebrew sentences begin with verbs; the action is what is important.

What if we understood God as a verb? It is a new perspective and hard to express without continuing to use “God” as a noun. God, not as a stationary thing in a location; but God as a living, energetic force moving in the world. God, not as somebody in a box, but God as free to move in the world without boundaries. If we understood God as a verb, we would know God is bigger than we are. God would not be limited by our doctrines and dogmas. We would live in the expectation of what God will do next. God would be free to challenge and confront, comfort and nourish, forgive and love, include and mercy. We would be more inclined to listen to God than to speak for God

To change a verb to a noun is to fix it and control it. To make it a noun is like putting it in a box. There is a difference between “I mercy you,” and “I show you mercy.” The former is commitment, risk, and involvement. It is hands on. There is a difference between faith as a noun and faith as a verb. Faith as a noun is an intellectual affair which we agree to. It is something I attain. Faith as a verb is trusting, following, engaging. It is alive and active. I know that faith is not used as a verb. But I wonder how different Christianity would be if words like faith and mercy were verbs.

I am interested in this because this week I read a prayer by Walter Brueggemann that used Easter as a verb.

“Easter us,

     Salve wounds,

          Break injustice,

               Bring peace,

          Guarantee neighbor,

     Easter us in joy and strength.”

Easter not as date, but Easter as event in our lives. Easter us, resurrect us.

I think it makes God alive and real and present in our lives. What if we began to think in terms of “Christmas us. Lent us. Pentecost us, God us, Jesus us”? Could we compassion and spirit our world? What would it be like to God our neighbor?

Hope you are safe and well and active.

Musing 8.28.20

During my recent vacation I watched more cable news than I usually do. When I realized how monotonously repetitive my customary channel was, I flipped to others. Then I noticed how angry so many commentators were on every channel. I started to feel as if their purpose was not to keep me informed, but to keep me angry. If I was angry, I needed to keep watching to feed my anger. My anger may heighten my anxiety, but it also boosts their ratings. There is money to be made in anger. This awareness of anger is not unique to me. Many of you have commented about it. We are an angry nation. I want to share with you what some classic Christian writers have shared on anger. They write so well that I have decided to quote them rather than plagiarize them. I wouldn’t want to make them angry.

Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking: Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you (page 2).

Dorothy Sayers in The Whimsical Christian: That is not to say that scandals should not be exposed or that no anger is justified. But you may know the mischief-maker by the warped malignancy of his language as easily as by the warped malignancy of his face and voice. His fury is without restraint and without magnanimity – and it is aimed, not at checking the offense, but at starting a pogrom against the offender. The mischief-maker would rather the evil were not cured at all than that it were cured quietly and without violence. His evil lust of wrath cannot be sated unless somebody is hounded down, beaten, and trampled on, and a savage war dance executed upon the body….[anger] is likely to stagger to its own opposite, the equally fatal sin of sloth or [apathy] (pp. 161-2).

C.S Lewis in The Quotable Lewis: I suppose that when one hears a tale of hideous cruelty anger is quite the wrong reaction, and merely wastes the energy that ought to go in a different direction: perhaps merely dulls the conscience which, if it were awake, would ask us “Well? What are you doing about it? How much of your life have you spent in really combatting this? In helping to produce social conditions in which these sort of things will not occur!?” (page 47).

Paul in Ephesians 4:26-27 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity for the devil.

John Keeny, 8.28.2020 Musing. Apparently, there is room for anger. First, denying our feelings of anger is unhealthy. Angry behavior is usually questionable, but angry feelings are valid. We cannot deny them. The issue is how do we express our anger

Second, there are things about which we should be angry. We ought not tolerate the intolerable. This is what Jesus’ anger in the Temple was about. He could not tolerate God’s house being misused for profit and mistreatment of the other (John 2:13-22). There is much about which we should be angry. We know that. If we are not angry at injustice and inequity, our consciences are our numb or dead. Anger is a sign of our moral and spiritual health.

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity for the devil. Sin is fundamentally separation – from myself, from my neighbor, and from God. Sin pushes the other away and divides. This is why injustice is sinful. Where anger is a sinful is that it separates and divides. Where anger is righteous is where it sees the separation and division and is motivated to heal the breach. Anger over the sin of separation can either increase the divide or lessen it. I wrestled with omitting the line about the devil. If you are more comfortable with “evil,” that is fine. The point is, when our anger separates and dehumanizes, it is of the devil, or evil. When our anger humanizes and unites, it is of God.

And then “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Certainly, don’t let your anger destroy you. Don’t nurture it. But I think it is also related to the C.S. Lewis quotation, “Act on it.” Don’t delay. Don’t put it off. Do something constructive. If the voting situation bothers you, do something. If abuse of the earth is intolerable, do something. You get the point.

Be angry but do not sin. Great words for this time.

Hope you are safe and well.

Musing 8.22.20


During the meetings which the Big Ten presidents held to discuss whether or not there would be athletics this fall, a sports commentator said, “We have lots of leaders, but we don’t have any leadership.” Leadership is a common topic these days. We look for leadership in local, state, and national government. We look for leadership in schools, businesses, institutions, and churches. Things are so uncertain we yearn for someone to give us trustworthy direction, someone who will lead us through the morass.

In Certain Trumpets: The Nature of Leadership, Garry Wills identifies three components necessary for leadership. There must be a leader; there must be followers; there must be a shared vision. A leader without followers isn’t leading anyone. Would we call Martin Luther King a leader if he had no followers? Followers are absolutely critical for leadership to happen. We don’t give enough credit to followership. We complain of a lack of leadership when it could be a lack of followership.

A group of people without a leader and vision are merely a group of people wandering aimlessly; they are not following anything. They are not going anywhere. As Lewis Carroll wrote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Lack of direction is a waste of energy. That is, if a leaderless group can summon energy to waste. Chaos is often the result.

Further, a leader and followers without a shared vision is a group that is coerced and fearful. A slave owner has slaves follow him, but that owner is not a leader of the slaves because there is no shared vision. In fact, the visions of the owner and the slaves are diametrically opposed. Because someone has followers doesn’t make them a leader. That is a bully, not a leader. This condition will lead to apathy or violence.

Further, because someone is designated a leader doesn’t mean they actually are a leader. That is what I think the sports commentator was driving at. The leader might have neither a vision nor followers. A good question to ask when we hear someone identified as a leader is, “Who are their followers and what is their shared vision?” If those questions cannot be answered, the person is probably not a leader but a manager. Managers maintain; leader lead. I have nothing against managers. Managers are, however, about the status quo and playing it safe. Leaders are about the future. Leaders take risks for their vision; and in that, they are vulnerable. That vulnerability generates an identity and solidarity with their followers. There is a sense that we are all in this together. Followers willingly choose to share the leader’s vision, take risks, be vulnerable, and move into the future.

In this troubled time, there are many people designated as leaders or wanting to be leaders in all aspects of society. The vision of the future they cast matters. We know not all visions are the same, not all visions are created equal. The “leader” whose vision we share and choose to follow will determine our future. It will determine what we shall risk and for what we shall be vulnerable. Followership matters. When all three components of leadership happen, real energy is released. There is hope. There is spirit.

Proverbs 29:18 says, “Without a vision, the people perish.”

Jesus is our leader. His first actions in the gospels were to lay out his vision and call followers. That is what the Sermon on the Mount and the call of the disciples are about (Matthew 4-7). He is still looking for followers who share his vision of love, mercy, generosity, sacrifice, forgiveness, and inclusion. His vision is a good place to start in assessing other visions. Leadership matters. Vision matters. Followership matters.

Be safe and well.

Musing 7.24.20


God, I thought it would be over by now.
      In March, I thought we would be back in church,
               back in school,
               back at work,
               back in restaurants,
               back in stores,
               back with family and friends.
               back watching baseball and soccer in person.
       In March, I thought by now masks would be
                     only for goalies, catchers, and football players.
I thought “new normal” was a trendy phrase
                     and temporary plans were that:  temporary.
God, now I am not sure.
     This drags on and shows signs
                    not of waning, but of waxing.
God, it is not like a hurricane or tornado
      which in all its destruction is over
                   and  leaves us for our rebuilding.
God this is like a drought or famine, lingering.
      It is silent and just slowly grinds away
                    wears us down,
                    exhausts us.
We don’t know what rebuilding looks like.
We suffer a drought of physical presence,
                                     of touch,
                                     of community,
                                     of activity,
                        a famine of confidence,
                                     of hope.
God, at this time, I don’t know what to call you.
Titles feel like wishful thinking or clichés or schmoozing.
God of Love doesn’t quite work,
I like “God of Pandemic.”  As in,
“God of Pandemic, you didn’t cause this,
          but you are present in it.”
It acknowledges you and it.
God of Pandemic, we have tried Zoom.
           We have binged Netflix.
           We have gorged on MSNBC and FOX.
           They don’t satisfy.
Have we tried you, God of Pandemic?
We recall the stories of the Hebrews in the wilderness.
The story of their dying of thirst.
You instruct Moses to strike the rock.
Water flows from the rock.
The story of their dying of hunger.
You provide manna every morning.
These stories have been more metaphorical than literal.
Maybe that is not the point.
Maybe the point is turning to you.
Maybe the point is believing in Jesus
               as the Living Water and the Bread of Life.
I could not live in the despair of drought and famine.
I could live with manna, living water and bread.
God of Pandemic, your presence turns despair to hope.
God of Pandemic, I don’t know if this is a prayer.
It is more of a musing.
God of Pandemic, thanks for listening.
It makes a difference.
May it be so.
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