“be” prayer

March 16, 2022 Leave a comment

Most of us grew up saying prayers, reading prayers, or listening to others praying. Few of us were challenged to “be” prayer. There is a difference between a person who says prayers and a prayerful person. It is the difference between something we do and something we are.

Do you know someone who “is” a prayer? He or she is probably someone who views life in a different way than most—someone who seems to have found a way to be aware of God’s presence in an ongoing way.

We are called as Christ followers to be present in each moment in order to experience that God’s time and our time have intersected. We are called to practice the presence of God. It is this for which our hearts. yearn.

—Ron DelBene, “A Simple Way to Pray,” Weavings

DelBene is offering something here that few seldom consider. I would never discount anyone’s prayers.  In fact, how you pray is a personal privilege. Yet, I often wonder, how far do our prayers reach? Rhythms of systematic prayer can be very helpful in giving us a guideline on how to loosen the confines of restrictive time. But what Delbene is saying here is that our words in prayer are not more important than hearing God’s words in prayer. God has something to say to us despite our deepest and most dramatic longing to “inform” God with our prayers. There is another perspective, another way, another track that we might need to ponder in laying out our joys, concerns, and grievances. If we listen closely, we might find out that the splinters in our neighbors’ or our enemy’s eyes (the ones we want to make sure that God truly sees and understands) only look that way because of the planks and rods in our own eyes. Are we certain that we really understand all the intricacies of complex politics and human nature? Prayer that “hears” more than it “says” should often be challenging and changing our worldviews, our compassion levels, and building our thirst for relational unity and peace. Getting still in the presence of God should be sanding us down and rounding our edges. Yes, tell God your problems. But, wait around long enough to hear if you are part of those problems. —MDP

P.S. The ministry of intercession is a different animal altogether, and most true intercessors have been trained that hearing is paramount to speaking. Serious intercessors work hard to pray prayers that they sense are in alignment with the moving flow and will of the Spirit of God. Literally, it’s like praying the words of the Holy Spirit.

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bcr

March 1, 2022 12 comments

Sometimes you must go on record.  Sometimes… if not all the time… one needs to say what is real about the blessings and/or curses in your life.  This today is me being real about one of the great blessings in my life. God’s blessing can come like the fickle summer breeze, or it can be the deepest of bedrock for an entire lifetime. This blessing has been a constant since I was aware. Bobby Charles Reese, Jr, has always been that guy who has been more of a brother than a friend. Don’t get me wrong though, BCR has been my friend since we were toddlers. He and his family lived across the street from my family until we moved in 1965. But the bond was already forged and never let go.

BCR was the balance of equilibrium and the standard of who and what you could trust in almost every growth section of my life. Until Patti came along, we were pretty much inseparable. I can barely remember anything in my life before the age of 20 that didn’t include BCR. We were that close… that connected. Soul mates.  A friend who I loved… and still very much do.

Yesterday, I got the text that I knew was coming. BCR will now finish the rest of his days on this earth in a memory care facility in Central Texas (a couple of miles from where his Karon and he have their home). He’s 65 years young, and can no longer care for himself, for his family, or call my name if I walk into the room. He might or might not recognize me, but regardless, he’d hug my neck, smile, and act as if I’d made his day by dropping in to see him. When the dementia showed itself, it forced his early retirement from the Santa Fe railroad. BCR went to work for the railroad with just a few hours remaining to complete his degree from the University of Texas. Working for the railroad was the dream… so he quit school and went to work.

I’ve seen BCR multiple times since that retirement. He lives in Texas. I live in Colorado. Time together is easy anymore. The mental decline has been slow and brutal. Yet, BCR’s Karon has worn the cape and garments of care that lovers often do for their mates. As I said, I knew the time was close. As expected, BCR made the transition to his new residence without an ounce of pushback or agitation. Karon said, “he just rolled with it.”

I would tell you stories, but there’s too many. BCR was the best man at my wedding. I was the best man at his. He loved my kids. I love his. He loves my wife. I love his. He loves me. I love him. Those parts have not changed. Not in the least.

So here… now… today, I declare it again: Bobby Charles Reese, Jr., I love you. I have always loved you. Thank you for the role you’ve played in my life. Thank you for being my forever… faithful… loyal… friend. One of the greatest blessings of my life.

Mike

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those who risk everything…

February 23, 2022 Leave a comment

I believe that faith might be precisely and ability to trust the river, to trust the Flow and the Lover. It is a process that we don’t have to change, coerce, or improve, and is revealed in the notion of God as a Trinitarian relationship that flows unguarded! We only need to allow the Flow to flow—and through us. That takes immense confidence in God’s goodness, especially when we’re hurting. Usually, I can feel myself get panicky. I want to make things right, quickly. I lose my ability to be present, and I go up into my head and start obsessing. I am by nature goal-oriented, and many of us are, trying to push or even create the river—the river that is already flowing through me, with me, and in me (John 7:39).

The people who know God well—the mystics, the hermits, the prayerful people, those who risk everything to find God—always meet a lover, not a dictator. God is never found to be an abusive father or a manipulative mother, but a lover who is more than we dared hope for.

—Richard Rohr from Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer

… And when you pursue and find God, who do you meet? For as long as I’ve been a pastor and for as long as I’ve lived in spiritual community, I’ve rarely met people who see God as lover. That may be shocking to you, but it’s true. I have found that most people see God much more like a tv game host… “Let’s make a deal! You be good, and I’ll bless you. You be bad, and I’ll spoil your day.” Honestly, all that does is kill the relationship, intimacy, and trust. Perfect love casts out fear! (1 Jn 4:18) We must move beyond that gothic notion and understanding of God. Our God is Love. That’s enough to change everything… especially us. —MDP

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redux

February 8, 2022 10 comments

During the Covid shutdown, I was pastoring two UMC churches in Northeast Wyoming. It was a lovely place, with some lovely people. I loved it there. Within two minutes of my house, I could be in the Black Hills on my motorcycle. Open roads. Zero traffic. Gorgeous. The only real drawback is that the place freezes in the winter. To say, “It’s cold there,” is a gross understatement. The people there don’t even acknowledge it’s cold. The cows must be fed regardless, and there are things to do. Sweet Jesus, Joseph, and Mary! I digress.

Where was I?  Oh… the shutdown. During that year of isolation, I put out a weekly email I called, “Touching Home Plate.” Some of you got those emails.  Most of you did not. It was primarily for the membership of those two churches in Wyoming. In those newsletters, I did broadcast upcoming events and such for the churches, but I also compiled quotes from some of the devotional material I was stewing in during the week. Sometimes I would do a short commentary on those things I was reading.

All of this is to say that I plan to republish (redux) some of that writing here on this blogsite. If you’ve already read it, forgive me. If you haven’t seen any of it, then I hope you’ll find it filling and somewhat stimulating.

By the way, Patti and I have settled in nicely in Pueblo, CO. We love our new church family and the community. If fact, it feels very much like where we grew up.  Of course, it’s nice to be back closer to the daughters and grands. Everyone seems to be doing very well.  Thanks for asking!

Here’s a sample of what’s coming on a semi-regular basis (I’m resolved to do better at posting).

Do not allow yourself one thought of separating from your brother and sisters, whether their opinions agree with yours or not. Do not dream that anyone sins in not agreeing with you, in not taking your work; or that this or that opinion is essential to the work, and both must stand or fall together. Beware of any impatience of contradiction. Do not condemn or think harshly of those who cannot see just as you see, or who judge it their duty to contradict you, whether in a great thing or a small. I fear some of us have thought harshly of others merely because they contradicted what we affirmed. All this tends to division; and by everything of this kind we are teaching them an evil lesson against ourselves.

—John Wesley, A Longing for Holiness

It’s as if the founder of Methodism is in a prophetic vein that sees directly into our current culture, our social habits, and both our religious and political appetites for our neighbors demise. I suspect Wesley wrote this towards the end of his life. He knew how to biblically defend his orthodoxy and orthopraxy, but once natural strength begins to wane, people tend to value peace and harmony over principle and having to be right. It’s like… finally… we succumb to the whole invitation of “The Way” of Jesus. It doesn’t always happen like that, but it’s beautiful when mature individuals embrace their descent.

Jesus was always inviting us into a universal sibling-hood that allowed diversity and unity at the same time. Why is that so damned hard for us to see or agree with? Why is “conformity the only option, or else we separate?” This is the spirit of this age! It is the great anti-Christ we mysteriously fear. There is no Christ in this.  There is no honoring preference of others in this.  There is no love in this in the least. We need to do better. We must do better. All the religious activity in the world is null and void without these components of connected relationship being made right (vertically and horizontally).

Until we take some major steps towards reconciling unity and inclusivity, we’re only fooling ourselves about being real followers of Christ. —MDP

BE GOOD AT LIFE!

LIVE IN THE MAGNIFICENT TRUTH THAT GOD LOVES US ALL!

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uncommon prayer

December 2, 2021 2 comments

I was introduced to a little book back in 2017, which I immediately bought and shelved for margins of focus. Honestly, I forgot about it until recently. My daughter, Nicole, gave me a book for my birthday that gave me a serious “man crush” on a guy who passed from this place to his eternal reward, also back in 2017. After I finished One Long River of Song, I went back to read the credits and list of previous works by the author. That’s where I discovered that Brian Doyle had also written that little book on my shelf that I was saving for margins of focus.

Currently, I am digesting A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary. It has my focus. One offering a day as a small piece of dessert at the end of my normal devotional readings. Let me tell you something: you want this book! I have wished 100 times for the ability to see and say what Brian has seen and said. I want to share one of his specific prayers that touched my soul this morning. I feel like I can relate to this most “uncommonly” felt prayer that is rarely spoken aloud.

PRAYER IN RELUCTANT BUT ABASHED HESITANT APPRECIATION FOR DEATH

Oddly, it’s not my eventual death that frightens and nags me; I have had a glorious, blessed, hilarious, graced life, and no man was ever so slathered with love and laughter as me, and when my time to dissolve comes, I hope to acquiesce with some modicum of grace, and remember that I was granted a long and colorful run; indeed I hope to spend eons happily reviewing the tape, minute by minute, paying even more attention to the infinitesimal details than I did the first time, and replaying the highlights again and again, driving my new roommates nuts. No: it’s the death of people I love that ravages me. My brother Seamus, who was about to walk for the first time. My brother Christopher, born and baptized and dead the same day. My brother Kevin, tottering from cancer but grinning and making wry brilliant remarks to the very end. (The answer is in the questioning, his last six words—ponder that for a year.) My dear friend Bob Boehmer, the most gentlemanly man I ever met, and him a soldier of the Great War, and a football star, and a boxer. The child my lovely bride and I lost twenty years ago, when he or she was the size of a thumb, a child I very much wish to meet, someday. My sweet, gentle cousin, Maureen the nun. So many friends. So many children of friends. So many young soldiers and brave, terrified holy children. I get the idea, Lord; I understand we come, and we go; I understand that it is a vast recycling project; and that all things must pass, that somehow this is a mysterious part of the genius of Your gift; I get it. But it stabs us to the quick, and I lie awake in the deep reaches of the night fearing pain and death reaching for my sweet wild children; yet I know I must thank you for the dark door, somehow, for reasons beyond my ken; but do not think me ungrateful when I whisper those thanks and do not shout them, for I am sore afraid, and saddened too deeply for words; and I can only trust that those I love will be waiting for me with open arms and the entertaining tape of my life; and my friends and brothers will have already flagged the egregious idiot moments for high hilarity; and there will be good beer; and all manner of things will be well. And so: amen.

I pastor inside a small sea of senior adults. Every single one of them is special, unique, and graced in wits, charms, and depth. Some of them are close to their ultimate homecoming. They know this as well as I do, but I’m in no hurry for any of them to go to that home. I know it’s a good and better thing, but I love those smiles and their presence in our community of faith. Any loss to the Body is a loss to our stability and common union. So, I’ve taken Brian’s prayer to heart. Not only for myself, but for my family, my friends, and for my lovely-aged saints that make my work, my life, and ministry so meaningful. I hope it blesses you, too. —MDP

LIVE THE SIMPLE LOVE OF THE CHRIST

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bad religion

September 22, 2021 2 comments

Bad religion has always favored escape, passivity, irresponsibility. By dint of fixing one’s eyes on heaven above, one does not see what takes place on earth here below.

The upward-looking must come to an understanding with the forward-looking.

We believe that our God (up above) calls us to go forward. Our faith in an absolute does not immobilize us in contemplation, but invites us to discover him according to our means of creating a world inspired by his love: a world where justice dwells and where people love one another.

—From “In the Christian Spirit” by Louis Evely

I think I’ll just leave this right here. We’re a long way from what Evely is talking about. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Some days it feels like we have forfeited the right to use the term “Christian” when identifying ourselves. What about us is “as” the Christ i.e. a universal love and acceptance of even the most undeserving? —MDP

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bone dry

September 2, 2021 6 comments

I call to you, O Lord, from my quiet darkness. Show me your mercy and love. Let me see your face, hear your voice, touch the hem of your cloak. I want to love you, be with you, speak to you and simply stand in your presence. But I cannot make it happen. Pressing my eyes against my hands is not praying and reading about your presence is not living in it.

But there is that moment in which you will come to me, as you did to your fearful disciples, and say, “Do not be afraid; it is I.” Let that moment come soon, O Lord. And if you want to delay it, then make me patient. Amen.

—From “A Cry for Mercy” by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Have you ever found yourself in such a condition that you know your inner capacities to be “bone dry?” The sheer humanness of Nouwen’s prayer is something I think we can all identify with. There are times and seasons where we feel our “emptiness”—our parched thirst for something beyond the daily spiritual tap water we live on.

I see our selfies. I realize there are times when our disciplines keep us “afloat,” especially when, emotionally, we feel like bobbing corks existing in our own isolated and unnoticed ponds. The truth is that we usually trust our disciplines because they lift us up more than we consciously validate.  But there are times when we just can’t find the handle to refreshment and living water. Another reading… another poem… another chapter… another study… another verse doesn’t do it. That’s when the “quiet darkness” settles in, and we must wait in silence for the only thing that will bring us back into the ebb and flow of life: Presence and Voice.

“Do not be afraid; it is I.” See, there it is. That Presence and Voice… coming to us… speaking to the thing that has shriveled our flesh and infected our bones with paralyzing fear. Nouwen suggests that “ramping up” our religious activities might actually be counterproductive. Like tired little hummingbirds, we must wait patiently and settle down into the darkness until the Light reveals where the true nectar of life resides. —MDP

Here’s another prayer for you to wear today. These are not my words… they come from a spiritual daughter.  Feel the wind as you pray:

I pray that as you call out to the Lord from quiet darkness, He would show you His mercy and His incredible love for you!  I pray you would see His face, hear His voice, and touch the hem of His cloak. I pray you would feel His presence, know that you ARE living in it, and be at complete peace. Amen!

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kisses of Jesus

August 18, 2021 1 comment

Suffering—

Pain, humiliation, sickness and failure—

is but a kiss of Jesus.

Once I met a lady who had a terrible cancer.

She was suffering so much.

I told her,

“Now you come so close to Jesus on the cross that he is kissing you.”

Then she joined hands and said,

“Mother Teresa, please tell Jesus to stop kissing me.”

It was so beautiful.

She understood.

Suffering is a gift of God

A gift that makes us most Christlike.

People must not accept suffering as punishment.

—From “Words to Love By” by Mother Teresa

It’s been a couple of months since I first read these words by Mother Teresa on suffering.  Since then, I’ve read this offering at least 50 times. I’ve wanted to push back on the blessed sister, but I don’t think I’ve got enough secure footing to even bring it up. This whole genre of suffering makes me feel that I don’t really understand too much. I can identify with brokenness and discomfort at some level, but suffering? I know people who have suffered, not only in body, but also in heart, and soul, and mental anguish. I’ve lost some people that I’ve cared about, and I know the disappointment of failure, betrayal, and my own sins. But this kind of pain and suffering, this “thing” Mother Teresa addresses, has yet to show up on my own doorstep.

These last three lines bore into you, if you allowed them to:

“Suffering is a gift of God.”

“A gift that makes us most Christlike.”

“People must not accept suffering as punishment.”

This exposes how shallow I am. Seriously. She doesn’t say this is the only way to make us Christlike, but I get the feeling it might be the only true way to get there. I don’t think I trust religion or our spiritual processes to get us there, or anything else which requires our own choices or energies. She calls it a “gift,” and for it to be a “gift,” it must be given from elsewhere, and received by me. In other words, I can’t fabricate and declare my own “gift.” A gift ends up in my lap, and how I interact with that gift has everything to do with how that gift affects me.

The last line is also telling: If your ideas of God are enveloped with and supported by punitive notions and theology, then, of course you’ll see suffering as punishment.  What Mother Teresa teaches us, is that our “fear” of a punitive God is misplaced, and doing us no favors. God is either good or God isn’t.  So, which is it?

You may just have to sit with this one for a while (her words, not mine). I feel a massive pull to trust the love of God here. I talk and preach about it ALL OF THE TIME, but trusting that Love when you cannot always see it or feel it is another matter altogether. The Saint is tells us that Jesus is kissing us in our suffering. This feels like something other than “religion” as usual. —MDP

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joy

August 4, 2021 Leave a comment

The joy that Jesus offers his disciples is his own joy, which flows from his intimate communion with the one who sent him. It is a joy that does not separate happy days from sad days, successful moments from moments of failure, experiences of honor from experiences of dishonor, passion from resurrection. This joy is a divine gift that does not leave us during times of illness, poverty, oppression, or persecution. It is present even when the world laughs or tortures, robs or maims, fights or kills. It is truly a static, always moving us away from the House of fear into the House of love, and always proclaiming that death no longer has the final say, though its noise remains loud and its devastation visible. The joy of Jesus lifts up life to be celebrated.

—From “Lifesigns” by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Until we understand and enter the truth of the very first sentence of this offering by Nouwen, it is impossible to enter into the magnificence of the remaining truths. Joy can’t be obtained by right theology, dualistic swordplay, declarations of, “I’m right, you’re wrong,” externals of any kind, winning or trophies, or any other religious activity that serves or attempts to validate earned righteousness. Joy comes from another realm altogether. It is maintained by intimacy: a “knowing,” downloaded only by prolonged exposure to the ultimate Source of joy. A belief system cannot deliver this. This is about Spirit-to-spirit communion. Direct contact with Joy itself.

You’ll know when you’ve met a person who lives in that flow. They’re different. I’ve met a few in my lifetime. They’ve made the move from the House of fear to the House of love. It’s a beautiful thing to see. Maybe I’ll get there myself someday. Hopefully, all of us will. —MDP

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power versus love

July 21, 2021 4 comments

There are always two worlds. The world as it operates is largely about power; the world as it should be, or the Reign of God, is always about love. Conversion is almost entirely about moving from one world to the next, and yet having to live in both worlds at the same time. As you allow yourself to loosen your grip on the ego or bad forms of power, you will gradually see the inadequacy and weakness of mere domination and control. God will then teach you how to tighten your grip around the second world, which is the ever-purer motivation of love.

Any exercise of power apart from love leads to brutality and evil; but any claim to love that does not lead to using power for others is mere sentimentality and emotion. I must admit, it is rare to find people who hold both together in perfect balance—who have found their power and used it for others or people who have found love and use it for good purposes. I think the Reign of God includes both love and power in a lovely dance.

I think that is what Jesus means when he tells us to be “cunning as serpents but gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16). It is a beautiful combination of both authority and vulnerability.

*Adapted from “Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount,” p. 41 

I love this so much, and the truth of it all is enough to stop any serious reader in his or her own tracks. Have you ever been accosted in the middle of a power grab, with that small still voice that says, “What am I doing?” I have, so I’m not pointing a finger.  It’s not much different from the Voice that says, “What are you doing?” But, let me put it in bold for you: Any exercise of power apart from love leads to brutality and evil; but any claim to love that does not lead to using power for others is mere sentimentality and emotion.  Personally, I don’t think it’s possible in the least, apart from the supernatural influence of humility downloaded directly from the Holy Spirit. We beat our chests too easily in matters concerning power (politics, winning—things we want to control). It’s a convoluted cluster when we wear the label without the nature of our Source. Peterson translated it perfectly when he writes, “Love doesn’t strut” (1 Corinthians 13, The Message). Have we lost our “eyes to see” how messed up this can be?

I wonder if we’re doing the real math concerning these matters. It feels to me that the kingdom agenda has been completely derailed, or even worse—abandoned—for power politics by our horizontal (man-focused) allegiances to those who claim to be “followers of the Christ,” but lacks any real evidence of compassion, gentleness, peace, or love. I realize that Elvis has left the building on this issue, but what is required for us to readjust to “powerless,” “power-under” living?

A woman recently told me, “We (the Church) need revival.” It always makes me wonder what is really meant when someone utters those words. I suspect there is some deep longing for an emotional reattachment to some long-lost memory of the “glory days” of the past. We DO need revival, but what I know about revival usually begins with one person… then two… then a dozen… who decide that living and loving like Jesus is the main thing. We DO need a revival… no question, but it’s always going to reveal more fruits of the Spirit: less “me” power, and more of “God’s” love.  That is the real power. Power that counts. —MDP

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