Monday, June 27, 2011


I've seen some good movies since signing up with netflix. Last week I watched "Winter's Bone" a chilling tale about a teenage girl in the Appalachian mountains. Her mother incapacitated and her father absent, she tries to provide for and raise her younger sister and brother. One day the sheriff stops by to tell her that her father put the family's house and acreage up as bond and hasn't been seen since. She has a week to find him or the property will be taken. As the story unfolds we see this girl's dedication to her family, her courage as she faces obstacles and threats while tracking her father, and her acceptance of local customs even as she challenges local authority.

Next I watched "Born in Brothels" - a documentary filmed in Calcutta, India. A woman photographer spent time living in the red light district of the city to learn about and photograph its inhabitants. While there she became close to a number of children who had been born to prostitutes. Their lives were difficult and their futures unpromising; the girls were expected to become prostitutes by about 16; the boys rarely attended school. So the photographer gave them each a camera and began teaching them about taking pictures. The children got quite good so that there was an exhibition of their work at an art studio in the city. The photographer worked to get as many of the children as possible into boarding schools, although their families were resistant to such an unknown path. It was a wonderful movie - seeing how the children grew in ability and self-confidence, watching one person strive to make a real difference in those children's lives.

Meantime, of course I'm reading, too. I quickly finished the first book in the Solitary series by Travis Thrasher and am now nearly finished with "Emily Alone" about an older woman facing life after her husband and most of her friends have died.

I love stories; in fact, we all do. One way or another, every human being is drawn to stories - whether tales told by friends, shows on TV or the movies, or accounts of family members from times gone by. We love stories. Stories help us understand our own life; they help us see what may happen in the future and map out how we might respond. Stories show us that other people have experiences, questions, and emotions similar to our own. As the great movie "Shadowlands" put it: "we read to know we're not alone;" stories connect us to the world outside ourselves. We inhabit the stories we hear, imaging ourselves in 'this' or 'that' role.

God comes to us in stories. We can understand loving our neighbor as a concept, but it becomes clearer, more available to us through the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 15). Scripture tells us to love the stranger, the foreigner (Deut. 10:17-19), but that directive takes on new life when Jesus shares a story about inviting the poor, the lame, and beggars to your banquet (Luke 14:7-24). We know that God is powerful, that God especially notices and cares for those who suffer, but when we read again the account of the Exodus the magnitude of God's love and God's ability to save thrills us (Exodus chapters 1 through 15).

God's activity in history comes to us through stories, involving real situations and people, allowing us to see ourselves as participants in the action and recipients of God's generous love. We stand beside Abraham (Genesis 18:16-33) as he and God debate justice. We're astonished and proud as Abraham questions God, saying: "what if there are 50 righteous people in the city; will you destroy the whole place and not forgive it for the sake of those 50? Far be it from you to do such a thing." Wow - we grapple alongside Abraham with the nature of justice and mercy. Our hearts ache with Job as he sits in silence for seven days after losing his family, his wealth, and his good health. We get it when he curses the day he was born, when he challenges God to explain what he has done wrong to deserve such suffering. We have the same questions as Job does God's loving care and human pain. When Nathan tells King David about the man whose lone, beloved sheep was taken by his wealthy neighbor and slaughtered to feed a traveler, we are filled with David's righteous indignation when he says "that man should die!" and we are moved to self-examination as Nathan replies to the King "you are the man." (2nd Samuel 12:1-15). Such powerful, gripping stories!

And in those stories we meet God who invites us to step into the drama, to hear the critical lines addressed to ourselves, to claim the emotions stirred therein and see God's presence in our own lives. In these incredible stories we realize that God is not just a idea in our minds, but a powerful, living presence in our world - creator and redeemer, quick and strong to save.

Pastor Kris

Monday, June 20, 2011

Heavenly Dogs

If you've ever loved a dog, you really should check out this cool video called God and Dog ( I took it off a friend's facebook page (thanks Michelle) and posted it on my own. It features a simple song and simple pictures as it reflects on the connection between God and one's dog. The song ponders how God and dog are alike; the drawings illustrate the same (it is written and performed by Wendy Francisco).

Wendy compares how God loves us to how our dogs love us. Anyone who's ever had a dog knows how they express love - exuberantly, shamelessly, with joy and unwavering constancy. Your dog is always overjoyed to see you again, even if you've only been gone for 30 minutes. Your dog is always ready to go wherever you want to go, do whatever you feel like doing. He just wants to be near you because he delights in your company. Wendy's song reminds us that God's love for us is just as devoted, just as substantial.

She says, of both God and dog, "they would stay with me all day, I'm the one who walks away." The accompanying picture shows her dog looking sad and getting smaller as she, presumably, leaves it. A dog will wait as long as it takes for us to return; so will God. Dogs don't remind us of our faults or withhold their affection until we improve. Neither does God. As Wendy's song says, "I take it hard each time I fail; God forgives, dog wags his tail." Along with these words we see a dog's face looking up with great concern until she pats its head; then it seems to smile.

If you're unhappy or ill, your dog worries and sticks close by (just like God does). Seeing your sadness, your dog will try to get in your lap, snuggle next to you, lick your face - anything to cheer you up. You never have to wonder if you're loved or if you've been forgotten with a dog around. Your dog shows his love every day, all day, by how he looks at you and stays near you. What I like best about Wendy's song "God and Dog" is that it gives us a visual. I don't mean just the pictures (which are neat) or even the mental images her song evokes. Wendy shows us that if we aren't sure how God loves us, if we need an example to understand that idea, we can look to our dogs.

A dog loves us with abandon - in concrete, tangible ways. God loves us in real, substantive ways, too. God heals us when we're ill; God comforts us when we lose. God gives us sunshine and rain, the countryside and the bustle of communal life, food and drink for today, forgiveness for the past, hope for tomorrow. If you need a visual to grasp what it means that God loves you - unconditionally and forever - you can't do much better than looking at your dog. Yeah, God loves you like that.

Pastor Kris

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fire and Heat

The other day my husband said he was glad to hear people complaining about the heat. "Yeah," I replied, "I'm sick of this heat, too." Then I realized he meant the Miami Heat, playing for the National Basketball championship. "Oh," I said.

But I do complain about the heat and the lack of rain. Sunday we had a pool party for the six young people who will be confirmed in their faith this coming week. I don't enjoy wearing bathing suits so I went dressed in shorts and a polo. We grilled burgers and sausage, ate in the shade, and the young folks played in the water. The adults sat around and talked about this and that, watching the kids frolic and splash. After about an hour and a half I couldn't take it any longer. I had to head home to the air conditioning and my Sunday afternoon nap. I guess I just can't endure the heat any more.

This Sunday is Pentecost and it will be a hot one. People are encouraged to wear red outfits for the occasion as the color red represents the Holy Spirit. Pentecost celebrates the fire of God that enters our world and sears us. The scripture reading from Acts says that the Holy Spirit landed on the disciples like tongues of fire. It's a vivid, blistering image - flames flickering down from the skies, licking at our ears, our skin, our hair. All that fire and heat - it sounds dangerous, like the time the lighted candles got too close to an acolyte's hair and ignited it!

Six young people at Shepherd King have completed two years of studying about the Christian faith. They have been reading the Bible, learning the 10 Commandments, getting to know God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the process we've all gotten to know each other as well. Now the instruction is finished and the moment has come for them to claim this faith, to be further claimed by God in Jesus Christ. So on Sunday we will present these six to God and ask God to burn them with fire, to stir them with relentless passion for justice, love and truth. We'll ask God to show them dreams of a world recreated in Jesus Christ, to give them visions of being new people here and now. The heat of God's love will break over us in the Holy Spirit, summoning us to get up, go out and spread the joy and peace of Jesus to all around us. It's going to be a hot one this Sunday; no one will be left untouched.

On Pentecost God comes as a flame, as an inferno, disturbing our equilibrium and disrupting our comfort. On Pentecost it is not enough for us to be nice people or quiet Christians. The heat is on - God is alive, pushing us to live deeply, to open ourselves to others, to love without fear, to give without counting the cost. There is an urgency in the air - it is time, time to give up old ways and enter into the new ways of God in Jesus Christ. The tongues of fire will descend on Sunday and our six confirmands will reject sin, renounce the devil and all the ways of evil. They will acknowledge Jesus as Lord and pledge their lives and their loyalty to God, alone.

This time, embrace the heat. Come and witness the passion, the power of God at work among us. Join us for worship on Pentecost Sunday as the Holy Spirit enfolds us, as our six young people profess their faith, as God transforms the world - a life, a community, at a time.

Burning together,
Pastor Kris