Sunday, September 25, 2011


Since I no longer have a "home church", I find myself going to a different church each week and lovin' it. As I 'shalom' from coast to coast, I hop around from church to church seeking to have an experience.  I know I should go to church because its the right thing to do, or because I'm committed, or because I'm a churchman...but I go somewhere each week simply to have an experience of God in worship.  And I mostly do.

Today, I went to my "default" church  in Morristown, NJ. --the place I go when I'm not church hopping.
One of their tag lines is "Not your mama's church"  liquid is a place where worship band members have tattoos to let you know they have a past.  Where the music is played at very high decibels on stage, under theater the lights, in a large ballroom at the Hyatt Hotel.  Where the pastor is known as "big hair preacher."  Its a very cool, theologically conservative, socially active, media savvy, culturally relevant to a young, postmodern generation.  Some call it an "emerging church."   I go there because I like loud music, dig the band, feel free to lift my hands and move my feet, and because I' friends with the pastor.

Today at LiquidChurch, Pastor Tim preached on money--the second most frequent topic that Jesus talked about in the gospels.  Second only to the topic of the kingdom of God.

Instead of preaching on "IN GOD WE TRUST" which is still on our currency, Pastor Tim preached on how
GOD TRUSTS YOU.  Then he passed the plates and gave away $30,000 of last week's offering!!! 

He said it was God's money entrusted to the church, and that God trusted us, individually and corporately, to invest it wisely in the work of the Kingdom.  Just like in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30).

As the plates were passed, we all took out some money.   Some got an envelop with $50 inside.  Some with $20.  And some with $10.

I only got a ten dollar bill.   I felt like the "wicked servant" in the parable.

Pastor Tim said that for some, it would be an answer to our prayers.  For others, an opportunity to pay it forward.

Granted, Liquid is a large church in three locations with multiple services.  But $30,000 is a lot of money to give away in one day!

Interesting enough the make CNN News: CNN news  and  ABC News  
CNN interview with Tim Lucas
LiquidChurch Service

Holding the $10 bill in my hands, I reminded myself of what I mostly believe about money:
  • All the cattle on a thousand hills, all the silver and gold in the land, even all the money made on Wall Street...belongs to and comes from the hands of God  Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth.
  • We are stewards, trustees, managers, of what God has given us to invest in the the kingdom of God and for the common good.
  • I'm accountable for how well I manage the little or large amounts of money God has allowed me to receive.
  • There is a ministry of money as wells as principles of good stewardship for the people of God.
  • So now what do I do with this ten dollar bill in my hand?   Pastor Tim wants us to let the church know in three weeks what we did with God's money.
"Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again"  (Ecclesiastes 11:1).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Remembering Henri Nouwen

Today--September 21--is Henri's day.  As I remember my teacher Henri Nouwen on this 15th Anniversary of his death and transition, I am reminded not only of his incredibly significant contribution to the theory and practice of spiritual direction and spiritual formation, but of his conviction that if we befriend our death before we die, our spirit remains accessible to those we leave behind.
I reached out today to others who knew Henri in life and remember him in death.  They too recognize September 21 as an auspicious day for many.   In honor of Henri, I offer this quote about “befriending death” in Chapter 7 of Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit   
"It seems indeed important that we face death before we are in any real danger of dying and reflect on our mortality before all our conscious and unconscious energy is directed to the struggle to survive… I think, then, that our task is to befriend death."

Looking ahead, Drew University will honor the memory of Henri Nouwen on All Saints Day--Novemeber 1, 2011.

Drew has an endowed Lectureship in Classical Christian Spirituality to which we invite outstanding figures in the field to come and lecture on the subject related to the person, witness and works of Henri J. M. Nouwen (1932-1996).
Past presenters have included: Dean James Pain, Michael Christensen, Jim Forest, Nathan Ball, Robert Jonas, Robert Ellsberg, Rebecca Laird, Lisa Cataldo and John Dear.
This year's featured Lecturer is Enuma Okoro, author of the spiritual memoir, Reluctant Pilgrim--an award wining finalist for the 2010 USA Book News and 2011 National Eindie Excellence Book Awards.  She also is co-editor (with Shane Claiborne and Jonahtan Wilson-Hartgrove) of Common Prayer:  A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.  Her writings have been featured on ABC's Good Morning America, Christian Century and Christianity Today.

Henri loved the arts--especially painting, music and dance--and Okoro, a liturgical artist born in Nigeria and raised in New York, loves Henri's spirituality and life work.
Please join us if you can on Tuesday, November 1, 7:30pm, in Craig Chapel for a liturgical dance processional, Taize meditation in song, and special lecture by Enuma Okoro. Followed by a Book Signing in the Atrium of Seminary Hall. 
To register, or for further information, contact Nancy VanderVeen at

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Five Bells, Five Sites Pilgrimage in New York on 9/11

New York, Sunday, September 11, 2011. 

How to observe the 10th Anniversary of 9/11?  Since I'm only an hour from Manhattan, I decided to take a train into the city and join my friend of 40 years, Rev. David Best, former pastor of the Lamb's and now Director of Towel and Basin ministries, to spent the the day together.  We met for a memorial service at his church--St. Mark's United Methodist Church--an historically significant,140 year old church in Harlem.  After lunch, we began our tour of Ground Zero (where we met facinating people from conspiracy wackadoodles to European vistors who felt deeply moved to visit NYC on this auspicious day.   We enjoyed the incredibly positive and spiritual energy in St. Paul's Chapel--spared by the destruction all around, and became a refuge for rescue works and sanctuary for many in the chaos. We stood outside St. Peter's Church where the famous 9/11 Cross  stood for ten years before being transferred to the 9/11 Memorial Museum (against the legal objections of the National Association of Atheists.  As fans of Fr. Mychael Judge, we attended Mass at the Church and Mission Center of St Francis of Assisi (where Fr. Mychal Judge lived and from where he served as chaplain.  And we saw the play called "Five Bells" about three victims of 9/11 (performed by our friend, actor Rich Swingle).

Finally, we ended the day by enjoying a middle eastern dinner at a  marvelous Turkish Restaurant on 9th Avenue--two old guys who have been friends for 40 years, had served in ministry together in California and New York, had traveled together to Nicaragua in the 80's, and had similar 9/11 experiences in responding to the needs of the day. It was a good and holy day indeed.

 If your interested in seeing film footage we shot while on this pilgrimage, you may view a few clips here: 9/22 Remembered

Monday, September 12, 2011

Not Afraid of Death by Julia Esquivel

In reading your blog, Michael, I immediately think of these two poems is poem by Julia Esquivel, from Guatemala, whom I had the pleasure of meeting years ago.  Un abrazo, Ada Maria


I am no longer afraid of death
I know well
Its dark and cold corridors
Leading to life.
I am afraid rather of that life
Which does not come out of death,
Which cramps our hands
And slows our march.
I am afraid of my fear
And even more of the fear of others,
Who do not know where they are going,
Who continue clinging
To what they think is life
Which we know to be death!
I live each day to kill death;
I die each day to give birth to life,
And in this death of death,
I die a thousand times
And am reborn another thousand
Through that love
From my People
Which nourishes hope!

They have threatened us with Resurrection
There is something here within us
which doesn’t let us sleep, which doesn’t let us rest,
which doesn’t stop the pounding deep inside.
It is the silent, warm weeping of women without their husbands
it is the sad gaze of children fixed there beyond memory . . .

What keeps us from sleeping
is that they have threatened us with resurrection!
Because at each nightfall
though exhausted from the endless inventory
of killings for years,
we continue to love life,
and do not accept their death!
In this marathon of hope
there are always others to relieve us
in bearing the courage necessary . . .

Accompany us then on this vigil
and you will know what it is to dream!
You will know then how marvelous it is
to live threatened with resurrection!
To live while dying
and to already know oneself resurrected.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Re-imagining 9/ 11 and Befriending Death

Mindful of the tenth anniversary of the September 11th Terrorist Attack on the US, I offer this ‘guided conversation’ on "Re-imagining September 11th and Befriending Death."  I shared it first with ministers of shalom gathered at Drew University yesterday for a one-day “report back” session after they had completed their 6-10 week shalom zone assignment this summer.
A Guided Conversation, as employed in Shalom Training, is a tool for reflection and a way to invite deeper dialogue. It is a progression of questions that takes each individual in a group on a journey.  The method has four levels:

The theory behind this progression of questions is that it’s easier for people to climb slowly down a difficult cliff than to jump straight down in remembering what may be quite painful to share. 

To prepare for the questions, I showed the trailer to the documentary “The Cross and the Towers” about how metal cross beams in the form of crosses were found in a cavern under the rubble of Ground Zero, sparking faith and controversy: 

The four questions I posed to the group for remembering September 11 were these:

  1.  Objective: Where were you when you heard what was happening at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.   What did you see, hear, do?
We all shared various versions of being at work or home, hearing reports of an attack in New York, tuning into a radio or television news report, contacting family or friends, and being compelled to take some action or not. One member of our group was in a hospital room in the Congo, and tried to somehow connect that pain he felt in his body with the pain and suffering he was witnessing on television from afar. Personally, I contacted family members, left work and stayed glued to the TV set.

  1. Subjective: What did you feel? (where/when?) during the crisis?  Our one-word responses included:  fear, anger, sadness, compassion, hatred, compulsion, devastation, courage, nothing… Personally, I felt compelled to do something...but what?  I waited for an opportunity.
  1. Interpretative: What does it mean? What is the connection to our ministry of shalom in the world? Where do you see this going on in life? In your life?
Since this interpretative level was included by many in our previous round of responses, I skipped this question and went directly to the fourth and most difficult question of the morning:

  1. Decisional:  I decided to ask a hard question.  "Imagine yourself stuck at the top of one of the Towers that was on fire, filled with dark smoke and in danger of collapsing.  There's no escape or rescue, and know you are going to die. You have to choose how it ends.  Do you panic or sit quietly in the room, alone or with others?  Will  you suffocate from the smoke or flames?  Do you hang outside a window for as long as you can and then jump?  (As many as 200 victims chose to fall or jump to their death below rather than face the flames from above. Some of the “9/11 jumpers”, as they are called, fell together, hand in hand, or alone upside down, one was holding what appeared to be a cell phone…”
These were terribly difficult questions, and not all of us could go there.  In our group those who were willing to imagine their death in this tragic situation responded that they would probably wait it out in the smoke-filled room;  or fall ten seconds to a sudden death. 

I was willing to pose such questions on the eve of September 11 because of my spiritual belief that we are called to “befriend our death” before we die.  By imagining how our story on earth lmight end, facing that inevitable reality, and imagining what lies ahead, often diminishes the fear of death, lessons the ‘sting of death’ and frees us to live eschatologically in the moment, grateful for yet another day of life. 

Henri Nouwen writes about “befriending death” in Chapter 7 of Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit

It seems indeed important that we face death before we are in any real danger of dying and reflect on our mortality before all our conscious and unconscious energy is directed to the struggle to survive… I think, then, that our task is to befriend death.

Imagine being spiritually able to live each day of your life as if it could be your last. 

Minnietta was a courageous woman of faith who befriended death before she died on Saturday. Beloved wife of my friend Rev. Kent Millard, she died in their home after a struggle with pancreatic cancer.  They were married for 48 years. “She is now free from a body which could carry her no further,” Kent said with deep sadness and joy.

Earlier this week Kent had written: “When Minnietta was in hospice, she said to our son: "I see how this book will end." He asked "how?" Minnietta said: "She will just stop eating and drinking." Perhaps she had a feeling that was the way the end will come.  Minnietta has prepared us all well by designing her own memorial service where she wants everyone to wear bright clothes, have a girls dancing group dance in their angel costumes, sing some uplifting songs and have brief messages. Mainly she wants everyone to be joyful that she is free from this body which can carry her no further as she knows she will continue her journey of life on the other side…”
Minnietta’s obituary celebrates her life as “an accomplished stained glass artist, author, and spiritual guide and mentor for many people.  Her beautiful and inspiring stained glass creations are found in churches, homes and businesses all around the world.  In 2006 she wrote a book about her life journey entitled, A Closer Look: A Theology of the Ordinary about finding God’s guidance in the ordinary experiences of life. “

Minnietta's life and death reminds me how fragile and contingent all our lives truly are.  And how we are called to live eschatologically--with the end in mind. Such a spiritual mindset frees us to face both life and death with courage and meaning, accepting what comes our way with grace knowing that God is with us.
Again, Henri Nouwen writes:  "Isn’t death, the frightening unknown that lurks in the depths of our unconscious minds, like a great shadow that we perceive only dimly in our dreams? Befriending death seems to be the basis of all other forms of befriending. I have a deep sense, hard to articulate, that if we could really befriend death we would be free people. So many of our doubts and hesitations, ambivalences and insecurities are bound up with our deep-seated fear of death that our lives would be significantly different if we could relate to death as a familiar guest instead of a threatening stranger.”

Another exemplary believer in eschatological living is  Fr. Mychal Judge, the Franciscan Friar and NYC Chaplain to the Firefighers who gave his life in ministry during 9/11, is an example of one who learned to befriend death before he died.

"I wonder what my last hour will be?" Fr. Mychal said in an interview in 1996. "Will it be trying to help someone, trying to save a life?"

"I feel [I am on] the train Home," he wrote in his journal. "I am at peace finally. This is what You want me to do, Lord... You, You alone, brought me here. I have nothing to fear. Thank You, thank You, Lord !"

On September 11, 2001, upon hearing the news that the World Trade Center had been hit by planes, Father Judge rushed to Ground Zero. After administering Last Rights to some victims on the streets, he entered the lobby of the North Tower where fire fighters and rescue workers were organizing their efforts.  Courageously, selflessly, he offered aid and prayers for the rescuers, the injured and dead. When the South Tower collapsed, debris went flying through the lobby, killing many inside, including the Chaplain. 

Those who found his body shortly after he died carried it out to nearby St Peter's Church (where the famous 9/11 Cross now stands). There he was mourned by countless friends and remembered to this day. 
Mychal Judge was designated as "Victim 0001," recognized as the first official victim of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Other victims, of course, perished before him including air crew, passengers, and occupants of the towers, but Fr. Judge was the first certified fatality because his was the first body to be recovered and taken to the coroner.
Fr. Mych, by all personal accounts, was a genuine, joyful, compassionate and courageous believer. Self-identified as a recovering alcoholic, a gay man, and a Franciscan priest, Fr. Judge continues to inspire people from all walks of life by his simple message of love for God and others, with joy and grace:

 "The wonderful thing is saying yes and accepting God's grace. We could say no and walk away. But when we say yes and go forward, great and wonderful things will happen. It takes courage in the midst of fear, but you do it with the grace of God.”

“When I don’t know what’s next, I get down on my knees and pray, Lord, take me, mold me, fashion me, show me what You want. Then I watch and listen and it will come.”

BBC journalist, Michael Ford,author of the biography Fr. Mychal Judge: An Authentic Amrican Hero, told me that a copy of one of Henri Nouwen’s books was on the chaplain’s night stand the day before he died.  Perhaps he was reading Henri’s words about “befriending death.” Surely, Fr. Judge did so.

I concluded my 9/11 Re-imagining exercise and Guided Conversation by showing a clip from the documentary about Chaplain Mychal Judge: Saint of 9/11

“No matter how big the call, no matter how small, you have no idea what God is calling you to do. But God needs you, he needs me, he needs all of us.”—Mychal Judge, 1933-2001

Mychal's Prayer:

Lord, take me where You want me to go,
let me meet who You want me to meet,
tell me what You want me to say,
and keep me out of Your way.