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07 January 2017

Long Is The Way ...

Our Christmas and New Year's celebrations are over, and 2017 is here.  Most of us were glad to leave the old year behind, as the often divisive and acrimonious election season left a bitter taste.

But even though the twelve days of Christmas ended yesterday, on Three Kings Day, the message of Christmas can be our compass for all that is to come.


Deep is the night. Long is the way.
We walk in time's mysterious sway.

And on we walk. But as we stride,
dark sadness never leaves our side.

It cries in us and sighs and wails.
Our tender heart fears death and ails.

How harsh and long the road ahead!
We are alone, and filled with dread.

We walk -- where to? After the light
of which the angel spoke at night.

For somewhere in the distant lands,
far, far away, a hovel stands

where to become a child God chose,
so restless heart finds its repose.



Die Nacht ist tief. Der Weg ist weit.
Wir wandern durch die dunkle Zeit.

Wir gehn fürbass, doch Schritt für Schritt
geht unsre dunkle Schwermut mit.

Die weint in uns und seufzt und klagt.
Das Herz ist wund und todverzagt.

Die Wegfahrt, ach, ist schwer und lang.
Wir sind allein, und uns ist bang.

Wir gehn -- wohin? Dem Lichte nach
von dem zur Nacht der Engel sprach.

Denn irgendwo am Rand der Welt,
da ist das Hüttlein aufgestellt

drein Gott sich gab zur Nacht als Kind,
daß ruhlos Herz hier Ruhe find.

(German poem by Arno Pötzsch [1900-1956]. 2015 Translation by Fritz Wendt, b. 1957)

"How harsh and long the road ahead! We are alone, and filled with dread."  These words speak to us as we look at the 2017 calendar.  What will happen to us, as a world, as a nation, as a community, as a family, as individuals?

Indeed, our hearts can become quite restless as we think about what's to come.  But we are not alone: "We walk -- where to? After the light of which the angel spoke at night".

May the light of Christmas be with you this day and all days.

27 December 2016

17 December 2016

Poetry: Hans von Lehndorff


1. Komm in unsre stolze Welt,
Herr mit deiner Liebe Werben.
Überwinde Macht und Geld,
lass die Völker nicht verderben.
Wende Hass und Feindessinn
auf den Weg des Friedens hin.

2. Komm in unser reiches Land,
der du Arme liebst und Schwache,
dass von Geiz und Unverstand
unser Menschenherz erwache.
Schaff aus unserm Überfluss
Rettung dem, der hungern muss.

3. Komm in unsre laute Stadt,
Herr, mit deines Schweigens Mitte,
dass, wer keinen Mut mehr hat,
sich von dir die Kraft erbitte
für den Weg durch Lärm und Streit
hin zu deiner Ewigkeit.

4. Komm in unser festes Haus,
der du nackt und ungeborgen.
Mach ein leichtes Zelt daraus,
das uns deckt kaum bis zum Morgen;
denn wer sicher wohnt vergisst,
dass er auf dem Weg noch ist.

5. Komm in unser dunkles Herz,
Herr, mit deines Lichtes Fülle;
dass nicht Neid, Angst, Not und Schmerz
deine Wahrheit uns verhülle,
die auch noch in tiefer Nacht
Menschenleben herrlich macht.



1. Come, Lord, to our prideful sphere
with your love’s determined wooin',
pow'r and wealth to commandeer
lest the peoples go to ruin.
Turn our hate and hostile wrath,
lead us to a peaceful path.

2. Come, Lord, to our wealthy land,
you who love the poor and lowly,
that with greed and dullness banned
human hearts might waken slowly.
Use our affluence to carve
ways to rescue those who starve.

3. Come, Lord, to our noisy town,
come and bring your silent center,
so those who in anguish drown
might implore your strength to enter
their own course through noise and strife
heading to eternal life.

4. Come, Lord, to our solid stead,
as one naked and unguarded.
Just a tent around us spread,
used one night and then discarded.
Those who think they’re safe won’t say
that they still are on the way.

5. Come, Lord, to our hearts gone glum,
light from light in full revealing,
lest greed, fear, grief, pain become
tools that serve your truth’s concealing,
truth that e’en in deepest night
will make human lives shine bright.

German original by Hans Graf von Lehndorff, 1968; English translation by Fritz Wendt, 2016

Hans Count von Lehndorff (1910-1987) was a German physician, poet and pastor.  Raised in a wealthy family in East Prussia, he had his first experience with the Nazis when his mother was incarcerated for supporting a Lutheran pastor who had criticized the new regime. As a young doctor, von Lehndorff became an active member of the Confessing Church, and was aware of the plans to assassinate Hitler through a cousin who was involved.  During World War II, he was the head of a small military hospital in Königsberg (Kaliningrad), and saw unimaginable suffering when the Russian army captured and occupied the town.  

After the war ended, he was a church musician in East Germany (GDR), but after several decades was able to move to Bonn-Bad Godesberg, where he founded a small clinic and became active in hospital ministry.  Von Lehndorff wrote the poem above in 1968; it is a prayer reflecting the horrors of what he had seen during the war, but also the beginning of the Vietnam War (stirring national conversations, mostly among students, about how to maintain and secure peace) and Germany’s “economic miracle” with its new phenomenon, the migrant workers (leading to conversations about justice and income equality).   

17 July 2016

Black Lives Matter

From today's sermon

"In that day,” says the sovereign Lord, “I will make the sun set at noon,
and make the earth dark in the middle of the day.
I will turn your festivals into funerals,
and all your songs into funeral dirges.
I will make everyone wear funeral clothes
and cause every head to be shaved bald.
I will make you mourn as if you had lost your only son;
when it ends it will indeed have been a bitter day". 
(Amos 8:9-12)

It is time to go inward, my friends. We all know that this July began with bloodshed, and lots of it:

On July 4, Delrawn Small, an unarmed African American man, was shot and killed by a police officer, in Brooklyn, NY.  "I will make you mourn as if you had lost your only son ..."

One day later, July 5, Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old African American father of five, was shot in the chest and back by a police officer outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, LA. "I will make you mourn as if you had lost your only son ..."

The next day, July 6, Philando Castile, a Black man, was shot and killed in his car by a police officer outside St. Paul, MN.  "I will make you mourn as if you had lost your only son ..."

Two days after that, July 8, five officers were shot and killed and seven others wounded by sniper fire during a protest in Dallas, TX against the recent deadly police shootings. Two civilians were also shot.

"When it ends it will indeed have been a bitter day".  That bitter day hasn't ended. It's still very much with us.  There is deep pain and fear and anger in our country:

*The pain, fear and anger of the police officers and their families in Dallas and the larger police community;

*The pain, fear and anger of the black community in the face of so many recorded police killings;

*The pain, fear and anger among us.

There is so much pain. There is so much fear. There is so much anger.

It is time to go inward, my friends, for the bloodshed doesn't just highlight our country's problematic history of access to guns and military weapons.

Rather, it highlights the demons in our midst – white supremacy, systemic racism, interpersonal racism, corrupt authorities and a justice system that is broken, as it seems to enable rather than prevent murder and hate.

We are guilty because we have allowed these demons to work for us.

"Black lives matter" ... the name of the movement points to where we as white people have failed:

*It is time to go inward and realize just how blind our white upbringing has made us to people who aren't white.

*It is time to go inward and realize that racism is the original sin of this country, and that we have profited from racism whenever we thought of Black people as "the others" who have to live by our rules.

*It is time to go inward and repent and be ashamed.

*It is time to begin to under-stand (to stand under!) the suffering of Black people.

"I will make you mourn as if you had lost your only son ..."  Eventually the point will come that we recognize Delrawn, Alton and Philando as our own kin, so we can mourn their deaths not "as if" but "because" we indeed we have lost three of our sons. But that point won't come until we repent and go inside the fear, pain and anger their families feel and recognize that it is very much like our own.

And after moving inward, we need to move outward and change the way we live with those we think are "the others". When we truly believe that we are one human family, the "us vs. them" stuff falls by the wayside. Then it is time to apologize to the people of color around us. Then it is time to ask Black people to teach us so we might "stand under" their pain.

Then our actions will be prayer made alive. Then it will be true for all of us that "Black lives matter".

30 June 2016

Orlando Musings

Orlando Musings.

I am a Lutheran pastor, and a shrink and a musician and a teacher ... but WAY before that I am a child of God, beautifully created as a gay man.

When I became a  hospital chaplain in Brooklyn many years ago, my out-and-loud-and-proud baby sister was angry with me because I was connected with what she had experienced all her life as wounding and shaming and excluding: Church.  And for years I kept Church at arm's length because I too wasn't sure I could trust it.

But then one day at the funeral of one of my patients who had died of AIDS, Jesus slipped into the shoes of a Puerto Rican man and called me to speak and to heal.  It was then that I began to believe that there is space in God for a gay man ... and as I began the process to become ordained I said, "and if there is no space for me in Church, then Jesus will make space, for he just called me."

I've been ordained twenty-six years, and Jesus has indeed made space for me time and again, and I have tried to make space for my LGBT sisters and brothers.

I wasn't able to create space for my baby sister (she committed suicide during my early NYC years), but at least I was able to make space in my family for an ongoing conversation not just about her, but about what it means to be gay in our "churchy" sort of family.

-So, to my LGBT sisters and brothers who shake their head and say I betrayed them by being part of Church, I say, "I have known what you mean since my baby sister got mad with me. Church has a hard time with us, but Jesus always will make space for us."

-And to those who say, "Can't I just say I love you all without agreeing with your lifestyle?", I say, "No, because when you scratch underneath that sweet 'Christian' love of yours, there's no love, only bigotry.  Being gay is not my lifestyle, but my biology. I am a gift from God to you just the way I am."

In one of many dream encounters with my baby sister (some of you read others), she said, "Don't ever forget it, big brother: there is no you and I any more, there's just one family. We are all one."

In the wake of the hate crime in Orlando that wiped out almost fifty beautiful people who celebrated their lives in the Pulse Nightclub, a space that was home and sanctuary to them where no one questioned their "lifestyle", it is time for repentance, especially in Church.

When Church wounded and shamed and excluded us LGBT people, it was usually in keeping with the suspicions and prejudices of the surrounding culture. (As one of my teachers used to say, It's  always cheaper to stay unconscious!)

But if then it is true that Church should be counter-cultural, now is the time to repent and truly live what my baby sister said: "There's just one family. We are all one".

When we preachers start telling our churches that there is no "other", eventually they will only see sisters and brothers.  Space for love and harmony will open up everywhere.

It won't be easy, but it will be right.

22 August 2015

A Brief Break

Dear Readers.

Some of you may have been disappointed about the fact that two of my recent psalm posts are still incomplete.

Not only is it summer (when everything slows down because it's so darn hot), but I also have moved this past July. Furthermore, since this afternoon I am officially on vacation.

Be patient, please.

11 August 2015

11.So.n.Trin. / Pentecost 12

Psalm 111

Once upon a time an old Sufi dervish set out to make the Great Pilgrimage to Mecca.

It was a difficult journey under any conditions. This particular year the trek was unusually demanding. The large crowds jostled one another and crowded him off the road. The path was rough and uneven. The sun beat down on the old man's head without mercy.

'I must stop for a while,' the holy one decided.

So he lay down by the side of the road, just outside of Mecca.

He was hardly asleep before he felt himself being shaken roughly awake. 'Sufi, get up,' the imam said. The voice was not kind. The hand was not gentle.

'Some Sufi you are,' the stranger went on. 'You're a disgrace!'

The imam circled around the old man, flailing his hands and shaking his head.

'How dare you lie down at the time for prayer,' he shouted, 'with head turned to the West and your feet pointed toward God in the holy shrine.'

The old Sufi stirred a bit, opened one eye, looked at the man, and smiled. 'I thank you, sir, for your concern,' the Sufi said.

Then he went on, a sly grin playing at the corner of his mouth, 'So before I go back to sleep, would you be so kind as to turn my feet in some direction where they are not pointing at God?'

V. 1
1 Hallelujah. I will give thanks to the Lord wholeheartedly / in the council of the upright and in the assembly.

VV. 2-4
2 Great are the deeds of the Lord, /
Sought out by all who delight in them. 3 Majesty and splendor are his work, / and his righteousness endures for all time. 4 A memorial he has made of his wondrous acts; / showing favor and merciful is the Lord.

VV. 5-9
5 Food he has given to those who fear him; / He will remember for all time his covenant. 6 The strength of his deeds he has made known to his people, / in order to give them the inheritance of the nations. 7 The deeds of his hands are faithful and just; / trustworthy are all of his precepts. 8 They are sustained throughout all time, / to be done in faithfulness and uprightness. 9 Deliverance he has sent to his people; / he has commanded his covenant for all time. / Holy and reverent is his name.

V. 10
10 The beginning of wisdom is
reverence of the Lord; / good understanding comes to all who do it. / His praise endures for all time (NICOT).

[Testing Psm 111; Psm 111 testing; testing]