len on December 24th, 2017


len on December 21st, 2017


len on December 18th, 2017

Back then to the essential message of Christmas which is Emmanuel, God with us, and to the questions it raises:
Who is this God and how is he with us?

“The high and lofty One who inhabits eternity” is the answer to the first. It is the answer to the second question that seems “folly to the Gentiles” and “a stumbling block to the Jews,” because the claim that Christianity makes is that at a particular time and place God came to be with us himself. When Quirinius was governor of Syria, in a town called Bethlehem, a child was born who, beyond the power of anyone to account for, was the high and lofty One made low and helpless. The One who inhabits eternity comes to dwell in time.

In the winter of 1947 a great snow fell on New York City. It began slowly, undramatically, like any other snow. The flakes were fine and steady and fell straight, with no wind. Little by little the sidewalks started to whiten. Shop-keepers and doormen were out with their shoves clearing paths to the street. After a while the streets began to fill and the roofs of parked cars were covered. You could no longer tell where the curb was, and even the hydrants disappeared, the melted discs over manhole covers. The plows could not keep up with it, and traffic moved more and more slowly as the drifts piled up. Businesses closed early, and people walked home from work.

All evening it continued falling and much of the night. There were skiers on Park Avenue, children up way past their bedtime. By the next morning it was different city.

More striking than anything else about it was the silence. All traffic had stopped. Abandoned cars were buried. Nothing on wheels moved. The only sounds to be heard were church bells and voices. You listened because you could not help yourself.

“Ice splits starwise,” Sir Thomas Browne wrote. A tap of the pick at the right point, and fissures shoot out in all directions, and the solid block falls in two at the start. The child is born, and history itself falls in two at the star. Whether you believe or do not believe, you date your letters and checks and income tax forms with a number representing how many years have gone by since what happened happened. The world of AD is one world, and the world of BC is another. The very bells and voices of our world ring out on a different air, and if most of the time we do not listen, at Christmas it is hard not to.

Business goes on as usual, only moreso. Canned carols blast out in shopping malls, Salvation Army tambourines rattle, and street corner Santas stamp their feet against the cold. But if you have an ear for it at all, at the heart of all the noise you hear a silence, and at the heart of the silence you hear – what do you hear?

F. Buechner – Who is This God? – “A Room Called Remember” 61-63

len on December 5th, 2017

Scot McKnight once noted that one of his favorite Christmas hymns is, “O Come, O Come Immanuel,” a 12th Century hymn originally penned in Latin. It wasn’t until 2008 that I heard the Latin version and since then have heard two more renditions in Latin – the most recent being a version sung by Enya, “And Winter Came” .. an album that is rapidly becoming an Advent season favorite for us).

It’s not just that the poetry or the raw beauty of “Veni, Veni Emmanuel,” but the way it evokes both the joy of Jesus coming, and the longing for the arrival of the new world. We live in between the times. Some days we feel the presence of the kingdom in our friendships, at a table with family, or sitting in front of a warm fire while the snow is falling. At other times, we long for the arrival of the new world.. aware of our own failures, the darkness in the world, the hunger and loneliness and pain. Read the rest of this entry »

len on December 2nd, 2017

In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom! O Root! O Key! O Light! Come to us!

The evening prayer, also know as Vespers, always includes the great prayer of Mary known as the Magnificat. Each day, the Magnificat is preceded by a short verse or “antiphon” that links the prayer to the feast of the day or the season of the year. In the last seven days of Advent (December 17-24), the antiphons before the Magnificat are very special. Each begins with the exclamation “O” and ends with a plea for the Messiah to come. As Christmas approaches the cry becomes increasingly urgent.

These moving “O Antiphons” were composed when monks put together texts from the Old Testament, particularly from the prophet Isaiah, which looked forward to the coming of our salvation. They form a rich, interlocking mosaic of scriptural images. The great “O Antiphons” became very popular in the Middle Ages when it became traditional to ring the great bells of the church each evening as they were being sung.

Each of the O Antiphons highlights a different title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Also, each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah. A particularly fascinating feature of the O Antiphons is that the first letter of each invocation, when read backwards, forms an acrostic in Latin: the first letters of Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, Clavis, Oriens, Rex, and Emmanuel in reverse form the Latin words: ERO CRAS. These can be understood as the words of Christ, responding to his people’s plea, saying “Tomorrow I will be there.”

This sonnet based on the first antiphon is composed by Malcolm Guite.

O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.
I cannot teach except as I am taught,
Or break the bread except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O Light within the light by which I see,
O Word beneath the words with which I speak,
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,
O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,
O Memory of time, reminding me,
My Ground of Being, always grounding me,
My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,
Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,
Come to me now, disguised as everything.

Elsewhere, a Celtic Advent

len on November 9th, 2017

For neither circumcision counts for anything,
nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

Gal. 6.15

John 1 is a recapitulation of Genesis 1. But now its Word and Spirit in creation. John does not mention the fall but assumes it. Time is compressed and fluid in this creation account. But John is clearly leaning toward restoration – all things will be summed up in Christ and God’s original purpose for creation restored. The light will shine on all humankind. Those who receive him will be renewed in God’s original design – that we should rule (Gen. 1.26).
John 2 we join a wedding feast. That should trip our memories of the broad movement of history toward another banquet in Rev. 19 – the marriage supper of the lamb. John’s vision is very broad – from creation to new creation, Genesis to Revelation. John 2 – water to wine. This is what new creation looks like: God’s power comes on ordinary things and they are made new! A new heaven and a new earth are coming and we will all be dancing!

John 3 the feast comes to Israel. But what is flesh is flesh and what is spirit is spirit. Israel’s teachers have been immersed in a textbook, but divorced from the Spirit. Suddenly renewal is coming to God’s people, who failed to recognize the Messiah when he arrived (Jn 1.11). Now the light dawns on God’s people Israel. The placement of the story of John the Baptist in this chapter allows John to cue us again to where this story is going – “bride and bridegroom” v. 29.

John 4. In ancient Israel the well was the place where weddings were celebrated. This time the marriage feast is not just for Israel but the universal banquet table opens up to include foreigners and outcasts. Isaiah’s vision of a universal gospel is fulfilled. All peoples and tribes and tongues will come to the new city, and all the nations will be healed (Rev 21-22)


len on November 9th, 2017

len on November 6th, 2017

coverThe manuscript is off to the publisher. I’m going to post a link to the Introduction and first chapter here. And this is the Abstract —

Our organizations are failing; as leaders we’re struggling. Nothing seems reliable anymore. How do we respond to adaptive challenges? Why do we feel so lost?

The Franklin expedition failed because they carried their baggage with them, a non-adaptive response to extreme conditions. In contrast Jesus sent the disciples out with nothing to sustain them. How do we get comfortable with vulnerability? Living on the edge is a journey into experimentation and adaptation. It requires new capacities and skills from leaders and teams. Even leaders get lost. Who survives and why? How do our mental maps limit us?

Iceland’s Silfra fissure is formed by the pulling apart of tectonic plates. Modernity has fragmented and broken into post-modernity and we feel the pressure. Merely managing the crisis is not sustainable. Instead we need to open space, finding a way to withdraw and reflect. Our paradigms of progress are oppressive. Jesus told us that we would lose our lives to find them. We move down to rise up.

How will the future find us? Living on edges creates tension, and tension generates wakefulness. Old assumptions about growth and leadership no longer apply. Our landscape has gone from solid to liquid. When we can no longer read maps, we train navigators. We work with tools and practices that help us “read” the landscape.

Change is a constant condition, and local knowledge has become paramount. Innovators start before they are ready and develop prototypes to test new conditions. New leadership types are appearing: poets and synergists and boundary-crossers. Listening and observing together we invite a new future. I describe organizations that found a new future.

Goal-posts have shifted and the field has become fluid. I offer a framework for understanding organizational culture and examine the role of leaders in emergent conditions. In self-organizing systems leaders disrupt existing patterns, encourage novelty and act as sensemakers. Leadership is less about decisive action and more about shaping environments.

Pilgrimage begins when we discover a yearning for something more. The final phase is arrival at the beginning and “knowing the place for the first time.” The metaphor of exile fits the experience of leadership in our time. What feels like a closed space might be a womb: a place of transformation and rebirth. The One on the throne says, “Behold! I make all things new!”

Broken Futures – CH 1 2017

len on October 20th, 2017

In the beginning was
the song of love.
Alone in empty nothingness
and space
It sang itself through
vaulted halls above
Reached gently out to
touch the Father’s face.
And all the tracklessness
where worlds would be
Cried “Father” through the
aching void. Sound tore
The distant chasm, and eternity
Called back — “I love you, Son —
sing Troubadour!”
His melody fell upward
into joy
And climbed its way
in spangled rhapsody.
Earthmaker’s infant stars
adored his boy,
And blazed his name through
every galaxy.
“Love,” sang the Spirit Son
and mountains came.
More melody, and life
began to grow.
He sang of light, and Darkness
fled in shame
Before a universe
in embryo.

“The Singer”

len on September 19th, 2017

And this is my prayer,
that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight .
Phil. 1.9

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine;
he pastures his flock among the lilies.
Song of Songs 6.3

Speaking out of Philippians 1 last week, I focused on v 9-11. What is the relationship between love and knowledge? This letter and Paul’s own life help in exploring that question. It’s a deeply human and deeply spiritual question, and it resonates in this letter with the warmth of Paul’s own heart.

Along his rough and tumble road, Paul ran suddenly into Jesus. His heart was crushed then expanded by the experience. Jesus and his kingdom became the passion of his life. ANd in that passion this question loomed large, because when we fall in love everything changes. It’s impossible to put it into words — and so, we try to put it into words. Other lovers have made the attempt.

I am filled with you.
Skin, blood, bone, brain and soul.
There’s no room for lack of trust, or trust,
Nothing in this existence but that existence.

ANd other apostles have explored the relationship of love and knowledge, a relationship which has only become more complex since the Enlightenment. From one of his hundred sermons on the Song of Songs, Bernard of Clairvaux writes,

Let us love affectionately, discreetly, intensely.
We know that the love of the heart, which we have said is affectionate,
is sweet indeed, but liable to be led astray
if it lacks the love of the soul.

And the love of the soul is wise indeed,
but fragile without that love which is called the love of strength.
“In Cantica” Sermon 20

What is love without knowledge? It goes astray. What is knowledge without love? It makes proud.

Love without knowledge fills the space with errors and guesses. And so you have Buddhists spinning prayer wheels and trying to empty their minds. And you have Hindus worshipping cows and stone idols.

Love – but without knowledge.

And love without knowledge also gives us every kind of moral error. Because the love of the heart is sweet, but it needs to be protected with the love of the soul – or the spirit. Otherwise, we just follow where our affections lead.
And in our time, that is generating a LOT of error and a lot of pain.

So the love of the heart is protected by the soul. And the SOUL’S love – is the wisdom of God. The Holy Spirit. But it’s fragile unless the soul has a clear vision – knowledge and revelation. And so these three loves travel together – a three-fold cord. The love of the heart — the love of the soul — and revelation.

And this is something of what Paul is getting at in his prayer here in ch 1. He prays for us for discernment. A most uncommon gift. Discernment calls us to hold the Word and the Spirit together. It calls us to maturity. Love becomes mature as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling.

Lots more to say — this was more or less the first half of my sermon.