Esse quam videri – literally, “To be, rather than to seem.” is the North Carolina state motto. It has also been translated, “Be who you are.” If ever there was a “be and not just seem” one, it was God-with-skin-on from Nazareth, whose parents named him “Jesus.” I spent most (okay, pretty much ALL) of my first 30 years focused on proving other people wrong. That is, when someone said, “You can’t/don’t know how to do that.” (because you’re left-handed, too small/weak, young, from a small town, not educated enough, etc.), I set out to prove them wrong. Even though I became quite adept at this, one day, I realized my life choices were based, not on any inner sense of purpose or drive, but merely on competing against the expectations of others. I’ve spent the last 28+ years learning to let go of that need to prove my enoughness to anyone, including myself. Wilderness, whether it’s mountains, lakes, desert, or somewhere else, is a place where the taunting voices can most fully be shed, giving me ears to hear and heart to focus on my own breath, and helping me recognize where and how my own worth is validated, not in the meeting or defeating of others’ expectations, but through the defining and developing of self in mutually healthful service to the world. Thanks be to God! © 2018 Todd Jenkins
(when Psalm 22 stares back at you from the mirror)
"My sons and daughters, why have you forsaken them? Why are you so far from responding to the their cries and groanings? They beseech you in daylight, wailing at the wall you’ve constructed to separate their lives from your comfort and security. By night, their pleas waft on smoldering embers of their deconstruction." The victors have constructed a lovely narrative of deliverance; their cry, God’s response; like a sacred vending machine, fed with the coin of deserving. But what of those who are judged to be subpar, those whose DNA, language, or faith heritage come from beyond the 23&me dream package? What of those who showed up for work or school or worship, oblivious to the call to pack heat for self-preservation; those who trusted that the least of these, the lambs, would be protected by the Great Shepherd’s shepherds? They counted on us to carry them; to be there, not just in the delivery room, but at the grocery store checkout, the public library, the classroom, the youth group meeting, the job fair. Is our absence because we don’t really care, or because we’re actually the carnivores circling ‘round them? Their tongues glue to the roof of their mouths, like jerky dried for consumption, salted with the tears of their anguish. Their skin taut, revealing a cadaverous collection of bones. The coyotes circle, yipping and nipping, casting lots for what little remains. The dream we sold them promised they’d have a shot; guaranteed dignity, respect, even opportunity; but the fine print and disclaimer excluded them for myriad reasons, mostly because we feared that including them would cost us too much. We are slow to catch on, O Lord; blind and deaf and too scared to realize that tossing them to the curb is infinitely more costly than we ever dreamed, because it has cost us our very souls. Is there still time, still hope, still opportunity to pull more chairs ‘round the table? If we feed those who’ve been starved, welcome those who’ve been exiled, humble ourselves before you and pray, will you make your light shine upon us all, once again? We wrap ourselves with the sackcloth of confession, and dust ourselves with the ash of contrition, O holy one, in hopes that our forsaking will not become our forsakenness. Deliver us, we pray, that we may live to proclaim your story to generations yet to come. © 2018 Todd Jenkins
(a preacher’s dream/hope for a new year)
Some folks are great at telling stories with their mouths. Theirs are the most detailed and most accurate. They are also the longest and often the most boring, stumbling and fumbling over facts irrelevant to both the point of the story and their listeners. Other people are great at regaling you with their own ears, keenly aware of how their tales make them appear in the eyes of their audience. Whatever else you’ve learned when they are finished, you now see them in a more ethereal light. Help me, O Lord, learn how to unfold narratives using borrowed ears, so my listeners hear, not me or my most presentable self or their pretend selves, but their deepest, richest selves in the story. Even more, let their ears tell me how to verbally reveal glimpses of grace, calling us all to a hope that is deeper, broader, more connective, and more accessible than before vocal chords strummed and ear drums beat in synchronized rhythm. © 2018 Todd Jenkins
We pray, O God, for all those who enter the holiday season with a sense of overwhelming sadness: those whose sadness is brought on by heightened grief of the loss of a loved one; those who are sad because the holidays bring acute awareness of family or relational dysfunction or discord; those whose sadness comes from an inability to create the Norman Rockwell life that marketers and advertisers use to create a restless desire to purchase; those whose emotions are overcome by the incongruence of life in the first eleven months of the year, or the painful difference between the “haves” and the “have nots”; and those whose sadness comes from any other reason. Help us, O Lord, as your children, to be keenly aware and ready to open our ears and our hearts to those who are anything but happy for the holidays, through Jesus Christ our Lord…..
We pray, O God, for all those whose holidays will be consumed with the overwhelming task of rebuilding their homes and their lives: those whose neighborhoods have been ravaged by hurricane, flood, tornado, earthquake, tsunami, fire, or other disaster; those whose neighborhoods and lives have been turned to rubble by monster machinery of war. Help us, as your children, to have the grace to offer who we are and what we have been given to alleviate their suffering; through Jesus Christ our Lord…..
We pray, O God, for all those whose holidays will be consumed with worries about health and wellness, for themselves or someone near and dear: those whose holiday appetites will be diminished by chemotherapy; those whose holiday schedules will be filled with radiation, physical therapy, or booked for surgery; those whose glasses will be raised, not to toast, but to chase down handfulls of pills which they hope will extend the quality and/or quantity of their days. Help us, O Lord, as your children, to support, by your grace, all efforts at health and healing, through Jesus Christ our Lord…..
We pray, O God, for all those who are leaders, in our congregation, our community, our state, our nation, and in the world: those who make decisions about the direction of our congregation’s ministry and mission; those who direct funding, support, programs and protection for this city, this county, this state, this nation, and for all nations. Give us the courage to demand and support leaders who are willing to risk and sacrifice as much for peace and justice as we ask our military to risk and sacrifice in support of war; through Jesus Christ our Lord…..
In the midst of this Advent season, O Lord, give us unfailing hope through your unimaginable promise; give us unquenchable joy through your gift of deliverance; through Jesus Christ our Lord….
Now hear us, O God, as we join our hearts and voices together to pray the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, as we pray together….. Our father……
© 2017 Todd Jenkins
Photo by Jo Lightner Todd
Often, the thing that kills us – the thing that digs the hole into which we fall, and from which we are incapable of self-extraction – isn't the full-strength sulfuric acid of hate thrown in our face, but a slowly constructed ladder of slights and judgments raising another up high enough to no longer be willing to see and hear that our stories all have the same origin and will conclude with the same destination. It is indifference that steals away the breath once filling the air between us, a liter at a time, until we are rendered unconscious by the divisive vacuum. © 2017 Todd Jenkins
They didn’t and don’t put their lives on the line to save a flag or to demand we all stand or revere a song; but to give citizens of their nation — all citizens — the chance to enjoy lives of dignity, respect, and opportunity. When forces within a national culture, economy, and infrastructure thwart such freedom for some, pushing them to call attention to such incongruity by the exercise of a first amendment right, it’s not flag or nation being disrespected, but the notion that one experience is the only one that’s normative. Waving patriotism, nationalism, or soldiers’ service and sacrifice as objection to the objection, are red herrings, as is the suggestion that there are less offensive methods, since acceptability is a big part of what renders outcry ineffective. Instead of attempting to to force all into lockstep, may our discomfort drive us toward the recognition of systemic injustice, and to a table where ears lean in to understand, rather than recoil to fashion argument and disagreement. Dismissing and refusing to listen to the stories of protesters is the surest way to escalate refraction of their experience while delegitimizing their lives. To object to dissent is to miss the whole point of freedom. © 2017 Todd Jenkins
Our world, O God, is dark-averse. We are so afraid of what’s in the closet, under the bed, and in the dark, that we have created artificial light for everywhere; battery powered, solar powered, keychain flashlights, cell phone flashlights; we have become a never-without-light society. Even our religion succumbs to this blinding, full-solar effect, attempting to protect us from ever seeing a shadow. Each day we gather around your Word and your table, remind us of all that can be gained from the dark, and from recognizing and accepting our shadow selves. Remind us of all the times when we couldn’t detect your presence in our full-solar world, but finally saw, heard, tasted, and felt you in the quietude of our midnights. Speak your truth into the varied lumens of our reality, and give us courage to take the next step with more faith in you than in our flashlights; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. © 2017 Todd Jenkins
It is never really if the pain, loss, hurt, or grief come, but when. It is not just "What will you do?" or "Where will you turn?" but also, most significantly, "Who will you be?"; not just in it, but also through it, beyond it, and even because of it. It's more than "How will it change you?"; it's also "How will you offer others a chance to change?" and even "How will you change the world?" Welcome to life, caterpillar. © 2017 Todd Jenkins
Photo by Randy Calvo
For the hearty souls, O God, who find the Depot Home away from home, and yet in no way home, we give you thanks and pray. For those who understand Matthew 20 far better than they wished, who line-up like cattle in the chute, or slaves on the block, striking a paradoxical pose of desperation and indifference, hoping against hope to find a generous master for a day, we offer prayer, knowing that it is but the beginning. Let us be emboldened, by the words and fire of our supplications, O Lord of labor, so we may recognize them as neighbors, aflame enough to challenge the systemic injustice driving their daily auction. Let us be courageous enough to see their families, dependent on their labor, and to understand their work is also something on which we, ourselves, are dependent. Whether they live around the corner or across the border, give us courage to enact love in tangible and nourishing ways. Let us skip the 23andme, practicing the radical hospitality of our spiritual genetics with these kinfolk of ours. Let us open God's storehouse. © 2017 Todd Jenkins
The human mind has a great deal of difficulty recognizing more than one kind of courage. Our mental faculties are more comfortable with a single dictionary entry. But the heart, and especially the interaction of living a particular life, have ways of opening other windows. The brain is best-suited for comprehending courage from life’s intersection with outward bodily harm, inflicted by things like disease or war; and we rightly laud heroes who've stared down organ failure, chemo or radiation, an enemy's barrel, or similar physical threats. Courage also wells-up from the burden society loads upon the backs of those whose misfortune it is to not fit the mold. This is the pressure generating more subtle weapons: epithetic daggers of hate, dipped in the cultural poison of rejection, hurled into mold-broken hearts. Overcoming these assaults may not leave limbs severed, bones shattered, or organs inoperable, but finding and living grace with clandestinely-scarred psyches can be equally as courageous. © 2017 Todd Jenkins