The Buoyancy of Prayerful Action


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Camille, David, and Azael as Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, in the Children’s Christmas Pageant at First UMC Santa Barbara, December 2016 (Photo credit: Dallis Day Richardson)

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,
for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus,
for he will save his people from their sins.” ~ Matthew 1:20-21

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God
to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin
engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.
The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said,
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” … “Do not be afraid,
Mary, for you have found favor with God.” ~ Luke 1:26-28, 30

Fear must be released if we are to take the journey to Bethlehem.
Fear obstructs the dream of God for a world healed of divisions.
Fear confines us in boxes of propriety and principle.
Fear prevents us from daring to live fully for God.
Fear holds us back.

had he listened to his inner voice of moral rectitude,
rather than listening to the Spirit stir in his faith-filled dreaming,
might have chosen the lesser path,
the outwardly respectable path,
the easier, more bearable path.

had she listened to her inner voice of level-headed reason,
rather than listening to the angel’s announcement of God’s favor,
might have chosen the uncomplicated path,
the less perplexing, more normal path,
the expected path for a young woman of her day.

Instead these two faithful servants,
through the buoyancy of prayerful action,
put aside their fears
and embraced the possibility that God was doing something new!

From their beautifully inspired trust in God’s goodness
the holy child was born
and God’s salvation story took on human flesh,
so that we might see the fullness of grace and truth!

This Christmas
let us cast aside the fear of difference and change
and embrace the self-giving love of Emmanuel –
God who is with all of us the world over,
whatever our nationality, race, religion or creed.

God is with us!
Do not be afraid!

Words (c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson

An Advent Prayer for All God’s Children


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Photo by Susan Barrett Price on Flickr Creative Commons

God of all the seasons of life,
here we are in Advent –
a season of expectant watching and waiting –
and we are aware of the grand struggles
playing out on this earth …
… struggles for human dignity
… for freedom from oppression
… for sustainable living
… for responsible stewardship of this precious earth.

Holy and mighty God,
you speak of a day when we will know
that Christ is near, even at the door.
You warn us to keep awake
and not succumb to the sleepiness
of casual accumulation and comfort.
There is so much need around us
our eyes and hearts cannot contain it.
So many of the world’s children
whom you love
through no fault of their own.

In this holy season,
while the world dances transfixed
before the dazzling lights of commerce,
we are invited
to sit in wonder beneath a brilliant nighttime star,
to seek the true light that shines in the darkness,
to follow where the child of Bethlehem leads,
to listen anew to the Word made flesh.

Draw us up short, Lord,
from any pretensions of piety we may have,
and surprise us again by the miracle of hope,
that this child who is to be born
may remind us of all the world’s children
who carry within them your image
your life
your love
your light!

(c) 2011 Mark Lloyd Richardson

Let us not grow weary


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When our days feel precarious,
and our hearts are worn down
with the fatigue of worry,
the unsettledness of concern,
your promise, O God, remains with us.
Indeed it resides within us,
burning at the center of our beings,
a flame of hope that will not be extinguished.

You are always leading us into the new.
You are continually remaking us
into a people formed in your love.
You invite us each morning to yield our hearts
to the work of justice, peace, and reconciliation.
In all times, you call forth our better angels.

Give us, we pray, the grace we need for this day
as we rise to meet the challenges before us.
May we live today from our deepest humanity,
granting to a neighbor the gift of humble listening,
extending to a stranger a smile of recognition,
offering to the other a gesture of welcome,
being gentle with ourselves and those near to us.

The little things are the big things in your realm.
The least are not forgotten,
the last become first,
the lost are surely found.
So help us believe that even the mustard seed
of our small faith makes a difference.
Let us not grow weary in doing good.
Let us rise to meet this day knowing
that your promise remains with us and within us,
indeed it burns with a hope that will not go out.

In your holy love we pray. Amen.

(c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson

The Way Forward


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Oregon Convention Center (two towers) where General Conference 2016 was held

The Way Forward proposed by the Council of Bishops at General Conference potentially provides a way to deepen the dialogue within the United Methodist Church on matters of human sexuality. It also gives us some breathing room to see how diversity can actually contribute to unity, rather than trying to force unity (perhaps I should say uniformity) through institutional pleading and legislative action.

As an LGBTQ ally and advocate for an inclusive church I am grateful for the leadership of the bishops in inviting respectful conversation that reflects the wideness of God’s mercy. However, I am also saddened and angry that justice is once again being delayed for many of my sisters and brothers in Christ by the harmful language that will remain in the Book of Discipline for at least two or three more years, and very possibly longer. In the meantime, many more gifted leaders will give up on serving in a church that does not accept them as the beloved children of God they are. In the meantime, many more young people will look elsewhere for open and affirming faith communities where they do not have to wonder if friends or family members will be accepted. In the meantime, many more loving and committed couples will be turned away from the ministries of a church that does not honor their love or value their witness. In the meantime, many more clergy will be forced to risk their livelihood and their future within a church they dearly love because the calling God has nurtured within their lives will not allow them to do otherwise.

So while I applaud the thoughtful leadership of our bishops and will pray and work to support a rethinking of the church’s stance on human sexuality through the special commission to be established, I am mindful of the deep pain and mistrust that many will continue to experience as a result of this outcome. Even though every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality will be examined by the commission and a special session of General Conference could be called in 2018 or 2019 to act upon the commission’s recommendations, we cannot predict how these processes will play out and whether they will create more just and grace-filled church structures and laws. What we do know is that we need to pray earnestly and work expectantly for the future God has in mind for the people called United Methodist, a future shaped by the justice and mercy at the core of the Gospel.

Words (c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson

It’s Time


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It’s hard to know where to begin as I reflect on my two days spent in our church’s quadrennial meeting known as General Conference. I continue to believe in the incredible gifts our church has been given to offer the world. We are truly a church of social witness from the time John Wesley first took to the streets to announce the good news of Christ to the poor. We have a vast humanitarian reach throughout the world that brings hope and healing to many lives. We are a people who use our feet and hands to move into a hurting world with peace in the name of Christ. We have so much to offer, which makes our persistent wrestling with sexual matters all the more troubling.

Yet there is much pain in the midst of our ecclesial body. There are children of God who feel invisible when others refer to them as an “issue” because of their sexuality. There are children of God who are forced to be secretive about their sexual orientation knowing they may be judged ineligible to be in ministry. There are children of God who know they will not receive the ministry of the church when they commit themselves to one another in marriage. There are children of God who are being silenced and pushed aside by a church that will not recognize their giftedness and beauty as people of sacred worth. The pain is magnified because it is caused by the very church that has nurtured them in faith and trust in God.

It’s time that the church stop harming those who are beloved of God. It’s time to allow ministers and churches to honor and bless the marriages of two persons of the same sex. It’s time to recognize the gift and graces of ministry candidates who identify as LGBTQI and not disqualify them from serving the church solely on the basis of their sexual orientation. It’s time to recognize that the discriminatory language related to sexuality in the Book of Discipline reflects heterosexuality and homophobia and needs to be removed. It’s time to stop acting from fear, misunderstanding, and intolerance. It’s time to reclaim our heritage as a church grounded in Christ’s grace! It’s time to let love overwhelm hate. It’s time to breathe in the Spirit of the Christ who welcomed persons into the presence of God without conditions.

It’s time!

Words (c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson



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Ganna Walska Lotusland, Santa Barbara, CA

Blessing is
the feeling you get
when the day’s gifts
are more
than your gratitude can hold.

Blessing sings
in the sunlight
and dances in the rain
each is irreplaceable.

Blessing favors
no one
it is not stingy or reluctant
it seeks new ways
to express itself each day.

Blessing sleeps
on the pillows
of the just and the unjust
yet truly awakens only in those
who seek God with pure hearts.

Blessing reaches
the furthest limits
of human endeavor
and sets those who receive it
on holy ground.

Blessing surprises.
Blessing breaks open that which is closed.
Blessing speaks to our deepest need.
Blessing wraps us in God’s grace.
Blessing completes.

Copyright (c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson

What Tugs at Your Love


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Version 2When Jesus met the disciples on the beach a week or so after being raised from the dead, he prepared them a breakfast of fish and bread, and in those holy moments they recognized their Lord. As Jesus gives them food for their hungry, tired bodies, he is giving them himself, the bread of life. They are just beginning to understand that whoever comes to Jesus will never be hungry. After a long, frustrating night on the water catching nothing, Jesus guides them to let down their nets in a place that produced abundance.

The gospel of John then relates the conversation between Jesus and his most impetuous, risk-prone disciple Peter.

When they finished eating, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me more than these?”

Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

A second time Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” and Peter replied in the same way.

Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.”

When Jesus asked Peter a third time if he loved him, it seemed to cut deep into Peter’s sense of identity as a loyal disciple. He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” It was clear that his feelings were hurt.

Jesus once again said, “Feed my sheep.”

Peter may still not fully grasp how life-changing his relationship with the rabbi Jesus the Nazarene is going to be. It’s as though Peter is willing to be on board a train that holds the promise of shifting the world’s power structures, but he isn’t quite convinced that the empty tomb has clinched the deal. Peter’s love is of the brotherly Philios kind and he hasn’t yet come to understand the immensity of Christ’s unconditional Agape love for the world.

The Lord’s challenge to him to feed and take care of those who are within the fold of God’s care – a much larger fold than any of us dare to imagine most days – is a challenge to go beyond the limits of our usual affections. Peter and the other disciples encounter the love of God embodied in their crucified and risen Lord and it calls each of them into deeper expressions of love that hold the power to change the world.

These post-resurrection gospel stories are wonderful antidotes to a faith that is lazy or content. Like Peter, we are being called toward a sacrificial love in which we share with our neighbors the spiritual nourishment we have received from Christ. This may involve inviting persons to worship or other places we experience Christian community. More likely though, it is about the ways we reach out to people through supportive, hands-on forms of self-giving love with no personal return in mind.

In what ways do you and I allow the Spirit of the risen Christ to breathe new life and love into our lives? This is the post-Resurrection question we face in the 21st century.

Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes, in his April 8th blog on Unfolding Light writes:

Jesus asks deep, self-giving love of us,
love not for our sake but his.
Sometimes the best we can do
is lightweight friendship.
And in his deep love for us,
Jesus takes whatever we can offer.

And directs that love, whatever it is,
toward the rest of our kin,
for that is where we really love God:
“Feed my sheep.”
Sometimes we discover our love for God
by loving others.

Always Jesus invites us deeper.
“Follow me.”
Peter may not expect much of himself,
but Jesus promises that he will go on:
“You will be led where you did not choose.”

Pay attention to what tugs at your love,
however weak it may seem.
Let it lead you deeper.

Words (c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson (except where noted)

Breath Prayer


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Alice Keck Park SB March 2016 (1)

Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens, Santa Barbara, California

On this lovely day
with a heart that is restless and unsure
I am gladdened by glory’s simple display
and grateful for sun-warmed sacred moments
as color catches the corner of my eye
while I walk in the park
with no purpose or intention
other than

to breathe in
the life around me

and breathe out
the troubles of the day.

Words (c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson

Where I’m From


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Hay bales VA

Photo credit: Dallis Day Richardson

“If you don’t know where you’re from, you’ll have a hard time saying where you’re going.” This idea from Wendell Berry suggests that our personal and family roots are very illuminating in understanding our place in the world.

I did something recently that I haven’t done before. I read aloud some poems I have written to a group of women in our church who meet weekly to discuss books and support one another in the life of the Spirit. In their invitation to me they had made it clear that they wanted to get to know me better, so I read some poems I’ve written over the years that reveal where I’m from, specifically some about the people who have significantly shaped my life, especially my grandparents.

The first poem I read was based on a poem template that author and speaker Enuma Okoro provided to a large group of United Methodist clergy who were meeting together in September 2015. I just loved how Enuma (who, by the way, is a delightful person, and with whom I enjoyed a long conversation over breakfast one morning) invited this diverse group of Christian ministers to use a template she provided to write about themselves. Then, as people read aloud their poems, it was amazing to feel the sense of our shared humanity even in the midst of very different life experiences.

The original poem called “Where I’m From,” written by poet George Ella Lyon, has provided a framework for many others to explore how their own lives have been shaped by the people who were present at formative times in their lives.

Here’s my poem titled “Where I’m From.”

I am from hay bales and milk pails,
from Lincoln Logs and prairie dogs.
I am from the creaky two-story at the end of the alley in small town U.S.A.
From evergreen forests and snow-capped mountains.
I am from singing around the piano and staying out of the spotlight,
from Sarah and Gerard, Norval and Irene.
I am from hard work and private devotion.
From boys don’t cry and swallowed tears.
I am from camp meeting and the old rugged cross.
From Holland, England and Wales.
I am from canned ham and scalloped potatoes.
I am from tides that rise and fall, from partially cloudy skies
and the heart that wanders.
I am from cornfields and desert, from the islands and the long winding road.

There are stories to be told within each of the phrases in this poem, and that is the point. Our lives are stitched together by the many meaningful interactions and relationships we have with one another and the larger stories in which our lives reside.

You might want to write a poem for yourself called “Where I’m From.” If you do, I’d love to read it!

May you have grace for your journey, Mark

Words (c) 2015 Mark Lloyd Richardson

Renewed in the Waters of Grace


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A scripture text from Baptism of the Lord Sunday still rings in my ears. To a people living in exile, the prophet Isaiah speaks of courage to believe that God is still up to something. “Do not fear,” comes the word of the Lord, “for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

We hear these words as we remember and renew our baptisms. We come to the baptismal font knowing that God is actively involved in redeeming our lives and this world. Fear loses its threatening grip in the shadow of such immense promises. If the Lord of Creation claims us and calls us to live in the freedom of such promises, who are we to let fear get in the way?

The Israelite exiles were on the edge of extinction when they heard the words, “Do not fear.” They were scattered and despairing of their future when the prophet reminded them of God’s covenant with them. They were “a tiny, miserable, and insignificant band of uprooted men and women,” according to Old Testament scholar Claus Westermann, when the prophet declared their new and different identity as a people supremely valued by God. “You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you,” God says to Israel in spite of their shortcomings.

The waters of baptism lead us to new life – a life surrendered to the God who knits us together in our mothers’ wombs, a life of belonging to the community of the redeemed, a life of learning at the feet of the Rabbi from Nazareth what it means to be fully human and how it feels to be whole. “When you pass through the waters,” the Lord says, “I will be with you.”

The Rev. Dr. Israel (Izzy) Alvaran, Western Jurisdiction Organizer for Reconciling Ministries Network, was our guest preacher this past November. His message was in essence his testimony. Here is a young man who felt called of God at an early age to become a pastor. However, he was also aware of the church’s ban on openly gay people being ordained. He had a dilemma – how to respond to the call of God knowing that the church would not welcome someone like him in leadership if his sexual orientation were made known.

Years later as he stepped into his first pulpit to preach, it was in the very church where he had been brought by his father to be baptized as an infant. It occurred to him in that moment that baptism is a means of grace in which God blesses us with the name “son” or “daughter,” in which God calls us “beloved.” The church and its clergy may administer the sacrament of baptism, but God is the One who calls us by name and claims us as God’s own! No one can take that holy identity from us. No one can remove the sign of God’s grace that rests upon us.

When Izzy came out to his parents recently he felt their unconditional acceptance. He reported, “I am overcome with grace to know they love me.” What the church will do with LGBT people who simply wish to serve God freely with their gifts remains an open question. However, the walls of fear are crumbling. Baptism does that. Embracing our identity as sons and daughters of God does that. Trusting in the God who sides with the oppressed and the marginalized does that.

We are to live as a people named and loved by God. The delight that God takes in you and me is akin to the delight I’ve seen in the eyes of grandparents as they interact with their grandchildren. For that reason, God’s voice through the prophet still rings in my ears, as God gathers together the whole human family at the water’s edge and says, “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made,” come my beloved, receive grace, trust grace, be renewed in the waters of grace, preach grace, practice grace, live grace, breathe grace!

Words (c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson