Roll Me Away

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Roll Me Away – Bob Seger

One of the best things about listening to music while running is how it transports my mind to a different place. Instead of thinking about my breathing or how much longer I have left to go, good music makes the miles fly by.

I have had all manner of listening devices: the transistor radio, the cassette player (I held on to the cassette player for a very long time – I loved my pile of cassette tapes I would stuff into my fanny pack on a long run. Then, one day I looked up from my treadmill at the gym and noticed no one else was balancing cassette tapes along the display board of their exercise machine – it was time to upgrade), the hand-held CD player, the ipod, and now my phone holds all the music I could ever need and more.

I am well back into running after a two-week break for a trip to Norway with my husband. This morning, the final song that came on was “Roll Me Away” by Bob Seger. I first heard this song on the radio in Minneapolis when I was in seminary (although the song itself dates back much earlier – released in 1983). I recognized Seger’s voice and when I got to my boyfriend’s house, I went down to his extensive CD collection to look for the song on his Bob Seger discs. There it was – and I listened to it nonstop for days.

Roll, roll me away,
I’m gonna roll me away tonight
Gotta keep rollin, gotta keep ridin’,
keep searchin’ till I find what’s right

Can anyone sing a song with the same earnest growl as Bob Seger? As I ran and listened, I thought of every road trip I ever took, every lonesome night I spent smoking cigarettes and dreaming of the future, the places, the people, the painful beauty of not knowing where I belonged.

I still feel that pain sometimes. I thought perhaps it would go away by the time one is married with children and a steady career, but it doesn’t.  Then, I remember the Holy Spirit itself brings a restlessness to our hearts.  It stirs us from getting too comfortable. It pushes us, grants us visions and hopes that might seem like nonsense at the start, but if we pay attention, who knows what thresholds we might be about to cross? What might we be becoming?

I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. — Joel 2:28

Listen to your longings. Listen to your dreams. They still sing to you sometimes, don’t they? Don’t squish them down or try to forget them. Listen to their song and remember you are, at every age, a work in progress.

What’s next?

Keep asking that question and listening – and be amazed at what God might still whisper in your ear.

What’s next? Keep rollin’ and keep ridin’, keep searchin’ till you find what’s right…


A Baccalaureate Message

John 14:15-17The Message (MSG)

15-17 “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. You know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!

Lately, making rounds on the internet are college graduation speeches that are being given all across the country. Various celebrities, people who have made their mark in one way or another are being asked to share a few words of wisdom with graduating students – give them some food for thought as they step out into the future. These speeches often have a similar but compelling tone: the speeches begin with a story of some hardship or challenge the presenter had to endure or overcome, the process of how they made it through that difficulty, and then words of encouragement or tips for how the listeners can and must find ways to persevere through the challenges in their own lives.

Commencement speeches are plum full of inspiring quotes – here are some examples:

“It doesn’t matter how far you might rise. At some point you are bound to stumble. And when you do I want you to know this, remember this: There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.” – Oprah Winfrey in a speech to Harvard

“Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” – Steve Jobs in a speech at Stanford

And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. – Neil Gaiman in a speech at the University of the Arts

Speeches like this, given at a time of great transition – after much has been completed but also when there is much yet to come – they are powerful.

In the gospel that was read in many churches this morning from St. John – Jesus continues his own graduation speech of sorts. Although there are no caps and gowns, no diplomas, it certainly is a time of great transition. He is talking to his disciples on the night he will soon be arrested and taken away to be killed. He has much to share with them.  He is telling the disciples to continue to live and serve in his name even though he wasn’t going to be with them in the same way any longer, he encourages obedience to his commandments and speaks of the Spirit who will be with them forever.

In Greek the word for the Holy Spirit is paraclete – which can also be interpreted as Advocate or Friend or Helper, Encourager, Comforter.

The Holy Spirit is with us always – promising to intercede for us with sighs too deep for words to express, blessing us with suspicions of hope when everything else might be pointing toward desolation, calling us, shaping us, shifting us, inspiring us. And just as that Holy Spirit is with us always – it affects the way that we are present in the lives of others.

For whom in your life are you their paraclete? Who are your paracletes? Who are those people who have been there for you – helping, encouraging, comforting you on the journey? I bet some of those people are sitting beside you tonight. We need these paracletes in our lives, friends and family, mentors. These people who walk alongside us in our daily living.

About a week ago, well-known comedic actor and Saturday Night Live alum Will Ferrell, gave the commencement address at his alma mater, The University of Southern California, and he told a beautiful story of how his career found its seeds right there on that campus. He said he graduated from college with a degree in Sports Information and immediately moved right back home – for two solid years. He thanked his mom who was in the audience as he gave the speech. He said, “she recognized that while I had an interest in pursuing sportscasting, my gut was telling me that I really wanted to pursue something else. And that something else was comedy.”

He went on to talk about how the campus became his testing lab and theater. He was always trying to make his friends laugh. He said, “I had a work-study job at the humanities audiovisual department that would allow me to take off from time to time. By allow me, I mean I would just leave and they didn’t notice.”  Ferrell would leave his job if he knew his friends were attending class close by and he would crash a lecture in costume and character. One day a friend told him he should crash his literature class and so Ferrell put together a janitor’s outfit complete with work gloves, safety goggles, a dangling lit cigarette, and a bucket full of cleaning supplies. He then walked into the class, interrupting the lecture, informing the professor that he’d just been sent from Physical Plant to clean up a student’s vomit.

A month later, the professor at that class, a distinguished professor named Ronald Gottesman, grabbed Ferrell by the shoulder when he was walking through campus. Ferrell said he was sure that he was going to tell him to never do that again. Instead, he told him that he loved him barging in on his class, that it was one of the funniest things he had ever seen, and would he please do it again?

So on invitation from Professor Gottesman Ferrell continued to barge in on his lecture class from time to time as the guy from Physical Plant coming by to check on things, and the professor would joyfully play along.

Ferrell said, “One time I got my hands on a power drill and I just stood outside the classroom door operating the drill for a good minute. Unbeknownst to me, Professor Gottesman was wondering aloud to his class, ‘I wonder if we’re about to get a visit from our Physical Plant guy?’ I then walked in as if on cue and the whole class erupted in laughter. After leaving, Professor Gottesman then weaved the surprise visit into his lecture on Walt Whitman and the Leaves of Grass. Moments like these encouraged me to think maybe I was funny to whole groups of people who didn’t know me, and this wonderful professor had no idea how his encouragement of me — to come and interrupt his class no less — was enough to give myself permission to be silly and weird.”

I loved that story and how that teacher found a way to be encouraging to Will Ferrell – letting him use his own classroom as a lab to test out his comedic talents. Isn’t that great? The teacher could have been so wrapped up in himself and the material he wanted to present and the brief amount of time he had to do it and gotten upset that Ferrell interrupted – but instead he saw this young guy with talent and an opportunity for joy to be shared. You can’t schedule that. You have to be open to it and encourage it when you spot it.

It might seem a bit odd to think of this as a holy thing – and yet we get to participate in the work of the Holy Spirit when we are encouragers. When we are comforters and helpers. This is no small thing. It changes lives. It directs courses and pathways, and even if we accomplish many great things in our lives, this work of encouragement is among the finest work any of us will ever get to do.

So, my dear graduates – you have hopefully had many encouragers who have loved you and supported you and gotten you to this exciting time in your journey. And now, I pray that as you move forward through the days and months and years to come, you will remember to pay it forward. Every day, look for ways to encourage those around you. Think about uplifting words to say. Work hard to be the one who helps joyfully, who serves happily, encourages abundantly. May you, and all of us, excel at this Holy Work in Jesus’ name. God bless you always. Amen.



Dry Bones

This Sunday, the Old Testament reading is Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14). In Bible study this morning as we talked about that text, the question came up, “What kinds of situations do people face which might cause them to despair that they feel like dried, dead bones?  How might God’s Spirit breathe life and hope into these folks?”

The stories the Bible study members told were immensely moving – stories of grave loss and devastation that they or people they loved had known – but each of them also spoke about ways that God had brought healing in the most surprising ways.

You have stories like that, too, don’t you? Times when you knew the Spirit of God was bringing you back to life in ways you could never have foreseen – bringing you peace and comfort and hope when you were pretty sure those things were gone for good.

I pray for that for you today, friends. If you have a story of healing to tell, share it – because it might be just the life line someone is needing. And if today you find yourself still in the midst of the Valley of Dry Bones, feeling dry, withered, forsaken – know that I am praying for you that soon you will feel the Spirit bringing you back to life again…breathing God’s breath into your days.

God is near. Always.

Sacred Passages

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased (Luke 3:22)

Jesus was baptized at about 30 years of age. At this age, according to Mosaic law, he could be baptized into priesthood. 

Scripture doesn’t give us a lot of glimpses into Jesus’ life before this moment and it’s not hard to guess why.  He was born for this day – this day of his baptism.  This day the heavens opened and revealed to all that what had been foretold was now coming true and what was until now only a whisper was a shout of revelation. 

How did Jesus feel that day?  Surely he had known this was coming, or perhaps he hadn’t – some scholars think that scripture shows evidence that Jesus’ divinity was hidden from him until his baptism day. Regardless, how must it have felt for him to finally be in the moment where he knew what he was born to do?  When he stood on the edge of who he had been and stepped forward into all that he was to become? 

We’ve glimpsed such things ourselves. God makes it to be so.  We may not get to see the Spirit descending like a dove or hear voices from heaven marking our passages but we feel their weight and joy nonetheless.  When you clasped your hand with hers and realized that was the hand you would be glad to hold the rest of your days.  When you heard the baby cry and gasped to know nine months of heartburn and swollen ankles had finally come to this – blessed THIS!  When you embarked upon that task which both exhilarated and frightened you nearly to tears, yet you knew you were the one to do it. 

Our passages are sacred as well.  And God is no less present in the waters that run over the head of every mortal as God is present in the water and the word at the river Jordan the day Jesus was baptized.