Flunking Sainthood, by Jana Reiss

flunking sainthood

“Flunking Sainthood”


I first read Jana Reiss on social media. She has a wicked sense of humor, as I learned when she undertook the task to tweet the Bible. Yes, tweet the Bible. Over a three-year period, Riess summarized the Bible into 140 characters a day. For example, her #Twible for Luke 2?

#Twible Lk 2: “Ma’am, we have no rooms available, but there’s a rustic barn out back that is, um, quite charming. The hay is free today.”

So it was that I began Flunking Sainthood, expecting a humorous attempt at …. something. Turns out, Riess had committed to a book on spiritual practices, and determined that her best research would come from self-imposed spiritual practices.

She begins with a thesis: We can’t really hear what God is saying unless we do what God is saying. That points to spiritual practices, and Riess vows to select twelve practices, continuing each for a month, to grow closer to God (the old-fashioned way, like the martyrs, but she adamantly cross martyrdom off the list of options).

First is fasting. Next, cooking as a spiritual practice. In both, she cannot complete the month. One gets the feeling – given the title of the book – that this failure will be a recurring theme.

Another attempt at lectio divina has her curious how one stays awake during the process, but she perseveres and learns to enjoy the silence. Abstaining from shopping, or practicing simplicity, is another monthly practice that doesn’t last.

Riess begins the summer months committed to contemplative prayer, returning often to her quieting phrase, “Peace. Be Still.” In this practice, she learns a critical component to any spiritual formation activity: make it your own. If contemplative prayer isn’t working, tweak the practice. Riess does this by reciting a prayer during the day, often: “Lord, Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” We Methodists might change the words a bit (“Jesus Christ, son of God, pour out your grace on me.”) But in making the prayer her own, a short prayer can be prayed often during the day, and becomes a practice of its own: humility, confession, forgiveness, all at the same time.

There are lessons in observing a Sabbath, embracing gratitude, and practicing hospitality as St. Benedict encouraged. Eating as a vegetarian for a month becomes a tribute to St. Francis, who valued all of creation. Praying the hours could be a worthy spiritual practice, once we get past the absolute order of the clock’s mandate. Flex-time prayer becomes a more soothing practice. And finally, at year end, the practice of generosity is an appropriate end to the year, as she focuses on the spiritual practice of giving.

Of all the chapters, the epilogue is my favorite, so you must read to the end. Turns out, one of the best ways to be in relationship with God? Be in relationship with others. Don’t overlook the opportunities to love your neighbor, or your family. And perhaps, after a year of flunking sainthood, we might all realize that being a saint is not at all what God asks of us, anyway.



Micah 3:5-8

Micah 3 8

Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
    who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
    when they have something to eat,
but declare war against those
    who put nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
    and darkness to you, without revelation.
The sun shall go down upon the prophets,
    and the day shall be black over them;
the seers shall be disgraced,
    and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
    for there is no answer from God.
But as for me, I am filled with power,
    with the spirit of the Lord,
    and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
    and to Israel his sin.



On Wednesday morning I poured my first cup of coffee and sat down to read my morning devotion. Our dog, Gromit, laid down with his usual ‘huff,’ knowing that his morning meal would wait a bit longer.

Truth be told, I was feeling a bit anxious about the day – a big day in the liturgical year: Ash Wednesday. It’s a day of repentance, when Christians worldwide come face-to-face with mortality, the first day of Lent. I was prepared to address that anxiety in my journal writing that morning, and in my readings, one word resonated.


See, on that morning, I was confronted and comforted by God that I would be called that day to proclaim to others that, even in the midst of their own humanity, as messy as it can be, we are each “Enough” for God. God knows every hair on our head, and has written our name in the palm of his hand – even in the messiness, we are enough.

And as my pen flowed, I could hear God calling, with instruction for the day:

Trust me enough.

I am enough.

Enough for all you ever need to be at peace in this world.

Having heard God’s call for the day, I set down my pen, closed my journal and my bible, fed the dog, and prepared for the day ahead. I was prepared to proclaim the Word, in whatever ways I was presented on that day.

Then a different word came, this time through news reports.

Once again, a shooting at a school, this time in Florida. In a little over 5 minutes, 17 persons killed and many more injured.  Emotion in my neighborhood was already on edge. Just the day before, we had memorialized Officer David Sherrard, a victim of a shooting the week before.

I was raw, and I was angry. I’m still angry. And again, in a new way this time, I hear the word:


I am confident that many of us heard that word shouted in our heads and piercing in our hearts: ENOUGH! Enough of the violence and hate and divisiveness. Enough of the fighting and the guns and the arrogance and self-trumpeting leadership that that pulls God’s people apart, and refuses to see the real problems of those who are hurting in our world.


But no, the news cycle wasn’t finished, and information pops up so very quickly these days.

And I say that because yesterday, the leader of a white supremacist group in Florida made claims that the shooter was a member of their group. Taking responsibility for the tragedy, even in the midst of mourning, and trying hard to divide an already raw community and country.

Whether that claim of the shooter’s participation is correct or not is contested now – Florida officers are stating that there is no known activity or connection between this shooter and the hateful and bigoted group. Yet, because of the shooting, the group felt emboldened and empowered “enough” to push their claims of superiority and purity, instigating even more division into this tragedy.

But I cry a different: Enough!

Enough of the bitterness, and divisiveness, and creating your own set of facts.

Because, my friends, just as we are enough to God, we are also enough to make a difference.

That’s why the cry of “Enough” needs to come from our very gut and yelled out from every square inch of our cities:  Enough!

Friends, I pray today that Micah be an example to us. Micah not only shared the words of the Lord when he cried out that those who cry “peace,” who sit in comfortable surroundings, who are willing to look the other way and not address the true needs of our community – Micah knew to call those leaders and people out in their shame.

But hear what Micah shares for those of us who cry, “Enough!”:

But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.”

Brothers and Sisters, on this day, know that together, we are enough. Our voices, as we gather them together to demand justice for all of God’s creation – we are enough.

As we condemn the violence in the world, that we are enough.

As we encourage each other and others to make their voices heard, we are enough.

As we walk together to put an end to the hate and bitterness that divides our nations, races, and creeds, we are enough.

We are enough, because together, and like Micah, we carry power; we carry the spirit of the Lord, with justice and with might.

We are enough.

Our work IS enough to bring the change that is needed. The reconciliation among the races that is needed. The call for reasonable gun control that is needed. The call to end the words of hate that is needed. The call to the people that God needs.

Our work is enough to respond to the call of God to spread His power, glory, and justice throughout the land.

May you know that it is so; and may your actions today and this next week declare that together, we are enough.

Social Graces in a Such a Time as This

This morning, NY Times’ columnist David Brooks shared “The Golden Age of Bailing.”  He ponders whether we have become immune to last-minute cancellations, or “bailing.” He’s got a point – and I’m sure many of us agree. Who among us hasn’t used a last minute excuse to cancel a meeting, or a social gathering, or even a phone call?


Do simple courtesies matter anymore? Ask any bride-to-be, tracking down rsvp’s is a nightmare. It’s common to send texts rather than to talk on the phone. I recently mailed a birthday card to a friend, rather than settle for a standard Facebook post…you would have thought I had purchased her a new car, she was so surprised!

Maybe I’m a little more aware of social graces right now, simply because I’ve been watching “Downton Abbey,” The PBS drama which aired in seasons 2011-2016. The show centers around the Grantham family, an aristocratic lineage in England in the early to mid 20th century. Being in the aristocracy, or working in their household, brings certain responsibilities; the show’s writers brought wonderful storylines that challenge much of the expected protocol among the family members and their estate.


Caution to readers: I’ve only just finished Season 3, so no spoilers, please. If you’ve not yet watched the series, consider this fair warning that you will be hooked quickly.

Now – back to the question: On a scale of “Downton Abbey” for exceedingly proper (though not condoning the protocol), and “Downton Rude” is expected these days?  More importantly, does it matter?

Here’s my answer: I don’t know what’s ‘proper,’ but I do know that manners have everything to do with consideration of the other person. And that makes it all the harder to admit my own fault – that by not acknowledging an invitation, or a gift, or a phone call, for example, I’m not exactly at my most loving! Even when I love the other person dearly.

Isn’t that what love is? Consideration of others, and not of self?

We just completed Vacation Bible School at Christ UMC. The program this year carried a theme of “Fruit of the Spirit.” In one short week, the children learned what we often forget: that in consideration of others, we can call on the Spirit to provide love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).


Would that we all embrace the lessons learned by these children! We live in a difficult world, and some claim that public discourse is as bad as its ever been. I don’t expect one returned rsvp to make all the difference, but we have to start somewhere.

A thank you note. Checking in on one who is sick. Holding your tongue when you really want to scream. Attending that meeting, even when you are tired (check out Luke 9:10-11 – even Jesus wanted to retreat privately but met with others when he may have been tired). Don’t bail, even if it’s socially acceptable to do so – someone may need you.

Embracing the fruit of the Spirit – I am convinced that renewing our focus on others will contribute to a positive change for our world.

Who’s with me?

Review: “More: God Has Everything Waiting for You.”

I had just finished reading the book, “Move,” on which the premise of this book was based. ‘Move’ is a data driven book that analyzes the results of over 1,000 church responses to faith practices and individual closeness to Christ. It is most helpful to church staff (to implement). Hawkins helped analyze the results of the survey.

I was expecting the same from “More.” I was wrong.


More is the personal account of Hawkins’ embrace of the “Move” survey results. That means that this book is almost autobiographical in nature, and he does use a lot of personal witness to underline his points.

The writing is narrative, the summaries for practices are good. And, I suspect that Hawkins’ target audience are those who are ‘stuck’ in their faith. What next? Why isn’t this all working? Should I just give up?

Hawkins provides a credible argument (and backs it up) that our life with God is at its best when we agree to die ourselves for God, and when when we incorporate God into every aspect of our lives. How does one do that? How to we die, and still live (even better than before)? That’s for Hawkins to answer in his book; he gives practical advice for Christians who might be struggling to give up control.

Everyone will not enjoy this book; as I mentioned before, those who are ‘stuck’ in their faith might benefit from Hawkins’ suggestions most. But I’ll also point out that, as Christians, we are not called to only move our own faith, but also to make disciples of others. As a result, if you, personally are not stuck, consider reading from the perspective of one who is. With that in mind, you might learn how to help others get ‘unstuck’ in their search for more meaning in their relationship with God.

Is Home Where the Heart is?

Recently, I have been thinking on this familiar phrase:


More specifically, I’ve been thinking about from the perspective of those who are homeless. That’s probably because in the last month, I’ve had a renewed focus on those without stable housing in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

In her book, Helping America’s Homeless, Martha Burt helps us understand the various interpretations of the term ‘homeless.’ These interpretations focus  on the term as an experience. For example, at times, we refer to the homeless who are transient by choice – those without a defined place. We might refer to those as ‘gypsies,’ or ‘nomads.’  These individuals set up a home for a period of time, only to move on at a later date. Consider circus performers as an example, or those in the construction industry, or in the military, moving from place to place – but not usually without a structured house or apartment.

Likewise, some connect the term ‘home’ with family. When used in this context, ‘homeless’ points to the cultural norm that we are only ‘home’ when we are with our immediate family. The ‘homeless’ in this category likely have resources to put a roof over their heads, but they lack the feel-good nature of ‘home,’ because they live away from their immediate family.

I’m not talking about either of those types of ‘homeless.’ I’m referring to those who experience asset poverty to such a degree that adequate housing is only a dream. What is it to say “Home is where the heart is” to those who struggle on a daily basis for food and safety?

The last week of January is an important date for those who help this population. Each year, municipalities across the United States perform a ‘homeless count’ to estimate the number of homeless persons in an area. Gathered data counts not just the number, but also provides vital information about the population: How long have you been homeless? What services can we provide to you? Are there mental health issues, or were there instances of domestic abuse?

The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, in conjunction with the Collin County Homeless Coalition, sponsored the 2017 Metro Dallas/Collin County Homeless Count. Teams of individuals gathered at City Hall, starting at about 8pm, and were assigned two things: a geographic area, and a police escort. After a short instructional session, teams set out, surveys in hand, to follow their police escort to the most likely areas within the assigned geographic area where the homeless might be found.

This year, the weather was calm – in January, 2016, the temperature dropped to record lows, making it difficult to find and count people. Yet, given those conditions, it was even more important to find them.

My team, from Christ United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas, was made up of three persons, plus the police officer. Our first contact was over the phone with a woman who was staying with a friend for an undetermined amount of time. She had lost her job a few months ago, and had lost access to housing as her meager savings ran out.


Our second contact was with a man carrying several plastic bags filled with various staples and clothing; he was walking between a 7-11 and Quick Trip (well lit areas). When the officer asked if he would answer some questions, the man was embarrassed and offended. “Does this look like the jacket of someone who is homeless?” he asked. “I’m just looking for the bus stop.” We respected his position, and we left him a gift bag filled with health related items, food, and a small blanket. Our police escort suspected, as did we, that this man was one who hopped from bus to bus during the night, just to get some rest. So – we counted him, and took our best guess at as many questions that we could answer.

Our final contact was with a man living in his car, who had parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot to sleep. Here, we learned of a smartphone app that helps people who, among others, live in their cars and are looking for big box parking lots that are rarely patrolled by police. Rather than answer our questions, the man asked to be left alone.  And again, we understood that position. Even so, we left another bag for him, in hopes that it provided some nourishment and comfort to him.


On the map which sketched out our geographic area, there was a red dot. These dots indicated areas in which persons had been identified in the past. Beside this dot was written “little wooden structure.” We knew the area – there was a bridge that crossed a small creek, and we suspected that there may be some make-shift shelter there. But when we got to the area, despite our determined focus to find the structure, we were not able to locate one. Given the area, and the amount of rain that fell in the DFW area in 2016, our best guess is that any make-shift shelter would have been swept away in the rains.

We gathered what little information we could, and returned it by the midnight deadline to the City offices. From there, CCHC and MDHA compile the information and submit to national organizations, where grants and other resources are distributed based on community need.

You might ask what I learned as I joined many other teams counting and interviewing those without adequate shelter. The teams found individuals and families on the streets, in hotels, under overpasses, in cars, and huddled in remote corners of industrial complexes. I learned how creative one can be when there isn’t adequate housing for the night. I learned and appreciated the need to affirm that lack of housing does not eliminate a person’s dignity; but often, the homeless are shamed or made to feel like much less than a beautiful child of God.

I have learned that homeless are everywhere in our communities, but that community attempts to ignore or deny those facts don’t help solve the issues.

This is the first of a three part blog on homelessness. The next blog post will share information from a  documentary film focused on the problem of homeless youth in America. And the final post will discuss results of the DFW Homeless count, and what we can do to help with the problem.

In the meantime, I’ll ask you to ponder this question with me:

What does ‘Home is where the heart is’ mean to one who has no home?

Lighten the Load

For Christmas a few years ago, I received a wonderful hobo purse as a gift.  You may be familiar with them – large bags, flung over shoulders, expansive enough to hold wallet, electronics, makeup, and more.

hobo purse

Now, I really like this purse.  I organized the inside with one of those purse organizers….I was really flying high.  Never was without something.  Always had everything with me.

One day last week, I reached up and grabbed my neck, by the shoulder.  It was hurting, and I couldn’t figure out why.  Eventually, I tracked the problem: my purse was weighing me down.  The “everything purse” was carrying a load, and it was having a negative effect on my neck, shoulders and back.

What could I do but open up the purse and start to purge?  Ever had to do that?  I started with the obvious – the coins – and pulled them out, placing them in the coin holding pot in our kitchen.  (We use those Coinstar coin counters at the grocery store – love them!)  Then I worked on the rest of my wallet, making sure I wasn’t holding on to unnecessary receipts, business cards, etc.

Then it got a little more difficult.  I quietly reached for my key chain, and knew I had some work to do.  This particular key chain was a gift from my daughter, many years ago.  At one time, it held two drop charms – one of a girl, one of a boy, each named after our daughter and son.  And the drop charms were connected to a big round key ring.

It’s not just that the key ring itself held meaning.  What was on the chain was equally revealing.  For example, I was still carrying around a key or two from an old office where I worked, on a difficult project.  Why would I want to look at that every day, to remember a difficult time?  Another example:  I still carried around the key to a file cabinet from a location where I worked over 10 years ago; I don’t even know where that file cabinet is now.  But I can tell you what was in that file cabinet – legal papers.  As in litigation (which is sometimes necessary in business).  Why would I choose to look at a key that reminded me of litigation and fighting and bickering?

So I did what I should have done a long time ago.  I tossed the stuff I didn’t need to hold onto anymore.  I lightened my load.  And within a day or two, my neck did feel better.

Matthew 11:28 shares with us the words of Jesus, who asks us to “come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  As we begin a season of Lent, and as many of us attend Ash Wednesday services today, I pray that you are able to lay your burdens down at the feet of Christ, who provides the forgiveness and the peace we crave.

Consider attending some Lenten services in your neighborhood.  At our church (Christ UMC in Plano, Texas), you will find us in the sanctuary every Wednesday night at 7, and in the chapel at 730, as we share in spiritual formation activities that will help us lighten our load and give all to God.

If you visit, come find me.  I’ll be the one with the hobo bag that’s not sagging.

The Bell Ringer

Most of my professional career has been spent in the commercial real estate industry.  Development, property management, asset management, accounting, finance, leasing, executive suite – 25 years leaves a lot of room to practice a variety of services!

I admire the common practice of celebrating successes at the close of a transaction in real estate.  For some transactions, the celebrations culminate with a large ‘closing dinner;’ the parties participating in the deal share stories over a lavish dinner.  Often, a group will create a ‘deal toy,’ a little prop that notes details from the project, and ends up on someone’s desk or bookcase.  You might have seen some ‘brag shelves’ in your day?  Those are deal toys…..it’s a game to make them as creative as possible.  Take for example, this one, celebrating a closed transaction with a hospital:

hospital bed deal toy

By far, my favorite way to celebrate is with a ‘way to go!’ in the heat of the final moment of the deal.  I’ve seen this done in a few ways.  One office would ring an old ship’s bell at the conclusion of a successful deal.   Some offices would ring the bell when a broker brought in a new client (which leads to more deals).

ship bell

I’ve seen other offices which had makeshift sirens installed, and the siren was switched on to celebrate meeting a goal or closing a deal or signing a client.

alarm siren

Now that I am working my way out of real estate and into church ministry, I find myself wondering if there are similar celebrations in our relationship with God.  I think the answer is “yes, but ….”    When we baptize, we celebrate the expanded family of Christ.   We celebrate weekly worship with traditional hymns and liturgy.   We finish our bible study, or Sunday morning class, by attending lunch or dinner together as a group.

So yes, we celebrate.

But let me ask you this – and it’s important – what is it in your relationship with God that gives you the feeling of ringing a ship’s bell?  Or the glee of turning on the siren?  Or, if you had a snippet of “Hallelujah Chorus” on your phone, the joy to blast the music at full tone, because you are so excited about something?

Is it prayer?  Is it music?  Is it teaching, or giving, or healing, or pursuit of justice?  Or maybe a few in the list?

Those ‘things,’ my friends – those are your spiritual gifts.  Do you know yours?  I’m sure there is a more proper definition for the term ‘spiritual gifts,’ but let’s try this:

Spiritual Gifts are those gifts which, when activated and utilized, turn us into Bell Ringers for God.

‘Bell Ringers for God.’  I kind of like that.  And I know, with the talent we have in this world, we could form a huge choir of master Bell Ringers.

This Sunday is Stewardship Sunday at many United Methodist Churches around the world; we will be asked to share our pledge of time, money and talents for the next church year.  Consider the list, and answer this for me:  Where can you be involved to make you a Bell Ringer for God?

See you by the bell, my friends!  Let’s ring it together, every day!

What’s on Your Wall?

Last week, I listened to a podcast from one of my favorite authors, Andy Andrews.  Andrews is the author of many motivational and self-help books, including The Traveler’s Gift and The Noticer.  Personally, there is a soft spot in my heart for Andy as a communicator, because his Traveler’s book was the first I used to teach a Sunday morning class at my local church.  From that point, there was no turning back for me; I’ve been an active teacher since reading that book.

travelers gift

On this particular podcast, Andrews spoke of the organization of his office, the place where he works.  What was important to his success?  He speaks of the wall on the opposite side of the room, the wall he can see from his desk, any time he looks up.  He calls this his ‘wall of influence,’ upon which he places reminders of those people, places and things which have had significant influence on his life.

I’ve heard a comparable example before:  What are your ‘legacy’ books, those you will never give away or lose?  Many people have a special shelf on their bookcase for such books.  Those books hold special meaning for some special reason.

Andrews gives credit to several biographies he has read, and which have a place on his wall. He acknowledges the contributions and support of his family by placing photographs of them in strategic places on the shelf.

I took time to ponder and ask the question:  What’s on my wall?  More importantly, are the items on my wall revealing – either to me, or about me?

Truth be told, I am still working on my wall.  After I heard the podcast, I started working on it, and I certainly have a few items on the shelf:  pictures of family, parents, books I’ve read.

I know this:  my wall of influence includes the Bible and a verse from Hebrews, chapter 12:

hebrews 12 1

We each have so many who came before us, who left a legacy to us and helped build our character.  I am thankful to those in my life who instilled a sense of faith, and to those who, even today, continue encourage me to ask:  Where is God in this situation?

What I know is this:  my wall of influence includes God in each item I select to place there.  And for that, I am thankful.

The Future Starts Now

With sincere respect to all the Mac users in my feeds, I’ve eagerly awaited the release of Windows 10 for a few months.  It was released on July 29, and I’m waiting another month or so for those initial kinks to be worked out.  Early indications, however, are positive about the return of an easy “Start” menu and “drag and drop” options.  I am looking forward to a return of efficient workflow.


I often wonder where we’d be without technological advances.  Generationally, the expectations increase over time, and what I am willing to accept as a late year baby boomer will not be acceptable for babies born this year, or preschoolers starting school this month.

That’s probably why I was intrigued with Microsoft’s commercial for Windows 10, titled simply, “The Future Starts Now.”  Watch, if you can, the short clip here:  http://bit.ly/1MNeM5W  Yes, the children of today will grow up expecting much more from their technological platforms.

Now, if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I want you to consider that you’ve heard this commercial in a different way.  I want you to hear this commercial telling us about God, and God’s unconditional love and security.  What might we hear? What might we expect?  Here’s the narrative of the commercial, with my edits (noted in red.)

These kids won’t have to remember passwords, or obsess about security.
Because God’s grace is available to all.
For them, the love of God is meant to be experienced.
And bible pages are meant to be scribbled on and shared.
They’ll expect their God to listen to them,
And speak to them,
And put a song in their heart,
And help them share a meal with someone who needs it.
And as they grow and get better at things, their faith will too.
They’ll do things for others their parents never dreamed of.
Because these kids will grow up with God.
The Future Starts Now.  For all of us.
Get started today.
God’s love.  A more human way to ‘do.’

Here’s the good part.  With God, you don’t have to wait for the upgrade.  Windows 10 might enhance your life;
God’s love will transform it.

The future starts now.  Join us at Christ UMC in Plano to help you on your journey.