seeking the perfection that absorbs

breathe in, breathe out. repeat.

About the Bumper Sticker

photo (16)

When I was growing up I had a place where I was always loved. A place where I could ask questions, and be vulnerable, and explore who I was and what I believed about… anything. For me, and for lots of other high schoolers over the years, this place was my church youth group. When I talk about about that youth group, Fellowship In Senior High or FISH, I liken it to the island of misfit toys. Our group was drawn from all different religions, different sports, artistic talents, high schools- we took in everyone. I’ve been involved with the group on and off since the summer before my freshman year in high school- as a student, a church member, a leader, and now as someone who regularly prays for the group from a far. I am so thankful for their existence, and so thankful for the sanctuary they provided me and many others over the years.

I can remember being in high school, I think it was my senior year, and someone wanted to add the term “homosexual” to the school districts non-discrimination policy. There were town hall meetings and letters to the editor, it was contentious. And it was tough as a closeted but obviously questioning youth. One day a letter to the editor said that there was no need to add this language because homosexuals were “vile and disgusting.” It’s been over 15 years and I can still remember standing in the closing circle at FISH.  We would stand in a circle and go around and share joys and concerns, make silly jokes, whatever and then at the end of it we’d all run around and hug each other. It’s an introverts third circle of hell I think, but I loved it. And I remember standing there,  reading that letter out loud and just being so upset and hurt and not understanding all my feelings and not even sure what I was asking of the group, just for them to hear me. And one of the leaders who was a college student then came over and gave me a hug and said he really thought that it would be ok and that things were going to change and to hang in there.

I am incredibly aware that this experience of having a place to go and be yourself, whoever that is in that moment, and have that be affirmed is not something that all kids have, regardless of how they identify their sexuality or gender identity. I’m also aware that many kids don’t have a home where they are loved and welcomed and celebrated. In so many ways I have been blessed beyond measure, and I am thankful for the places and people who have been there for me along the way.

When I got my full time job I knew that I wanted to spend most of my tithe to support organizations that provide this safe space for youth, specifically LGBTQ youth. One of the organizations I gladly and proudly support is called rosmy. A very dear friend works for them and I believe very much in her work and the word the organization is doing. And since I have a history of non profit work, I know that my small-ish tithe to them is still helpful. So I give them money, and I put a bumper sticker on my car. I love the sticker. You can see it on this post, it says “Love who you are.” I cannot overstate how wonderful I think this sticker is.

This past Thursday, Maundy Thursday, when we Christians celebrate the last supper and talk about the love of Christ, and of serving one other, and remembering Christ’s love, we had some very un-loving things happen at our church. The first happened right as I got to work. Our office manager came down the hall and said that she’d gotten a call from a church down the road. One of their parishioners had seen that the PC(USA) decided to allow same- sex marriages and he lost it. This man started sending emails saying that we should kill all the homosexuals and the Presbyterians. So the church called us and just let us know about it and said he’d forwarded the emails to the police, but just wanted us to know. So that was odd. I found myself noticing just how many people are around our church during the day. A preschool. A daycare for senior citizens. Staff people. Small groups. I just couldn’t help but notice how many lives are around me every day that I’m in the office.

And then, late in the afternoon, the preschool director stopped at my office. She said, you have the little black car, right? With the “Love who you are” bumper sticker?” and I said, yup, that’s me. And she sat down and said she wanted to tell me what had just happened. A mom was on her way into the church to drop off payment and enroll her kid for preschool for next fall. And as she was heading into the building she saw my bumper sticker. She told the preschool director that she found it “troubling” and wanted to know if we were a Christian church or not. She had other questions about what the preschool taught the kids, and after a short conversation she decided it would not be a good fit for her family and she left. Now there are some truths here that I need to acknowledge. First is that a parent has every right to choose what kind of preschool their kid goes to, if they go to preschool. And a progressive preschool isn’t for everyone, and that is perfectly fine. The other thing is that this would not have a been a good fit. If my bumper sticker bothered her, there are plenty of others that were there earlier in the morning she would have also objected to. It’s better they figured this out now before their kid had started school and found lots of friends and then they have to pull him out. So, it’s good in that way. But it’s also really hard for me in a lot of ways that I still am struggling to put words to. I’m sad that this kiddo won’t get to experience an amazing preschool. I’m sad that this woman was so disturbed by my bumper sticker that she questioned our Christianity. But I also know that my sticker is true. That we should love who we are. It’s something I struggle with, maybe that’s part of why I love the sticker. Every morning I see it and am reminded that I was made good in God’s image. In Romans 8:38 &39, Paul writes “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing. Not laws, not bullies, not people who disagree with us, not people who judge us, nothing can separate us from the love of God. So love who you are, even if you’re still not sure who that is. Even if it changes tomorrow. Love who you are.

Advertisements

practice what you preach

this saying has been around forever. according to the always accurate internet, the first recording of this expression comes from the roman playwright titus maccius plautus, (c. 254-184 BC).  i’ve heard it employed countless times, generally, as is to be expected, when it comes to some type of behavior. working out, eating, being nice, having good morals, if you can lecture someone on something then you had best be doing it yourself. i think it’s easy to say and easy to believe, and easy to think you do a good job.  i think where it can be hard is with the things that are unseen. i work with youth and i just a few weeks ago i told them how god loved them and how i loved them. how they are fearfully and wonderfully made. how they are good. and yet i don’t believe the same things about myself. i don’t practice what i preach at all when it comes to self compassion or self care. i give myself a hard time when my depression keeps me from doing things, i call myself stupid when i can’t figure something out or remember something, i let criticism around my weight convince me that i am ugly and worthless. i would never stand for these things in other people. i would tell them how they are beloved children of god. that is THE fundamental belief. that if you are a beloved child of god then your body is holy and beloved and you should treat it as such. if you are beloved child of god then that person in school or on the internet or in your family who tells you that you’re not good enough is wrong. if you are a beloved child of god then you should treat yourself with all the love and compassion that you would give another beloved child of god.

it’s hard to do. loving yourself enough to put yourself first, to value yourself above your commitments or your responsibilities is difficult. in america it’s especially hard for women, who are assigned some amount of worth based on their ability to be a selfless caregiver. we are constantly apologizing for our existence and don’t even get me started on how hard it is to say no to a request for help. in barbara brown taylor’s fantastic book “an altar in the world” there is an entire chapter on the “practice of saying no”.  it’s not something i’m good at. i usually have excuses and conditions and i try to say yes every which way possible before i say no. it doesn’t matter if what i’m being asked is going to be difficult or make my life harder and more stressful, if it will help someone out then i will try to say yes.

this is all a long and rambling way of talking about what it is i’ve decided to do for lent this year. because i didn’t even realize until it all got written out that for lent this year i am saying yes to myself. this is going to mean saying no to a lot of other people and things, but for 40 days i am going to practice what i preach. to try and love myself as much as i try to love my neighbor. i’ve already begun an eating plan that drastically changes what i normally eat and challenges the typical american diet as a way of starting to care for my physical self, and i’m going to add things in to help care for my emotional self. blogging will probably be part of it (sorry for the upcoming navel gazing blog entries!), allowing myself to be creative, taking more walks and more pictures, reading spiritually nourishing things and sharing bits of them, all of this will work into it. i was talking with a friend a few weeks ago and we talked about the fact that sometimes you have to ‘fake it till you make it’. this phrase is a familiar one as well. i was first introduced to it when i was in americorps down in charleston, sc. we had pt at some horrifically early hour (i’m thinking 5:30am, but i could be remembering that wrong) and we lined up in our teams and the team next to ours was always gung ho and cheery. and i remember being like, dude. what is wrong with y’all? it’s so early it’s still dark (and this was in august/september mind you) and we’re out here doing jumping jacks and sit ups and getting ready to go walk or run how are you cheery?? and their answer was “fake it till you make it”.  well i was talking with this friend and it came up in a similar way. we were talking about how sometimes you have to live the life you want, instead of the life you have. and then you keep doing that and you just live into that new life. so for me, i want to be someone who is creative, and healthy, and who loves her body and herself. i want to look at my life and to say i am a beloved child of god, and my life is a response to that understanding. i know it won’t easy, i’ve spent the last 20 years being unhappy with my body and not feeling that great about myself, believing all the negative things the media and our society have said about me, but i’m ready to try. to try and love myself like god loves me. that will be my lenten discipline. i invite anyone else who wants to to come with me on the journey.

 

a year gone by

it’s been a year. a year since we stood at dads bedside and said goodbye. a year of learning how to navigate the world without him in it. Of going to pick up my phone and call him to ask how to do something, or why something works the way it does. it feels like just yesterday that we were gathered to say goodbye.
after dad died a friend texted to say she’d come sit shiva. she didn’t know exactly what that meant, but she’d do it. i might know biblical hebrew, but not being jewish i had to look it up for the exact rules. part of shiva is that you might tell stories about the person who has passed and when doing that you don’t sugarcoat it. if the person was a jerk don’t make them out to be a saint. it’s harder than it sounds. my dad and i had a frequently contentious relationship, but i loved him, and he loved me. i don’t miss arguing about politics, but i would give just about anything to be sitting in the living room with him, even if it meant watching fox news.
i miss my dad. it is a bone deep missing that comes and goes. and these weeks of holidays and family were different this year. these weeks of thinking about how things were just a year ago, how things were before he died, have been hard. but i am comforted in the knowledge that where ever he is, he’s no longer in pain. he fought so hard and so long and was really hurting by the end. that physical pain is over. and he is with us every time we remember him. in stories and pictures, in the jokes we tell or the sound of someone’s voice- he is with us.

the next phone call

these blog entries feel indulgent and melodramatic and a little silly, but i don’t know another way to process this but to write about it.  dad was sick before he died, fought cancer for five years before his stroke. his death was surprising but not unexpected, if that makes sense. this is the normal order of things. we’re born and we get however long we get, and then we pass away. we’ve been working this cycle forever, and yet in a lot of ways it feels like we don’t have the tools to grieve. mourning is not something we acknowledge. i’ve often said how much i wish we still had mourning dress. that we had clothes or colors we could wear and then people would know that we were struggling through things and give us some space or just a bit more kindness.

so this remembering and grieving and mourning feels like it shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. the grief is almost as fresh as it was a year ago. it had gotten less over the year, but this week has brought it all back. a year ago today my dad had a stroke. my mom called me in the middle of the afternoon, which was weird, and i think i’ll always remember our conversation. i was at school preparing for ords and mom called and i think the first thing she did was apologize. she said it was really bad timing and she was sorry but that dad appeared to have had a stroke and was on the way to the hospital. she said he was unresponsive and i didn’t really know what that meant. i asked if i needed to come home and she said she’d let me know once they got to the hospital. our phone call was short and devastating. i can remember what i was wearing and exactly what i did next. i texted my siblings and a few close friends, and then i walked next door to my good friends apartment. i can’t imagine what i looked like, but i remember thinking that i must be in shock. i told her what happened and what my mom said and remember trying to figure out what i should do. i will never be able to explain what i did with the next few hours, i guess it was denial. i went to a review session for polity. ha! i walked over to the belk center, and was hanging out when my mom called me back. dorothee took me back to her office when it was clear i was getting bad news, and mom told me that dad wasn’t going to make it and i needed to come home.

i went back to my apartment and texted friends and siblings some more and then i emailed my internship supervisor and then i started to pack. there should be some sort of website where you recount what you pack in times like this, because it was fairly hilarious. i think all i did was put all the black clothing i owned into my bags and then tossed some comfy clothes in there for good measure. i went to my internship church to drop something off, this was of utmost importance to me at the time, i guess i just needed the normalcy. and then i got home and my friends had come to see me off. i am forever thankful for the hugs and offers to drive me home and the support that came from these women.

mr. bennet and i got in the car and on the road. the drive home was uneventful, but i remember going through the toll plaza and i was on the phone with my sister in law, and it was the first time since the new year that i had gone through and i handed the woman the wrong amount and had to fumble to get more change while i was trying to talk to my sister in law about where i was and where they were and when we would all make it to the hospital. i got home close to midnight and dropped the pup off and then headed to the hospital. we sat with dad for the next twenty four hours. talking to him, crying next to him, holding his hand. most of us left for little bits of time to get naps at 3am or go get coffee or a snack or a shower. we didn’t know how long dad would hang on, but we sat with him until he left us. at the hospital where we were, or maybe just on our floor, they played a little something over the intercom when a baby was born. and i don’t remember this, but siblings have said that just as dad was leaving the little chime came over the loudspeaker letting us know a baby was born.

not so famous last words

one year ago today i talked to my dad for the last time. he didn’t know it then and neither did i. i called the house because i had heard it was snowing. i love snow. and christmas last year didn’t produce much in the way of flaky white stuff while i was home, and then i headed back to richmond to study for ords. so i had heard that it snowed and called the house. my dad knew that’s why i called. while i can’t remember much about our conversation, i remember that. he answered the phone and i said something about how i heard it snowed so i had to call and he said ‘well i know’. i think he had told my brother to let me know about the snow so that i would call to say hi. i was in richmond studying for ordination exams. taking it easy and reading, playing with the dog, just relaxing and getting ready for a week of intense exams. i had cut my christmas time at home short because of internship obligations and the need to study. i wasn’t taking a class, just reading, working at the library, hanging out with the good people at my internship church. i was feeling a little guilty. all through seminary i tried my hardest to get home at least once a month. it was how i dealt with dads illness. i would come home and hang out with him and timmy and mom. not really doing much, because dad didn’t go out too much, but just seeing him and talking to him helped me through his cancer. so i was in richmond. i was planning to go home when ords were over. i had toyed with going home some other time before ords, but the parents talked me out of it. said i could come when exams were over, that it would be better to just stay in richmond and study. so i stayed. and i called my dad to talk about the snow. i can’t remember anything else about that conversation. i’m sure we talked about the weather in richmond, about how studying was going, i probably told him a story about mr. bennet, asked him about mom and timmy and eddie. by this time he was in hospice care with a nurse coming to the house to keep tabs on him. so we may have talked about that, but probably not. i probably asked him how he was feeling and he probably said he was fine. i doubt i told him i loved him as we got off the phone. we just didn’t tell each other that all the time. but i know he loved me, and i am sure he knew how much i loved him. it would be another two days before his stroke, and 24 hours or so after that till he passed. but one year ago today i last heard his voice over the phone.  i tell people that no matter what, you’re always going to want more time. and i think the same thing goes for last conversations. there’s so much i would have said to him if i had known it was our last call. and yet i’m sure that even if i’d had that chance, i’d have left something out. as it was we got off the phone, and i went back to studying, or puppy snuggling, or watching netflix. something ordinary and mundane. unaware that things would change forever in a few short days.

 

Holy and Beloved

I don’t know about you, but by this time in the year I am sick of lists. I’ve made lists of things to clean, presents to buy, groceries I need, beds to make, dietary needs and favorite foods. And that’s just preparing for family to join me for Christmas. ESPN has the top ten sports plays of the year, and the not top ten plays of the year, fashion websites and channels have the top ten best and worst outfits, the news stations give us the top ten stories of the year, barbara walters has done her special on the most fascinating people of 2012, TIME magazine adorned a new person of the year. All retrospectives looking back on what has past, while at the same time preparing us for what is to come. Here is what happened, they say to us, wasn’t it amazing?  The unspoken challenge for us is “can you top this?” Could you dunk a basketball or make a diving catch or wear a better dress than any of these people?

We don’t know what the next year will hold, but there will be other catches, other stumbles, and other fascinating people. These lists seem especially to challenge us as we are in the midst of the annual resolution making frenzy. Have you made a resolution? Have you decided that this, THIS is the year you will lose 10 pounds, eat 100% healthy, quit smoking, stop drinking, read more, sleep more, be less stressed out. Or does making resolutions like this stress you out? lead you to eat poorly, engage in less than healthy behaviors and lose sleep?

I told someone I was preaching the Sunday following Christmas and she said, ah, the “Christmas has happened, now what” sermon. Almost like these retrospectives and resolutions, we’ve seen what the past year had to offer, celebrated various events and now we keep going. What does the next year hold? What do the people of God do in the days, weeks and months after celebrating the birth Jesus?
The New Testament lectionary passages today were the Colossians passage you just heard, and the Luke passage that is alluded to on the cover of the bulletin. I moved away from Luke because it felt so rushed. With images Jesus swaddled in the manger still on my mind, jumping to his youth today seemed so fast. And the more I thought about the passages and the more I looked at the Colossians passage, the more I liked it.

In my preaching and worship class at seminary our professor told us that there were certain events that were not on the liturgical calendar, but that we had best pay attention to. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, all important non-liturgucal events you had better preach on. New Years Eve or New Years Day did not make that list, but it’s so omnipresent in our culture that it’s hard to avoid. There are movies made about it, people have parties, each year we see if we can stay up to watch the ball drop. Whether or not you enjoy the particular ritual, it seems to be here to stay.  And in a lot of interesting ways the placement of this particular passage, this ancient letter, fits right in with our modern day celebration.

In this letter, and in our portion of it especially, we are given a list of sorts. Directions on how we are to be with one another.  Historians tell us that the town of Colossae was small and unimportant. The community there one that Paul had never visited himself, and yet this letter to that community is here in our canon. Of all the teachings and letters that were circulated, this is one that stuck with us.  

Paul had many occasions to address the early Christians. They were making their way in the world and trying to figure out who they were and how to live out that identity. I think that we can tend to take a short view of these folks, we forget how unsettling it can be to be constantly finding your way. We have the bible, various commentaries on the bible, devotional books, daily devotion emails and countless other websites, radio stations and printed books that can help us. If we sit down and look at a situation and need guidance on how to solve the problem, we have a plethora of options that will point us to the “official” Christian, or Presbyterian, response. And yet we still fall short.

These early Christians didn’t have quite that much. They had each other, they had the ancient stories, they had stories about Christ and his disciples, and they had teachers and evangelizers, and over and over they got it wrong. They were new at being a community, even newer at being a Christian community, and as we all know things like community have growing pains.

I worked as a resident assistant for three years when I was in college, and every year we had training before the students showed up. We would sit around and talk about how to make our hallway or floor into a welcoming community for the residents who would arriving. How to deal with homesickness, and to recognize when someone was having a more serious emotional problem, we would talk about programs we could give and things that folks might like to do as an alternative to the party culture that seems to exist in every school. And every year we would look at a poster that gave us ideas on “how to build a community”. The list was a bit long and was geared toward people who were living in a neighborhood, but there were lots of great things on there. Working together, helping each other out, learning from your elders, being inspired by the youth, sharing, giving, creating. It is a plan for a community that is alive and thriving.

It is probably a list that the community in Colossae could have used, but they have their own list. In this letter Paul tells them what they need to do to be a community. Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love. Bear with one another, forgive one another, be thankful, dwell in the peace of Christ, praise God, and act, always, in the name of the Lord.

I was reading a commentary on Colossians and came across this insight into Paul’s list. William Barclay says “It is most significant to note that every one of the graces listed has to do with personal relationships between man and man. There is no mention of virtues like efficiency or cleverneess, not even of diligence or industry- not that these things are unimportant. But the great basic Christian virtues are those which govern human relationships. Christianity is a community. It has on its divine side the amazing gift of peace with God and on its human side the triumphant solution of the problem of living together.”  As this community grew together and learned to live together, this advice attempts to help them. Barclay is spot on when he points out that they have to be in relationship with each other and that is the foundation of their entire community.

There have been countless instances in our nations history when we are clearly going through the growing pains of becoming a community. Becoming an independant country, ending slavery, civil rights, women’s rights, immigration issues- all of these are issues that impact our ability to be a community, and that can impact our ability to be a Christian community.

The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. talked a lot about how we could live together. As he fought for the shackles of oppression to be taken from the African American population, he gave us a vision for a community where all people would be equal and where we would be judged, as he famously said, by the content of our character and not the color of our skin. This vision went far beyond a society where all races could live together. Doctor King spoke often of the beloved community, of a place where we truly would love our neighbors and our enemies. He said that it would be the result of the nonviolent resistance movement. That there would be reconciliation and understanding. He said “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”  I posted this quote on my facebook page when I found it, thinking that it was something good to share. Something to remind us that if we’re unhappy the way things are, that we can make things better and that this is what it might take. Some people, I think, agreed with me giving it the little thumbs up “like”, but one friend from seminary commented on it and said that “we fear change”. This struck me as being quite cynical, but when I thought more about it I realized how right she was.

As we make our resolutions, what we’re really doing is committing to change. We’re evaluating our lives and figuring out where we fall short and we’re saying ‘this is what we’ll change’. It is no secret that the vast majority of people who make new years resolutions fail. They keep it up for a week or two, but then they go back to doing whatever it was they thought they’d fix.

Change is hard. It’s unknown. It’s a risk. There’s a saying that “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” Change blows that out of the water.

This community at Colossae is trying to change. They are trying to make a beloved community and with that means they are living this attempt at qualitative and quantitative change. I don’t pretend to know all of what Doctor King wanted when he spoke about the beloved community, but I think that we have a chance to create our own beloved communities. As we gather to worship we hear the word of God, we hear how we are to live together and how we are to be a community together. If we were to accomplish what Paul sets out for us in this letter, surely that would be a beloved community.

In our end of the year retrospectives, let us also look at our lives through the lens of this letter. Are we clothing ourselves with compassion, kindness, meekness and patience? Are we treating ourselves and others as if we are the beloved and holy children of God? Are we acting in Love, doing it all in Christ’s name?

If we take a few minutes to look at the news I think we can safely say that this isn’t happening everywhere. Less than two weeks before Christmas the country, perhaps even the world, was rocked by the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. People lose their lives everyday due to arguments, or unsafe living conditions, or lack of clean water or nutrients that would keep them alive. If we look at the global landscape it can be overwhelming. How can we help people who need clean water, affordable housing, or access to basic medical care? I am one person. How can I make a difference?

After college I spent two years serving in the AmeriCorps. I worked in elementary and middle schools, on Habitat for Humanity builds, on trails in national parks, and with community members who were committed to making their neighborhood a better place. While working on Habitat for Humanity houses in Miami, Florida our team came head to head with the enormity of this problem. We were building houses in a really bad part of the city. We were working in Overtown, a neighborhood that at one point was called “Little Broadway” . During the time of segregation it was a haven for African American entertainers. There were musicians and artists, life was thriving and everyone wanted to be there to see what was being created. And then the city put in a highway. The neighborhood was no longer as desireable, people left and the only folks who stayed were those who couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. Drugs, prostitution, and crime were rampant. When we showed up, Habitat was part of a movement to reclaim that neighborhood. Landmarks were being restored and we were building houses and putting caring, passionate, dedicated homeowners in them. It was hard for us. The neighborhood was still very much in transition as we worked. We helped on one house that was right next door to the neighborhood crack house. Almost every morning we would see people roll out of bed, come onto their porch and start smoking marijuana. One morning we had to knock the used hypodermic needles off the port o potty so we could go in to use the bathroom.  In the midst of all this pain and suffering, this destruction and chaos, we were trying to bring light. To help change the neighborhood for the better, and hopefully inspire those who lived there to change their lives too. There was a woman who lived in this neighborhood and every day she would go out and sweep the stairs of her building and then start sweeping the street. All she had was a regular broom that you or I have sitting in our kitchen, but she took to the streets and swept. Knowing that she lived in a rough place, but having pride in that place and wanting it, despite its difficulties, to look its best. These habitat families and this long standing community member are trying to make their bit of the beloved community right there in South Florida.
It is this hope that emerges from the chaos of everyday life that I find to be comforting. In the aftermath of natural disasters like Super Storm Sandy, or tragedies like a mass shooting, there is always some amount of hope. There is always some glimpse of Doctor King’s beloved community, or of the type of behavior that Paul tells us we need to be engaging in. After the Newtown tragedy there was a Mister Rogers quote all over the internet, perhaps you saw it, he said “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” These people that his mother told him to look for, who are there helping people in times of need, are people who are truly living as Paul has suggested. They are clothed in love. Treating their brothers and sisters as holy and beloved children of God. They are acting in the name of Jesus, bringing his love and the love of God to all those who have need.
And it doesn’t have to be a drastic situation to find people who need help and those willing to offer it. We can find helpers in every community. A neighbor who helps shovel your sidewalk, the church member who brings you food when a loved one dies, the friend who listens when things are bad and celebrates with you when things are good. These people are all clothed in the love of Christ. We have just celebrated Christmas, indeed we are still in Christmas as we wait for the wise men to travel to the Holy family. We are reminded of our savior, glad that he was given to us, and encouraged to renew our efforts to live as he taught us. The birth of Jesus gives us our identity, and the scriptures give us purpose. If we all lived our lives seeking to love each other, to forgive and be forgiven, to hold the word of Christ in our heart and let it guide our every thought and deed, there is no question that this world would be a better place. It can be hard to feel like you’re making a difference. That creating a christian community here in Pine Grove Mills could affect people all around the globe. But if we live as we are called to live, and love the way we are called to love, then those feelings are contagious. Our lives become a witness to Christ, a testimony to the very good news that God has given us. What Paul is telling the people of Colossee, an insignificant community in a small town, is that this matters. That it matters in the world and to the world that you clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. He is saying that it will be hard, and you might misstep along the way, but that it is worth it and it is what God has called us to. From the largest, most popular community to the smallest and seemingly insignificant one. We are all called to be the people of God in the world. Living and loving and striving to do good in his name.
Amen.

Pastoral prayer, followed by the Lord’s prayer:
Loving Creator, We thank you for the opportunity to come together to worship you today. In this season of miracles we give thanks for your son Jesus and for the life that he lived and the sacrifice he made. We give thanks for warm houses in a world where so many go cold. For food on the table when so many go hungry. For clean water and indoor plumbing in a world where neither can always be counted on. We recognize that we are blessed beyond measure, and we beg your forgiveness when we do not recognize that. We pray for those we know who are fighting illness. May they feel your loving hand surround them. For those who are grieving, may they know your peace and feel your presence with them. For those struggling with issues and problems that we do not know, we pray that your voice will be heard and your will made known to them. We pray for all those who have a difficult time over the holidays. Whether they are separated from loved ones, are struggling with changing circumstances, or are just unhappy, may they know they are cared for and loved. We pray for those brave men and women who spend so much time away from their families while serving our country. We pray that they know your presence and that they are brought safely home to those who love and miss them. We pray for our country as we deal with the aftermath of mass shootings- give us your peace. We pray for our politicians and our political system- may it stop being a wedge to divide us, and instead be a way to unite us. We pray for this church, may it continue to nurture people on their faith journey. We pray for all those joys and concerns that are on our hearts and minds this morning. You know what they are and what they need. May we feel your peaceful, loving presence this morning as we join our voices with our brothers and sisters across space and time praying the prayer that Jesus taught us, saying, Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Advent is here!

The WheelHouse ministry at our church is doing an Advent devotional via the email. The first week is the creative breath, this is my devotional. Which I liked better before the sermon was preached yesterday all about ruach. oh well. It’s still one of my favorites. Happy Advent!

The Creative Breath

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” and “…And the Spirit (the breath) of God was hovering over the waters.” (John 1:1-3, Genesis 1:2)

 

The Genesis verse contains on of my most favorite words in the Hebrew Bible. The word is “ruach”, and is translated various ways throughout the Old Testament, showing up as wind, spirit or breath. It is a divine wind, the spirit of God, the breath of all living things. This ruach is all around us, ever with us if we are just able to pay attention to it, to seek it out.

 

I lost my father to cancer about 10 months ago. As I was walking around in the days and weeks after he died I would use that time to talk to God. I’d pray and ask questions and get angry and be sad. And the one thing that I could always count on was that God would be there. Leaves rustling as the air moved through them, the wind on my cheeks, a gust whispering to me that God was there. I find that when I am in the midst of a project or I’m stuck trying to figure something out that returning to the outdoors, listening and waiting for that wind is comforting. It is the Holy Spirit there with me, the very ruach of God that hovered over the waters, there helping me to find the answer.
~ Rachel Mastin

You Say that I am a King

This was preached at Faith United Church of Christ in State College, PA on November 25, 2012. The text is from the lectionary, John 18:33-34 (which is below). As I told a parishioner after the service, I don’t think one is ever really finished with a sermon. You just get to a place you’re happy with and you run out of time :O) 

18:33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

18:34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

18:35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”

18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

18:37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

 

There is a commercial on tv right now that i have seen over and over, and you probably have too. a woman is driving her car and gets pulled over. the police officer comes up to her window and asks for her i.d., she grabs something from her purse and and holds it out to him. It is her container of international delight coffee creamer. i.d.. The commercial goes on and since this is not real life the officer is holding a cup of coffee and the woman puts some cream into it, they smile and laugh and the commercial is over.  I’d be hard pressed to call this one of the best commercials I’ve ever seen, and honestly it’s not even one that I really enjoy. But as I sat and thought about it, I wondered what it might be able to say about who we are as people. I was trying to make the connection between the thought of our identification and coffee additions and I think that it could go two ways. You could say that all people who use french vanilla coffee creamer are more likely to go shopping on black friday. Or you could look at a person and ask them what kind of things identify them. What kinds of things make up their identity. They are a person who likes long walks on the beach, picnics in the park, and caramel macchiato creamer in their coffee. In the commercial the woman tells the officer she knows he’s adventurous just like she is so she knows he likes a flavored kind of cream.
As I was reflecting on this passage, the commercial popped into my mind. Questions of identity, of saying who you are and what you are.
In this passage that we read today we have a lot of familiar words and concepts. This passage is part of the passion narrative and is something that we normally read in its entirety at the end of lent on Good Friday. So why are we reading it now? Because in the church year, today is Christ the King Sunday, or Reign of Christ Sunday. It is the last Sunday of Ordinary time, and next Sunday will mark the beginning of Advent- the season of anticipation of the birth of Jesus. This day is a bridge between the two years of the church.
I must admit to being a bit ignorant of this particular liturgical event, but I did some research and  as I was reading about this particular Sunday I read the following description: “Today we celebrate Christ as past, present, and future King over all the earth, at the same time that we express our hope and our Faith in that coming Kingdom.” As I see it this is a celebration of the role Christ played. In his life, in our lives, and the role he will continue to play in the future.

I don’t know about any of you, but when I was little I thought that Christ was Jesus’ last name. or maybe his middle name. But I know that I had no clue that it referred to his title, his identity, his role among us. The term Christ is from the greek Christos, meaning anointed. This comes from teh fact that we believe Jesus to be the messiah (which is a Hebrew term. So our english comes from the greek which comes from the Hebrew). So his title is the anointed. As we celebrate on this day we recognize this title, this role. This fully divine, fully human being who walked among us with purpose and clarity.
When we enter the story, Pilate wants to know who Jesus is. He asks “Are you the king of the Jews?”  A question that is asked in the other gospels, but here in John, Jesus responds. They have a small conversation. Jesus both deflecting and confirming the questions that Pilate is asking, and the interaction ends as it begins. Pilate asks again in verse 37, “So you are a king?”

Jesus answer is so much more than it needs to be. Instead of answering directly and giving Pilate a “yes” or “no”, he says “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

I wasn’t there, but I would imagine this answer might annoy Pilate a bit. He is seeking to find out who Jesus is. He’s in this situation and people are telling him things, and he doesn’t really know what’s going on, so he asks Jesus to provide some I.D.. And instead of giving him a one word answer, he gives him…not quite a parable, but not quite an easy answer either. Which begs the question, why not? why not just say “yes. I am a king”

There is a question that is asked over and over when you’re learning about theology. As you’re discussing big questions about resurrection, and sin, and evil, the question is asked over and over- “what’s at stake?” I think we ask this question in our everyday lives in different ways. Why does it matter? What are the implications? What are the consequences? Reading this text, seeing how Jesus responds to Pilate I had to ask, “What’s at stake?”. In the synoptic gospels Jesus doesn’t even answer Pilate. Just leaves the question to hang in the air, responding, so to speak,  in silence. So why does he respond here? What does this response tell us about who Jesus is and why it’s important.

Jesus doesn’t need to say yes, Pilate, I am the King.
He’s going to die, he knows he’s going to die, his explicit acknowledgement and agreement to Pilates terms is not important. So Jesus chooses to tell us who he is on his own terms. In true fashion he uses more words than necessary, and leaves a bit of it up to interpretation.

Pilate asks if he is a king and he says “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”  The words give me chills. How many of us when asked to confirm our role, our title, would answer the same way?

When we introduce ourselves to people one of the first things we usually disclose to the other person is what we do. It may not be the absolute first thing we say, but it is very close. I lived in State College for about three years before I went to seminary, and during those years I worked over at the Centre County Women’s Resource Center. As I was having conversations with people I would be kind of quiet about what I did, not because I wasn’t proud of it or felt it wasn’t important, but because there’s little that stops a conversation faster than telling people you work as a domestic violence and sexual assault counselor, though telling them you are a recent seminary graduate comes close.

I mention this because in our society today so much of who we are, of our identity, is wrapped up in what we do. We are defined by our work perhaps more than any other single factor. And yet people are frequently unhappy at their jobs; our nation is fighting long term unemployment problems, people take whatever job they can find, no matter what is drawing them to it. When I graduated college my internship supervisor got me the Po Bronson book “What should I do with my life?”. It was a very appropriate book, I was graduating with a B.A. in Sociology and a minor in English. Heading into a program that would give me purpose for 10 months, but after that I had no plan. Every time someone asked me what I was going to do with my degree I would kind of laugh and tell them I wasn’t sure but that I’d probably end up in grad school. As if that was some sort of occupation.

It wasn’t until I wound up home, unemployed, and rather directionless after two years of AmeriCorps that I really started to delve into the question. I had read the book my supervisor gave me. Story after story of people who had found their passion. Who had searched their soul and very intentionally asked themselves how they wanted to spend their time, I wanted to do that too! The writer, pastor and theologian Frederick Beuchner talks about vocation in a way that I think should be shouted from the rooftops. He says of the word vocation
“It comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work one is called to by God… The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done…The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
The people in this book I had read, had figured this out. They had done the work of seeking out what they needed to do and what the world needed.
When you go to seminary or into the ministry something that people will frequently ask you what your “call story is”. This is when you hear stories of people hitting rock bottom and finding God, or folks who went to summer camp and finally knew for sure that God was real because of the relationships they had there, or they went on a mission trip and served the least of our world, walking in Jesus’ footsteps and knew what they should be doing. These are all fantastic, inspirational stories. I do not have such a story. I was born into a Presbyterian family, my grandmother is a lay pastor in the presbyterian church, I grew up here in State College going to church just around the corner, I participated in things- our church was and still is a big programmatic church so youth groups were a big deal, and then I went away to college. I attended Shippensburg University, and while I was there was involved with a United Campus Ministry group. At our school the really big Christian organizations were also they really conservative organizations. Our little group was very liberal, and we frequently felt like the island of misfit toys when it came to religious groups on campus. I spent two years after I graduated in Americorps and then came home for another three-ish years to figure out what to do with my life. I worked at the women’s resource center during the day, and at night I volunteered at my church. And while I was doing this I also met with a small group of women, and together we looked at our lives and helped each other figure out what our vocation might be.
All of these women were older than I was, in a very different place in their lives and they were seeking something a bit different. Where I was trying to figure out what, exactly, I should go to grad school for, they were trying to figure out what brought them alive, and how they could fit it into their current schedule. They all had careers that they were satisfied enough with, and that they didn’t feel they could leave, but they all recognized that there was more, and they wanted to figure out what that was and how they might be able to work it into their lives.
This isn’t a foreign concpet, I’m sure you’ve hear the saying “you live to work or work to live”. Some folks, and I have some friends who do this, have a 40 hour a week job that enables them to dedicate all their free time things they are passionate about. They don’t mind their jobs, they even like  them well enough, but it’s what they do off the clock that truly brings them alive.
I get the feeling that this is more or less how society used to function. You graduate high school or college and you get a job that paid for your family obligations, and in your spare time you cooked, or coached, or created. you volunteered your time doing things you loved, and a job you liked enabled you to do this. I think we as a society are more accepting of people seeking their passion and following that into the world as a job than we used to be. A slower economy, an extended adolescence, these things allow recent graduates or folks who are unemployed the chance to search their soul, and to listen for where God might be directing them to go.
When I finished this process with these women I knew I wanted to go to seminary. I didn’t have a moment on a mountaintop, or an experience with a stranger, I simply had a feeling of peace around me. I had no doubts and no questions. I had no idea what I would do when I finished, and while I am in the ordination process now there’s still a little bit of questioning and soul searching that is going on even now as I try to figure out what is the next right thing for me.

When Jesus says “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world…” he is saying something that I want all of us to be able to say. For Jesus it was to “testify to the truth”, but what is it for you? Have you found that place where your deep gladness and the worlds deep hunger meet? have you figured out what your deep gladness is? Do you even know where to start? Jesus had this response at the end of his life. When he might have given a different answer and tried to talk his way out of his fate, instead he knew. He knew who he was. Who God created him to be and what God had created him for. How many of us can say that today, right now? Isn’t it worth figuring out?
When you see someone who is doing what God created them for, you know it. There is just a feeling about them. I had a yoga teacher once, and as I sat in her studio, I was overwhelmed by the way her body moved, her words and instruction, and the right-ness of it all. She was born to do this. I think we can have the thought that if we’re supposed to do something that it will be easy, that it won’t cause us pain or stress or difficulty. But I think that it can cause us all of these things, but that in spite of the hardship it is still life-giving. Even child prodigies have to work hard.
Jesus is talking to Pilate shortly before he is to die, and his words are “for this I was born, and for this I came into the world”.
May we all seek to have that same feeling, that same confidence. May we know why God created us and why we are in this world. May we seek our calling as a way to glorify God and honor this great life that God has given us.
Amen.

gifts

there will be much more to come, but i read this devotion today and it just hits me where i’m sitting. i’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed when it comes to job searching and wondering what i can do and if i’m qualified at all for anything, and this just is encouraging. sometimes you’re in the right place, at the right time, and you really hear what you’re supposed to hear. it happened at church on sunday and again in this devotion. i’ll probably write more later, but i wanted to put this out there…

it comes from the unity church’s daily devotion, the daily word. they have a print version, which mom gets, and you can get it digitally in a variety of forms, just check their site.

August 1, 2012
I share my gifts with joy, excitement, and passion.
Spirit within is always calling me toward the desires of my heart. I needn’t worry that I’m not ready or worthy to pursue them. When I am willing to be more, do more, and share more, Spirit provides everything I need for success.  My joy, excitement and passion tell me I am moving in the right direction.
I am willing to share my gifts and talents, knowing the world needs every one of us to open to our greatest potential. Even if I do not feel fully prepared, Spirit works within me and others, to synchronize timing and provide resources for the highest good of all. Fueled by my passion, I step into a flow of positive energy that carries me forward and expands my life.
“For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has- not according to what one does not have.” 2 Corinthians 8:12

statement of faith

we had to write a statement of faith for our theology class, and while this isn’t perfect, there is a lot about it that i like. the lists of words describing the parts of the trinity are supposed to be staggered under the heading, so like they are moving across the page showing the movement of the trinity that i believe in. but i am not blog savvy enough to get it to work, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

I believe in God the creator- father and mother

in Jesus Christ, God among us

and in the Holy Spirit, God dwelling in us.

God created the world, all that there is seen and unseen, and continues to be an active presence in this world.

I believe in a triune God that defies explanation but inspires us to try.

God is love

Wisdom

Judgment

Grace

Forgiveness

Reconciliation

God came to earth as we all did and walked among us as Jesus Christ, who is

Fully divine

Fully human

Teacher

Healer

Sinless

God continues to move in us daily by the work of the Holy Spirit who is

Sustaining

Inspiring

Attention getting

Creative

Guiding

Jesus Christ is our redeemer. He was put to death by humanity for our sins and was raised from the dead by God and continues to watch over us from heaven, calling us to action as we read his teachings and look to his example.

I believe in the Church. I believe that we as Christians are called to be community together. As we read the bible and seek to follow the example of Jesus we do so with the help of our brothers and sisters. Alone we can easily stray from the path that he has set out for us, as a community we can strengthen and uphold each other.

We are welcomed into the church first with our baptism, the sign and seal of the new covenant, we are sustained at the table as we remember Jesus and the sacrifice that he made for us, and we move through each day with the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit and the support of our brothers and sisters.

I believe that we are called as Christians to community and to one another, but we are also called to live in harmony with the rest of God’s good creation. I believe that when we were given dominion we were to live with the earth and not over the earth.

As we live our lives we are called to live as closely as we can to God, to emulate Jesus Christ, and to turn to the Holy Spirit for sustenance while we try to live up the sinless example of our savior.

i also popped it into wordle