I will choose to Love

In the never-ending pile of books in my “to be read” pile, I came across a quote recently that spoke volumes to the way I want to live my life. In reading A Testament of Hope, a collection of essays, sermons and speeches by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I found these words:

Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it.
Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it.
Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it. 

(I now need to find my copy of this book so that I can properly cite the page, etc.)

In the divisive, winner-take-all mindset of our culture, choosing to listen and demonstrate compassion and love is, well, hard.

But why is it so hard for me to love others as a white woman, cisgender, educated, employed and (relatively) healthy? Why do I find myself struggling to be compassionate when I am hurt by someone’s words or actions? The list of reasons are many, and every one of them is selfish.

My Calling is clear – to demonstrate the welcoming, all-encompassing love of God. No strings. No qualifications. I will choose to Love.

Love Is from Freebridge Media on Vimeo.

 

Self-care (A review for the stubborn one)

I am learning how badly I am following my own teaching on “self care.” I wrote recently about a bad fall that I had on our patio, which left me bruised and with a swollen and painful knee. While I did follow basic first aid practices (ice, rest, elevation, anti-inflammatories), I did not take any time off from work. I soldiered through the week. I limped around. I dealt with joint pain and referred pain from limping.

I am stubborn.

In addition, there have been some intense situations (unrelated to family and friends) which have also taken a lot of my emotional and spiritual energy. It’s not just the news and following a hurricane, it’s the little nasty micro-aggressions. The insulting emails. All of my usual self care strategies weren’t working and I couldn’t turn “off” my reactions. My coping mechanism of choice was to veg on the couch. Not very productive nor self-restoring.

Fortunately, this week I had a long chat with my spiritual director who reminded me of the song by Rabbi Sofer and Rev. Carolyn McDade: (words found here)

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

At first, it didn’t set well with me. Isn’t that contrary to the expectations of a pastor to serve others? What about Philippians 2 where we are reminded to  “…look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others”? What about Luke 9 where we are exhorted by Jesus, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me”?

Balance. It’s about balance!

YES.  I am called to serve sacrificially. Every penny I make is not to be spent on myself. All of my time and talents are not for my own pleasure. But neither are they all to be given away and not meet the needs of those who depend on me. If I deplete myself on other tasks and obligations, and am not aware of my own emotional and physical exhaustion, how can I then look out for others’ interests?

Short answer: I can’t!

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

Time after time, I have encouraged parents of young children to take time to refresh themselves emotionally, spiritually and physically. I have exhorted them to trade off on childcare and household chores, and if one parent is at home, have made the point that the stay-at-home parent is not the other’s personal servant. [Translation: pick up your own dirty clothes, do loads of laundry, wash dishes, take the kids and care for them. Because you both have “evening shift” responsibilities when the “day shift” is done!]

Yet I find myself, an empty nester, worn out and hard-pressed to respond to the things I need to do for my own health. Simple things like creating things with my hands, reading, baking, or enjoying nature. It didn’t help that we’ve had heavy rains all week so I couldn’t really get outside. But I wasn’t cultivating anything on the inside.

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

Why was I stuck in some self-destructive patterns? I asked myself some hard questions, and maybe they will be helpful for you:

  • what am I doing that is not really my responsibility to do?
  • who am I trying to please (besides God?)
  • who is draining my spirits rather than building them back up?
  • where am I spending my time that is not the best use of my God-given gifts?
  • what activities would help renew my love and compassion for others?
  • what excuses am I giving to avoid tasks I need to do?

It’s a process. It’s an ongoing challenge to balance my desire to be God’s person vs pleasing all people. It’s allowing God to work within my brokenness, rather than going to pieces trying to fix it all myself. And it’s recognizing when I am beyond my threshold and need to simply… rest.

Serve God? Serve others?

Absolutely!! But only within the limits of my own brokenness. Let’s repeat that phrase one more time:

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

image: Serve within the limits of your brokenness
image (c) Rev. Deb Vaughn; may use with permission

What cometh before a fall?

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

So says the writer of Proverbs, anyway. (16:18 if you’re playing along for points.)

This evening just before things were completely dark outside, I heard our wind chimes singing mightily in the back yard. I rushed out the back door, grateful the rain had stopped, if only for a moment or two. The chimes were glorious and a fitting “Amen” to a weekend of rain and wind. And then… I hit a slick spot on the slate pavers on our patio and went DOWN in a glorious splat.

Yes. Ow. Very much ow.

IMG_4914I sat there for a moment, the wind knocked out of me, in pain. Nothing appeared broken. The only thing sprained is my dignity (even though no one was there to see my acrobatics, I did have to text my beloved to come and help me stand up, as I was shocked and wobbly.) I left a large dry spot on the slate approximately the size of my backside, and a lovely mossy skid mark on my jeans.

The Proverbs quote came to mind. I don’t believe it was a haughty spirit that caused my butt-first landing. I thought wryly to myself that actually, in this case, inattention came before the fall. Or maybe it was rushing. Or perhaps multi-tasking.

Sometimes stuff just happens. This wasn’t out of meanness. It wasn’t to teach me some cosmic lesson. It was just the cumulative effect of six inches of rain in 3 days on a slate patio.

My pants will wash and I imagine any bruises I’ve collected will fade in a week or two. At the moment, I’m headed for the couch with an ice pack and an afghan and maybe some crocheting. It’s not been the best of weeks, to be honest. But not the worst, either. I’m grateful for friends, for family, for a steadying hand when I need it the most.

Whatever has caused you to fall flat today, may you leave the buttprints behind, and know that the universe is not conspiring against you, either.

A heart song that has been speaking to me this week is this song “You Say” by Lauren Daigle. May it encourage you.

Cleaning and rebooting

IMG_48334 boxes of books
3 bags of recycling
2 bags of shredding
1 (almost) clean office

(Sorry. No partridge or pear tree! But I do have a very friendly cat.)

In their early school years, we would have a “clean out my desk” day with the kids. It seemed like a good time to get back in that habit myself, even though there’s no one living here going back-to-school tomorrow. (We do have teachers in our family, but they are all out-of-state.)

I was also inspired to do some cleaning of my home office because it will have to absorb everything from my office space at church. I really needed to think about books, equipment, supplies and storage reorganization. Some items I had absolutely no problem putting into the discard pile. Some items I couldn’t wait to shred. And some gave me pause as I thought about an event, feeling, or person that they brought to mind.

I was pretty ruthless. Seminary papers? Recycle! Textbooks and manuals that are out-of-date? Recycle! Old OPM paperwork? Shred! Journal articles, old bulletins, church-specific materials? Recycle! Scholastic book about cats? Donate! Folders of schoolwork from our daughters? HA! Give them the stuff and let THEM sort it. 

I was making great progress until I came across some painful memories from a previous  employer. Years ago, I had written on it “demon folder” as a warning that the contents might be toxic and even traumatic. For some reason, I wasn’t able or ready to let go of those papers. But it seemed right to do it today.

Stopping to regroup, I sat for a while and processed the very real feelings of hurt, of disappointment and disillusionment. It still sucks. And in one of those very opportune moments of the Divine, a song popped up on my playlist:

Because there had been enough distance, it wasn’t as difficult as I feared. Some therapeutic shredding helped, as did a handy box of tissues. I realized how much I’ve grown past that period in my life. God is gracious.

I’m not quite done with my office clean-up, but I’ve made progress. There’s a flat surface to use my laptop, and even a space to spread out papers. The charging station for my hand-held devices is where I can reach it! (Shocker.) I found a quote or two that I’ve tucked under my desk blotter for encouragement.

I guarantee you a week from now, it won’t look this nice! But I won’t miss those shredded papers and forgiven memories.

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A heart to heart talk

2hands

I asked my patient,
“How are you, my friend?”
As his tired hand rested in mine.
We have a history of many visits,
Many hours,
Many thoughtful words…

“I’m dying, you know,” he said softly,
His voice rough with the years
Of hard work and prayer.
“But it’s Ok. It’s Ok.”

We sat in a quiet and friendly silence
As we listened to the birds outside,
The hum of the electric fan oscillating back and forth
In a buzzy counterpoint.

I hummed a quiet hymn or two,
Letting my voice wrap him in the sounds of his faith.
He dozed in the soft, fading light,
Then stirred and asked,
“Can you read to me from the Good Book?
Where we left off?”
And so I did, holding his hand,
Reading in Matthew 5
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

“My daughter,” he said,
Her spirits is pretty poor.
She’s closer to Heaven than I am.”

I looked at him, emaciated, wheezing slightly,
Leaning back in his easy chair,
Content and at peace.

“Aren’t we all needing Heaven the most
When our hearts are hurting and our spirits are low?”

He nodded sagely, smiled at me, and closed his eyes.
Then he drifted off, both of us contented and comforted
From our heart to heart talk.

 

 

Photo credit: Photo Credit: “I Do!”, © 2010 Yogendra Joshi, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

A Gentle, Angry People

GentleAngry
Communion at Twinbrook Baptist Church this morning.

I have been thinking a lot these past months about privilege and its insidious impact on our culture in general, and the Church in particular.

Privilege creates barriers of assumptions. Of misrepresentation. Unfortunately those of us who have privilege  don’t see it

Privilege comes in many forms: White privilege. Straight privilege. Educated privilege. Housing privilege. Food source privilege. Employment privilege. Transportation privilege. Health privilege. I could go on…

Maybe you’ve played the “Privilege Walk” exercise with a group. (You can read more about that here.) Many people of privilege, myself included, found it uncomfortable. Eye-opening. Humbling. But how I learned the most from the experience was listening to others during the debrief session who were less privileged than I. Listening. Not apologizing. Not being defensive. Not being embarrassed. Listening.

I’m also taking responsibility for my ignorance. I’m engaged in some serious reading on the topic of white privilege and intersectionality right now. The biggest take-away so far? Those of us who have privilege have some serious issues with granting other people the same rights we have. Especially people who look/live/love differently.

I wish I could say that the Church (and Christian organizations) are doing a better job at honoring differences and admitting bias and privilege. But we are not. We like our little enclaves and private worlds. We want to hold on to what WE have created, what WE have done. It’s as if we’ve forgotten that everything we have, everything we are, everything we create comes to us via the Spirit’s download. We forget that scarcity is not the economy of heaven. Like the T-shirt says:

Equal rights for others
does not mean less rights for you!
It’s not pie!

The Church today either identifies with a mega franchise or clings  fiercely to our tiny fiefdoms. (There’s not a lot in between.) We fiercely defend what we are used to doing in our churches. (Don’t think so? Try changing it up sometime.) Yet — we say we want to see the Beloved Community on earth and the kin-dom of God to be created in our midst.

Living with a generous Spirit is touch-and-go. Just when we think we’ve got it figured out, something changes. Our stability is gone. The music is different. The preacher is different. The version of the Bible (or prayer book or bulletin size) is different. New people come and sit in “our” (assigned, personal, everyone-knows-we-sit-here) pews! “Those kind” of people attend our churches now. The antidote to this holy entitlement is to focus on deconstructing our privilege, owning what it is, admitting where we have acted selfishly, and work on ourselves (not others) before we see actual change.

Today in our worship service at Twinbrook Baptist, we sang the song by Holly Near, “Singing for Our Lives.” Holly wrote it in response to the assassination of Harvey Milk in 1978. It is a song beloved in the LGBTQ community specifically, and the Resistance community at large. It expresses a very real fear. Unless one has listened to the voices of our brothers and sisters of color, and our LGBTQ siblings, one forgets how easily hate creates an atmosphere of violence.

We are a gentle angry people, and we are singing for our lives.
We are a land of many colors, and we are singing for our lives.
We are gay and straight together, and we are singing for our lives.

The Gospels are clear – If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, then just maybe we need to demand less, expect less, and show more compassion and respect. And we need to confess when we have been racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and xenophobic.

It’s not an option. It’s not easy. But it is the way of Christ.

Lord, help me.
Blessed be.

I Can See Clearly Now…

I came home from an extended weekend (and an AMAZING conference… more about that another time!) I discovered that the pump for my water feature had busted, and the water was very, very murky. In addition, it appears that we have a new occupant joining the lone Weasley brother! Welcome Froggo, a lovely leopard frog! Judging by size, I’m guessing in the alto to tenor range.

 

Putting in the new pump required draining the pond, which was a smelly and damp task! Included in the damp part was catching and holding the goldfish and frog in a separate bucket while I cleaned out the accumulated muck. Included in the smelly part was wiping out the decomposing fish poop and plant material. Pumping all that water out into the back yard made the grass and me all kinda… pungent. (Be glad those photos aren’t “scratch and sniff”!)

It struck me as I cleaned and mucked out the pond that there are times we forget to filter the things we see and the words we say. I know I jokingly say “no filter!” when I’m overly blunt or want to get my opinion out there. However, I have also seen how words can hurt, and how a lack of a filter actually muddies the conversation. After all, you can’t really listen when words hurt and wound. And you lose perspective and insight, too.

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Anyway, the new pump is working well, and Weasley appears content. Froggo is somewhere out of sight. And I have a fresh perspective on thinking, filtering and clearing up the muddy waters.

I think I can make it now the pain is gone.
All of the bad feelings have disappeared.
Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for.
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), 
Bright (bright) sun-shining day!

from I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash

Co-laborers, Dreamers, Wonderers and Wanderers

IMG_4570
That night in St. Louis!

It was a casual dinner with pizza and laughter, reflection and just plain fun. And I wrote a prayer about it over at RevGals… so go take a look! 🙂

(NOTE: There are many more faces that could also be in this photo. You know who you are… I’m all kinds of thankful for you!)

Working hands, busy mind

I cleaned my stove tonight. I cleaned it because I clean it once a week. Yep. Every Wednesday night, it’s stove-cleaning time.

Isn’t it beautiful? I love me a bright, shiny stove!

Um… well…

Now, if you know me at all, you’re laughing, because I tend to clean when I can see a difference between clean and unclean. Or company is coming over. Or there’s been a Plague in the house and I’m banishing germs. Or it was a year ago and the dust bunnies are catching fire.

Truthfully? I cleaned the damn stove because it had been a month or two, and it was disgusting. And I was waiting on a return phone call and was passing the time. Like ya do. Cleaning a stove…

You see, I find that when I need to really reflect on something, I do a repetitive chore. Something that desperately needs to be done, but isn’t taxing on my brain. Weeding. Ironing. Matching socks. I turn off my tunes or the TV and just get busy.

I think about an upcoming sermon series. I pray for people that I know, for my patients, for my family.

That sounds so Holy. So pastor-like. And sometimes I do those things.

But other times, I’m preparing a grocery list. I’m trying to remember if my dentist appointment is this week or next week. (Whew! It’s not until August!) I’m deciding what we might do for fun this weekend, or I’m just bitching aloud to no one in particular.

Sometimes it’s brutal. I’m replaying conversations in my head. I’m improving my arguments for the next time I’m in head-to-head verbal jousting. And I tend to downplay how much I mess things up on a regular basis.

I forget that self-examination and growth takes work, and I sure don’t want to talk about it. I’d rather show the work almost completed (like this photo) rather than own up to just how bad things are.

How bad? Really bad. I don’t have a picture. It was gross.

I haven’t solved a damn thing tonight. I’m in a pissy mood. The phone call never came. The world with its soul-sucking politics is still the same. But I have a clean stove.

P.S. No, I don’t want to do your chores. Don’t even bother asking. Clean your own stove.

Here’s What I Know

At the airport

It was a seemingly random phone call as I sat waiting for my flight at the airport…

“Here’s what I know,” I said,
As I watched the criss-cross of people,
Hurrying here and there,
Carrying bags and talking on phones,
Rushing like there’s no tomorrow…

“We don’t know how much time we have,
So make every minute count.
Stay in the moment,
But think about how you act today
Will impact tomorrow.”

“Impact what?”

“Oh…” I said,
“Your loves.
Your goals.
Your standards.
Your heart.”

“But how will I know if I did the right thing?”

I sat for a while,
And rocked back and forth.
The smell of fresh pretzels
And the sound of wheelie bags overwhelmed my senses.

“I think it’s simple things,” I said.
“Whether you built a bridge or burned it
Whether you showed love or indifference,
Whether you showed grace or sat in judgement,
Whether you left people feeling welcomed in,
Or shoved out.”

“Those aren’t simple things.”

“No… they aren’t. But they are everything.”

It was just a random phone call.
But it turned out to be prophetic.

God, help me hear and respond with love to every call…

That Family Resemblance – The “Kin-dom” of God

That Family Resemblance – The “Kin-dom” of God
Ephesians 1:3-14

A sermon offered to the people of God
at Bethesda United Church of Christ
July 15, 2018

It’s wonderful to be back here with you. The last time I subbed for Pastor Dee, many of you were on a bus headed to Baltimore for the General Synod meetings. I am delighted to be giving Dee some well-deserved rest, and I want to commend you on giving your pastor a lengthy time of renewal.

This morning, I want to wander with you in the first chapter of Ephesians. Now, as Biblical scholars love to do, there has been discussion and disagreement over the years as to whether or not Paul actually wrote Ephesians. Was it written by a scribe who took liberties with Paul’s dictation? Is it a restatement of Colossians? Is it from a student of Paul? Or is it from the latter period of Paul’s ministry, written for the struggles of the area surrounding Ephesus?

Honestly? I will let wiser heads than mine go argue about that. What is clear is that this book contains wisdom that the First Century Church needed. Its central message is of unity: one calling. One baptism. One household of faith. The earlier patriarchs decided that Ephesians was part of the written Canon and adopted it. Paul/or the author that only God knows wrote it. I think I’ll land there.

In just eleven verses, however, the writer unpacks some heavy-duty theology! He touches on predestination, creation, atonement and redemption: all those “churchy words” that would take a week to unpack and properly understand. The text declares our place in the Kin-dom of God as “God’s own people.” Oh… and just to make it “fun” for those of us who had to study Koine Greek, he does all that in one extremely long run-on sentence.

But I want to focus on these verses because it focuses on the “big picture” of the “kin-dom” of God. The “kin-dom.” Not the kingdom. You may have heard it before… But if you aren’t familiar with it… it is a word that describes the relational nature of God, the way that the Divine adopts, loves and relates to us. We are adopted Kin! This expression works for the central theme of unity, rather than a top-down, power-heavy structure in “kingdom.” Kin-dom has been in public discourse for many years, but appears earliest in the work of mujerista theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz and also the writing of Sister Georgene Wilson, a Franciscan nun.

A wise woman I know, Dr. Reta Halteman Finger, suggests that “The Kin-dom of God is a radical political statement. It is Jesus’ alternative to the Roman Empire. It is asking God to set up God’s reign on earth instead of the martial, stratified, and repressive reign of Caesar.”[1] Instead of a top-down, authoritarian government that humans like to set up, there is a sense of communal responsibility and commitment to one another. That’s the kindom! And Paul, teaching this radical re-ordering of government, just might have upset Caesar’s priorities!

Kindom fits this morning’s Epistle reading. Can you hear its familial nature in the first verses of greeting? This concept of unity and community? Paul spends a lot of time defining and declaring the whys and wherefores of our relationship with God. As I reflected on the text, I asked myself, “What was SO IMPORTANT that he wanted to build this painstaking theological foundation?”

That’s where I was drawn as I pondered the text. It would be easier to outline and define each of the big theological words and then go home… and maybe watch a little soccer. But I don’t think that’s the central message. It is, for me, summarized in Ephesians 1: 13-14.

In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13-14

All those conditions and definitions of our relationship with God are for the purpose of cementing in our adoption. Our inclusion in the family of God. Our place in the plan of God from the beginning of time. Not because of anything we do or are. Not because of where we grew up, or who are grandparents are, or where we went to church. But because of grace. We are loved because of grace.

These words applied to the members of a church in the region of Ephesus in the first Century. And they are true for us today. It is because we are chosen, because we are forgiven, because we are redeemed, because we are loved that we are all adopted into the family of God. We are God’s own people. We are all known and loved and covered by God’s grace. Gentiles? Welcomed into the kindom. Jews? No more privileged than the Gentiles. All are part of the beloved!

The problem is, we struggle with what being “the family of God” looks like, acts like, talks like, worships like, eat like, loves like, smells like, and serves like. We have opinions. Definite opinions! “That’s what Church should be!”

Even in a progressive, Christian community.
Even with people who want to be in a church!
Even with a congregation who has deep roots in love, fellowship and service.
Even in an area where we have county, state and federal officials with a progressive bend.

I don’t have to tell you that in our country, the divisiveness and incivility is at epic proportions. Not just on the internet. The highway road rage. The office shootings. The gun violence in schools. The rise in domestic violence. The “bully pulpit” of some politicians who seem bent on dividing any coalitions that threaten his or her own power, and suggest if you don’t do things their way, you’re not really a “Christian.” From County politics to Congress, there’s a whole lot of hating going on!

In all of these situations, grown up people forget what was drummed into their heads in elementary school. You remember some of those truths from the book by Robert Fulghum, All I really needed to know I learned in kindergarten.[2] You know… basic human decency? “Take turns. Say please and thank you. Clean up your own mess. Say that you’re sorry when you hurt someone.” And so on…

We forget we are all the same — flawed, forgiven humans. From the outside, we are so radically different. We are fractured by our individual needs and interests. We experience life from such radically different perspectives that it’s hard to have peace in a household, let along in a church. Yet Ephesians brings back to mind our mutual inheritance and redemption. As they say in the South, “we are kinfolk!”

How can we see and celebrate this family resemblance? This kin-dom?
First, by seeing that we are all brought in to this fold by God.

Not a one of us came up with the idea on our own. We were invited, enticed, engrained, enfolded into the fabric of the community by the Holy Spirit. That’s God’s job! We came into the family under difficult circumstances, or privileged ones. We were nurtured by Godself. We were known, loved and wanted before we knew we were known, loved, and wanted. We are a holy, blended family. Our identity is not because we know how we came into our spiritual heritage, but that we were, indeed adopted in. Just like there are many kinds of family (biological, blended, adopted, foster) there are many ways to come to a knowledge of God’s personal love for each one of us. And there is no “one correct way” to come into the family — just like there are many ways to create a human family! Our identity in God is exactly the same.

This should bring forward in us a sense of deep humility. In every way, we are each forgiven much, and blessed with much more. But far too often, it comes out as entitlement. It’s as if our little selfish inner selves are saying, ‘God always DID like me best!’ or churches say, “God likes the way WE worship best!”

I have to tell you that churches and even whole denominations have split over this entitlement. Congregations “bleed out” and die because there are power struggles and cliques! Common goals and dreams are set aside for personal wishes. But God invites us to lay our sense of “earned favor” and accept that it is unmerited, unearned, and unending. The grace of God.

What’s another way to demonstrate that family resemblance? Because it’s not just understanding that we are brought in on equal theological footing. It is to acknowledge that this kin-dom is not built on the expense or punishment or exclusion of others. 

To offer a more modern perspective, I’d like to return to the views of the late Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz. She proposes a view of the church and society that is based on Mujerista Liberation theology. She believes that life, in its fullest expression, results in the freeing of families and communities that are not oppressed by others. The Latina culture’s high value of family and community is a result of honoring and promoting the mutual hopes and dreams of everyone. This is the foundation for all societal and spiritual experience. This is how people thrive! She declares that this is multi-generational and in it there is room for all![3]

How many of us have had living situations where the mutual concerns and benefits of every member of the community were part of the decision-making process? Maybe it was your first apartment or rental house with friends from college. Maybe you lived in an intentional community, or were part of a dorm or rooming house where you shared in the rent, the rules and the chores.

Theoretically, this is the same way that the Church could be. I say, “could be” because we all know that there is a difference between being an “organization” and an “organism.” The Body of Christ is an “organism.” But the practical governing and life of the Church is most definitely an “organization.” We have committees and commissions, pastors and church councils. And sometimes we take our eyes off of our common ground, and we forget our family resemblance in our “organism” as the Body of Christ!

Humor me this morning… because I believe that one metaphor we can visualize is to think of ourselves… is a quilt!

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Quilt block from one of my grandmothers

We are stitched together. All of us unique parts are brought together with the whole design in mind. Each quilt, each local Body of believers, are unique and beautiful, and each part of the pattern repeats in a way that brings harmony, beauty, and warmth. The quilt is pieced in patterns of shapes and colors, (like this one, made with squares and diamonds, or like this quilt, made up entirely of hexagons.)

Creating quilts in my grandmothers’ and great-grandmothers’ day created community. Women gathered around frames a “quilting bees.” Their shared efforts provided a piece of practical household furnishing. Quilts take what’s left of scarce resources and make something new.

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My grandmother’s quilt. 

There is an unproven legend that quilts pointed the way on the Underground Railroad. Maybe it’s true! As Anna Lopez, an education coordinator at the Plymouth Historical Museum in Michigan said to Time magazine, “What I tell kids is, who writes history? Men do. Mostly white men. Then I ask, who made quilts? Women did, and a lot of black women made quilts and passed on their oral history. No one wrote down their history, so who knows?”[4] Maybe those quilts were used to guide people to freedom.

Quilts memorialize events or people. How many of you saw the NAMES Project, the quilt which remembers AIDS victims? Families and friends created a 3×6’ panel and they were stitched together into huge blocks. In 1995, the quilt covered the entire National Mall. Now it would blanket it many times over.

Perhaps when you think of a quilt as an image of the Body of Christ, you think of this lovely one made by my grandmother. And you think to yourself, “Yes! The Church! Decency, order, variety and diversity! Blended together by God and stitched together in unity and love!” God is that comforting presence, that warmth that welcomes us.

As the poem in our bulletin this morning suggests:
I think God is a quilter
Who takes His needle and thread
To piece our world from nothingness
And give it form instead.

Well… yes.
And no!

First, I think if God is a quilter, then God should be represented as a “She.” I think I have met one male quilter in my life… No offense to the anonymous writer on the internet. Just sayin… it should say she takes HER needle and thread…

I actually think the kin-dom of God is a little more wild and rambling and creative, and a little less controlled and boxed-in. I think the work of the Spirit is freeing, not confining. I think the actions of the Church are passionate and varied and beautiful. I think there are times for the kin-dom of God to be beautiful and decent and well-ordered enough to make any introvert happy.

And then… the Bapticostal side of me says… No… the Holy Spirit is a crazy quilt!

 

crazyqlt
Created by my great-grandmother.

Here’s the real picture of each of us being grafted in, adopted, changed and molded into a whole. Here there are threadbare places and misshapen pieces. There is imperfection! There is chaos. Wildness. There is random order. It is unified, but unique. They are all stitched together in this crazy quilt called a “church.” Apart by ourselves, there is no sense. Put together, it is a beautiful thing. It is a legacy, a promise, a dream of what is to come. It’s a dream of God might do, if we could get along. Like the “hope chests” of old, there is the possibility of what is “not yet.”

The Body of Christ, the kin-dom of God that is represented by this crazy quilt, is a church that knows there is hard work ahead. Its a church that says, I will do everything I can in this process of loving and caring for one another and our world will take everything we have. It will only be as successful as our least-attached piece, as our least committed member.

In the writing of Ephesians, Paul (or pseudo-Paul), was attempting to bring unity to a deeply divided people. A people who had other gods and religions practicing right on their doorstep. A culture which denied women the rights of full citizenship, and allowed slavery. (And even told slaves how they should act!) Ephesus, though a modern seaport in its day, was not so good at showing love and compassion to one another. The writer’s words were full of encouragement, of unity, of love, and of understanding.

And in these words, may we see and know for ourselves that we are each a piece of God’s divine plan in the world. We are each chosen, beloved, adopted and blessed. We are each stitched into the kin-dom of God. May our lives be a response to God who loves us, and may we together bring the praise of God’s glory.

Thanks be to God!

Gracious God,

We who are comfortable, forget those who feel discomfort. We who are healed, forget those who are wounded.  We who need you, forget that your Holy Spirit would change us and mold us and meld us and loves us in ways that we cannot even fathom. May the words that have been spoken be like arrows to our hearts, for you are a Great God who can do all things… in Christ, we pray. Amen.

 


[1]From Kingdom to Kin-dom and Beyond. Christian Feminism Today, https://eewc.com/kingdom-kindom-beyond/Accessed 6/29/2018.

[2]Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, Villard Books: New York, 1990, page 6-7.

[3]Chapter 9, “Kin-dom of God: A Mujerista Proposal,” by Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz (p 171-190). Valentín, Benjamín. In our own voices: Latino/a renditions of theology.Maryknoll, N.Y. : Orbis Books, © 2010. Accessed: June 29, 2018. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/heb.31279.0001.001.

[4]Stacie Stukin (2007-04-03). “Unravelling the Myth of Quilts and the Underground Railroad”TIME. http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1606271,00.html  Retrieved June 27, 2018.

10 years ago… An Ordination Happened!

ordinationhappy
Laughing during the ordination service.

Ten years ago, I was ordained as a minister of the Gospel in a nondenominational church. For many years before that, I was serving in pastoral roles, but was not given the recognition of the title, “pastor.”

Some of us, like yours truly, take a long and winding road to get to ordination, partly because we don’t believe we really are supposed to be in the ministry. Or we believe the people who tell us that we “can’t do that” because of our identity.

What took me so long to become ordained?

I had to believe deep down to my toes that, yes indeed, God Called me. And then I had to speak up and say, “I’m ready. Let’s do this.”

My ordination day was shared with my friend Glenn. It was a party! A luau. A day with friends and family that is still, ten years later, very precious to me. Some of the friends have moved to other churches (or I have) and we don’t see much of each other any more. But their affirmation launched me and their prayers and commissioning spurred me onward.

handslaid
Surrounded by prayer and encouragement. (Family not pictured.)

I’m grateful for every opportunity offered to me over the years. Since the 1980s I’ve been active in ministry in many capacities. Directing choirs. Teaching classes. Writing courses, devotional guides, seminars and workshops. Administration. Leading worship. Marrying, baptizing, and burying ’em. Committees and council meetings. Mentoring and commissioning others. Going to seminary. Preaching. Protesting. Praying. Studying. Being an advocate. Standing up for the rights of the under-served and the disenfranchised. Working with like-minded Christian feminists. An ally, mom, wife, sister, and friend. Being a chaplain, counselor and midwife to the close-to-dying.

Each task has been something that, at the time, I did my best work possible. I was up late at night, or working through dinner. It meant a lot of driving, listening, and praying. Many times I messed up, teared up, or wanted to give up. But every time, the Call of the Spirit was louder than my whines.

Funny how that works…

I’ve served in churches, hospitals, out-patient clinics, sidewalks, long-term care facilities and homes. I have handed out tissues, made hard phone calls, and stood up for someone’s rights. Many times, I was the one who could hear the questions behind the words. Other times, I was afraid to be bold and confront the heartache that was as yet unnamed.

Then there’s the unexpected tasks of ministry… Unclogging toilets, sinks and floor drains. Photocopying, collating and stapling. Buying helium balloons. Calling caterers. Dealing with vandalism. Standing up to church bullies. And an infamous run to the thrift store with donated items.

Me and JCfame
Giving the Holy Family a ride to the thrift store donation center.

God called. I answered. Sometimes with tears. Sometimes with laughter. Always with this sense of “Who me? WOW! Yes! Me!”

Other times, God said “no… this Call is not for you.” And there have been tears and questions and a struggle to trust that a “no” from the Holy is a good thing. (I’m still working on that.)

So it’s been ten years… already? And I’m up for whatever God has in store for ten more.

If you’ve read this far, you get a medal. Or maybe a cookie. Thank you for persevering with me in life (and in blogging!)

A montage of ministry pictures from the last ten years:

dance

Here I am, Lord.
At times I’m bruised, confused and little deflated,
Or curious, enchanted and invigorated.
But most of all,
Lord of all,
My heart sings with a song of Alleluia’s
And my clumsy feet still dance with praise!
I can’t imagine doing anything else.
But Holy One,
That’s why we do it.
You.
And me.
Together!
Soli Deo gloria!
Amen.

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