When We All Suffer: Lessons learned from commuting on the DC Metro

For the second Sunday after Epiphany, Year C

The rudeness of the people shoving their way around each other, fighting for entry into a Metro car always surprises me. There will another train in 3 minutes during rush hour. Just chill, people! But no…

On one occasion, I stepped back to allow someone to exit. The person right behind me, jabbering away on his cell phone, sensed a gap in the Force and surged around me, not realizing that a person in a wheelchair is trying to get off the train. He stopped abruptly and they did a little shuffle. Left. Right. Left. The man was trapped in the flow, the last person trying to get off as we all waited to get on.

I finally spoke up. “WAIT A MINUTE! Let him off!”

The guy snarled obscenities to me, deliberately kicked the other guy’s wheelchair so that it turned sideways, half on the car and half on the platform, and vaulted over him onto the train. Two of us managed to help him pull free just as the doors closed. Everyone behind me groaned.

“Sir, are you OK?” He looked up, angry.

“I’m fine. Thank you!” He snapped. He wheeled away, yelling for people to move out of his way. I stepped back from the edge of the platform slightly, still guarding my place where the doors would open for the next train.

I looked around at my fellow commuters. Not one would meet my eyes. Everyone was suddenly very busy, scanning their smart phones. Did they not care? Or were they just embarrassed?

The next train came, and since I had not moved, I was in a perfect position to get on the train and find a spot to stand. Shaking my head, I settled into a secure standing position near the front of the car and braced myself for the commute home. Maybe I’d find a seat soon. I slipped automatically into my “Metro zone,” finding my earbuds and being watchful of my setting without staring at anyone. It’s a necessary skill for commuting.

“You know, I think you did the right thing, watching out for that guy,” said the man next to me. I looked up, pausing to stick in my earbuds. The man was about my age and dressed in a well-tailored charcoal grey suit. “People become animals when they think no one knows them.”

We had a short conversation about the inhumanity of the Metro system, and then both of us retreated into our personal electronic devices.

What would it take to change someone’s manners on the Metro? Perhaps having to BE in a wheelchair himself? As I mused, I thought about how often we deliberately ignore or minimize the pain of others.

Sometimes it’s quite deliberate. If I take the time to acknowledge your pain, then I might need to help you. Or listen to you. Or do something about it. And if I don’t I feel guilty.

Other times, it’s because I’m oblivious. I’m wrapped up in my own questions and pondering, and I can literally step right over yours. (Though in the case of the wheelchair-bound Metro commuter, I don’t know what would have made him more noticeable to everyone, besides a klaxon…)

It seems to be our selfish human nature that we respond with a self-centered OUTTA MY WAY! when faced with the obstacles of caring for and dealing with others. Being responsive to others can slow you down. Mess up your “A Game.” Or, in the case of my pushy Metro friend, make you miss a train.

But in these words of Paul, we are shown how when one of us suffers, we all suffer…

I Corinthians 12:12-31

12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink.

14 Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. 15 If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 16 If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. 19 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? 20 But as it is, there are many parts but one body. 21 So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” 22 Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. 23 The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. 24 The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor 25 so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it.

27 You are the body of Christ and parts of each other. 28 In the church, God has appointed first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, the ability to help others, leadership skills, different kinds of tongues. 29 All aren’t apostles, are they? All aren’t prophets, are they? All aren’t teachers, are they? All don’t perform miracles, do they? 30 All don’t have gifts of healing, do they? All don’t speak in different tongues, do they? All don’t interpret, do they? 31 Use your ambition to try to get the greater gifts. And I’m going to show you an even better way.

The theme of humanity’s interconnectedness appears in other places in Scripture (Romans 12:5 and Ephesians 4:25, for starters). It is woven into Christ’s parables and sermons. It is such an important theme that it was among the first Messianic scriptures read by Christ in the synagogue:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As someone who names Christ as my Redeemer, I am called to consider how I will help the poor, the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed. While vocationally I am frequently caring for the sick, where is my compassion when I am out of my chaplain’s garb? Where does the “every-day Deb” see the needy around her? When do I notice and when do I turn my head away? While not every need is mine to cover, I know in my heart when I’ve disengaged because it was not convenient. Or comfortable. Or clean. Or (let’s face it) when no one else would notice if I didn’t help.

Perhaps I also don’t want to get involved because I don’t like the person I see. They do not live as I live, or pray as I pray, or agree with my doctrine/political party/sports team. I might make a petty decision to ignore them just because they are not “like me” enough.

When I DO decide to get involved, it’s not about the guilt. It’s about the grace. The gift of God to us. That’s what motivates, empowers and frees me from my agenda to search out God’s agenda for my day. It’s knowing that I have somehow, despite my own struggles, insecurities and plans, found a way to make the love of God shine like a light in the darkness. Feebly. Painfully. In spite of me. In spite of all of us.

That’s God at work.

‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
Jesus. (Matthew 25)

Son of God
Shaper of the stars
You alone
The dweller of my heart
Mighty King
How beautiful You are, how beautiful

Son of God
The Father’s gift to us
You alone
Were broken on the alter of love
Precious Lamb
Our freedom’s in Your blood, It’s in your blood

Jesus, Oh Holy One
I sing to You
Forgiven
Savior, I’m overcome
With Your great love for me

Son of God
Strenght beyond compare
You alone
The darkness cannot bear
Lord of love
Your kindness draws me near, it draws me

Son of God
Prophecy of old
You alone
Redeemer of my soul
Come again
And lead your people home, come lead us home

You are worthy
You are worthy
You are worthy of all my praise

You are beautiful
You are beautiful
I will lift up my hands and singSon of God
Shaper of the stars
You alone
The dweller of my heart
Mighty King
How beautiful You are, how beautiful

Son of God
The Father’s gift to us
You alone
Were broken on the alter of love
Precious Lamb
Our freedom’s in Your blood, It’s in your blood

Jesus, Oh Holy One
I sing to You
Forgiven
Savior, I’m overcome
With Your great love for me

Son of God
Strenght beyond compare
You alone
The darkness cannot bear
Lord of love
Your kindness draws me near, it draws me

Son of God
Prophecy of old
You alone
Redeemer of my soul
Come again
And lead your people home, come lead us home

You are worthy
You are worthy
You are worthy of all my praise

You are beautiful
You are beautiful
I will lift up my hands and sing.

Glimpses of History

Because of today’s schedule, I only had glimpses of history. I did watch most of President Obama’s speech, but missed the parade. For a “day off” it sure was a busy day!

There was much to inspire us today. The setting for the oath of office, symbolically on the Capitol steps, just steps away from where the Senate and the House of Representatives meet. The symbols of America’s history are in view of everyone seated there – the Washington Monument,  with the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials in the distance. The artistry of the military band. The poem by Richard Blanco, echoing the President’s themes of inclusivity, justice, environmental stewardship, charity, peace and hope. And the prayer for unity at the end of the inauguration by Rev. Luis Leon.

Swirling in the background was all of the social media commentary. (I admit. I participated in it.) Justice Scalia’s hat. How Beyonce and James Taylor out-shined Kelly Clarkson. There are photos of some of the disgruntled. There were inappropriate tweets from those who are (still) angry that the President was re-elected.

These little glimpses of history reminded me that there is still a lot of discord that is bubbling up to the surface. That is the agenda for tomorrow and every day following.

But today – as I prayed for the inaugurations of his predecessors, even those I did not vote for, I thought of the words of Paul from I Timothy 2:

1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

And these words from Romans 13:

1 Every person should place themselves under the authority of the government. There isn’t any authority unless it comes from God, and the authorities that are there have been put in place by God. So anyone who opposes the authority is standing against what God has established. People who take this kind of stand will get punished. The authorities don’t frighten people who are doing the right thing. Rather, they frighten people who are doing wrong. Would you rather not be afraid of authority? Do what’s right, and you will receive its approval. It is God’s servant given for your benefit. But if you do what’s wrong, be afraid because it doesn’t have weapons to enforce the law for nothing. It is God’s servant put in place to carry out his punishment on those who do what is wrong. That is why it is necessary to place yourself under the government’s authority, not only to avoid God’s punishment but also for the sake of your conscience. You should also pay taxes for the same reason, because the authorities are God’s assistants, concerned with this very thing. So pay everyone what you owe them. Pay the taxes you owe, pay the duties you are charged, give respect to those you should respect, and honor those you should honor.

We are all commanded to PRAY for our leaders. Even those we did not vote for. Or, more importantly, especially for those we did not vote for!! If we do not, then we cast doubt on God’s ability to direct history.

Simply, humbly, honestly, I do pray for God to “shed His grace” on our country and our world. Until the end of Time…

Epiphany 2C — Isaiah 62: 1-5, That New Name…

Have you ever been in a place where you needed a fresh start? Maybe wanted to get a whole new identity and start over?

During my last semester in seminary, we were required to attend a Spiritual Formation class that included a short retreat with our classmates and professor. My prayer partner and I arrived on campus exhausted and ready for a break. She was in the throes of denominational schism and conflict, her application for ordination in the netherlands of bureaucracy. I was in a difficult ministry setting and was ready to quit ministry completely.

One morning at the retreat center, I headed out with my camera. It was quiet and crystal clear. I wrestled with my doubts.
Why was I in seminary?
Why was every door of opportunity being slammed shut?
Why wasn’t I drawn to the typical “women’s ministry” or “children’s ministry” positions?
(It’s not that I don’t think women should NOT fulfill those roles — they just weren’t for me.)
And why, above all, were the alternatives not clear?

I was silent. I watched. I looked. I prayed. And took pictures. Several photos later the images spoke volumes to me. It was as if God said, “Do not fear the opposition. Do not assume that conflict means you are in the wrong. I will make a way. I have a place for you.”

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Stubborn stump growth from a beaver-felled tree
25005_376337861342_382589_n
Persistence and perseverance on my path.
25005_376337796342_2656551_n
Finding my way through the forest.
25005_376338006342_5580819_n
Letting God see the depths of my heart.
Goose paddling contentedly in the swamp
Geese paddling contentedly in the swamp

The beauty of this week’s passage is rooted in a theme of recovery and restoration. The Jewish people had been restored to their Land. Weary and wounded, they wanted assurance that God had heard their prayers for relief.

And God, the Faithful One, had responded. In this passage, in the context of the post-exilic era, God makes several precious promises to the people. And they are for the Church today, too!

Hear the Word of the Lord from Isaiah 62

1 For Zion’s sake I won’t keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I won’t sit still
until her righteousness shines out like a light,
and her salvation blazes like a torch.
2 Nations will see your righteousness,
all kings your glory.
You will be called by a new name,
which the Lord’s own mouth will determine.
3 You will be a splendid garland in the Lord’s hand,
a royal turban in the palm of God’s hand.
4 You will no longer be called Abandoned,
and your land will no longer be called Deserted.
Instead, you will be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land, Married.
Because the Lord delights in you,
your land will be cared for once again.
5 As a young man marries a young woman,
so your sons will marry you.
With the joy of a bridegroom because of his bride,
so your God will rejoice because of you.

God answered the hurting by promising that instead of being called Abandoned and Deserted, they would be God’s Delight. They would be married again to their Land and their God. And the most beautiful promise of all was this:

You will be called by a new name,
which the Lord’s own mouth will determine.

ָח ָדׁש ֵׁשם Yes! The NEW NAME!!!

The New Name
The New Name

At the Spiritual Formation retreat, we were each challenged to lay aside our goals, dreams and plans and to allow God to remake them and redirect us. For my prayer partner and I, this was especially poignant. Lay down our old dreams and hopes, and take on God’s? But what we wanted to do for God was not bad! In fact, we thought it was exactly what God asked. We set down a rock we had found on our morning walk, and picked up a stone with the NEW NAME on it.

It is a humbling thing to be brought to the place of “losing” everything, as the exiled Jewish people had experienced, only to be restored with God’s glory shining more glorious than before. They could not have known or predicted how God would do it. It was enough to know that God was at work. And that God would rejoice because of them.

In the almost three years since that retreat, I’ve had my “new name” rock with me on my desk at work, at home, in my pocket when I preach. It is present to remind me that I can keep going where God leads, as God leads. I don’t have to know all the specifics. I just need to know WHO leads me. There have been times that the journey has been disappointing, and other times where I knew in the depths of my heart that I had LISTENED and God was pleased.

37336_440866366342_5108995_nAs the Spirit has led, I’ve been challenged, encouraged and filled with peace. I have been given that New Name which is God’s gift to me. Not the same as anyone else’s. I nodded in agreement as I read Paul’s words in I Corinthians 12:

4 There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 and there are different ministries and the same Lord; 6 and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.

Where you are today – I hope you sense that God has led you into the “activity of the Spirit” that makes God’s glory shine. As for me, I’m learning how to shine on! It is not easy. And doubts and questions will still come. But I know I’m on the right path, because God makes the way. It requires no wrestling, or worrying, just following!

Thanks be to God!

Passing through Deep Waters: Isaiah 43:1-3a

There was a book from my childhood that I remember having read to me, and later reading it on my own. Maybe you have heard of it.

paddletothesea

Paddle-to-the-Sea is the story of a small wooden model of a Native American in a canoe. A boy in Lake Nipigon, Canada takes the toy to the lake’s edge and puts it in the water. On the bottom of the canoe, he has carved the words “Put me back in the water, I am Paddle-to-the-sea.” The story chronicles the toy’s travels through the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean.

I had ridden in and tried to paddle a real canoe. I remember imagining what it was like to be tossed and carried by the currents and large ships’ wakes. It both intrigued and terrified me. The toy canoe had no rudder, no active paddler. It had no control. It survived countless challenges. And yet – the forces of nature and the kindness of many strangers helped the little canoe to its planned destination.

Somehow, the book, with its art and many accompanying vignettes, was a comforting adventure and I read again and again. The power of the water and waves were not impossible to overcome. There were difficult situations, but the little canoe was OK. I wondered if I could re-create something like it, perhaps with a message in a bottle.

The journey into the unknown is one that we can take with confidence that we do not go without God’s care and blessing. Kind of like the maritime blessing of “Fair winds and following seas,” we generally hope that whatever we face in this life will not be with too much stress or worry. But that’s not the reality of life as most of us know it. Cancer, unexpected death, job losses, natural disaster, shattered relationships — all these life event tear at our carefully constructed pipe dreams of a secure and gentle life.

As Christians, we sometimes fall into this trap of believing that “everything will be OK if we just have faith.” Nice idea. But no. We say this to try and comfort one another. It rarely works. Saying the platitudes might make us feel better – for a moment – but then the heartache rebounds and the questions remain. I have heard many times these well-intentioned but theologically incorrect platitudes about facing adversity: “Well, God doesn’t give us more than we can handle!” Or “Heaven must have needed another angel.” Or among my least favorites, “God doesn’t make mistakes.” (Um… let’s not blame our human error, stubbornness or sin on God, OK?)

So how does one balance this idea of God’s protection and care with a gentle realism that, on occasion, life sucks? It’s not easy.

Perhaps these verses, part of this week’s Lectionary readings, offer a perspective on how to weather the storm…

From Isaiah 43:

1 But now, says the Lord—
the one who created you, Jacob,
the one who formed you, Israel:
Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched
and flame won’t burn you.
3 I am the Lord your God,
the holy one of Israel, your savior.

God spoke to those under persecution and occupation – I AM HERE. The flood waters and fires would not consume or overwhelm. Though situations seemed dire, God was there. God, their redeemer, creator, and savior. The Holy One of Israel. The Lord.

Do not fear the waters.DSC_0839

Waters that move and surge, molding the shoreline and moving the topsoil. Waters that create boundaries between countries. Waters that host fish for our table. Waters that constantly seek to move to the ocean. Waters that soak and nourish the vegetation.

And waters that come to represent the fresh start, the new life — the waters of baptism.

To me it is no coincidence that these verses from Isaiah are included in the Lectionary’s focus on baptism. John the Baptist met Christ in the Jordan River. We follow Christ’s example of baptism to lay our belief and trust in the trustworthiness of God and to remember the abiding Presence of the Spirit. Sealed by the Spirit, marked as God’s own.

“Remember your baptism” say my pastor friends to their congregations. Some of us were baptized as infants or toddlers. What can we possibly remember? If nothing else, the assurance from family and friends that we were loved, cherished and invited into the larger Family of God. For those of us baptized as adults, there is the memory of being wet. If we were immersed in a baptistry or pool, we remember being VERY wet.

The promise we celebrate in baptism is that of God’s Presence with us — even in those times of floodwaters. Life will have many times of rough waters, but God will be present with us as we struggle through them.

 
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Keep paddling-to-the-sea, to the Shore. God invites us to ride the waves… and paddles with us.

Amen.

Epiphany Sunday (Year C)

The text that spoke to me this week was from Isaiah 60:

1 Arise! Shine! Your light has come;
the Lord’s glory has shone upon you.
2 Though darkness covers the earth
and gloom the nations,
the Lord will shine upon you;
God’s glory will appear over you.
3 Nations will come to your light
and kings to your dawning radiance.
4 Lift up your eyes and look all around:
they are all gathered; they have come to you.
Your sons will come from far away,
and your daughters on caregivers’ hips.
5 Then you will see and be radiant;
your heart will tremble and open wide,
because the sea’s abundance will be turned over to you;
the nations’ wealth will come to you.
6 Countless camels will cover your land,
young camels from Midian and Ephah.
They will all come from Sheba,
carrying gold and incense,
proclaiming the Lord’s praises.

The passage is full of words that get robbed for Youth Conferences, all with exclamation points! (You know: “Shine!” “Arise!” “Look!” “Radiance!”) But the emphasis is not on what we could do, but on our acknowledging what God has already DONE.

The Promised One has come. Darkness is defeated once for all. And our sons and daughters, in fact, all peoples of the earth gather to join us in praise to God. It is a jubilant, refreshed people who can sing with such abandon and joy. The deep darkness that made it seem like Narnia with “all winter and never Christmas” has been remolded into a place of warmth, light and joy.

I’m not someone who loves the darkness of winter. I don’t mind the cold and the wintry weather, but the short, dark days get to me. This passage points me back past situational darkness to the reality of the Light, Hope and Love who lives within me. And that reality, despite my failings and frustrations, leaks out with little pinpricks of joy all over the place.

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God reminds me, “Your Light has come…” And I remember that I am truly standing in God’s Marvelous Light.

NaBloPoMo Day 8 – A chance to not dream?

This is a blogging prompt with an interesting twist:

If you could be given the option to never sleep and also never be tired, would you take it if it meant you’d also never dream again?

Good question. the short answer is, “NO.”

Why? Because even though sometimes it is hard to get enough sleep, to not have the time and space to dream and let the possibilities run wild would be sad. Not to mention unhealthy.

There are times that I think I “have to” stay up and do a task or complete a project. Most of the time, I make a choice to forgo sleep and tackle whatever it is that keeps me awake. More often than not, it’s just my normal circadian rhythm wanting me to be a night owl. (The exception, of course, was when I was in seminary or CPE and had something due at 8 a.m. Then sleep truly was optional!)

So what does dreaming have to do with giving energy? I think it is the empowering process of our hopes and goals. It takes a step beyond the “here and now” to the “maybe” — and that in itself is healthy, when kept in balance. Dreaming allows you to shoot for a new goal. It makes you try something new. And since I believe in a God who renews Covenant Love every morning, dreaming is an intricate part of my faith.

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Lamentations 3:22-24
Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through! They are renewed every morning. Great is your faithfulness. I think: The Lord is my portion! Therefore, I’ll wait for him.

Christmas 1, Year C (continued) Ecclesiastes 3

The Spirit's Wind - blowing in ways I do not see... yet I know God is at work.
The Spirit’s Wind – blowing in ways I do not see… yet I know God is at work.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 [CEB]
There’s a season for everything
and a time for every matter under the heavens:
A time for giving birth and a time for dying,
a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,
A time for killing and a time for healing,
a time for tearing down and a time for building up,
A time for crying and a time for laughing,
a time for mourning and a time for dancing,
A time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,
a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,
A time for searching and a time for losing,
a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,
A time for tearing and a time for repairing,
a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,
A time for loving and a time for hating,
a time for war and a time for peace.
What do workers gain from all their hard work? I have observed the task that God has given human beings. God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end.

I know that there’s nothing better for them but to enjoy themselves and do what’s good while they live. Moreover, this is the gift of God: that all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results of their hard work.

What better verses can there be for New Year’s Day? We turned to a whole new calendar this morning. We have a rough idea of the holidays, the school year, the day of graduation (or as it is for our household, TWO graduation days, as both The Johnnie and Reedy Girl will be graduating in the spring!) There is a sense of purpose and motion in these verses. It’s easy to get caught up in them.

There are many things on my “wish list” that may or may not happen in the year ahead. Learning to rest, trust and believe that God is in charge is a huge challenge for me. Frequently I doubt not only God’s direction, but my ability to understand and follow it.

When I took the photo above, I was marveling at the ways that the jetstream, unseen by my eyes on the ground, was busy, moving the jets’ comtrails, blending them with the clouds, and showing the power of nature. What I could not see was still real. The forces at work were not discernible, yet the evidence was clear that they were there.

There is a sense of the ordering of the seasons. The days we have ahead may be roughly planned, but we still walk by faith with a lot of the details as yet unknown. It’s scary. It’s exciting. It’s a faith walk filled with hope, curiosity and, yes, fears. But as surely as God has placed “eternity” in our hearts, so there is also joy. There may also be challenges, successes, achievements, failures and frustrations, yet God is equal to those moments as well.

I look ahead with anticipation, wanting to know and see those places of enjoyment ahead. Here’s to a year of many “times” — all of them in God’s hands.