Star Words is a concept I first learned about from Marci Glass, one of the RevGalBlogPals. She credits Reformed Worship for the seed idea.
The concept is simple: One selects (or is given) a word for the purpose of reflection and meditation for the New Year. It is based off of the story of the Magi coming to see the Christ Child. In most Christian communities, this story is part of Epiphany celebration (or the twelfth day of Christmas.) However, I think it can be part of one’s spiritual practice, regardless of your personal spirituality or religion (or lack thereof.)
Here is the text as found in Matthew 2:1-12 (CEB).
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
6“You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah, because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel.”*
7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
In choosing/giving a star word, there is an opportunity for reflection and even re-direction. After all, the Magi thought a new King would be born in a palace. Instead, the scholars in Herod’s court told them to go to Bethlehem. They also listened to the warnings of the Divine (even through dreams!) to not return and tell Herod where the Child was living with his family. How might the Divine give you re-direction or insight with your Star Word?
The gifts of the Magi were costly. Their intentions were pure. What would a poor workman and his wife do with all of these treasures? Perhaps initially, to pay their way to Egypt as refugees, and then later, to re-establish the family in Nazareth. What gift will you receive from learning about yourself and your Star Word?
I invite you to receive your own Star Word!
I’ll pick one at random from my bag of stars. It will be yours to contemplate in the New Year. You might not like the word you get… but eventually, there will be some sort of spiritual insight or affirmation from it. As I like to tell people, “the word chooses YOU!” Every year I have engaged in this practice, I have learned something about myself and have been encouraged in my personal spiritual practice. You can read about my reflections on my 2018 Star Word here!
To get your own star word:
leave me a comment (and I’ll reply with your word)
message me or respond to my posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr
just ask when you see me!
Here’s to the journey of wonder, contemplation and Light!
Tonight I offer
prayers for the whys
prayers for the not agains
prayers for the dying
prayers for the dead
prayers for the angry
prayers for the scared
prayers for the healers
prayers for the investigators
prayers for the grieving
prayers for the bystanders
prayers for the perpetuators of hate
prayers for the unhelpful rhetoric
prayers for the politicians
prayers for news outlets
prayers for our faith communities
prayers for the gun lovers
prayers for the gun lobbyists
prayers for the peacemakers
prayers for change
prayers for hope…
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.
I 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.
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.
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.” 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. 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!
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!
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.
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?” 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!
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!
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.
I just spent a week at the Festival of Homiletics. This year’s theme was “Preaching and Politics.” It was all it was billed to be: inspirational, educational, and relational, building connections with others who are passionate about communicating the Gospel.
Every day, I was up earlier than my normal workday to commute into DC. I’m not a morning person. This was a true test of my will! But the speakers and the worship services were worth it. I grabbed a few books for my ever-growing “to-read” pile. I had many, many good conversations with old and new friends. I purposely went to hear preachers and speakers who were as un-like me as possible. It was worth every dollar I invested to attend, especially given that I don’t get reimbursed for these conferences by my job or my church. (When I heard people talk about their “books allowance” and “travel allowance”, I confess I was pea-green with envy. I funded the whole thing, including my vacation days.)
One of my preacher friends who has attended many of these conferences noted that she often gets “preacher envy” after attending these events. I totally get that. But festivals like this renew one’s appetite for the discipline of study and application of scripture. It also made me realize that I am more of a storyteller than expositor, more of a pastor than an executive. I have great appreciation for those with their churches in the thousands, but my heart remains with leading a solid local church of a couple hundred. I appreciated the heady and brilliant professors among us, but connected more with the hearts of those who tend the wounded and hurting. It was inspiring and encouraging to be in this work.
My last day of attendance culminated by attending a prayer service for the Reclaiming Jesus movement. Billed as “A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis” its intent was to bring solidarity around specific justice issues of our time and lament and repent of our self-absorption in “political, material, cultural, racial, or national idolatries.” We left the service and walked in a candlelight procession for a few blocks to the White House in a silent display of solidarity and hope, praying for our nation, our churches, and ourselves. This was inspiring, too. But I was left with a few sticking points with the whole Reclaiming Jesus movement:
There was a lack of clarity on the full inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQ persons. While the Reclaiming Jesus statement did affirm that all persons as made in the image of God (Imago Dei) there were limited statements of support IN WRITING for LGBTQ persons. While it was implied in Article 21, it was not specific. It could be implied, and it was clearly spoken to from the pulpit, but it was not in writing. I am disappointed that the leadership of this movement did not take the opportunity to affirm their LGBTQ siblings who are serving in churches as pastors and lay leaders, as seminarians, parents, and youth group members.
There was a lack of clarity on the role of women as pastors and leaders. It was implied but not stated, and women who were leaders in their individual denominations were present and spoke from the pulpit. However, since many of us in the Baptist tradition have had a long road to fully embracing and engaging our Calls in the local church, and particularly with the singular rejection of conservatives towards women in ministry, it would have been an easy step. To their credit, the statement does address misogyny and abusive relationships. But they could have done much more.
There was a lack of inclusion of other denominations and Christian social action groups in the statement. Were they not willing to sign-off on the statement as it was presented? Or were they not invited to the table for discussion and reflection? Specifically, I wonder about:
the Alliance of Baptists (my theological home)
The Poor People’s Campaign
Metropolitan Community Churches
Faith in Public Life
I’m hopeful the leadership of the Reclaiming Jesus movement will address these questions in the future, or at the very least, be more transparent about the process of writing the statements. I look forward to reading more and participating in the movement because I believe it will be shaped by our interest and activism.