Saturday, April 15, 2017

Maundy Thursday Meditations

Meditation | One

I tend to look at Maundy Thursday through rose-colored glasses. We come together to hear a feel-good story and remember the night Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment - a commandment about love and serving others. There the intimacy of washing feet and the camaraderie of sharing a final meal together as friends. And while all these things are true - I would like for you to imagine with me that night long ago and feel the tension that is hanging in the air. Tension that is so thick that you could cut it with a knife - heavy with expectation and uncertainty. Jesus and his closest friends were gathered together in the upper room. They had been together for three years, traveling and learning with each other - I’m sure a lot of bonding had taken place -  and yet they still weren’t all on the same page.

Peter had entered Jerusalem with Jesus only days before to shouts of Hosanna – Save us! He heard the cries of the people calling for Jesus to be a military leader, the politically powerful Messiah who had come to free the people from the oppression of the Roman empire. Perhaps, that night, as they gathered for dinner, Peter was still hanging onto that hope. The hope that Jesus would crush the Romans and he and his people would be free.

Judas was reclining around the table with the others as well, pretending as if everything were okay. Judas had already met with the chief priests of the Sanhedrin who were out to bring Jesus down. His pockets were heavy with the 30 pieces of silver the priests had given him to betray Jesus. The decision had been made and now he had only to pick the perfect time to turn Jesus over. Maybe Judas was especially quiet that night, avoiding eye contact with the others, trying his best to not act suspicious while keeping his dark secret.

Can you feel the tension in the air?

I bet Jesus could. He knew there were expectations that he would be a conquering king and he knew one of his closest friends would soon betray him. The room was full of conflicting loyalties. Peter wanted Jesus to be someone he was not and Judas had become someone other than who Jesus thought him to be. And there they sat, together in that room. Would anyone be loyal to Jesus in the end?

Although he knew the answer, Jesus the Christ, stood up and took off his outer garment. Kneeling down, he took the position of a slave, a servant, a woman – and began washing the feet of all who had gathered together. The actual, literal, physical body of Christ, showing us what it means to be the body of Christ.

He washed the feet of stubborn fishermen. He washed the feet of despised tax collectors. He washed the feet of prideful Peter and he washed the feet of disloyal Judas. He could have refused. Who would want to wash the feet of someone who wants you to be someone you are not? Who would want to wash the feet of someone who is going to stab you in the back? Not me. But Jesus did. He washed the feet of all gathered and then he said, “I have set an example for you and you should do as I have done.” He continued, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples when you have love for one another.”

Jesus talked a lot about the people on the outside, loving our neighbors and even our enemies- but this commandment was directed toward the insiders, the believers. This - he said - This is how you are to be the body of Christ - this is how the world will know that you are the body of Christ. Everyone will know that you are my church when you love one another like I have loved you.

The body of Christ still can fill a room with tension. The body of Christ, still, has conflicting loyalties. There are some days when I think that the church would be great if it weren’t for all the people - because let’s face it - church people are messy. We want to be servant leaders and we want to love like Jesus, and yet, so often, the body of Christ chooses to put God in a box; to separate ourselves into us and them; to be self-righteous and judgemental. There is a constant conflict between the way of Jesus - and our way - and the body of Christ is divided and broken again and again.

Yet, in spite of our failures and our conflicting loyalties, despite our betrayals and weaknesses, Jesus kneels down and washes our feet. Jesus invites us to his table and tells us there is room for each one of us at his table.

The past two weeks, during the Sunday morning education hour, the children of our congregation have gathered together to learn about Holy Communion, some in preparation for their first communion and others as ongoing learning about this Sacrament of grace. The first week I asked all of the children to make a paper doll of themselves. They used crayons and markers, scraps of paper and yarn. Some made more than one - “A spring me and a fall me,” one girl said. And then we glued them all around the table fashioned out of a cardboard box.

Because when it comes to washing feet and when it comes to the table of Holy Communion, Christ welcomes all. Those with conflicting loyalties, those who deny Jesus, those who stab him in the back; those who think they know everything about the mysteries of our faith and those with so much yet to learn; people who are broken and hurting and people holding it all together - people that look an awful lot like you and me.

The tension of Maundy Thursday is a beautiful reminder of where our loyalties should lie.

May the world see Jesus when they see us - and until they do - may we return to the table of Christ, to be forgiven and nourished and reminded of the body we are to become.


Meditation | Two

I have a secret to tell you. I have never ever seen a Star Wars movie. Any of them. At least, not all the way through. It's not something I like to tell people, because there are those who get very offended by my lack of Star Wars knowledge. Last year a friend of mine found out about my secret and was horrified. He demanded that I immediately come over and watch Star Wars (the first one which I learned is actually the fourth one) with him and his family. I sheepishly accepted the invitation and made my way over to their house.

Star Wars is serious business to this family - and so in my honor and in celebration of my first Star Wars experience, they went all out. They set up a projector and projected the movie great big on the wall and hooked up the surround sound, so I felt like I was in a movie theater. There was food and drinks. They made sure I was nice and comfy and handed me a blanket to keep warm.  Then, they turned down the lights, and the opening credits began.

Now, there was something I had failed to mention to them. I have this terrible habit of falling asleep during movies. I just can’t seem to help it.  And although my friends showed the utmost hospitality by making sure I was nice and comfortable, it was probably the wrong call. Because, it wasn’t ten minutes into the movie and my eyes started getting heavy. But, I knew how excited my friend was for me to see this movie so I took a big drink of my soda and sat up straight. But, soon my drink began to slip out of my hand and my head started to fall back. I didn’t want my friends to see my head jerk, so I decided that maybe if I sunk way down into the couch, they wouldn’t know.  I tried to force my eyes to stay open, but all I wanted to do was close them and go to sleep. I tried my best to fight it - I tried to stay awake - but I just couldn’t do it. Sleep won and to my dismay, my friend knew it. My spirit was willing - but my flesh was weak.

Jesus’ disciples found themselves in a similar predicament. They may not have been trying to stay awake to watch Luke Skywalker and the Jedi defeat Darth Vader and the dark side, but their friend Jesus had asked them to stay with him while he faced a different kind of darkness. And I really think that they wanted to be there for Jesus. It’s not that they didn’t care - it’s just that it had been a long, hard day and the disciples were exhausted.  Peter, James, John - they may have wanted to keep awake, but they just couldn’t seem to keep their eyes open.

You see, there is conflicting loyalties, an inner struggle, within all of us - a struggle between the spirit and the flesh. The spirit is willing - we want to do what is right and good and pleasing, we want to be loyal to our friends and to our God - but our flesh is often weak. It is true for me and you, it was true for the disciples, and it was even true for Jesus.

It’s not often that we see Jesus weak and vulnerable, but in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus battling his own inner struggle between spirit and flesh. We see Jesus confronting death, fear, grief and a sense of abandonment, both by his friends and, seemingly by God. He is alone, and he begs God to “let this cup pass” from him. And in the same breath, Jesus’ spirit is willing - he utters profound words submitting to God’s will: “not what I want but what you want.” Back and forth, he prays, get me out of this - your will be done.

We know where Jesus ends up. We know which side wins. Although in the moment, Jesus’ flesh was weak, his willing spirit was stronger.

What was it that made his spirit stronger than his weakness?

Some might say - well, he was divine - but that’s the quick and easy answer. We actually find Jesus wrapped in the frailty of his humanity in the Garden of Gethsemane. I think the reason could be this: Jesus had a close and intimate relationship with God and and he knew that he had a divine purpose. His connection and his calling were stronger than the weakness of his flesh.

Throughout the Scriptures we see that Jesus takes intentional time to be alone with God in contemplation. The relationship between Jesus and his God is so tightly woven that even when his flesh is weak, he can say with all certainty, I trust you. I trust you. And because of this connection, Jesus trusts in his divine purpose. He had come to show the world the unconditional, sacrificial love of God.

A relationship, a connection with God isn't something that we just have, or a place that we arrive at. It's a continual act of putting in the time. Just as with any relationship, we have to continually nurture it, day by day, and over time, our connection continues to grow and mature. And, we haven’t all been given a divine calling to sacrifice our life for others - but we all have been given a divine purpose. The body of Christ has been gifted and called to be good news in the world. We are called to love and serve. We are called to bring Shalom, wholeness, to the world.  Shalom between God and people, people and people; and people and all of creation.

Our flesh often fails us - but our spirits gain strength when we being to no longer think we have to have all the answers and when we stop trying to be in control of everything. Our spirits grow stronger when we lean into God and trust God to do God’s work through our lives. Isn’t that what faith is all about? We trust God to do God’s best work in us and through us.

May your spirits be strong so that you can stay awake….awake to the world around you that is in need of Shalom; and may you trust God to work in you and through you to make it so.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Love Wins...

In each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), there is a story of a demon-possessed Gerasene man and his encounter with Jesus.  Each time I engage with this text, it stirs up within me memories of my favorite place on earth.  Twice I have had the privilege of traveling to Israel, and both times, I have felt completely at peace and at home along the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  Many things in Holy Land have changed since the time of Jesus – paths have become roads, stone structures have been replaced by modern buildings, and churches have been built on top of ancient sites.  But the Sea of Galilee – I know that is the body of water that my Jesus walked on.  The first time I went to Israel, as I was standing on the northern-side near the place of the Sermon on the Mount, I looked out across the beautiful water and tried to recall all of the stories I possibly could that took place on that lake.  Our tour guide came up beside me and pointed off to our left.  “See that cliff,” he said, “where it looks like there are jagged edges that go down into the water?  That is where Jesus commanded that demons be sent into pigs and then they ran into the lake.”  That was one story I hadn’t recalled.  When we were back on the bus, I pulled out my Bible and found this very story in Mark, Chapter 5.  The geography of the land and stories of Scripture came together and made sense in an all new way.

What fascinates me about Scripture is how geography and historical and social context can often uncover an a motley collection of layers within the text.  I have heard the Scriptures compared to the many facets of a diamond.  With each turn, you get a new and different look.  You can be looking at the same text, and turn it just a bit and see a completely different side.  Our story today is like that.  On the surface, this story looks to be a miraculous healing story, but if we turn it and look at it in a different light, it can be seen as a text of resistance against a violent Empires.  Let me explain what I mean.
 

The story begins ... “One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.”  Along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, as I looked out across the water, I could see that other side of the lake was literally the other side of the lake.  You could see it in the distance from Capernaum – the other side was right there.  Yet, the other side was another country, ruled by Rome.  It was Gentile territory, called the Decapolis.  The other side was full of “others.”  They worshiped wrong gods and practiced the wrong religion.  Being a part of the wrong culture, they ate the wrong things.  Being of the wrong ethnicity, they spoke the wrong language.
     

As soon as Jesus gets out of the boat, he is met by this man possessed by demons.  The demon immediately speaks Jesus’ name: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”  And Jesus responds by asking for the name of the demon.    The demons answer that their name is Legion.  This back and forth naming of Jesus and of the Gerasene man is significant.  In the ancient world, Emperors were thought to be divine, or they wanted their subjects to think that they were given their power by the gods.  In many ancient writings, Emperor Caesar Augustus was referred by these names: divine, Son of God, Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, Savior of the World.  Sound familiar?  The demon calls Jesus by a name reserved for Caesar.  And Legion?  Legion was a Roman military term.  A Legion consisted of up to 5,000 men - the infantry, cavalries and squadrons.  A Legion was the leading source of Jewish social, political and economic oppression.  And the Gospel writers take these names, and turn the story into a text of resistance.  Who has the power – Jesus or Rome?  Who will win?
 

But this is also a healing story.  So we turn the text and we see that when Jesus begins his interactions with the Gerasene man by asking for his name, what seems to be a basic and simple question, has many implications.  The man had been living among the tombs, an outcast from society, and banished from human connection.  When shacked with chains, he broke them. He was scabbed and scarred, bruised and broken.  The demons within him were strong and erratic - they sought to separate him from his community, to restrict, confine and render him unworthy of human dignity.  The man’s demons forced him to the fringes of society and made him an “other” in the land of “others.”  “What is your name?” Jesus asks.  With this question, Jesus humanizes the “other,” gives him an identity, and gives him a voice.
    

A couple of years ago I met Mike Simons, a photojournalist for the Tulsa World.  Since our meeting, I have kept up with his work by following him on Facebook.  A couple weeks ago, he posted pictures that he took of a homeless man in Tulsa.  He told the story of seeing the man on the off ramp of 244 near Lewis and thinking, “This guy has the most amazing face.  I have to photograph him.”  Mike begins by asking his name.  His name is Greg.  And then Mike asks him, “Anybody ever told you that you have a wonderful face?” to which the man replies, “Most people tell me I’m ugly.”  He is an “other,” an outcast on the fringes of society, invisible, his humanity often ignored.  A couple weeks later, as I was walking out of Quik Trip, I see a homeless man walking up the sidewalk.  And I recognize him.  He does have a wonderful face.  The crevices of his face are deep and tell the story of a hard life.  His dark hair, sprinkled with salty strands, is long, unkempt and rather wild, but beneath it his dark eyes peer out.  His name is Greg.  On any other day, I most likely would have just passed right by this homeless man, this outcast and other, without a second thought, but that day, I paused.  His name was Greg and he was not invisible.  He was a human.  Names have a way of doing that.  Reminding us who we are and reminding us of the humanity of others.
    

The Gerasene man’s demons are named Legion.  And Legion begs Jesus not send them into the abyss.  Legion begs Jesus to send them instead into a herd of pigs.  And Jesus agrees, sending the demons into pigs that then rush into the water and drown.  Jesus asks the demons their name and then Jesus extends mercy.  He has mercy on even the demons. 
    

When the townspeople hear that all of their pigs have gone off into the sea, they come rushing out to see what has happened, and they find this man, whose relationship with his community had been broken, clothed and in his right mind.  He had been healed.  He had been freed from the oppression of the demons, just as Israel hoped to be freed from the oppression of Rome.  The man is grateful and wants to remain with Jesus.  Wouldn’t you?  His family, his friends, his community had banished him, treated him like an outcast, bound him in chains.  They sent him to live among the tombs.  And Jesus had set him free.  But Jesus insists that he return to his community.  Not only did Jesus bring healing and restoration to the man’s body, but Jesus wanted to restore community and reestablish human relationships.
    

The man is healed and made whole and then told to spread the good news of what God had done for him.  In the story, Jesus wins.  Not Legion – not demons, not Rome.  Jesus wins through his love and mercy.  Love wins.
    

Love wins.  I love that expression.  It’s an expression that I have incorporated into in my life, a ritual of sorts, reminding me of a foundational truth that I am deeply grounded in.  Love wins.  I type it into computers several times every day.  Love wins.  I believe it to be true.  I believe when the end draws near, God will win, which means love will win.  I believe that love is louder than hate and that love wins against hate.  Love wins, period.  I believe it deep in my bones.  So, when I saw a statement the other day the countered this belief, it caught me off guard.  Of this dictum, a friend wrote, “It’s a mistake to simply put a period at the end of the two words and walk away smiling.”  He insisted: Love wins is not a foregone conclusion, manifest destiny, or inevitable.  It doesn’t happen beyond any question of doubt; it is not absolute, inescapable or certain.  You see, Love wins ... (dot, dot, dot).  The ellipses are everything.  I had missed it before.  The ellipses are you and the ellipses are me.  The ellipses are the work of the church.
    

The man is sent back into his community and told to share with others the goodness of God.  He became and partner, an active participant, in the work of the Divine.  Love wins ... IF.  Love wins...if we choose share God’s goodness with the world.  Love wins...if we are willing to show grace to all people, not just the ones we like and with whom we agree.  Love wins...if we are willing to show mercy and love to our demons. 
    

Who are your demons?  Do you know their name?  Sometimes our demons are within and sometimes they are all around us.  Inner demons can be those painful parts of our past that we can’t let go of; they can be addictions, secrets, greed, bitterness.  Our demons cause us to judge ourselves so harshly that we often isolate ourselves from others - even God.  Other demons are all around us.  They are the people whose posts on Facebook make our blood boil.  They think differently, act differently, live differently, believe differently.  Our demons are often the “other.”  Republicans and Democrats.  Conservatives and Liberals.  Evangelicals and Progressives.  Whoever we have “othered” and consider to be wrong.  We humans are pretty good at dividing ourselves to separate ourselves from those we have demonized.  
    

Although demons may appear to be strong, they are actually quite weak.  Their strength only comes through separation and segregation.  Disconnection and division gives demons their power.  It was true for the Gerasene man and it is true for you and I every time we choose to let ourselves be divided and isolated.  Division leads to fear and fear leads to violence.   
    

Our world today is riddled with fear and violence.  Our world and the people who walk upon it are in desperate need of healing and peace.  Long before Greek word Ecclesia was used in the New Testament, the Hebrew word Edah was used to described the ancient Jewish understanding of church.  Far different from our definition of church today, Edah described the whole body of humanity acting as a living witness to the liberating work of the divine in the world.  Not divided, not isolated, but together in unity, humanity is called to bear witness to God’s work of liberation and healing.  Love wins... (dot, dot, dot).  Church, our name is Edah, we are the ellipses, and we are called to be active participants of Divine love.
    

May you hear God call you name and may this calling give you a sure and certain identity as a child of God.  May this calling give you a voice to speak on behalf of those without a voice.  And when you hear God call your name, may you be reminded that love wins…

Monday, January 25, 2016

Let's Go

The first recorded sermon of Jesus is found in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke.  In his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus is handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  He unrolls the scroll, carefully looking for just the right spot, and reads the ancient words written in Hebrew.  The crowd sits in expectant silence.  Finally, Jesus says: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Jesus makes his identity and his mission exceedingly clear: He came to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed.

If this first sermon of Jesus gives us a glimpse at Jesus’ identity and mission, then within his last sermon we find our own identity and mission as his disciples.  The final words of Jesus found in the twenty-eighth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew are: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This command of Jesus is often referred to as “The Great Commission.”  It gives the disciples of Jesus their own identity and their own mission: disciples then and now are to go and make disciples of all nations.  In Greek, the phrase “all nations” can also be translated as “all the Gentiles.  Jesus says, “Go!  All of the world and all of its people are your mission field.”  These words often give us our purpose to go on mission trips, to support missionaries, and to send money to developing countries; we are responding to the call to go to all nations.  Today, however, instead of thinking about all the nations, or all the Gentiles, I want us to consider the people who are closest to us.  Perhaps in our time, all the Gentiles are all of the people of our community, our local community and our church community.  What if all nations includes the Nones and the Dones of our neighborhood?  What if all nations includes our children and grandchildren who no longer find church relevant or important in their lives?  What if all nations includes the youth and the children of our congregation?  How are we doing making disciples of these people?

Sometimes, as the church, I believe we fail to take this “GO” word seriously, especially with the people who are closest to us.  GO is an active word, a word that means we might just have to DO something.  We might have to get up and leave the walls of our church building.  We might have to make contact with people who are different from us and build relationships with them.  We might have to make a change.  We might have to take a risk.  We might have to set ourselves up for possible rejection or worse yet, failure.

It’s much more comfortable and safer to stay where we are and wait - wait for people to come to church, or come back to church, or drive by and want to come in.  Joseph Yoo, in his article Why Many Welcoming Churches Are Dying Churches, says: “What’s not okay is for us to mistake the words of Jesus to “Go” for “Stay and wait for people to come.”  It’s often easier to stay and be welcoming and friendly to people when they walk into our doors, but I’m not certain this is what Jesus had in mind when he told us to GO.  We need to be welcoming, but more importantly we need to GO out and be invitational and relational.

This year, I hope that we can ask ourselves this question: How can we GO and build disciples in our community, connecting with the Nones, the Dones, the Millennials, our youth, and our kids?  How might we be able to worship with them, teach them, and care for them?  How can we GO and do this in ways that matter to them, even if those ways look different than the way we’ve always done it before?


It’s a big task.  It’s a big risk.  We might fail.  But the promise of Jesus remains: “Remember...I am with you always.”  Jesus never promised us discipleship would be easy.  Discipleship is pretty tough stuff and church can be a pretty messy place.  My box is pretty comfortable and I kind of like it just the way it is.  But, if we want to take Jesus seriously when he says GO, we have to be willing to let him lead us where our trust has no borders.  Even there, Jesus promises to be with us.  So, church, let’s GO.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Light in the Darkness


On December 10, 1986, Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, was award the Nobel Peace Prize.  His acceptance speech included the following words: 
“...I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.  We must take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.  Sometimes we must interfere.  When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.  Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must-at that moment-become the center of the universe.” 
My friends, suffering and humiliation cover our news headlines every day.  Over the past several weeks, my heart has been broken by the events in Ferguson, Jerusalem/Palestine and Ayotzinapa.  Oppression and humiliation are alive and well - embodied by racism, apartheid, and corrupt governments (just to name a few).  We must not be silent.  We must educate ourselves and give voice to the voiceless.  We must stand in solidarity with those who are unable to stand for themselves.  We must show up. 
The hardest part is knowing where in the world to start.  If the center of the universe must be wherever there is persecution - that makes the center of the universe our entire world.  We find racial and religious persecution everywhere we turn.  So, let us begin where we are.  Let our every day words and actions be life-giving.  Let our churches be places of inclusion and hospitality.  Let us work for equality and dignity for all people in our cities. 
We cannot be silent.  We must take sides.  We must shine the light of Peace in the broken places of our world. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

My Journey to Seminary

TRG 501 : Theological Reflections
Foundations for Theological Thinking
Phillips Theological Seminary
Student Presentation

I suppose my journey to seminary began the moment I stepped through the doors of Fellowship Lutheran Church as their Children’s Minister.  I can’t say ministry was something that I had ever before felt called to do - it found me quite accidentally.  Yet, I believe my call to ministry was handed to me as a gift from God.
After being a stay-at-home mom for a little over a year, I felt the need to go back to work.  Although I wasn’t serious about finding a job, I would browse through the classified ads in the Tulsa World, occasionally sending out resumes to jobs I thought sounded interesting.  One day I stumbled upon an ad that read: “Work with children in a Christian environment.”  It was pretty basic and about as vague as you can get!  I thought that the job was probably something that I could do, and was probably qualified to do with my Family Relations & Child Development degree from Oklahoma State.  I had grown up in the Methodist church, attending church every week as a child.  I would say that I had a strong faith but hadn’t attended church regularly since I had gone to college.  Several weeks after applying for the job, I became the Children’s Minister at this ELCA Lutheran church.  I had no experience with the Lutheran faith and I didn’t even know Children’s Ministry was a “thing.”  However, my new church family welcomed me, and my family, with open arms and they graciously extended me the opportunity to learn and grow.  After almost twelve years, I am still ever thankful for the gift of my calling into Children’s Ministry.  Not only do I love my church, and the kids and families I serve, I love that my children have grown up in a place where they are loved and valued, too.  (I’ve always wondered in the back of my mind if God knew that I would be lousy at church attendance, so God made sure that I had to be in church every Sunday of my life.)

Even though I love my job, ministry isn’t always easy.  Sometimes, it can suck the life right out of you.  Sometimes, it’s easy to focus on the critics and all of the struggles that come along with working for a church.  Sometimes, when you are so passionate about your work, it becomes your life, and you forget about yourself - your true self.  Some people call this burnout.  I had heard of burnout over the years of attending conferences and talking to other, more experienced people in ministry, but I never quite stopped to really listen - until it happened to me.

My burnout (or breakdown) built very slow over several years.  When it finally caught up with me, it wreaked havoc on my life.  It’s hard to explain and I can’t really say why, but it took hold of me upon my return from co-leading a tour to Israel in the spring of 2012.  Depression and crushing anxiety came crashing down.  After years of feeling trapped and feeling like I was constantly drowning, I could no longer play the game of “fake it ‘til you make it.”  I had built a carefully constructed mask of who I was and who people expected me to be: perfect.  It had become my job to simultaneously be a good mother, good wife, good daughter, good sister, good granddaughter, good friend, good Children’s Minister - and most importantly, good Christian - all at the same time.  It was exhausting and I never felt that I was living up to anyone’s expectations.  When I came back from Israel - I cracked.  I separated from my husband.  I detached from friends.  I just barely stayed at the church, though Jesus and I were no longer on speaking terms.  It was my Independence Day.

My loving husband and children, wonderful friends and extraordinary pastor gave me time to work through it.  They gave me room to breathe and the chance to figure myself out.  I sought counseling that saved my life.  When I was most lost upon the sea, this stranger became my lifeboat.  My counselor helped me to look through my past to understand who I had become and helped me to realize that my past shaped me but did not define me.  I happened across a book at the library called “If Buddha Got Stuck” by Charlotte Kasl, which has become a sacred writing to me.  Full of spiritually sound guidance (that wasn’t Jesus-ey), the book helped to make my confusion seem a little clearer and helped me to connect with my true self.  All of these things worked together, God right in the middle of it all (though we still weren’t speaking), and I found healing.  I made amends with friends.  I reconnected with my husband and started working towards a much healthier, much happier marriage.  The mantras of my journey became:

  • Honor your feelings.
  • Live your truth.
  • Follow peace.

I can’t say it was easy, but I walked right through the middle of some very dark and confusing times, and came out a much stronger person on the other side.  It was right in the middle of the darkness, however, that I decided: Either I was going to stop believing in Jesus all together or I needed to go learn more about Him.  I was tired of buying into a brand of Christianity that didn’t fit me.  I felt like a fraud teaching children about a Jesus I was unsure of.  I was so confused by all of the hate and judgement that Christians spew in this world.  How could we believe in the same God?  How could we follow the same Jesus?  I came to a tipping point of either walking away from the Church all together or digging in deeper.  I chose to dig in deeper - and started speaking to Jesus again.

Although I didn’t begin seminary right away, (I still had some work to do on me), this experience is what ultimately pushed me to decide that seminary was something I wanted to pursue.  The voices around me now ask me what I’m going to do with a Master’s degree in theology.  My recovering perfectionist wants to have a perfect plan in place - all laid out nice and neat - for what my future holds.  Yet, truthfully, I don’t really know what I’m going to “do” with another degree.  I’m working on being at peace with the not knowing.  Because my first call from God came in the form of a gift, I’m not sure how I will recognize a new calling.  How will I know when and what I’m called to do next?  I trust the answer to become clear.

If I’ve learned anything throughout the highs and lows of my journey it is this: “God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose,” (Romans 8:28, NIV).  It is in these words that I trust and where I find rest.  God is faithful.  God has proven it over and over to me and I know God will continue to be faithful as I continue to walk forward, learning and growing and becoming more and more of the person God created me to be.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Anointed

Well, I must say, I wasn't as impressed by the second episode of "The Bible" as I was the first.  There were a couple things that bothered me, but I won't get into them here.  I'm not sure if I like the fact that God's angels and His army often remind me of Ninjas - or if that bothers me.  I guess I just have never pictured angels looking and acting like Ninjas before.  Who knew?!?

Instead of Ninjas, however, I've decided to focus on the anointing of the Kings.  The prophet Samuel anoints both Saul and David as king of God's chosen people by pouring thick oil upon their foreheads.  This oil, which is depicted to look like thick honey, drips down Saul and David's faces (until you are afraid it's going to get in their eyes).  When we look at deeper into the culture and context of the Story, we find that the anointing of oil is the way in which someone was set apart and chosen by God.  Instead of crowning a king at a ceremony, Hebrew kings were anointed with sacred oil, perfumed with expensive spices.

I am currently reading a book by Lois Tverberg, my newest favorite author.  "Sitting at the Feet of Jesus" looks at how the Jewishness of Jesus can transform our faith - and I'm fascinated.  I read only a couple of nights ago about Kings being anointed with oil.  Lois explains that this expensive oil would only have been used for consecrating objects in the temple and for anointing kings and priests; it would have been more valuable than diamonds.  And the scent of the oil, left behind after being poured out, would have acted like an "invisible crown," conferring an aura of holiness on its recipients.  In the ancient Middle East, royalty was not only expressed by outer garments, as in jewelry and fine robes, but always by majestic "aroma" as well.

We don't often think about the smells of the Bible - but ponder with me a moment.  In Biblical times, the people did not have hot showers in the morning, nor did they even bathe often for water was scarce.  There was no deodorant, and Israel can be a hot place.  No fabric softener to scent the smell of their robes, no scented shampoo or conditioner that would linger in their hair.  There was no Bath and Body Works to provide yummy-smelling soap, lotion, body spray or hand sanitizer.  I can only imagine most of the smells that the people of that day smelled were not pleasant.  But there was this fragrant oil, expensive and sacred.  When you caught a whiff of it in their air, you would know that there was a king nearby, or someone who belonged to God in a special way.

The Hebrew word for Messiah is Mashiach, which mean "the Anointed One."  Christos, or Christ, is the Greek equivalent.  Jesus Christ, the Messiah, came to be the Anointed One.

As we look back on the week before His arrest and crucifixion, we see Mary, a devoted disciple using her hair to cover the feet of Jesus with this same kind of expensive, perfumed oil.  Although this act of devotion also points us to His burial at the end of the week, we can glean deeper significance from this holy anointing.  Mary may very well have been making a statement about who she believed Jesus was - Messiah and King.

The fragrant oil would have clung to Jesus for days.  While He sat with His disciples for the Last Supper, the aroma of the oil would have filled the air.  While Jesus prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane and when he stood before the officers who came to arrest Him, Jesus would have smelt of royalty.  Throughout his trial, and while being mocked and beaten, the aroma of Jesus, King of the Jews, would have been apparent to all nearby.

The aroma of Christ.

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphant procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.  For we are to God the aroma of Christ [The Anointed One]..." (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)

We, too, are called to share this fragrant, holy aroma with Christ - anointed with oil in baptism.  My favorite part of baptizing babies is watching my pastor use oil to make the sign of the cross of the on the child's small forehead and hear him say, "You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever."  As children of God, we share in this anointing with the greatest "Anointed One" of all time.  And this anointing is with us, wherever we may go.

May we live that way.  May we go into the world knowing that we are kings and queens, inside and out.  May we be the aroma of Christ, the Anointed - bringing hope, light and love to a hurting (and often stinky) world.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Curmudgeons

Do you know any curmudgeons?  You know, those bad-tempered, difficult people who seem to always be in your ear?  I've met a few.

Our family decided that each Sunday we are going to sit down together and watch The Bible, the docu-series that is airing on Discovery Channel now until Easter.  It's a Story we have heard before, but in the weeks leading up to Easter, it is my hope that this powerful Story unfolds in new ways before our eyes.

The "Big God Story" has taken on new depth, meaning and importance for me in the past several years.  Now it is being retold in a new way for a new generation and I thought that I would try to share some things that stick out to me each week.  This past Sunday, as we watched the first episode of Creation to Joshua, it was the curmudgeon that stuck out to me.

I'm sure you have heard the story of Moses (if you haven't, it is recorded in the book of Exodus).  This well loved Bible story tells of a baby being put into a basket, sent down the Nile river and found by the Pharaoh's daughter. This Hebrew baby is raised as a prince, while his people are slaves.  One day as he watches one of his Hebrew people being beaten to death, anger stirs within him and he kills the Egyptian who is inflicting the lashings.  Fearing his own life, Moses runs away - thus beginning the events that will change the future of the Israelites.  After several encounters with God, Moses comes back to Egypt to free his people.

You would think that Moses' biggest obstacle would be Pharaoh.  Of course this man, who views himself as God, is not going to want to release the very people who provide the labor for his mighty empire - just because God says so.  And although it does take much time and many plagues to convince Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go - I think that the old curmedgeon would have been just as tough to deal with.

The show depicts one man as always being in Moses' ear, questioning him and telling him that he's not good enough.  Even at the very beginning he scoffs, "God sent you?  Pharaoh is the only God we have to fear."  "You're demented," he says.  As they stand beside the Nile, he whispers to Moses, "If Pharaoh didn't listen to you when he was six feet away, why would he listen to you now?" and yet Moses' staff turns the Nile to blood.  After all the plagues and all the ways in which God shows up and helps Moses, the curmudgeon stands beside the Red Sea and says, "Give up Moses before it's too late!  Were there not enough graves in Egypt that you brought us here to die?  Where is your God now?"  On and on, he tries to tear Moses down.

Moses showed more grace and more patience than I'm sure I would have.  He just kept moving forward, telling the people to trust God.  He never gave up and he never gave in.  The Bible tells us that going into the whole thing Moses tried to convince God to pick someone else for this task.  He was "slow of speech" which may have meant he stuttered.  His brother Aaron became his spokesperson.  Knowing this, I would have to assume that Moses had self-confidence issues from the start but he followed God out of Egypt, led the people through the wilderness and right up to the Promised Land.  Curmudgeons and all.

Do you have those people in your life?  Those people who are in your ear telling you that you're not good enough, that your plans will fail, that you are demented?  Sometimes the voice is our own self-doubt.  Sadly enough, even in ministry, I come up against a lot of curmudgeons.  And I'm not sure why one person's negative words can so dramatically outweigh five peoples praises, but it is true.  It is a constant battle to not let the curmudgeons win and take over.  "That (whatever) was good, but it would have been better if..." or "why don't we do things like (this church)?"  The negative comes through loud and clear. Then I remember a soft voice of an 11-year-old boy who gave me a note just days ago: "Thank you for making the lock-in possible...thank you for getting pizza and Capri Suns...thanks for getting almost front row seats...I liked learning about the three different kinds of love - eros, philo and agape...I've been trying to show more philo to my brothers...you have lots of good ideas."  Oh yeah...that's who I've been called to serve.

And God whispers: "You be you and you be mine."

May we all have the strength of Moses to persevere, to keep going even when curmudgeons tell us that we can't.  May we follow the voice of God, the call of our Savior, and walk in His light.