Sunday, April 23, 2017

Doubt ... Encounter ... Belief

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

A message I shared at St. Peter Lutheran Sunday, April 23, 2017.... Listen here or read below.

Thomas.
Sometimes I wish I were Thomas, with the guts to say, Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in his side, I will not believe. We dont have the luxury of this kind of bold declaration.
However, while we often label Thomas doubting, Thomas wasnt the first who didnt believe a second hand account of Jesus resurrection. In John Chapter 20, Mary encounters the risen Christ, who sends her on to go and tell the disciples, saying, Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”
Which we can assume Mary did. And yet here the disciples are, behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They arent celebrating Jesus resurrection or proclaiming it to the masses. It is not until Jesus appears out of nowhere in their midst, saying peace be with you, and showing them his hands and his side that the disciples rejoiced.
And likewise, when Jesus appears a week later and Thomas is with the disciples, after touching Jesus hands and his side, Thomas declares, My Lord and my God!
This is the movement of believers in the Gospel of John. From doubt to encounter to belief.
I wonder why it was so important for the writer of John to continue to reveal Jesus in this way? What is it that we can see in this movement that helps us understand our own experience, especially as believers who only have second hand accounts?
Or do we?
There was a time in my life when I spent several years unable to really live out the faith that had been a part of my life since birth. In college I spent a summer as a camp counselor and encountered many of my fellow counselors who came to faith later in life. They shared their belief in the necessity of a moment of acceptance of Christ, and that people who had just believed their whole lives had to experience a moment of acceptance to really believe. I couldnt point to anything and grew frustrated and disheartened. It was also at that time that I found myself focused on my actions, what I did, asking forgiveness for all my sins and beating myself up when I found myself falling back into sinful patterns of gossip, or anger, or short tempered replies. After that, I went through the motions of church attendance and faith, but my heart wasnt really in it.
After I graduated from college, I moved to California to teach high school English. It was a lonely time, and my mother suggested I find a church to attend to find some community. I didnt want to at first but eventually decided to visit a couple of places just to see. There was a big, beautiful stone church in the heart of Riverside, and I planned to attend worship that Sunday. As I drove up to the church I realized it worship had already started, a half hour earlier than the advertisement I found in the Yellow Pages.
So, I continued on to my second choice, Trinity Lutheran. A small, modest congregation of Midwestern transplants, at Trinity I found myself welcomed and embraced by the family of God. Yet, despite their welcome and care, I declined all requests to teach Sunday School or VBS because my uncertainty was still there. My resentment of church as judgmental and hypocritical had built up to the point that the simple faith of my youth was clouded and confused. I just couldnt see myself teaching something I wasnt sure of.
Even though my attendance was sporadic and I resisted all attempts to be brought into leadership, these people surrounded me in community, and they loved me. They welcomed me into their choirs and their homes and their lives. And though I could not touch the hands of Jesus or put my hands in his side, they carried me with the strength of their faith. It wasnt until I was preparing to move back to Iowa and getting ready to say my goodbyes that I understood how God had been working through these amazing people to show me exactly what the body of Christ looks like. In them, I encountered the risen Christ.
Which brings us back to our text. Jesus, while he walks through walls and appears out of nowhere, doesnt appear the way a spirit or ghost would. Jesus appears with the wounds of the nails in his hand and the gash in his side. His body carried the marks of his human wounds. Jesus carries our wounds. Jesus human life mattered, just as our lives matter. We, too, carry our wounds.
The wounds of broken relationships...
hurtful words about ourselves or our loved ones
bullying
exclusion
grief
loss
disappointment
lonliness
despair
mental illness.
The body of Christ bears our wounds.
In Jesus we see the fullness of Gods love.
In Jesus crucifixion, Gods solidarity with the suffering of creation, with OUR Suffering, is made known.
Jesus came back to reveal himself to the disciples with the marks of his suffering. Not all prettied up and shiny and radiant as he is at the ascension, but as we have always known Jesus, the incarnate God. God with flesh. One with us in our humanity and one with God in Gods divinity.
When we talk about the church, when we talk about this faith community, when we talk about ourselves as the Body of Christ, that isnt some shiny happy-clappy, everything is roses thing.
The body of Christ is Crucifixion.
The body of Christ is bearing burdens.
The body of Christ is what humanity looks like the good and the bad. And we, the church, the people of God have wounds, and have wounded one another.
Yet, after Jesus showed the disciples his wounds, he did this really strange thing, after telling them that as the Father has sent me, so I send you, he breathed on them and said Receive the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit we receive in baptism.
And we become that God with flesh as the Holy Spirit dwells within us. We both bear the wounds of this human existence and because Christ bears our wounds, we are freed to be the body of Christ for the world. To be the church for the sake of the world. To HEAR the word of God, to EXPERIENCE our doubt, to ENCOUNTER the Living Christ in one another and then to GO and TELL the good news.
As Thomas exclaimed, My Lord and My God!
God doesnt leave us to poke around in our wounds.
Because of Christ we are freed for life abundant.
As we heard in our first reading from Acts, This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. and in Peter, Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. And our Psalm for today, In your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures evermore.
We are the body of Christ.
Wounded? Sure.
Carrying one another? Thank goodness.
Freed for abundant life to rejoice in the resurrection and to spread that good news?
Alleluia.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Listening

I have been doing a lot of “listening” over the last 72+ hours.

I am listening to female voices who had aspirations for a female president.

I am listening to voices of friends troubled and surprised our country elected a person who has said and done the things our president-elect has, and horrified and dismayed by the reports of hateful rhetoric and action in his name.

I am listening to people of color not surprised at the results of the election who continue to state that the overt racism/misogyny/xenophobia/homophobia/etc we are seeing is what they experience every day overtly or covertly.

I am listening to voices of parents whose children cannot comprehend the election result, and who, as parents, are not sure how to talk to their children about how we treat our neighbor when a person who clearly does not practice these ideals can be elected president.

I am listening to voices of people I know and care about who are hurt they are being labeled as racist/misogynist/xenophobe/homophobic by their vote.

I am listening to the voices of the church and leadership calling for all to trust in the power of God to overcome, to have hope, to pray for the success of our next president, and to act for justice.

And I am listening to the voices of those for whom the proclamation of the gospel while they are still deeply hurt seems like a call to skip lament and move straight into new life.

So, where does this leave me? I admit my perspective on how to verbalize this changed dramatically since I entered candidacy to take steps to become an ordained leader in the ELCA. All of a sudden, I realize I will not be just one of many voices and opinions. I am becoming one who is called to care for and shepherd all in a given congregation.

In that kind of role, my opinions are not just my own. No matter how I might feel, to cause division in relationship between me and a member of my congregation is to cause division in the body of Christ. And what happens when next week that person loses a loved one or is in need of pastoral care and no longer feels their pastor is a safe place?

And yet.

Throughout the Gospels we are called to participate in God’s reconciling work in the world. Yes, we are called to be peacemakers. However, the more I listen and the longer I think about all of this, I know being a peacemaker does not mean glossing over the brokenness of our world. Raising up and acknowledging the bad things happening doesn’t mean people are stirring the pot or dwelling in negativity. We have to know the brokenness that exists in our world so that we can enter in and be peacemakers.

And I have to admit, the brokenness I have become aware of in the last year is so much more than what is visible in my everyday life. And I think that is the case for many of us who live in the insulated and peaceful security of middle-class, suburban, midwestern America.

But we cannot just ignore the hateful words and actions given voice as we affirmed the right of a public figure to speak them by electing him to public office. We can all hope and pray our president-elect becomes “presidential” and refrains from the divisive and hateful tone used during the election.

And.

We must act. We must stand up to and confront hateful rhetoric in all forms. We must stand up to name-calling, even of those with whom we disagree. We must continue to call out and lament acts of discrimination and hate and stand up for our neighbor.

And, we need to listen. I have learned much in the last year about how my well-intentioned words and actions sometimes cause more injury. That can be hard to receive. My first reaction is to say I am sorry, and I didn’t mean to do anything wrong; I was just doing my best. However, it is not the job of people who have been crying out at injustice to forgive my ignorance. It is much harder to say, “Thank you for pointing that out, I hadn’t seen it that way.” This simple act puts the agency in the hand of the person who experienced the injury.

For those surprised and saddened that these things are happening, this is a great opportunity. An unveiling, if you will.

And in this new awareness we have two opportunities.
  • We can become sad and overwhelmed until we “need a break” and have the privilege of escaping into our insulated communities, into our sports, and entertainment, and other activities (places where those who find themselves targets are not able to retreat, as they never know when someone will confront them with angry words).
  • We can commit ourselves to listening, learning, and acting.
If you want to start (or keep) listening, here are a few of the people who’s lived experiences (or those of the stories they lift up) and perspectives have opened my eyes over the last year (below). It is by no means complete or perfect. These are humans sorting out their human reactions. By reading, sitting with my initial reactions and then considering what truth is present, I have learned a lot. And there are things I have to set aside for a time to come back to. But, ultimately even the most difficult things have taught me something.



And here are some stories from people’s lives or reflections for consideration.
http://time.com/4566646/donald-trump-women-advice/?xid=time_socialflow_twitter
http://time.com/4406337/mike-pence-gay-rights-lgbt-religious-freedom/?xid=time_socialflow_twitter

Adding more as I find them:
https://cmsangalis.com/2016/11/15/trumps-election-from-the-perspective-of-a-sexual-abuse-survivor/ 

No matter where we end up on this issue, or any issue, as Christians we are called to live together in loving community. The only way I know how to do that is deep listening. And deep listening means listening … not affirming or denying what the person is saying but simply listening. The only response necessary is, “thank you for sharing your experience with me.”

The more we listen to one another’s stories, the more we see the person sitting before us, a child of God. My experience is when we see the people around us as God’s children, we are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit and find our hearts torn in two by the brokenness in the world. And instead of running from that pain, we sit with it and ask it what it has to teach us and where our presence is needed to participate in reconciliation. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Privilege and Silence

Privilege is choosing to "take a break" from the heart-wrenching realities of this week's events to go to a park with my children and sit under the shade of a beautiful tree while I watch them play.

Privilege is doing this knowing that even if my children devolve into the most abhorrent of childhood behavior, break something, throw a rock, hurt another child, etc. my greatest fear is my own momentary embarrassment and disappointment.

Privilege is simplifying a complex social issue that is coming to a head in a country with a deeply divided racial history to a statement that we should all just "stop" seeing race, while dismissing the deep pain of the lived experience of those crying out for justice.

To not “see” race is to disregard the person in front of you telling you that their experience of life in this world is vastly different than yours in ways that have formed their identity, their sense of worth as they see it through the eyes of those around them, and the safety they feel as they go about their lives each day.


Just because someone else's lived experiences is not our own does not make it invalid. I have never witnessed police brutality of any degree first-hand. 

I just haven't. 

That doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

I haven’t witnessed rape either, but I believe the victims who tell of their experiences.

However, I have been privy to derogatory comments, jokes, and bias that lead to disparagement and unwarranted fear toward people of color. Even those of us who would seek to live in a way in which every individual we encounter is treated with loving-kindness have been witness to this behavior on the part of someone we know. 

I've been at gatherings where someone related to the host makes a derogatory comment about a person of color. I've been in a car with someone who when driving in a major metro area in the dark looked out the window to see the man in the car beside her looking at her and expressed she was scared for her life because the black man was staring at her. 

And these moments cut me to my core. I am angry. Incensed, even. But for the sake of relationship, not stirring the pot, I've been quiet. In my Midwestern politeness, I have not stood up for my fellow children of God because I don't want to hurt the feelings of someone saying something unwarranted and hateful. 

I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of someone saying something unwarranted and hateful.

Ouch.

Would I choose not to call out someone who proliferated degrading comments about women, stoking a culture of rape?

And this, dear friends, is what we call being complicit in racism. I don't have to say the words to be racist. It is often what is not said that allows this underlying, insidious beast to continue to feed off the covert racism that remains in our country and rears its ugly head.

So, today, when it would be very easy for the energy of our nation to make the pendulum swing back toward blaming the victims of racism in the wake of the shootings and tragic deaths of the public servants in Dallas, Texas, I just can't stay silent.

We cannot simplify the reality of the officer lives lost in Dallas into an argument that the Black Lives Matter movement is somehow responsible simply because BLM has given voice to deep racial divisions that continue to exist and organized those calling for recognition and change.

We can't tell people that speaking up caused these people to die -- so they must stay silent.

We cannot silence an important conversation because a handful of individuals  one individual took it upon them himselfves (edited with current information) to take a peaceful protest and respectful relationship between BLM activists and the Dallas Police Force and turn it into a slaughter.

It is most certainly true: The answer to violence is not more violence, a la MLK, as I've seen posted and liked by many today. However, to assume the violence was perpetrated by those assembled in peaceful protest and targeting those assembled in peaceful protest is dubious at best and not supported by the facts as they are released.

The response to this tragedy is also not silence and sweeping things under the rug in the name of keeping some false sense of "peace" that only really applies to those not affected.

That would not honor the lives lost protecting these protesters.

To ask those in the trenches working for change to stop talking about the issue and pushing it to the forefront because it may cause some with ulterior motives to act out in violence is no more logical than those who chose to respond to violence with violence.

It's also not Biblical. Jesus consistently called out those in power who would use their power to exploit and repress. One need only look to the Sermon on the Mount, or Matthew 25 to be reminded that the core of Jesus’ ministry was to those the world would write off as “deserving” of their situation. 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

The Jesus movement was seen as threatening to the powers of Jesus’ day, ultimately to the point of Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross. Jesus stood in the line of fire and defended those who, by the law were “deserving” of punishment. And yes, in Jesus’ death and resurrection we are born anew, children of God, "28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galations 3:28.

Yes, this is our calling and our inheritance as children of God. This is that for which Jesus died and rose -- this is newness of life. God is at work in all of creation reconciling all of creation to Godself.

Yet, we cannot simply state this amazing promise of the Gospel and throw up our hands, say “we’re all equal” and walk away when our fellow children of God are crying out in anguish.

You see the thing is we live in the "now but not yet" -- the Kingdom of heaven is breaking into our world with the hope of the promised salvation ... a world in which we all experience this blessed unity.

Yet, we still live in a sinful human world wrought with division and pain. And our calling as children of God is to join in God's reconciling work in all of creation, wherever division continues to reside, so that we might bear witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus as we learn about the experience of our neighbor, stand beside them, and work for a world in which all have dignity and worth to be treated first as valuable human beings and not suspect or targeted simply because of race.

We cannot simply say to our neighbor that to tell their story causes division so they should stay silent. We are not called to IGNORE division but partner in God's work in the world to END it.

And ending division and hate means we cannot be silent...

I believe that the vast majority of police officers are bound by a sense of duty to protect and serve their communities and do not perpetuate racism and violence against black bodies.

But if any do, how can I remain silent?

I believe that not all police departments operate under policies that escalate violence.

But if any do, should I remain silent?

Just the same as saying these truths does not mean that all officers target black bodies, we need policies in place that ensure that police officers are trained and equipped with the same assumption of those they are called to protect and serve.

Is service in uniform dangerous?

Yes.

Do those who protect and serve enter the job willingly understanding the risks?

Yes.

Does this mean they should ever be targeted purely for their choice of occupation?

No.

Do those who are often assumed to have criminal intent by virtue of the color their skin choose to have these assumptions thrust upon them?

No.

Does this mean they should deserve less of the assumption of innocence than any other citizen of the United States?

No.

Being a police officer in this country is dangerous.

and

Being black in this country is dangerous.

This is not an either/or statement. It is both/and.

I can be speak up against racism and injustice.

and

I can respect and be thankful for the sacrifices of law enforcement officers.

Can we hold these truths in loving tension … acknowledging that both can exist without being mutually exclusive?

Can we acknowledge that one is true without demonizing and dismissing the experience of the other?

"We are all equal in God's eyes" does not remove from us the onus of seeking out and eradicating injustice and racism.

And support for the equality and just treatment of all does not mean lack of support for our women and men in uniform. 

They are not mutually exclusive.

Just as when we continue to raise discussion and awareness of rape we are not saying that all men are rapists, by saying that instances of police brutality must be investigated is not saying that all police are brutal. 

We are saying This. Instance. Happened.

It's. Not. Okay.

Just as the slaughter of the civil servants in Dallas, Texas was not okay.

But it is not enough to just know these things are not okay.

We cannot be silent.

We must begin to speak.

For until we are able to name the division and strife we will  not be able to join in God’s reconciling work to cast it out in the name of the God who grieves every division …

every loss of human life …

every child of God.

All of us. 

Without exception.

Friday, June 10, 2016

An Object in Motion ...

I feel a bit like I am rejoining my former life for a brief visit this summer. For the last few summers I've worked a few hours every day and hired someone to watch my kids during that time. This created a kind of rhythm where my kids went on the bulk of their outings during my time away.

This summer, I decided to try something different and am trading childcare with a couple friends so I work 9 to 4 two days a week and then have my friend's kids two days a week. At the end of one of those chaotic, fun-filled days, I am reminded of the exhaustingly joyful nature of a day spent getting out and keeping busy for the sake of fun for the kids and, quite honestly, one's sanity. 

I think I have been more "busy" in the last week than in the last nine months. We've been to two parks, the library and swimming in the three days I've had extra kids in tow. And while my default, introvert preference is quiet and calm -- usually achieved comfortably at home alone or with my spouse or a close friend -- I have found myself less unsettled and with a greater sense of purpose in these full days than I have for a long time. 

That's not to say I could maintain this pace indefinitely. My transition to working part time while participating in a distributed learning seminary program in the fall is looking much less daunting. By the time fall rolls around, it may be a welcome reprieve.

As I reflect, the last nine months served a purpose. We all need to step away from a place of being constantly busy and needed and embrace the reality of what we experience when we have "nothing to do" for a significant period of time. It was my Sabbatical, of sorts. A daily Sabbath at the very least. 

I entered this time empty, drained, and spent. As I encountered these unfilled spaces of time, I struggled with an equal sense of need to just rest and "be" clouded by a sense of obligation to "do" something and guilt for time spent doing "nothing." This tension, which I dealt with better some days than others, was never fully resolved. I have definitely felt a sense of purpose and comfort in having to be certain places and do certain things over the last few days.

Which makes me wonder ... what about this time left me with such feelings of emptiness and guilt? I certainly struggled when I heard about or saw the busy pace of my friends' lives, many of whom would benefit greatly from a day to just be at peace. Which also makes me wonder ... why is it so hard for us, especially those of us who have entered the role of parent, to claim the need for Sabbath ... the need to step away, to rest, to refresh for the sake of ourselves and those we love?

As I enjoy this Friday where the kids and I have slowed down from a busy week, I certainly appreciate the slower pace all the more. Maybe both extremes are simply much like the laws of motion ... "Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. " The same is true of an object at rest. Something has to act upon whatever state we are in to either push us forward or bring us to stillness.

Perhaps that is why the Sabbath was so important that it was included in the commandments. In a life of motion, to come to rest takes action. Something has to absorb the energy that would instead keep us in motion. Yet God calls us to do the hard work of figuring out how to come into a state of rest for the sake of our relationship with God, those around us, and ourselves.

How do you bring all that would continue to be in motion to rest? What stillness are you in need of today?


Sunday, May 1, 2016

New Beginnings

Our family is emerging from an almost week-long "quarantine" as we passed a stomach bug around,  and we are feeling well again with energy and ambition which feels a bit like having a fresh start.

It is interesting to me that this fresh start coincides with recent news that drives me forward in the calling I have been discerning for the past 10+ years. Two weeks ago I visited the Southeastern Iowa Synod office for my candidacy entrance interview and received a positive decision, which means I am now a candidate for ordained ministry in the ELCA (one of many "first steps" along the path). Yesterday I received word from Luther Seminary that I have been admitted to the Master of Divinity Distributed Learning program, to begin study in the fall.  I started the process to get to this point last summer and have been in the process of discerning if this was my call to answer for many years.

The months in between deciding to pursue candidacy and beginning study for a career in ordained ministry have been a bit of a fallow season, which has been hard for me. Certainly there has been much work to continue in my current vocation (and there will continue to be). However, as I stepped back from making new commitments of time and energy to prepare for this new step, I have often found myself lacking motivation to "do."

With our youngest entering Kindergarten this year, I leave the early years of motherhood that are so time-consuming and physically exhausting and enter a stage when my children are more self-sufficient. With this transition comes a sense of "what now?" With all three children in school, there is time in my schedule that was once filled with the moment-by-moment demands of parenting. It is an eerie feeling, as if I am always forgetting something.

I have to admit, in the absence of such obvious needs to be met, I feel like I have not made the best use of this season. Soon, I will embark on a five-year (hopefully!) period of study and preparation for ordained ministry that will involve 25-35 hours a week of course work on top of my 25 hour a week current vocation and roles as mother and wife. With all of my current free time I have done little more than rest while I watch my fellow mothers pour their time and energy into projects around the house, cooking and baking, school and sports activities, and other pursuits.

As I live in this time "in between", this fallow season, my new devotional led me to several renewed questions today:

  • What does it mean to be thankful, even when it LOOKS like there is nothing to be thankful for? (What does it look like to rejoice in this season of stillness and let it prepare me for a season of activity?)
  • How can I spot God's blessings "in, with, and under" the mundane realities of life?
  • How do I push through the days when I don't want to? (What happens next year, when time is so limited, if I experience this same sense of apathy?)
  • What does it mean to live my best life in grateful response to God's grace and love -- to push through the rough days in grateful response to grace?
Pondering these questions reminds me of how God's hand is at work in my life even in this fallow season. The rhythm of life in the wintertime before electricity and modernization  was a time of preparation for the needs of the spring. It is hard to watch the world around me continue to push forward when I feel called to rest. Yet, I am called to acknowledge the indwelling of the Spirit -- God working in and through me to prepare me for what is to come, even if it sometimes presses hard against the norms of modern life. 

Soon it will be time for long days and late nights. Soon enough it will be all about the doing. For now, I prepare. Like a mother who rests to prepare for the birth of a child, this fallow season is allowing me rest to prepare for the birth of something new.

I am excited for all this new beginning will hold.

Thanks be to God!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Sometimes we Have to Stare into the Tomb

I’m starting to wish I had started this blog under a pseudonym … a way to write, to put things out in the world without being directly associated with my identity, without involving my friends and relatives, without being linked to my current or future vocation.

I long for an opportunity to process, in writing, the things with which I struggle and how I reconcile these things (or don’t) with my life, faith, and vocation. And yet I understand, more clearly every passing moment, the risks of doing so in a public forum.

Yet I made the choice to start this blog in a public forum with a specific purpose: to be a real person, flesh and blood, struggling in and with the realities of how we live in the “now but not yet” of this life, acknowledging the moments in the depths and still standing in the brilliant hope of the resurrection. And I don’t think you can do that from a place of hiding.

So here I am talking to myself while I write about why I do this, convincing myself it’s not too risky to do again. It has been another six-month silence. Yet, my soul screams out for the transparency this sharing brings.

So here it is … it has been a dark Holy Week. A couple of individuals I started following in the last year on social media (@rozellahw and @crazypastor) have been examining the despair that remains even after Easter, the tension of proclaiming “He Is Risen, Indeed, Hallelujah!” while living in the reality of a world still so broken.

How do we stand in the light of the resurrection, participating in God’s work in the world, while still fighting the sinking despair that comes when you stare into brokenness inherent in a world this side of heaven?

It has been refreshing to have this tension named this week. I think sometimes the hard part of believing in a God who loves us and reconciled the world to Godself through Christ's death and resurrection is staring into that brilliance and then feeling the heavy blanket of continuing to live in the broken world. The hard part is living in the heaviness of being called to love that world, called to love even those who would scorn, mock, and crucify us, and, in fact, our very Lord and Savior.

So let’s name it … recently I found myself in the hard place where I go from the self-starting, perfectionistic, internally motivated type-A personality to the person who has to talk herself out of getting out of bed and finds an excuse to recline at the earliest possible moment.

It all started the week of Spring Break. I could feel the heaviness coming on. I had a soul-draining February with weekends filled with a training event and leading a synod event and an overnight confirmation retreat. I loved doing all these things. Yet when they were done, I had emptied myself so completely I couldn’t rebound. While our family had planned a fun couple of nights away at a cabin to play and explore, I found myself sleeping away much of our time.

The following week I spent three days sick with influenza. I was sure my fatigue the week before had been my body fighting this oncoming illness.

Enter Holy Week. As I stared down the barrel of a number of events to prepare for in April, I was living in the midst of a week that while very busy in the life of the church doesn’t require a lot of me other than showing up. The confirmation ministry for which I am responsible has spent the last five weeks attending Lenten worship and meeting in small groups to discuss our weekly dramas so I haven’t had to plan and prepare and also haven’t had the chance to teach, which drives me and brings me joy.

And while there was plenty of planning and preparing for things in April, I wanted to do none of it, or get out of bed for that matter – so much so that for two days this week I put off getting out of bed so long I didn’t have time to get ready and ended up working from home. And there’s nothing so wrong with working from home, but the guilt of not choosing to get out of bed and not showing up during a busy week in the life of the church weighed heavily on me. And the guiltier I felt the harder it was to snap out of it all.

So, I, too, find myself short of heaven.

And aren’t we all?

As we struggle with the evil that remains in this world – hatred, racism, persecution, xenophobia, poverty, war, homophobia, income inequality, misogyny, etc. – isn’t it clear that while “It is finished” for eternity, for today we continue to struggle against all that would pull us into the depths, all that would steal the beauty of our days, of our very lives?

And I am reminded of another of my favorites to follow on social media (@momastery) who speaks of these days. She speaks of being the kind of person who feels the energy of the world and seeks to channel her response into active engagement in God’s reconciling work in the world.

But, she is the first to admit that some days the waves consume and she has to be gentle with herself. Sometimes staring in to the brilliance of the resurrection and reconciliation while trying to throw off the oppressive weight of the world around us takes more than we have.

And this is good news for me.

I may think I should be capable of all this.

I may think the sheer power of my will should be enough.

But the reality so vibrantly presented in the death and resurrection of Christ –
Whether you shout, “He is Risen, Indeed. Hallelujah!” with confidence surrounded by plastic eggs and chocolate bunnies or whisper it defiantly in the face of deep despair and sorrow in the evil of this world –

It’s not on us.

God’s got this.

God always has and God always will.

This is the reality presented in the story of God’s people in the Old Testament – trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing all leading up to the introduction of Jesus – the messiah who would take the sin of the world upon himself.

The more I burden myself with the responsibility of “snapping out of it” to embrace the life God has prepared and invited me into, the less I understand resurrection.

The more I trust the God I believe in has the power to reconcile ALL of creation to Godself, the more I open myself to the opportunity for my own resurrection – from all that would pull me into despair.

I don’t have to resurrect myself.

And releasing my death grip on that reality opens the door for God to begin God’s reconciling work in my heart and my life once again.

He is risen indeed.

Clinging to the shoulders of Christ, I, too rise.

Hallelujah.



Friday, September 25, 2015

At Peace

I often turn to writing when I am struggling with some large question or frustration, but when the tide turns and I am at peace, I don’t feel quite the same need to put my thoughts to paper. For those whose interaction with me rarely goes beyond these posts (I think mostly of my family and friends who live at a distance), it may seem like I live in a constant state of angst.

Today I wanted to share with you that, finally, the dawn has broken on what feels like a terribly long period of struggle. I cannot logically explain how or why (I could wager some theories, but they would be mere supposition). but as I am going about my day I realize: I. Am. At. Peace.

The brilliant beauty of blue skies punctuated by white clouds and sunshine peeking through bright green leaves no longer carries the weight of a day I should enjoy but cannot. Where there has been a lingering sense of despair and apathy there is now a sense of stillness and content. It is like a switch flipped and all the lights came on.

The breeze and warm sun on my face remind me of the eternal presence that gently holds and sustains me in all things.

The day before me is an exciting opportunity rather than something to endure until I can steal a moment to lie down to rest.

These seasons are part of living for me. Seasons of beauty and purpose and seasons of stirring and discontent. It is easy to trust the joyful seasons … to see God working in the purpose and intention. What is harder is to recognize, accept, and trust is that God is also working in the difficult seasons, the times when I wander in the desert, not knowing my ultimate destination or how long it will go on. Even though my every need is still provided, I think there is something I must “do” to move myself out of the desert into the next stage.

But as God walked with the Israelites through their desert wandering, it was not their “doing” that led to the Promised Land. Every time they attempted to use what they knew to relive their distress – turning to idol worship and pagan rituals – they prolonged their suffering. It was only in forsaking their own ability to save themselves that they were ultimately delivered.

And so it is with me. God’s saving grace does not come in my seeking perfection or my striving. It does not come in the moments when I am trying to do my best. It is not my knowledge or my right actions that save me.

Wen all else fails and I have surrendered to my complete inability to fill my own cup or to be any more than the empty shell in need of saving, God can lift the veil and fill me with the peace of his saving grace. 

And that, is a miracle.