Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Good Yarn about Believing

At this time four years ago, I did not know how to crochet. I was in the middle of a very dark
depression that came on about two months after V--, my youngest, was born. Each day was a effort toward my goal of "everyone alive at the end of the day". I wanted a craft to do, something that didn't involve intense focus. The only handicraft I knew at the time was cross-stitching, which is not mindless.

I had started using a knitting loom in the fall. This is a round loom with pegs around which you loop the yarn. Using a hook, you pull stitches over one another. I made a scarf for my sister and some hats. Carrying around even the small loom, though, seemed awkward. I wanted to be one of the people with a small ball of yarn and needles in my bag that I could unobtrusively pull out during a meeting.

When my mother-in-law came in June 2013 to help out while Rob went to Ft. Rucker for 13 weeks, I asked her to teach me to crochet. I knew that she knew how and that she could show me. With a hook and a ball of yarn, she showed me the stitches she knew, how to practice a chain to get tension right, adding at the end of a row to make sure the increases are correct, and how it is okay to pull out a couple rows to fix a mistake.

And, thus, a crocheter was born. I was hooked- which is a crochet pun, since that is what the crochet tool is called. In fact, I was so into crochet that I promptly went to the yarn store and crocheted a lap blanket for her before she left to go back home. In the first two months of knowing how to crochet, I made a pillow cover, a neck pillow, 10 crowns for birthday party favors, a tiny blanket for a stuffed otter, and a queen-sized blanket for my brother who moved in with us.

In the middle of my darkness, the loops and strips of yarn made me feel as though I was accomplishing something. They drew out of myself and out of my head and into a space of quieter focus and peace. I learned that crocheting during a meeting helped me to listen to others better, because it slowed down how quickly I wanted to respond.

It became easier for me to meet people because people will help a fellow crafter learn a new pattern or find a specific tool. I had a new language- hooks, gauges, swatches, stitch markers, in the round, join, increase two together, and magic circles. I had a new identity. I was a crocheter. Now, four years into that identity, my son offers my services on the playground. I've made hats for three second-graders who are not my child and I have requests for more.

This reminds me think of a book I read in 2012, so before I became a crocheter. In Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, Diana Butler Bass writes about how the church has a framework of believe, behave, belong.

She talks about how the model outside of church for learning a skill follows a different pattern. In the book, Bass uses the example of a person who wants to learn to knit. This person might ask someone to teach them or join a knitting group, thus seeking to belong in order to acquire the skill. Through belonging, the person learns to behave like a knitter- buying yarn, patterns, starting projects and leaving them around, and knitting. Through belonging and behaving, the person eventually becomes to believe things about knitting and knitters- about focus, skill, planning, generosity, or artistic ability. Belong, behave, believe...

Bass says, "Relationships lead to craft, which leads to experiential belief. That is the path to becoming and being someone different. The path of transformation."(201)

For a long time, people have approached being a follower of Jesus, the Way of discipleship, in the other order... with believing first, then behaving, and, after those were correct, then one could "belong". That order makes people wary of church, wary of Christians, and wary of the God who is supposedly represented by these two groups.

When we flip the order, as a community of faith and as individuals, we offer the welcome that reveals the truths that saves, the truth that welcomes, the truth that Nicodemus sought, under the cover of night. Belonging gives a sense of safety that leads to behaviors that reflect Christ's love- the love that defined his life, death, and resurrection. The ability to be part of sharing and receiving that love and welcome builds to believing, trusting in things that are beyond our full comprehension and yet we perceive that they are true.

There is a program called "Everyone Teach Two", which involves people who know how to knit or crochet teaching two other people in their life how to do it. Teaching involves inviting the person over, having a meal, talking, having a small project started, showing stitches, and praise. What if our sense of evangelism was directed in the same way? The invitation, the welcome, the hospitality, the tolerance for questions, for mistakes, for laughter and conversation- and through belonging and behaving would come belief.

In June, I'll have been crocheting for four years. In August, it will be 30 years since my baptism. I am neither the best crocheter or the best follower of Jesus, but I feel secure in belonging in both categories. I can teach two. I belong, I behave, I believe. I believe there is enough yarn to go around and that there is even more of God's love.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Childlike Vs. Childish

Last night, I was asked an excellent question. We read and meditated on this passage from Paul’s writing:

For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:9-12

Someone asked, “Why does that passage talk about children like that if Jesus said we have faith like a child?”

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it.  But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:15-17 

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. Matthew 18:1-5

Great question! Why do we have a passage from the apostle Paul that seems to specifically contradict a teaching that we have from Jesus?

The first thing to remember is that Paul did not have written gospels to read, as far as we know. He taught from his memorization of what was handed down to him and from the leading of the Holy Spirit. The gospels are written accounts that are crafted, by inspiration, with literary skills like foreshadowing, plot, and theme.

Paul has his own rhetorical flourishes and themes. Where these things seem to contradict one another, we must always follow the guiding of Jesus. However, it is worth a closer look to see if a contradiction is truly present.

When Jesus speaks to his disciples regarding children and faith, it is important to remember that he commends a child-like faith, but not a childish faith. In this time period, children were blessings, but also non-entities. Families had many children in hopes that some would live and would be useful to the family business or farm. One hoped for the dowries that might come with daughters-in-law and worried about the dowries to provide for one’s own daughters. Children were not only not heard, but also barely seen.

Yet, outside of the legal realities, children were certainly valued. God describes the Divine nature as being like one who lifts an infant to the cheek (Hosea 11:4). And in Luke 11, Jesus acknowledges that parents want good things for their children. So, we can ascertain that children in a healthy family system were loved. Children in this circumstance have an awareness of their value. They ask questions, play without fear, and freely give and receive affection.

This is the childlike faith that Jesus holds out as an example to the disciples. In the gospels, people and created beings who are in the margins, which included children, perceive who Jesus is as the Christ. They do not fear him in this role, but are drawn to him. As the One who contains the Eternal Word that is Love, Jesus could certainly see and sense the fear, guilt, shame, and worry of adults. He saw them with love and commended them to a faith of healthy security, trust, and openness- like that of the children who sought out their Savior.

Paul, instead, is writing to the Corinthians who have habits that exemplify childish behavior. They do not share. They engage in grouping up and keeping some people out of the group. They make bad choices and defy others to correct them. They tell Paul, “You are not the boss of us.”

Paul’s great argument toward the behavior that comes with love- being loved and showing love- is a direct hit against childishness and a push toward childlike faith. Be adults, he is arguing. Stop with petty jealousies and score keeping. Don’t show off. Don’t be rude. Stop pretending you have a secret club in Jesus’ name- that’s offensive. God is the boss of you and God sees what you’re doing. And God knows you can do better!

Paul is exactly speaking against the kind of childish behavior for which loving parents correct their children, so that they will learn to leave those things behind. Regrettably, as with the Corinthians, many of us do not leave that behavior behind and adopt a more adult way of reasoning and showing love to our neighbors. However, God was not done with the church at Corinth, which is why Paul kept writing them, and God is not done with us. The Spirit still moves.

So, when we compare these two passages, it is a difference between embracing a childlike faith and rejecting childishness in faith (and faith community). This was an excellent question and an excellent thing for us to work toward on our way to Easter resurrection celebration.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Guilt, Shame, and Ashes to Go

One of the struggles with Lent (and with being human) is that, in Western conversation and in spoken and written English, we have conflated guilt and shame. They are not the same. Furthermore, making them interchangeable does real spiritual and psychic harm to individuals and communities.

Regardless of official definition (denotation), the common understanding of shame (connotation) is to be embarrassed or regretful of who you are. This stems from being told or believing that bad choices or personal struggles are rooted in being a bad person. This isn't even a question of being human and, thus, prone to mistakes. In common parlance, shame is rooted, fundamentally, in being a bad person of little to no redeeming value.

When we hear people saying that people aren't "ashamed" anymore, what is usually meant is either 1)  people "like that" used to not be visible in society and I would prefer for that to be the case again OR 2) they should feel guilty for their choices or actions. 

Guilt is different from shame and has a different function. Guilt is feeling bad about actions or choices. Guilt is not rooted in who you are as a person, but in the fact that you have done things that are not in keeping with who you are (or whose you are). Guilt is the feeling that arises out of regret or remorse. Often guilt makes us double-down on a choice, reiterating that we were correct in our actions- even though we doubt that ourselves. Negative choices can stem from fear, longing, grief, and frustration. We have few communal outlets for acknowledging these realities and, thus, they continue to be motivators toward negative actions, which feed guilt.

Guilt that we do not release can become shame.

Adam and Eve felt guilty because of their disobedience. The guilt grew beyond their ability to hold it in their hearts with the truth that God had made them and walked and talked with them. They then doubted who they were in that relationship and their value. In the resulting shame, they covered themselves and hid.

Ashes to Go is a Lenten practice that is embraced enthusiastically by some Christians and less so by others. Critics rightly note that Ash Wednesday seems like a poor day in the church year for evangelism, especially when Christians don't do a great job of talking about death, sin, and guilt on the other 364 days in of faithful living. True, true, true. The Church is the place where we learn to live and die in Jesus Christ. We model ourselves on his faithfulness.

When I go out, in the COLD, on Ash Wednesday to distribute ashes, I'm not thinking about evangelism in the classical, fundamentalist Christian sense. I'm not there in my robe, hoping someone will ask me about Christ, so that I can pray the "Sinner's Prayer" with them.

What I hope is that someone who has been shamed by the church will see me and feel courageous enough to challenge me on that, so that I might offer an apology and regret for the actions that caused shame. I hope that someone will refuse the ashes, but ask for prayer. I hope that someone will say can I talk with you after this and that I will buy them lunch and listen to their story. I hope that someone will bow their head to receive ashes and that I will pray for them and we will both feel the power of the Spirit in that moment. I hope that I will be able to give information about how to get rental assistance, medical help, spiritual care, or assurance of God's love. This is my evangel- the good news of Christ that I carry into the town square and beyond.

The reality of Ashes to Go isn't that we shouldn't be out, attempting to counter shame and relieve guilt, on this day, but that it shouldn't be the only day that we do it. 

The Divine Being overflows with love for creation. We are part of that creation. Becoming rooted in that truth does not allow the weed of shame to take hold and choke out the grace of that knowledge.

Guilt has a performative function of helping us see how we have strayed from loving God, loving our neighbors, and loving ourselves. Releasing guilt sometimes requires hard work of confessing to God or to one another, reparative work, or learning new information toward a change of heart. Lent is a good time to work on releasing guilt so that we have clearer vision to celebrate the joy of resurrection at Easter.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Choosing Wisely (Lent 2017)

It's that time of year again! (Whoo-hoo!)

It is time to choose a Lenten discipline. (Oh.)

May I suggest that you don't wait until Ash Wednesday (March 1) and decide in a hurry? Or decide now and binge on an activity to go cold turkey in a week.

Lent, the forty days of fasting, prayer, and penitence before Easter (not counting Sundays), is a season of slowing down, thinking deeply, praying, and spiritual pruning and growth. We are in the imitation of Christ's time in the wilderness, praying, fasting, and resisting temptation between his baptism and the noted beginning of his public ministry in some of the gospel accounts.

When pondering Lenten disciplines, here are some good questions to ask yourself.

1) What does God think about me? How do I know that?

2) What gets in the way of me understanding or perceiving God's love in my life?

3) What gets in the way of me understanding or perceiving God's love in the world?

4) What is a habit that disturbs me spiritually- in that it causes me to feel separated from God's presence?

5) What do I do regularly that breaks the positive fulfillment of one or more of the 10 commandments?

6) What have I done in the past year that still bothers me, even though I have tried to let go of it?

7) What is a spiritual discipline that I want to do, but I cannot seem to make time for or do in a way that gives some consolation or peace?

8) Where is a dead spot in my life that needs prayer and work in anticipation of resurrection?

This season is more than giving up chocolate or caffeine or even trying to pray every day. It is about literally taking time to examine your life and to weigh how  you treat yourself, those around you, and the world in comparison to how God desires you and them to be treated. Where do you see the need for tikkun olam- the repair of the world?

Take some time in the next week. I realize that time is a commodity and no one has as much as they want or need. Nevertheless, put your phone down when you're in the bathroom. Get a grease pencil or a dry erase marker for the shower or bathroom mirror. Put a post-it note on your steering wheel. Change your screen saver or homepage. Make new place mats with your kids- construction paper covered with contact paper. Put a sheet of butcher paper on the fridge. Set a daily alarm or timer.

There is time to think about this and to prayerfully open yourself to new thoughts and habits that God may be trying to introduce in your life in the season ahead. I am praying for you in your time of discovery- prayers for peace, renewal, strength, openness, courage, and trust.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Eat My Words (Respect #2)

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! ...  With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?  - James 3:5, 9-11

It burned... the thing I wanted to say. I could feel the words in my mouth and in my throat. They were explosive. I wanted to say them sharply so they would hurt, wound. I felt hurt and wounded and I wanted to do it back. 
I screwed up my lips, grimacing. 
How could I not say these words? It was actually fairly important in this small, intimate meeting to control what I was saying, to be attentive to my emotions, and to let kindness and honesty reign over my impulsive reptilian brain. 
In a move that I have never done before, I scribbled the words I wanted to say on the corner of the piece of paper. Then I tore off that corner, crumpled it, and put it in my mouth. The other two people in the meeting stared. 
One asked, "How did that taste?"
"Like eating my feelings," I mumbled around the dry paper that I was trying to coat with spit. 
"Why did you do that?" asked the other. 
"Because I needed to get it out," I said. "I wanted it out, but I didn't want it to hurt anyone else. So I got it out and then I put it back in and now it can come out another way." 
I was still rolling the small ball in my mouth, moistening it. Finally, I swallowed it. 
About four minutes later, I realized that I couldn't remember what I had written down unless I forced myself to think of it. 
The thing that I had burned to say, that I was itching to say, that I desperately wanted to use to carve a groove, a scar in the other person... was forgotten when I literally swallowed it. If I force myself to remember the words, I remember why I was hurt and why I wanted to say them. But they weren't as important as trying to keep working with the people in that room. The brief thrill of oneupmanship  that would have been achieved would have created so much more pain in the long run. 
It was a dramatic move, but it actually taught me something that I didn't expect to learn. 
Sometimes we live to eat our words, regretting our haste. 
If we can learn to eat them first (before we say them), we can live.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Jesus Ethics (Sermon)

Matthew 5:21-37

The Sermon on the Mount continued-

- We are now into the ethical dimension of what it means to be salt of the earth and a light to the world
- What does the meekness that inherits the earth look like? What shape does hungering and thirsting for righteousness take in one’s own life?
- When Matthew is writing, after the fall of the temple, after Paul’s letters, after there is now a full generation of believers after Christ… what are the ethics of discipleship?
- In particular, Matthew wants to be sure that his readers (then and now) understand that following Christ has a rootedness in the law of Moses.
- The context of that root is not supersession (as in Jesus fulfills and, thereby, transforms the law), but cuts it open so that the heart of the law and God’s desire for its use is exposed.

What would Jesus do? Matthew will go on to illustrate that, but he’s foreshadowing the kind of behavior that Jesus embody, which will seem transgressive and problematic to those who want the law to be followed strictly without regard to the need for wholeness in community.

Matthew’s interpretation of Jesus’ teaching, therefore, is to give an ethical framework that neither allows for unrestricted freedom in action (antinomianism) or idolizing of the law (legalism).

We want the law to be strict because it is easier to follow rules than to be loving.

It is easier to live for one’s self than for the community.

It is easier to perceive one’s own righteousness when contrasted with others than to pause to tenderly consider the pain we have compelled them to hide.

There is no “I” in common good- all actions are aimed toward the community, not the self (even self-care).
- Violent thoughts beget violent actions.
- Unforgiveness toward others leads toward doubting God’s forgiveness towards one’s self
- The use of others as means to sexual satisfaction (visually, physically, or commercially) leads to a breakdown of the value of sex as a gift from God and the body as a vessel of grace and sacramental action
            - Adultery – mostly married women/unmarried men… violation of property
            - Porneia- illicit sex?
- The common good requires honesty- about the difficulties of marriage, about mental health, about sexual ethics, about abuse of all kinds. Those who are embodying the Jesus ethics must lead the way in these conversations.

The small is as important as the big and the big is as important as the small.
- The truest ethic is a consistent ethic. A consistent ethic does not always mean consistent action. Some children need more structure than others. Sometimes a train of thought must be followed through multiple stops before a conclusion rooted in community good and God’s love can be determined.
- There will always be extreme examples- decisions made in poverty, war, grief, and in the midst of violence or threats of violence that will need to be treated tenderly and with grace and assurance of forgiveness.
- What is done at home must match what is done in public. What is done in the parking lot must match what is done at the communion rail. The Jesus ethic is a consistent ethic…

“God is love” (1 John 4:8) is orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
-The compass of the Jesus ethic is located within the incarnation… the actual body of Jesus… the physical human nature of Christ… It is the extreme nature of God’s love made flesh and dwelling among us in commonplace elemental reality that makes the Jesus ethic applicable all day, every day.
- orthodoxy- right belief
- orthopraxy- right faith
- These two cannot function apart from one another and are the original chicken and egg…
- This is the grounding of discipleship- our following in the Way of Christ- and therefore the true north of a Jesus ethic.
As I read this week about ethics and the Sermon on the Mount and marriage and divorce and oath taking in the first century, I thought of all the ethical dilemmas that are proposed in these sorts of situations. I thought of how likely we are to take this text, remove it from its context, and shame others or ourselves with it.

We must wrestle with making our every thought align with the truth of Jesus—the executed, resurrected Christ who sustains all life and who reconciles all things. ~Drew Hart (The Trouble I’ve Seen)

The truth is that most of us want short, pithy clarity that doesn’t require moral pondering, deep prayer, or hard conversations. All that does, though, is make a new law. It takes time and practice to shape a life according to following Christ. Time is the thing that we are consistently presented as not having enough of, running out of, killing.

For most of us, a life lived in the imitation of Christ, in embracing a Jesus ethic- for most of us, that life is not going to take a quietist, plain sort of shape. The choice is not – be cloistered or be a flagrant sinner. The choice is actually much tougher, it is either to put ourselves, our knowledge, our desires and will above God’s or to embrace what God has done for us and to respond with a Jesus ethic.

There is no “I” in common good- all actions are aimed toward the community, not the self (even self-care)
The small is as important as the big and the big is as important as the small
“God is love” (1 John 4:8) is orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

At work, at the drive thru, in competition, at the doctor’s, when voting, on social media, when playing sports, on-line shopping, in speaking to your family, in speaking to strangers, in writing letters to the editor, in protest, in support, in worship, and at rest…

The grace we have received compels us to be open to the way a Jesus ethic shapes our lives. One decision leads to another to another to another as we are saltier and lighter and more woke and more open and then we find ourselves blessed and among the ones who are receiving mercy, inheriting the earth, and being filled.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Praying with Beads: Political Edition


Some people need tangible items to help them focusing while they pray. This is NOT a flaw in one's prayer skill. Coloring, writing, yarn or needlework, wood work, gardening, fishing, or other tasks may also help to clear the mind of distractions and allow one to focus on communication (sending AND receiving) with the Divine.

If you are able, I would suggest a set of beads. Most Roman Catholic rosaries are set up in decades (sets of 10 beads). Most Anglican rosaries are set up in weeks (sets of seven beads). You can have a set of beads in one of the combinations or in another combination. Whatever you have is sufficient.

I am not calling this series "Praying the Rosary" because for many, many people that term refers to a very specific type of religious prayer. I do not want to invite confusion or create division. The hope of this series of posts to create some wording for people who are looking for specific prayers to say and to give a jumping off platform within prayer for those who are seeking that. I am providing wording, but not instruction. One cannot pray incorrectly, because the Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting.

There are 10 petitions here: You may skip some or add your own if your set of beads is not in multiples of 10.

First Bead: Holy God, you are the Ruler of the Universe. You grieved the call of your people for a king in history and you see where today people still seek structure that you would not own. Help me and all people to be humbled by perceiving your will and your way, in our daily lives for the good of creation and our neighbors.

Second Bead: Holy God, I give you thanks for the people who set a good example in faith and life. Even as I acknowledge their sacrifices and courage, I know that they are not perfect and that there are others who see them differently than I do. I thank you for [insert names here of leaders- secular and religious for whom you are thankful].

Third Bead: Holy God, there is nothing hid from you. I am frustrated by [insert names of leaders- secular and religious with whom you disagree or are aggrieved]. I struggle to see her/him/them as your child/children. I do not understand why they do what they do. I cannot attribute the best motivations to them. I commend your children to you.

Fourth Bead: Holy God, I pray that you will accept my intercession on behalf of my neighborhood, my city, my state, my country, and the world. The immensity of pain, struggle, injustice, inequity, poor stewardship, waste, and prejudice is too much for a world that actually depends on the balance that is within you. With the Holy Spirit, I pray against all things that oppose your will for healing, wholeness, and resurrection.

Fifth Bead: Holy God, I pray that you will accept my intercession for those who have made and are in the midst of choices that oppose your will. Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do. The extent of our actions are beyond our human minds to consider and they do not turn to you or wait with patience so that understanding and wisdom may settle in their hearts and minds.

Sixth Bead: Holy God, I pray that you will accept my intercession for your church and your faithful people. Strengthen us for humility and courage in our walk of the Way of Christ. Give us the words to speak truth to power. Give us the patience to tear down walls. Give us the joy to offer welcome to all people.

Seventh Bead: Holy God, I pray that you will accept my intercession for my pastor/priest, my bishop/judicatory leader, other leaders of the church, my mayor, my City Assembly/Council/Town leaders, my governor, my state representatives and senators, my national representatives and senators, and the president of my country. (Use names where you can) I ask for your mercy, grace, and guidance to be with them in their work and in their homes.

Eighth Bead: I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe)

Ninth Bead: [Insert names of saints- recognized by the church or history], in your rest in God's lights, pray for us who continue to work in the world. Whisper, shout, and call to us from the great cloud of witnesses that we might perceive in our bones that we are accompanied in this fight. [This event] in your life/lives is something that I hold as an example of faithful action, following in the steps of Jesus, the pioneer of our faith. Pray for me. Pray for us. Do not stop.

Tenth Bead: Holy God, you know all for which I pray. What is said aloud. What is silent. What I think is hidden, but is still known to you. What I have forgotten, but will always be known to you. I trust in your faithfulness. I trust in your faithfulness. Great is your faithfulness. Hear my prayers. Amen.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Great Thanksgiving for Black History Month (Liturgy)

God of hope and grief,
God of power and strength,
God of the widow and the orphan,
God of the imprisoned and impoverished,
God of the poor in spirit, the merciful, the mourning…

God who sees the proud and arrogant,
God who does not forget those who turn away from the one in need,
God who waits to be greeted in prison, in hunger, in hospital, on the corner,
God who grieves the word spoken in hate and the action that excludes…

You are the one true God and it is our gift and right and duty to call upon you here.
We praise you for your faithfulness in history.
We praise you for your prophets who have shouted the truth.
We praise you for your saving action in leaders, in the church, in the community
And for what You have done sometimes in spite of them.

With all faithful people of Christ, with all your children across the world, with all the saints we name now [insert names appropriate to your congregation regarding Black History Month and local observances], with the whole creation, we praise your name and join the unending hymn.

[Insert whatever form of Holy, Holy, Holy you may choose]

God, with our sighs to deep for words, we come to this table
And we remember when it has been closed.
We remember when the invitation was not open.
We remember when the feast was in part, but not the whole.
With gratitude and thanksgiving, we celebrate in our spirits and our bodies that the barriers people erect cannot withstand the Holy Spirit.
With gratitude and thanksgiving, we celebrate in our spirits and our bodies that the prejudices that people hold will not withstand the Holy Spirit.
With gratitude and thanksgiving, we celebrate in our spirits and our bodies that the ignorance people profess will not withstand the Holy Spirit.

We gather here today and we remember Jesus gathered with those whom he loved.
They celebrated the first Passover, that event that marked the move of the people from slavery into freedom.
As they ate and drank their celebration, their actions anticipated the second Passover- from death into life, from fear into joy, from resignation into resurrection.

Jesus took the bread, a food that they as Jews had in common with all people,
gave thanks to you, O God, broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said:
"Take, eat; this is my body - given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."

After supper, he took the cup- filled with wine-
A drink they had in common with all people.
He gave thanks to you, O God, gave it to his disciples, and said:
"Drink from this, all of you; this is a new covenant in my blood,
 shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in remembrance of me."

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
You have brought us thus far and we trust that you will not leave us.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts
That they may strengthen us in the faith, in the fight, and in our freedom in Christ.

Draw us together and bring us ever more fully into being the people you have created us to be.

Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church,

all honor and glory is yours, almighty God, now and for ever.

This is free and open for use in any congregation with attribution to Pastor Julia Seymour, Lutheran Church of Hope, Anchorage, AK. 

Copy and paste to other electronic formats is only permitted WITH inclusion of the blog link. 

Please comment if you use this in your congregation so I can pray for you and your church. 

Because God Loves You (I Can't Lie to You)


I have been praying deeply about us for the past few days. We are in a tight spot in our relationship. I
Pastor Julia in her 2016 Xmas Sermon costume (a star)
see you shift a little when it seems like the sermon is "political" or when you are uncomfortable with how a Bible story is interpreted in a way that pinches you. I hate it when you are uncomfortable. While I am familiar with the phrase, "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable", frankly, I try not to be in the business of afflicting.

Nevertheless, I have come to an impasse. Here's the thing. I love you, my parishioner, my friend, my sibling in Christ. I love you, my neighbor, my fellow citizen, my co-creator in the Spirit. I love you, fellow created being, depender on grace, seeker of mercy. More importantly, God loves you. It is my deep, convicting, passionate, overwhelming, brooding awareness of
God's love for you that will not let me lie to you about Jesus.

Jesus expects unparalleled generosity in giving of time, money, talents, and material possessions. (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4)

Jesus expects reverence for God's will and commands in the temple/church and in the community. (Matthew 21:11f, John 2:15)

Jesus does not accept half-hearted attempts to secure the blessings of the kingdom for others.
(Luke 6:17-26)

Jesus has high standards and the desire and ability to help us reach them.
(Matthew 19:16f)

Jesus favors the little, the lost, the least, and the dead.
(Matthew 25, Luke 7, Mark 5, John 11)

Jesus does not buy your excuses or your false logic.
(Mark 14:5, Matthew 26:9, John 12:5)

Jesus acknowledges that you are making bad choices and pleads for God to forgive you.
(Luke 23:24)

You can fiddle and fidget around in Paul or Leviticus. I see you pulling verses from Hebrews and Micah, like you've got the story down and only need to straighten your edges. The truth is- Jesus is the in flesh revelation of God's eternal desires, eternal Love, eternal Word, eternal Irresistible Grace. That revelation is God's love for you, for the whole creation. That revelation is explicitly political because allowing one's self to yield to the Embrace that Will Not Let You Go is life-changing. Having one's life changed impacts priorities, actions, moods, understanding, vision, mission, and community.

I cannot pretend these things are small or unimportant. God's love for you is too big to let me do that. I lie awake, staring at the ceiling, replaying moments that I could have or should have spoken up, but didn't because I want you to like me, to approve of me, to keep paying me. The truth is- those cannot be my real priorities.

The height and depth and breadth of my baptismal vocation (and yours) is to speak the truth of God's love- its expanse, its demands, its irresistibility. Yes, sometimes it will seem political, but that's because anything that's life-changing is. A fundamental misunderstanding of the word "political" and the reality of our call to respond to God's love is what causes the tension, not that the two things are diametrically opposed.

I love you. I love you. I love you.



And I cannot lie about that. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

And It Cannot Wait (Newsletter)

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25: 31-46

Why does Jesus tell this story if his resurrection is going to mean saving grace for all people? If believing in God’s work in Christ is enough to avoid hell, then why do the “goats” get sent to an eternal punishment? And why does Jesus say something so political- prisons, feeding people, strangers, naked people?

Clearly, a life in the Way of Christ consists of more than intellectual assent to who and what Jesus is in history, in the Trinity, and in one’s own life. The faithful life is one of constant and ever-renewing response to God’s outpouring of grace and mercy since the beginning of time, made evident and open to all in Jesus the Christ. It is not enough to say “I believe.” It is not even enough to show how you believe. There is never enough because we cannot match God’s love. We cannot earn it. We cannot show that we would have been deserving if God had just waited. We received it, before we were born, before our parents, before the greatest in our family lines… when our ancestors in the faith were still sinners- God’s love was still at its fullest, compelling response in the shape of loving our neighbors.

There are many who argue in both directions as to the reality of hell and who is there (if anyone) and who is going (if anyone). Without stepping into that mud here, let us acknowledge that it is a biblical reality that we will be called upon to answer for our time and talents in the life to come. Even when receiving forgiveness and eternal peace from the throne, it will arguably be a kind of hell to have to say, “No, I pretended not to see the person who asked me for help. Yes, I expected people who were in prison would have gotten aid from someone else. True, I thought that someone else would feed “those” people. No, I did not welcome him because I was afraid of him- even though I did not know him…” We have to hold these gaps in our faith practice lightly, letting go of them as we have received forgiveness for them and as we ask the Holy Spirit to correct our course and behavior.

Lastly, the gospel is a political document. It deals with how individuals and groups are to govern themselves and one another. Guidelines for how to carry one’s self in close community (the church) and in the world are, by their very nature, political. However, as Jesus gives us these guidelines, he also imparts healing and hope to go with them. He expects that those who follow these rules will not privilege one group over another in either direction, but will clothe the naked and bring them to table to dine with the over-dressed. Jesus expects that those who imitate him will bring together the guard and the prisoner into conversation, so that each sees the other as human. Jesus pioneers the pathway for the one who wishes to welcome a stranger and introduce her to the long-time establishment, so that they may learn from one another and perceive security in each other.

This, beloveds, is the work to which we are called. And it cannot wait.