Sunday, March 11, 2018

Jesus and Stage 4 Faith

Scripture Passage: Matthew 15:21-28

            Most, if not all, 12-step recovery groups use the Serenity Prayer during a meeting. In many cases, the prayer is said at the beginning of the meeting and again at the end. “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It is interesting that people who have hit a wall in their lives- in their addiction or relationship with an addicted person- implore God for these things. Within the prayer, there is no “if it is your will, Lord” or “Please, God” or even “If you do this, Almighty One, I will do…”
            That last phrase is particularly important. It is impossible to achieve a sense of serenity, that is
God’s alone to grant, if you are still trying to control things in around you- including God. And many, many people try to control God with their behavior- if I pray in exactly the right way, if we complete our sacraments or sacramental rituals in exactly the right way, if we never miss a Sunday, or raise our children just right…. then God will reward us.

            If, in the back of our mind and heart, we retain the idea that God will deliver if we hold up our end of the bargain, we create a horrible distance between the Divine and ourselves, not to mention a terrible canyon between other people and ourselves. If God is simply waiting for us to act first, then God is passive. The God who made and kept promises to Sarah, Miriam, Mary, Martha, Lydia, Mary Magdalene, Eunice, and Lois is not passive.

            Since the nature of the Divine is eternal love (1 John), God does not (and has never) waited for any human 1) to move first and 2) to be able to fully uphold our end of any covenant. Grace alone makes God, God. Thus, it is only God who can grant serenity, courage, and wisdom for us to respond to the circumstances of our lives.

            Sometimes it is easier for us to grasp a concept if we consider it from a different angle. In Italian, the Serenity Prayer begins, Dio concedimi la serenit√©… God, concede to me… The use of the word “concede” versus “grant” helps us to have a better sense of what we are asking of our Creator. We are requesting a concession that is only God’s to give. I cannot ask another person to concede serenity to me. Even if I knew people who had serenity to spare, they wouldn’t be able to give it to me. Furthermore, when we ask God to concede something to us, we are acknowledging that the concession comes at God’s will, not ours and not in exchange for our good work.

            The Canaanite woman in today’s gospel reading is asking for a concession. She is pleading with Jesus for him to concede a miracle to her and to heal her daughter. And, much to our chagrin, Jesus seems in no hurry to grant that concession. Generations of pastors have tried to save Jesus from this moment, wanting to make it clear that he was teaching the disciples a lesson or otherwise purposeful in his initial rejection of this grieving Gentile. Those theologians, well-meaning and worried, want to control how Jesus appears and how you hear and see him and how he is perceived.

            If we are to accept both the full humanity and full divinity of Jesus, then it is neither our task nor within our capability to save Jesus from himself. The fully human Jesus had to develop in his faith, just as we do. The Jesus we see in today’s story is making the move from Stage 3 to Stage 4 faith. A person at Stage 3 faith has found peace in belonging to a group and within the group identity. They feel defined by responsibility to the group and zealous in committing to the norms and tasks of that group.

            A person in a congregation who is a Stage 3 believes strongly in the rules of the group and takes personal pride in policing those norms. The value of the symbols and rituals of the community, as well as correctly performing those things, define faith and faithfulness for the person at Stage 3.

            The person who is ready for Stage 4, however, finds a real tension. The majority of adults in this room and around the world are in either Stage 3 or 4 and, painfully, people in those two stages struggle to understand and empathize with one another, more than people in any other stage. At Stage 4, people have begun to realize their lack of control over the larger world. They see that they have not only tried to categorize people but also that they have attempted to box God in by their own definitions and expectations.

            Moving into Stage 4 can often feel like or actually be a crisis of faith. If in this dark night of the soul, we aren’t kind to ourselves or to others, we may feel as though we experience a loss of our faith. A healthy move into Stage 4 involves accepting that our relationship with God is about the direction of the relationship, not about specific answers to specific questions, A person into Stage 4 becomes more comfortable with mystery and a lack of certainty, as personal integrity in the lived faith journey.

            Within today’s gospel, Jesus is confronting what it would mean to extend the concession of healing to a Gentile woman who dares to ask it of him. Within himself, he has the divine power to grant her request, but he also has the human compulsion to continue to maintain the boundaries and right behavior that he has been taught his whole life. What would it mean to let that boundary become permeable, to lower his guard and consider that this woman may be as much a child of God as his own mother, siblings, and disciples are?

            The story happens quickly as we read it, but in my sanctified imagination, I can see it drawing out- long pauses on Jesus’ end as he reflects, the silent shock of the disciples, the frustration of the woman and her fear for her daughter. For people who are in Stage 3, a person who moves to Stage 4 and is grappling with ambiguity, the realization of the loss of control, and a release of some of the community rules and standards seems like a backslider, a person who cannot be considered faithful. To a person at Stage 4, the person who is still faithfully in Stage 3 seems too binary, too demanding of answers, and too sure of what they know. Both will have to learn to be peaceful together for the sake of the community and the work of following the Way of Christ.

            Thus, we find Jesus, the pioneer of our faith, moving into his own Stage 4- knowing his own power and connection with his Heavenly Parent and the Spirit, but also experiencing the human tension of needing to change his views, pressure to expand his thinking, and the reality of living with discomfort and mystery in pursuing the will of God. If we see that Jesus has the experience, do we think that we can or will avoid it? Should we try?

            When we approach God for concessions, serenity, courage, wisdom, healing, strength, relief, wholeness, it is important for us to be open to the deep truth that we cannot control how and when God will grant us these requests. The further into our faith development we go, the more we realize how little we control. Most of you may be thinking, “I’m already too aware of how little I control”. Coming to peace with that, my friends, is the reality of the mature faith of Stage 4. We cannot produce our own peace with that. It is something that we seek, as a concession, from God.

            Our friends and neighbors who have found themselves outside the church or organized religion or on the outs with their Creator are most often the people who were not able to make the move between 3 and 4 because leaning into the mystery of God feels like too much. Church splits most often happen when the people at 3 and the people at 4 cannot work together and one group disdains the other. When our spiritual practice focuses on doing and doing correctly (or thinking correctly), we miss the call of God to be human beings and we shut out the moments of stillness that would strengthen our trust in the holy.

            What is the concession you want to ask of God? Or concessions? Are you prepared to acknowledge that not only are they God’s alone to grant, but that truly they come about through God’s grace, not by any good work on your part? Are you prepared to sit, quietly, marinating in the mystery of resurrection, the Holy Spirit, and the presence of eternal Love? Are you willing, like Jesus, to be moved to consider that a person or group that you believed to be anathema is also beloved by God? Can you ask for and wait to receive God’s own peace?

            Dio, concedimi la serenit√† di accettare le cose che non posso cambiare, il coraggio di cambiare le cose che posso, e la saggezza per conoscere la differenza.

            God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.



Sunday, February 25, 2018

Peter and Stage 2 Faith

            There’s a scene in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar that sticks with me more than it seems to do with others. It is the set-up for the Last Supper, but- of course- the disciples don’t know that. They’re eating and drinking together, reminiscing about what they thought being an apostle would entail. Harmonizing, they sing, “Always hoped that I’d be an apostle/Knew that I would make it if I tried/Then when we retire, we can write the gospel/So they’ll all talk about us when we die.” (Ah, yes, apostles- a gospel message should always leave people talking about the writer. This tells us that they still didn’t understand what Jesus was about.)

            When we, the present disciples and apostles, examine our forbearers in following Jesus, we have information they did not have. In the depiction in Jesus Christ Superstar, as well as the depictions in some of the gospel accounts, Peter, James, John, and their brothers in faith continued to expect that Jesus would turn out to be the Messiah of their dreams.

            As children, they had heard stories of the One Who Was To Come. This One would greatly overshadow his ancestor, King David. The One Who Was To Come would be powerful and mighty, overthrowing oppressors and righting all wrongs. People would rise at the call of the One Who Was to Come and, renewed in fervor, the pain of oppression and ignominy would be eliminated. (At least, it would be for those currently oppressed, preferably so they could extract revenge.)

            Yet, Jesus doesn’t deliver in the way that they’d expected or hoped. He brings a world-changing power, but the unfairness of grace and the irresistibility of God’s mercy to all who hear of it was just not what the apostles were prepared to accept. When you combine these realities with Jesus explaining that he was going to die- in one of the most shameful ways possible- who can blame Peter when he blurts out, “Jesus, you quit talking like that!”

            It’s too much for Peter. In this framework, Peter is an excellent example of Stage 2 faith (a continuation of our sermon series). People move from Stage One to Stage Two when they begin to seek and find acceptance, teaching, and identity beyond their immediate family group. Larger group identification begins to matter- by way of school, sports, language, gender expression, social activities, and other ways people group themselves. In this stage, called in psychological terms: “mythic-literal faith”, a person learns the stories of their group, without much larger meaning, and accepts them as the facts of the tribe. It is in this stage that exposure to ideas about inclusion, varieties of experience, and differences as being useful matter. Children at this stage, usually ages 7-12, are predisposed to accept information from (to them) trustworthy sources as absolute. Anyone who has seen 8-years-old arguing about whose family does something the “right” way can understand this.

            Thus, we find dear Peter illustrating Stage 2 faith, where adults can be stuck. He has unlocked the discipleship level- finding a trusted leader, feeling included in a group, and arming himself with a sense of rightness and righteousness in recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, God’s anointed. Now, Jesus’ disclosure of how he will die is threatening Peter’s security. How will Peter respond?

            If he stays with Jesus, he is gradually learning that it might not be the kind of glory that he imagined for himself. There will be no triumphant parades, no special robes, no Romans fighting to curry favor with him. He’s not likely to get rich or, apparently, even to die old. Following Jesus will mean moving beyond retiring to write the gospel and seeking responsibilities and opportunities to witness to the good news of Jesus.

            What do we do, when the narrative that we learned as children or even as young adults no longer fits? What do we do when retiring to write the gospel, so that we might be talked about is not the stewardship or the life of seeking justice or the evangelism to which we are called? A person in this congregation, when speaking to me about the issue of racism, once told me that the hardest thing to wrestle with is doing something differently than your mother did it and recognizing that she, your beloved mother, might have been wrong.

            That is the crossroads of growing in faithful action. Being willing to learn, to know better, and to do better, to paraphrase the poet Maya Angelou. Peter is standing in a place where he is faced with real truth. He can embrace it, following Jesus, or he can deny what he has experienced, close himself to what he’s seen and heard, and live a half life, always wondering in the back of his mind, “What if?”

            Nearly all of us find ourselves in a world we didn’t imagine as children or even a decade ago. Overwhelmed by more information than we can process, we retreat to our tribes of comfort and little challenge. Our biological or logical families, our known television channels or websites, our favorite artists, writers and musicians, our own denominations- even as the world has increased in diversity, we are more tribal than ever, distrusting the ones who are outside our group.

            Therein lies the challenge of taking up the cross. In order to carry the cross and all that it symbolizes- self- sacrifice, love, and forgiveness- we have to put down what we hold close to keep ourselves safe. Those false security blankets create more division than unity. What are you willing to put down in order to take up the cross?

            When I listen to how people talk about God the Father or God the Son in certain ways, I seem to learn more about the person talking than about God. Divine violence seems to justify human violence. Divine exclusion begets human exclusion. Divine hardness of heart creates some of the most closed communities ever. Even in supposedly broad-minded circles, people can be edged out if they are not quite as free as the community seems to demand.

            What if we take up the cross of Divine forgiveness, of holy listening, of Spirit-driven patience, of Jesus’ welcome of the outcasts, of celebrating diversity in all its forms? “Always hoped that I’d be an apostleThe difference between disciples and apostles is in the roots of the words. Apostle comes from a root meaning “to send out” or the ones who are sent. Disciple comes from the roots for student or pupil, a learner. It is said about Jesus’ followers in the Bible that all apostles were disciples, but not all disciples were apostles.
            When we stop at Stage Two in our faith development, we continue to cycle through being a disciple. God’s call to us, though, is to grow into being apostles- sent out to share hope, love, and grace with all whom we encounter. We have the benefit of knowing more than Peter does in this story. We read it, knowing about the resurrection, knowing about the joy of the early church, knowing that the Holy Spirit hasn’t quit working. And we also know that Peter was ultimately martyred for his faithfulness to Jesus, but not without having overseen the spread of the gospel that he grew to trust and comprehend.

            How could the song be different? “Always hoped that I’d be an apostle/ Trusting God is right here by my side. Each new day's a chance here to share Christ's gospel/ There is more to his life than how he died.”

Friday, February 23, 2018

Noah and Developing Faith

This is the first in a six-part sermon series in the stages of faith. The stages of faith have a
couple components. James W. Fowler mostly famously wrote about stages of faith, but others have contributed to the body of knowledge. They came about as a result of psychologists and sociologists, with theologians, coming to understand that our faith does not remain the same through our entire life. In the past 150 years, we have come to understand, scientifically and otherwise, that the way children and adults grow and change has an impact on how they think, on their emotions, and how they react to the world. Everyone understands that they currently are not the way they were when they were four.

However, for a long time, faith was treated kind of like the multiplication tables- separate and apart from any kind of higher math. Simply memorize a basic set of facts and one knows all that is needed to be faithful. Faith or spiritual development, though, is just like our physical, emotional, psychological, or physiological development. It continues to grow and to be affected by the things that happen to us and happen around us.

     It is important to realize that we cannot separate faith and life without denying one or the other. If we say that what happens in our life has no impact on our faith, we are saying one of the two is not as important as the other. When you have a belief in something beyond yourself- for most of us here, that’s God, revealed through Jesus- that belief affects every aspect of your life. It could be through the effort to keep them from interacting or through the reality of how you see them interacting.

     When an adult becomes angry or frustrated, we are able to recognize if they are acting like a young child. We recognize that it is a problem if they continue in that behavior, but we are also sympathetic to moments of behavior reversion. What becomes problematic, with regard to the stages of faith, is that we have so individualized faith and the experience of faithful living. As a society, we have set up ways of being faithful such that where you are different from me in faith practice and experience, you must be wrong.

     Regrettably, faith leaders, including myself, speak about God, about Jesus, about the written Word so definitively, that if one doesn’t see eye to eye with the presenter or has a different perspective- the one who is in disagreement with the leader is treated as incorrect and sometimes pushed out of the community. The reality of stages of faith, just like other stages of development, means that we can be at different stages at different times. Someone who is our age peer may be in a different stage than we are.

     Part of advancing and maturing in faith is coming to understand how one’s own faith is the product of a wide variety of experiences and learning and the work of God. That same work of God, however, is happening in other people who have very different experience and different exposure to information. What I want us to consider is that Lent [the liturgical season] is six weeks. It is not a journey; it’s a trip with a set purpose. We start at Transfiguration and we end at the resurrection. That is the trip of Lent. The life of faith, however, is a journey. We may make the trip of Lent many times in the journey. Like a movement is only part of a symphony, Lent is a section of the music of the whole life of faith.

    Let’s move into Stage One faith. James Fowler suggested that there is a Stage Zero, which is birth to age 2. What happens to a child in Stage Zero can have an effect on how that child later thinks about God. Those thoughts can be rooted in how good, bad, or indifferent the care is that one receives in this stage. One’s experience of love and those who are caregiving as warm, nurturing, accessible, forgiving, and apologizing for mistakes or withdrawn, withholding, and frustrated or neglectful… these make a foundation for how someone comes to think of God. Stage Zero also builds the foundation for the experiences of Stage One.

     The Intuitive-Projective stage is from ages 3-7. People in ages 3-7 draw conclusions based on information at hand and then apply those conclusions to themselves using their imagination. So they look around, they consider what they hear about good and evil, what they see, how others talk, and then they apply that information to themselves. This is a very self-focused stage and very literally-minded.

     For example, consider a crown. A crown is a recognizable symbol of power. The people who wear a crown get impressive titles and are able to control what other people do. If I am five years old and I have a crown, I am a princess (or a queen). I am a princess because I have a crown. As a five-year-old, I understand what a crown is symbolically and I am applying its symbolism to myself literally.

     From a more theological perspective, Stage One is characterized by a
- sense of awe (wonder in learning, seeing connections, and intuiting connections)
- sense of need (awareness of wants or things necessary for well-being and that there are people who can be counted on to provide them)
- awareness of nature (Many of us may associate this with the experience of being outdoors, relaxed, and deeply aware of something beyond ourselves. This feeling goes beyond the awareness to the understanding that we neither produced the feeling nor the experience ourselves.)
- perceiving greater meaning in life (By the end of Stage One, you are aware that there are things (people, places, situations) that you are not and cannot control.)
- a sense of innocence
    In Stage One, a person may also have the first experience of God in one’s life- either by experiencing God or by becoming aware of a need for God.

     To make this clearer, and to actually connect it to Jesus, let’s talk about the story of Noah and the flood. How do we talk about the flood to children? (I personally have no idea why we decorate nurseries and playrooms in symbols and scenes from a divinely- caused genocide.)

     We usually start with the animals, entering the ark two by two. We don’t usually go so far as to say that God was, through Noah, saving the animals from the rain that God was sending. The two giraffes, the two elephants, the two lions, the two mice- all make a nice picture entering the ark together, the original peaceable kingdom in children’s Bibles. (We never discuss what the lions eat, how the ark smelled, the frustrations.)

    How do we talk about the rainbow to children? It’s a promise- God’s promise to not cause that kind of destruction again. Does God call it a rainbow? No, God calls it a bow. We also teach children that the people were making bad choices or at least everyone but Noah and his family. God looked around and was displeased with what had happened. God decided to start again from scratch, except for keeping Noah as his human sourdough starter. We also talk with children about the dove returning with the olive branch, which makes its own nice picture.

    Since the Noah story doesn’t appear in the Revised Common Lectionary, we don’t often discuss the story of the flood, along with its before and after scenes, as adults. Rare are the word studies, lectio divinas, and multipart Bible reflections on Noah and his saga.
Reactions from adults:
- the whole story seems like a lot of work (to build a boat, to start again from scratch, to be in the ark with the family and the animals)
- Noah lived a very long time
- God reuses the canvas- painting over it again
- The celebration afterward by Noah and the way his children reacted

     I think about God’s commitment to non-violence, or at least a specific kind of non-violence, at the end of the story. If I want to shoot a bow and arrow, as a right-handed person, I hold the curve of the bow in my left hand and draw the string back with my right. The curve of the bow is pointing away from me, aimed in the direction in which I want to shoot.

     So if the curved part of the bow points in the direction one wishes to shoot, when God hangs up the Divine bow- it is pointing away from creation. God puts the bow to rest in a peaceful position, aimed away from the world we know and what we understand God to have so loved. The bow at rest also is not in the sky as a reminder to us, but as a reminder to God. It indicates that God may once again feel that this was a bad plan, that it might be better to start over, that our human failure to uphold covenant isn’t worth the Divine energy. This story, however, tells us that God has created a non-violent image as a reminder to God’s own self, a holy Post-It note about commitment to a different way of being in relationship and upholding covenant.

    We teach this story in one way to children and that way of understanding the narrative is appealing. It is, however, generally unsatisfactory to us as adults, given our reactions to, thoughts about, and feelings toward the same story through our life experiences. For a comparison from a different field, it is a like a Twinkie compared to black forest cake. A Twinkie is satisfactory if one has a sweet tooth or if rich, dark chocolate is too much for a person's taste buds- usually the case for kids. Many, if not most, adults, however, will choose the complexity of the black forest cake over a Twinkie as a dessert. It’s not as sweet, but a little of it is more satisfying to a palate that has had more exposure to different tastes and textures.

   (Of course, there are times when we may want a Twinkie as an edible symbol of a simpler time in our life. Similarly, we may occasionally return to an earlier stage of faith exploration to find stability and hope in a difficult time.)

When we are at a stage of faith wherein we trust that
- God provided safety for animals
- God made a way out for people
- God made a covenant, with the bow as a sign, against destroying all life by flood…
we are in a place of safety and security in our faith and our relationship with God.

     Regrettably, we are not able to remain in the place of security. If we remain, faithfully, where we are as children, it affects our stewardship, our evangelism, and our other ways of being in the church and being church in the world- our ways of imitating Christ. On the one hand, our approach to anything of these things as children are sometimes more open. On the other, the world needs to be met by adults who have grown in faith, moving further along into ways of trust in God that are less rooted in certainty and more grounded in trust amid mystery.

    This affects our stewardship by changing our understanding of Who contains and provides all things. It alters our evangelism as our story becomes deeper and broader in our more mature contemplation of who God is and what God’s grace has done for all people and us. Our faith is made more complex and useful to God by being layered with what we have wrestled with and the blessings with which we have limped away from our dark nights of the soul.

     As we consider what it means to imitate Christ, the Holy Spirit will not let us believe that it is enough just to do what Jesus would have done. Instead, true imitation of Christ is rooted in being open to whatever God wants to do in our lives, just as Jesus was open to what the Holy Parent wished to do in his.

    Moving out of Stage One faith means moving out the stage where what I understand about God and faith is all related to me. We move from childish (different than childlike) faith to a new stage. Moving into a new stage gives a fuller understanding, not just of Divine mystery, but of the grace of God, which we have not earned and cannot do so. Instead, God pours it out freely. When we are in a world where there are school shootings, addictions, grief, theft, struggles for power that don’t actually seem rooted in positive change, it is very important to have our faith at an adult level, not to remain at a childish view of trust and faithful action.

    Such an adult view might reflect on: What does it mean to worship a God who has hung up the Divine bow? What does it meant to imitate Jesus by being open to whatever a non-violent God is going to do, direct, or demonstrate in my life and to know that holy grace will be sufficient for whichever of my needs arise in that situation? What does it mean to know that at one point the Divine frustration level was so high that it seemed preferable to start again? What does it mean that God has regrets?

     We can separate life and faith without disregarding one or the other and the Holy Spirit will not release us into that negation. This is why being in community matters. Most of us can only handle do this work, maturing in faith, a little bit at a time and in a place where we feel safe, where we know questions are acceptable, and we also know that it is okay not to have all the answers.

     We move into more mature faith as we come to trust that God is enough. Enough in our grief, enough in our frustration, enough to meet our efforts, and enough when we need to pause for a time and simply remember animals being saved, two by two.

     There is a world beyond the doors of Lutheran Church of Hope that needs people who are imitating Christ to show up. And when they show up, they must be prepared to be open to how the Spirit is going to use them, in their adult faith, to grow, to stretch, to heal, to protest, and to making clear that God’s commitment to non-violence extends beyond the story of Noah into the creation today that God so loves.

     Most of us have left Stage One faith. We can revisit it in times of need, but we don’t get to stay there. We don’t get to stay there, not because it isn’t sufficient, but because the restlessness of the world and the irresistibility of the Spirit’s call will not let us stay there. And God’s grace goes with us into the world that is watching for us to imitate Christ.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Unthinkable, But Required

I am a pastor of a small church- a church full of people whom I love and whom I greatly trust that God loves. On Sunday mornings, there may be any number of children and older people, this includes my own children and some of their best friends. 

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I would do if someone came in and began shooting.
I've analyzed what I could throw, how quickly I could get to any part of the sanctuary, and how much time I could buy for others by engaging with a shooter- hoping that my death through that engagement would buy others time to attack unseen, hide children, or escape. 
I move my cell phone around in the sanctuary- to be within my arm's reach- so that my last act prior to engagement would be to call 911. I worry about if I don't have time to do this and I may not, but it's part of my mental plan. 
I am a gun owner. I'm an okay shot, better than okay at close range. My husband has asked me, on more than one occasion, to keep a gun with me at church. 
In the pulpit next to the Bible? 
In my pocket?
In a shoulder holster, under my diaphanous robe? 
In my purse, carrying said purse with me everywhere like Queen Elizabeth? 
I can't bear this. I cannot bear the thought yielding to my fears. There is making a plan and then there is introducing another problem into the situation. 
My need to have this plan and think these thoughts is not because God "isn't allowed in schools" or because of the use of psychological drugs or even because we have culturally determined that child sacrifice is preferable to some restrictions on gun ownership. 
The need to have this plan is because we have chosen as a culture to make guns our idol of choice. Believing their false promises of safety and self-determination, we have put them on a pedestal and worship them at the altar of unrestricted access and personal freedom. Our call to community living as a nation, cities, and smaller groups has been sublimated to believing that we are entitled to having what we want, when we want it and to extracting revenge and never dwelling for long in feelings of discomfort or pain. 
This is the direct result of patriarchy, white supremacy, and rape culture.
Let me be VERY CLEAR that I am not saying that everyone who owns guns rapes or is a white supremacist. 
I am, however, saying that we (almost all of us) have contributed to a culture where many people, especially white, cis-gendered, heterosexual men, have been socialized to an unhealthy level of entitlement regarding other people's bodies, property, and opportunities. And, through our gun idolatry, they see a cultural worship of tools that allow them to respond with deadly force when they do not get what they have been taught and believe they "deserve". 
This is a complex issue, but it isn't actually that complicated and it's not impossible to improve. 
But we have to want to. All of us have to want to. 
And until that happens, I will be preaching with a phone nearby, thinking about how far I can throw the large rock that sits on the altar, and praying that most of the congregation will be saved, even if I am not. 
How's that for your thoughts and prayers?

Friday, January 19, 2018

There Will Always Be Monsters

Octopus made from rescued trash from the ocean,
Sea Life Center, Seward, Alaska

I have come to realize that there will always be monsters.
The pain and surreal nature of the unexpected cancer diagnosis,

The incomplete healing from a surgical solution,

The seemingly perfect call that ends with spears in the most tender places,

The omnipresence of the dis-ease of addiction,

The posturing and threats of those in power, with little to no thought of those who are watching, waiting, and worried about their decisions.

Until the physical return of Christ,

Until the zenith of sanctification,

Until the completion of the fullness of resurrection…

There will be monsters.


They have not earned a share of my heart space.

They get no more air than what it takes to utter that I turn them over to God.

They are not granted permission to live in the spaces where joy dwells and hope presides.

There may be monsters, but I will not sing their song.

And they do not get to plant their flags in my heart.

Original post at as Friday Prayer on 1/19/18.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

White Washing the World

I pay attention to what I see. A lot. In the past few years, I've paid additional attention to what I don't see.

Today, I saw two interesting things.

The first was brought to my attention by the professor and Biblical scholar, the Reverend Doctor Wil Gafney (to whose work I commend you). Dr. Gafney noted on Facebook that, regardless of one's actual race, if a person indicates interest or support in issues, authors, or topics at all related to Black Lives Matter, the Root, or any other item that indicates interest in being an accomplice to equality... Facebook assumes that person is African-American.

At her urging, I checked and, sure enough, Facebook's #1 categorization of me is African American. While I would happily claim this designation if I could, it's not even close to correct. Ironically, despite the fact that I belong to multiple Jewish groups and an equal number of knitting groups, Facebook is more certain that I am black than it is regarding anything else about me. (Let's not mention the number of clergy groups to which I belong.)

This means that Facebook ad bots assume that any interest in black issues, race equity, or social justice must automatically be correlated with BEING black. There is no positive correlation, in the algorithm for non-black people supporting these issues.


Then, today, I saw my first ads for A Wrinkle in Time. I'm excited about this movie because I have loved the book for years. Meg Murry is a hero of mine and she doesn't get mentioned on enough girl hero lists (in my opinion). Ava Duvernay is directing. Excellent. I am a huge fan, among many, of her work.

The trailer revealed that Meg is played by Storm Reid. Her mom, Dr. Kate Murry, is played by Gugu Mbatha. Her dad is played by... Chris Pine. Furthermore, the movie poster looks like this: >>>>>>>>>>>>

Now I last read the book 3-4 years ago, but a central plot point is that the dad is MISSING. He's not actually a central character. In fact, his absence is central to the story. So WHY IS THE WHITE GUY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE POSTER??? Why not the inquisitive, brave, tempestuous Meg? Seriously? I don't know why the whole family couldn't be people of color. And I don't know why Chris Pine has to be in the center of the picture.

Except that I do know why.

The world still presumes that if you aren't catering to the money (ego) of white men, then failure is assured. There is little to no acceptance of the fact that women, people of color, and everyone else in the world (who are not white men) have money to spend and are begging to be catered to. Do we need Chris Pine so that this movie will make money? Without his melanin-deficient appearance, will white men fail to see this movie? Will white women? (Actually, I don't want to know the true answer to that last question because I will likely throw my computer across the room. Which indicates that I do know the true answer. And I am pissed about it.)

We can do better.

Facebook can. Hollywood can. I can. You can.

But what will it take?

Friday, December 1, 2017

Six Cans

I realize these six cans don’t look like much, but they represent a big deal to me. I made dinner for a group tonight and I wasn’t entirely sure how many people were coming. I have a tendency to overestimate and overprepare, ending up with way more food than necessary. 

I have come to realize, though, that cooking too much is my attempt to control a situation. I want everyone to enjoy themselves and for the event to be perfect. This isn’t actually mine to control. Having too much food doesn’t guaratee a good time. It’s just a lot of food.

No one who was coming would likely be in danger of starving. And if someone came who I knew needed more food, I could help with that in a different way.Furthermore, having a good time is up to each person. I am not the guarantor of other people’s good times. (#truth)

So, four cans of black beans and two cans of vegetarian refried beans represent not only my desire to be a good hostess, but also my willingness to let go of the outcome. If we run out of beans, it will be okay. Fun can still be had. 

Who knew six cans of beans could mean so much? 

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Better Way

A friend recently expressed frustration that empowering people to take ownership and leadership takes a lot more time than doing something one's self. This is true... in the short term. In the long term, empowerment is the more efficient means of reaching a given destination because empowerment involves honest recognition of one's own limitations, the skills of others, the need for community and relationship, and the reality of having a few more eyes on an issue. 

As a person who often makes an idol of efficiency, I confess that I have sometimes let empowerment fall by the wayside. This is not because I lack the skills to empower others, but because I haven't taken the time to offer the opportunity or been willing to let something flounder when others didn't step forward. I have come to realize, through time and experience, that enabling is not actually an efficient path to any destination other than the Land of Resentment, Burnout Island, or Frustration Station. 

In the church, as with many other organizations, good leadership does not mean that one or two or even a small committee handle the majority of the work. Instead, good stewardship of the resources of people, locations, time, and money means sharing duties between those who have the necessary skills, those who could learn them, and those who would like to assist, but not be in charge. 

Lay leaders, as well as clergy, can be guilty of taking the enabling path by way of control (doing it alone resentfully or instructing how it should be done). They may also grow tired of doing a thing, but not let go of it- lest it be changed or "done wrong". Some may make a choice, certain that their way is correct and that change is good, and lead off- only to find that no one has followed. Others may distribute activities, chores, or roles without considering the skills, abilities, and desires of the ones whom they are pressuring as recruits. 

Empowering involves a certain level of vulnerability- a willingness to be honest with one's yes and one's no, the effort to ask for help or explanation, the patience to listen reflectively and with self-control, and a level of discernment via the Holy Spirit. None of these things are outside of the grasp of anyone in the church. Often we tolerate bad behavior because that's just "the way someone is" or because we don't like confrontation. Both of those options seem efficient, but are the way of enabling. 

The fruits of the spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control- all contain an element of honesty within them. When we embrace and are embraced by this honesty, then we can become communities of empowerment, not enabling. And empowerment seems like the most efficient way to help one another live the baptized life of imitating Christ to which we have been called. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Jesus Test (A Corollary to The Rock Test)

In response to new/old news about powerful men abusing and manipulating women, blogger Anna Victoria Clark wrote a fun and true piece called The Rock Test: A Hack for Men Who Don't Want to Be Accused of Sexual Harassment. I recommend this piece and if you haven't read it yet, take a moment, click over, and then come on back for some theological reflection.

I like The Rock Test, but it's not totally great for my context.

Confession: I don't think about Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as much as I do about Jesus.

Thus, I'd like to propose that for a certain part of the population, "The Jesus Test" may be a more effective hack to prevent bad choices and encourage good (and godly) behavior.

Setting One: Passing the Peace

Sure, maybe you're a "hugger", but you know the person who has always stiffly held out their hand? That person doesn't want to be hugged. You don't know why. It may be taking all they have to be in the presence of all these other people. It may be that they have an illness where even light touch is painful. They may just not like to be touched. Your identity as a "hugger" doesn't surpass their desire not to be hugged.

Think of this Jesus:

This is when Christ appears to Mary Magdalene in the garden and asks her not to touch him. We don't know if he didn't want it because it would break his resolve to ascend to the Father, because it would be hard for her, or if it would disrupt some other divine part of His work. 

Jesus has the right to ask not to be touched and to have that request respected. Look at the person you are approaching. What are their body signals? What do their eyes say? If you know you are a person who is NOT good at reading those things, a handshake is always your best bet. If someone has a hand out, respect that hand. Noli me tangere, Jesus says, "Do not touch me." We listen to that from him and when he says it from within our neighbor. 

Pro tip: This applies beyond passing the peace. When someone asks you to withdraw your hand or to step back, additional commentary or pressure is absolutely uncalled for and unnecessary. No means no. It did for Jesus, it does for those whom Jesus loves. 

Setting Two: The Inappropriate Story

Are you in Bible study or a group meeting? Are you having a one-to-one with another person? Are you having coffee, drinks, or a snack with a group of 2-3? Are you leading? Are you a participant? Do you have a question you want to ask or a story that you want to tell neither of which is for the full edification of the group? 

Is your story because it gets a good laugh or because you like to shock people? 
Is your question to show how much you know, rather than to offer information? 
Is your goal to disrupt or unseat the person in charge? 
Is the purpose of the story or the question to show your power in the group and/or in the community? 

Would you tell this story to Jesus? Would you interrupt Jesus to ask the question? Is there a way that you would frame things differently if Jesus were the one in the front of the room or the one listening to you teach? 

Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing [CC BY-SA 3.0
(], via Wikimedia Commons


I began this blog post on 10/11/17, right after the Harvey Weinstein allegations came out and the "Rock Test" was fresh and viral. However, I never mustered the energy to finish it. Frankly, my dears, I'm tired of having to think of clever ways to say, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." 

It's not about how you would want someone to treat your mother or daughter. It's not about how you feel about your gay son or your cousin who is trans. It's not about whether you could see your Indian neighbor's face or your Muslim cab driver's family picture. The truth is that you either believe all people to be your equals in the eyes of God or you don't. 

And if you don't, if you don't... you won't- even if someone rises from the dead. 

If you don't, it's not about things being different in the era in which you were raised. 

If you don't, it's not about a boys' club or what was good enough for you or your father or your grandfather. 

The fact is that you think that you are better than people around you and that the rules that govern everyone else don't apply to you. 

My carefully constructed writing will not convince you that other people are not means to your end of power, perceived control, money, awards, rewards, or advancement. 

So, here's the deal. I will not be sad when you lose your job. I will not be sad when your empire collapses. I will not shed a tear if you find yourself without everything that you so carefully built, believing yourself to be invincible. 

Someday, when (not if) it happens, I will have tea with you. If you want. I will not be sympathetic to your plight. I will look you in the eye and say, "This was always going to be a totally shit time." 

And I will wait to see if you want to make it better or make it right. 

I will not offer cheap grace. 

That's the true Jesus' test. 

And many people are shocked to find themselves failing.