Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Fair to the Flag

Flags outside the sanctuary doors of Lutheran Church of Hope, Anchorage Alaska


More than once recently, I've been asked my opinion regarding flags in the sanctuary. I've written about my respect for the flag here, but I'd like to address the specific question directly.

Regarding flags (national or otherwise) in the sanctuary of a Christian church: I do not believe this is fair to the flag

The United States Code (the US Flag Code) states the following:

  • (175) (k) When used on a speaker's platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman's or speaker's right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.

It can be inferred from the document that "superior prominence" means to other flags. Where the flag of the United States is present, it is meant to be the unifying symbol for those who behold it. The proper display of the flag is meant not only to stir feelings of patriotism but also a sense of pride and shared community history and goals. That is the job of the flag.

The flag cannot do that job in a Christian sanctuary. The specifically unifying symbol of a Christian sanctuary is the cross of Christ. It is the symbol of his resurrection- thus drawing our hearts and minds to his birth, life, teaching, miracles, ignominious death, and God's power above all. The death of Jesus came at the hands of government officials and the wishes of religious people- all of whom sought control over the power and mercy of God as revealed in Jesus the Christ. The cross is the most powerful symbol wherever it is present.

Thus, the flag would be, at best, second to the cross.

In a sanctuary or chapel, however, the cross is rarely the only symbol of Christ's faithfulness and God's demand on the lives of the faithful. The presence of a baptismal font and/or an altar on which Holy Communion is served are also symbols of God's promise, God's presence, and the power of the Holy Spirit. The events of baptism and communion drive us back again and again to the Christ who feeds us and unites us as children of God. We are made into a community with the saints on earth and the saints who have gone before through the font and the altar.

With their presence, the flag slides to fourth.

Then there is the written Word, the Holy Bible, which people died to have translated into the vernacular. Scripture in the language of the common people represents the lives and works of men and women who believed that God speaks directly to everyone through the Spirit. The power of the narrative of Scripture belongs where it can be read, discussed, wept over, wrestled with, and treasured. Martin Luther wrote that we cannot begin to value the Bible enough until we have studied it for 100 years.

Now, the flag is fifth.

Jesus says,  “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Matthew 6:24

I am not arguing that the flag of the United States represents wealth. Jesus isn't discussing flags here, but the first part of the verse remains decidedly true regardless of the topic of discussion. When we are in a Christian sanctuary, we are Christ's first. (That's actually true everywhere.) In the church, we are children of God- not our denomination, not our city, not our country, not even our own family. We belong to God and it is God's demands on our lives that must and do take precedence. 

You can have more than one vocation at a time and the vocation of responsible citizen is one that I value and take quite seriously. All vocations, however, are subsumed into the primary one of being a baptized child of God, which is always our primary identity.

When I examine those vocations in their proper order, I am stirred by the Spirit to be sure that I am treating the flag of my country respectfully. Thus, I do not wish to display it in a place where it is of fourth or fifth prominence. I wish it to be displayed where it can rightfully do its job and that place, in my mind, is not in the sanctuary of a Christian church.




Saturday, September 1, 2018

Generosity

Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get.  But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret. God who sees what you do in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6:1-4

            There are a lot of things happening in this passage. First, financial generosity is equated with religion. So, in some capacity, Jesus expected that the doing of faith would involve the giving of money, in addition to time and talent. 

           Second, one’s own giving should be generous enough that one might be tempted to tell others but instead must keep it secret. If you were ashamed of what you were giving, Jesus wouldn’t need to warn about secrecy since we don’t often shout about our embarrassing bits. 

           Thirdly, financial giving is for the sake of the poor. While Jesus says elsewhere that the “poor will always be with you”, his meaning is that giving to the poor is not a convenient reason to avoid other justice work. One can work to feed people and also work to convey dignity and opportunity on a larger scale. Whether or not people take advantage of that work is not our business. 

            Lastly, Jesus indicates that there is a reward for appropriate generosity. What kind of reward? Who can say, but it will come from God. This is both incentive and reminder. We cannot use our generosity in fiscal stewardship to manipulate God (if I give this, then You do this…). We are managing what has always (and still) belonged to God’s own self. 

            We are given the gift of caring for others and God’s whole creation through our baptism. Our financial stewardship is of a piece with that gift and call. Let us be diligent together, even in private, about our generosity with what God has given us. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Choose This Day (Revised)

Joshua 24:1–2a, 14–18, John 6:56-69



If, in the morning, I open my eyes,
My first decision thereupon lies.

Will I continue to lie in the bed,
Allowing my thoughts to run through my head?

Will I get up and go to the shower,
Regardless of both the weather and hour?

What of the children, who may want me to play?
What of the tasks that call me this day?

From the moment of waking, there are choices to make,
What will I give this day? What will I take?

I want to be saintly, say my first thoughts are of God,
But sometimes they’re not and, in that, I’m not odd.

We may rise with the sun or maybe at noon,
And most of us promise to get with God soon.

Yet, that instant, a choice has been made-
The balance of time againstGod has been weighed. 

We can’t do it all. Surely God understands.
Did not God make this world, its chores, its demands?

But in each thing we choose, and it ischoosewe must
We have decided in which god we shall trust.

When we make decisions for work or for pleasure,
With money or time, talents or leisure,

With each small decision we leave or we make,
We all choose a god for each task’s sake.

When Joshua says, “Choose this day whom you’ll serve.
My household and I, from God we’ll not swerve.”

He means the God of justice and freedom,
The God who through the desert did lead them.

This God of providence, of mercy and manna
Compared to all others, She proved top banana.

For the Israelites, Joshua lays out a decision,
Because, in history, they’d treated God with derision.

Sometimes God seemed so far and so distant,
They struggled to find His mercy consistent.

Yet, who gave the manna? Who gave the quail?
Who brought forth the water when the people did wail?  

“People of Israel,” Joshua said,
“Turn all that you’ve known around in your head.

Think of the guidance through both day and night,
Think of God’s grace. Think of God’s might.”

The people responded, “Our choice has been made.
We’ve looked around. It’s the Lord who makes grade.

Only one God says, ‘I am who I am’
The same God who was served by our dad, Abraham.”

Israelites promised to serve God, what may come,
For richer, for poor, when happy, when glum.

The years passed, however, and memories faded.
People forgot this choice and became jaded.

The desert, the manna- they all became history.
What God’s doing now… that became mystery.

It became easier to feel freed by law and instruction,
Only community’s structure prevented destruction.

But that structure left some people wanting,
The gift of the law seemed rather daunting.

Late onto the scene, the rabbi, Jesus, appeared.
Some people rejoiced. Some people jeered.

Then, and again, he talked about bread
About life here right now andlife after we’re dead. 

He healed sick people, he fed many others,
But his teaching confused both sisters and brothers.

What was this about flesh to eat, blood to drink?
A hard teaching to swallow, most people did think.

Said his disciples, “Jesus, this is enough.
What you’re talking about- it’s too much. It’s too tough.

We don’t like it. We don’t understand.
We’d like to quit you, but it doesn’t seem that we can.

We’ve looked around as to where we might go.
The problem is, there’s some truth we doknow. 

Within a world of struggle and strife,
Only You have the words of eternal life.

Only you have offered hope in the future,
Between God and us, you are the suture.

Even though it grows quite hard to stay,
We cannot leave you or your way.”

The disciples decided (or most of them did)
It was with Jesus that they placed their bid.

They decided, as their ancestors had,
To be on God’s side couldn’t be bad.

And so I say to you this day…
“Wait, Pastor Julia, I’ve something to say…”

“What is it, my child, what bothers you so?”
“Well, you’ve confused me. And so I must know

I thought God chose us. I thought it was done. 
I thought the war’s over. The fight has been won.

Didn’t Luther write we’d never say yes…
Without God’s Spirit, we can’t acquiesce!

If you tell me, ‘Today you must choose’
Are you not setting us up… to lose?”

You are right, my dear, in every way.
And yet you made a choice today.

You came to be here, to be in communion
To pray, to eat, to embody reunion.

Each day, we see gods far and near.
We can worship success. We can give over to fear.

We can spend our resources or over-honor our kin,
We can reverence our bodies from our toe to our chin.

We can make work our idol, honored, adored.
We can seek that which gives immediate reward.

But in the end, it all fails. It all becomes dust.
These idols- they’ll fade, they’ll die, they will rust.

In the end, what we need is something that lasts,
Something that goes beyond all other forecasts.

What can bring order to confusion and strife?
Only the hope of eternal life.

Eternal life, both for there and for here.
A growing, a knowing, a ridding of fear.

This is what Jesus offers- in body and blood.
Without that promise, bread and wine are just mud.

Like us, they’re from dust and to dust shall return,
But through eating and drinking, still we can learn

That God has chosen in creation’s favor,
The presence of Christ is what we savor

When we gather at table, both willing and able
To experience Jesus as the Truth and not fable.

To trust, to be open, is the choice we must make,
Each day, in the moment right when we wake.

In every moment, we choose a god to serve
With all that we have, each sinew and nerve.

 Our God is a God on the side of all of creation, 
Who knows and who loves without cessation.

Who gives us each talents, who gives us each gifts,
Who forgives our sins, who mends all our rifts.

Who with body and blood has chosen to feed us.
Who through valleys and o’er mountains, has chosen to lead us.

Lord, where could we go? You made us, you know us.
Now, through the Spirit, continue to grow us.

God has called you by name, so as your fear eases,
Choose your god every day. I recommend… Jesus.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Chew on This (Sermon)

John 6:51-58

         I have an obnoxious habit. (Well, probably more than one, but I’m just going to mention the one right now.) In a situation, when I am with other people whom I know identify as Christians and if we are talking about churchy, religious, or spiritual type things- I pay attention to how many times Jesus is mentioned. In listening to sermons, I think about how long it is until Jesus’ name comes into things. I want to hear about Jesus. 

         More specifically than just a mention of Jesus, I am interested in how we talk about him. Is Jesus easy to talk about- he’s great, good, and groovy? Is Jesus difficult to bring up- mysterious, frustrating, and confusing? Is Jesus close by and a ready comfort or far away and standoffish? 

         How do we interpret Jesus as a revelation of and from the Godhead? What does Jesus teach us about eternity, creation, and mercy?  

         It is possible to have a reductive conversation about Jesus- Jewish man from Roman-occupied Palestine, an itinerant rabbi with a band of unusual followers made up of women, laborers, and people who had worked for Rome. He died an ignoble death and something happened to his body. 

         For many of us, that’s not enough to say about Jesus. However, we are often as simplistic about
By Fritzs [GFDL ]
his divinity as some people are about his humanity. He died for our sins. He came to save us. Jesus loves the little children. 

         We’re talking about a fully human, fully divine being who caused his parents deep grief, who spoke with full knowledge about the prophecies of Isaiah, and yet also called a Canaanite woman a dog (Matthew 15). The very touch of his garment brought healing to a woman who suffered years of bleeding and his very words cursed a fig tree (Mark 5 and 11, respectively). Jesus warned off Peter’s bluster by rebuking him, “Get behind me, Satan” and then, later, washed Peter’s feet with humility and tenderness. 

         Jesus is a complex figure, the pioneer of our own faith and faithfulness, and God in flesh in our world. We cannot simplify who he was, who he is, and who he calls us to be. Today’s reading from John underscores that truth. 

         By the time gospel according to John is written, the Christian sect of Judaism is pretty much on the outside of temple life. It is, in part, through their own doing. Imagine tolerating a small group of people inside your religious group who have their own language, their own daily habits, and their own worship liturgy. As they progressively grow in their separation, it becomes harder and harder to include them in the activities and dynamics of the larger group. While there was animus between Jewish Judeans and Christian Judeans, the separation between the religious groups likely was more organic than the historically anti-Semitic slant of Western church history has led us to believe. 

         When the Fourth Gospel is being written, the complexity of living the Way of Christ has become evident. In the snippet of chapter 6 that we read today, the Greek takes a strange turn. The writer has Jesus initially using the verb phago for “to eat”, which is fairly straightforward. In verses 53 and 54, however, there is a switch. The writer moves from phago to trogoTrogo is a little more graphic, more intense than the simple eat. Trogo, in Greek, conveys gnawing, munching, and crunching. 

         Thus, the writer is deliberating making these words of Jesus almost more offensive. Jesus invites those who believe to eat his flesh and drink his blood and it won’t be a dainty or tidy meal. It’s a gnawing banquet, in which everything is to be savored and stripped- with the bones crunched and munched. 

         The writer of the Fourth Gospel is making it clear that being part of the community will not be for the faint of heart. The very ways that the love of Jesus compels us to be at home and in the world are tough, intense, gnawing acts of grace and mercy. 

         Unfortunately, many Christians today want Jesus to be fast food- cheap, easy to consume, and quick to clean up after. Yet, I find that the world needs the Jesus we gnaw, the Jesus we pick over, the Jesus we make soup from and still find marrow inside the bone that brings nutrition. 

         That 900-page report out of Pennsylvania about 30 years of abuse by priests- the pain of that situation, the hurt people, the damaged trust… that situation needs gnawing, munching, and crunching. It is for trogo, not a quick phago. There is not fast food solution to that in the Roman Catholic Church or to anything similar in any denomination or religion. Jesus urges us to do the work of getting to the bone of the issue. 

         The reality of Anchorage teachers returning to work without signed contracts- guaranteeing their rights for the year ahead- is an issue to gnaw over. It stresses and stretches people who are in this room right now. It affects the children of this city, the present and future of Alaska. The love of Christ compels us to consider the complexity of the issue and gnaw it down together. 

         The growth of wildfires in California, the frequency of 100-year floods in the mid-West, the overturning of regulations meant to sustain the growth and safety of wild and human life… these are issues to gnaw over together. Not things that can be solved simply. Not things that can be ignored. Not things that have nothing to do with our faith, but in fact, these are the very things that we can address because we have faith. 

         The eternal life mentioned in John here and elsewhere is synonymous with the abundant life mentioned in John 10. It is not a life waiting to start after death, but a life that comes with having Jesus with you in the present. It is a clear and present truth for all whom Jesus draws through himself, by the Spirit, to God the Holy Parent. This is the life we have when we feast on Christ- when we gnaw on the truth, munch on the mercy, and crunch on the amazing grace that leads us to where God can use us for the sake of others and the world that God made. 

         When we come to Jesus’ table, we are usually pretty tidy. I know that you want bite-size morsels that you can chew and swallow easily. Little sips of wine or juice wash down the crumbs and we wipe the edge of the cup in a semblance of being sanitary. Yet, we are fed in a mysterious way by a complex Savior who has promised to show up in this meal for the purposes of feeding our faith so that we can live a life that is going to bring us alongside all kinds of people and situations that we would probably not choose for ourselves and, sometimes, would avoid if we could. 

         It was true for the Christians of the first century, receiving the words of the Fourth Gospel, and it is true for those following the Way of Christ in the 21stcentury. We serve a resurrected Savior who is our brother (sibling rivalry), our leader (who is sometimes too far ahead), our teacher (whose lessons can be confusing), our healer (in his own sweet time), and the lover of our souls (what?!?). All of these things gnaw at us and we, on them. 

         Jesus is complicated. Jesus loves us. Jesus challenges us. Jesus wrestles with us. Jesus sends us out into the world, but there’s nowhere we can go that he’s not already there to welcome us. He feeds us. And, since Jesus is God, our whole lives are contained in him- from beginning through eternity. 

Let’s chew on that for a while. 

Amen.


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Come Sit By Me (Sermon)

Pentecost 12B
12 August 2018

Ephesians 4:25-5:2


              There is a phrase: If you don’t have something nice to saydon’t say anything at all. What does this mean? (If you can’t say something that’s helpful or kind, then stay quiet.) There is an alteration of this quote that I’ve been thinking of lately: If you don’t have something nice to say, come sit by me.[1]

            In our society, “nice” doesn’t usually mean kind, truthful, or helpful. Usually, “be nice” means “don’t make a fuss” or “just go along with it” or “don’t be loud” or “stop making such a big deal”. Being nice often means less about fixing a problem and more about pretending there is no problem. When I think of the stress I feel on a daily basis, when I think of the news stories we hear, when I think of people who are being hurt daily by situations that are alterable or preventable, I want to say, “Yes! If you don’t have something nice to say, come sit by me.” 

            I don’t want to hear nice things. I want to hear honest things. I want to hear hard conversations. I want to hear about broken hearts, deep frustrations, apologies, forgiveness, and change. I want to hear people talk about how to change systems like racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, LGBTQ-exclusion, injustice, inequity, mental illness, addiction, and the brokenness of cultural norms, ethics, and systems. I don’t want to talk about nice things. I want to talk about truth. If you don’t have something nice to say, come sit by me, because I don’t want nice. 

            The writer of Ephesians, using Paul’s writing style, is communicating with the church at Ephesus, reminding them of what it means to be the community of Christ. The reading we have today from Ephesians (4:25-5:2) shows a communal path with niceness and wrath as pitfalls on either side. The life of a Christian is a community life- lived together for support of one another and for work together for the sake of the world. Slander, bitterness, and unmitigated anger with one another mean that the community will be stunted in growth, failing to support one another. Niceness- surface relationships and conversations- means that the community will never take seriously the issues within and without that need attention, repair, and prayer. 

            It is the path of truth, the path of honesty, forgiveness, and grace, which leads us to where God wants us to be. Anything else, any other type of action, grieves the Holy Spirit. What does it mean to grieve the Spirit? If a child asked, it would be easy to say, We make the Holy Spirit sad when we make bad choices and when we don’t do the things we know are right. Most of us, however, are adults and need more solid spiritual food. As adults, we can handle more solid spiritual food. 

            How do we know what the Holy Spirit does? We are taught about the Spirit from the scriptures and from the documents of our faith that come through the traditions of the church. The Holy Spirit moved over the void at the beginning of creation (Genesis 1) and She breathed holy creative order over the chaos that previously existed. Creative ordering is the work of the Spirit and we see that outlined further, then, in the Apostle’s Creed. 

            The Holy Spirit brings order through the gift of the holy catholic church- where people gather in truth and power to worship, share what they have, and work for the sake of Christ in the world. The Spirit creates eternal stability for us, and all people, through the mysterious connection and hope of the communion of saints- the way we are interconnected with all people in God. The Spirit creates order through the forgiveness of sins- making it possible for us to trust one another and have faith in God’s mercy. The Spirit brings about the resurrection of the body- a wholeness that is our hope and God’s promise. And the Spirit continues the work of creation by the transformation that is and will be the life of the world to come. 

            This is the work of the Spirit. Speaking truth about this work and living lives that do not undermine this truth is what brings joy to the Holy Spirit. A bland niceness that fails to wrestle with the doubts and effort it takes to trust in mystery does not create community. Spiteful gossip or frustrated bitterness turns away people whom the Spirit is driving toward our community. Those are the things that grieve the Spirit. The path of discipleship, the way of Christ, the walk of life together means speaking truth to one another, being kind, forgiving, and being willing to ask for and accept help from each other. 

            It would be easier, sort of, to talk about the John reading today- to say Jesus is food for everyone. There’s enough Jesus to go around. God will feed us. That would be a nice sermon. I could do it. You could like it. We’d be fine. But I don’t have anything nice to say because nice is not what the world needs now. Nice is not the Spirit moving over creation. Nice is not the meaning of Easter resurrection or the promise of God with us. 

            Nice isn’t enough. And the opposite of nice isn’t mean, it’s ambivalence. It’s feeling helpless and hopeless and defeated. It’s feeling alone, ineffective, and unimportant. There is no space for nice in a healthy community of Christ. Not in the time of the Ephesians, not now. If you feel that way, and you might, if you feel that way, sit by me. If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me. If you have something you want to change, something that breaks your heart, something that you need to address, come sit by me. 

            Now, who else is willing to be a partner? Who else is willing to open a seat? Who else is willing to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, sit by me because I am ready to be part of God’s work”? 

            The writer of Ephesians says, Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (5:1-2) Imitators of God- that’s a broad expanse of possibilities- imitating God. We can create, unite, heal, feed, free, forgive, build up, put to rest, restore, listen, speak truth to power, rest, befriend, and so many other things. If we wonder what imitation might look like- we have Jesus as the pioneer of a faithful life, worthy of imitation. Jesus was not nice. I’m sure he was pleasant and affable, but his definitive state wasn’t to talk about the weather, the lamb, and the price of olives in the market. He made relationships, spoke truth, and showed compassion. 

            He was a companion- a bread friend[2]- to the people who traveled with him, who he met on the way, and to the people who were otherwise shut out of his society. If you don’t have something nice to say, sit by Jesus. And we are now his hands and feet, we are now his ears and words, we are now the workers in the kingdom. We are called to the imitation of God in Christ. We are called together- as community- to help one another in the imitation of God in Christ. We are called to help one another, to hold one another accountable, to be truthful and generous to one another in the imitation of God in Christ. 

            The Spirit draws us together, tethers us through her creative ordering, for the sake of one another, for the sake of Spenard and Turnagain, for the sake of Anchorage and Alaska, for the sake of our country and the world, for the sake of others and the world that God made, as it says in our baptismal vows. 

            Here we are- you and me. There are many chairs, but if you don’t have anything nice to say, please- come sit by me. 

            



[1]Alice Roosevelt Longworth (Teddy Roosevelt’s oldest daughter) had a sofa pillow that said, “If you don’t have something nice to say about someone, come and sit by me.” All variations of this quote are usually traced back to reporter commentary on that decoration. 
[2]Companion comes from words meaning bread (pani-) and with (com-), making the word mean something more like messmate or bread friend, describing someone with whom you eat more than simply an acquaintance. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Testimony



We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.  (2 Corinthians 6:3-10) 


After a discussion in my Adult Bible Study class, I keep thinking about this passage. In the denomination in which I grew up, a testimony was a statement one gave, the story of one’s faith. A person might be asked to share their testimony in a specific setting. In being asked to give a testimony, it was generally understood to that one was to speak of the arc of realizing one’s sin, coming to awareness of the need for God’s mercy, throwing one’s self on that mercy, and proceeding to live a changed life. 

In thinking about Paul’s words to the Corinthians above, it occurs to me that he is giving his testimony to them. His witness, however, is not in the story of his faith shared. Rather, what Paul points out to the Corinthians are his actions. He gives an accounting of how he lives and works, the way he acts and the choices he makes. This is his testimony- his actions reveal his true priorities.
The Greek μαρτυρία (marturia) is often translated as testimony in the New Testament. When it is used for testimony, it often means as a witness in the legal sense- as in one is giving a testimony before a judge. This means others used the testimony (maturia) of the disciples and apostles to examine their motives and means. It also means that false or implicating testimonies were used against Paul and others to harm or halt them.

And, yes, the term μαρτυρία is related to another term for witness, one that we translate as “martyr”. 
 
Understanding that most people don’t really want to be martyrs, we are not off the hook for being witnesses. Bearing false witness, in this instance, means having a testimony that is incongruent in its parts. The words of your testimony- the story of your faith- match up with your daily actions? Even in your doubts, is there a through line that someone else can clearly perceive regarding your motivations, your loyalties, your priorities, and your faithfulness? 

Like Paul, our testimony is not the story we tell in our best clothes to people who are predisposed to take us at our word. Our testimony is what we do and say with our checkbooks, in our homes, when we’re aggravated, when the car breaks down, when we are lied to (again), when we despair of change in the larger world. 

How’s your testimony? Is it the witness you want to give? What needs cleaning up? 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Yes And (Sermon)

Sermon for 18 July 2018, Feast Day of Mary Magdalene

Some of this sermon was inspired by this book: God, Improv, and the Art of Living.

The person who helped with the sermon works for this theater company: https://www.tbatheatre.org


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Idol of Virginity

CN: This might not be for you if you're uncomfortable with the idea of me having sex. Hi, Dad! :)






There's an article circulating the internet right now where the TL:DR is "real" Christian men prefer debt-free virgins without tattoos. Some men (and women) may prefer this in a wife. Nevertheless, the blanket prescription that living your best wife life depends on retaining your virginity, rejecting college, and continuing to live with your parents until marriage is not only false, it's dangerous.

I'm going to digress.

There was a point in my life where I was taught and I believed that retaining my virginity until my wedding night was the highest virtue I could attain. I was certainly expected to go to college. I could change my own tires and learned how to figure out when I was being upsold unnecessarily at the mechanic's shop. I worked in a grocery store, a hotel, as a tutor, a babysitter, and an office assistant. In the two years that I was at a four-year school (graduating when I was 20), I never even drove to the beach for a weekend. I broke up with a guy who pressured me to have sex with him because that was not in the plan. The plan, the big plan, beyond graduation and everything was to be a virgin when I got married. It was the Right Thing To Do.

Then I met a guy. I moved to Nome, Alaska, worked for a radio station, did my first tequila shots, saw the Northern Lights, and met a guy.

I liked this guy. I liked him a lot. He was interesting, smart, generous, and had a great dog. We stayed up very late talking, had intensely competitive Scrabble games, and cooked for each other.

But here was the kicker: he didn't care that I was a virgin.

By this I mean, he neither celebrated it nor denigrated it. To him, it was one part of me, just like the fact that I would never beat him in push-ups, but that I would always kick his butt in Boggle. He told me that it would be wrong to be excited about something that was just a choice I had made since he wouldn't have been offended or put off it if I had made a different choice. Being a virgin was just part of me, not all of me. Accepting all of the parts of me was what made love, love.

It took me a while to see this for the grace that it was and is. The party I wanted for having held on to a specific social construct of purity was an idol that I had built with help from certain denominations and role models in my life. None of them had ever talked about the worth of my friends who had been raped, molested, or simply chosen differently and what they would bring to a relationship. Or, worse, it might have been mentioned that a truly, godly man would see past those things.

SCREW THAT NOISE.

Showing grace and love to a partner means loving who they are. In the Mr. Rogers's way, "I like you just the way you are" isn't that you're perfect, but that you don't have to earn my affection. I care about you as you.

When you love someone, you love who they are- which is a combination of the good and bad things that have happened to them, the choices they have made, and the paths they didn't choose. In love, we don't celebrate the pain in a person's past, but we do love who they are in the wake of healing. In love, we don't idolize isolated skills or choices, but accept them as part of what makes the beloved just so.

So in my life, I've only had sex with one man. It's the same man who likes that he's been the only one, but wouldn't care if there had been 1 or 50 before him, because he loved who he met and how her experiences had shaped her.

Since I'm not a Christian man or any kind of man, I'm going to speculate on what they might like. I think a real man (or woman or person!) will love and appreciate a person for who they are. Part of loving someone is knowing that the person is going to grow and change and accepting a future together is agreeing to be part of that change and trusting that the person in question will love you as you are evolved (sanctified) into the future that's ahead of you.

Putting "virginity" (typically a social construct about the absence of penis in vagina sex) on a pedestal is idolatry as much as any other kind.

Love yourself. Be kind to yourself. Move slowly and make choices, with the Holy Spirit, that minimize your regrets. Forgive yourself and get help to deal with the pains that happen to you.

And remember that a person who is worth sharing a life, a car, vacation time, and a bed with will graciously do all these things to you as well... and to themselves.




I have written about a similar topic here.

Friday, June 8, 2018

No Breath Holding

With the apparent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain this week, I keep thinking about a sign that I recently saw on Onslow Beach in North Carolina. This sign is clearly for the sake of the people swimming and the lifeguards in the area. I think, though, this sign has implications beyond the beach, beyond the ocean, beyond vacation and into every day "just keep swimming" with which many people struggle.

There have been three times in my life when I thought it would be better "not to be". Even in my brain that doesn't quite function as it ought, angels and endorphins worked overtime and I survived. Lots of people don't. It's not that they didn't have angels and endorphins, it is that the lies of the pain made it hard to hear the truth.

When your brain is unwell, when you are mentally ill, your misfiring synapses lie to you. They tell you that the world would be better off, that oblivion is easier, that while people may be sad- you are saving them from having to deal with you- pathetic wretch that you are. The misfiring synapses of your unwell brain do not care about your family and friends, the extended community who loves you, the hope and a future that is God's plan for you, the real contributions that you will intentionally and unintentionally make for the fullness of your days. They just lie. Mostly, because they are symptoms of illness, they don't know any better. But those cruel jerks can be loud. So damn loud.

Which brings me to the sign.

NO BREATH HOLDING


If you think that your body, brain, or spirit are lying to you, don't hold your breath. Don't keep faking it. Don't pretend you aren't drowning. Don't pretend it doesn't hurt. Don't just keep swimming. Tell someone, anyone, over and over and over, that you ache. 

And, yes, I know that feels impossible. 

I know there are people counting on you to keep it together, to be the life of the party, to put on the good face, to be the one "with it all together", but the truth is that there are MANY PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOU FOR WHO YOU ARE AND NOT YOUR ABILITIES, TALENTS, RESOURCES, OR PERSONALITY. They love you for you and, even if it takes a hot minute to regroup when you are honest, the people who love you will tear the world apart to find the wholeness that is the Divine will for you (because it is so for all people). 

Don't hold your breath. Breathe... breathe your truth of pain and grief and fear. And... And... And... None of those is bigger or truer than your worth, your value, your significance, and the love that exists for and in you. 

You matter. YOU matter. You MATTER. 

Don't hold your breath. Use it. 

NO BREATH HOLDING

The sign also applies to you when you are worried about someone you love. Maybe that person has seemed down for so long and now things are just looking up (this is often the riskiest time because the person has the energy to follow through with a long-held plan). Maybe your fun friend or your strong friend has seemed a little "off" or more unavailable lately. 

Don't hold your breath. 

Use it. Make the call. Drop by. Set up a lunch date, walk, coffee, coloring contest, whatever. Pay attention to old patterns. If your friend tries to resort to joking or deflects, look in their eyes, be honest, and say, "I care about you. You matter me. I want to be here for you. I want to help you." 

Don't hold your breath. 

Think about the resources in your community. Is 911 (or your local emergency #) is the best resource for a person who is suicidal? What are the community mental health resources? What would you do if your friend said they had a plan? 

Even if you don't know what to say, sitting quietly and affirming the worth of another by presence says more than many words. 

Don't hold your breath. 

Talk honestly about struggles in your friend groups and in your church. Don't accept a rosy picture all the time or demand to be "comfortable" when people are sharing their pain, grief, or fear. Allow stories of those who have been left behind after someone dies from suicide to be told. Be truthful about mental health, its importance, and how to take care of one's self mentally. 

Don't hold your breath. 

Embrace the sanctified imagination to think of Mary with post-partum depression, David after Absalom's death, Job's reactions to his terrible friends, Saul's confusion, Naomi's bitterness, and Onesimus's fear. 

Be willing to consider medications that might help silence your lying synapses by getting them to function properly- the same way you might take medicine for diabetes, chronic indigestion, asthma, or cancer. 

Be frank about your concern for someone's well-being. It is okay to say, "It is because I love you that I am asking this. Are you thinking about suicide?" 

Don't hold your breath. 


Beloved, we are in this life together. I want to live it with you. Some days, I can't swim, but I have learned to trust that the current will keep me moving. I lift my feet to try to keep from getting snagged on the bottom, I look ahead- hoping to avoid rocks, and I just float. Eventually, I'll swim again. 

But you, dear one, you matter to me. I cannot promise that life won't hurt, that there aren't terrible things that will happen, that sometimes the monsters seem to have a season. 

I can, however, promise this: You matter. You are loved. You are necessary. You are God's Beloved. 

Anything that says any different is lying to you, even if it is coming from inside your house saying that I don't really know you. Misfiring synapses are part of the forces that defy God and they lie. 

You can say no to them through honesty, through seeking help, and by leaning into being loved. 

And by this-