Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Five: Read Your Bible

Prompts are from RevGalBlogPals! :)

1. What is your favorite Bible verse?

If I'm only picking one, it's Jonah 4:11. I like it enough that I literally made a bumper sticker for it.

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

2. What is your favorite book of the Bible?

Judges. I don't think we learn enough from those stories about what happens to as a society increasingly turns away from good leadership and opts for thuggery. Furthermore, we fail to pay attention to the lessons of what happens to a nation that devalues the lives of women or other minorities. Lastly, nothing goes well when everyone does what is right in their own eyes. 

3. What is your favorite story from the Hebrew Scriptures?

Nathan confronting David about Bathsheba and Uriah. That took nerve and the Holy Spirit. 


4. What is your favorite story from the Christian Scriptures?

The Canaanite or Syro-Phoenician woman confronting Jesus about the people in the margins and what they deserve. 


5. What verse do you wish people would quote less often?


Matthew 5:4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."



Bonus: What is your favorite obscure fact or verse or story or thing about the Bible?


The consultations with Huldah (a woman!) about what to do given that the people and the king had not kept their end of the covenant with God. (2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chronicles 24:22-33)



At the End (Prayer)

Holy One-

There came a time when Greece knew she was done. The lamp that was Rome blew out and was no more. The Holy Roman Empire had its days. Dynasties rise and fall- Jin, Tang, Ming. Shores are sheltered and then breached. The sun did set on the British Empire.

Photo by Julia (Dunlap) Seymour, Dec 2005
In the waning days, when those with power panicked at the grains slipping through their hands? What did You do, oh Lord? Did You watch, weeping and wrenched? Did You dispatch Jonah after Jonah, who fled again and again? When You cast your holy hand around- was all simply lukewarm, with all passion and abstinence spent and melded?

As the sunsets on empires deepened and the powerful reached out and began to increase the pain, increase the violence, increase the oppression- how did You brace the believers, the seekers, the uprights? Does the Spirit work overtime? Are additional angels dispatched? Is the meeting of the beloved more efficacious in this time?

I am not asking for a friend. I am not even asking on behalf of a country. It’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of this prayer. It’s me who sees the fade of an empire and the blood that is sweeping out the end of days of glory that were only ever really for some, never for all. It’s me who stands, impotently grieved, and wants to know: what did You do before, so I know how to look for it now?

The preservation of the faith tells me that You have acted in history. So what will it look like and how will I know? There are fights to fight, spoons to wield, forgiveness to seek, and reparations to be made. When the city on the hill shines its beacon into its own streets, strewn with bodies, there is nothing left but the cross, the community, and compassion, but we haven’t reached this level of acceptance. We aren’t there. We are still fighting as though there was a greatness to be achieved again. What never was, never will be.

If You had lapels, I would grasp them as I shout this prayer. If You were holding my hand, Your fingers would be pinched in my grip. If we were at coffee, I might have chipped the dish, setting the cup down a little too hard.

We need equipping for the last days of an empire. You have done it before. Do it now.


Seals.



Prayer originally written for and posted at RevGalBlogPals.org

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

ING #1

HEARING

I've been trying to catch up on my podcasts since I didn't listen to nearly any during the month of June. That means I'm months behind in Stuff You Missed In History Class, This American Life, Slate, and many others. I'm interested in adding another book podcast to my feed, but I don't know if that's wise financially. (The podcast is free, but... books.) Not all the podcasts are child-friendly and since a lot of my time in the car (otherwise known as podcast time) is with kids, some things have to wait. 

I also have three new audiobooks waiting. 

SEEING

I'm seeing fall. Of course, that means winter is, at best, 2-3 weeks away (hello, Alaska!). The yellow birch is gorgeous, though. 


MAKING

I have a lot of crocheting projects anywhere from just started to almost finished. And it's almost hat making season! 

DREAMING

I'm going to start a second blog (because I'm so good at this one). The second one will be focused on book reviews only. I'd like to have a concentrated place for that work and more discipline about that part of my writing life. Stay tuned!

PLANNING

I have some travel for work coming up in October. Need to get a lot of things in motion for that. 

LISTENING

There's a lot of pain in the world right now. I'm listening to stories, sitting with information, and letting go of what's not mine to hold. 

WATCHING

I'm watching my To Be Read pile get out of control. 

READING

In some shape, form, or fashion, I'm reading Firecracker Boys, Trouble I Seen, HillBilly Elegy, The Shelf, Why Be Happy... and Adnan's Story. Send snacks!

(Please don't ask me what I have pre-ordered that's coming out in the next couple weeks. Forget the snacks; I need a lifeboat, a au pair, and a backup reader!)

 EATING


I don't always snack, but when I do... I eat the best gummies in the world! 


GOING

All over town... soon to the hospital to visit a parishioner after her surgery for a broken ankle. 

THINKING

I am 100% ready for the election to be over. I am tired of the "commentary", the "quotes", the "research", the "journalism", and the complete lack of real conversation about what's actually happening in the world in the lives of real people (not people who are good for photo ops). 

FEELING

I feel saddened and frustrated that two people I care about have been called "fat ass" by strangers recently. In particular, I consider that they were probably told by well-meaning people, possibly including me, that the insult was unnecessary and mean, but did we say it was untrue? Did we counter with a different truth about their bodies and how their bodies are used in God's kin-dom? I believe in health at any and every size, but I am not sure that I communicated that well in a time when people may have been shamed or hurt about their bodies and their receipt in community. 

LEARNING 

I am learning to be clearer about boundaries, especially what's my job and what isn't. I think about what is mine to fix and what isn't. What's your shit to own and what isn't. 

LOVING

I love that it is finally cold enough for me to sleep well. This probably means that my husband is going to want to close the windows soon. Noooooooo!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

10 Ways to Defeat a Bully (Crosspost)

10. Walk away. Do not give the bully attention. Completely unfollow on social media, if applicable. The person in question has nothing that you want.

9. Information embargo. Engage in ZERO information seeking. Consider what power you have personally and how you can use it to stop streams of revenue, attention, or power to the bully in question. Abstain from where you might see the person or be forced to hear about him/her/them. If another person wishes to rant about the bully, politely inform them of the embargo. If someone else wishes to know the whys of the embargo, give short truthful answers that speak from your own experience. Do not mention the bully by name.

8. Sanction. Words do hurt as much as actions. There are consequences to saying whatever you want, whenever you want, to whomever you want. Gaslighting, lying, bluster, and threats are not acceptable speech. Refuse space to the person who engages in this behavior. A person who cannot hold to accepted rules in an interview, debate, or conference is not invited back to play with other adults. Period.

7. Divest. Pull out of situations and circumstances that give power to the bully. Tell others related to the bully’s platform that you intend withhold money, time, and energy at all levels of an organization until the bully is disciplined, if not completely removed from representing the organization or group in question. Refuse to participate in channeling any type of resource- fiscal, physical, or psychic- to the bully.

6. Be smart. Gather information that thwarts the untruths, mistruths, and misdirection from the bully. You don’t have to be an expert on anything to refuse to be scared, cowed, or overwhelmed by rhetoric unsupported by reason and reality.

5. Work with an ally. It is extremely unlikely that you are alone in a bullying situation. With particularly stubborn bullies, it can seem as though they’re everywhere all the time. Get a friend or a group of friends to join in your anti-bullying efforts. A joint information boycott or rant sabbatical may really improve morale and keep you from feeling alone, isolated, or despondent.

4. Be not afraid. The bully is not in control, despite how things may appear. God is in control. Furthermore, it is essential to remember that there are judgments we are called to make as those who are walking the Way, even as we acknowledge our own imperfections. It is entirely acceptable to pray seriously for a bully to realize the error of his/her/their way in thought, word, and deed.

3. Be prepared. There are actions and opportunities all around that afford ways to defeat a bully. These may need praying hands, feet, or mouths to help. See what you can do to make a solid offensive move against the bully or bullies.

2. Yield to the Spirit. The strength to resist the bully is a fire shut up in your bones. If the Spirit says pray, pray. If the Spirit says sing, sing. If the Spirit is leading your energy toward the disciplines of art making, writing, movement, building, silence, service, or prophesy, give way to that calling. Do not resist the urge, believing that the bully is only fought through “more important work”. This is the most important work, refusing to cede spiritual ground to any force that opposes the real resurrection and reformation work that God is doing and will not stop.


1. Embrace Christlike behavior. Remember that righteous anger, flipping over tables, cracking a whip, cursing trees, expressing frustration, praying in grief, weeping, and wishing for fire are all options.



This was originally written by me for RevGalBlogPals and posted there on 8/15/16

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Way of Christ (Sermon)

Pentecost 12                                       

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Luke 12:32-40

            Two weeks ago, I did a silly thing, since I was still on sabbatical. I looked ahead to see what the texts were for today. Innocently thinking, I’ll start preaching again and it would be good to have what I’m supposed to reflect on rattling around in my head. So I looked up the lectionary passages- that’s the list of prescribed readings for the year- and then looked them up in my Bible. In reading the Isaiah passage, I got about as far as “you rulers of Sodom” and closed the Bible with a loud swiftness. Let’s check the gospel: don’t be worried, sell your stuff, and be consumed with showing mercy and charity. Snap, close it again.

            Gosh, that’s just the stuff people looooooove to hear.

            It would be great if I just decided here, instead, to tell you some stories of my sabbatical- right. Surely, I saw some interesting things or thought some deep thoughts or was moved in some way that can bear fruit for us now. Then I can tie it up in a nice theological bow, perhaps linking back to “Be not afraid” and we can go straight to the hymn. Huzzah.

            Have we met?

            The reality is that we are actually confronting three of the most frequently occurring issues in Scripture in these passages. Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of how not to behave is the first. “Be not afraid” is the second. God’s concern with our possessions is the third. Each of these things appears so often in scripture as to be ubiquitous. If a complex, literary compilation like the Bible uses the same examples and exhortations through different styles, writers, and time periods- there must be something fairly significant about them.

            First, why are Sodom and Gomorrah mentioned in a passage that refers to God hating the way people worship? What did Sodom and Gomorrah have to do with ritual sacrifices, liturgy, or religious practices? To be very clear, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of gross inhospitality. Living in the desert requires an openness to strangers, a willingness to take them in, offer them sustenance, and care for their animals. Life in the wilderness is communal, even when you do not know each other.
            The men of Sodom and Gomorrah, when confronted with strangers in their city, not only ignored social norms and expectations and failed at God’s call to hospitality, they demanded to be allowed to do what they wanted with the strangers. In other words, not only did they fail to be generous with what they had, they decided to make the very bodies of the strangers their own property to do with what they wanted.

            When these cities reappear as examples later, it is due to a prophetic call to hospitality and alertness to God’s work in the world. In the time of Isaiah 1, which is written much later as a kind of foreword to the proceeding chapters, the people of Israel have been exiled, lived in exile, and now have returned to the land. The writer is not telling those listening to stop worshipping. Instead, they are being called out for believing that their worship life will absolve their failure to live ethically with the rest of their time and their community.

            This is where it applies to us as well. What we do with the other 167 hours of the week is as important to God as what we do in one hour on Sunday morning. Both historical and contemporary readers of Isaiah are supposed to understand that our worship can be distasteful to God, not because God doesn’t like the hymns or the order in which we do things or the candles are wrong, but because we don’t bother to align the rest of our lives with what we do and say here, which affects the people around us during this hour and all the other hours of our lives.

            Which brings us to the theme of “sell your possessions and give alms”, which really means “sell your possessions and do charity or mercy”.  I am guessing that most of you didn’t want or need a better translation on the second half of the sentence and were hoping for something different in the first half. Here is the hard truth: we all have too much stuff. We have more than we need and, if we were honest, we have more than we want.

            Just like how our worship may get separated from our living, instead of intertwined and one informing the other, so our possessions may begin to possess us. We do not have a good connotation of “being possessed”, but think of how many commercials, advertising emails, discount mailers, catalogues, print ads, and other things we receive on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Speaking for myself, I hesitate to mention how often I see something and want it.
            Jesus’ words here go beyond mere accumulation; they are aimed directly at questioning our priorities. How dedicated are we to the way of Christ- a way of radical welcome, of mercy, of forgiveness, of generosity, of time and talent? Is the way of Christ our highest brand loyalty or does that belong to a certain shoe manufacturer, fishing rod company, athletic team, or car brand? To whom do we belong, by what are we possessed, and how would someone looking at us or our homes or our bank statements know?

            This seems like a good time to mention “Do not be afraid”. This phrase comes up again and again and again in the Bible. Why would it be repeated so often if it were not a thing God cared about? In the light of the other two examples in this sermon, does it mean- do not be afraid if you are not hospitable, not community-oriented, or if you just love stuff? No, I am pretty sure that if you find yourself in that boat, you are called to a little healthy concern about your priorities.

            However, “be not afraid” does mean that you should never doubt God’s priorities. A merciful God, revealed in the preservation of Israel through the exile and beyond and even more fully in the life and resurrection of Jesus the Christ- a merciful God will not cease to love you, will not fail to walk with you, will not stop making space, opening a path, and inviting you forward into the way.

            The Quaker writer Parker Palmer wrote about going to an elder in his community when he was struggling to find direction in his life:

Ruth's reply was a model of Quaker plain-speaking: 'I'm a birthright Friend,' she said somberly, 'and in sixty-plus year of living, way has never opened in front of me.' She paused, and I started sinking into despair. Was this wise woman telling me that the Quaker concept of guidance was a hoax? Then she spoke again, this time with a grin: 'But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that's had the same guiding effect.' (Letting Your Life Speak)


            As we go forward into the life of faith, into the life we are called, the more deeply we trust the Spirit, the more way will close behind us. The way of dedicated individualism, the way of over-consumption, the way of anxiety and fear, the way of dehumanizing strangers and alienating neighbors—the way of Christ leads 180 degrees away from all of this and as you walk into one, the other closes behind you. This is real. This is the truth. Be not afraid.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Fairy Tale Ending

The BlogHer August prompts are about fairy tales.

Do you believe it's possible for some people to get that fairy tale ending of happily ever after?

I think it depends on what we think happily ever after looks like. I read a lot of romance novels and the community of romance readers is very big on what we call the HEA (happily ever after). In fact, if there is a not a clear resolution of conflict and at least the implication that the main characters are going to live together in love and harmony, then we're fairly quick to reject it as romance. 

However, HEA covers a multitude of dishes, vacation squabbles, differences of opinion, socks forgotten on the stairs, burned dinner, and general frustration. The implication is that love will cover all these things- if indeed any of these things occur. Many contemporary (setting and writing) romances deal with a variety of more complex issues: learning difficulties, mismatched personalities, chronic illness, children who are more than genial plot devices, temptations, anxiety, and other real life/world issues. 

The next station on that train of thought for me is that if HEA was enough, the gospels would be the end of our written scripture. They would end with an empty tomb, encounters with the risen Christ, and then we would fade to the sunset. Ta-da! And Peter and James and John and Thomas and Mary Magdalene and Johanna and the other Mary all lived happily ever after. 

Except that Acts tells us otherwise. And our experience of church tells us the same. 

There is an HEA of resurrection, promise, and presence, but there is also work. Riding off into the sunset with the risen Jesus only leads to the sunrise and the one after that and the one after that. As it turns out, the fairy tale ending is just the end of the recitation. It's the commencement of the work of living out the togetherness that was the joy of the story. 

So do I believe that it is possible for some people to get that fairy tale ending of happily ever after? 

I do. I really do. But I think the ending is only the beginning- the beginning of the work of the new life, the new love, and the new reality that has been made in the HEA. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Ruined (Book Review)

Lately, I've craved sentences. As a voracious reader, I absorb large quantities of words, words by the gallon, the bucket, the ocean. However, in the present time of my life, I long for and adore simple sentences. Literally, I'm looking for something that could tattooed on the top of my foot.

Ruth Huizenga Eberhart has just such a sentence. In the middle of Ruinedher wrenching memoir of rape and spiritual agony, she writes, "The fall is a more universal theme than restoration." 



The fall is a more universal theme than restoration


Maybe I don't want that exactly inked into my skin, but its message is indelible. So was the four hour encounter in Ruth's 20th year shaped everything that came after it. As it so often does, the will of neighbor- his or her poor choice- causes a crisis when one has to examine where that choice intersects with the will of God. 

Ruth's rape, the aftermath, her relationships- all of these things intertwine with her pain, her grief, and her questioning about the God about whom she'd taught and the God she was actually encountering in silence and in space. Her lyrical writing, sometimes a little slowly paced, allows the reader to realize that God's silence is not always a big NO, but an invitation into a smaller, yet more spacious yes. 





Grace is more than forgiveness; grace says that it’s all right to need forgiveness in the first place. It’s all right to be imperfect, to intend well and mess up. To try again. Grace is getting a do-over. 


The fall is a more universal theme, because so few lack the language for expressing restoration, for understanding it, for believing it is possible. When Ruth eventually takes proactive steps to avoid being forever terrified of men who resemble her attackers, my eyes were so wide. Living day after day is surprising after a horror or a tragedy, but it happens. One hardly believes one can keep breathing. Attempting to keep something "normal" is brave. Ruth is very brave. 

Actively seeking to change something within yourself is courageous. Ruth is incredibly courageous. Her courage is not just evident in how she learns to view herself through God's understanding, but even more so in how she comes to see her experiences through God, divine mystery, and love. 

The fall is a more universal theme, but I believe it is only because we actually crave the stories of restoration. We long for the redemption narrative. We want to see it come out all right. This is because, in our hearts, we know our own falls and faults and we long to know that we too will sing restoration songs. 




I received a copy of this book for an honest review. My honest recommendation is that this book is completely worth your time and effort. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Prayer on the Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene

Holy Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles, Friend of Jesus, Soul Freed from Seven Demons, pray for us.
Brown-skinned prophetic sister, comfort those who are grieving and exhausted. Bring the consolation of company, rest, and return for their labor.
Watcher at the foot of the cross, give us the strength to bear witness to those falsely imprisoned in jails or by systems. Grant us the willingness to speak against a culture of fear-mongering and death.
Weeper at the tomb, strengthen us by your example and knowledge to keep walking, keeping speaking, keep singing, and to demand, still, that we want to see Jesus. And help us to radiate joy when he speaks our name.
Holy Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles, Friend of Jesus, Soul Freed from Seven Demons, pray for us.





This prayer was originally written for and posted at RevGalBlogPals.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Nothing's Good

The body count rises.
Arms raised, voices sobbing, blood pours.
Is there no balm in Gilead?

The wailing magnifies.
There are not enough garments to rend.
The ditches are full, but there are not enough Samaritans.

Grief is a monsoon, a typhoon, a deluge.
There is no memory of an antediluvian time.
The praying tongues are parched; sighs stopped in dried throats.

Hands flop helplessly.
The willfully ignorant caw and cackle, their hearts hardening within them.
How long, O Lord, how long, how long howlong howlong howlonghowlonghowlong?

How can we sing the Lord’s song in a land that refuses to see Christ
In Brown faces, in dark spaces, at 10 paces, in uniformed cases?
Jesus! Jesus.

Swing low, sweet chariot… come and carry us home.
I don’t think that’s a band of angels I see
And there are too many brothers and sisters who just can’t even anymore.

deep exhale









Originally written for and posted at RevGalBlogPals.org

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Jericho Road

Luke 10:25-37

25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
  29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

_________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Jerusalem Council, 

I would like to talk to you about the road between here and Jericho. As you know, we've lamented about it for years. We' ve expected the people of Jericho (our cousins, siblings, parents, and neighbors) to do the work of improving the road. Frankly, that expectation should embarrass us. We've had the power and the privilege for years. We know they didn't and don't have the political capital or the fiscal ability to do the work we're discussing alone, but we keep saying it will change if they just listen, stop writing to us, and maybe make some of the improvements to Jericho that we've suggested to make it more like Jerusalem. 

The violence has gotten out of hand. The ambushes, the murders, the extortions... villains, rogue soldiers, haters... the list goes on. I have heard many of you say that some bad actors does not mean action is required of us. Frankly, this is more than a few bad actors. It is the reality of the road itself. We have allowed the violence of the road, the rumor of the road, the threat of the road to expand beyond a means of travel. It is a specter of violence, pain, and fear that hangs over us and the people of Jericho and leaves no one untouched. 

I know we have discussed this issue again and again and again. However, some of our priests say, "This kind of change takes time. We have to be patient." And we have heard certain Levites say, "If the people traveling the road did exactly what they were advised, they wouldn't get hurt or killed." We have turned our heads, wrung our hands, offered prayers, and seen the funeral processions. 

And yet, the road REMAINS a place of terror and death. 

How can we claim to be a city of light or, dare I say, of God if we do nothing about the road? How can we think ourselves better than the Romans, or anyone? Who dares to claim the favor of the Creator as we allow death and fear to run rampant on our watch? 

What would Esther say? Judah Maccabee? Joshua and Caleb? Naomi? Gideon? What of our ancestor Jacob who, though fearful, still finally fell into his brother's embrace despite all that had been between them? 

Do we actually want to do anything about the Jericho Road or does just talking about it after every death make us feel better about ourselves? We hear the pleas from Jericho. We seen the bodies piling in the wadi and in gehenna. We have heard of those who die- denied care or options that they could get in Jerusalem. Our inaction impacts not only trade, but the religious practice of our Jericho neighbors and family. Our refusal to change the situation of the road is causing people to feel separated from God, because we (also children of God) are failing to act in the way to which we have been called. 

The change to the road will not happen overnight, but it must start right now. We must say no more. We must refuse to allow another attack, another death, another moment of fear. We must hear the grief and the pain and allow it to wash over us and move us in its tide to a place of action and purpose. We do this WITH the people of Jericho, WITH the residents of Jerusalem, WITH all our neighbors who wish to see this pain far behind us and the lessons learned carried with us. 

So, what say you, Council? What say you, priests and Levites? 


What say you, white (privileged) America? 



For Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, may we change the Jericho Road of systemic racism in your name and in the name of so many others.