Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thinking about Failure

I do not like to fail. 

Nobody really enjoys failing (I assume), but some people seem to take it a little more in stride than I do. 

In the past year, I've come to embrace falling short of the mark. Not failing because I didn't do what I was supposed to, but missing the goal I had set for myself. 

Case in point, I really wanted to blog every day this month. I knew I had a lot going on, but I thought it would give me plenty of fodder for the days when the well seemed dry. 

It didn't happen. 

Even in the first couple days, I had to fall back on posts that seemed ineffectual and a poor representation of what I can write and show here. Not everything is Pulitzer-quality. Not everything can be. 

I thought I was doing well and then I looked back and I realized that I had missed Day 5. Well, that's that. 

The thing is, I missed Day 5 because I went out and played with my kids. I missed a different day because I took my son to the Bear Paw Festival. A separate time, I was too tired to write because I managed to walk 13 miles. 

A friend of mine says, "Writers write. Butt in chair. Do it." 

This is most certainly true. However, none of the other things happened because I was avoiding writing. They happened because they are what my life looks like right now. I haven't developed the discipline for quiet daily writing because I've made other things a priority. 

That's the lesson for me here. Maybe for you? 

We can all say, "I don't/didn't have time." You have the time. I have the time. 

The real question is: what did we decide to do instead? 

If you look at how you spend your time (money/energy/spiritual devotion) and it reflects your values,

then you haven't failed. 

If your checkbook, your extracurriculars, your gods are otherwise, what does that mean? 

I wanted to write every day and I didn't. One goal: F

I value spending time with my family, working toward a healthier me, and being outside. Second goal: A.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

No Kneeling or Sitting

6th Sunday of Pentecost

1 John 1:5-2:2

            Whenever I hear today’s verses from 1 John, this is what happens in my head, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We kneel or sit.” My years in churches that knelt or sat for the time of confession are not any greater in number than the number of years I’ve been with you, so I’ve never said or heard this phrase in six years. And yet, there it is. A biblical command and my automatic response…

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We kneel or sit.”

            That automatic response leapt into my head all week as I thought about the reading for today. Then the Presiding Bishop sent her letter on Thursday with the instructions to read to you on Sunday. Furthermore, the plane that was shot down in Ukraine, the children who have been gathered from the U.S. southern border, and the violence that continues to escalate in Iraq, Iran, and Syria all loomed large.

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We kneel or sit.”

            How could I address all or any of those things in a way that was empathetic, encouraging, and truthful? Could I deal with one, but not the others? What about the personal and family crises that have occurred this week? There is heartbreak here that you know that I know. And some people are gathered here because of a gorgeous and joyful wedding or other celebrations that have just past or are scheduled. People with joy in their hearts don’t always skip toward a hearty discussion of sin in the world.

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We kneel or sit.”
            We kneel or sit often becomes our default move when we hear about sin. Being confronted with our own vain, idolatrous, and selfish choices makes most of us want to turn the other way, much less stay and reflect on them with other people (who are surely worse sinners!). This is the truth, though:

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

            Many of us, maybe most of us, can even accept the idea that we have not always done the right thing. Even those among us who are sure we’re pretty good have still failed in many and various ways. The harder thing to acknowledge is that we also have a hand in the larger sins that are around us. Our national struggle and missteps in the situation between Israel and Palestine does not occur apart from us. Decisions about immigration, hope, and welcome affect us all.

            The deaths of three hundred people in an airplane as a political statement and challenge reflects an overall disregard for human life on earth. That kind of behavior does not exist in a vacuum. We want to confess to feeling frustrated with our children or gossiping about our neighbor or fudging some information, but the extent of sin, within us and without us, spreads.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We kneel or sit.”

            The writer of 1 John would never want “kneeling or sitting” to be the response to or the action of confessing. The entirety of the letter calls the Christian, the person walking in the Way of Jesus, into a community of action, of growth, of change. With the revelation of the Holy Spirit, we walk, we move from darkness into light. By confessing our shortcomings, great and small, we are forgiven and renewed according to the truth of God’s work in Jesus Christ.

            Forgiveness doesn’t happen in just still, quiet moments- when we hold our hands just right, when we kneel or sit, when we say the right words. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need us to hold still. The Spirit molds us on the way, washes us on the move, and makes us whole even as we mess up again. We ask for forgiveness because we know we need it. God gives it because of God’s very nature.

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

            I have to put new words at the end of that sentence. You do too. Being cleansed from unrighteousness, being made right with God, is not for nothing. It is specifically so that we can continue forward to work for justice, peace, reconciliation, and to care for creation- all things that are in our baptismal promises. We pray, we act, we call, we write, we cry out, we point, we encourage, we rage, we confess, we are forgiven… There is no kneel or sit.

            We are called and pulled into the action of God’s work with our hands, our feet, our mouths, our time, our possessions.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We work and pray. We listen and heal. We hope and play. In recognizing the truth of God’s mercy and grace, we are called to do just about anything and everything, besides kneel or sit, for the sake of Christ in the world. 


Amen.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wheat and Weeds (Essential Passages #13)

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
24 [Jesus] put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, "Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' 28 He answered, "An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, "Then do you want us to go and gather them?' 29 But he replied, "No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.' " 

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." 37 He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!


And now a few words:  Nothing sounds quite as fearsome as “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. It’s a colorful phrase and even if you aren’t entirely sure what gnashing teeth sound like, it is still possible to understand and to know that where those two things exist , you don’t want to be. This natural conclusion causes many people to focus intently on being wheat, on rooting out sin, on pointing out the weedy behavior of those around them.

            The problem with that arises in the fact that wheat and weeds are in all of us. We each have behaviors, make choices, take action that are “wheat”- productive, healthy, God-revealing and God-reveling parts of our lives. Within this nature, which is God’s plan for our true selves, the forces that oppose God sow the weeds of dissention, frustration, idolatry, neglect, and antipathy. The Holy Spirit works to water what is good and to pull us toward enjoying the fruiting of the wheat. As we acknowledge and enjoy the gifts of God all around us, the wheat flourishes and the weeds languish.


            In the time to come, when the forces that oppose God are silenced forever, the weeds will be burned away. Fully sanctified, we will have been brought into perfect love by the unending love and grace of the Creator of the universe. Jesus is teaching his hearers this truth and how to behave until that time. He assures his disciples, then and now, that the wheat- the good things in our minds and hearts and habits- will not stop being tended by the Spirit, by the angels, by the prayers of the saints. 

          We can collaborate in this work for and with one another. And we should. The tending of one another’s wheat, of lifting up, of watering with compassion, of fertilizing with forgiveness, of cultivating with community, is exactly the work of the kingdom to which we have been called. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Koinonia (Sermon)

1 John 1:1-4

           
            How many of you have at least one sibling, whether living or dead (or estranged or close)? What does it mean to have a sibling or a close friend? That person becomes part of how you remember events, people, and places in your life. You compare notes, repeat the stories, and recall facts that the other person forgets. Having a close relationship with someone else, especially a brother or sister or close cousin, is the way that you make sense of history and your place in it.

            When a community formed around the teaching and understanding of the apostle John, the writer of the Fourth Gospel lifted up the divinity of Jesus. In that gospel, Jesus’ feet are just a little bit above the ground. The theme of the gospel according to John is “Like Father, like Son.” When we read that book, we cannot fail to grasp that Jesus is divine, is of God, is specifically and necessarily revealing God the Father to us.

            This was the prevailing understanding of the Johnannine community, the brothers and sisters who came together around John’s understanding of Jesus. However, when Jesus’ divinity becomes the main focus, what is lost? We miss out on the crucial other part of the incarnation, God becoming enfleshed,… Jesus’ humanity.

            Why does Jesus’ humanity matter? The less human Jesus becomes in our recollection, the less we feel able or compelled to imitate him. It is very easy to think of the divine Jesus as our Savior and Lord. That begins to move him over there, while we remain here. The further we feel from divinity ourselves, the tougher it is to believe that 1) salvation has actually been achieved, 2) what has been achieved is at work in us, changing us, and 3) that we are called and equipped for exactly the same kind of work for the sake of the world around us.

            The writer of 1 John, sometimes called the elder or an elder of the church, understood the significance of lifting up both Jesus’ divinity AND his humanity. Paying equal attention to Jesus as a man, as someone we could know, as a person who got scraped, had his feelings hurt, got tired and hungry, and needed to go to the bathroom, who became frustrated, who hugged children… remembering all of that as having equal importance to his eternal existence as the Word of life and love is valuable and imperative.

            It was because of people’s physical experiences of Jesus that they came to understand him as Emmanuel- God with us. It was because of people’s physical experiences of Jesus that they came to understand him as the Son of God. It is what they saw, heard, tasted, smelled, touched, and otherwise experienced that the Holy Spirit used to open their minds and hearts to this physical revelation of God’s own self.

            After the ascension, Christ’s presence was encountered differently. His presence was made real in the recounting of his deeds, sharing of his teaching, marveling at the healings, and living as he had commanded- loving God and neighbor. The elder writer of 1 John wants his hearers, including us, to understand that the humanity of Jesus, as well as his divinity, was part of God’s work to make a holy community, the followers of the way of Jesus, brothers and sisters bonded in a new way.

            The word in 1 John is koinonia. This word originates from the Greek word koinos, meaning “common.” When this word is used in the New Testament, it is typically translated as sharing, fellowship, or partnership. Koinonia means a special joint partnership, a unique fellowship, a creative community that shares one story. The story of Jesus, human and divine, makes us brothers and sisters. It shapes us as a koinonia, a unique kind of fellowship, in which we all share our stories, our experiences of Jesus in our lives and in the world. We share and carry the history together, the history of the church, of this church, of creation, of miracles, joys, and griefs.

            According to 1 John, this is the purpose of Jesus’ humanity- to bring us into this special kind of relationship with each other and God. We are not yet there, meaning whatever comes next. We are here now, as Jesus was and as Christ is. This means, brothers and sisters, that we are still at work and God remains at work in us. It means that our story-telling, our memory making, our shared laughter, tears, and labors are still on-going.

            The real person of Jesus, the story of his life, death, and resurrection, created koinonia, a community with shared story and purpose. The real presence of Christ makes that koinonia real here, in this time and place. We may not always agree as brothers and sisters. Our memories may differ. Our sense of what should be next may differ. However, we cannot actually disagree or undo what is of central importance, we have been made a family in Christ, a special and holy community with a shared sense of responsibility for one another, for this property, for Anchorage, and for all creation.


            We are never on our own in Christ. We die and are raised to new life in him through his story, as it has been carried through the family since the early days of the church. With the help of the Spirit, Our task now is to keep the community and the story alive, to share with one another (and the world) what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. Amen.






Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery (Book Review)

Last year, I read a book called I [Heart] Sex Workers. Written by Lia Scholl, the book opened what I had previously assumed were my open eyes to some realities of how and why sex is sold, who sells, and who buys. Parts of that book have remained solidly with me, though I reviewed it in February 2013 here. Scholl wrote:

You might ask, if everything was equal, everyone had shelter, food, clothing, and jobs they loved, would people still sell sex? In all honesty, I believe they would. Some people sell sex because of sexual desire. Some people would sell sex to get one step further up the food chain. Some people would sell sex because they like it.
If everything was equal, though, the desperation around sex work would diminish. Sex works would be less likely to trade sex in risky situations. They’d be less likely to ignore their inner voice that says, “Run!” when a client is violent. They’d be less likely to have sex without a condom and risks HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections. They’d be less likely to get into coercive relationship with pimps and more likely to keep more of their earnings. (44)

I haven't forgotten that paragraph or Scholl's point that women who sell sex are in much more danger, typically, than johns or pimps. Not only at greater risk for being arrested, sex sellers (male and female) are simply more frequently in vulnerable positions wherein they can be harmed physically or otherwise.

All of this kept floating up to the top of my mind as I read Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker. The book give the personal histories of five young women whose bodies
were found in the brambles off a Long Island beach between 2010 and 2011. The women all had struggles with their families, frustrations in their lives, plans that were thwarted, and hopes that were expected to be realized. What all five actually have in common is that they were all killed and probably by someone who had contacted them through Craiglist or another site under the auspices of buying sex from the them.

They were not killed together, but over a span of month. Their bodies, along with the bodies of others who may or may not have been killed by the same person or have been selling sex, were all found along a stretch of a deserted highway.

Part of what made me ache about this book is how each woman came to make the decision to sell sex, often for short-term financial gain. Frequently, this decision came with a cavalcade of other situations- pimps or "bodyguards", drivers, competition, drugs. Not everyone who chooses to sell sex finds themselves in these situations, but that is what happened to most of these young women. The combination of crackdowns on streetwalking makes "escort services"- contacted through the internet- more appealing, especially since it can allow the sex worker to be his or her own free agent, separate from a pimp or madam.

Yet the decision to sell sex seemed to make these young women "less than" in the eyes of police and other investigators when their families first reported them missing. In the book's conclusion, Kolker notes:
It may no longer matter anymore whether the sale of sex among consenting adults is wrong or right, immoral or empowering. What's clear is that no good can come from pretending that the people who participate in prostitution don't exist. That, after all, is what the killer was counting on... Shannan, Maureen, Megan, Melissa, and Amber were over twenty-one. They were more or less working alone and of their own volition. Despite what some family members said after the fact, they were not lured or overtly pressured. Some would say this makes them complicit in their fate- in other words, they brought this on themselves by doing something so dangerous. But to suggest they had it coming because they put themselves in a risky situation is disingenuous; no one walks through life thinking they're going to be killed. (381)
These women were people, are people. Yet their decision led at least one person to think it wouldn't matter if they died. Maybe it led a person to believe that they should die because of the work they were doing. The police were also complicit in dehumanizing the women:

The police had failed to help them when they were at risk. They'd failed again when they didn't take the disappearances seriously, severely hobbling the chances of making an arrest. And they'd failed a third time by not going after the johns and the drivers. (363)

Frankly, this situation is unsurprising in that our culture generally chooses to thrill in women's sexual expression in certain social situations (product placement, magazines, movies, etc.), but frown on women's sexuality when it is expressed as blatant non-procreation activity, for whatever reason. Women who dare to engage in *that* get what's coming to them, whether it be STIs, unintended pregnancies, or murdered.

The murderer in these cases remains at large, insofar as anyone knows. Sex continues to be a commodity, but only the act. The bodies of those who deliver the commodity are still viewed as disposable. Women and children, and some men, are trafficked around the world for this trade. Others make the decision to sell sex for a wide variety of reasons. Some of these situations are far, far worse than others.

One thing remains, true though, a sex worker could be your sister or brother, your mother or uncle, your friend or neighbor, the person next in line at confession, or passing your groceries over a scanner. That woman or man is a person, a child of God. It is only when we start to think about society as a whole- education, opportunity, community, work, safety net- that we can begin to change some of the situations that cause some people to feel that selling their body is their only option.

If these girls, these women, are to have any legacy at all, let it be that we remember them with kindness, compassion, and a prayer for their families' peace. And that we do not fail them by refusing to see the truth around us.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Brighten the Corner

I was thinking about this song today. We (meaning me) often think we have to do something big or grand as a response to God's grace. That kind of thinking becomes, in itself, a law we cannot fulfill. We simply live. We do the work that is laid before us. We make sandwiches, plow fields, perform surgeries, teach lessons, and love the people around us.

  1. Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
    Do not wait to shed your light afar;
    To the many duties ever near you now be true,
    Brighten the corner where you are.
    • Refrain:
      Brighten the corner where you are!
      Brighten the corner where you are!
      Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;
      Brighten the corner where you are!
  2. Just above are clouded skies that you may help to clear,
    Let not narrow self your way debar;
    Though into one heart alone may fall your song of cheer,
    Brighten the corner where you are.
  3. Here for all your talent you may surely find a need,
    Here reflect the bright and Morning Star;
    Even from your humble hand the Bread of Life may feed,
    Brighten the corner where you are.


It would be easy to think of the story of this song as sad, but I think the author chose to view the circumstances as positively as possible. 

We don't know how God is using us in many and various ways. Who is being shaped by us? Who is turning us into better soil? Only the Spirit knows.

In the meantime... 


Monday, July 7, 2014

Currently


Weathering; The ups and downs of Alaska summer. It’s been very hot. Now it’s rainy and cool. Never complain, because it will change in a minute.

Listening: All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor. Not normally my style, it’s just very catchy and positive about a variety of body types.


Eating: Nothing because we had a barbecue after the softball game. Incidentally, I read a message recently that said you can say Bar-b-que or BBQ or barbecue, but NOT barbeque according to the AP Style Manual. I say, if it ain’t Lexington-style chopped pork from North Carolina, it’s just grilled meat- maybe with sauce.

Drinking: Water

Wearing: My softball jersey- “People of Hope” #29

Feeling: Like I did not get enough done today

Wanting: To have a good night’s sleep

Needing: See above

Thinking: about 1 John 1:1-4 (Sunday’s main text)

Enjoying: Cooler evening breezes and being inside, thus, away from the mosquitoes

Wondering: Enneagrams, Parents and children, if I will have a sore arm tomorrow from playing catcher tonight


Loving: The quietness of my house



**You know I'm pretty tired if this is my post, but it was interesting to fill out (if not to read). 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Fireweed Clock


There's a legend/ old Alaskans' tale that the first snow is 6 weeks away once the top of the fireweed blooms. 



Looks like we've got a little time. 


Friday, July 4, 2014

Ask Away

Today I knew about a barbecue within my circle of friends. A couple people mentioned it to me yesterday (Thursday).

My Fourth of July plans, as of this morning- July 4, consisted of playing with my kids and waiting for my husband to return from a two day hike. I wanted to celebrate and be with other people, but I didn't want to put anyone out or show up where I (or my kids) wasn't (weren't) wanted.

So... to call or not to call and ask about the party.

Even with all the ways we have to contact one another these days, I am surprised how often people seem unwilling to ask other people for help. I know several people in the congregation who don't want to ask others for assistance during difficult times because they don't want to "put anybody out".

I recently had a conversation with a woman regarding a basic situation of church grounds maintenance (weeding) that she believed needed to be done, but was a bit beyond her. "Why don't you call a few people and ask them if they can help out?" I suggested.

"I shouldn't have to ask. They should volunteer. What's the world coming to when people have to be asked to help out?" This was her response. The tone in person was about how it reads in print.

It's funny. God certainly knows all our thoughts, our desires, our fears, our joys, and our longings. If there is Anyone who does not need asking to know about a situation, it is God. Yet, Jesus reminds us that we are indeed supposed to ask for what we need and desires (Matthew 7:7)

Do we obey this? Do we ask God for what we want? Do we bargain like Abraham, grieve like Samuel, and dance like David before the Lord? Do we weep like Hagar, listen like Deborah, and rejoice like Mary?

Do we ask?

What do we expect to get from God, much less anyone else, if we don't ask?

Asking, in the end, isn't even necessarily about wish fulfillment, but about communication in relationship. Meeting the needs of others- the mutuality of hope and shared experience- is how we come to understand what it means to be human. From that, we come to a better knowledge of why and how God was as one of us in Jesus.

Ask- even Jesus asked the Father for what he needed, wanted, and even wished for.

I texted the hostess around 10 am and asked if it would be okay if I came to the barbecue, allowing that it was totally okay if she already had a full list or it just wasn't a good fit this time.

She texted back, apologizing, because she thought we had already received an invite and just weren't coming. She requested that we bring dessert and I revamped our plans for the day to get the kids to take a nap and to have time to make some brownies.

She could have said no. I could have stayed home and wished we had a place to celebrate our country's independence and groused about no invitations.

But I decided to embrace my humanity and ask.



Thursday, July 3, 2014

In 10 Years...

The prompt asks: What do you think you'll be doing in 10 years?

I have no idea. 

God willing, my husband and I will be celebrating 18 years of marriage. And these two squirts will be 11 and 14 (yikes!) 


Everything else will be a surprise. I ask God to help me see the surprises as revelations and blessings. Even eventually will work.