Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Anointing

I did a home visit today to a person with whom I do not always see eye to eye. Home visits are kind
of a ticklish part of my work. I enjoy them, but they're actually kind of difficult to manage sometimes. It's a shame that we are all sort of out of touch with visiting, but there it is and so it is.

Anyway, in this visit, I chatted with the person and then gave them communion. As we talked afterward, the person took my hands and prayed for me. It was actually a very gentle prayer, as this person's prayers go, but they prayed for me to continue in the anointing I had received for the ministry I was doing.

It was a really touching and meaningful prayer, which I received with a grateful and glad heart. Not only being prayed for, but being prayed for in such a specific way is very helpful and encouraging. It is the kind of thing that makes this pastor glad and honored to do this work.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Scalia and Grace

By Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died today. You can read about him here. There is a split decision in my house as to whether or not he was a good judge. I did not care for many (most) of his opinions. His particular Constitutional interpretations may well have hewn to the framers intent- when non-white men and women of all colors were hardly people. I do not think that is the best use of God-given intellect in this present age.

Be that as it may, the man is dead. His wife is grieving. His children, their spouses, and their children are grieving. His friends, including Justice Ruth Ginsberg, are saddened.

I am no longer quite Southern enough to say, "Well, everyone's momma loves them."

I did not like Scalia in a box, with a fox, in the rain, on a train, etc. But God did (does).

God loved him, warts and all. (Which is not to imply that the Justice in question had warts or did not. It's just a phrase.) Regardless of his decision-making, his rancor, his likability, his cantankerousness, his generosity, he was still a beloved child of God. Additionally, because he was a man of some faith, we were (are?) siblings in faith. We are on the same trail behind the pioneer of our faith, Jesus the Christ.

I don't know if I could have walked up the same aisle at the opera as Antonin Scalia, so it is very hard to type out that we were on the same spiritual trail (as it were) behind the Son.

Would I dare to say his name tomorrow among the saints who are gathered to their rest? Will I dare to picture his face, among to many beloved, as present in some capacity around the table, which belongs not to me, but to Christ?

I did pray earnestly today for peace and consolation for his wife and his family and all who loved him, a host which does not include me. I was not trying to be disingenuous or even take the high road. I was just trying to acknowledge something that was in the news and that's about it.

Still, despite this man's lifework that has brought stress and grief to me and many others, I hope that he does rest in peace. I hope that his family is consoled. I hope that God's perpetual light does shine on him.

And I hope I can learn to say the above with no sarcastic endnotes.

God's grace... which covers us all... it is the very worst best thing.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Five More Minutes


Believe me when I tell you that I know what five minutes feels like. Five minutes is the difference between picking my kids up in daylight and picking them up in dim twilight. Five minutes in the difference between seeing the sun before I go into work and only seeing it when I go out to get the mail.

Alaska has been gaining daylight- oh, so slowly- since December 22. At that time, in Anchorage, the sunrise was at 10:15 am and the sunset was at 3:43 pm. Now, though, is when we begin to feel the light gain. What was a gasp of additional seconds of light is now a gulping five minutes of additional light. And it is AMAZING!

In my first years in Alaska, I lived in Nome. We used to have "sunrise" Advent services... at 11:15 am. The sun was gone, gone, gone by 3:30 pm. It became nearly unbearable and then... like the Beatles say, "Here Comes the Sun".

Even when you are used to the dark, it is still frustrating to never see much light. The lukewarm light of noon on a cloudy day when pitch darkness will be back in 3 hours is not only not comforting, it's practically insulting.

Many Alaskans who can go Outside (leave Alaska) for some sunshine, somewhere, anywhere. Most of us know that we need more Vitamin D and we take capsules, mix powers, and use special lamps. Our recent horrible winters (much ice, little snow) have made it more difficult for those of us who are casual winter athletes to get outside. Ice-slick ski paths and slippery playgrounds mean it is nearly impossible just to go for a short, casual walk or run to the swings and slide.

So, ice bound darkness (which may be what you always thought Alaska was) is frustrating for many. Additionally, the ice does not reflect the limited light in the same way that snow does. Reflected moonlight, headlights, and flashlights off snow make driving, walking, and playing easier. The ice seems to absorb the light and makes the dark even darker.

So, back to five minutes, we're gaining seconds more of daylight each day. By March 1st, we will be over ten hours of daylight and gaining not quite six minutes a day. This is the time of year when the light increase really makes a difference.

I'm sure there's a spiritual metaphor in here somewhere- five minutes of Christ-light (through you) can make a huge difference in someone's day- in its overall brightness and bearability.

I won't belabor that point, because I need to go out and enjoy today's extra five minutes. It's five more minutes of easier driving, of Vitamin D, of seeing the sun on the faces of my children, of remembering that winter is not forever. 



Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Mixed Messages

On the way home from Ash Wednesday service, my six-year-old and I listened to a science podcast for kids. In this episode, we heard the sounds of brain waves. We heard waves during regular thinking and then during a seizure. My son asked about seizures- what were they, what happens, and what to do. 

I said a seizure is when the brain gets some signal mixed up. Then the brain and the body get mixed up messages and so they seize... which migh look like spasms or like freezing in place. 

I actually had seen a man have a seizure today, a small one, in line behind me at the grocery store. I told my son what happened and what I did. 

During the service, I actually talked to children about Lent being a "fast fast". We are supposed to fast from moving so quickly that everything and everyone becomes blurry. 

We get mixed messages all the time about our worth, our place, and our shoulds, coulds, and woulds. These mixed messages can cause spasms or paralysis in our spiritual life and growth.
We do know that too much, too fast, too bright can cause certain types of seizures.

Let us all embrace the "fast fast" and take time for contemplation, reflection, and being (as opposed to doing). Perhaps we can reduce our rush of spiritual seizure. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Lifting the Veil

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:212 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. 14 But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. 
4:1 Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.


When reading the scriptures selected for this Sunday, my heart leapt at the last verses of this passage. Since we, as a congregation, are regrouping from a break-in and fire that has put a bit of a cramp in our building availability, not to mention all the additional decision-making that had to go on... a little cheer-leading (in 2 Corinthians, no less!) seemed like a good idea.

It is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, in this place! We do not lose heart! We are not alone! We have forcefully said no to the things that one might hide and embraced truth, hope, and grace that surround us from God in Christ! Huzzah, alleluia, and amen!

I really wanted to leave it at that and just ignore the earlier part of the passage. After all, people who are far better Bible scholars than me say this is the most obscure passage of Paul's seven letters We're not sure what he's saying, why he's saying it, when he said it, and what the Corinthians were doing that prompted him to say it. Doesn't that give me a pass to say, "Yes, this does sound vaguely (not-so-vaguely) anti-Jewish, but we know Paul was a Jew, so it's probably not. Now back to not losing heart..."

Perhaps if we were in a utopian time, a heavenly time, a mountaintop time, wherein all people were perceived and cherished as equals in the eyes of the Lord, if we did actually see in word and deed that all lives matter, if politicians and terror groups didn't trade in the fear of the other to rile up support and hatred... then I could skip over that earlier part.

Since we are not yet to that stage of our sanctification, our being made holy, then it appears that I must say something about the earlier portion of this passage.

Paul understood God to have made a permanent covenant with Abraham and his descendants (both through Isaac and Ishmael) AND a permanent covenant with David and his house. These covenants were rooted in who God was and is, regardless of what the Hebrew people (who became Israel) did. They wander, they doubt, they idolize, but God keeps God's word.

Paul also understood that, in addition, God had made some conditional covenants with the people of Israel. Blessing and safety, in some instances, were contingent upon the people's obedient and faithful behavior. It is not that God wouldn't offer them blessing and safety when they were disobedient, but their poor choices and failure to trust in God and God alone could lead to bad situations- exile and death being some of them.

Part of why Moses veils his face when returning from being in the presence of God is that his fellow Israelites cannot bear to look at the light, but also that they will idolize the glow itself and not its source- the presence of the Almighty. However, veil or no veil, the people begin to take for granted that they are people who have been proximal to the presence of God. Being chosen people becomes their elevated way of seeing themselves without moving forward with the relational aspect of being chosen to convey the presence of God to the rest of the world.

Paul's concern for the Corinthians is that they have begun to take certain things for granted in the same direction. They should not attempt to be the Jews they were not born to be. Neither should they be exceedingly proud of having perceived the good news of Jesus Christ. Favored status is the veil that gets in the way of the world being able to comprehend the way that we are transfigured by life in and through Jesus.

When people, Jews or Christians, trust in the title of being chosen, baptized, members, or disciples, but forget the way those things are actual spiritual AND tangible ways of being that transfigure them personally and the world around them... the veil of the title (chosen, baptized, etc) dims the light of love that shines from faces, in words, and in actions.

Yesterday, I picked up my daughter and was hugging her and kissing her cheek. Swinging her around as she giggled, I looked over to see if my son was watching. I was planning to go to do the same thing to him if he was. The reason was actually because I did not want him to think that my daughter is my favorite. I love them both. I might be more annoyed with one or the other from time to time, but I love them both- deeply, whole-heartedly, without reservation.

In the moment of looking between my daughter and my son and wanting them to know that I did not have favorites, I suddenly grasped the thing that Paul wants to communicate, but cannot. God does not have partiality between God's children. God's unconditional love is deep, whole hearted, and without reservation. It is when we believe that we are the favorites- because of denomination or theological awareness or doctrine or habit- we draw a veil over the glory that is the relationship and our hearts harden. There is freedom in realizing that Christ was not sent to tell Jews they were no longer God's favorite, but instead to the whole world, the whole cosmos, to explain that God does not have favorites.

On Wednesday, with the imposition of ashes, we will enter the season of Lent. This is typically a time of serious contemplation, of reflection on spiritual discipline, on preparing for baptism or joining a congregation, on metaphysical improvements in mind and soul. In Lent, we put away the alleluias and focus our minds on the cross and what it means for our faith.

I can't undo Lent, but I can offer an addendum or correction for this year. A church that had just had a fire and break-in doesn't need to short on the alleluias. A church that is being looked to as a community gathering space does not need to pull in for self-examination. A church that has received over five thousand dollars in donations toward rebuilding does not need to skimp on the alleluias.

From this mountain of transfiguration, let us remove our veils... veils of fear, veils of frustration, veils of self-doubt, veils of trust in things that are not God... personally and as a congregation, let us unveil ourselves as people are who transfigured and transformed, day by day, not by what we believe, but by the One who believes in us.

It is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, in this place! We do not lose heart! We are not alone! We forcefully say no to the things that one might hide and embrace truth, hope, and grace that surround us from God in Christ! Huzzah, alleluia, and amen!


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Were You Wearing A Hat?


Were you wearing a hat when you smashed the window of the church? Was it a hat that I made?

Did you eat a sandwich yesterday- tossing the plastic over your shoulder? Was it a sandwich from the kitchen you set afire? 

Have you come by before? Did you get a bus token, a bathroom, coffee, communion, fustrated? 

Were you alone? Was it a dare? An initiation? A fruitless and annoying search for cash? 

Have you sat in the building for a funeral, a wedding, a high holiday, a low Sunday? 

Did you scoff at the sign about God's people all being welcomed or did you decide that hope had flown in your life, as far as you could see? 

Did it matter who we were? The preschoolers, the elders, the working, the retired, the unhoused, the multiply-housed. 

Or were we just there, where you were- crossing paths at a time that is now linking us both?

You may have already forgotten us, but not we you. 

If you are never caught, we may still yet meet. Sandwich, hat, communion, bathroom, we'd still give them to you.

Were you wearing a hat? Was it a hat that I made? 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Beauty for Ashes

Early on Friday morning, January 29, 2016... a person or persons broke into the church building where I serve.

They smashed a concrete doorstop through a window to enter the building. Additionally, they threw said doorstop through the plate glass office window and then ransacked the office looking for money. Not finding any, they stole a small, inexpensive digital camera and tore up the office. 

They proceeded to the sanctuary where they overturned the baptismal font, shattering the pottery insert that protected the brass font from water damage. 

The saddest damage was found on Sunday morning, where they wrote in the liturgical leader book. 

Right over the idea that the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world, they wrote "lie". Did they stop to read this and react to that specifically? Do they refuse to believe the body and blood of Christ were given for them? Did they simply not care what the book was?

There was no other damage to the book or in the sanctuary (besides the font). No Bibles torn, no hymnals, nothing to the piano or organ (thank God). So this quick writing seems very specific. 




The worst damage was in the back of the church where they put books and papers on the stoves and turned on all the burners full blast. We have had electric stoves, so it probably took a while for things to start burning, but they did. Eventually the sprinkler system kicked in and one localized sprinkler dowsed the flames. Lots of water pouring through the kitchen and over some of the preschool contents. The kitchen was totaled. 
A person walking his or her dog early in the a.m. saw the strobe lights of the fire alarm system and called the fire department. The alarm system alerted specific church members. 

It was, expectedly, chaotic. 

I was on a ship, but got the news and made many calls... at the rate of $1.99/minute.

We're slowly cleaning up and deciding how to move forward. 

The emotional reactions come and go, but when I look at the worship book, there's only one spiritual reaction: prayer for such a hurting individual. 

In ransacking the office, they opened a plastic bowl I had full of ashes. Last year, I burned 3 years worth of old palms from Palm Sunday. I sieved the ashes very finely and stored them. I had enough ashes for about 500 Ash Wednesdays. The person opened that container and dumped the ashes everywhere in the office. The ash is so fine, it just hangs in the air.

This means that the perpetrator, still a child of God, left Lutheran Church of Hope covered in our still ringing "Hosannas" (God save us!) and the reminder that we are all dust and to dust we shall return.

There's something so poignant about that. I'll try to cling to this as we move forward.


Donations to Lutheran Church of Hope or Hope Lutheran Preschool may be made here: www.mkt.com/hopeak.