Friday, May 31, 2013

Hope Looks like My Pruned Lilac Tree

Job 14:7-9 (out of context) NRSV

For there is hope for a tree, 
Though its root grows old in the earth, 
If it is cut down- that it will sprout again, 
and that its shoots will not cease. 
and its stump dies in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth branches like a young plant. 



The scent of hope is 
Water, wafts on the fragrant
Breath of the Spirit.

Notes on the Prayer our Lord Taught

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Five: Be On Your Way

This Friday Five (my first in a LOOOONG time) is from Deb: RevGal Jan is under the weather, so we are swapping weeks for the Friday Five. (Feel better, Jan!) Actually, I want to thank her because she inspired me when she recently shared this poem by Rumi:

It's your road, and yours alone.
Others may walk it with you,
but no one can walk it for you.

So in thinking about our life's journey, and the rhythm of our lives, here's five questions on this theme...

1. What "road" is in your immediate future? 

The road I’m currently traveling is one out of depression. I’m trusting that it’s an out road because the path is unclear, but seems soft and in diffused light. I’m not feeling my way in darkness any more.

So many people think mental illness (depression in particular) can be overcome by an act of willfulness. When people say that or imply it, I think of Jesus casting out a demon in Mark 9. When the disciples ask why they weren’t able to do it, Jesus says, “This kind can only come out by fasting and prayer.”

That kind did, but other kinds of demons may require different approaches toward exorcism. The road I’m traveling now needs prayer and counseling, along with other assistance from friends and family. The road may be long and I have to travel it, but others are walking with me.

2. Where have you been "traveling" a lot lately -- and are you going back there? 

No, I will not be revisiting the places that I have traveled lately if I can help. The land of fear and anxiety, the dwelling place of exhaustion and hopelessness, the tar pits of anger and self-doubt. I know those landscapes will probably send their own postcards to me occasionally, but I am endeavoring not to visit again.

As for non-metaphorical traveling, we have not done much with a new baby in tow. We are hoping to have a family camping trip in the next month.

3.  Who are your fellow travelers? 

Family, friends, midwife, counselor, colleagues, Holy Spirit.

4.  Who are the unintentional companions (or hitchhikers) that you find on the road with you? 

Hannah Swensen, the baker/detective of the mystery series by Joanne Fluke, is walking along with me. Her stories are engaging, funny, and light. I went through a month of not reading (a serious sign) and her warm little novels helped me move back into feeling like myself.

I discovered a few months ago that I have Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). I’ve had this my whole life. If I hear someone talk in a certain way or listen to a certain combination of sounds, a relaxing wave sort of sweeps over me starting from the top of my head. It makes me feel warm all over and is VERY soothing. It’s not sexual- kind of the opposite because I feel so liquid and limpid when it occurs. Apparently, I’m not the only one with this and I discovered (WHOO-HOO) the variety of ASMR videos on YouTube around the time that I most needed them. Listening to someone speak in a soft voice about tea or bath soaps or watching someone whisper and draw a fake plan for home improvement is very soothing. Thus, some of the “whisperers” have been companions with me.  WARNING: If you don’t have ASMR, the videos will seem odd (or annoying or humorous) to you.

5.  As a family, we always recite "the traveler's prayer" -- a tongue-in-cheek petition as we pull out of the driveway ("Lord, whatever we have forgotten, may it not be important!") What have you forgotten lately, and did it matter?

I don’t know if I’ve forgotten anything lately. I’ve been writing many notes to myself to try to avoid that. However, I occasionally forget about my efforts toward positive thinking. I recite this poem by Ron Padgett to myself:

Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.
Nothing in that drawer.

Yes, that’s the poem. When I read it or recite it to myself in a moment of panic or high anxiety, I’m able to imagine myself closing a drawer on my dark thoughts. There’s nothing in there for me. Nothing that’s helpful. Nothing that brings life. I imagine the Holy Spirit’s soft voice whispering to me, “There’s nothing in that drawer.”

BONUS: Share a photo of a road you've traveled. Or of traveling companions who have made the journey special. Or perhaps there's a song or another poem that suits your journey. If so, please share!

I like looking at this picture of Ostia Antica (from my 2005 visit). The ancient streets and walkways- tiled and smoothed dirt- make me think of people who may walk after me. I’m able to see myself floating in history- part of what was and what will be all while being part of what is. This is very centering and makes me feel closer to the heart of God. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Whose Blueprint

I strongly recommend the sound file of this sermon (at the bottom) to you , as it has the transitions missing in the text. 

Easter 7 (Narrative Lectionary, Year C)
12 May 2013

Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29

What bewitches us?
            We are (all) easily distracted (or seduced) by things that are not important. How many times have you lost an hour or three to television or to the Internet and ended up feeling guilty about that time? Very few of us have had that same experience in prayer or devotional time. Yet, false piety can be equally bewitching. We are not called to live lives of sequestered prayer and study, but prayer and devotion in word and deed. Our prayers are in how we live, how we use our time and talents, how we reveal our trust in God’s grace.

            The Galatians were “bewitched” by false teachers who continued to emphasize the necessity of fulfilling all of the laws of Judaism in order to be assured of God’s blessing through Christ. Paul rejects this notion. The law was and is important for those who were born into it, he says. However, God is bringing others into the good news of freedom in Jesus Christ. Their right-ness with God comes through Jesus’ faithfulness alone- not through anything that they are able to do to merit that grace or favor.

What do commercials/ads tell us is important?

            We are all subjected to advertizing- both subtle and overt- that says we are not yet what we could be. We can be stronger, faster, more beautiful, smarter, more useful, more clever, a better parent/neighbor/child/spouse… with just one more product, one more item, one more thing. That final thing will give us what we’ve been missing to have a perfect life. Until we get it and we find that we are still lacking. In addition to exacerbating and exploiting our fears, commercials reveal a poor system of creation- where the only way a person can succeed is if someone else fails. In the commercialized and commodified system, people become the means to our achievements- not through support and mutual aid, but because we can climb over them in our race to the top. 

How can we live into God’s grace in our lives?

            Faithful living seems daunting when we understand it to be a system of perfect and perfected belief. The Spirit tries to draw us away from that idea- into an understanding that the life of faith is one of trust in God’s promises and actions. Neither our belief system nor our actions save us or even get God “right”, but we trust in God’s work of justifying us through Christ. Furthermore, our trust is not in the on-going act of justification (being made right), but in the completed action of justification. It’s not something God is doing that God could decide to stop. Bringing the world into right relationship through Jesus Christ is something that God has already done. It is finished. (Heard that phrase before?)
            Thus, we are being helped by the Spirit to understand that justification, to accept that right-ness, to live into the trust that God’s on-going work of creation and healing serves to help understand what God has already done. Not to earn it. Not to complete it. But to come to see ourselves and everyone around us through the light of Jesus.


            This is a blueprint of a proposed remodel/addition to this church dated May 1969. There is a note on it from 1977 saying that this proposal was never used. Yet we’ve saved it. We have saved proposed changes to a building that no long exists as it did forty-four (44) years ago.
            Why do we still have it? Some of you would say it is because we never throw anything away. I suspect that for years, people said, “We might use it. It might be useful. Don’t throw it away just yet.”
            Even as the building changed and changed again, we still held on to an old idea, an old picture, a possibility- even though it wouldn’t work.
            This is what so many of us do when it comes to grace. We keep our old blueprint. We say: Yes, we are clothed in Christ. Yes, we are new creations. Yes, we have been made right with God through God’s own actions. But we want to keep this blueprint… We want to hold on to our notions of how the world works… We are afraid… and we might need a fallback plan- in case God doesn’t come through.

            Don’t raise your hand. Has anyone thought that before? It sounds so terrible when I say it out loud, but it is what so many of us do. We trust that grace is true, but we want to hold on to our blueprint- our way of seeing the world, just in case.

Bewitched by our illusion of control

            We are bewitched by our illusions of control. When my grandmother died, the rabbi for the funeral home (who didn’t really know her), spoke very briefly at her funeral service. I am sure he meant to be comforting and inclusive when he talked about remembering her and her legacy and then said, “Whatever God there is or isn’t…” I thought, “What?!? Whatever God there is or isn’t…” It is one thing to be cautious about the actions one attributes to God, but it’s another thing entirely to straddle the fence at a time of proclamation.
            I called another pastor after the service and complained, “Who says that? I could do better than that.” The pastor laughed and said, “Sure you could, but more importantly, God does better than that.”
            We have been called, through the Spirit, into lives of proclamation- lives that say “God is”, lives that are lived without fear, lives that are carried forward because of what God has already done.
            When we hold onto our blueprints- our maps and attempts to say that we might need our own power later- we are living lives that say, “Whatever God there is or isn’t…” When we refuse to listen to the siren song of the commercial world or the whisper of the forces that oppose God, when we swallow our fears and live by trusting in God’s grace… we are living like Abraham and Sarah.
            When we trust that we are not defined by our work, our race, our abilities, our body types, our mental state, our family’s achievements, our church’s size, our ability to pray… when we trust that we are defined by Christ and Christ alone… then we have the courage to welcome all people, to care for our neighbors, to work for change in our community, to appreciate creation.
Trust is not about fully comprehending and explaining a formula or creed. It is about prayerful and devotional living- without fear- through confidence in what God has finished in Jesus Christ.
            The promise we have inherited is not that there may or may not be a God who may or may not be working on something for the future. The promise we have inherited is that God who knows all things, who made all things, who has saved all things has included us in that salvation through Jesus the Christ. It is on the authority of this promise that we throw out our plans and live into God’s blueprint- an outline that has remodeled us all into the image of Christ.