Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Since We Were Babies

The picture above was taken just over a decade ago.  It's still one of my favorites.  In part because it very much captures the personalities of the kids in the picture, even to this day.  And also because I love being reminded of a very unique thing about bringing children into church community: these children are not related to each other, they aren't  close - although they are friends - but they have been know and loved and cared for by this family of faith since the days they crawled around on the floor.  Like cousins or siblings in a for-real family they have this experience of church community - their family of faith - that only they and their peers share.

In the high school youth Sunday school class exploring baptism and belonging we are heading in a couple weeks into a session on the story of The Church and specifically of Our Church.  We will talk about the stories and values and culture that we have in our congregation.  We'll talk about  what it means to follow Jesus as a community in this time and place, and what it has meant for the last 50 years. Many of these same young people were at camp this past weekend.  I saw them being community to each other, laughing and enjoying being each other around a card table, and I saw them being embraced into the community of our church of all ages as they - yes - played games and also cared for smaller children and made meals together and played ping-pong and skied and sledded.

Some of those teens also crawled around with each other on the floor and some have only been here a little while.  But being in this family of faith is unique thing that only they share in the world.  I pray that the little ones in the picture will in a few years be the teens competing at Rook, that the children who have recently joined our community, and babies yet to be born will be folded into this cloud of witnesses.  It is precious to me to observe that that even long after the children of this faith family are grown, the love that they have known here continues to be a connection to each other and to the love of God.

In a recent conversation with my child in the picture, she confirmed that I still had it on my bulletin board.  I nodded and she went on a little incredulous, "So we've know each other since we were babies?"  Yup.  They have been known to each other and known to their church and known and loved by their Creator.  Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Darkness in Light of MLK

After my rambling thoughts on how darkness isn't all bad last week, there's this quote by Dr. King:

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness.
Only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate.
Only love can do that."
       -Dr. Martin Luther King Junior

One of my very favorite stories about a child learning about Martin Luther King is in an old episode of this American Life called 'Kid Logic'.  It's one of those mouths-of-babes stories where a child somehow cuts to the center of the message of love and justice that King preached as a follower of Jesus.  And the devastating consequences of that message of love.  I found the episode here. The story starts at  minute 13:10 in Act One of the show but the whole episode is a really great piece of radio storytelling.  Be warned though, if you're anything like me you will cry your eyes out EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. you listen to it.

I don't have any other deep thoughts to offer on the subject of kids and race this year.  I have often suggested books to read to kids on racial justice and building equality.  This time around I'll let the experts make the suggestions.  The Seattle Public Library has a couple of excellent lists for children across the age spectrum: "Race and Social Justice Books for kids K-5" I think is has a few books that look suitable for younger ones as well. "Reading and Talking to Kids about Race" also has both picture books and chapter books, as does "Reading Race: Fiction for Kids."  There's in the content of their lists but it seems like a great place to start to me and to test out books that you might want to have on your own shelves.
It's a good quote for a chaotic time. 

On our bookshelves at home I try to be intentional with the picture books we purchase that the illustrations feature a diversity of characters, whether or not the stories are explicitly about race.  One of the picture books favorites for the toddler right now (one of the few that's not about animals) is Up Up Down by Canadian author Robert Munsch (maybe most famous for The Paperbag Princess  and Love you Forever) about a little girl obsessed with climbing.  Because Munsch uses real kids in almost every one of his books (including his own kids, who are black) a lot of his books feature kids of color.  We also like Something Good, which is about Munsch and his daughter.

Whatever you do this weekend, may you find rest and connection in family and community (recognizing that sometimes 'rest' and 'connection' are mutually exclusive).

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Darkness is as Light to You

Psalm 139 is a beloved text for me, as for many. It names the intimacy and thoroughness with which God knows and loves us. "For it was you who formed my inmost parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." The author continues, naming the distant places they could go. There would be nowhere where God was not, including the grave, including the dark cover of night. In these dark places, still God is there.

It is Epiphany Sunday this week, the Sunday when we are called to "Rise! Shine! For your light has come!" Beautiful words from Isaiah 60 but am often troubled with the way we use lightness as a stand in for good and darkness for bad. The Psalmist knows that God is in the darkness.

There is a richness of language that we are missing when we forget about the goodness of the dark. The words of the hymn "Joyful is the dark" capture the magisterial grandeur or darkness: "Joyful is the dark, holy, hidden God, rolling cloud of night beyond all naming...Joyful is the dark depth of love divine, roaring, looming thundercloud of glory."

In these words is a vast and beautifully energetic darkness. But the dark is also intimate and close and fertile. In dark, warm soil grow buried seeds. In the dark bedchamber lovers caress. In the dark nursery we hold our little ones and sing them to sleep. In the dark we feel our way, are gentle.

There are indeed times when it feels like we are flailing in dark nothingness. That feeling of being alone and un-seeing can certainly feel like all dark is. But nothing is darkness to God. There is nowhere we can go that God does not hold us firmly and gently in hand.

May your darkness be blessed.
May it be the soil in which love is rooted and grows.
May it be the ocean over which the Spirit hovers.
May it be the holy place where you are met by God.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Her colors are fire: a benediction

This past Sunday was Pentecost and I was inspired to write this benediction
by the act of covenant we did together as a congregation:
weaving bright strips of red and yellow and orange into an almost 
invisible net that was stretched across the sanctuary wall.  

Holy Weaving Spirit is at her loom.
Readying herself,
she breathes,
and begins.

Strand by strand she gathers and weaves
a people into beauty,
a wild self portrait made of many strands.
Her colors are fire.
Her creation is God’s

our colors are fire.
We are God’s creation.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

We Had Hoped...

image: Daniel Bonnell, script: Amy Marie Epp
I am back from sabbatical and grateful to be in the pulpit again.  So this is a "What is In the Sermon" edition of the Pastor Amy blog.
Last Sunday on the way home from church I was listening to The Moth Story Hour on KUOW and one of the storytellers was an Irish woman who came from a family of 6 sisters.  Sisters who had learned how to be strong and courageous and connected to each other by their father.  When their dad died suddenly in his early seventies and they were all in middle adulthood, the bond that they thought was so strong between them began to unravel.  Each of them wondered how they were to go on being family, even being in the world without the one who was always encouraging, teaching, leading, connecting them - even as adults.

When I heard that story on The Moth, I thought of the disciples on the road.  These two friends and followers who had lost a beloved.  And not only a beloved, but the one who tied their group together.  The one who showed them what it meant to be God’s children, who told them they were beloved, who healed and served and ate with them, who was the center of their community.  And not only that - the one in whom they had hoped.  A people under occupation, they had a very real hope that Jesus was the leader that would liberate them - finally - from occupying forces.  Jesus’ leadership and charisma tied the disparate and diverse group of disciples together

When we read this story in Sunday school last week Madeleine suggested the image of a bracelet in which the knot that holds everything together has come undone.  I saw it immediately.  Each of the friend, followers, disciples a bead or a knot held together by their beloved Jesus. And once his binding presence is missing, they begin to scatter.  Cleopas and his wife are headed back home to Emmaus.  They’ve left others in Jerusalem, confused by a story of an empty tomb, a missing body and angels.

They are bitterly disappointed.  They grieve.  They had hoped…

And don’t we all.  This is a beloved Easter story, I think in part because of the details that allow us to identify with the disciples on the road.  We too have hoped. I’ve heard people experiencing infertility talk about the bitterness of hoping and longing for a child only to be disappointed - not just once but again and again.  Perhaps a disease or mental illness we thought we had seen the end of returns.  We had hoped…  Or the hope and disappointment of broken relationship.  Of love and trust betrayed.  It is kind of hope is the kind that comes with deep and long-lived yearning.  Perhaps - as in this case - even generations.  

As Jesus’ companions had hoped, we too place our hopes for political change in individuals to see those hopes dashed.

Then they meet Jesus on the road.  But of course they don’t know it’s Jesus.  But as they tell him of their broken hope and he retells the story of God’s people to them their hope begins to be re-woven.  Story by story from the torah and the prophets, he ties them back into the fabric of their community.  When, at the end they realize at the table that it is Jesus who has been with them all along, they say to each other, “Were not our hearts burning inside us when he was opening scripture to us on the road.”  These stories remind them of who and whose they are.  Not a nation’s or a leader’s but God’s.

In the Moth story about the sisters and their father, months after the funeral at which the sisters have carried their father’s coffin together and put his body to rest, one of the sisters gets a text message.  It’s from her dad.  Or at least it’s from her dad’s number.  It says, “I’m home now.  You can call on me any time.”  Honestly, I get a little weepy just thinking of it again, it was such a sweet story.  The text was (probably) some kind of glitch in the system, re-sending the last thing that her dad had texted to her.  But she took it as a prompt to connect again with her sisters, to recount the message from beyond, to wonder together and remember together whose they were and be reminded that the bonds of family could be re-knotted in a way that had their father woven into the whole fabric.

Cleopas and the other disciple, their hope for a Messiah has been disappointed.  Bitterly so. They will always be disappointed if they seek escape from the tyrany of political oppression.  Particularly if they’re waiting for some kind of a political leader to overthrow or rebel against or out-politic their occupiers.  Their hope for a Messiah who walks along with them, though, who explores God’s word together with them, who sits at a table with them, though.  That Messiah is totally present.  And that Messiah is present every time God’s people are gathered - walking, serving each other, eating together, opening scripture with each other.

Our experience of Jesus may most often happen in retrospect.  It can be very hard to see Jesus walking along beside us on the road when we are in the midst of the grief and disappointment of hopes lost.  And I don’t want to get all “footprints” on you, but it is often when we reflect back on an experience that we can say, “Didn’t my heart burn within me when such and such a thing happened?”

The two are compelled, when they realize who their walking buddy has been to turn back to community.  They realize that they have a hope of a different nature. Hope for a different kind of freedom - and into an urgency to run back to community and learn how to witness to each other, to continue the work of the loving, healing, proclaiming Jesus, to weave themselves into a community that makes Jesus presence known everywhere.   I wonder if in our disappointed hopes - particularly when they are hope tied up in political figures or aspirations - we might do well to be reminded that we are knots more securely tied into a string that God is continuing to weave together.

The eye opening, get-back-on-the-road moment for the disciples came at the table.  A table, maybe something like this one before us.  It came when Jesus broke the bread and they shared it.  Jesus known through a physical, tangible thing like bread.  In those look-back moments when we say, “Yes, that way Jesus with me.” how often are they moments that a friend or companion shared a meal, a kind word, a token of encouragement.  Maybe they are when reconciliation is found after a rift, in community gathered, in renewed physical health or a new understanding and peace with physical decline.  Around a table.

Some of you may have seen the Heineken ad that’s circulating on social media.  It’s meant to tug at your heartstrings and tear-ducts at it does.  People ideologically opposite are tasked with several challenges that they must complete together, then given a short survey in which they describe themselves to the other person.  Then they each watch a video in which this partner whom they’ve been laboring and intimately talking with talks candidly about their ideology.

Then they’re given an option - they can go on their way, or they can sit down at the bar (which they’ve just put together) and talk about their differences over a beer.  A Heineken, of course.  

Community built at a table.  And in common work.  And in shared life.  That sounds a lot like the body of Christ to me.

I invite you to join me at the table as we begin communion.  I invite you to join me the the hope that is in Jesus and in the people of God.  I invite you to join me in tying yourself into the care of community and love of God.  I invite you into hope renewed.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Psalms of Revolution

Revolutionary-inspired poster one of a series
created by Seattle Mennonite Church artists
Lisa Bade, Debbie Shank Miller, Linda Pauw
and John Flickinger for Advent worship.
The first time I heard “One Tin Soldier” at camp as an 8 year old, my young mind was blown and my world turned around: the treasure that the mountain and valley people had fought and destroyed for was peace on earth!! Whoa. This song along with songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “If I Had a Hammer” were staples in the camp peace-anthem catalog.

There’s nothing wrong with those old gems. In keeping with our Advent theme of 'Revolutionary Songs' we’ve sung a few of them in recent weeks in worship. But there’s more to revolutionary song than acoustic guitars around the campfire. When I was in college, rap-metal rockers Rage Against the Machine moved my generation to push back against the machinery of wealth and empire. My well-behaved Mennonite classmates and I banged our heads to lyrics like “some of those that work the forces are the same that burn the crosses” and “f*** you I won’t do what you tell me” in “Killing In the Name Of”. I looked them up again this week and discovered the video for ‘Sleep Now in The Fire.” This guerrilla-shot video lambasting the excess of Wall Street, is directed by Michael Moore and worth watching even if you don’t dig the hard-edged music.

More recently I’ve been appreciating revolutionary hip-hop staples. Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” is a hip-hop classic that will make you excited to take the revolution to the street. Twenty five years later, A Tribe Called Quest, contemporaries with Public Enemy in the early 90’s have returned with an album including the single “We the people” calling out systems that exclude people of color, LGBTQ folk, Muslims and immigrants. Seattle’s own Macklemore and Ryan Lewis extol the virtues of the thriftshop (maybe not revolutionary, but something we simple Mennos can appreciate) but also stand up for same-gender marriage equality.

Protest songs have come a long way. And yet, the tin soldier, the fight against power, the celebration of love are all reflective of the original revolutionary songs: the Psalms. The Psalmist sings out in anger and frustration for vengeance against its ‘devastator’ in Psalm 137, sings in hope and confidence that the poor will be raised up in Psalm 72, sing the reminder that mortal rulers are ultimately not to be trusted in Psalm 146. The Psalms are full of emotion ranging from the depths of sorrow to ecstatic joy and always giving God’s revolutionary people an opportunity to praise the One who is turning the world around.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Be thou my vision

Every night I hold a sleepy toddler and sing, “Be thou my vision, oh Lord of my heart.” This has been my go-to bedtime song for almost ten years now. But I found that last night, while election results were already rolling in ominously from the living room, these were the words I needed. And they were the words I needed to sing into the ear of my child. Words that are reminders of where our faith and hope really lie.

I have often turned to Psalm 146 in times of both fear of and expectation in system, leaders and government. It is a reminder that our hope lies not in princes (or presidents) but in the one who ‘created heaven and earth’ and who keeps faith forever. It is a jubilee song and we need a jubilee hope.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
     the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
     the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers,
     upholds the orphan and the widow,
     but the way of the wicked the Lord brings to ruin.

Both Clinton and Caine quoted scripture in their concession messages this morning. But we know that the Reign of God is not subject to the reigns and regimes of the world, however benevolent, and it may not be co-opted. The Reign of God is proclaimed most powerfully by Jesus, who never doubted his belovedness, who never doubted God’s faithfulness, and who loved and taught us how to faithfully love our neighbor and our enemy. He persisted in proclaiming God’s reign in the midst of injustice, fear, hatred and oppression.

May we hear belovedness sung into our ears and may we sing the song for those who cannot or do not hear it elsewhere. May we remember God’s faithfulness and respond with our own. May we remember God’s great love by responding with our own love in word and in action. May our hope and vision be in our love and the in love of our creator.

“Heart of my heart, whatever befall. Still be my vision, o ruler of all.”