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

btmv_001.jpg
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.”

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Seeds of Joy

In the simplest terms, the Ignatian practice of reflecting on consolation and desolation, consolation is what brings joy and desolation is joy's absence. However, life is almost never just one at a time. The two may be - and often are - mingled. Consolation, really, is what draws me closer to the God who is my joy, whose present Spirit enlivens, which may happen even in the midst of misery and sorrow.

I'm in the soggy jacket up front.  We haven't even started yet. This is just the     
warm up.
Yesterday morning I was both cold and miserable but reflecting on it, I also recognize a joy which is my consolation. I spent almost 4 hours in the pouring down freezing rain on the soccer field of my child's school working on building four wooden benches. I know that I will experience the fullness of this joy in due time when the benches join the work of over a hundred other community volunteers in a new playground for our elementary school. All built in one miserable wet day.

It crossed my mind more than once to bail on this project when I looked at the forecast for the day and again when my windshield wipers were working at full speed on the way to daycare drop-off. I was not thinking about where I might find God's joy but of how maybe I was feeling a little sick and should go home to bed. But I showed up, I discovered friends, met community members and other school parents and together we build a playground. God's un-named Spirit at work.

This is not a church story. Most of our stories aren't. It's the story of where we spend most of our lives. In work, in schools, in volunteer roles, in family. It's not a church story but it is a God story. May you all find the seeds of consolation joy as you think on your stories today.

Two of my team-mates sitting on the bench we just made.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Deeper (and Broader) Than I Expected: Reflections on a Faith Formation Conference

Because of the subtitle of this conference, “Deep Faith: Faith Formation for All Ages” I went with a pretty narrow expectation.  It’s one I was looking forward to, but narrow nonetheless.  I hoped to engage the question of how to work at education and formation intergenerationally.  How does one shape a Sunday school class or worship service such that it appeals and genuinely connects with people from toddler to senior and allows folk of all ages to learn with and from each other?  I did come away with a few ideas.  Ideas I hope to work at and explore more in the future, including an understanding that building bridges of learning and connection intended to meet the particular challenges of, for example, a four-year-old in worship, may might also be wide enough to include others with different demographics but similar needs.  Wide enough to welcome many into an experience of God.

What I came to experience in this conference was not wholly what I expected but was still pretty exciting. Two workshops in particular had me excited to come home and think about how we implement elements in my context.  The first, led by Carrie Martens, was a workshop about marking faith and milestone moments across the life span.  Like most congregations we offer some ritual life-marking moments in worship, like infant dedication and baptism.  We also offer young adults hand-made comforters when they are ready to move on after high school.  But I was challenged to think about the many other ways to mark life-moments as sacred through adulthood and at points throughout childhood: the beginning of school for a child, consecration of singleness for adults who remain unmarried, blessing on retirement when adults complete work marking a ‘fruitful past and fruitful future.’* Since there is no beginning or ending to the formation of our identity in Christ, ritual markers along the journey give us a vocabulary to name that identity.  Being able to name our identity allows us to further deepen and claim it.

One of the areas we Mennonites have claimed as central to our identity is that of peace-makers.  Yet it seems to me that it’s rare for a congregation to actively engage in educating and forming members (young and old) in practices of engaging conflict in healthy and transformative ways.  I have certainly heard many stories of unhealthy and passive aggressive ways that churches have dealt (or not) with conflict. That’s why Rachel Miller Jacobs’ concept of ‘Ordinary Time Forgiveness’ seems both so simple and so radical. 

Rachel introduced those who participated in her workshop to some tools of non-violent communication and in particular we had fun with her deck of ‘Feelings and Needs’ cards.**  These cards, as the name suggests, each name either a feeling or a need.  When confronted with a conflict or situation in which discernment or transformation is necessary, one may use these cards, either alone or with another, to identify the two or three feelings that are primarily evoked.  This allows a listener to use empathetic responding when choosing cards for the story-teller to test if the feeling is right and for teller to respond.  Once primary emotions are identified, the needs cards come into play.  It is the met or unmet needs that evoke those feelings and when identified, we can so much more easily communicate – the first step in moving toward resolution and forgiveness. 

It's more complex than that, of course.  And conflicts, like people, may be much more multi-layered, but because this is about the every-day, ‘ordinary time’ conflict, each of us being formed with the useful tools of engagement is so important to confronting the really fraught and complicated stuff.  It makes so much sense to begin engaging the notion of conflict as normal and forgiveness as central in childhood, then to continue to deepen our understanding of self and other as we mature, growing in faith and experience.  I am looking forward to trying testing these and many of the ideas I encountered at Deep Faith and I’m very grateful to have been able to participate.
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* Carrie Martens, “Faith Markers at Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church (in worship),” table.
** Rachel received her cards from Malinda Berry, Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.  They were developed based on the Non-Violent Communication practices and principles of Marshall Rosenberg and much more can be found at Malinda’s website here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Trump, Consent and our Circles of Grace

Like many of you, I am sure, I have been disgusted and horrified (but not surprised) by the words and behavior of Donald Trump directed at women over the course of his campaign and in particular this past weekend. It seems that this is a tipping point for many white Christians, because his words suddenly could not be 'othered.' But this is not (as, of course you know) the first time he has spoken with derision and in a violent or dehumanizing way about people. However I do see it as an opportunity to talk about this particular brand of violence and abuse and about the necessity of empowering each of us and our children to expect that we will only be touched with our consent. That no part of our bodies is an object just to be grabbed.

I came across this graphic on my Facebook feed a week or two ago. At the time I didn't think much of it other than passing agreement. Then I traveled for 5 days with my adorable red-headed toddler and I realized how caught off guard I am by people who think it's okay to poke his tummy, stroke his head, chuck his chin or grab his hand. And I realize I do this to little ones too!

It may be a fine line to tread between teaching our children to show respect for friends, kin and strangers (and we on their behalf) and to allow and even encourage them not to accept tickles, pokes or hugs when they are not open to that affection. But it's an important line. The bodies of women and girls in particular have been seen as fair game and we can reinforce this with girls and with boys without even thinking about it unless we are intentional.

In our Circle of Grace curriculum our children and youth learn about the space around themselves as inhabited by the Spirit of God, intent on their value and filling them with an inherent worth.  Nothing should be allowed to violate that space.  The children have an opportunity to think about what is allowed inside their Circle of Grace and what isn't. We tend to think about the things that go outside the Circle as things which we, their caregivers, would evaluate as a threat, or as 'creepy'. But sometimes even hugs and kisses from mom or dad might be put outside the Circle because they aren't feeling it. What's important is asking: Do you need a hug? Can I get a kiss goodbye? Is it time for the tickle monster? They might say no! That's okay. If caregivers and those close to our children can respect and protect the Circles of Grace of our children as they define them, they will be further empowered to name those boundaries in other situations.

May the Spirit's Circle of Grace surround you!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Parenting in the Pews (or on the chairs, as the case may be)


My mama and me when I was
about the same age as my
littlest one is now.
It is family lore that when I was about three, and my family was sitting in our usual spot on the front pew in the balcony of our church, that I was (as usual) fidgeting and talking out loud. So my mom tried to put her hand over my mouth to keep me quiet. Instead it had the opposite effect. I wriggled away screaming, “Mommy don’t hit me! Mommy, don’t hit me!” This, to the extreme embarrassment of my mother (my distress about being struck was completely unfounded) caused heads and eyes below to swivel immediately to the commotion above.

Now, as a parent of vocal, wiggly, strong-willed children I can see where it might have been a mistake to try to physically restrain a child whose first response is defiance. And as a parent I understand the struggle of trying to help my children understand that there’s a time and place for moving around and being loud and there’s a time to do quiet activities. As a pastor I want church to be a place where both are okay. As a pastor I want other parents to know that their children will be not just tolerated but loved in their loud questions, their running around the altar, their inattention, their stomping across the mezzanine floor and down the ramp, in addition to their quiet coloring or precocious scripture readings.

I am proud to be a part of a congregation that boldly and warmly welcomes little ones into the faith family with a commitment to their formation and care throughout their growing years and to supporting families. I encourage us to be visible and proactive in that support. On a Sunday morning, this could mean sitting beside a family with children and quietly talking with a toddler about what you notice happening in worship or what’s in the bag they brought. It might be engaging with the teenager next to you during the passing of the peace to ask about school. It could mean volunteering for the next Parent’s Night Out or bringing a snack to Sunday school. For 20 or more of you it could be adopting a family with kids as their prayer partner (that’s how many families there are with kids under 12), checking in regularly and bringing them into God’s light as a spiritual discipline.

I thank God for you when I think of you, Seattle Mennonite Church people. You care deeply for our families with children. May we welcome and bless them just as Jesus did.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Meeting Jesus


This week Megan will be heading up to Camrec for Pre-Junior Camp and next week Pastor Melanie and I will share the pastoral leadership at Junior Camp. So yesterday in our pastors meeting, Megan read the summer's theme verses from Mark 10. Parents bring their kids to Jesus to be blessed, are scolded by the disciples, but then welcomed by Jesus. Megan invited us to hear the passage with the ears of parents. I invite you to do it. Read it. Live it like you're there with the children you love, waiting to see Jesus. Really imagine your own kids and all they bring to that kind of situation. 

Parenting is a vulnerable thing and I experienced this story with a lot of emotion. It was like I was right there, one kid on my hip because he refuses to be put down, in a power struggle with the other because why should she be in this place doing this thing I'm making her do. And then the presumption and effrontery of Jesus' disciples to keep me from this meeting we've been planning, that I've had to wrangle my kids. We just want to see him for a minute! The anger and frustration have already been building in me and that's just the limit. I'm ready to explode or to cry.

But then Jesus. His welcome, his blessing. The immediate ease and release of breath and tension. The knowing his love for me and for my children. Seeing him embrace them and them welcoming the embrace, the recalcitrance disappearing. Holy cow, you guys, I could not stop the tears. Jesus loves me. I never felt it more profoundly and with more gratitude and picturing Jesus loving and blessing my beloved ones. May you all be blessed with the knowledge of Jesus' love and care for you.

And here are some cheesy but (if you're in the mood I was) tear-inducing pictures of Jesus with children.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

On Hamilton: A Canadian Mennonite reflects on 'An American Musical' after Independence Day

I keep asking myself what took me so long.  After all, in my family I am surrounded by Hamiltons (or Epp Hamiltons). But now that I’ve finally listened to it, the cast recording of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton has been playing pretty much non-stop since I downloaded it several weeks ago.  It gets better every time.  I get caught up in the battles, the debates, the romance and betrayal. I’m not the first to express astonishment that the birth of this adopted nation of mine could be so interesting and dramatic, not to mention danceable.  And I don’t have to elaborate on what the internet has already said about how Miranda has recast the founding fathers as people of color, celebrates the work and contributions of immigrants (they get the job done), and given women a place in history through his musical. 

Is Hamilton making me love America? The dream that Miranda captures is compelling.  The optimism, hope and creativity are contagious.  But as many facts as I learned about the birth of this nation, the story is still historical fiction.  Washington repeats the refrain, “You have no control: Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”  The losers definitely have no control.  This, like most of the stories of history passed down tell the story of victors.  Yes, Miranda tells the story of Alexander Hamilton with the voice of the man who was his adversary, villainized in memory, played by an actor of color, but we still hear the story from the perspective of the ones who came, saw and conquered.  Violently.  I don’t love that.

I don’t love the American celebration and idealization of violence (although those songs in Hamilton are so good) and I don’t love how we celebrate independence when we are not independent but, in fact totally dependent.  We are interdependent. We need each other, in our communities and in the community of the world.  I feel grateful to be a part of a Mennonite congregation that celebrates our dependence not only on each other but on the God who created us and all people, all creation.  It is a kind of dependence – among people and on the earth – that was well known to the first peoples of the Americas. 

Even as a latter day immigrant, I live with the complicated complicity of being a settler.  In Canada my ancestors farmed on Cree land in Saskatchewan, and now I live, work, and worship on what was Duwamish territory in Washington.  At Seattle Mennonite Church on Sunday we acknowledged our interdependence and were explicit: American ‘independence’ was achieved at the cost of many lives, European, African and Indigenous, and colonization pushed indigenous folks into reservations that were small compensation for all they lost.  And I live too understanding that many of the privileges I have taken for granted are because of my European heritage, won through violent means.

Although I feel the discomfort in my gut at having to face the complicity, I’m grateful.  And I feel grateful too that the Mennonite community here in the United States has, in my experience, been more engaged than in Canada with the question of how and whether we participate in government.  Or whether Christians of conscience should vote in federal elections.  Here in the US voters directly elect the person who is the Commander in Chief of the nation’s military, yet we Mennos place our allegiance in only in Jesus, whose message is peace.  I have been challenged to understand that there are many ways to participate in civic life and to build community and to love my neighbor and my enemy.  I’ve learned that the church can play the role of prophet in civic life: speaking the truth unspoken by history, calling out government on violence and injustice, renouncing doctrines that brutalize, building community and peacemaking in locally and internationally.

In Hamilton, as George Washington prepares to leave office, he quotes a prophet: “Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree.  And no one will make them afraid.” Washington imagines settling down in his retirement in the verdant landscape of Mount Vernon, “At home in this nation we’ve made.”  For Micah, the prophet whose words he quoted, these words are part of God’s imagination for the whole earth, not just one exceptionalist part of it: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid”

I’m not sure that’s what Washington had in mind.  And I’m not sure how realistic it is, but it is certainly my prayer and dream for this nation that I live in and that we all inherited from Hamilton and his colleagues.  After the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, the cast of Hamilton performed ‘Yorktown (the world turned upside down)’ at the Tony Awards without the guns that they usually carry during that battle scene.  May we all learn to lay down our guns and not war against other nations (never mind each other).  May we learn instead to care for the earth and for our neighbor.  May we all have a share of what is good and made by God.  May we acknowledge when we have been the ones who cause fear and been takers and tyrants.  And may everyone go out and listen to Hamilton now so that we can have a group discussion and I won’t be the only one holding these questions!


On Hamilton: A Canadian Mennonite reflects on 'An American Musical' after Independence Day

I keep asking myself what took me so long.  After all, in my family I am surrounded by Hamiltons (or Epp Hamiltons). But now that I’ve finally listened to it, the cast recording of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton has been playing pretty much non-stop since I downloaded it several weeks ago.  It gets better every time.  I get caught up in the battles, the debates, the romance and betrayal. I’m not the first to express astonishment that the birth of this adopted nation of mine could be so interesting and dramatic, not to mention danceable.  And I don’t have to elaborate on what the internet has already said about how Miranda has recast the founding fathers by people of color, celebrates the work and contributions of immigrants (they get the job done), and given women a place in history through his musical. 

Is Hamilton making me love America? The dream that Miranda captures is compelling.  The optimism, hope and creativity are contagious.  But as many facts as I learned about the birth of this nation, the story is still historical fiction.  Washington repeats the refrain, “You have no control: Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”  The losers definitely have no control.  This, like most of the stories of history passed down tell the story of victors.  Yes, Miranda tells the story of Alexander Hamilton with the voice of the man who was his adversary, villainized in memory, played by an actor of color, but we still hear the story from the perspective of the ones who came, saw and conquered.  Violently.  I don’t love that.

I don’t love the American celebration and idealization of violence (although those songs in Hamilton are so good) and I don’t love how we celebrate independence when we are not independent but, in fact totally dependent.  We are interdependent. We need each other, in our communities and in the community of the world.  I feel grateful to be a part of a Mennonite congregation that celebrates our dependence not only on each other but on the God who created us and all people, all creation.  It is a kind of dependence – among people and on the earth – that was well known to the first peoples of the Americas. 

Even as a latter day immigrant, I live with the complicated complicity of being a settler.  In Canada my ancestors farmed on Cree land in Saskatchewan, and now I live work, and worship on what was Duwamish territory in Washington.  At Seattle Mennonite Church on Sunday we acknowledged our interdependence and were explicit: American ‘independence’ was achieved at the cost of many lives, European, African and Indigenous, and colonization pushed indigenous folks into reservations that were small compensation for all they lost.  And I live too understanding that many of the privileges I have taken for granted are because of my European heritage, won through violent means.

Although I feel the discomfort in my gut as having to face the complicity, I’m grateful.  And I feel grateful too that the Mennonite community here in the United States has been, in my experience, more engaged than in Canada with the question of how and whether we participate in government.  Or whether Christians of conscience should vote.  Here in the US, voters directly elect the person who is the Commander in Chief of the nation’s military, yet we Mennos place our allegiance in only in Jesus whose message is peace.  I have been challenged to understand that there are many ways to participate in civic life and to build community and to love my neighbor and my enemy.  I’ve learned that the church can play the role of prophet in civic life – speaking the truth unspoken by history, calling out government on violence and injustice, renouncing doctrines that brutalize, building community and peacemaking in locally and internationally.

In Hamilton, as George Washington prepares to leave office, he quotes a prophet: “Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree.  And no one will make them afraid.” Washington imagines settling down in his retirement in the verdant landscape of Mount Vernon, “At home in this nation we’ve made.”  For Micah, the prophet whose words he quoted, these words are part of God’s imagination for the whole earth, not just one exceptional part of it: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid”

I’m not sure that’s what Washington had in mind.  And I’m not sure how realistic it is, but it is certainly my prayer and dream for this nation that I live in and that we all inherited from Hamilton and his colleagues.  After the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, the cast of Hamilton performed ‘Yorktown (the world turned upside down)’ at the Tony Awards without the guns that they usually carry during that battle scene.  May we all learn to lay down our guns and not war against other nations (never mind each other).  May we learn instead to care for the earth and for our neighbor.  May we all have a share of what is good and made by God.  May we acknowledge when we have been the ones who cause fear and been takers and tyrants.  And everyone, go out and listen to Hamilton so that we can have a group discussion and I won’t be the only one holding these questions!


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Love Poured Out

This past Sunday we gathered for worship only a few hours after the horrific shooting in a club in Orlando, some present hearing about it for the first time as it was acknowledged and grieved from the pulpit. We worshiped that morning with that story ringing in our ears and hearts and with the story of a woman who comes to Jesus with oil for anointing and, in with tears and her ointment, anoints Jesus feet as a blessing and offering. Luke tells us that she was a ‘sinner’ and that “she stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.” (Luke 7:38)

This woman has some things in common with the victims of the Orlando shooting. Beautiful child of God. Outsider, maligned, judged. She brings a beautiful gift. Jesus could have looked askance at her show of emotion and asked his host to take her away. Instead he welcomes her gift and her tenderness as an offering. He accepts her anointing.

Pastor Megan has talked about anointing as an outpouring of love. Placing the oil with our fingers on the body of another we tenderly become a conduit for God’s blessing. Feeling the gentle touch of another and the smooth oil on our foreheads is a physical reminder of the real and healing presence of God’s Spirit. In offering and receiving anointing, both Jesus and the woman receive a gift – he of tender care and hospitality, she of acceptance, love and welcome.

Anoint us, God. Pour out your tears and your ointment on our tender hearts. Pour out your salve of healing on our Queer kindred. Forgive us for our complicity and bless your beautifully made LGBTQ+ children with safety and protection, a freedom from fear. Anoint us all with love.
_

A few of our children who were present welcomed anointing in worship. I am always so grateful when children know that that they are a welcome part of our community blessings and rituals. But anointing doesn’t only have to happen at church. You can offer anointing at home too! Essential oils are widely available and on their own or added to olive oil, anoint along with prayer can be a way to physically offer comfort and presence in times of stress, anxiety, or sickness. And children – all of us, really – can feel empowered to also offer anointing to others in the household, either with words or without.

I hope that our children (and all of us, really) know and show that we are a community where all are welcome in our blessing and worship, in the same way the Jesus welcomed an unwelcome woman. In a few weeks we will be able to publicly offer our hospitality and welcome as we meet parade marchers at the end of the Pride Parade with cookies and cold drinks. We will gather after worship at First United Methodist church and all are welcome to be a part of the welcome party (and from what I understand it really is a party). May we gather across generations so that we all may understand that (in the words of Lin Manuel Miranda) love is love is love is love. And we are all anointed.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Good Centurion

This blog's title is 'What's Not in the Sermon' but every once in awhile a sermon so consumes me that there's not much left that's not in it.  That was kind of the case this week...

This is Memorial Day Weekend.  And as a gift, the Lectionary gave us a story about a centurion so that we might remember a soldier.  Luke 10:1-7.  A recap: After a discourse, Jesus went to Capernaum, where a centurion who had heard about him sent messengers – Jewish leaders – to ask him to come and heal a particularly highly valued slave.  Jesus commends the centurion for his great faith and the slave is healed.

My big struggle with this story and my immediate reaction to is has been, over and over: Jesus, why are you saying that a Centurion – occupier, soldier, holder of power – is good?  You praise this man? Basically, WTF, Jesus??  I really got bogged down in this incredulity and disbelief this week.  It is a good thing that Jesus can handle my skepticism and righteous (or maybe self-righteous would be more accurate) anger because I’ve been growling at him in my head – and sometimes to other people – all week.  I am not often an external processor, but I can think of at least 4 settings in the past 10 days in which I complained about Jesus and about this story in particular.

Here are some of the things we know: the relationship between the Centurion and the Jewish people is a complicated one.  Yes, role and title are military.  He is a ranking officer.  And yes, he has a lot of power.  He openly and explicitly describes the way his command is immediately obeyed both by the soldiers and the slaves under him.  Yes, he is the occupier, a foreigner and who commands not only people but wealth and means.  Under his rule, the synagogue of Capernaum was built.

It is something of a complicated relationship, that of the centurion and the leaders which he commissions to Jesus.  Or even between the occupier and those under occupation.  This man is, if we take the story at face value, a friend to the Jews in Capernaum.  At the very least he is benevolent.  He has invested in their community by building their place of worship, the synagogue.  But in the custom of the time, there is a patron/client dynamic going on here.  He makes a good investment to keep the Jewish population happy and grateful.  Benevolent or not he is the one with the power and the Jewish leaders are beholden to him.  They may be truly appreciative and they may feel that they are obligated because of his position and theirs to praise him and commend him to Jesus.  “They appeal to him earnestly,” (NRSV) “’He is worthy of having you do this for him.’”  Perhaps their feelings are a little of both.

The man himself never ends up meeting Jesus face to face, because again messengers intercept Jesus, this time with the message, “Don’t come.”  And with the audacity (in my mind) to compare himself to Jesus.  In his understanding of being a man under authority of another and through that authority also in command himself.  He is a man with a rank, and this is his framework for thinking of Jesus – someone who commands authority over (over demons, over illness, over nature) because he is under the authority of another (God).

A few weeks ago I spent a meal in a restaurant staring at the back of a shirt in the booth opposite me that read, superimposed over a weathered American flag, “Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you.  Jesus Christ & the veteran.”  And even now, as a pacifist Christian deeply steeped in the understanding that Jesus Christ’s death was one of non-violent love, that unmasked of the myth of redemptive violence, I cannot even tell you how wrong I think this is.  In that judgment I thought I knew all there was to know about the dude wearing that shirt – and none of it was good.  But I need to get over it.  Because the man who is wearing that shirt – the veteran (presumably) who was wearing that shirt – is a man who has great faith and whom Jesus loves.  There is no healing in my judgment.

The Centurion whose slave Jesus healed is a man who has great faith whom Jesus reaches out to in love and compassion.  If Jesus were writing a report card, and one of the subjects is ‘faith’, this guy gets an A+.  And A+ in worthiness, even if his self-evaluation in that regard is and F.
What I think of the centurion doesn’t matter.  Whatever else the Centurion is, or has done, or believes does not matter to Jesus.  The man had faith that a somewhat out-there Jewish rabbi had the power given to him by the God of Israel to heal a man in his household.  And to heal the slave without even being present, because the rabbi Jesus was under the power of God and was able to use that authority for healing.  Even at a distance.  Even though he hasn’t met him.

He hasn’t met him but he has heard of him.  And he has heard about Jesus ‘sayings’.  Immediately before this story, Jesus has given a sermon.  In Matthew it’s called the Sermon on the Mount and that version is a little more famous.  In Luke it’s called the Sermon on the Plain.  Let me give you some highlights (I bet you know them):
Love your enemies.
Do to others what you would have them do to you.
Do not judge.

Whew.  Jesus nails it every time.  He certainly puts me in my place and marks me with a big ‘J’.  Judgy McJudgerson over here.  He finishes off this sermon with this, “I will show what someone is like who…hears my words and acts on them.  That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock.
When he heard about Jesus, the centurion acted on what he heard.  He heard a sermon about loving his enemy, the centurion is counting on Jesus doing exactly as he says and loving the one who is his purported enemy.  Indeed, without even a word.  Without a question or challenge, Jesus hears the summons and goes with the messengers on the way to the centurion’s house.  Luke’s story is all about the Gospel being for all people, not just for the insider.

I spoke a covenant in community with you all as follower of Jesus in Seattle Mennonite Church, a community of radical hospitality, an open table and unconditional welcome so I better check myself.  I was challenged by my spouse when we were in conversation about this story the other night, “Look at it this way.  If a soldier came to you for help, would you turn that person away?”

Well, of course I wouldn’t.  No!  Shame on me!  Jesus is not going to make this man jump through hoops and recite the correct creed.  It is an appeal for help.  And not even on his own behalf but of a slave.  In fact, our congregation, in partnering with Valor Housing have to some extent already made the same claim as Jesus.  Soldiers are beloved members of God’s kingdom.  We have faith that housing folks will offer opportunity to find healing from the trauma of homelessness.

I am tempted, as perhaps we humans are, to categorize: good/bad; right/wrong.  I like to think I have an open mind, but in this area, I categorized.  I recently heard from someone in this congregation not long ago how hard it is to get along with other Christians and how resentful they can feel toward people who are supposedly the same and yet who have profoundly different understanding of what being Christian means. I decided I knew what that man in the t-shirt was like.  I decided I knew what that centurion was like.

I have been listening to a podcast called Shmanners recently.  It’s present by a husband and wife team (Travis and Teresa McElroy) who tackle issues of etiquette by category based on their listeners’ questions. They begin with the history and move on to current conventions and expectations in N. American society. The most recent was about apologies.  So they talked about how and when to apologize, but what they seemed to come back to was how to get along with those with whom you disagree and emphasized: you don’t have to agree (and you don’t have to apologize for not agreeing) but basically don’t be a jerk and apologize when anything you’ve said is hurtful or mean-spirited.

So I think I owe the centurion an apology.  Even if he’s not here to hear it.  Officer, I am sorry.  I am sorry that I made assumptions about you based on your position.  I am sorry I judged your faithfulness in Jesus based on my bias.  I am truly grateful that Jesus intervened with healing in your life and the life of your servant.  I pray that your faith in Jesus will only grow and that each of us can be open to new understandings of what that faith means.
And you know what, I owe an apology to the anonymous veteran in the restaurant.  I am sorry.  I don’t know anything about you, or the experiences you’ve had or the authority that you’ve been under and the situations that you have been in.  And I am sorry that I judged you based on a t-shirt.  I am sorry that I made assumptions about you out of small-mindedness. I commend your faith.  And I pray that each of us can seek Jesus’ healing and the path of life.

Safwat Marzouk, an Egyptian American professor at AMBS approaches this near-encounter between Jesus and the Centurion as an intercultural/ecumenical encounter. Like Travis and Teresa of the Shmanners podcast he says, writing in Christian Century,“Tolerance should not depend on denying one’s own faith”.  He also suggests coming with ‘open…hands, hearts and minds to receive the gift of the other for who the other is, finding way to serve one another and with one another.”

Well, you all may be better people than me.  I suspect that is the case.  But may God bless us all with open hands, hearts and minds.  May our faith in Jesus also be great and may we seek to follow.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Wisdom's Blessing


I have been dwelling with the call of Wisdom this week, as she raises her voice from Proverbs, calling to all humanity. God's Holy Wisdom in Biblical tradition is personified as a woman standing at the city gate and calling with longing for all humanity to embrace her. The Inclusive Bible reads in chapter 8, "Doesn't Wisdom call? Doesn't Understanding raise her voice?" and "I was God's delight day after day, rejoicing at being in God's presence continually, rejoicing in the whole world and delighting in humankind."
The Wisdom of God delights in us! I was inspired to write this blessing:


Mary Cassat
May you hear the voice of Wisdom.
And like a child who
     hears the call of her mother,
     and comes with eagerness
     as to a celebration,
May you run to her,
     where she waits
     with open arms
     to catch you up
     and lend you the warmth
     of her knowing.

Amen.

(Folks are welcome to use this in their own contexts, but please attribute authorship. Thanks!) 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

You Can't Wear God...Unless You Can

"You can't wear God."

Lauren Winner's book, titled Wearing God, was dismissed out of hand by the nine-year-old in the back seat, where the book had been languishing for several months.  (I started it after hearing a presentation about faith and fashion by Clara Berg, child of my congregation and now the Collections Specialist for Costumes and Textiles at Seattle's MOHAI).  I had tossed the book back there after reading the chapter 'Clothing' and 'Laboring Woman' - the two metaphors I was most interested in and connected to my experience.

The idea that God is ready-to-wear should be no more surprising than God being our rock and foundation,* or the light for my path** or, for that matter, laboring woman.*** As it turns out metaphor is all we have for God, who is only knowable through human experience and language.  This is tricky for humans (perhaps especially young humans) who like nice concrete handles on which to hang ideas.  We want to know exactly who and where God is.  We like certainty to be tacked to the wall like a family photo so we can look at it and be reminded: ‘Oh that’s nice, there's my spouse, whom I love and who loves me and who is now at work just as I am at work and we'll see each other later.’  But God will not be tacked.  Metaphor is what connects God to our experience and helps us to understand and get a glimpse - even if it's a small one - of God's nature and being.  It helps us place God.

The nine-year-old should not have been surprised either, having recently learned about metaphors in third grade.  She knows that metaphors are not a thing themselves but are a comparison that describe an aspect of the thing.  In fact, she came up with God being like a cloud (to be fair: a simile, not a metaphor) when she was four!  We have read books and had conversations about God's many names.  At the point of the declaration, we had the conversation again.  I guess we all need reminders.

We need reminders that we can wear God, who is comforts us like an old sweater.  And we can dwell in God, who is our home.  And we can turn our faces to the warmth of God, who is our sun.  God the washing machine agitates us and starts us fresh. We experience and know God in a multitude of ways, many of which are in the Bible.  And because we are human and God is God, we can each determine the best metaphor for our own experience of God, in whose image (whatever that is) we are created.  What is yours?




“My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” Psalm 18:2
** “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” Psalm 119:105
*** God: “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.” Isaiah 42:14

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Taking Pentecost Home

Dwell with the Word
Re-read the story of Pentecost (here it is in The Message) from the Bible or your favorite Bible storybook. A mighty wind and flames on heads and talking in languages. It's kind of a crazy story.

Goldfishflames

If Goldfish are a part of your daily snacking life, you could use them as a starting place for the story. I've noticed that when you turn the goldfish on it's tail it looks a lot like a flame. It could go something like this (if you don't want to sound like an awkward church robot, use your own words):

"Look at this! When you turn the goldfish this way it looks like a flame. That reminds me of the story of Pentecost. After Jesus had gone to heaven to be with God, his friends and followers were all together wondering what to do next. All of a sudden a huge wind blew. Then it was like each of them had a flame on the top of their heads (this would be a perfect time to put the gold fish on top of a small doll). 

They started talking in many languages about all that Jesus had done and about God's love. There were people from all over the world in Jerusalem at that time and even though they didn't speak the same language they could all understand the stories and they were amazed. There were thousands of people who decided to follow Jesus that day. That was the way the church began."

Let them Eat Cake
Pentecost is considered the birthday of the church. Have a Happy Birthday Church cake or make Holy Spirit cupcakes. You can even make flames from mini marshmallows and colored sugar. You don't have to know how to do fancy piping with frosting.

Wear the Spirit
Make clothes that will remind you of the Holy Spirit. Using flame-colored Sharpies, try easy tie-die on white socks or t-shirts. Simple instructions here. I actually tried this one (my socks on the left) and it was really fun.  I will enjoy wearing these and remembering that I walk in the power of the Spirit.

Ring of Fire
Spin your own fiery art with yellow and red paint, a piece of paper cut to size and a salad spinner. These instructions suggest autumn leaf shapes, but you could totally cut these into flame shapes and thread them onto a string or thread for display.

Spirit Walk 
This is a version of a prayer walk. Go for a walk and notice 'signs of the Spirit' around you. Since it's Spring there are lots of signs of new life around. You might also bring a camera, a notebook or vessel to collect things to put in a place that will remind you of God's Spirit all around you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Marked with Love

John 13:34-35 is the lectionary text this week, but since we're doing a series on Acts, I won't get a chance to expand on this very valuable analogy.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
If this short teaching from Jesus could be summed up in an image it would be the basin and towel with which he had just washed his disciples’ feet.  He had stooped and taken their feet in his hands,  cleaned the dust and dirt of the day from them and with care dried them.  And then he had instructed them to go and do likewise.  They are to make themselves known as followers by acts of humble service and loving care.

It is by a love like this – humble, willing to serve, possibility even willing to die – that should set the disciples of Jesus apart and make them visibly marked as his followers.

As the parent of an 8-year-old I have become very familiar with marks that set individuals apart.  I’m talking about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and the image on the flank of everypony in Equestria: the cutie mark. Each pony is marked with an image that represents their special gift. Often the gift and the cutiemark that it represents are way each pony serves their community.  The pony who’s marked with butterflies loves and cares for animals and nature.  The pony marked with apples farms and feeds the town. 

Cute though the marks – and the message – may be, the series’ emphasis on relationships, welcoming strangers, second chances, making friends out of enemies and discovering the way each one can contribute to the strength of the community has been a great seed for conversation about those things.  There has been much speculation in my household about what each of us might have as a cutie mark if we were ponies.  What one image sums up each of our special combinations of gifts and interests in a tattoo-like mark?

As Jesus’ disciples we know that we do each have gifts which we have been given by God.  These are the things we’re good and the things we love.  The things that work together with the gifts of others to build community and show God’s love to the world.

The love by which Jesus loved his disciples and the world is a powerful love.  We are charged with bearing that love in our lives now.  Jesus passes his very love onto us and we are branded.  And the way we put that mark on display is through the humility, service, care, compassion and non-violent acts of just peace.  Whatever each of our particular ‘cutie marks’ might be we are all marked and can be identified as Jesus’ disciples by his love.

- - -

Finally, because the internet, these. 
  


  

Monday, February 29, 2016

Mother to the Lost: a Monologue

Seattle Mennonite Church
Luke 15:11-32

Let me tell you about my family.  I am married and I have two sons.  I love my sons.  I love my husband.  Yet my loving them does not make them love each other well, and loving them only deepens the grief when they are estranged or conflicted.

When he came of age, my younger son came to my husband and made a demand, “Give me my half of my inheritance.”  To hear it, I was aghast.  I was aggrieved.  I could barely believe it.  I did not think that we had raised a son to offer such disrespect and I questioned: Had we been too permissive?  Had he always felt such entitlement?  Where had I gone wrong? 

Maybe you already understand this: he essentially was saying to his father, to me, to his community, ‘I wish you were dead.  You’re nothing to me.’ What kind of a son treats his parents like that?  I was angry!  At my son and at my husband.  Because what does my husband do?  He gives in.  He talks to the neighbors to negotiate selling off land.  He liquidates some of our holdings.  He auctions livestock.  He hands over fully half (half!!) of our family’s livelihood to the boy!  He was a boy!  Foolish and vain and ungrateful.  And ignorant and na├»ve.

I heard the neighbors.  I knew the gossip.  The whole village thought we were irresponsible, undisciplined parents.  I was implicated in my crazy husband’s actions too.  They thought our whole family was crazy, and who wouldn’t?  Any sane father would refuse!  Would say, ‘Young man, your responsibility is here.  Your responsibility is to get married, have a family, to care for your mother and for me in our old age.  We didn’t raise you so you could leave us.  Shape up! Go back to work.’  As the head of the household he certainly would have had the right.

But he let him go.  So I had to let him go too.  We all did.  My boy had declared us dead, but when he left, it was as if he was the one who had died.  To not hear from him, to not know where he was or how he was faring.  There was nothing I could do. He could have been dead for all we knew.
Just like when someone dies, there was a hole.  I grieved.  And somehow life kept going, find a new normal.

Ever the responsible, my elder son just kept his head down, diligent as always.  It was a burden on him.  Now all the responsibility would be his but he was resolute.  A hard worker.  He’s a perfectionist - with himself and with everyone else.   Classic older child, really.  He never gives himself a break, never takes a day off.  My husband would never have thought to suggest it.  Life had found a new normal but it was a sort of half-life.  

I think the village saw this too.  We may have been irresponsible and crazy, but my son was the one who had abandoned us.  They saw the way our he cut us off and I knew they had the qetsatsah[i] all planned.  If he would ever show his face in the village again, the jar would be broken, the burned corn would be spilled, his name would be proclaimed and he would be ritually broken off from the community.  No better than a Gentile.  I have to admit, I was angry with him for leaving us but I was also grieved.  And I would be heartbroken were such a thing to happen.

It was hunger that put him back on the road to us. I knew there had been famine not so very far from us. And sure enough that’s where the young man went.  Lost it all.  Every last penny.  I don’t know who saw him first, but my husband got wind of it and I have never seen anything like it.  He was out like a shot – arms pumping, legs flying, kicking up dust.  No way for a grown man to act, the patriarch, the master of the house.  He was making a fool of himself.  I was glad to see the boy too.  I could barely breathe, in fact.  But the man was making himself ridiculous.  Again.

I’m sure that kid had his speech rehearsed.  He was always a big of a schemer: “I have sinned before heaven and before you…”  A hungry belly will do that.  But before he could get it all out, it was all robes and ring and sandals and fatted calf.  Musicians and dancing and feast.  Before he could speak the word to his speech but before anyone could organize the qetsatsah.  That boy may have spent everything and learned nothing, he may have been brought low and gone hungry, but he was not cut off.  I’ll give my husband this: he thought fast.  He looked like an idiot giving up all that property to a son that as good as proclaimed us dead.  And he looked like an idiot to prevent that son from being made as dead himself.  He brought the boy back.

I’m not sure my elder boy was so happy about that, though.  In fact, I know he wasn’t.  I mean, how does it make him look, after all.  He doesn’t like looking foolish.  But it all happened so fast no one had even gone to the field to get him so he arrived in the thick of it.  And like it or not, it was his responsibility to go in, to honor his father’s decision, to join his father as host.  He didn’t like it when his brother disrespected his dad but now what did he think he was doing?  Pouting and raging outside when his father and brother were inside. 

And again, my husband, paying no mind to his duty and position, leaves the party to beg and plead.  And he got an earful: “This son of yours spent all your money on whores!”  He almost spat it.  And I mean…where did he get that idea?? None of us know where the money actually went.  He hadn’t even talked to his brother yet – not that he acknowledged that they were even related.  His father is trying to bring him around. 

And here we all are.  Three lost boys – well, men – one lost and then found but maybe still lost to any understanding of what he really did to us and what this welcome back really means.  One lost in his anger and resentment, refusing to come in, to accept restoration for himself as well as his brother. One lost to any semblance of dignity and decorum and authority of position but wanting more than anything for both his boys to be restored.  Willing to let all that go.

But I love them.  God help me, I will always love them.  They are my sons.  He is my husband. And I pray: God, in your mercy, restore what is lost.  Restore them to you and to each other.  May not my love but yours reconcile.  In your mercy may a way be made where it seems as if there is no way.  In your mercy, God, may my sons and my husband find a place at the table and feast together.




[i] Thanks to Barbara Brown Taylor’s essay,  “The Parable of the Dysfunctional Family” for introducing me to this notion of qetsatsah