Sunday, March 29, 2015

Of Pickups, Peace, & Palm Sunday

I need to share that any post I ever write is a collaborative effort -- often unbeknownst to my collaborators. Events of my week, conversations with friends, a word from my pastor, a road war with a fellow driver -- all plays in. The graduate student in me struggles against the instinct to cite every single phrase and nuance. Lucky me, to have so many wonderful opportunities to learn and grow.  

Hosanna! Our sweet kiddos processing with palms.
(photo by our youth minister, Hannah Lampi)
I made a triumphant entry into my old home town today. On my way to church, I got into a dogfight with a massive red pickup that wouldn't let me into traffic. I decided to engage in the power struggle, show him what a Honda CRV is made of, and pulled ahead of him just in time to make it onto the ramp. I came, I conquered, I acted like an ass. And, immediately felt ashamed.

You see, I had been pondering the first Palm Sunday all morning, preparing to deliver the welcome and opening prayer for services. I was thinking about this most publicly triumphant moment of Jesus' ministry, and how remarkably subversive and humble it was. How the Kingdom of God juxtaposes humility to pride, service to conquering, peace to war. How it makes room for humanity to collide with divinity, how it leaves space for grief in the midst of joy. It all seemed meaningless intellectual pursuit in the moment, as my neanderthal brain exerted itself over my spiritual thinking. I engaged in the same imperial, showy, forceful maneuvering -- a Roman procession with Pontius Pilate -- that Marcus Borg says was happening at the West gate of Jerusalem, just as Jesus entered the East gate with his rag-tag band of followers.

Doesn't life keep us honest, if we let it?

Jesus rode into Jerusalem, to fanfare, on a lowly donkey. Famed theologian Wikipedia tells me the donkey was a symbol of peace, while horses symbolized war and subjugation (Prophet Zechariah reinforces this interpretation in chapter 9 of his book). The gospels also tell us that Jesus paused to weep over Jerusalem as he entered.

All these seeming contradictions...

The crowds are celebrating, but in less than a week will be witness to, maybe even participants in, his death. The man is the source of great joy, but pauses to express grief. He's the King of the moment, but he rides in on a donkey colt.

Celebration is complex. We feel it most because we've experienced its opposite. Joy is highlighted because of the sadness we live through. The sting of pain throws the soothing power of grace into greater relief. The suffering brought about by corrupt kingdoms and regimes and religions heightens the hope of the pure, peaceful kingdom of God. The recognition of our sins enriches our gratitude and experience of forgiveness.

My pastor asked us today which procession we will join: the imperial, politically aggressive party on the West, or the band of underdogs, the subversives in the East.

As Christians, we are no longer the underdogs -- at least in America. We hold more power than the Jesus followers of the first Palm Sunday. As my pastor said, we hold the reins to the horses of war. And, that's a dangerous place to be. We risk becoming blind to the practice of violence, of experiencing the truth as a confrontation, and truth-revealers as political threats. It is harder to address our need of Jesus, and to recognize how his message and life embraced weakness, and undermined power. How he specifically questioned the "good enough" religious lives of his day, while hanging out with the "losers."

Jesus lived totally upside down to our expectations, to our American dreams, to our striving for triumph and success.

As we choose our procession, may we fully celebrate his arrival. Let's just party in it. But, not as champions, or conquerors, or victors. Rather, as recipients of grace. As extenders of grace. As people bereft of power, but willing to throw down whatever we have, palms, coats, blankets, hearts, souls, pride to pave the way for his upside down kingdom of peace and humility and grace. May we bravely confront oppression, wage peace, and, as he did, champion the people lost in the shuffle of power and living and sin.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Closet Full of Shoes (an update)

Remember when I told ya'll I was waiting for more shoes to drop (in a post cleverly title The Other Shoe, read here)? After the toddler's hand got burned, and the husband lost his job, the MINI got sold, etc ?

Yeah, we got a whole closet full of shoes now.

The next week Valentine developed double ear infections, days of fever, and tantrums that shook my confidence in this whole parenting gig. Who'm I kidding? They convinced me I couldn't parent. Jason got intensely sick, and we lost opportunities to take short term work... yada, yada, yada (even I'm getting bored with calamity).

The thing is: I wouldn't take a single day of this back. Even though the daughter is sick again, and we are dealing with some significant criticism.

Because, through all these experiences, we found the depth of our community's capacity to love and support to be endless.

Our small group elected to sit in concerned silence as I told them of my heartache, then we all laughed over silly things. Members of our church text us, just to check in. Friends send encouraging emails, or stop in parking lots and on porches for extended chats. My counselor smiled gently and listened hard. My mother took the baby for a night when I was hysterical and running on four days of sleeplessness. My family planned a night away for all us grown-ups to celebrate my dad, and just be together.

I always struggled with needing people. Hated it, really. I believed if I needed things, then people couldn't, or wouldn't, love me. Such faithlessness... These last couple of weeks have converted me to humans.

I know we're still capable of terrible, horrendous, destructive evil. But, in our situation, Jason and I have been slathered in the simplest, most wholesome, selfless good. And, I found myself actively thinking of how to be transparent about our needs during this time. As we work to build real relationships with our friends, I wanted to tell them specifically how we craved their love and support. 

So, it's Ash Wednesday. As I prepared to speak the introduction to our service, I stumbled across a photo of me receiving the imposition of ashes last year. It dawned on me that my new faith experienced a sort of birth in those ashes. I felt the stirring of my need. Need for community. For love. For faith. For the Jesus I'm still learning about.

I also encountered beautiful reflections on what this holy day can mean from my brother (see below), mother, a local minister (see below), a distant priest, friends. It struck me that Ash Wednesday and Lent are inextricably connected to our humanity. Not in a shameful, or guilt-ridden way. Just an honest evaluation of what it means to be human. We are mortal. We are temporal. We are broken at times, and at times we do the breaking.  We need.

We need the receiving and giving of love.
We need the receiving and giving of forgiveness.
We need the receiving and giving of God's grace.

We spend so much time running from this humanity, covering it with impenetrable shields of religion, or defense mechanisms, knowledge, apathy. We deny our needs.

When we take on the ashes, we wear our shared humanity on our face. We wear our need on our face. We wear our imperfection on our face. We wear it together, each facing the acknowledged humanity of our God-family.

These last 2.5 weeks have been serious wind up for the brutal honesty of Ash Wednesday. I had to wear my humanity in full view. My need. My agony. My joy in being loved. My craving for hope and appropriate moans of sympathy and empathy from trusted friends. My confusion about the role of God in all these circumstances.

The grace, and forgiveness, and human depth all this taught me makes every single moment of struggle valuable. It turns out, in facing my humanity, my need, and being met with the loving, if imperfect humanity, of others, a whole lot of God showed up.  I'm still working out how that happens, and will probably write through the discovery process.

Also, I really like shoes anyway, and we have a pretty serious collection started...


Reflections on Ash Wednesday

My brother George:

"In the hubbub where the pitiful congregate" - Jeff Tweedy
One of my favorite songwriters (probably unintentionally) doing ecclesial theology. Ash Wednesday may be one of the more readily identifiable times that we have set aside to acknowledge that when we congregate, we do so as pitiful creatures. Strivings for wholeness and impenetrability burn away, leaving ashes and dust. O, the beautiful hubbub that ensues when we admit this together.

From Mike DeMoss, a Methodist pastor in my town:

Ever since I knelt before 10 year old Emily several years ago, she tracing a cross on my forehead with her ashen tinged finger and tender mercy, words like repentance, discipline, and renewal, now speak to me, in a deeply personal way, of a grace peculiar to Ash Wednesday. It is the grace of the possibility of a different direction, a new path, or perhaps, an old path recognized with new clarity. It is perhaps for this reason - the beckoning of that new way - the Ash Wednesday service is not among the most well attended. And yet...could it be possible that, as these ashes, still warm from this morning's burning of last year's palms, burn a mark on our hearts that will last long after the dust has settled?

My (abbreviated) intro to services tonight:
...And at the end of this solemn season of self-reflection and honesty we are faced with the ultimate hope: Our God is a God of life. Our God makes all things new and creates new paths. Resurrection is coming.

By participating in this season of Lent the sweetness, the joy found in the work of Jesus is all the more powerful.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Service: Loving with the Gloves Off

Our church is doing a series of guided discussions right now on 5 commitments of membership: Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service, Witness. I'm delivering the homily on Service, and guiding the conversation as all of us teach each other what that means for our community. Pretty cool really -- this wild, participatory style of church. We're working hard to elevate each discussion above simplistic lectures like "give more," or "pray more."

I'm unabashedly biased in believing my nursing experience is the highest practice of service, because it demanded providing dignity and respect in the lowliest of work. (I respect your right to believe your calling is the highest form of service. In fact, I hope you feel that!)

When I think about service, this story from my practice floods my mind inescapably.

I cared almost daily for a man very ill with AIDS, as well as a handful of other chronic, fatal diseases. On top of that, he had a couple antibiotic resistant infections. Going into his room required dressing head to toe in protective gear. He was dying. He couldn't accept that. He was gay. He and his family wouldn't talk about that. His illnesses were taking him down an excruciating path, toward an excruciating death, and he was not equipped to face and plan for that.

My job was to help deal with the symptoms I could ease, and facilitate conversations to help him plan. I had a clear agenda. I wanted to help him face his reality, and in that process, alleviate some of the coming suffering.

Shortly before the end, I went in for yet another visit. Garbed in a garish yellow gown and blue rubber gloves, and all the defenses necessary for my other patients, but that felt like brick walls between him and me, I sat beside his bed.

It's strange to me now that I don't remember what we talked about. I tried to discuss death with him. He shut that down emphatically. Perhaps we talked about his loneliness. I remember him becoming more and more emotional. And it became clear to me that he needed touch. Not safe, clinical touch. Human touch.

I removed my gloves and grabbed his left hand in both of mine. Skin to skin. And, he cried. He said, "I don't remember the last time someone touched my skin."


We sat in that moment for a long time. My agenda abandoned, and perhaps a bit of my clinical distance and superiority, too, I knew to leave this experience just where it was for both of us.

It was messy for me. Not just because of the diseases, or the tubes, or the particular thick and pungent humanity that coats long-term hospital patients. Because I wanted to take this guy from denial to life- and death-changing courage, and I knew our limited time frame. Service, in this instance meant shelving my agenda, and sitting very still. And coming back, despite fruitless attempts, and despite my brain twitching to steer the conversation down a "useful" path, over and over again. I had to let him teach me how to be his caregiver.

Service is ongoing. Messy. Demands presence. Demands you be aware of your humanity, and the humanity of the person you serve. Service requires humility. True service removes the barriers that keep us feeling safe and clean and separate from the humans we serve with, and for.

Post Script: After the rich, rich discussion with my church today, I want to add some of what they shared on Service. Two insights struck me most. The first associated courage with service. It takes deep courage to abandon agendas. Lost agendas mean lost control. Lost control means the neat lines making me server and you servee fade. It takes courage to subvert your human propensity to judge, and replace it with acceptance and forgiveness.

The second insight bluntly raised the spectre of suffering -- calling out our tendency to serve until the Other's suffering gets too close, too real, too implacable. At that point we pull away. The man above was dying, in pain and alone. Nothing could change that. And, as often happens, these circumstances perpetuated themselves. Because, most of us don't know how to sit in another's suffering, so we shy away, or become cheerful and soulless. We put on bright protective gear and pretend things are really better.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus removes his clothes, wraps himself in a towel and washes the well-traveled feet of the disciples. He took off the layers, and the one layer he added became the tool of his Service. He told them he meant this for a clear example of how to live. I can't even imagine how the world would change if we lived this bravely. But I know the moments that have changed me most started with removing the outer robes of pretense, or knowledge, or self-sufficiency. These actions deepened my experiences of serving AND being served.  

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Other Shoe

This week:
  • My daughter sustained a second degree burn on the back of her tiny hand
  • My husband was nearly laid off on Monday
  • My husband was clearly laid off on Wednesday
  • We sold the car I custom ordered after receiving my nursing license 10 years ago -- a bright blue, zippy MINI cooper -- in favor of a good work car for husband
  • I'm still pregnant
  • I'm kinda just waiting to see if there are any more of the proverbial "other shoe" left to drop
I started seeing a counselor again in December. I guess depression is something that will wave over me from time to time for the rest of my life. I couldn't stop crying, even with my wonderful daughter and husband, and hope for my future daughter (for what it's worth -- and I think honesty about these kinds of things is worth a LOT -- I also started taking medication for my depression again).

Today, I scheduled a special session with my counselor, just 15 minutes after my MINI drove away for the last time. It saves time if your eyes are already wet and swollen, and your nose red and raw by the time you even get to therapy...

She said something that struck me. She said, "as a person of faith, I imagine this time is particularly hard to understand."

And I had two revelations. One, I can no longer deny I'm a person of faith. This describes me. I'm a person of doubt still, too, but the two sides of me are often found cuddling on the couch, getting fresh and cozy.

Two, my new faith isn't in peril because of my circumstances. I found myself trying to explain that while I am a person of faith, I don't depend on my faith every day. I try to live my faith every day. I'm still working out the finer distinctions between these two, so bear with me (or don't -- they're your eyeballs and you can look away if you want), as I keep working through what I mean.

I told her that I want very much to live like Jesus every day. Every day in connection with divinity. Every day in connection with humanity. Every day in empathy, and passion, and compassion, and service, and mercy, and peace, and justice, and humility. You know, in love.

I don't depend on my faith to give me signs, or pave roads, or open doors, or make good things happen. So, I'm not angry with God, or less interested in my faith because I can't connect it to my circumstances in the same way I used to. The flip side of that is that I also don't have any belief that my faith obligates God to get us back to a comfortable/stable feeling life.

I'm really grateful for this bit of education on myself. I'm still a pregnant woman trying to build a home out of the house in the new town that we've only lived in for 2 months, and a pregnant woman trying to figure out how to make our harried lives work, and a pregnant woman who isn't sure where the resources are going to come from for that instinct to nest and make a fortified den, complete with warmth and food, for my cubs. All of which means, I might be angry with our circumstances, and definitely with players outside our den who brought this moment around. And, I'm ridiculously, embarrassingly sad to say goodbye to that damn car. And, I'm insecure, and desperately craving stability.

But, these insecurities are no longer tied to my concept of God. I'm still carrying my doubts. Clinging fast to my faith in God as discovered through Jesus.

A friend, struggling to define if and what he believes, recently said, "I know I have faith in community." Beautiful, beautiful.

I have faith in us, to do the work needed to provide for our family.

I have faith in our communities (of faith, of family), to carry us, if we can't do the carrying.

I have faith in Jesus, to keep showing me how to live everyday.  
Last pic of MINI and me: FWIW, the smile is fake.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Intimacy of Shared Grieving: a flawed prayer for our nation

I'm an unabashed fan of Facebook. I love it for all the most vapid reasons. Post those pictures of your babies. I drool over them. Tell me about the ice cream you ate that changed your day. I'm happy for you. Through this medium, I get a little pleasure from other people's little pleasures, and who doesn't need a little extra pleasure in life?

For my friends who hate social media, or angrily cave to participating in it, I've been less than sympathetic. I love the connection. I carefully "unfollow" (though not "unfriend") people who fill my feed with ugly pictures of abortions, or angry words against entire people groups and/or political persuasions, or glowing pictures of Mary Fallin. I've been politically apolitical, and resolutely fluffy in this singular venue.

I can't do that right now. There is a town, not very far from my own, in flames, emotionally and literally. This one town is just the spotlight on a national problem with fear, distrust, marginalization, and misconstrued power.

A boy is dead. A man, who I choose to assume became an officer because of the best instincts to serve and protect, is under a cloud of suspicion and threat. An entire community grieves and points to yet another young person lost.

This town is not an isolated town, with an isolated story. People are not angry about one death, but many.

Who am I to write about Ferguson? How am I to grieve with my black brothers and sisters? I don't have pithy answers for those questions. Maybe that's a good thing. Because right now, every time I see someone post something on social media, secure in their rightness, it deconstructs relationships and devolves into bitter back and forths.

I stayed silent because I feared speaking wrongly, even with the best intentions. And, I worried about getting involved in the kind of mutual ranting that ensures dialogue and compassion and empathy never see the light of day. But, every time I go to my Facebook to post a funny anecdote, or say the silly things I love saying there, my heart bleeds afresh for our nation and its problems of power inequities, distrust, and misunderstanding.

So, I'm sharing my grief, sorrow, confusion, misplaced desires, and mutual brokenness here. I believe that even if I do it poorly, I want to try, and should try, to communicate the emotions I share with so many, and my belief in my black kinfolk when they tell me that life here is still far from fair and safe.

I don't have a nice, clean ending for this post. I don't have a "right" side to represent, or a solution to promote, or any sort of resolution to offer. I just have this ball of emotions:

A flawed desire to brush it all aside, and get back to not having to face the reality of systemic errors and even violence perpetuated against minorities.

Uncertainty about the facts of this one case -- but certainty that regardless, this situation is inextricably tied to too many other cases.

Agony for the Brown family. And, sadness for the fear the Wilson family must surely live under.

Sorrow for the business owners of Ferguson.

Anger at the destruction of violent words and violent actions and violent shootings.

Fear that hard-working officers will become so embattled they take defensive postures, and lose the kind of sensitivity that sets them apart -- or that even if they don't, the public will refuse to recognize them as who they are.

Worry about trying to even communicate that I'm sorry this happens, and sorry it happens in such great numbers.

Concern over my own complacency in my position and privilege.

Grief at the brokenness of our environment, and the gaps between our communities.

This is my prayer: May we hold loosely our opinions, shed entirely our need to be right, and cling tightly to a willingness to truly listen to people who experience life differently. May we put away our broad paintbrushes, and the instinct to make entire communities, or public servants, or age groups, or any other distinguishing characteristic monochromatic. May we fight the urge to extinguish pain, and open ourselves to understanding and experiencing the grief of others. In the intimacy of shared grief, may we diminish the gaps between us.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Thinning Veil

This week's lectionary reading for All Saints Day took us to 1 John 3:1-3. This is the written version of the sermon I delivered on that text. There will be a video. Maybe.

Sermon from 1 John 3:1-3
I’ve been present to many deaths. I’ve always found it a profoundly earthy, human experience. While many have, I’ve never witnessed a mystical event at death. Despite this grounded view, I still sense that in the moments that surround dying the boundaries between past, present, and future, between life and death and hope, seem paper thin. Witnesses to the death also bear witness to the life. They grieve their present loss. And many times, speak of hope for reunification. This heaving, unsettling change forces us to confront the interweaving of realities we often keep separate.

This weekend we celebrated All Saints, day a trio of days – All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day –  to commemorate those who died, and celebrate their influence on us in our present faith. As a nurse who cared for the dying – in a society that largely ignores death, and has no social language for grieving and shared grief – I appreciate a time devoted to focusing on more than just the physical, present realm. We honor the saints who brought us to our present, grieve the loss of ones who impacted our lives, and look forward to meeting with them.

One poet I read refers to these holy days as a thin space, where barriers and boundaries between present, past, and future become less perceptible. I call it a thinning of the veil. Apostle Paul refers to it as seeing through a glass darkly. We get a sense of the connectedness of our past, present, and future, but the connection is mysterious, and the future only hinted at.

It feels like John also talks about this thinning of the veil of time and reality. In fact, John wrote this book in order to combat the kind of hyper-compartmentalized thinking that caused people to claim Jesus was simply a spirit (a heresy called Docetism). John calls up a much richer view and loops in and out of the present, past, and future.

A closer look at the passage:
3:1 God’s love is lavished on us (NIV). That word lavished sounds like a sloppy, slathering kind of love -- not a metered unit of love per recipient. This past, present, and future love establishes our identity as Children of God. Though we’ve found this identity, we haven’t found home – the world doesn’t recognize us yet.
3:2 We’re promised a mystery. Even the disciple Jesus loved dearly didn’t dare specify what happens on the other side of the veil. He just knows we’ll arrive at the completion of this transformation to Christ-likeness we’ve been working on all along.
3:3 This gives us present hope. And, this hope causes us to participate in our purification.

This idea of a thinning of the veil captured me from the first reading. We create a false dichotomy that prioritizes and separates this world or the next. Ever heard the phrase, she’s so heavenly minded she’s no earthly good? Some entirely lose the value of this gift of creation, its potential, its hope for redemption; and live only with a construct of heaven in mind. I used to live this way. This life was only about getting to the next. But lately, my problem has been different, and possibly less creative. I get so wrapped up in this time/space/reality, in the physical realm, the here and now, I have no use or time for some mysterious future.

John thins the veil between these realities and asks us to hold in tension a past predicated on God’s love, a current identity as God’s children, and a mysterious future transformation to God’s likeness. He implies that holding this tension brings the believer to desire and participate in purification.

We are faced with a paradox. We are already and we are not yet. We are God’s children. We have yet another transformation to come. We constantly live in this thin space of tension.  I find it a very hopeful, if difficult place to hold.

“As Christians caught between realities, we need to accept that in this state there will be creativity and new ways of being. We need to remain open to this reality and allow it to move within our lives and transform our beings.” (Grace Ji-Sun Kim)

I love the focus on creativity and new ways of being. Tension often does produce creation, and in this case, the very tension works toward our transformation into Christlikeness.

We live multiple experiences of Already/Not Yet – day-to-day situations that heighten our awareness of the thin veil between our reality and our future. Think of the immigrant who left one land for another, but hasn’t yet arrived at home. They live in between identities and societies and modes of living. Sometimes out of this great risk and tension creation emerges – good food, beautiful art, new relationships.

In times of great transition, like marriage, divorce, or parenthood, we face already/not yet. When I became pregnant I was immediately a mother, but had no idea what being a parent meant. This identity is always becoming and evolving and transforming me. Out of that great risk and tension a new life emerges and a new family is grown.

Times of great risk, that cause us to want to run to our false dichotomies, and reinforce the barriers between realities, have the most potential for creation and new life.

Here’s why I think this imagery of the thinning veil moves me so. Without it, I wouldn’t have come back to faith. The rational world I immersed myself in left me dry. It didn’t feel like I was living the whole human experience. And, according to Christian teaching, I wasn’t. In Christian teaching, this paradox IS our truth.

We are pure, and in need of purification.
We are God’s children, but on a journey to take on God’s likeness.
We are unique individuals, but part of a corpus, a body of other individuals, a whole and a part.
We are living constantly in a physical realm and a spiritual realm, between life and death.
We are chosen, and we choose.
We live, to die, to live again.
Our God came to be like us, so we could become like our God.
Here’s the crux of it. In this tension, we are becoming more like Jesus, and somehow, becoming most our true selves.

The work of living in the thinning veil is part of the transformation into Christlikeness. When we focused on the greatest commandments, to love God, and love others, I prayed we would be transformed to love as Jesus did. Living in the tension is that work. We begin to sense, as he did, Spirit moving on earth. We see Kingdom come and to come. We trust God more, and find open, liberating faith. We see the broken world as he did, headed toward redemption.

As we transform, we desire to participate in purification. We burrow into the community of faith. We pray. We study God’s word.

The Spirit uses these spiritual disciplines to purify us. We cannot purify ourselves. In holy community we are made holy – Wesley says “No religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness.” In prayer we face a great mystery. My rational world kept me from engaging in this paradox of prayer, but as my faith has grown, I can’t help but prophesy, and preach, and pray and share. Prayer focuses my attention on the Jesus I want to be like. When we study God’s word, we can begin to see all scripture through the interpretive lens of Jesus.

Our identity is an affirmation of the love God lavishes on us. John enthusiastically exclaims that God named us God’s children, just as in the gospels God proclaimed Jesus, “my son, in whom I am well pleased.” Think of the power Jesus expressed as God’s son. We are similarly empowered to join with Jesus in seeking justice, in creating, in sacrificially loving, in building relationships that transform our community and our world. As we are transformed, our world is transformed. This place that does not recognize is, that is not our home, is being redeemed through us.

When you participate in Communion, the veil is thin between your person and Christ’s person. Between you the individual, and us the present body of Christ. Between all of us, and the saints who came before us.

This week, when you love someone who votes on the other side of the ballot – I mean the kind of messy, sloppy, set you at the table, give you pumpkin pancakes and pumpkin beer and make you family kind of love God lavishes on us -- the veil is thin.

When you hold your sick baby, and your heart seems to ache with the flow of compassion and tenderness you never knew you were capable of, you are being Jesus.

When you grieve the loss of someone who died, leaving a gaping hole in your world, the veil is thin.

When you give sacrificially to your church, or a needy person, or a friend in pain, or forgive someone who hurt you, you actively transform your world.

When you listen intently to someone at work, you are holy.

When you create art that reveals the beauty of our reality, you cooperate in the holy spirit’s purification of you. 

The reality is that the veil is always, and was always thin. Every space is a holy space. Every moment a holy moment. Living in the awareness of that – not out of a sense of obligation to be perfect every second, but rather aware the Spirit of God is constantly working that out – causes us to be more invested in living the love of Christ. As we do, we become ever more like him.

In the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Prayer for Unifying Love

This week's lectionary reading included the Greatest Commandment -- to love God with my whole self, and to love my neighbor as I love myself. I meditated on these words of Jesus all week, trying to craft my opening prayer for our church service, and trying to piece together what this means for how I live.

What strikes me is this climate of fear and anger we live in. Angry words sell advertising. Simplistic and violent views make for popular blog posts. People think a Facebook rant is meaningful in any way, or a meme will make a difference.

We do have many fearful things in our world. Ebola. ISIS. Economical distress. Genocide. Rape. Schisms and 'isms' of all kinds. But we personalize these things. We pick a person, or groups of persons, as reservoirs for our fears, and become activists against those persons. We attempt to control our fear by making ourselves feel powerful.

Jesus lived in a time of great chaos too -- in a land under the thumb of far away governments, locally controlled by tyrants. The people around him held lengthy, intense debates -- quiveling over details, and even violently disagreeing with each other. They seized as desperately at control as any Twitter pundit, or talk radio personality. Here in Matthew, they try to trip Jesus up, as a threat to their rhythms and patterns. Keep in mind, these same religious people will engage in Jesus' murder in a week (an indictment of our own propensity to elevate the importance of religion over people).

Jesus, even while experiencing human fear about his approaching death, won't engage in the religious power plays. In quiet, simple terms, he brings back all the law, all the prophets, all of existence to this: love God, love others.

In that spirit, and mindful of this angry, destructive climate, I wrote this prayer:

We confess that in our fear for survival we choose positions, words, and behaviors of power, anger, violence, self-righteous judgment, and war -- creating discord and disunity and debate, and distancing ourselves from our fellow creatures.

We acknowledge and aspire to the example of Jesus, who even in the midst of great fear, here at the beginning of Holy Week, chose to live, and ultimately die, in a deep-rooted -- a radical -- love. A love of self-giving, of self-sacrifice. A love that welcomed all -- ALL -- to know and love God and each other, even as it tore down false religion. A love that sows words and behaviors of peace and connectedness between creatures.

As we contemplate what it means to love you with body, spirit, and mind, and to both be a neighbor and love our neighbors, give us the courage to do it as Jesus did. May this radical love set us apart in the world. May we live it in this space, and may we carry it out and bring restoration to all your creation.

We love you. Amen.

Note: I believe how we talk and think about God are very important. And, lovingly engaging each other in dialogue about where we see things similarly, differently, and incorrectly is critical. The tricky thing is avoiding the tendency to begin to vilify persons and lose communion. Theological discussion that doesn't revolve around the greatest commandment -- as foundation, as action, as binding thread -- can be a violent thing, indeed. May we love lavishly, lose a few rounds, and ultimately truly experience being knit together.