Sunday, July 29, 2018

Doing what we can

Mark 6:30-44

Sometimes things seem overwhelming.  Sometimes we become so used to relying on other people that we don’t see the options until we are forced to be in a leadership position.  We don’t know our strength and our gifts until they are called on.  We sometimes take the easy way out and don’t even see options unless we are the only ones who can.

I remember a time when my youngest child, Aislynn was just a baby of about 6 months old, Jonah, my son was 2 and my eldest daughter was 5.  I would not have been winning any parenting awards on that day, and at one point I even considered shipping off at least one of my lovely three children to someone who I knew would be much better capable of managing what I came to think of as my own personal monkey cage.  I had to come expect help from my husband on Fridays, but this particular Friday I was completely on my own all day.  The kids had been in rare form; all demanding things in temper tantrum format all afternoon.  By 7:00 I was a stressed out mess.  With Aislynn in a bouncy chair, and Jasmyn in the shower, I was trying to get Jonah dressed for bed.  But when I tried to put his pajama top over his head I was greeted with yet another temper tantrum.  He would not tell me what he wanted, but instead ripped the shirt off and started to scream at the top of his lungs.  At that moment, Jasmyn called me to help her wash her hair and Aislynn decided this was the perfect moment to put in her two cents as well and she started crying like there was no tomorrow.  I explained to Jonah that if he was going to fight me I couldn’t help him, I left him in his room, went and picked up Aislynn who continued to scream, took her into the bathroom with me to help Jasmyn with her hair and tried to take a deep breath.  When Jonah came running into the bathroom after me, it was all I could do to not snap his head off with a “What is it now, Jonah?” But instead of crying, or screaming, my two year old boy walked up to me, wrapped his arms around my legs and with a look of deep compassion said very simply, “I’m sorry I was fighting with you, Mama.”  In that moment I saw him again - my little, caring, sweet boy who needed my attention, who needed my love.  Yes, I could give it.  I had reserves that I didn’t even know I had just for him just for then. 

Still, that was one day.  For the last 6 years, as you know, I’ve been the single mom of these three children every day.  And not only do I manage to have the energy to do it, but I usually enjoy my time with my kids and even manage to laugh and play with them regularly.  I didn’t know I could.  But we can often do more than we think we can.

After I graduated from seminary, I interviewed with a church in AZ to become their associate pastor.  A member of the nominating committee, as well as their senior pastor, came up to meet me and spend some time with me to see if it would be a good fit.  They were planning to spend the night at the seminary and had made arrangements to do so, but when they got to their room, they discovered that the door was locked and they could not get in.  I think before this situation had arisen, I probably would have been one of the people made helpless by this.  “What are we going to do?  The office is closed.  There won’t be anyone there.  It’s late at night.  I can’t wake anyone up.  What are we going to do?”  But I was in the midst of an interview.  And somehow I knew that this un-premeditated test was going to either make or break the interview for me.  So I took a breath and did some quick thinking.  I was house sitting at the time at a home with no extra bedrooms.  But I thought of the student who I knew worked in the housing office and who might be able to help us.  This was pre-cell phone days and I didn’t have his phone number, but I did know where he lived.  So we walked over to his house, found he was not yet asleep and that he could help us, and together we were able to settle the two men into their dorm rooms.  I was offered the job.  But more than that, I learned that day that I could do more than I thought I could.

In the movie, “The Family Man,” the main character, Jack was given the opportunity to see what his life would have been if he had chosen a different path at a critical juncture.  At one point he met the man who in his real life worked under Jack and who, in this glimpse of a life that might have been, was now the boss.  What Jack found was that the same man, in different positions, with different levels of authority, behaved very differently, acted very differently, held himself differently.  When he was the boss, he was powerful and could make decisions and saw things clearly.  But when he was second in command, he was not capable of making decisions, but deferred to Jack in everything, at times even whining with a “what are we going to do?” kind of behavior of helplessness.

            What are we capable of?  What are we really made of?  What can we do if we have to, if we are forced to, if we must?

All of these situations remind me of the disciples response to the situation described in today’s gospel lesson.  The disciples don’t know what to do with all these hungry people and they can’t seem to think on their own.  They want Jesus to fix it.  They want Jesus to send everyone away so they won’t have to deal with them.  But Jesus challenges them to think and to take charge.  “No,” he says, “you feed them.”  But still, they don’t want to take on this leadership role, they don’t want to think, they don’t want to use the gifts God has given them.  So at that point they become whiney, “But we only have 5 loaves and 2 fish!” they protest.  They choose not to think for themselves, or to act in this situation.   I can just imagine Jesus giving a heavy sigh of frustration as he takes the food from them.  He does his miracle.  He shows them a different way of being, one that involves trusting God to provide and “acting as if” until the things that are needed become more than just something to be hoped for, but actual realities.  He shows them that their faith is stronger than they can imagine, and their abilities to rise to any occasion are deeper than they know. 

But do they get it?  Do they then become the people God calls them to be, or do they just continue to look to Jesus to always fix it for them and make things better and stronger?  They continue to rely on Jesus until Jesus is finally gone.  But they have him as a model and when he does leave them, they finally do find their strength and are able to continue to serve God and proclaim Jesus’ Good News to all the people, despite personal danger, despite their human weaknesses. 

            We are called, like the disciples, like all of God’s people, to be the best, most whole, most faithful and most God-led people we can be.  We are called to feed God’s people and to heal God’s people and to tell the good news of God’s love and grace. We are called to stand up for the poor, the oppressed, the displaced: to stand up for them and make a better life for them. But we get stuck in our “I can’t” thinking, and this is dangerous for all of us.  It is also unfaithful. 

            Hildegaard de Bingen once said: “A divine voice spoke to me, saying, ‘How fragile you are, Human, made of dust and grime, but I am the living Light.  I make the darkness day, and I have chosen you to see great wonders, though I have humbled you on earth.  You are often depressed and timid, and insecure.  Because you are conscientious, you feel guilty, and chronic physical pain has thoroughly scarred you.  But the deep mysteries of God have saturated you, too, and so has humility.’  When I heard the Voice, I began trying to live a godly life.  The path became difficult as I questioned myself again, saying, ‘This is pointless.’  I wanted to soar. I dreamed impossible dreams and started projects I could never finish.  I became dejected, so I sat and did nothing.  My self-doubt is my greatest disobedience.  It makes me miserable, and I struggle with this cross daily.  But God is by my side, reminding me that he created me.  So, even in the middle of my depression, I walk with wise patience over the marrow and blood of my body.  I am the lion defending itself from a snake, roaring and knocking it back into its hole.  I will never let myself give in to the devil's arrows.”

            Marianne Williamson said it this way, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

            God calls us to be whole, and to serve out of the gifts we are given.  Let us strive to follow God to the fullest that we might be the most whole People God calls us to be. 

            I want to end today by sharing with you a prayer called the Knots prayer:

            The Knots Prayer

Dear God, please untie the knots that are in my mind,

My heart and my life.

Remove the have nots,

The can nots and the do nots

That I have in my mind.

Erase the will nots,

May nots,

Might nots that may find

A home in my heart.

Release me from the could nots,

Would nots and

Should nots that obstruct my life.

And most of all,

Dear God,

I ask that you remove from my mind,

My heart and my life all of the “am nots”

That I have allowed to hold me back,

Especially the thought

That I am not good enough.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Frailty of Life

     As I described in an earlier post, my family and I were almost in a full head-on collision with a truck, both vehicles moving around 55 miles an hour towards each other.  That would have been a death sentence.  I returned feeling that I had survived a near miss, but I didn't think too much more about it.  Then later in the week after we returned, I received a phone call about a woman whose adult son (in his late 30s) was scuba diving and something went wrong and he died.  Again, later that same week I heard about a family that we have supported through CCIH and Winter Nights who WAS in a head on collision in which two of the family members were killed: a 13 year old boy and a 20 year old young man. Their mother has been struggling for years, was finally getting their lives together and then this happened.  Her life will never be the same.  The loss is overwhelming.  And I know that, were I in her position, I would wonder what all the struggle to get their lives together, to make something better for all of them had, in the end, been for.
     My kids and I were fine.  My parents, who were driving in the car behind us, were fine.  But I feel like the combination of the near hit, along with the actual horrific and great losses to others call me to remember that life is fragile, that everything can change in the blink of an eye.  All we have, really, is now.  This moment.  This minute in which we live and breathe and write and sing: that we hug our children, and really look into their eyes, that we offer a prayer for someone we love or make that phone call to the friend from way-back-when: these are all that we have, and these are the things that matter.  They are fleeting, they are momentary, they are precious.  We do not know what will happen tomorrow or even later on today.
        Where does that leave us?  Well, it leaves me with two different urgencies.  The first is to pay attention and appreciate each moment that we are given.  We never know when it will be our last.  What in this moment, right now, is beautiful?  Even in the hard moments, what is beautiful and worth gratitude?  There is so much that we have; air to breathe, feet that walk, ears that hear, eyes that see, family, friends, foods, music, art, LIFE.  Taking the time to notice, to send up thanks, to simply BE with what is; this is deeply worth the time and energy it may take. Life goes fast.  Take time to be in your life.
      The second urgency for me is, once again, the question of what mark I want to leave with my life.  We have a very limited time to leave a mark.  What do we want to do?  Who do we want to be?  What legacy do we want to leave?  This isn't about the work I do. I think it used to be: what do I want to have accomplished with my time here?  But it has changed in the last year or so. For me this has now become more about how I want to walk through each day, what I want to do with each encounter, who I want to be with the world, with the universe, with my community and with all I encounter.  I want to walk with kindness, compassion, being fully present with each person who is before me in each moment.  I want to be empowering, encouraging, bridge-building.  I want to exude grace, compassion, empathy.  I want to be with people, even the difficult people, in a way that leaves them feeling better for having that time with me.  I want to help change the world into a more united, loving, caring place.  I don't have forever to do this, so I need to do it now, and with every opportunity I am given.
     The recognition that life goes fast is a gift.  But, as with every gift, it calls for a response.  My response is to choose to be more present in my life: both being more fully who I am and being more grateful for the amazing gift of life.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Christmas in July: Christmas as News

Luke 2:1-40

             We come again to our Christmas in July celebration.  For those who have not experienced Christmas in July before, we do this because Christmas in December has frankly become extremely commercialized.  Christmas in July is a way of actually focusing on the story of Jesus birth as a baby, helpless, innocent, poor, a refugee, displaced; not born in the way we expect or in the way we would WANT a lord, a king, a leader to be born, but in the worst of circumstances to the most unexpected people. 

             I found myself reflecting on an article by Krista Tippett entitled, Why I don’t do Christmas.

             We do Christmas in July as a way to avoid many of the issues that she mentioned in her article.  But still the question could be asked, what makes this new or news for us today?  How does this apply to us?  So today I extended the Christmas story to include the part about Simeon and Anna, and I want to talk about this a bit with you this morning.

               Both Anna and Simeon, in seeing Jesus, declare they have seen the face of God.  Simeon then asks God to release him: to let him go.  He is done, he has fulfilled what he wanted in this life and can go now in peace because he has seen God in person.  This is the event he had been waiting for in order for his life to feel complete, whole.  And now that it has happened, that he has encountered and met the Christ in person, he can let go of life, and move “home”. 

What about for us?  When we hear the story of Christmas at its normal time, in December, when we have gone through Advent, when the parties have all taken place and the gifts have all been given and opened, when the decorations are put away and we can “get on with normal life” are we then satisfied with having experienced Christmas?  Are we ready to be dismissed in peace as soon as we celebrate the birth of Christ?  At what point do we say that we are satisfied, or filled in our life, that God has given us what we came here for, or we have done what we were meant to do, and that we are ready to “go home” or to rest, or to be at peace?

               I am reminded of an Ann Weems Poem: It’s Not Over

"It is not over,

this birthing.

There are always newer skies

into which

God can throw stars.

When we begin to think

that we can predict the Advent of God,

that we can box the Christ

in a stable in Bethlehem,

that's just the time

that God will be born

in a place we can't imagine and won't believe.

Those who wait for God

watch with their hearts and not their eyes,


always listening

for angel words."

We have our seasons and they are important.  We move from a waiting on God’s coming, waiting on the birth, to a celebration of the birth.  Then we move into a memory of the baptism of Jesus as we celebrate our own baptisms.  We go into lent, a time of internal reflection, of repentance, of recommitment to God.  Then we enter Holy week, the passion narrative and finally Easter with its celebration of the resurrection and all that that means for us.  All of these seasons, these memories are important.  We go through the church calendar as a way to remember and to live out all of these very important pieces of our faith journey. 

But in the midst of all of these liturgical pieces, I sometimes feel that I fail to carry with me throughout the year the deep message of Christmas – of Emmanuel, of “God with us” in a tangible, human, and humble way.  This is a message I need all year round – that God is not just above us, wiser and more expansive, loving and caring.  That God is not just in the wind and breath of the Spirit, moving within us and around us, in thoughts and in feelings, in deep sighs and in strong inclinations.  But God is also with us as one of us, coming first as a fragile child, and then as one who has experienced all the pain the world can hand out, as well as joy, breath, friends, family, community, eating, drinking, BEing in this world. 

One of my favorite movies, and one we’ve shown here for our Faith and Film night is Steve Martin’s Leap of Faith.  Steve Martin plays a revivalist, Jonas, in this movie.  In one scene Jonah has just told those who have come to one of his revivals – an entire tent full of hopeful, searching, hurting people that that he was born in Appalachia, born with a caul about his face, which has given him a “second sight” or ability to see into other human souls.  Jonas had declared himself to be a very special and unique individual.  His nemesis Will (played by Liam Neeson), was a police officer who believed Jonas to be a con artist.  Will showed up at the revival to confront him.   He started by challenging the very story that Jonas told about himself.   Will had done his research. And he announced to the crowd that Jonas was not who he said he was. Officer Will had discovered that in fact Jonas was born in the Bronx, not in Appalachia; that he did not attend church, as he had claimed, and that he did not know his mother, as he had claimed, but had instead grown up in an orphanage.  Will then went on to say that Jonas ran away from that orphanage at age 15 and began a life of crime: stealing cars, shoplifting, taking drugs.  Jonas had also sold fraudulent art works and passed bad checks.  Will ended his rant by saying that Will was obviously not a man of God. 

But what I then found most interesting in the movie is that Jonas was able to turn this around.  He pointed out that what Will said about him was in fact true.  But that who would it be better to listen to?  A person who had done nothing but had always been a saint?  Or a person who, in fact, had really lived, had done wrong, had “walked with Satan” as he himself said, but then was turned around by his faith?  As he said, “if you want to give up sin, who can lead you off that crooked road? Only a sinner of such monumental proportions that all your sins wrapped up in one couldn’t possibly equal the sins of this king of sin! Because as you know, if he can walk that righteous path, If he can go from grit to grace, from sin to sanctity, from lowliness to holiness, then you, with all your everyday sin, can rise up like an angel and ride that golden elevator to God’s own penthouse in the sky!”  And what was interesting is that despite the fact that he had lied to the people, they liked him better, respected him more, gave to him more, for having heard this story of his past, for being human, for being real, for being able, as he claimed, to turn himself around because of God’s grace.

I have to say that I can understand at some level what the character of Jonas experienced in this breaking down of the false image of himself.  Of course we all want to look our best.  But there is a price for it.  From my own personal experience, when I am with a group of people who know what I do for a living, if anyone swears or expresses a foul or judgmental thought, they inevitably look at me and apologize.  People are on guard around me when they believe that my life is somehow more holy – a belief they base on nothing other than my profession.  However, when people come to know some of our family’s history, some of the struggles and tragedies that we have faced, people relate to me differently.  After our family went through such a huge and public crisis in Ohio, my parishioners there opened up to me in a very different way, sharing their own life experiences at a much deeper level.  They saw, first hand, that I could understand their pain because they knew I had suffered my own.

I did not share with you the story from Leap of Faith because I believe that Jonas and Jesus have anything in common, except their humanity.  But what I am trying to say is that humans need others with whom they can relate, who can understand them and their struggles.  Jonas’ congregation, instead of rejecting him because of his past, embraced him even more fully when they knew he had a human background, that he could relate to their suffering and struggle.  We find value in having someone who understands us that we can talk to, and be with.  Jesus, coming to us as a baby, to a poor family, in a humble situation, was God vulnerable and God able to relate to us.  That is the value of God incarnate.  We are not alone, we are not alienated, we are not travelling our journeys here in this life with a God who can’t understand what it is to be human, to be lonely at times, vulnerable at times, to suffer, to struggle and fear and hope and pray.  We need that.

We need to remember, all year round, that God is not so distant as to fail to understand what we experience, that God is not so omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, omni…whatever to fail to be with us or to fail to know what we experience.  The wonderful message of “God with us” is a message we need not only at Christmas, but daily.

For this reason I keep a nativity up all year round in my office.  I need that reminder, I need the visual sign of God with us.  And my invitation to all of you is also to keep out some reminder of “God with us” this year.  I’m not recommending you put up all your Christmas decorations for the whole year, but rather than you put out some small reminder of God’s presence here as a vulnerable one of us, a human born in struggle and challenge.

For Simeon, meeting Jesus was what he needed to make his life complete.  For the rest of us, we continue past Christmas, living, moving towards whatever it is that that will bring wholeness, shalom for us until the time we can go home, too.  As we walk that journey, may we continue to carry “God with us”, this year, this day and every day.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

More on learning to let go

            A long ago time ago in the hills of Quong Zu province, there once lived a revered old monk who was a master of Zen Buddhism. One day he decided that he would make a pilgrimage to a neighboring monastery, and not wishing to make the journey alone, he decided to take along one of his young disciples. They started their journey early the next morning and in the true spirit of Zen each walked along engrossed in his own thoughts, and so they journeyed for many hours without speaking. By mid-day they had come to a small stream and it was here that they noticed a young girl dressed in fine silk, obviously contemplating how best to cross the stream without getting her precious clothes wet. Immediately the old monk walked over to the young girl and in one smooth motion, he picked her up in his arms and walked out into the stream, then after carrying her safely to the other side, he gently put her down and walked on without having said a single word. His disciple having watched this whole incident was in a state of complete shock, for he knew it was strictly forbidden for a monk to come into physical contact with another person. Quickly, he too crossed the stream, and then ran to catch up with his master, and together they once again walked on in silence. Finally at sunset they made camp and settled down for the night. The next morning after prayers and meditation the old monk and his disciple once again continued their journey in silence. After many miles, and no longer able to contain his anxiety, the disciple called to his master and said, "Master may I ask you a question?"
         "Of course, you may" his master replied, "knowledge comes to those who seek it."
         Respectfully his disciple said, "yesterday I saw you break one of our most sacred vows when you picked up that young girl and carried her across the stream. How could you do such a thing?"
        His master replied, "That is true, and you are right it is something I should not have done, but you are as guilty as I am."
        "How so?" asked his disciple, "For it was you who carried her across the stream, not I."
         "I know," replied his master, "but on the other side I put her down. You, however, are obviously still carrying her."

       I shared that story in my sermon on Sunday.  I share it again because it has been a story that I have been carrying in my heart and mind for the last few weeks as I've been struggling to put some things down.  As I said on Sunday, the feelings we carry are calling us to pay attention.  We are called to walk through, not around, those feelings, memories, and experiences to work them through.  But, as I also said on Sunday, there are other things that haunt us that we cannot do anything about.  Those things usually involve the behaviors of other people.  There still may be some inner work that needs to be done around those experiences.  But when we carry anger, hate, thoughts of revenge, or even just pain because of memories of things other people have done to us, we are continuing to carry a burden that is only injuring us with its weight and pain.
      I write this from a place of struggling to let certain things go.  But I have found myself reflecting on this story often as I have strived to put down those people I am carrying whose weight is simply hurting me.  I think about the man we met in Canada who was simply attacking and unkind.  I am certain that was just his MO.  He has probably never given us one thought since he was hurtful towards us.  But I have continued to carry him, as I've found myself remembering, trying to imagine how I might have better answered his comments, how I might have stood up for myself, how I might have been stronger in the face of his attack.  He was mean for a minute.  But I have continued to carry him for weeks, and in doing so, I have allowed him to do so much more damage. I have given him power over me, a power to harm, that goes beyond even what the meanest person might intend.
      Likewise I often have a hard time putting down anonymous, unkind comments on social media.  Anonymity allows the writers to be much more mean-spirited than they would be if there was any accountability. But these are just people saying stuff because they can. I should not carry them farther than that.  Yet I do. I have a hard time putting them down, as it were, on the other side of reading through them.
     I wonder why these things affect me so much.  My family went through a huge public humiliation and many have told me that since I came through that storm of judgment and condemnation, I must now be stronger and more able to handle judgments and criticism.  But in fact the opposite is true.  These comments affect me much more than they used to.  For me, my reaction to their comments feels more like what Yann Martel wrote in The Life of Pi, "When you’ve suffered a great deal in life, each additional pain is both unbearable and trifling." (2001.  Knopf Canada: Canada).
     I have the awareness that the anonymous words, these unkindnesses are trifling.  I have the objectivity to understand that any comment reflects so much more on the speaker/writer than on the recipient of those comments.  I am aware of how little and unimportant these attacks on others are. I can have pity and sometimes compassion for those who waste their time in anger at strangers, in spite towards people they don't know and will never understand.  And at the same time, those unkindnesses are unbearable to me. They mark for me another indication that there is a subgroup of humanity that is cruel and thoughtless, that many are so filled with anger that kindnesses do not pass their lips, or infuse their beings. It hurts my heart to know this.  At a personal level, I feel others' barbs as physical thorns poking into an already bruised and sore skin. And in that way, too, it feels unbearable.
     After writing the above, I found an article that discussed a gene that some people have that simply makes them more sensitive to pain, both emotionally and physically.  It was helpful to read that some people are just built in a way that makes us much more sensitive, but it also caused me to think about others I know who also struggle to let go of pain.  One of my children is extremely sensitive in this way.  But I like this about them.  I value this in others, that caring and awareness and sensitivity.  It doesn't feel good to my child.  But I love that their heart is open, compassionate, and kind.
    Of course, there are several lessons here. The first, obviously, is that it is becoming clearer to me that social media is not a good place for me to spend time. Publishing things in places where strangers can make nasty comments is not healthy for the person that I am. I wish I were someone who was not affected in this way, but I am.  I am a person who is injured by these things, so choosing intentionally to not put myself in those situations where harm is the norm rather than the exception is a wise choice.
   Second, I continue to work on the images of putting down the girl on the far side of the river, of no longer needing to carry a burden that is not mine.
   Third, it calls me to continue to be more careful and thoughtful with my own words, to seek to avoid being another barb or thorn for someone else.
    Fourth, the article I read about sensitive people emphasized (again) that aerobic exercise is a helpful way to boost one's ability to cope with pain. (Interestingly the author also said that laughter and chocolate are helpful.  Imagine that?)
    And finally, it reminds me again that forgiveness is for ourselves: we are called to wipe clean the slates of others so that we are not carrying them in our hearts.  I strive to forgive myself in this as well.  Not easy, and still, what we are called to do.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Sunday's Sermon - Haunted

2 Sam. 6:1-5, 12b-19

Mark 6:14-29

Herod had beheaded John the Baptist.  He had reasons for doing it, and may at some level have felt justified in his actions.  John had been critical of Herod for marrying his brother’s wife.  And so Herod had already put John in jail.  But Herod also respected John and feared John.  At some level he recognized the truth of what John had said, recognized that John was a man of God, just speaking God’s truth.  Herod had John arrested, and yet he liked to listen to John.  Herod felt touched by John’s words, even though he didn’t understand them.  But eventually, Herod was persuaded by Herodias’ daughter to have John beheaded.  And so, while Herod had his own reasons as well for wanting John gone, and while he could now put blame on someone else for pushing him to finally make the decision to have John beheaded, still, Herod knew in his heart that John was a man of God.  He knew in his heart that what he had done to John was wrong.  Herod knew this.  And because he knew it, he was haunted in his heart by what he had done.  We call this feeling guilt or shame.  And because of Herod’s guilt or shame, it was easy for him to believe that God, too, would punish Herod by raising John from the dead and bringing him back to physically “haunt” Herod the way Herod was haunted in his heart already by his guilt and shame.

Though Herod had listened to the man of God, still Herod did not know God.  He had not come to understand what John spoke to him.  Herod understood judgment, he understood revenge, he understood anger and hatred and fear and killing.  But he did not understand the God of love, the God of forgiveness, the God of new beginnings.  And so because of that, everywhere he looked, he was led by his guilt and his shame to see the world in terms of his pain, rather than in terms of forgiveness and new life. 

At some level he was right, not that Jesus was John brought back to life, but that God was present in the haunting of Herod, with his thoughts concerning John.  God wants wholeness for us and that means at some level it is God’s gift that we have feelings that call us to work through the stuff that we carry, the things we’ve done, the things we’ve left undone, the injuries we’ve sustained and the pain we’ve caused.  These things will haunt us, not because God wants pain for us, but because God calls us to deal with our pain, to confront it, to face it and work through it, to find ways to repent the things we’ve done wrong, to heal them, to “fix” them to the best of our ability, to grow, to become more whole.

A long ago time ago in the hills of Quong Zu province, there once lived a revered old monk who was a master of Zen Buddhism.

One day he decided that he would make a pilgrimage to a neighboring monastery, and not wishing to make the journey alone, he decided to take along one of his young disciples.

They started their journey early the next morning and in the true spirit of Zen each walked along engrossed in his own thoughts, and so they journeyed for many hours without speaking. By mid-day they had come to a small stream and it was here that they noticed a young girl dressed in fine silk, obviously contemplating how best to cross the stream without getting her precious clothes wet.

Immediately the old monk walked over to the young girl and in one smooth motion, he picked her up in his arms and walked out into the stream, then after carrying her safely to the other side, he gently put her down and walked on without having said a single word.

His disciple having watched this whole incident was in a state of complete shock, for he knew it was strictly forbidden for a monk to come into physical contact with another person. Quickly, he too crossed the stream, and then ran to catch up with his master, and together they once again Walked on in silence. Finally at sunset they made camp and settled down for the night.

The next morning after prayers and meditation the old monk and his disciple once again continued their journey, once again in silence.

After many miles, and no longer able to contain his curiosity, the disciple called to his master and said,

"Master may I ask you a question?"

 "Of course, you may" his master replied, "knowledge comes to those who seek it".

 Respectfully his disciple said, "yesterday I saw you break one of our most sacred vows when you picked up that young girl and carried her across the stream, how could you do such a thing?"

 His master replied, "That is true, and you are right it is something I should not have done, but you are as guilty as I am" .

 "How so?" asked his disciple, "For it was you who carried her across the stream not I."

 "I know" replied his master, "but on the other side I put her down. You, however, are obviously still carrying her."

At first this sounds like an admonition to let things go.  And it is.  There are things that other people do that we have to let go of, that we have no control over, that we need to put down and not allow to haunt us, to follow us, to become burdens on us.  Additionally, God is the God of forgiveness, and God calls us, too, to forgive ourselves and to forgive one another. 

But I also believe that many times our pasts haunt us because something in them is calling for our attention.  The reality is that it is those things that we avoid truly dealing with that haunt us for the longest, those things that we try to skirt around, rather than walking through that carry the greatest pain for us.

Have you ever felt haunted by something?  For me, this happens most often early in the morning, usually in the shower, I think of all the things I should have done/could have done/might have done differently.   When those thoughts come to us what do we usually do with them?  When we feel haunted by something, when a memory or a fear or a pain or a regret is so tangible that it seems to pop up regularly, I think it is our natural inclination to try to push it away, to try to squash it.  The more it pops up, the harder we work to dismiss it.  I hear from people “I try not to think about x, but it keeps coming to my mind.  I can’t keep it out.”  And from others, “so and so is dwelling on x.  They need to move on!”  But unfortunately, these comments show that we’ve missed the point in many ways.  Obviously we can’t just decide not to think about something.  And when we find ourselves obsessing over something, rather than seeing this as a problem that we need to block out, I believe it is often a call to do exactly the opposite of what we are trying to do, it is a call to pay attention, to deal with whatever it is that keeps arising, to find ways to heal it.  Only by going deeper in, by facing the pain can we then move on, can we no longer “obsess” or be haunted by a memory, a feeling, that guilt, that shame, that spirit of someone gone. 

A little girl was talking to her mother and the mom was listening while she was doing dishes.  She was responding appropriately to the comments the little girl was making, saying “uh huh” and “oh” and asking questions.  But finally the little girl said, “Mommy!  You are not listening to me!”  The mom said, “yes, I am honey.  I’m right here listening to you.”  The girl responded, “but Mommy, you are not listening with your eyes!”  I think that in many ways while we can become obsessed with a thought or a feeling, it doesn’t leave us, it doesn’t move on because we aren’t really paying attention to it.  We aren’t looking at it with our eyes.  We are haunted by it because we haven’t in fact given it the attention it needs to be healed.

That doesn’t mean that this is easy.  But the struggles that are internal are as important as the struggles that are external.  The struggles with our own grief, guilt and shame need as much intentional healing as those that are outside of ourselves.  How many of you have seen the movie, “A dolphin’s tale”.  The movie is based on a true story about a dolphin who got caught in a fishing net and whose tail was so injured that it had to be amputated.  The dolphin then was swimming by moving her tail sideways, which was causing injury to her back.  The care givers at the marine center who were trying to help the dolphin heal did not know what to do about it.  But the problem was not going to go away by simply seeing it daily without actually addressing it.  They began to try different prosthetic fins for the dolphin’s tail.  At first the prosthetic fins irritated the dolphin and Winter would shake them off, whack them against the side of the tank until they came off.  Again, the workers, those trying to help Winter, could have given up, but they didn’t.  They kept working on it until they found a prosthetic tail that Winter could use and swim with that did not irritate her.

While we can see that work has to be done to fix practical, day to day living problems, we don’t tend to give the same attention to our spiritual crises, our emotional and mental pain.  At my last church we had an annual mission trip.  One year the site where a bunch of us were working was the trailer home of a relatively economically poor woman.  She was not uneducated. She had been a school teacher. Her husband had been an electrical engineer; her son was a journalist in Italy. Still, her home was a mess.  And by a mess, I don’t even mean the fact that her roof had holes and that the floor was completely down to the subflooring, which was made of a cheap particle board, so cheap in fact that at one point one of our youth actually fell through the floor, creating yet another big hole in a floor already riddled with holes and patches over holes.  No, when I say it was a mess, I mean that this woman hadn’t done dishes in years, she just went out and bought more and more dishes (and not paper, but real dishes) to use rather than cleaning any of the old ones.  I mean that when we first walked in it looked like her floor was covered with carpeting, but we soon discovered that it was not carpeting but dog hair and other dog “products” that covered the floor, inches thick.  I mean that there was literally garbage piled throughout the house, and only a very narrow path through the garbage that allowed her to get from one room to the next, and that the back room of the house was completely filled to the brim with garbage.  We spent the week of our work camp fixing the holes in the roof, replacing the subflooring in the kitchen, but mostly, we spent the week simply cleaning the house.  We spent over 10 hours, each of the eleven of us, just washing dishes, packing up some to be kept elsewhere and some to be donated.  We took truck loads of garbage to the dump, and we cleaned, cleaned, cleaned.  We also spent a lot of time just listening, talking with her about her losses, about her pain, about the struggles in her life.  Still, a week is not a long time.  And as she sat telling us things like, “I know I need to just get over this” I realized that no, what she needed was more time to be heard, more time to heal, more time and attention to the pains inside to work through her past so that she would not continue to be so immobilized by depression that she was unable to even throw away her garbage or clean a dish.

Sometimes we don’t address these needs, the internal needs because we don’t know how to do it, or we don’t have the resources.  We think we should be able to “handle” things without help if it is an internal, emotional, or spiritual issue.  But God calls us to use all the resources available to us, God puts us in communities to help us, and God won’t prevent us from feeling “haunted” until we do address the issues that need to be dealt with.

We don’t know what happened with Herod after today’s story.  We don’t know if he was able to ask God for forgiveness or accept the grace God offers after his killing of John.  We don’t know if Herod was able to pray, to accept counsel, to talk and walk through his pain so that eventually he would no longer be haunted by John.  But we do know that we are given the story from today for many reasons.  And one of those is a simple reminder that what we don’t address will haunt us.  My challenge then for each of us this week is to not push away those uncomfortable thoughts and issues that arise, but to invite them into a deeper place within us, to address them, to discuss them, to pray about them, maybe even to get counseling and help for them if they are persistent.  My challenge for us is to see the “gift” in the hauntings of our lives, to remember that God calls us towards wholeness of our whole beings and that means taking the time to listen with our eyes, with our whole selves to those areas calling for our attention.  God is with us in that pain, and in the work we do to overcome our challenges.  Thanks be to God. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

A prophet in his own home

Mark 6:1-6

               A woman who ran a soda fountain was disturbed one day to notice a group of older boys making fun of a younger boy.  “He’s so stupid!” she could hear one of the older boys saying, “Watch this!”  The older boy proceeded to take out of his pocket a dime and a nickel which he then held, one in each open palm in front of the younger boy.  “Which one is more?  Which one do you want?” he mockingly asked the young boy.  The young boy looked very carefully for a moment at each coin, finally picking up the larger nickel and putting it in his pocket.  The older boys laughed and mocked and moved on.  The woman watching this, upset by what she saw, approached the young boy.  “I know the nickel is a bigger coin, but son, don’t you know that the dime is worth more than the nickel?”
               “Of course!” replied the boy.  “But if I don’t pick up the nickel every time, they will stop doing the ‘trick’ and so far I’ve managed to get over a dollar of their money.”
               Just like the boy in this story, Jesus, in his home town, was much more than his community would, or could see.  The people in his community could not see Jesus for the man of God that he was.  They could not allow for him to be a worker of miracles, a speaker of truth, the son of God.  As a result he could not do miracles in his home town.  They could not see who he was and so, with his own home community, he had no status, no respect, and ultimately no power. 
               Do you know people who are so charismatic, were so charming even as children that they had no trouble becoming prom queen or king, class president, “most likely to succeed,” etc.?  Individuals at every high school win these titles every year.  And I think that these are the kind of people who would have had no trouble being prophets in their own homes.  These are people everyone likes and everyone wants to be with.  They make their way, their successful way in the world because of and based on their charisma.  Everyone who meets them wants to be part of their fan club, their inner circle, their friends.  Many of our politicians fit into these categories.  Leaders of many of our cults also fit into this category: David Koresh, Jim Jones, etc.  For many of our most famous actors and actresses they too have found success by knowing the right people and by being the ‘right’ people also:  people that you cannot help but want to support, love and be around.  Most of these people not only have charisma or social status because of their personalities, but also have class standing; they are from a class of people whom we tend to respect: they have money, tend to be white collar workers, they come from respected family backgrounds.
               What is interesting for me about today’s scripture is that it tells us Jesus was not one of those typically charismatic people.  The people in his home town did not run to support his ministry, but instead made comments like, “huh.  I know his little sister!” and “He’s just the carpenter’s son!”  In our day the equivalent might be “what’s so special about him?  Who does he think he is, trying to change the world, preaching at us, claiming to do miracles.  We know his family for heaven’s sake!  His father worked as a janitor.  Wasn’t his sister, Suzy, the one who had such trouble in school?  And his brother, George, wasn’t he caught smoking behind the church?  Who does this Jesus think he is?  He’s not so special.”  Because they could not or would not see Jesus, everyone was diminished.  The people did not benefit from his gifts, he was unable to fulfill his purpose among them.
               This understanding of Jesus, as one not successful in his home town, one not seen, one not powerful, is, like everything else about Jesus, scandalous.  God did not come to us among the powerful, among the professionally and monetarily successful, among the popular, or the charismatic or famous.  He came and is coming among those we tend not to see or think of very highly.  He is coming among people you and I would and do have a hard time respecting.
               But while this understanding of Jesus is scandalous, I have to admit, I like this about Jesus.  Since I too am not charismatic or famous or rich by American standards, this surprising part of Jesus appeals to me.  He isn’t so far away, so untouchable that I can’t relate to him.  More importantly, he isn’t such an “idol” that he can’t relate to me.  This story about Jesus makes him once again, more human, more like us, more one of us.  His experiences in this life were very much what many of us have experienced and known.  He underwent again and again what it was like to not be seen in his fullness, valued in his being honored as who he really was, and respected.  He experienced powerless-ness.  He experienced rejection.  He, too, was not seen in his fulness by people he knew, loved and cared for.
               The words of one children’s song are, “There’s more to me than you see.  Won’t you reach out and touch me?”  We understand that feeling.  We are more than the person in the red car sees as he gives us an obscene sign because we made some error in our driving or weren’t going fast enough in his opinion.  We are more than the people in line at the grocery store see, annoyed at us because one of our items is missing the price tag and we have to wait for the bagger to get the correct price.  We are more than the professor sees who writes on our paper, “I’m disappointed in you.”  We are more than our teenagers and the teenagers in our community see who believe we can’t possibly understand or relate to them because they don’t know that in fact we are every age we ever were and so there is still that teenage part in ourselves, searching for who we are, struggling against trying to please those in our communities.  We are even more than those who love us will ever know.  We are more than we ourselves recognize: we are more every day, we are more of our potential, in our possibilities, in our being than just our past, our class, our money, our fame, our talents and our actions show.  We are God’s children.  God made each of us amazingly complex, unique, beautiful and GOOD.  Each of us is immensely valuable.  Each of us is worthy of infinite love.  You are an incredible creation.  You are worthy of being seen, of being loved, of being known.  God made you and loves you just because you are.  Just because God made you in love and for love.
               There was a monastery high in some beautiful mountains that was going to be closed down.  There were only a few monks who lived there – no new monks had joined for many years and visitors were scarce.  In an act of desperation, the monks decided to consult a local guru who was known for his wisdom in all matters.  When brother Michael consulted with this guru, the wise man said that he could not help them to keep the monastery open but that he was so glad the brother had come because he had a message for him.  Michael was surprised and asked what the message was.  The guru told him that the Christ was living disguised in the monastery.  Michael took this message back to the monastery, and told the other monks that while the guru had not been able to help them, that he had this amazing news to share with them.  After hearing the message, the monks began to look at one another differently.  Surely the Christ wasn’t brother Jason, they thought, he snores and brags and is anything but Christ-like!  But then again, the guru had told them that Christ was in disguise…    Could it be brother Simon?  He eats a little too much, but is generally very gentle and loving.  Maybe it is him…  Because none were sure who was the Christ in disguise, they began to treat each other person in the monastery as if they could be the Christ, just in case they were.  Visitors to the monastery began to notice that something was different here.  Each of the monks seemed to treat everyone with such reverence, such care, such respect and such holiness.  And as they noticed this difference, they wanted to be around it more.  They invited their friends to come back with them, and some chose to join the monastery.  The monastery began to grow again and eventually became a thriving, vital, active Christian community.
               When Jesus was not seen and not understood, not respected and loved by his own community, everyone in the community was poorer.  The same is true among us.  When we do not see each other, work to know each other, love each other in our fulness, we are all poorer for it.  And there is good reason for us to try.  Because just as in the story of the monastery, Christ is among us.  And she/he is indeed in disguise: the disguise is each of us.  The disguise is you.  What would happen here if were each treated with the care and respect of these monks?  What would happen to you if people looked at you like they really saw you, respected you, VALUED you, all the time, as the amazing, lovable, child of God person that you are?  What would happen to our world if we began to treat each other across cultures and across all barriers of ethnicity, gender, ability, age, country of origin, sexual orientation, religion, with the care and respect of the monks?
               Where is the Christ?  Where does Christ come again among us?  Not where expected – not in the powerful, the rich, the famous, the noticeable, the “beautiful people”.  Jesus did not come to us as the all loved, “most likely to succeed”, rich bachelor TV personality.  And Christ does not return as a person we would recognize as being of consequence: not rich, not popular, not special by American standards.  Jesus had regular, normal brothers and sisters, his dad had a blue collar job, he grew up in a poor community and, as much as he was divine, he was also fully human, just like us.  The challenge in this for all of us is that we are called to treat everyone around us as the Christ.  The comfort in this is that you, too, are deserving of such love, such care, such deliberate intentional knowing of the wonderful, beautiful, child of God that you are.  Christ returns every day anew.  In and among us.  In and among YOU.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

AND the good side...

      I know you want to hear the positive from the trip, too.  So this post is really just going to be a travel log...
      Sunday, June 17: Following church drove to Medford, Or.
      Monday, June 18: drove to Kelso, WA.  On the way, had a lovely visit at Crater Lake:

      Tuesday, June 19: drove to Port Angeles, WA and on the way saw Mt. Saint Helens. One of the amazing gifts we experienced was that we were able to take a helicopter ride to the Mountain and actually look into the crater itself.  What an awesome experience!!  We were also able to drive by the house where my grandfather had lived when I was a kid in Sequim, WA.

    Wednesday, June 20: We took the Ferry over into Victoria, BC.  There we checked into our hotel where we would stay for four nights, visited Miniature World and had High Tea at the Empress Hotel.

After High Tea, the girls and I found a lovely park to walk around in called Beacon Hill.  There we met a peacock who seemed convinced we were there to feed it.  It followed us around for awhile, finally giving up with a large squawk, before turning around and heading back.

     Thursday, June 21: Visited Butchart Gardens, the Butterfly Museum, did some foot exploring of the city of Victoria and rode a horse drawn carriage around an older part of the city.  We enjoyed this day very much.  The horse drawn carriage ride was meant to be a tour, but we ended up engaging the "tour guide" who was driving the carriage, instead, in conversation.  She is about to start her final year of college, is majoring in Medieval studies and Jasmyn, this young woman and I had way too much to talk about that just took priority over the tour.  That was a real gift: to meet this young woman and have such a wonderful conversation about school, politics, countries,  and life in general.

   Friday, June 22: We went to the Royal BC Museum and Craigdarroch Castle.  At the Royal BC Museum we were able to see an IMAX movie about the efforts in China to restore the Panda population from near extinction.  There is some success with these efforts and we are learning, so I think there will be more success as time goes by.  Additionally, several Indigenous Tribes were present at the Museum, and were giving talks about their cultures and the work throughout Canada to be more open, accepting and celebrating of Indigenous faiths,  practices and peoples.  We happened to be there at the time of an Indigenous Cultural Festival and there were dancers who came and shared some of the traditional dances, as well as the meanings of those dances.  That was amazing!  My pictures of this were not great, but perhaps that is better anyway.  This is part of who they are, not for our entertainment, but hopefully we learn from other people and can appreciate the beauty of our diversity, as we learn to honor other traditions, cultures and faiths.

    Saturday, June 23: We visited the Parliament building, the Maritime Museum, the Bug Zoo (some of us), Christ Church Cathedral (some of us), and then we walked around town more.  The kids, David and I ended up having dinner at a Games Café.  What a blast that was!  For $5 each, we could sit and play any of the games in their extensive games library as well as eating snacks and just being together.  We spent four and half hours exploring different games and having dinner.  We didn't buy any games, but we really had fun just being together.  

        Sunday, June 22: Well, I have to admit we didn't go to church.  However, the kids picked out a couple scriptures and asked me to give them an impromptu sermon... Honest to God, it was their idea!  They said they missed church and wanted me to preach for them.  While I was expostulating, we walked around downtown Victoria, found an outdoor market which we enjoyed, then walked along the North Harbor, across a bridge and along the Bay.  It was beautiful.  And we had a couple of amazing bonuses.  In the outdoor market, we came across a woman who made beautiful jewelry, including a Celtic Moon that was something Jasmyn had been looking for.  We talked for a while and the woman basically gave Jasmyn some of the Jewelry she made!  (I snuck back and paid her: I think it is really important to pay artists for the work they do.  But it was awesome that Jasmyn felt she'd been given this gift by someone who just liked her and wanted to do that for her!).  And THEN, as we were walking along the bridge to cross the bay into the North Harbor we saw Taxi Boats that were boating together and in patterns.  As we watched, we heard a loud speaker across the Bay announcing that the Taxi Boats were going to perform their "world famous water ballet" in a half hour! We'd been watching them practice in an area that was less touristy. So we walked for a half hour then sat on the shore of the Bay and watched the taxi boat ballet!  It was a blast.  Aislynn said it was her favorite part of the whole trip, perhaps especially since it was unexpected, unplanned and we just happened to see it by wandering...

Later that day we took the ferry off of Vancouver Island and onto mainland Canada.

     Monday, June 25: We stayed in Vancouver but visited the British Columbia Museum of Mining (I didn't go in so I don't have any pictures: I hadn't been able to sleep the previous night and that morning had my run in with the guy I talked about yesterday who was mean in the café.  I just needed some alone time, so I rested a bit while the rest of the family went to the Museum).  The rest of the family learned a lot though.  The museum and guides talked about how their mining had destroyed the local river, wiping out several unique fish species and harming the people downstream who had made their livings as fisher-folk.  But they also shared that because of that disaster, their mining techniques have greatly improved and the river is on its way to recovery.  Afterwards we went to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.  As I said, it had not been a great beginning to the day for me.  However, there was live music that really touched me in the Suspension Bridge Park.  We had lovely walks among the trees: just the kids and I (David doesn't do heights), and it was a healing, calming time. 

     Tuesday, June 26: We went to the Science World in Vancouver which was AWESOME!  We saw a guy do an amazing demonstration on illusions, watched a movie about the Amazon and natural selection, and were able to see just a part of the many wonderful exhibits in this museum.  We wanted to stay much longer, but we had to get through customs because we had a scheduled tour at Boeing in Seattle late that afternoon (where we were not allowed to take pictures... sorry).

  Wednesday, June 27: We started in Seattle with the Space Needle, the Chihuly Garden of Glass and the Science Fiction Museum/Pop Museum.  We were divided: those who don't like elevators or heights went to the Science Fiction Museum while the rest of us did the Space needle and Glass Garden.  After that we drove to Tacoma where we went to the Museum of Glass.  That was an unexpected awesome, too.  In the Tacoma museum of glass they have a theater space where on the stage are glass ovens and the glass workers.  A man with a microphone walks around answering questions for all of us to hear about the work the glass workers are doing.  You can sit for hours and watch this amazing process.  It was beautiful.

Thursday, June 28: We went to the Lewis and Clark Historical Park in Fort Clatsop where we walked among the trees as well as hearing history, seeing the fort, learning how to start fire with flint, and communing with different eco-systems.  We then went to Tilamook where we ate dinner at the cheese factory.  It was a delicious meal!  

Friday, June 29: Mostly a driving day along the Oregon Coast.  However, we made one stop at the Sandland Adventures area, where we were taken on a very fast Dune buggy ride over the sand dunes. It was a rollar coaster ride up to 60mph up and down and over and around.  I screamed a lot, Aislynn gripped her seat in terror, Jasmyn opted out completely, but the boys loved it.  Big surprise there... No pictures of Dune Buggy ride: they warned against getting sand into your phone and camera..  But lots of beach pictures!

Saturday, June 30: more beach, and Trees of Mystery.  This is also the day we had our near head-on collision.  But we are fine, and again, the time in the trees was healing and helpful.

Sunday, July 1: We head home.  But not before going to the Skunk Train in Fort Bragg and the Mendocino Botanical Gardens.  The gardens were also a wonderful surprise.  Absolutely beyond our expectations.

We came home tired, but with our minds and hearts full.  Good people, good food, new experiences.  We had a lot of laughter, a great deal of learning, and most importantly, time together.  Some of the photos I posted here are just silly, some are sweet, some show beautiful or interesting things that we saw.  All of that is as true as what I wrote yesterday. I am very grateful for this time.  I hope it created life time memories for my kids.  I know it did for me.  The time away was full and meaningful.  And it was time to come home and be with my community once again.  I am grateful for it all.