I Want the Church to Feel Like Church

006I want the church to feel like to church.

A sermon

A Table

A Baptism

A Cross at the center and a Bible in the pulpit.

A Robe and stoll

A Chancel

A Pew

Silence

Reverence

Liturgy

I want the seasons: Advent, Epiphany, Baptism of the Lord,  Ash Wednesday, Lent, Transfiguration, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday, Ordinary Time

I want the church to feel like church.

I want to look over and see the young couple, newly married talking to the elderly man, recently widowed.  I want the row of church ladies who sit in their same pew every week and save a seat for Maxine and Myrna. I want the children with their baggies of cheerios and the parents with their cups of coffee. I want the men in ties and coats sitting next to the teenagers with ripped jeans and tie dye shirts.  I want the prayers for those in the hospital and the shared news of the child being deployed.   I want the embrace of the college student home over break, and the thrill of the new baby in the stroller. I want the safe place to talk about suicide and abuse, job loss, and depression.  I want the disagreements over politics and discussions over culture.  I want the feel of the bulletin, the smell of the candles, the order of worship, the confession of sins and above all, I want laughter.

Laughter at our humanity. Laughter at the joy of being together. Laughter at the ways we take ourselves so seriously. Laughter at the celebration of life. Laughter at the profound privilege of being able to worship and sit in the presence of God.  I want to be so overwhelmed by the joy of being in the presence of God, that we cannot help but laugh as Sarah did and sing as Mary did and pray as Hannah did and wrestle as Jacob did and argue as Moses did and weep as Jesus did and confess as Paul did and preach as Peter did.

I want to sing and believe that a weary world can rejoice. I want “Merry Christmas” to mean “Jesus Christ is born in you.”  I want “Happy Easter” to mean  “He is Alive.”   I want  an authentic place of prayer and spiritual enlightenment, a place where you can walk in the door and lay your cross at the door, and come in and sit and cry and think and be without fear of judgment.  Just come and be yourself.

God, I love the church.  I love it for all of its quirks and crazy. I love it for trying so hard to get it right.  I love it for its downfalls and pitfalls and struggles and history. I love it for its desire to be the Kingdom of heaven on earth — a truly unobtainable  mission statement, and yet one that it strives for, without delay.  I love it for its desire to be Jesus – to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visited the imprisoned, welcome the stranger.  I love it for its confession that it fails and its repentance to start over..

God, I love the church. I love it for the saints who have gone before.   I love it for the saints who played the organ and taught Sunday school and put oil in the candles and set the Table.  I love it for the ministers who have served and retired or have entered the Kingdom of Heaven. I love it for their sermons they preached and the hands they held and the meetings they ran and the divisions they tried to mend.  I love it for all of the ways in which we have almost killed it, but somehow, by the grace of God it is still alive.

I love that in the next day, all around the world, people will make their obligatory twice a year pilgrimage to church and sit in their winter coats, crammed into the pews their grandparents faithfully sat in every Sunday and the little white candles will be passed down the row, and the flames will shine on their faces and I have a view from the front and I see, that the light does indeed shine in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it.

Come, Lord Jesus. Be born in us today.  Let your church live.

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Coming of Age. The Perils of Parenting Teenagers and the #MeToo Movement.

imageWell before I ever knew I was going to be a mother of daughters, I promised myself that I would teach my daughters to be feminists.  I would be the type of mother who would tell them they could be the next Madeline Albright or Eleanor Roosevelt or anything they wanted to be.  The most important thing being, that they were fully themselves, without inhibitions or worry about being objectified or less than because of their gender. I wanted to model for them and teach them that they could do any job, including one that typically was held by men.

Before I became a mother, I had a list of Do’s and Don’ts for raising a strong, smart daughter.

Don’t buy Barbies, or Brat Dolls, or any other “sexy doll.”

Do read Anne of Green Gables, A Wrinkle in Time, and A is for Abigail.

Don’t buy bikinis until they are 25.

Do buy Legos and other toys typically designed for boys.

Don’t paint the baby’s room pink, or put her in a lot of pink clothing. – Keep it gender neutral.

Make sure she takes a self defense class, so she can protect herself.

No make-up until, like, forever.

I look at these rules I made up back then, now, almost sixteen years later with two adolescent daughters and I realize that some of them were silly and some of them were pretty good pieces of advice.  Some of the rules stuck and some of the rules fell by the way side.

Today, in light of the #MeToo movement, and recalling my own stories of sexual harassment,  I realize that all of these rules I made up were to protect them from having a #MeToo moment.  I thought, maybe I could shield them, and make them so confident and secure that they wouldn’t have to experience the things I did.

If we are going to continue this conversation on sexual harassment and the objectification of women, we need to start with conversations with our boys and girls.  I didn’t realize until now, that for me, the fall of my innocence from childhood to adulthood came about when boys started making comments about my body.  When I was a girl, I was just a kid, just another kid on the block.  All of the kids around my house were boys and we all played Star Wars and Army and football. I would run and build forts and play.  It was fun.

And then junior high happened.

And everything changed.

I wanted to be one of two things when I was 14 years old, either a famous ballerina or an actress.  I wasn’t picky. I would lie in my bed at night and dream about being on stage.  In my dreams, I was amazing. I was also tall and thin and stunning. This why you call them “dreams.”

One summer day, I was walking to theater practice across the junior high foot ball field.  There were a group of boys standing in the door way of the school and they saw me walking. They shouted out, “Look at that bitch, with the big butt and no tits.”

At that moment, I prayed that the football field would swallow me up and I would be invisible forever.  I was exposed.  Right there, in the middle of the football field, with no other person that maybe they were talking about, or referring to.  Me.  And my body.

I walked to the theater and got on stage and all I could think about in my 14 year old brain, was that sentence and the terrible, shaming truth that it held.

It was at that moment that my innocence, my childhood ended. – I was now a woman and an object to be looked at.

It took a long time to get over that mortifying moment. I never told anyone. Even writing those  words almost 30 years later makes me feel vulnerable.

Of course, I wouldn’t even count that moment as my #metoo experience.  All of those experiences happened in college and grad school.  Each time something happened, rather direct, or overt I tried to counter that experience by protecting myself.  I think even becoming a pastor and wearing a long black robe on Sunday mornings is a way of me saying to the world, “Do not look at me!”

Today I am a mother of teenage daughters.  I would just like to say for the record, for any parents of teenagers that I counselled back in the day when I wasn’t a mother of teenage daughters,  I apologize.  Clearly I was clueless and had no idea what I was talking about. – Because being a mother of a teenager is way worse than being a teenager.

You walk up the stairs, and they know you are coming, and they shut the door before you reach their room. Nice.  You give them space and then they get angry because you don’t notice their hair. Whatever.  You ask them to empty the dishwasher and they roll their eyes and then ask to buy something on Amazon. Are you serious?!

And then you realize that all of your stupid baggage from being 14 is still with you.  The friend that abandoned. The boy that broke up.  The pressure to succeed.  The desire to fit in.  And you know, logically, that your life is not their life and you know you have to let them go and fail and succeed on their own accord, but you also know what is coming and you realize you can’t protect them.  And then it happens, and you watch your daughter have her fall from innocence.

My daughter had an experience in PE this past semester.  Boys were talking about her body and saying inappropriate things.  It seems like the comments have stopped out there in the junior high world, but they have not stopped in her head.  I watch her move from an innocent little girl, who loved to play and create and imagine, to a self conscience, body aware, teenager.  I watch that teenager brain getting it’s exercise as it grows inside her and she feels feelings of anger and strives for self determination.  I see her want to stay true to herself and want to fit in at the same time.  I see her want to be hugged and left alone at the same time.  I see her face the world of social media, and I realize I am parenting in real time, without any prior experience to fall back on.  I see her struggle, and I realize I could have probably painted her room pink.

I wonder how we can change the script of coming of age in overly crass society, where boys and girls are exposed to far more sexually explicit activities than I was at their age?   Does the fall of innocence and the rise to adulthood, always have to include a moment of shame?

Maybe it does.  It may be impossible to get through the first 20 years of your life without someone objectifying you in someway.  There is something to be said for learning resiliency and overcoming adversity.

But I hope and pray this movement changes things for our kids.  I hope my girls don’t have experiences like I did and I hope my son never finds himself in a situation where he thinks he can talk about a girl’s body like it’s a piece of merchandise.

I don’t have any answers, but parents, I’m with you, man.  This is hard. Really, really hard.  I don’t have any great pearls of wisdom to wrap this up. I am too much in the thick of it myself, to see outside and tell you that everything is going to be alright and that they will get through it and not hate themselves or you.   I think the only thing we can do is remind them of the same thing we told them when they were four years old and screamed on the floor, just because their little brains were growing, just as they are now. And that is, “You are safe. You are loved. You are not alone.”

I also find that wine, coffee and chocolate helps.

Peace,

Shelly

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Thirst

water-salt (1)

Exodus 17:1-7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

 

I sat at the kitchen table at my in-laws house looking out of their picture window at the brown grass, as a humming bird flew by and took a quick drink.  My sister-in-law, sitting with me, made the comment, “This is the driest I have ever seen their front yard. It doesn’t look like they have had rain in weeks. My in-laws have lived in the same brick, ranch home on five acres in southern Illinois for the past 46 years.  Not much, if anything has changed in that house in the past 20 years that I have visited there, but the small town where they live has changed.  It’s always been a small town. – At least small to me, 5000 people, high school classes of at the most 150 students, country roads, oil rigs and farmland as far as the eye can see.  Southern Illinois has always been an area of the country at risk.  Infrastructure, resources and economic stability have always been minimal, but we could tell that the town was like most rural communities today, slowly dying.

We were there because a tragedy had come to my husband’s family and this small community. We drove into town on Tuesday evening.  We were the only car on the dark street as we drove into town passing the Walmart, the Dairy Queen, the video store and the few streets lights in the down town. Where is everyone?  We turned the corner to the funeral home, where saw a line reaching outside of the funeral home and down the block. Cars everywhere.  “We are here” we texted.  “Avoid the line, just come right in”  the text replied.  We walked into an old funeral home with wood paneling and stain glass windows.  Flowers were everywhere and a huge picture of Jesus hung in the middle of the room, over a casket that we could not believe was there.

The warm light of the room, and the crowds of people overwhelmed our senses as we were overcome by the familiar faces and hugs that greeted us.  Brothers and sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, little children, past teacher’s, parents friends, all came up and hugged and embraced Blake especially as we walked in.    We were there to grieve the passing of his uncle, who was really more like an older brother – only 9 years older than Blake, who died suddenly from a heart attack last Saturday. He was an all star athlete, a warm, charismatic, incredibly friendly, great man, who  was suddenly gone from this earth.

No one could believe this had happened or that we were here for this reason.  But we knew we were not alone.  We were not the only family asking the question, “how could this happen?” this past weekend.

Many of us woke up last Monday morning, discovering that there had been a shooting in Las Vegas.  We didn’t know the severity or the circumstances at first, but as the story has unfolded, we discovered that we found ourselves in the worst mass shooting in modern history.

I’m sure you share with me in the empathy and deep sympathy for the families of those who lost someone they loved and the profound shock and disbelief that they are now gone, when they had no reason to believe that wouldn’t talk to them tomorrow.

Mix this desperation in with the reports coming out of Puerto Rico, where 50% of the country is still without electricity and running water.   One reporter from the Hill, describes the outcome of not having clean water as a “toxic mix” of “poverty and lack of access to clean water practically guarantees that you’re going to see outbreaks of waterborne infections, particularly waterborne diarrheal disease,”

This could include typhoid and the remote possibility of cholera.

Near the town of Utuado, Rosario Heredia, 56, who is diabetic, is in her house, which is spewing water from every corner. She reaches high into her closet for a piece of clothing and squeezes water from it like a soaked sponge.

Trees are broken and twisted on the island, leaving behind a wasteland. Roads have washed away, and others are blocked by debris.

After losing everything, some Puerto Ricans say the only thing they have left is their faith.

“Really, we are people who serve God,” Wilfredo Villegas said. “And yes, we are saddened because when you lose every little thing you may have, it’s not easy to recover … but we have not lost our faith.”

In the midst of all of this misery, one cannot help but ask the question that the Israelite’s asked Moses, and ultimately God, “is the Lord among us or not?” Fair question, when you are in the wilderness and you are dying of thirst, fair question, when your friend or family member goes to a country music concert and ends up being shot,  fair question, when you lose absolutely everything, fair question when a 54 year old father dies suddenly from a heart attack,  Is God with us or not?

That’s the question the Israelites ask Moses, and Moses says, “ask him yourself,” and so they put God on trial and they ask for evidence, right here, right now. It’s in the moments when we are dying of thirst that we need a drink of grace, of hope, of love, of something that tells we are not alone. Moreover we know that we won’t be thirsty just once in our lives, just as we need water again and again, daily, seven full glasses daily to be exact, so too do we need to be assured that God is with us.

It would be too easy for me to pivot here and say to you, to simply say, of course God is with you. Of course, God is with those who are quite literally dying of thirst, or drowning in grief, of course God provides living water, but that would disarm the truth about disaster. So to just “trust and man up” belittles the truth about disaster.

But the root of the word “disaster” means “a star coming apart and no image expresses better the look in someone’s eyes after they have just heard the unbearable.”

Paul Kalanthi is a neurosurgeon who at 36 had sat with countless families. Discussing grim prognoses for cancer. Paul has some standard pieces of advice: “it’s a marathon, not a sprint, so get your daily rest.” And: “illness can drive a family apart or bring it together – be aware of each other’s needs and find extra support.” He tried to be honest about the diagnosis but also to give some measure of hope.

When Paul faced his own lung cancer, he wanted to know how much time he left. He knew there were all kinds of reasons doctors cannot answer that question. It’s impossible, he says, even irresponsible to be more precise than you can be accurate. Sure enough – when he asked his oncologist how much time he had, she refused to answer.

Paul’s life’s work had been about treating cancer. He knew the next steps. Prepare to die. Cry. Tell his wife she should remarry. Refinance the mortgage.

Yet at his next visit with his oncologist, she suggested he return to work. He was confused. Should he write the book he always intended to write? Invest more time in relationships with those he loved? Or go back to negotiating multi-year job offers? The oncologist said: “I can’t give you a time. You have to find what matters most to you.”

He reflects: “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”

Wanting to know the details, the specifics, the statistics regarding our time left, is like trying to quench a thirst with salty water, he comments.

But the path forward for Paul – the way forward for all of us through the journey of our lives – could be found in seven words from writer Samuel Beckett. “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

In the wilderness, whatever wilderness that may be for you today, or tomorrow, allow yourself the paradoxical reality of living and dying, you can’t go on and you will go on.

We stood by helpless, as the casket was closed and we watched it be carried from the funeral parlor to hearse and his 12 year old daughter cried for him to come back.  We held each other as we stood at graveside looking out over rolling hills of farm land and a little white church where the family had once celebrated weddings and baptisms.  We stood in the hot sun, waiting for a slight breeze as the preacher read from the 23rd Psalm…”surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

After a meal, we told each other we loved each other, said goodbye, and drove home. When we got home that night, we had just a little time for a light dinner of fruit and crackers and tried to settle down with some television before bed.

We just happened to come across the final Harry Potter and the scene in which Harry faces his own death walks into the forest after a long battle with Voldemort.  On the one hand Harry can’t go on, and on the other hand he must.  It was at that moment when he pulls out the resurrection stone and suddenly all of the people who had died before him, who loved him, are there for him, and say, they have never left him after all. And Harry is able to go on.

And so, we turned off the light and went to bed, and that night, it began to rain.

Amen.

 

Paul Kalanthini. 2016. When Breath Becomes Air.  Random House, New York.

 

 

 

 

Parenting through Disappointment

pictureGimian- Disappointment

There are hard things about parenting. There’s the potty training and the bed wetting, the biting and the thumb sucking. There is the first day of school jitters and the uninvited birthday party.  There’s the struggle to write and tie shoes and sit still and use a pencil. There’s manners and bed time and screen time and video games and the monitoring of phones and i pads and computers.  There’s the neighbor’s cool scooter, and spring break trip to Hawaii and the latest $150 shoes -on sale, “Can I have that too?!”  There’s the stress of academic achievement and the pressure to be in Honors this or in AP that.  There’s the pressure to be. To be excellent. To be outstanding. To be the best.

Yes, there are hard things about parenting.

But the hardest thing of all is walking with your child through disappointment.   Here’s an example: There are just so many spots on the travel baseball team. – And why exactly do we want this in the first place? – But we do!  Because if you don’t sign your kid up for travel baseball, and all of the other parents do sign their kid up for travel baseball, then their kid plays five times more baseball than your kid and then your kid doesn’t have a chance at the next tryout, or at the school try out.  So you suck in the air, write the check, fork over your time and put your kid out their to try out.  And then you hold your breath, and wait for the email to come.  The email arrives and says, “Sorry, please try next year.”  And you have to go into your son’s room, sit on the bed and say, “You didn’t make it.”  Whereby he walks out of the room and slams the door, and you sit there on his bed and wait until he comes back and lays his head in your lap, while he softly cries, but doesn’t want to talk about it.  And then he gets up, wipes his eyes, and goes outside to play some more ball.  And you sit there on his bed,  take a deep breath, cry a little yourself and think, “Man, that hurt.”

It’s at that crystallized moment when  parenting happens.  How we as parents talk about disappointments, respond to the disappointment and move on from it, is what helps create a healthy person with strong self esteem, because life is full of disappointments and if we teach our kids that they were robbed or somehow entitled, we do them no favors.  If we act like everything is o.k. and just pretend like we don’t care, we do them no favors.  If we get mad, throw a fit, or try to persuade with money or power, we do them no favors.

My kids have had more disappointments than “achievements” the beginning of this school year.  They have had visions of what they wanted to accomplish and where they wanted to be and they haven’t achieved those visions.  So we have had to  welcome disappointment to the table.   Here is what we have learned. It’s important not to make disappointment bigger than it has to be.  After all, it was just an audition and there will be many more auditions. It was just a tryout, and there will be other tryouts.   So, we need to settle down and remember it’s not the end of the world.  While disappointment has a voice at the table it does not get to be the only voice.  So let’s not get too crazy.

On the other hand,  it’s important to let disappointment have room to express itself. Name it.  Cry.  Stomp your fist. Shout.  Give kid’s space to express disappointment.  Here’s the kicker – make sure you aren’t crying, stomping, or shouting louder than they are.  If your disappointment is bigger than their’s, then their disappointment loses power.   So keep your ego in check.  We can be disappointed for our kids, but we have to keep ourselves in check and ask the question:  Are we living vicariously through our kid’s lives and thereby not letting our kid’s have their own story?

Disappointment is part of life.  It’s the way it goes. But, building yourself up from a disappointment, getting out there and trying again, not letting the negative out way the positive, having fun, thinking about other kids and building empathy, not giving up, that is the building of some strong bones.  Those bones will support them when life brings bigger disappointments, more life changing disappointments, when a job is lost or relationship breaks up. They will have the resilience to know that they will endure and persevere.

Lastly, I think the best thing I did for my kids this fall was empathize with them.  I told them stories about when I was kid and tried out for a play and didn’t get the part I wanted.  I had my sister, who played ball, call my son and share her baseball scars.  We found stories almost by chance about achievers, people we admired who were had far more disappointments in their life than accolades and kept going.  I let them know they were not the first kid in the world to have that feeling in their heart, and they will not will be the last.  So when they see kids who are disappointed, they can empathize with them and be a better friend.

Then,  when it was all over and we had cried, thought about what we learned from the experience, thought about how they could get better, or not, we moved on, changed the subject and told funny stories. We held each other a little tighter.  And then we went out for ice cream.

It’s just the way it goes.

 

 

 

The Sinking Feeling: Sermon on Matthew 14:22-33

 

Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. – Soren Kierkegaard

munch-the-scream.1

 

 

Have you ever had a sinking feeling?  It’s phenomenon that happens in the stomach that  we can’t control but we can  always remember the last time we experienced it– when the phone rang, or the report card came, or news came on and we feel like all of the blood has come out of our head and we feel sort woozy and well, out of control.

In all of the times I have had a sinking feeling the primary experience in all of them was a feeling of vulnerability.  I didn’t know what was going to happen and I was scared.  Chemically, what is happening, when you have a sinking feeling,  is that blood is leaving your stomach, because your brain has gone into survival mode and doesn’t think you need to eat anymore.  It thinks you need to survive and that means you either need to fly or fight.

Sinking feelings are o.k. to have once in a while and should be expected in moments like– the first day of school  or the moment the doctor comes in with the test results, or unexpected life event takes place.  It’s when that sinking feeling starts happening all of the time, when it becomes more often than not, that people can get a little twitchy.

That’s the situation the disciples were in in the 14th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.  By the time we get to the end of the 14th chapter of Matthew, the disciples are twitchy. Here’s why:

At the beginning of the chapter, something awful has happened.  Something that made them realize they weren’t as safe as they thought.  Something that made the disciples realize that being a disciple of Jesus Christ could get you killed. Remember that they are following a Rabbi who fighting the establishment, and the establishment just pushed back, big time.  Do you know what happened?  They beheaded John the Baptist. 

They killed Jesus’ cousin.  They sent out a warning shot to stand down, because this is what happens when you mess with the Roman Empire.  Imagine the sinking feeling they had when  the heard the news that he was killed.  Imagine Jesus’ grief and vulnerability when he learned of the news.  It is this context of deep grief and shock that the disciples try to get away. Matthew says they retreated.  You could say that the sinking feeling resulted in flight.

Sometimes we look at the atrocities of the world and we read stories so horrendous you can’t help but wonder how in the world could something like that happen?  Or, even how could God let it happen?  Or where is Jesus when the world appears to be falling apart?  And the news and all that it is in it, can make someone just want to fly away and live on the island of Denial.

Sometimes there is too much chaos.

But, here’s the bad news, being a follower of Jesus Christ, desiring a spiritual life that is rich and meaningful cannot be achieved by running away. Henri Nouwen put it this way:  “The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it.”

And so as the disciples try to move into a retreat, they find they are being followed by the pain of the world.  Five thousand people come to this barren land.  They are hungry and thirsty and sick and broken and Jesus looks out at all of those people and has pity on them and the disciples look out at all of those people and they have a sinking feeling and think there is no way we can address all of these needs.  Jesus says “that’s right,  you can’t, but I can,  let me work through you” and by his miracle, the disciples are able to feed the five thousand.   Sometimes when we have a sinking feeling, instead of running away, we think, “No way. It’s impossible there is no way I can do this.”  The sin here isn’t in the defeatist attitude. The sin is thinking that we are the ones who perform miracles in the first place.

So when we are in chaos, or see our brothers and sisters in chaos, we do not flee, we feed. We clothe. We share. We clean. We move. We give a hand. We look out on to sea of people who are hungry, frightened, and uncertain, just as the disciples did, and we trust that there will be enough for everyone to be fed, and by the grace of God and the hands of the disciples, they will be.

At last we come to the end of the 14th chapter of Matthew, and why a I say that at this point the disciples are now, twitchy.  They have had their share of sinking feelings.  They have witnessed violence they never thought they would see and they have seen 5000 people crying out for help.

So Jesus  put the disciples on a boat and he goes off to pray. – What can go wrong?

All of the disciples are in a boat, out to sea, sort of like how all of the church is the body of Christ in the world,  and a storm comes upon them and they once again get that sinking feeling, although this time they really might sink and they are really uncertain they are going to make it to shore, or survive and then they look out into the sea and see what appears to be a ghost moving toward them and now they are really afraid. More afraid than when they heard about John the Baptist, more uncertain than they were when they fed 5000 people.

And Jesus speaks out and says, “take heart it is I, do not be afraid.”  And Peter, who is known as the Rock, the Father of the Church says to Jesus, “Lord if it’s you let me come to you… ” Which is  strange thing to say.  Couldn’t he have asked for a safer litmus test?  He says “let me come out on the water” and Jesus says, “sure come out” and Peter starts walking toward him, full of faith and hope and then he suddenly gets that sinking feeling, Um this impossible.  It’s impossible to walk on water. What if…. What if it’s not Jesus. What if I’m crazy, after all I just stepped out of a boat. What if I drown?  What if he can’t save me?  And Peter sinks into the Ocean and this is my favorite part,  Jesus, reaches out his hand and saves him.  That gets me every time.  He reaches out his hand and saves him.  You know that tells me?  That tells me that Jesus wasn’t very far away from him at all, he was close enough to reach out and grab him and bring him back to the boat.

And then Jesus says incredulously, “you of little faith, why do you doubt?”  These are words none of us want to hear.  Why can’t I have more faith?  Why can’t I trust God?  Why do I let fear take over my faith?   I believe I am in God’s hands, but when I feel vulnerable or afraid, I start to sink. When have faith, but then when turn on the news, or get sick, or lose a friend and we  start to sink.  What if Peter hadn’t sunk?  What if he had just slung his legs over the side and  just walked on out there and given Jesus a high five?

That may have been an exciting story, but that wouldn’t have been our story. Like Peter we have faith and we have doubt.  We have hope and we have fear.  They are not mutually exclusive.  We are both, people of faith and doubt. They exist at the same time, allowing us to rise and fall in they storms of our life.

So take heart, Jesus gets it.  He does not judge your doubt, or punish you for it, he only asks you why?  Why do you doubt?  Think on that for a while… when you have doubts  in your faith life, why are you doubting, is it because you are angry, or hungry, or broken, or sad or disillusioned or anxious?   Jesus doesn’t condemn Peter, rather he says, “take heart….”

Madelyn Lengle – “As long as Peter didn’t remember that we human beings have forgotten how to walk on water, he was able to do it.”

It suggests that at one point we were able to do it and have forgotten.

What are all of things we have forgotten? –  Have we forgotten that Jesus  has always asked  his disciples to do impossible things and his disciples continue to do impossible things every day?

God is constantly asking people to impossible things.

He asked Mary to be the mother of God.

He asked Moses to change the course of history.

Jesus asked the disciples to feed 5000 people

Sell everything and give it to the poor.  Impossible

Love your neighbor – even your social media neighbor. Impossible.

What are impossible things that people try?

We fight diseases that have non existent cures. Impossible

We go to Haiti – the poorest place on the earth and try bring clean water and stop cholera. Impossible

We believe in forgiveness.  Impossible.

We believe in mercy. That our salvation comes from grace. Impossible

We believe in prayer. That we can personally speak to God. impossible

Parents watch their children grow up and then they have to let  them go – impossible.

People go to cemeteries and hope they will see their loved ones again – impossible

Only a short time ago, we watch in horror as hate and fear march through the streets of Virginia and  we wondered how can this be happening? End racism in our nation? Impossible.

Now we are glued to our news footage as we see the thousands of people impacted by great flooding, and we wonder how can we serve all of these people?  Bring order out of chaos? – Impossible

And suddenly walking on water doesn’t sound so impossible when up against all these impossible things.

It is impossible unless, we hold fast to Paul’s words: “ love bears all things, believes all things,  endures all things, love never dies”

 

If you are sinking, take heart, be not afraid.  He knows the impossible thing he is calling you to do  and he will not let you sink.  Take his hand. He’s not so very far away. Amen

Lord Hear our prayer,
For those who have lost everything.
For those who are stranded
For those who are frightened
For the elderly
For the child
For the parent
For the rescue worker
For the aid provider
For the police officer
For the reporter
For the lost
For the weary
For the sick
For the mentally ill

God, move your loving Spirit over each broken heart tonight and settle yourself on their shoulder. Pull them close to you and rock them back and forth, back and forth and say to them, “I will not leave you, I will not leave you, I will not leave you.”

Strengthen them for the journey ahead. May angels intercede and hope come from despair. We pray your light outshines the darkness.

Lord In your mercy. Hear our prayer.

The Thing about Friendship

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But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”  (Ruth 1:16-17)

I have only transcribed one book from Hebrew into English, and it was the Book of Ruth.  If you are going to sit with the ancient language of Hebrew, I recommend sitting with it in the book of Ruth.  It’s a beautiful story of family and friendship, of heartache and perseverance, of sacrifice and my favorite Hebrew word, Hesed,  which means, “steadfast faithfulness.”

The thing I love most about the summer, is that it provides a season for family and old friends to re-unite.  This summer I spent a week with my cousin, whom I haven’t seen in three years and my oldest friend, whom I hadn’t seen in over five.  Being with them, it was like not an hour had past, since we had last been together.  There is something so enriching and humbling about the people who have known you forever and still love you today!  They love you just the way you are. They are like plants with deep roots.  They are planted deep in your soul and cannot be easily pulled.  They provide steadfast faithfulness.

Today is the first day of school for many of our kids and I know that the biggest concern isn’t what they will be learning in science class, but rather, who they will sit with at the lunch table, Who will be their friend?  True friends are hard to find.   Some of our children will start the year reading E.B. White’s, Charlotte’s Web, where they will read the conversation between Wilbur and Charlotte:  “Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
There is an old hymn called, “What a friend we have in Jesus.”   When I think about Jesus and his friends I remember his vulnerability and grief when Lazarus died.  I remember that he did the most human thing: he wept.  My parents are starting to lose their friends. Yesterday we learned that one of my mom’s oldest friends, and my first piano teacher passed away.  She was in a word: a gem.  It seems like every time I call home, there is another friend with a diagnosis, or has passed away.  As I watch my parents accept this stage of life, I see how deep and meaningful these friendships were.  I see that there was steadfast faithfulness in these friends who came to the hospital, kept a T-time, walked every Tuesday, met for Bible study, sent a card.  These friends are the ones who gave life to life.  True friends are hard to find.

Henri Nouwen wrote on friendship:

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

The gift of friendship is a gift from God.  It’s rare and real.  It’s steadfast faithfulness.

One final quote to sum it up:

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”
― A.A. MilneWinnie-the-Pooh

Peace,

Shelly

 

 

 

A Conversation on Civility

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 ci·vil·i·ty \sə-ˈvi-lə-tē\“

Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies. (from “Loving Your Enemies”)”

― Martin Luther King Jr.A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

We do still believe in civility. – Don’t we?

I always believed we were a society that was striving not for wealth and prosperity, but rather that humanity was always striving to be more decent, more humane, than the generation before them…that our common purpose was to not make the mistakes of the past.

Have human beings regressed?  As we have advanced in technology, have we declined in our maturity?  Maybe we weren’t ready for such technological advances.  Maybe our species can’t keep up with the rapid movement of technology and by using it, we have lost the foothold we had on the capability to reason, forgive, and have empathy.

As a species, homo-sapiens are given a conscience.  A mother duck abandons her baby duck because the duckling is weak and we say, “well, that’s nature” and we accept her behavior.  A mother human abandons her child, and we say, “that is unconscionable” and we have an emotional response to that decision and say, “that is unacceptable”.  We expect more from our fellow human beings than we do from nature, because we believe that human beings are creatures with a conscience.

I want to believe that most of us human beings around the globe want a civil society.  I want to believe that greed and economic gain is not our highest value. – Although, I confess I am becoming more cynical on that one.  I want to believe that we all want our great grand children to breathe clean air and drink clean water and be tolerant of people from other religions and cultures.  I want to believe that as a society, we care more about ethical behavior and civility and justice, then power and wealth.

I want to believe that most of us want civility, ethics and reason to be front and center of societal norms.

Those with voices of reason, calm and integrity must speak out.  If you are a mature, critical thinker, who has been watching all of the world events from the side line, reading the editorials,  watching history roll out before your eyes, and wondered, “When are the reasonable people going to show up?”  – You are it.  Ghandi  is not coming back.  You are the one the world is waiting for.  There are no other reasonable people left, but you.

If you are waiting for civility to return to our nation, it will not happen unless you fight for it.

Wringing our hands on the side line while evil pervades, puts evil in the place of power.

There are more people who identify themselves as centrists, moderates, balanced thinkers, and its time they speak up.  We have got to stop blaming, shaming, and hating those who disagree with us.  Because when they strike the nuclear bomb, nobody is going to care where you stand on an issue.  When the ice caps melt and the planet does what the scientists tell us is going to happen, no one will care if  you believed it would happen or not.

If you feel hatred, I mean real hatred, towards another person or kind of person, because you think they are evil, or destroying our country, or blind to reason, or see the world differently from you, and if you actually hate them for that, then evil has won and the plan, intended or not, to bring neighbor against neighbor is working.

We need to be more civil with one another, so that when we see true evil rear its head, we stand more united then divided.  We must name evil when we see it.

Being tolerant of other people’s point of view does not devalue your point of view.  We have somehow convinced ourselves that our world view is the only world view.  We have fallen to the lowest common denominator.

Edwin Friedman said something to the effect of, “it’s much harder to be the most mature person in an immature system, than the most immature person in a mature system.”  We are living in a immature system.  It’s time to grow up, or as my dad would say, “get your head on straight.”

We are regressing as a society.  What I mean  can be best explained by Friedman:

“By the term regression I mean to convey something far more profound than a mere loss of progress. Societal regression is about the perversion of progress into a counter-evolutionary mode. In a societal regression, evolutionary principles of life that have been basic to the development of our species become distorted, perverted, or actually reversed. Chief among those evolutionary principles are:  self-regulation of instinctual drive;   adaptation to strength rather than weakness;    a growth-producing response to challenge;    allowing time for maturing processes to evolve; and    the preservation of individuality and integrity. Emotional regression, therefore, is more of a “going down” than a “going back”; it is devolution rather than evolution. It has to do with a lowering of maturity, rather than a reduction in the gross national product. One needs to view societal regression in three dimensions, not two. At the same time that a society is “pro-gressing” technologically it can be “re-gressing” emotionally.”
― Edwin H. FriedmanA Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix

Let’s work on self regulating and not just reacting with an emotional response.  Let us work toward identifying our strengths and focus on where we see possibility.  Let’s remember that the fast speed way in which we work is not necessarily the right way.  We need to slow down.  For the love of God, we need to stop just thinking about our self interests and thinking that we are more righteous than our neighbors.

We need to stop blaming, othering, triangulating, shaming, and fighting.

We need to start listening, learning, pausing, communicating, and forgiving.

In other words:  We need to get our heads on straight.

Hold Fast

20158044_10214020877984918_5158460179042341788_oHe grew up in a house that could easily catch fire.  The roof was made of tinder wood and at night mice would scurry along the roof with the makings of their nest,  forming a match that would put the house ablaze.  He would get up, sprint two miles to his grandparent’s house where he could get help.  Once he would get there, with sweat soaked pajamas, he would vomit from fear and fatigue.

He stayed in school until his was 15, working as the school janitor at night to pay his way.

When he was 17, he was forced to leave his Missouri home –too many mouth’s to feed.  They gave him a pony, his few belongings and maybe a dollar or two, and he was on his own to figure it out, survive and somehow live.   I often think about that day when he left home.  What went through his mind?  Was he sacred?  Determined?  What did he carry with him that was not seen?  Did he carry integrity?  Humor? Honesty?

This is a snapshot of my grandfather’s life and events that took place in the 1930’s.  A time that seems long ago and yet, in the grand scheme of things, was not so very long ago.  A time when everyone knew something about being poor, and childhood wasn’t worshiped and life was hard and yet somehow, ironically easier than today.  He had no cell phone. He would need both hands to catch rabbits and squirrels for supper.  He had no education beyond 8th grade.  He never took an AP class, or was on a formal athletic team, or read Jane Eyre, or typed on a computer.  He knew every tree, bird, plant, how to wrestle and take apart a car and put it back together.  He was forced to enter adulthood before childhood ended — if he ever knew childhood at all.  And when he was old, his childlike curiosity attracted everyone to him.  No one ever told him to stop being curious. Nobody worried about his future.  Nobody really worried about him at all.

Why, am I telling you this story?   Because all of us have moments in our lives when it feels like our house is on fire.  We all have moments when we have no control over what is happening to us,  or the people in our family or in our country, or in our world.  Because life brings about adversity all of the time, and it is how we live to tell the tale that matters not only for the present day, but for the future.   How we confront the fires in our life impacts how future generations will face future fires.  Because it’s easier to tell a historical story of adversity than a present day one. It’s easier to talk about someone who overcame, than to confess a story about how hard it is to overcome.

We have all been told, and I’m sure it’s true, that character building comes through the hardest moments that you mark on your time line as a time of adversity.

The time you were rejected.

The time you were lonely.

The time you failed.

The time you got up and tried again. And failed again.

The time you realized the world was bigger than your own world.

The time your heart was broken.

The time you weren’t invited.

The time you were embarrassed.

The time you felt vulnerable.

The time everything fell apart.

These are the times that build character.  It’s not the awards or the accolades or achievements.  It’s the hard stuff of life that we all have more of than we care to admit and that we try to numb or avoid or pretend aren’t occurring as we paint perfect pictures on social media and to the world. —  It’s the hard stuff that creates character.  You cannot know humility if you have not been humbled. You cannot know perseverance if there was not something you needed to overcome.  You cannot know forgiveness if you have not sinned.

If we want our kids to people of strong moral character, and I believe most of us do, then we have to accept and know that their character will only be built out of struggle, humiliation, pain, loss, disappointment and heart break.

But, dear parents,  here is my word to give you,  two words actually:  Hold Fast.  Hold Fast.  I know this parenting journey is a rocky road. I know you look at your kid and think, “Will they be o.k.? Will they overcome that friendship that has gone sour, or that challenging subject, or the pressure to fit in, or whatever obstacle they are facing?”  The answer is “No, of course they won’t overcome it. They will face it, deal with it, grieve it, grapple with it, and then and only then will they overcome it.  And you will find that they have new skin on and they have weathered the storm and they are better person because they went through it.  So, hold fast. Hold Fast.”

Everyone one of us has a story of a relative who found themselves in places that were not of their choosing and they had to decide how to  survive and persevere.  We stand on their shoulders.  We need to believe that our kids are as capable of overcoming adversity as those who came before us were.  Indeed, we need to believe that we are as capable of overcoming adversity as our ancestors were.  We need to accept that really challenging, awful things will happen in our kid’s lives and in our lives, and instead of fearing them, we need to welcome them, because it’s the struggle that will work the muscle of faith.  It’s the struggle that will build compassion.  It’s the struggle that will make a person of character.

Let’s hope and pray that we adults can pass the character test we are facing  today, so that our children will some day tell our story of how we confronted the fires in our world, and overcame. If we want our kids to be grounded in strong moral character, and I believe most of us do, then we have to remember our humanity.  We have to remember where we came from. We have to remember the people whose shoulders we stand.

Hold Fast.

 

 

 

In the Faith that Looks through Death

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In the faith that looks through death.

This is one of final lines in William Wordsworth’s poems:  “Ode to Intimations of Immorality.”   It’s a line that I have meditated on and repeated in my head over and over again as I have walked into a crisis, held a hand, received disturbing news, heard of another tragedy, prayed in a time of uncertainty:

“In the faith that looks through death,  In the faith that looks through death,  In the faith that looks through death.”

Wordsworth writes, “Though nothing can bring back the hour of the splendor in the grass/of glory in the flower/ we will grieve not, rather find /Strength in what remains behind/In the  primal sympathy which having been must ever be;/ In the soothing which spring out of human suffering/  In the faith that looks through death.

Today marks the 16th year of my ordination as a minister in the Presbyterian Church.  Of all the words I have read, all of the books I have my shelves, all of quotes that I have clipped and saved,  these 7 stanzas were the first on my tongue 16 years ago, and they remain my favorite today.

This middle of career place where 16 years ago,  29 seems like a lifetime ago, – I was 29 once, right?  and imagining ministry 16 years from now, at the age of 61, seems hard to imagine. –Just how many more Christmas Eve sermons can I write?  How many more deaths can I face?  How many more tragic stories?  How many more night meetings, visioning projects, stewardship campaigns – What will the future be?   I see how quickly the past 16 years have come and gone, and know how quickly the next 16 years will pass by.  I am also ashamed to to find that I have the same fears and uncertainty today as I had then.  – Maybe it’s time to learn something and stop being uncertain of what will come. Maybe it’s time to let go of what I do not know and hold on to what I do know.  Maybe its time to shed a fear and replace it with conviction.  What time will I have wasted worrying when I look back 16 years from now?

And yet if I have learned anything these past 16 years, it is that one cannot expect another sixteen years. Today is all there is.  It’s cliche, I know, to talk about the gift of every day, of recognizing the frailty of life. We can’t live every day like it’s our last all of the time.  We can’t constantly be in that Thin Place.  We have to live as if there will be college campuses to visit and retirements to plan and vacations to take.  But every now and then, we need to go to the Thin Place where we sense that we are just on this side of heaven, and heaven is not so far away.

Wendell Berry expresses that feeling in this poem – another of my favorites, when he says, “sometimes here, we are there… and there is no death.”

“Some Sunday afternoon, it may be, you are sitting under your porch roof, looking down through the trees to the river, watching the rain. The circles made by the raindrops’ striking expand, intersect, dissolve, and suddenly (for you are getting on now, and much of your life is memory) the hands of the dead, who have been here with you, rest upon you tenderly as the rain rests shining upon the leaves. And you think then (for thought will come) of the strangeness of the thought of Heaven, for now you have imagined yourself there, remembering with longing this happiness, this rain. Sometimes here we are there, and there is no death.”
“1996, V”  [“Some Sunday afternoon, it may be”] by Wendell Berry, from This Day: New & Collected Sabbath Poems 1979-2012. © Counterpoint, 2013.

What I am trying to say is this is what I know:  sometimes here we are there, and there is no death and when we can see through death, we know that healing happens. Healing, in the truest sense of the word, is holy.  Healing, in the truest sense of the word, is human. It is the threading relationship of God and Human together in the wrestling  of Jacob, in the dark night of the soul of Jonah, in the blood sweat night prayer of Jesus, in the heart breaking cry of Mary, in the courage of Ruth, in the humanity of David, even in the shame of Judas. One cannot be healed if one does not have something that needs healing.  It’s only through the dark valley that we can recognize the light.   This is what it means to have the faith that looks through death.

This I know.  It’s really the only thing I know for absolute certainty.

Healing always happens.

Healing comes and people live and sometimes healing comes and people die, but healing always happens.

Healing happens through time and endurance and blood and bone. It happens deep in the soul and in the breaking of the heart.  It happens when the unseen are seen and the unheard are heard.  It happens in rest. It happens in laughter. It happens in time. It happens in pain.

It is healing that allows us to have the faith that looks through death.  That healing occurs only  through suffering. Only through loss and rainy days and times of loneliness. It is in moments like these that soothing thoughts come through suffering and help us to see a way through.

We must never give up on the human heart for it is where the Holy resides.  We must never give up on the belief that healing of mind, body, spirit, relationship, community, world, does, can and will happen.

Though nothing can bring back the splendor in the grass/the glory in the flower, we will grieve not, but rather find strength in what remains behind

…..

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,/ Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears/ To me the meanest flower that blows can give/ Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.  (William Wordsworth, 1770-1850).

 

 

A Mother’s Day, Without a Mother

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When my children were little, there were some standard books that we read every night before bed: “Good Night Moon,”  “Is Your Mama a Llama?”  “If you Give a Mouse a Cookie,”  “Are you my Mother?”  The Sleeping House,” and “Blueberries for Sal.”  I can recite them all for you now, if you would like.

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I can still hear the cadence of the writing, and feel the little body breathing on my chest, as we turned the familiar pages of these weathered books for the 100th time.  I can still remember the routine of bath, book, bed; the soft, cotton pajamas and the padded feet.  Night time rituals change as children get older.  Bed time becomes a requirement, instead of a sacred ritual.

Many of the books I read to my children,  are the same stories my mother read to me.  I loved when my mom read to me. I loved her voice. I loved the way she curved sentences  and how her voice changed with characters.  I loved the way she painted pictures in my mind by taking me into a story.  When I was little, our favorite books were, “Are You My Mother?”  and “Blueberries for Sal.”  Later, we would fall in love with “Little House in the Big Woods” and “A Wrinkle in Time.”

As I look back on these stories, and their underlying messages, there is similar message of comfort and safety in each of them, and that is “your mother is always with you,” and “if you are lost, she will pursue you, and until she finds you.”  These messages stay with us into our adulthood, and we trust in them like scripture.  So it’s a soul-shocking moment when one day our mom isn’t around anymore.  We only get one mom, and nobody really believes in us like they do.  This Mother’s Day,  my heart is heavy for those grieving their mothers.

But here’s the thing about our mothers – they pursue us even after death.  The children books we read about the pursing mother, aren’t giving us fall hope.  Nothing can separate us from the love of our mothers. They are relentless that way.  She’s with you.  She’s the voice that reminds you to wear a coat and to mind your manners.  She’s the smells of Sunday dinner and clean sheets on the bed.  She’s dirt on your hands, as you plant flowers for the spring and the touch of pages of the hymnal as you sing her favorite hymn.

To all of you have lost your Mom’s this year, I know Mother’s Day is going to be really, really hard, and you will want more than anything to see her laugh and let her tell you her opinion on your outfit.  I know you will feel like the little bird, looking for his mother.  Remember, the mother bird wasn’t really that far off.  She was always right where she was supposed to be.  I know you might feel lost and frightened, like Sal, but do not worry, she’s not very far off- she’s just on the other side of the mountain.

Close your eyes.  See her face.  Hear her voice.  See, she hasn’t gone far after all.

You are loved, always.

Peace.

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